Religion & Non-Human Animals

Soul- The Old Testament

The Old Testament. The Hebrew word so rendered is nepes [v,p,n]. It appears 755 times in the Old Testament. The King James Version uses 42 different English terms to translate it. The two most common renderings are “soul” (428 times) and “life” (117 times). It is the synchronic use of nepes [v,p,n] that determines its meaning rather than the diachronic. Hebrew is inclined to use one and the same word for a variety of functions that are labeled with distinct words in English.Nepes [v,p,n] in the Old Testament is never the “immortal soul” but simply the life principle or living being. Such is observable in Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, where the qualified (living) nepes [v,p,n] refers to animals and is rendered “living creatures.” The same Hebrew term is then applied to the creation of humankind in Genesis 2:7, where dust is vitalized by the breath of God and becomes a “living being.”

Thus, human being shares soul with the animals. It is the breath of God that makes the lifeless dust a “living being”person.

‘Life’ according to the Bible, and the scientific evidence, TJ (now Journal of Creation) 6(2):98–12 August 1992

by James Stambaugh

The discussion of the boundaries of ‘life’ were four in total. The first was that of ‘soul’ or ‘consciousness’. It was determined that both animals and men possess these traits. The second boundary was ‘flesh’ or ‘muscle’. The Hebrew and Greek words apply only to humans and animals. Spirit or breathing, as the third parameter, exist in animals and humans. The final limit, ‘blood’, was linked with ‘flesh’ and ‘soul’. The Bible uses this strictly for humans and animals. All of these various characteristics must be possessed for something to be considered ‘living’. Throughout the biblical text a combination of these words may be used as a metonymy for all four. Yet the Bible nowhere gives any of these parameters of ‘life’ to plants.

This consideration, ‘what possesses life according to the Bible’, is important for two reasons. The first reason relates to the existence of death, suffering, the food chain, and scarcity in the finished creation. It would seem, in the light of the boundaries of ‘life’, that plants are not ‘living’ according to the Bible, and, therefore, could not have ‘died’ when they were eaten by animals or man in the Garden of Eden. Since God is not the creator of death, it must have entered subsequent to the finished creation. The God of the Bible is a good, loving, holy, and omnipotent God.

The second reason why this topic of a ‘biblical definition of life’ is important, is that man needs to have his thoughts in subjection to those of God. If this is not done, then man condemns himself to error in some form or to some extent. This is symptomatic of all the various compromising positions regarding biblical creation taken today. One can observe this pattern in the following quote:

‘A close examination of the text reveals that only two Hebrew words are used in the Genesis flood account to refer to the animals destroyed by the flood and to those taken aboard the ark. The words are nephesh and basar. The word nephesh translates as ‘soulish’ animals endowed with characteristics of mind, will, and emotions, creatures with a unique capacity to relate to humans. We call them mammals and birds. It is their soulishness which makes them particularly susceptible to the effects of man’s sin. The word basar refers more specifically to those birds and mammals that are part of man’s economic system, that is, to livestock, poultry, game animals, any birds or mammals that have had contact with man.

‘So, the animal species rescued via the ark were nephesh, particularly those in the category of basar, living within the reach of the flood’s devastation.’246

St. Francis of Assisi

“My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator.”


St.Francis Francis of Assisi is honored by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of animals and ecology.  Francis was born at Assisi in Umbria in 1181 or 1182.  His father was a prosperous merchant, and Francis planned to follow him in his trade, although he also had dreams of being a troubadour or a knight.  In 1201 he took part in an attack on Perugia, was taken hostage, and remained a captive there for a year.  As a result of his captivity and a severe illness his mind began to turn to religion, but around 1205 he enlisted in another military expedition, to Apulia.  However, he had a dream in which God called him to his service, and he returned to Assisi and began to care for the sick.  In 1206, he had a vision in which Christ called him to repair His Church.  Francis interpreted this as a command to repair the church of San Damiano, near Assisi.  He resolved to become a hermit, and devoted himself to repairing the church.  His father, angry and embarrassed by Francis’ behavior, imprisoned him and brought him before the bishop as disobedient.  Francis abandoned all his rights and possessions, including his clothes.  Two years later he felt himself called to preach, and was soon joined by companions.  When they numbered eleven he gave them a short Rule and received approval from Pope Innocent III for the brotherhood, which Francis called the Friars Minor.

The friars traveled throughout central Italy and beyond, preaching for people to turn from the world to Christ.  In his life and preaching, Francis emphasized simplicity and poverty, relying on God’s providence rather than worldly goods.  The brothers worked or begged for what they needed to live, and any surplus was given to the poor.  Francis turned his skills as a troubadour to the writing of prayers and hymns.

St.Francis2 In 1212 Saint Clara Sciffi, a girl from a noble family of Assisi, left her family to join Francis.  With his encouragement she founded a sisterhood at San Damiano, the Poor Ladies, later the Poor Clares.

One of Francis’s most famous sermons is one he gave to a flock of birds.  One day while Francis and some friars were traveling along the road, Francis looked up and saw the trees full of birds.  Francis “left his companions in the road and ran eagerly toward the birds” and “humbly begged them to listen to the word of God.”  One of the friars recorded the sermon, which overflows with Francis’s love for creation and its Creator: “My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you.  God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part.”

