Aquinas: Did Adam Poop?

Fun fact: this is post #250! And it’s dignified as shiiiit. As we’re getting further into Aquinas on human nature, I think I’m realising how fun this all is. Some of the other stuff could be a bit dry – honestly I was worried I was wasting my time once I hit the Trinitarian stuff. It’s not that interesting to me, and I didn’t have a lot of reason to keep posting about it here. But now I think Aquinas is more focused on delineating human nature, and there’s some truly wacky stuff going on. We had the thing on women, which was grim, but then also that extended argument about how flowers are upside down, which just – that’s perfect. That’s the kind of wacky shit I’m here for. Today we’re continuing our trend of wacky claims: in 1a.97.3, Aquinas asks whether humans pooped in the Garden of Eden.

In 97.1 and 97.2 Aquinas argued respectively that humans in the Garden were immortal and didn’t suffer. You have to be a bit careful with ‘suffering’, because Aquinas is using a particular Latin word here. He’s using passio, which is translated in my version as ‘suffering’, but also has a broader meaning of just being acted on: “for suffering is the result of action, and in nature contraries act upon and suffer from one another.” So Aquinas isn’t saying that any received action involves pain-suffering, he’s just using a word that happens to encompass both pain-suffering and receiving actions. He clarifies that there was no pain-suffering in the Garden, but that obviously people received actions.

Given that premise, then, Aquinas continues on to ask in 97.3 whether humans would have needed food. He starts off saying no, for some relatively sensible reasons: for instance, if humans are immortal, they wouldn’t need food because their bodies are already imperishable. Food is like a supplement, a restorative that gives our bodies the energy we need to go about our day. But if you don’t eat, you don’t have energy, and eventually you die. That seems kinda counter to the premise of immortality – so therefore you probably didn’t need to eat in the Garden. You must have your energy renewed from some other source, because if your energy depends on food, you’re not really immortal. You can be killed by starvation. That seems like a reasonable thing to say.

And then Aquinas brings out the poop thing. “On the consumption of food there follows the excretion of waste matters, which have a certain filthiness about them that would not have befitted the dignity of the original state. So it seems that man would not have used food in that state.” This is such a stellar argument – poop is gross, and Eden was perfect, and therefore poop can’t exist in Eden. Therefore nobody ate, because if you eat, you poop, and poop is gross. Thomas Aquinas, doctor of the church.

Aquinas starts the rebuttal with another interesting little quirk. He quotes the line in Genesis right before God tells the humans not to eat the bad fruit: “Of every tree in Paradise you shall eat.” Aquinas uses that line to argue that actually, if humans hadn’t been eating, they would’ve been disobeying God’s very clear instruction here to eat from all the trees. ‘Shall’ is taken as an imperative.

There is actually a broader and relatively thoughtful point going on too, but the comedy elements are just too good to pass over. Aquinas’s actual point takes its lead from Corinthians 15:44, where Paul is talking about the resurrection of the body. There’s a bunch of comparisons going on throughout that paragraph: “The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” That last one is really crucial here. Aquinas uses it to argue that “man in the state of innocence had an animal life that required food; after the resurrection, however, he will have a spiritual life that requires no food.” Aquinas takes the thing of ‘sown a natural body’ and suggests that it doesn’t just apply to our fallen state – it’s actually even more fundamentally our original state in the Garden of Eden. I’m not quite convinced Paul was trying to make claims about the bodies of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but that’s how Aquinas takes it. In the Garden we ate, but in heaven we won’t. Sown natural, raised spiritual.

Okay let’s get back to the poop stuff. Apparently, according to Aquinas, some people argued that humans did eat in the Garden, but that they “would have taken no more food than was exactly necessary,” and therefore wouldn’t have ever pooped. Whatever they ate would have been perfectly suited for their bodies and there would have been no waste products. My footnotes tell me that Alexander of Hales made this argument in his own Summa Universae Theologiae, in 1a.2i.457. Aquinas rejects Alexander’s argument, saying “it seems quite unreasonable to suppose that in the food taken there would have been no residual matter ill adapted to being changed into human tissue.” Poop just seems more reasonable. But Aquinas is quick to assure us that “God would have provided against any offensiveness resulting from this necessity.” So in the Garden we ate, and we pooped, because pooping seems to make the most biological sense, but pooping wasn’t gross, because God magically made it not gross. And then the Fall happened, and, frankly, poop becoming gross was one of the worse side effects of that whole thing. If only they’d known.


  1. […] So we’re starting to move towards twentieth-century theology, right, that’s the big news around the blog right now. As part of that, we start to open up some of these more contemporary religious questions – things that get asked today that wouldn’t have been asked in the same way several hundred years ago. For example: what’s the relationship between different religions? Are all of them a little bit right? Do all of them have things to offer? Or is there like one that’s correct and all the others are bad and evil? It’s a very Jihad vs McWorld-type question. On the one hand, you get this lazy, easy liberalism going on about how everyone should have their own religious beliefs, and we’ll all just respect each other’s opinions – as if it were that easy. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great ideal. But it sometimes feels like it’s based on the assumption that religion doesn’t – or maybe rather shouldn’t – impact anything going on in the real world – as if it’s some bourgeois ‘lifestyle choice’ that can be reduced to an economic relationship between producer and consumer. And, to parrot a criticism often levelled at free market thinking, there doesn’t seem to be any safety or oversight in the event that people start buying bad religion. It’s all very well to try and respect everyone’s beliefs, but you’ve got to have controls in place for dealing with extremists. That’s the other end of the spectrum, right – it’s religious fundamentalists, people coming in and arguing that they’re the only ones who’re correct, and everybody else needs to fall in line or burn in hell. We’re sitting in the middle between these different groups today, and we’ve got to figure out what to do about it. And that’s not stuff we had to deal with when we were talking about Aquinas. We just got to make jokes about whether or not Adam used to shit. […]


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