The mystery of what happens to animals when they die, and whether we will see our pets in heaven, are questions that constantly arise and will continue to do so. Catholic teaching is that only human souls are immortal and thus survive bodily death. St. Thomas, in his Summa Theologica teaches that animals do have souls but that they are merely mortal: “Wherefore we conclude that as the souls of brute animals have no per se operations they are not subsistent.”
The newspaper “The Irish Catholic” featured a recent article that sums the Catholic viewpoint:
“Catholics believe that all living things have souls, and this includes not only humans, but also plants and animals. When a living thing dies, the soul separates from its body or organic makeup. In the case of animals, the soul goes out of existence. However, the souls of human beings are radically different from the souls of other living things. Whereas the souls of animals are contingent upon their material makeup, human souls remain in existence after death because it is immaterial. “
Catholic Answers states bluntly:
“Animal and vegetable souls are dependent entirely on matter for their operation and being. They cease to exist at death. (There’s no “doggie heaven.”)”
But on the other hand, Pope Francis has famously indicated his belief in animal immortality:
“Pope Francis sent ripples around the world Wednesday when he suggested that pets and other animals have a place in heaven, which is in stark contradiction to conservative Catholic teaching that animals don't have souls. Seeking to console a young boy who recently lost his dog, Pope Francis assured him during his weekly address that he would be united with his pet in heaven.
"One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God's creatures," the Pope said, according to Italian news sources. Theologians, however, argued that Pope Francis' words should not be taken as a doctrinal statement, as he had spoken casually.
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large of America, the Catholic magazine,told the New York Times he believed that Pope Francis was at least saying, "God loves and Christ redeems all of creation," despite conservative Catholic teachings to the contrary. "He said paradise is open to all creatures," Father Martin told the Times. "That sounds pretty clear to me."
The issue of whether or not animals have souls has been a controversial issue in the Catholic Church for a long time, and Pope Francis' comment appears to have opened up that debate once again”
Now, if the souls of animals dissipate upon their death, how does one account for the stories in the lives of Catholic saints which assert that they raised to life dead animals? As portrayed in two Renaissance paintings, St. Nicholas Tolentino (1246 - 1305) is said to have refused to eat cooked partridges when he was bedridden, and brought them back to life so that they could fly away.
Even more spectacularly, St. Francis of Paola (1416 - 1507) was said to have resurrected both a pet fish and his pet lamb. He is also known to have abstained from all meat, fish and animal products, such as eggs and milk. He called the animals by their names even after their lives had ended. He apparently believed they continued to exist after their deaths.
The Blog “A Catholic Life” goes into some detail:
St. Francis had a love for animals and took a vow to never eat any animals, even fish. According to his biographers, it is said: "Francis had a favorite trout that he called ‘Antonella.’ One day, one of the priests, who provided religious services, saw the trout swimming about in his pool. To him it was just a delicious dish, so he caught it and took it home, tossing it into the frying pan. Francis missed ‘Antonella’ and realized what had happened. He asked one of his followers to go to the priest to get it back. The priest, annoyed by this great concern for a mere fish, threw the cooked trout on the ground, shattering it into several pieces. The hermit sent by Francis gathered up the broken pieces in his hands and brought them back to Francis. Francis placed the pieces back in the pool and, looking up to Heaven and praying, said: ‘Antonella, in the name of Charity, return to life.’ The trout immediately became whole and swam joyously around his pool as if nothing had happened. The friars and the workers who witnessed this miracle were deeply impressed by the miracle."
Francis also raised his pet lamb from the dead after it had been
killed and eaten by workmen. "Being in need of food, the workmen
caught and slaughtered Francis’ pet lamb, Martinello, roasting it
in their lime kiln. They were eating when the Saint approached them,
looking for the lamb. They told him they had eaten it, having no
other food. He asked what they had done with the fleece and the
bones. They told him they had thrown them into the furnace. Francis
walked over to the furnace, looked into the fire and called
‘Martinello, come out!’ The lamb jumped out, completely
happily on seeing his master."
Benvenuto Garafalo, circa 1550; St. Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving the Birds.
Giovanni Gasparro, contemporary, 2015; The Miracles of St. Francis of Paola. In Gasparro’s painting we see the same fish many times over flopping around in a dish. Francis has an extra set of hands, which is a common motif in Gasparro’s work.
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