Thomas of Celano records that the birds stretched their necks and extended their wings as Francis walked among them touching and blessing them.  This event was a turning point of sorts for Francis.  “He began to blame himself for negligence in not having preached to the birds before” and “from that day on, he solicitously admonished the birds, all animals and reptiles, and even creatures that have no feeling, to praise and love their Creator.”

In time the brotherhood became more organized.  As large numbers of people, attracted to the preaching and example of Francis, joined him, Francis had to delegate responsibility to others.  Eventually he wrote a more detailed Rule, which was further revised by the new leaders of the Franciscans.  He gave up leadership of the Order and went to the mountains to live in secluded prayer.  There he received the Stigmata, the wounds of Christ.  He returned to visit the Franciscans, and Clara and her sisters, and a few of his followers remained with him.  He died at the Porziuncula on October 3, 1226.

St.Francis3 Francis called for simplicity of life, poverty, and humility before God.  He worked to care for the poor, and one of his first actions after his conversion was to care for lepers.  Thousands were drawn to his sincerity, piety, and joy.  In all his actions, Francis sought to follow fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels.  His respect and appreciation for creation was so profound because it always led him to the Creator.

For Francis, the Eucharist became the deepest source of support for his desire for cosmic peace and reconciliation.  Just two years before he died, St. Francis said:  “I beseech all of you, by whatever charity I can, that you show reverence and all honor to the most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, because (in Him) all things, whether on earth or in heaven have been pacified and reconciled with Almighty God”.

Every year on the Sunday nearest his October 4 feast day, Catholic and other Christian churches around the world host services where animals are blessed.  These services are a powerful way to celebrate both Francis’s and God’s compassionate concern for all creatures.

Francis is well known for the “Canticle of Brother Sun.”  Written late in the saint’s life, when blindness had limited his sight of the outside world, the canticle shows that his imagination was alive with love for creation.  Visit our Prayers I section to read this wonderful prayer.

Saint Francis of Assisi consented to being ordained to the Diaconate but not to the Priesthood.   Probably no saint has affected so many in so many different ways as the gentle Saint of Assisi who, born to wealth, devoted his life to poverty, concern for the poor and the sick, and so delighted in God’s works as revealed in nature.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.”

-St. Francis of Assisi

St.Francis4From St. Bonaventure

“Francis sought occasion to love God in everything.  He delighted in all the works of God’s hands and from the vision of joy on earth his mind soared aloft to the life-giving source and cause of all.  In everything beautiful, he saw him who is beauty itself, and he followed his Beloved everywhere by his likeness imprinted on creation; of all creation he made a ladder by which he might mount up and embrace him who is all-desirable.  By the power of his extraordinary faith he tasted the Goodness which is the source of all in each and every created thing, as in so many rivulets.  He seemed to perceive a divine harmony in the interplay of powers and faculties given by God to his creatures and like the prophet David he exhorted them all to praise God.”

–Major Life of St. Francis

“His attitude towards creation was simple and direct, as simple as the gaze of a dove; as he considered the universe, in his pure, spiritual vision, he referred every created thing to the Creator of all.  He saw God in everything, and loved and praised him in all creation.  By God’s generosity and goodness, he possessed God in everything and everything in God.  The realization that everything comes from the same source made him call all created things — no matter how insignificant — his brothers and sisters, because they had the same origins as he.”

–Minor Life of St. Francis

13 Oct, 2008 05:14 PM

Animal rights group, Animal Liberation, is claiming a message has been sent to Christians to take a stand against live exports after a Catholic priest blessed a consignment of stock being loaded on to a ship in Fremantle, WA.According to Animal Liberation, the cattle were bound for the Middle East.

They say the priest, Father Claude Mostowik, blessed the cattle with holy water before they were loaded on to the live export ship, the Maysora.

Executive director of Animal Liberation Mark Pearson described it as a “courageous action of compassion for these animals”, which “should send a message to our openly Christian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to take a credible stand against the inherent cruelty of the live export trade”.

“It is time our government listened to the utter disgust over live export felt by most Australians rather than be intimidated by a few greedy live export companies,” Mr Pearson said.

“If a Christian priest has the courage to do what he can do to help these animals then Rudd must stop turning a blind eye.”

Waiting for the priest to bless their animals (Madrid)

This picture was taken during a visit to Animal blessing San Antón, Spain. You can see more images of Animal blessing San Antón by clicking on the thumbnails on the right. You can also read more about Animal blessing San Antón. You can send this image as a free postcard, and you can download it for personal use. You can locate Animal blessing San Antón and navigate the world using Google Earth. You can also locate Animal blessing San Antón directly on the map. Should you require a large version of the picture, please let us know.

Image of Waiting for the priest to bless their animals, Madrid,  Spain

The Blessing of the Animals – the Priest, Riviera, France

The ‘blessing’ is usually held in front of the old elm tree but because there were so many horses this year it was held in the centre of the square.

The priest’s assistant holds the aspersorium which contains the aspergillum which the priest will use to sprinkle the holy water.

The St. Francis Blessing Of The Animals 10- 5-09 05:52 PM

At this time every year, people bring their animals along with them to church to get blessed by Catholic priests. This ceremony commemorates St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, who was born on October 4. He is known for showing compassion towards all living things; he may have even preached to birds! Check out these photos of animals getting blessed from years’ past and vote for which one you think is truly a blessing.

A Siberian male tiger at the American Cathedral in Paris.