New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
New Advent
Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > M > Man


Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more — all for only $19.99...

(Anglo-Saxon man=a person, human being; supposed root man=to think; German, Mann, Mensch).

The nature of man

According to the common definition of the School, Man is a rational animal. This signifies no more than that, in the system of classification and definition shown in the Arbor Porphyriana, man is a substance, corporeal, living, sentient, and rational. It is a logical definition, having reference to a metaphysical entity. It has been said that man's animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though they are inseparably joined, during life, in one common personality. "Animality" is an abstraction as is "rationality". As such, neither has any substantial existence of its own. To be exact we should have to write: "Man's animality is rational"; for his "rationality" is certainly not something superadded to his "animality". Man is one in essence. In the Scholastic synthesis, it is a manifest illogism to hypostasize the abstract conceptions that are necessary for the intelligent apprehension of complete phenomena. A similar confusion of expression may be noticed in the statement that man is a "compound of body and soul". This is misleading. Man is not a body plus a soul — which would make of him two individuals; but a body that is what it is (namely, a human body) by reason of its union with the soul. As a special application of the general doctrine of matter and form which is as well a theory of science as of intrinsic causality, the "soul" is envisaged as the substantial form of the matter which, so informed, is a human "body". The union between the two is a "substantial" one. It cannot be maintained, in the Thomistic system, that the "substantial union is a relation by which two substances are so disposed that they form one". In the general theory, neither "matter" nor "form", but only the composite, is a substance. In the case of man, though the "soul" be proved a reality capable of separate existence, the "body" can in no sense be called a substance in its own right. It exists only as determined by a form; and if that form is not a human soul, then the "body" is not a human body. It is in this sense that the Scholastic phrase "incomplete substance", applied to body and soul alike, is to be understood. Though strictly speaking self-contradictory, the phrase expresses in a convenient form the abiding reciprocity of relation between these two "principles of substantial being".

Man is an individual, a single substance resultant from the determination of matter by a human form. Being capable of reasoning, he verifies the philosophical definition of a person: "the individual substance of a rational nature". This doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. I.75.4) and of Aristotle is not the only one that has been advanced. In Greek and in modern philosophy, as well as during the Patristic and Scholastic periods, another celebrated theory laid claim to pre-eminence. For Plato the soul is a spirit that uses the body. It is in a non-natural state of union, and longs to be freed from its bodily prison (cf. Republic, X, 611). Plato has recourse to a theory of a triple soul to explain the union—a theory that would seem to make personality altogether impossible (see MATTER). St. Augustine, following him (except as to the triple-soul theory) makes the "body" and "soul" two substances; and man "a rational soul using a mortal and earthly body" (De Moribus, I, xxvii). But he is careful to note that by union with the body it constitutes the human being. St. Augustine's psychological doctrine was current in the Middle Ages up to the time and during the perfecting of the Thomistic synthesis. It is expressed in the "Liber de Spiritu et Anima" of Alcher of Clairvaux (?) (twelfth century). In this work "the soul rules the body; its union with the body is a friendly union, though the latter impedes the full and free exercise of its activity; it is devoted to its prison" (cf. de Wulf, "History of Philosophy", tr. Coffey). As further instances of Augustinian influence may be cited Alanus ab Insulis (but the soul is united by a spiritus physicus to the body); Alexander of Hales (union ad modum formæ cum materia); St. Bonaventure (the body united to a soul consisting of "form" and "spiritual matter"—forma completiva). Many of the Franciscan doctors seem, by inference if not explicitly, to lean to the Platonic Augustinian view; Scotus, who, however, by the subtlety of his "formal distinction a parte rei", saves the unity of the individual while admitting the forma corporeitatis; his opponent John Peter Olivi's "mode of union" of soul and body was condemned at the Council of Vienne (1311-12).

The theories of the nature of man so far noticed are purely philosophical. No one of them has been explicitly condemned by the Church. The ecclesiastical definitions have reference merely to the "union" of "body" and "soul". With the exception of the words of the Council of Toledo, 688 (Ex libro responionis Juliani Archiep. Tolet.), in which "soul" and "body" are referred to as two "substances" (explicable in the light of subsequent definitions only in the hypothesis of abstraction, and as "incomplete" substances), other pronouncements of the Church merely reiterate the doctrine maintained in the School. Thus Lateran in 649 (against the Monothelites), canon ii, "the Word of God with the flesh assumed by Him and animated with an intellectual principle shall come . . ."; Vienne, 1311-12, "whoever shall hereafter dare to assert, maintain, or pertinaciously hold that the rational or intellectual soul is not per se and essentially the form of the human body, is to be regarded as a heretic"; Decree of Leo X, in V Lateran, Bull "Apostolici Regiminis", 1513, ". . . with the approval of this sacred council we condemn all who assert that the intellectual soul is mortal or is the same in all men . . . for the soul is not only really and essentially the form of the human body, but is also immortal; and the number of souls has been and is to be multiplied according as the number of bodies is multiplied"; Brief "Eximiam tuam" of Pius IX to Cardinal de Geissel, 15 June, 1857, condemning the error of Günther, says: "the rational soul is per se the true and immediate form of the body".

