Zygotic developments

“Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee.”

This passage, from the beginning of the Prophecy of Jeremias, is one of the many that echo the initial theme of the Bible: “in the beginning.” All of them have this simple truth in common: that to the thinking mind, the beginning comes before the end. For the end is also conceived, in the beginning. It is, to speak glibly, the means to the end. But to the human, both means and end are unknowable to reason.

Can we understand anything? For we would have to go back to the time before the beginning to give a scientific account; in other words, to a time that does not exist. It is not science, to deal with things that are not, or cannot be. That is to say, we must acknowledge God, in the moment of creation. For even God has no being, “before He exists.” He is creator, not creature. He had to exist from the beginning.

The zygote of a creature is, but just barely. ┬áThis is true of mice and elephants and men. The zygote is a tremendously complex single cell, that comes into being for a moment, with all the genetic equipment a man could wish for. And as instantly, it begins its singular, but multicellular life. This fertilized egg, which already comprehends the union of male and female, unquestionably is. It is irreducible. We may have academic discourse on what is a man; on when he becomes real and when he ceases to be; but this is all nonsense. We moderns confuse the issue with such empty concepts as “the quality of life.” A question preceding this must be, what is the life we are discussing? And how do we presume to pass judgement?

In chronological terms, a zygote is the first man. That he does not resemble the “complete” man, is an irrelevant test of perfection. He is, and cannot be other than a man; he is not “potentially” a human. He has been created, human, and the potential is in him, not in something else. In our world of strange instruments, we view the matter backwards, or rather inside out. We may become whatever, imaginatively; we do not become something that we are, already.

We cannot be transformed from an earlier condition. We were transformed, rather, from the condition of non-being. The matter is too absolute to be analyzed in degrees or stages.

But this is to get confused by ourselves. The mystery has already been accomplished.

Cyril of Jerusalem understood this better than Thomas Aquinas, more than a thousand years before the Angelic Doctor; later, Thomas was still fussing about the moment the embryo quickens. Our own understanding may be more hopelessly backward; for the truth goes back a long way. We get it or we don’t: there is, immortally, life in us. It is a culture of life or a culture of death that we are supporting.