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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Early Christianity on Abortion

I have to drive an hour one way to work every day. I started "reading" audio books with that "free time". It has been quite useful. Recently I came across a reading of the Didache. "The what?" you may ask. The Didache is a book written somewhere in the first or second century. For a long time it was up for consideration as Scripture. It was believed to be the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Eventually it was agreed that the book was an excellent book, but not inspired Scripture. So I was pleased to be able to download this admirable book containing good teachings from the early Church fathers.

The book seemed to be largely a lot of quotes from Scripture. You'll learn the basic rules of Christianity -- "First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself." You'll learn that "grave sins" are forbidden, like adultery, murder, fornication, and so on. (They specifically include pederasty in the list.) There are instructions regarding teachers, prophets, Christian assembly, and so on. Lots of the normal, good stuff. But, since this was written sometime prior to 200 AD, I was somewhat surprised at this instruction: "You shall not murder a child by abortion" (Didache, Ch 2).

Now, I've heard it said that this whole "pro-life" thing (expressed by opponents as "anti-abortion") is a modern-day phenomenon and didn't have any basis in historical Christianity. As it turns out, this isn't true at all. The Didache was quite clear. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-215 AD) wrote against it in his Paedagogus (Book 2). Tertullian (circa 125-225 AD) specified, "In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth." (Apology Ch 9). With only a little searching you can find repeated references in the writings of early Church fathers who affirm that abortion is murder and, as such, forbidden.

Now, you can debate all you want about "when life begins" or some such, but what cannot be debated was the view of the early Church on the subject. They held that the fetus was human life and terminating a life when it wasn't yet born was still murder. Thus, it is "pro-life", not "anti-abortion".


4simpsons said...

Excellent points. Here are some other quotes from church fathers on abortion if you are interested -- . They are part of a delightful post where a pro-choice theological liberal tried to use a quote from a church father to support pure pacifism. Not only did he have to take it out of context to do so, but he didn't realize that is reference included a clear anti-abortion message. Turns out he didn't really care what that church father said after all.

And here's a great link to use on the "where life begins" debate -- it is a series of quotes from mainstream embryology textbooks and even some pro-aborts, all conceding the obvious: a new human being is created at conception -- .

Marshall Art said...

Good stuff, Stan. Neil had listed some quotes from early church leaders on the subject some time ago. Nice to have them all brought to light once more.

As to terms, I am "anti-abortion" because it IS murder, except when the pregnancy clearly endangers the life of the mother.

And of course, the question of when life begins, when one is a person entitled to protections, are all examples of cheap rationalizations. The entire topic of pro- vs. anti-abortion is largely an after-the-fact debate. The focus should really be on abstaining from sexual activity so that "unwanted" pregnancies do not come to pass. But good golly! Who am I to tell others how to live??!!

Jim Jordan said...

Really great work, Stan. I tweeted your article. Hope you don't mind. I was in the middle of a debate with some pro-abort, atheist women who have some appalling views. Here's the link to the tweet on Twitter.

Anonymous said...

Abortion is neither right or wrong...its all opinion and nothing more ...

Brett Strong (MrBrettStrong Youtube channel on abortion)

Stan said...

You are certainly free to conclude such ... but it's very likely, if followed to its logical conclusion, to end up in places you don't like, beginning with anarchy. I form my views on what is right or wrong, moral or immoral, on a particular basis. You form yours on opinion. I would point out, however, that your opinion of what is right or wrong is not binding on anyone else, so making the argument is pointless.