In the sixteenth century Descartes advanced a doctrine that again separated soul and body, and compromised the unity of consciousness and personality. To account for the interaction of the two substances—the one "thought", the other "extension"— "Occasionalism" (Malebranche, Geulincx), "Pre-established Harmony" (Leibniz), and "Reciprocal Influx" (Locke) were imagined. The inevitable reaction from the Cartesian division is to be found in the Monism of Spinoza. Aquinas avoids the difficulties and contradictions of the "two substance" theory and, saving the personality, accounts for the observed facts of the unity of consciousness. His doctrine:

The particular creation of the soul is a corollary of the foregoing. This doctrine — the contradiction of Traducianism and Transmigration—follows from the consideration that the formal principle cannot be produced by way of generation, either directly (since it is proved to be simple in substance), or accidentally (since it is a subsistent form). Hence there remains only creation as the mode of its production. The complete argument may be found in the "Contra Gentiles" of St. Thomas, II, lxxxvii. See also Summa Theologica, I, Q. cxviii, aa. 1 and 2 (against Traducianism) and a. 3 (in refutation of the opinion of Pythagoras, Plato and Origen — with whom Leibniz might be grouped as professing a modified form of the same opinion—the creation of souls at the beginning of time).

The origin of man

This problem may be treated from the standpoints of Holy Scripture, theology, or philosophy.


The Sacred Writings are entirely concerned with the relations of man to God, and of God's dealings with man, before and after the Fall. Two accounts of his origin are given in the Old Testament. On the sixth and last day of the creation "God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him" (Genesis 1:27); and "the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7; so Sirach 17:1: "God created man of the earth, and made him after his own image"). By these texts the special creation of man is established, his high dignity and his spiritual nature. As to his material part, the Scripture declares that it is formed by God from the "slime of the earth". This becomes a "living soul" and fashioned to the "image of God" by the inspiration of the "breath of life", which makes man man and differentiates him from the brute.


This doctrine is obviously to be looked for in all Catholic theology. The origin of man by creation (as opposed to emanative and evolutionistic Pantheism) is asserted in the Church's dogmas and definitions. In the earliest symbols (see the Alexandrian: di ou ta panta egeneto, ta en ouranois kai epi ges, horata te kai aorata, and the Nicene), in the councils (see especially IV Lateran, 1215; "Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporeal, who by this omnipotent power . . . brought forth out of nothing the spiritual and corporeal creation, that, is the angelic world and the universe, and afterwards man, forming as it were one composite out of spirit and body"), in the writings of the Fathers and theologians the same account is given. The early controversies and apologetics of St. Clement of Alexandria and Origen defend the theory of creation against Stoics and neo-Platonists. St. Augustine strenuously combats the pagan schools on this point as on that of the nature and immortality of man's soul. A masterly synthetic exposition of the theological and philosophical doctrine as to man is given in the "Summa Theologica" of St. Thomas Aquinas (I.75-I.111). So again the "Contra Gentiles", II (on creatures), especially from xlvi onwards, deals with the subject from a philosophical standpoint — the distinction between the theological and the philosophical treatment having been carefully drawn in chap. iv. Note especially chap. lxxxvii, which establishes Creationism.


Scholastic philosophy reaches a conclusion as to the origin of man similar to the teaching of revelation and theology. Man is a creature of God in a created universe. All things that are, except Himself, exist in virtue of a unique creative act. As to the mode of creation, there would seem to be two possible alternatives. Either the individual composite was created ex nihilo, or a created soul became the informing principle of matter already pre-existing in another determination. Either mode would be philosophically tenable, but the Thomistic principle of the successive and graded evolution of forms in matter is in favour of the latter view. If, as is the case with the embryo (St. Thomas, I, Q. cxviii, a. 2, ad 2um), a succession of preparatory forms preceded information by the rational soul, it nevertheless follows necessarily from the established principles of Scholasticism that this, not only in the case of the first man, but of all men, must be produced in being by a special creative act. The matter that is destined to become what we call man's "body" is naturally prepared, by successive transformations, for the reception of the newly created soul as its determinant principle. The commonly held opinion is that this determination takes place when the organization of the brain of the foetus is sufficiently complete to allow of imaginative life; i.e. the possibility of the presence of phantasmata. But note also the opinion that the creation of, and information by, the soul takes place at the moment of conception.

