Abortion and the early church

Almost three thousand years ago, Solomon wrote, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ec. 1:9). In the case of abortion, his conclusion is essentially supported. The methods and motives, and the questions involved in the morality and metaphysics of abortion, are not much different today than they were two millennia ago when the church first began to address them.

That’s the conclusion of this fine article. Abortion is another progressive “advance” that turns out to be as old as the hills (and nothing new in America either). The church has opposed it from the beginning.

The Didache 2:2 (c. 80 AD):

…you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born

Athenagorus of Athens, A Plea for the Christians (c. 180 AD):

And when 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 foetus 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.

Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus Book 2, Chapter 10 (191 AD):

Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, if order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings.

Tertullian, Apologeticus (197 AD):

In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus 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. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.

Hippolytus of Rome, Against All Heresies, Book 9, Chapter 7 (c. 220 AD):

Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time!

Minucius Felix, Octavius XXX (c. 230 AD):

BUT THE GENTILES, BOTH CRUELLY EXPOSE THEIR CHILDREN NEWLY BORN, AND BE FORE THEY ARE BORN DESTROY THEM BY A CRUEL ABORTION. … There are some 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.

Cyprian of Carthage, Letters 48.2 (c. 250 AD):

The womb of his wife was smitten by a blow of his heel; and in the miscarriage that soon followed, the offspring was brought forth, the fruit of a father’s murder.

Basil of Caesarea, Letter 188, sections 2 and 8 (c. 370 AD):

The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. … Women also who administer drugs to cause abortion, as well as those who take poisons to destroy unborn children, are murderesses.

Ambrose of Milan, from Hexameron 5.18.58 (c. 380 AD):

The wealthy, in order that their inheritance may not be divided among several, deny in the very womb their own progeny. By use of parricidal mixtures they snuff out the fruit of their wombs in the genital organs themselves. In this way life is taken away before it is born …. Who except man himself has taught us ways of repudiating children?

Jerome, Letter 22.13 (384):

I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the church, their mother: stars over which the proud foe sets up his throne, and rocks hollowed by the serpent that he may dwell in their fissures. You may see many women widows before wedded, who try to conceal their miserable fall by a lying garb. Unless they are betrayed by swelling wombs or by the crying of their infants, they walk abroad with tripping feet and heads in the air. 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. Yet it is these who say: “Unto the pure all things are pure; my conscience is sufficient guide for me. A pure heart is what God looks for. Why should I abstain from meats which God has created to be received with thanksgiving?”

John Chrysostom, Homily 24, on Romans 13:12 (c. 390 AD):

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 thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom 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 prevent its being born. Why then dost 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?

Augustine from On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book 1, Chapter 17 (c. 420):

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.

Martin Luther from “Lectures on Genesis” (1535):

How great, therefore, the wickedness of human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation
is the work of God.

Calvin, from Commentaries On the Four Last Books of Moses, commenting on Ex 21:22 (1563):

The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of his mother, is already a human being, and it is a monstrous crime to rob it of life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.

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