August 8, 2009

The Early Church on Abortion

"The way of light, then, is as follows. If anyone desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works. The knowledge, therefore, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following. . . . Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born." (Letter of Barnabas, Chap 19 v. 5; A.D. 74)

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"And near that place I saw another strait place . . . and there sat women. . . . And over against them many children who were born to them out of due time sat crying. And there came forth from them rays of fire and smote the women in the eyes. And these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion." (Apocalypse of Peter 25; A.D. 137)

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"You shall not kill an unborn child or murder a newborn infant." (Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Chap. 2.; 2nd cent.)

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"What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers? . . . [W]hen we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it."What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? For the same person would not regard the fetus in the womb as a living thing and therefore an object of God's care, and at the same time slay it, once it had come to life." (A Plea for the Christians, Chap. 35; Athenagoras; A.D. 177)

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"In our case, a 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 the 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 birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed." (Apology Ch. 9, v. 8; Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus; A.D. 197)


"Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. "There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] "the slayer of the infant," which of course was alive. . . . "[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive." (Treatise on the Soul, Chap. 25; Tertullian; A.D. 210)

"Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does. (Treatise on the Soul, Chap. 27; Tertullian)

"The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion."[Ex. 21:22–24] (Treatise on the Soul, Ch. 37.; Tertullian)

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"There are some [pagan] women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your [false] gods. . . . To us [Christians] it is not lawful either to see or hear of homicide." (Octavius Chp. 30; A.D. 226; Minucius Felix)

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"Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person. See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!" (Refutation of All Heresies, Bk 9, Ch.7; A.D. 228; St. Hippolytus of Rome)

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"When God forbids us to kill, he not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but he warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. . . . Therefore, let no one imagine that even this is allowed, to strangle newly-born children, which is the greatest impiety; for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death. But men, that there may be no crime with which they may not pollute their hands, deprive [unborn] souls as yet innocent and simple of the light which they themselves have not given."Can anyone, indeed, expect that they would abstain from the blood of others who do not abstain even from their own? But these are, without any controversy, wicked and unjust." (Divine Institutes, Bk. 6, Ch. 20; A.D. 307; Lactantius)

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"Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees." (Canon 21; A.D. 314; Council of Ancyra)

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"Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not." (First Canonical Letter, Canon 2; St. Basil the Great; A.D. 374)

"A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder. And any fine distinction as to its being completely formed or unformed is not admissible amongst us." (Letters, 188; St. Basil the Great)

"He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of willful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and unintentionally kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defense, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it dies upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees." (ibid., Canon 8; St. Basil the Great)

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"Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication. . . . Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? (where there are many efforts at abortion? (where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot you do not let continue a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to prostitution, prostitution to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with his laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine." (Homilies on Romans 24; St. John Chrysostom; A.D. 391)

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"I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their mother. . . . Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when, as often happens, they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder." (Letters 22, Para. 13; St. Jerome; A.D. 396)

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"Thou shalt not use magic. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; for he says, ‘You shall not suffer a witch to live’ [Ex. 22:18]. Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. . . . [I]f it be slain, [it] shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed." (Apostolic Constitutions 7:3; A.D. 400)

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"Sometimes, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born." (On Marriage and Concupiscence, Bk.1, Ch.17 (15); St. Augustine of Hippo; 419-420 A.D.)

"Hence in the first place arises a question about abortive conceptions, which have indeed been born in the mother's womb, but not so born that they could be born again. For if we shall decide that these are to rise again, we cannot object to any conclusion that may be drawn in regard to those which are fully formed. Now who is there that is not rather disposed to think that unformed abortions perish, like seeds that have never fructified? But who will dare to deny, though he may not dare to affirm, that at the resurrection every defect in the form shall be supplied, and that thus the perfection which time would have brought shall not be wanting, any more than the blemishes which time did bring shall be present: so that the nature shall neither want anything suitable and in harmony with it that length of days would have added, nor be debased by the presence of anything of an opposite kind that length of days has added; but that what is not yet complete shall be completed, just as what has been injured shall be renewed." (Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love; Ch. 85; St. Augustine of Hippo;421 A.D.)

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"It is never licit to give something that will cause an abortion. As Hippocrates points out, it is not fitting that the innocent office of a doctor be stained by complicity in such a serious offense. But if they attempt to avoid the birth on account of either a defect in their womb or the difficulties associated with their age, they greatly risk their lives to earn their health just as one risks killing the tree by applying something to the branches or boats which are tossed about by a storm must throw away their cargo." (Euporiston III, VI, 23; 4th - 5th cent. A.D.)

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