Close relatives of Homo Sapiens are known to have existed in relatively recent times. Neanderthals are one example. They weren't mere brutes, as archaeological research has shown, but they weren't humans, either. How does Catholic doctrine address that problem?

  • Can you demonstrate that Catholics - or Christians in general - have a doctrine that states that humans are unique in the universe (as opposed to being unique on Earth for example)? Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 15:54
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    I'm not sure it its scientifically accurate to say that any members of genus Homo "weren't human".
    – bradimus
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 17:11
  • It would have to be established if the remains were from the age before the Flood, if that could ever be established at all.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 17:24
  • Note that by narrowing this down to just Catholics, you've changed the nature of the question greatly
    – Machavity
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:02
  • @Machavity For practical reasons: there are so many protestant sects with fantastic beliefs, that addressing the question to the most serious and orthodox Christians is more than reasonable...
    – xxavier
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:13

3 Answers 3


I would say that of the Christians that have an opinion on the subject (it's not really a theological point that comes up often) they seem to consider them human as well. Consider this article

Based on the comparison of modern human mt DNA and that taken from the Neanderthal, evolutionists have argued that the "Neanderthal line" diverged from the line of "hominids" leading to modern humans about 600,000 years B.P. without contributing mt DNA to modern Homo sapiens populations. This strongly implies that Neanderthals were a different species from modern humans.

However, the above noted interpretation is not scientifically justified. Lubenow (1998) has pointed out that the use of a statistical average of a large modern human sample (994 sequences from 1669 modern humans) compared with the mt DNA sequence from one Neanderthal is not appropriate. Furthermore, the mt DNA sequence differences among modern humans range from 1 to 24 substitutions, with an average of eight substitutions, whereas, the mt DNA sequence differences between modern man and the Neanderthal specimen range from 22 to 36 substitutions, placing Neanderthals, at worst, on the fringes of the modern range.

  • There is a morphological continuity verifiable for all the ancient examples of the genus Homo... and beyond... So, should we also consider the australopithecines as 'human'...? And their ancestors...? Where's the limit...? In other words, does a limit exists...? Should we perhaps consider (in a theological sense) all living beings as 'human'...?
    – xxavier
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 19:32
  • It also depends a great deal on what angle you're coming from. If you're coming from a Creationist background, then all of these different categories are really all just humans descended from Adam
    – Machavity
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 19:51
  • No, I'm not coming from a 'creationist background'... Within the Christian universe, that's a fringe minority...
    – xxavier
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 20:00
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    Creationism a fringe minority? You shouldn't be quick to say that. Historically the Church has been filled with Creationists, whether OEC or YEC. Evolution came on the scene very recently you know. And somehow people feel obligated to listen to that theory, which I would qualify as pseudo-science. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 21:39
  • I won't even try to reconcile the thing, because it's unreconcilable if you're being consistent, this is one of the reasons I left the Church and even as an Occultists I couldn't accept the theory of evolution it was just too bent. I was completely shocked when I found out about YEC and it hit me hard enough for God to draw me back stronger than ever. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 21:42

The uniqueness of humanity is solely about us being image bearers of YHWH. Current human physical traits differ enough that some have argued that certain homi sapiens aren't actually human (see chattel slavery, and other forms of similar oppression). But now most would say that's ridiculous. So your question is perhaps more relevant to our recent past, and even current events, than many think.

But to address your question, any relative of homo sapien that YHWH made image bearers would be considered...image bearers, and thereby, "unique". Maybe at the root of your question is, "when did YHWH first make something His image bearer, and did that include every ancestor?"

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    Do you have any references or quotes to show Catholics who believe this?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 1:54

Starting with the question title, I will quote the definition of genus from wikipedia:

A genus (/ˈdʒiːnəs/, pl. genera) is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms in biology. In the hierarchy of biological classification, genus comes above species and below family.

Therefore, the existence of other species of genus Homo poses for Christian belief in the uniqueness of humankind the same problem as the existence of other species of family Hominidae or of subfamily Homininae: none at all.

Moving on to the question text, I will focus on the assertion "They weren't mere brutes, as archaeological research has shown, but they weren't humans, either."

The case of any extinct species of genus Homo, be it Neanderthal or whatever, is very simple: either they were human beings from the theological viewpoint or they were not. I.e., either they had a spiritual soul or they did not.

Regarding this subject, Catholic doctrine says only that all human beings (again, from the theological viewpoint, i.e. having a spiritual soul) descend patrilineally from the first man, biblical Adam. Therefore:

  • If Neandies had a spiritual soul, then biblical Adam was a common patrilineal ancestor of both Neanderthals and Sapiens.

  • If Neandies did not have a spiritual soul, then biblical Adam lived after the "Neanderthal line" diverged from the "Sapiens line", and belonged to the latter.

And that's it.

Now, the question of whether Neandies had a spiritual soul is definitely outside the scope of Catholic doctrine. Of course, if they had written a derivation of calculus in the walls of a cave, then it would be clear that they had abstract reasoning and therefore a spiritual soul. But inferring from archeological remains whether they had abstract reasoning and true human speech (as described e.g. by Chomsky's universal grammar) and therefore a spiritual soul is a field in which you can be quite sure the Catholic Magisterium will never enter.

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