Ask a Priest

All creatures great and small

Jan 24, 2016

Dear Father,

There are many animals in the bible and often stories about animals are allegorical or parables. I wondered what place real animals have in the Catholic faith? These days, are animals believed to have souls? Do they go to heaven?

Thank you in advance for your time, Father.


Asked at 11:41 pm on January 24th 2016

Hi Laura, you don’t have to look any farther than Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Sì, last May for a good reflection on the Church’s attitude to animals. Speaking about St Francis, Pope Francis noted:

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he [St Francis] would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.” … His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.'” (11)

He recommends due care to prevent elimination of rare species and draws on the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding animal experimentation:

While human intervention on plants and animals is permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only “if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to caring for or saving human lives”. The Catechism firmly states that human power has limits and that “it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly”. All such use and experimentation “requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.” (130)

Aristotle wrote the first treatise on the different life principles of plants, animals, and human beings. What he meant by ‘soul’ was whatever was the grounding principle of any living being—for plants it was a vegetative soul, for animals a sensory soul, for humans an intellectual soul. I wouldn’t say that animal souls are a matter of belief, just a matter of fact that any animal needs a life principle that can underlie its capacity for sensation, perception, imagination, memory and movement. Since animal souls are by nature material, not spiritual, they’re not immortal, like human souls.

At the same time, Isaiah, St Peter and St John have all written about the new heavens and the new earth that awaits us at the end of time. Those in heaven at the end of time will be reunited with their bodies, and I don’t think it’s pushing our theological luck too far to say that given our incarnate state, we’ll need a universe maybe not that unlike our own – our eyes were made to see blue skies, our noses to smell flowers, our ears to hear birds singing, and what would paradise be without lots of (let’s hope by then) friendly animals of all sizes?

Very best, Fr Brendan

Replied at 12:14 am on January 28th 2016

Hi Laura,

I reason the issue this way. We are promised perfect happiness in paradise with God should we choose to acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Savior. If perfect happiness in heaven for a particular individual can only happen with the presence of a beloved animal friend, then it stands to reason that that animal friend will be a part of that person’s heaven. I don’t believe that God makes exceptions when it comes to our perfect happiness!

Replied at 01:15 am on February 01st 2016