The exotic concept of spontaneous generation was taken seriously by astute thinkers for a long time before the invention of microbiology. Of course, they knew about the proximate process of birth — but the biological source of life itself exercised such minds as Anaximander, 600 years B.C.; St. Augustine; Shakespeare; and the philosopher of fishing, Izaak Walton; and was at least a puzzle to Darwin.
Spontaneous generation was the theory that living organisms could arise from inanimate matter, like fleas born from dust, or mice from salt and bees from animal blood and, in the speculation of Aristotle, scallops coming out of sand.
I came across an unintentionally amusing comment from the 1920 proceedings of the American Philological Society, published by Johns Hopkins University Press: “Since insects are so small, it is not surprising that the sex history of some of them totally eluded the observation of the ancients.”
The advent of micro-imagery photography of infants in the womb destroyed eugenic propaganda that this is not a human life. Those who deny that are on the level of those who continued to insist on spontaneous generation after the Catholic genius Louis Pasteur disproved it in 1859.
Cold people who are not only credulous but cruel admit that the unborn child is human, but say, “So what?” At the recent White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, an astonishingly vulgar comedian joked about abortion to the laughter of pseudo-sophisticates in evening dress. But even she slipped and used the word “baby.”
Christ used the image of the vine to explain that all life is contingent, not spontaneously generated, but dependent on other lives. “A branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine.”
Likewise, those drinking champagne at the fancy dress dinner are related to every fragile life in the womb by a common humanity. To mock that is to dehumanize the self.
On the recent feast of St. George, there was born in England, whose patron he is, Louis, a prince of the royal house. There were celebratory church bells from Westminster Abbey and a salute of cannons. Rightly so — for the birth of every baby is a cause for rejoicing.
That same day another baby, one with a neurological infirmity, was deprived of oxygen support by judicial decree and against the will of his parents, who brought him into the world by procreation, as stewards of the Creator and not by spontaneous generation.
This was in defiance of an effort by Pope Francis to rescue him by military helicopter and take him to a place that would care for him.
As sons by adoption, little Louis and little Alfie are princes of the heavenly King — not by spontaneous generation but by divine will. Pope Leo XIII declared in Rerum Novarum: “The contention that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.”
Fr. George William Rutler is a Catholic priest and the pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan. This article from his parish church bulletin is used by permission.