The end of man

In common with all created nature (substance, or essence, considered as the principle of activity or passivity), that of man tends towards its natural end. The proof of this lies in the inductively ascertained principle of finality. The natural end of man may be considered from two points of view. Primarily, it is the procuring of the glory of God, which is the end of all creation. God's intrinsic perfection is not increased by creation, but extrinsically He becomes known and praised, or glorified by the creatures He endows with intelligence. A secondary natural end of man is the attainment of his own beatitude, the complete and hierarchic perfection of his nature by the exercise of its faculties in the order which reason prescribes to the will, and this by the observance of the moral law. Since complete beatitude is not to be attained in this life (considered in its merely natural aspect, as neither yet elevated by grace, nor vitiated by sin) future existence, as proved in psychology, is postulated by ethics for its attainment. Thus the present life is to be considered as a means to a further end. Upon the relation of the rational nature of man to his last end—God—is founded the science of moral philosophy, which thus presupposes as its ground, metaphysics, cosmology, and psychology. The distinction of good and evil rests upon the consonance or discrepancy of human acts with the nature of man thus considered; and moral obligation has its root in the absolute necessity and immutability of the same relation.

With regard to the last end of man (as "man" and not as "soul"), it is not universally held by Scholastics that the resurrection of the body is proved apodictically in philosophy. Indeed some (e.g. Scotus, Occam) have even denied that the immortality of the soul is capable of such demonstration. The resurrection is an article of faith. Some recent authors, however (see Cardinal Mercier, "Psychologie", II, 370), advance the argument that the formation of a new body is naturally necessary on account of the perfect final happiness of the soul, for which it is a condition sine qua non. A more cogent form of the proof would seem to lie in the consideration that the separated soul is not complete in ratione naturæ. It is not the human being; and it would seem that the nature of man postulates a final and permanent reunion of its two intrinsic principles.

But there is de facto another end of man. The Catholic Faith teaches that man has been raised to a supernatural state and that his destiny, as a son of God and member of the Mystical Body of which Christ is the Head, is the eternal enjoyment of the beatific vision. In virtue of God's infallible promise, in the present dispensation the creature enters into the covenant by baptism; he becomes a subject elevated by grace to a new order, incorporated into a society by reason of which he tends and is brought to a perfection not due to his nature (see CHURCH). The means to this end are justification by the merits of Christ communicated to man, co-operation with grace, the sacraments, prayer, good works, etc. The Divine law which the Christian obeys rests on this supernatural relation and is enforced with a similar sanction. The whole pertains to a supernatural providence which belongs not to philosophical speculation but to revelation and theological dogma. In the light of the finalistic doctrine as to man, it is evident that the "purpose of life" can have a meaning only in reference to an ultimate state of perfection of the individual. The nature tending towards its end can be interpreted only in terms of that end; and the activities by which it manifests its tendency as a living being have no adequate explanation apart from it.

The theories that are sometimes put forward of the place of man in the universe, as destined to share in a development to which no limits can be assigned, rest upon the Spencerian theory that man is but "a highly-differentiated portion of the earth's crust and gaseous envelope", and ignore or deny the limitation imposed by the essential materiality and spirituality of human nature. If the intellectual faculties were indeed no more than the developed animal powers., there would seem to be no possibility of limiting their progress in the future. But since the soul of man is the result, not of evolution, but of creation, it is impossible to look forward to any such advance as would involve a change in man's specific nature, or any essential difference in its relation to its material environment, in the physiological conditions under which it at present exists, or in its "relation" to its Divine Creator. The "Herrenmoralität" of Nietzsche—the "transvaluation of values" which is to revolutionize the present moral law, the new morality which man's changing relation to the Absolute may some day bring into existence — must, therefore, be considered to be not less inconsistent with the nature of man than it is wanting in historical probability.


ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, Opera (Parma, 1852-72); BRADLEY, Appearance and Reality (London, 1890); CATHREIN, Philosophia Moralis (Freiburg, 1895), DR WULF, Historie de la Philosophie Médiévale (Louvain, 1905), tr. COFFEY (London, 1909); DUCKWORTH in Cambridge Theologial Essays (London 1905); HAGENBACH, History of Doctrines (Edinburgh, 1846); HURTER, Theologiæ Dogmaticæ Compendium (Innsbruck, 1896); LODGE, Substance of Faith (London, 1907); LOTZE, Microkosmos (Edinburgh, 1885); MAHER, Psychology in Stonyhurst Series (London, 1890); MERCIER, Psychologie (Louvain, 1908); NIETZSCHE, Jenseits von Gut und Böse (Leipzig, 1886); NYS, Cosmologie (Louvain, 1906); RICKABY, Moral Philosophy in Stonyhurst Series (London, 1888); RITTER AND PRELLE, Historia Philosophiæ Graecæ (Gotha, 1888); SCOTUS, Opera (Lyons, 1639); SUAREZ, Metaphysicarum Disputationum tomi duo (Mainz, 1605); WINDELBAND, tr. TUFTS, History of Philosophy (New York, 1893).

About this page

APA citation. Aveling, F. (1910). Man. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Aveling, Francis. "Man." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2023 by New Advent LLC. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.