Do Plants and Animals have Souls?

Animals have a mortal soul; when an animal dies, its soul ceases to exist. Genesis, chapter 1, teaches that animals have souls.

{1:20} And then God said, “Let the waters produce animals with a living soul, and flying creatures above the earth, under the firmament of heaven.”
{1:21} And God created the great sea creatures, and everything with a living soul and the ability to move that the waters produced, according to their species, and all the flying creatures, according to their kind. And God saw that it was good.
{1:22} And he blessed them, saying: “Increase and multiply, and fill the waters of the sea. And let the birds be multiplied above the land.”
{1:23} And it became evening and morning, the fifth day.
{1:24} God also said, “Let the land produce living souls in their kind: cattle, and animals, and wild beasts of the earth, according to their species.” And so it became.

Plants do not have any type of soul. This conclusion is implied by the same chapter of Genesis, which speaks of plant life without any reference to a soul. However, there seems to be no magisterial teaching on plant life and souls.

{1:11} And he said, “Let the land spring forth green plants, both those producing seed, and fruit-bearing trees, producing fruit according to their kind, whose seed is within itself, over all the earth.” And so it became.
{1:12} And the land brought forth green plants, both those producing seed, according to their kind, and trees producing fruit, with each having its own way of sowing, according to its species. And God saw that it was good.

Human persons have an immortal soul; the human soul continues to exist after death. The distinction between mortal souls and immortal souls is found in the gifts of free will and reason. These gifts make created persons, including humans and angels, more like God than any other type of created thing, animate or inanimate. God gives immortality to created persons because they are made in the image of God, and God is eternal.

Angels do not have souls, per se, but they are comprised of spirit. The difference between an angelic spirit and a human soul is that a soul is created to be united closely with the body, as one person. The angelic spirit, on the other hand, is created to function on its own; it cannot be joined to a body in the manner of a soul.

Animal souls, human souls, and the angelic spirit are comprised of a spiritual substance; the nature of each is spiritual, not material. Now it is said, in Sacred Scripture that God is spirit. But this is said by way of analogy. The Divine Nature is not a spiritual substance. God is one Divine Eternal Act. He is not literally made of spirit, nor of any “thing”, for then He would not be infinite, eternal, and truly One in His Nature.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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4 Responses to Do Plants and Animals have Souls?

  1. Joshua says:

    Yes, but doesn’t the word soul also mean mind? In Genesis, we read that God breathed life into Adam. Genesis does not tell us that God breathed life into the animals. So are animal souls really comprised of “spiritual substance”, or are their “souls” simply “material minds”?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Soul does not mean mind. The animals have a different type of soul, so the language in Genesis is different for human persons. But yet, a soul is a spiritual thing. God created the universe, including the material and the spiritual. Souls are spiritual, not material.

  2. Joshua says:

    So is spiritual substance capable of dying, as in the case when animals die?

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