August 2, 2017: Personhood belongs to but One creature

~by Susi Pittman

Our pets aren’t our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

Many stewards of creation can absolutely relate to this quote, as established statistics of pet ownership around the globe indicates millions of lucky animals have a home with a human family. In the United States alone there are 77.5 million dog owners and 93.6 million cat owners. Taking into ones home an animal, requires a commitment in love and providing for the animals needs. Down through the ages, humankind has been charged by God the Creator to tend to the animals with kindness.

I have read a few articles in recent months, from what I define as extremist animal rights groups, that make a case for humanizing animals by passing laws to give them personhood. It appears to be a growing trend that is picking up a following. These kind of articles make me sad. They place in the minds of the public that anyone who loves and cares for animals is some kind of extremist. I know I have faced such for my passion as a creation advocate.

They publicly despoil the truly good intentions of the good stewards in the world, whom I venture to say make up the majority, no matter the poll, polls that I might add, on average pull from 20,000 people in a world that is 7+ billion strong.

These stewards truly take to heart what God asked of humankind in the Garden of Eden—to care for creation. (Gen.1:26)

Some of these articles and the extremist groups tied to them push the dogma that animals deserve personhood, that they are to be taken from their rightful place as the “good” that God orchestrated at the creation to serve God first and humankind second and be politically recreated as morally decisive entities.

Humankind was the climax of Creation. As such, we were given an eternal soul that connects us in a divine and totally unique way with our Creator. Animals do not have the particular immortal soul that man has, but animals are sentient beings, a sign that they do have a spirit and are given a particular good by the Creator.

Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection. [1]

Creation receives God to the extent that He allowed in His goodness for it to receive Him. Humankind and creation are interconnected on the journey to the glory of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

God willed the diversity of his creatures and their own particular goodness, their interdependence, and their order. He destined all material creatures for the good of the human race. Man, and through him all creation, is destined for the glory of God. {2}

The image of God was reserved for humankind and humankind and the animals are guided by divine providence to their perfect end. All things deriving from God are ordered to one another and to Him, and all things will find their final perfection and rest in Him.

Jesus says: All that the Father gives me will come to me. (John 6:37)

Rightly ordered instruction in the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute.[3]

Animals are Gods creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.[4]

Animals and creation, animate and inanimate—all are created to glorify God and are ever subject to their Creator, who shares them with man. Animals were created to respond to God first and were given to humankind for what should have been the continued love and care given in trust by God.

Our Church history and what we are taught by it and the great Saints differs greatly from the tone of these articles and animal personhood. St. Francis of Assisi, one of Catholicism’s most venerable saints preached to the birds and called all of creation his brother and sister. “Kindness” to animals has always been supported. In a modern world, “kindness” moves in the realm of caring for animals in our homes. Many great scholars have made the connection that a person having compassion for animals is usually indicative of a compassionate soul for his or her fellow brethren. It has also been proven in many a psychiatric study that social psychopaths had early beginnings in a blatant disregard for animal life as they turned to animal torture and abuse.

St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux was dominated by kindness to all living things and he once said, If pity were a sin, I could not help committing it. [5] He was so humane that he sympathized not only with his fellow man but with creation. St. Chrysostom said, The souls of Saints are excessively gentle and loving to men—not only to their own people, but to strangers, and they show this gentleness even to brute beasts. [6]

In Catena Graeca, St. Chrysostom states:

Does the just man pity the souls of his beasts of burden? Then surely we ought to show to them great gentleness and kindness for many reasons, but for this above all: that we may take by this means an opportunity to sympathise with them, because they are of the same origin as ourselves. For not without reason in the Law does God bid us raise up the beast of burden which has fallen, and bring back into the path the straying sheep, and not muzzle the ox which treads out the corn. He wishes us, therefore, to show great mercy to brute beasts. [7]

Those, therefore, who are compassionate towards animals imitate God and his loving kindness. Rightly ordered stewardship of our domestic creatures only adds to our humaneness and humanity.

There are those who obsess over their pets and to an unhealthy extent. This is certainly an issue that needs attention and a re-direction to a more rightly ordered stewardship

The personhood issue of animals will certainly not fall off the radar anytime soon. I hate to see the label of extremist or of animal rights activist applied to the millions of Christian stewards who follow Church‘s teaching and are dedicated to the loving and humane care of animals, whether in or outside the home.

So, if we were to address these articles with the truth, I would have but one thought; Creation and the animals call forth upon the human heart to reflect on the infinite beauty and unconditional love of the Creator. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water!

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paragraph 339.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paragraph 353

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paragraph 2415, (Cf. CA 37-38)

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paragraph 2416, (Cf. Mt 6:26; Dan 3:79-81)

[5] Life of St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, by the Abbot Vacandard, Doctor in Theology. Vol. II. Paris: Victor LeCoffre 1895.

[6] Cornelius a Lapide, Burns & Oates

[7] The Church and Kindness to Animals 1906

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; a member of the St. John’ s Catholic Writers Guild;
a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the National Wildlife Federation, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

*** Visit SUSI WEEKLY ARCHIVE ***

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