I think that the churches (all Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox and others) should be involved in the fight against legalized abortion. I am looking to the history of the Church to see what forms of abortion occurred (e.g., abandonment/exposure), and how the early Church Christians responded, and the prevailing doctrines on abortion or its equivalent.
1Hi and welcome to the site, this question might be a little too broad for the site in general. Asking just about Christian response to abortion in the Early Church is probably sufficient. There's a history site and a Judaism site as well– Peter Turner ♦Apr 4, 2019 at 18:10
1I vaguely recall seeing a quotation from Justin Martyr mentioning the prohibition of abortion as a distinguishing feature of Christianity. Unfortunately, I don't recall whether this was intended to distinguish Christianity from all other faiths (including Judaism) or just from paganism.– Andreas BlassApr 4, 2019 at 19:15
@AndreasBlass St. Justin Martyr's First Apology 27 or 29?– GeremiaApr 5, 2019 at 4:43
I think its a minority of Christian faiths that think abortion is wrong/should be illegal in all cases. The US has many non-Christians that are every bit as important in the country's laws and policy. If you want a government that is not inclusive of "unbelievers" how different would that be than Taliban rule in Afghanistan? I, a devote Christian, think it is immoral to control a woman's body in such a way and doing it in God's name is blasphemy.– TomMay 9, 2022 at 5:04
There were church commandments against it, and from the earliest times.
The Didache, i.e. the earliest Christian catechetical document (and contemporaneous with the Gospels, probably earlier than A.D. 70) says "οὐ φονεύσεις τ́κνον ἐν φθορᾷ" (you shall not murder an infant with abortion) and "οὐδὲ γεννηθὲν ἀποκτενεῖς" (nor slay the begotten). So both abortion pre-birth and the monstrous ancient (and regrettably, and shockingly, current) practice of awaying with unwanted and undesirable babies is here condemned.
Athenagoras, also a very early Christian, writes in his A Plea for Christians (a work against calumnies against the Christian faith by pagans, to the Roman Emperor), cap. 35:
And when we [Christians] 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?
He wrote about A.D. 177.
Tertullian, writing in 197 (Apology, cap. 9):
In our case [Christians'], murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fœtus 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.
This sentiment, attitude, doctrine, is never taken back or rejected by any later Christians, so to cite more would be rather superfluous. That is to say, all abortion is considered murdering that infant.
@Sola Gratia - you could add a quote from the Epistle of Barnabas written sometime between 70 and 132 AD. section 19.5 includes: "You shall not murder a child by abortion, nor again shall you kill it when it is born." Apr 8, 2019 at 9:59
Exodus 21:22-23 appears to equate fetal life with human life. +1 Apr 26, 2022 at 14:14
Since apostolic times the Church has been opposed to abortion and contraception.
The following sources from the early Church are given in Brian Clowes's Facts of Life (2nd ed.) PDF pp. 866-7. I've included quotes for the more famous authors; Clowes includes quotes from some of the others.
- The Apocalypse of Peter.
- Hippolytus, Bishop of Pontius and theologian (died 236), Refutation of All Heresies, 9.7.
- Origen, theologian of Alexandria (185-254), Against Heresies, page 9.
- Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (c. 200-258), Letters, page 48.
- Methodius, Bishop of Olympus (died 311).
- Council of Elvira in Granada, Spain (305), Canons, 63 and 68.
- Council of Ancyra in Galatia, Asia Minor (314), Canon, 21.
- Ephraem the Syrian, theologian (306-373), De Timore Dei, page 10.
- Ephipanius, Bishop of Salamis (c. 315-403).
- St. Basil the Great, priest (c. 329-379), Letters,
188.2, 8. [First Canonical Letter, from the work Three Canonical Letters. Canons 2 and 8. Loeb Classical Library, Volume III, pages 20 to 23.]
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 die upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees.
The hairsplitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us. Whoever deliberately commits abortion is subject to the penalty for homicide. … Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years' penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not.
- St. Basil's account here is reminiscent of Exodus 21:22, the earliest biblical record against abortion: "If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman's husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award."
- St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (c. 339-397), Hexameron, 5.18.58 [PDF pp. 220-1].
Men should learn to love their children. … the females of our species quickly give up nursing even those they love or, if they belong to the wealthier class, disdain the act of nursing. Those who are very poor expose their infants and refuse to lay claim to them when they are discovered. Even the wealthy, in order that their inheritance may not be divided among several, deny in the very womb their own progeny. By the 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 given.
- Apostolic Constitutions (late Fourth Century)
- St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430), Enchiridion, page 86. [On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1.17.]
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. Well, if both parties alike are so flagitious, they are not husband and wife; and if such were their character from the beginning, they have not come together by wedlock but by debauchery. But if the two are not alike in such sin, I boldly declare either that the woman is, so to say, the husband's harlot; or the man the wife's adulterer.
- St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople (c.
347-407), Homily 24 ("On The Book of Romans")
Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication … Why sow where the ground makes 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.
- St. Jerome (died in 420) [Letter to Eustochium, 22.13.]
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.
- Council of Chalcedon (451)
- Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (470-543), Sermons, 1.12.
- Council of Lerida (524).
- Second Council of Braga (527), Canons, 77.
- St. Martin of Braga (580)
- Consillium Quinisextum (692).
When the Roman empire fell, the rich Romans fled to the countryside, leaving the Christians in Rome. The Christians were known to adopt abandoned children, and this is one way that Christians help rebuild Rome.
The Early Church condemned abortion and saw it for what it was, a grave sin! It is important to remember that the fathers within the early church were all Jewish and so maintained the Jewish view of the Old Testament's teaching on abortion which viewed it as reprehensible. Christians and the early church fathers quoted mostly from the OT because as Christian Jews they maintained the social teachings of the Torah.
Here is a list I have compiled of how the church viewed abortion:
Terutllian - First Apology (Chapter 9) | 179 AD
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” “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
The Didache - The Didache (Chapter 2) | 2nd century
The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a new-born child
Here I want to look at what we can infer from scripture of the attitude of some of the apostles, namely the Apostles Paul and John. There are three New Testament verses which are especially relevant:- Galatians 5:20, Revelation 21:8 and Rev 22:15.
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal 5:19-21)
The second word in verse 20, "pharmakeia", is translated here as "witchcraft".
In Rev 21:8 ("pharmacon") and 22:15 ("pharmacos") the King James Version uses the word "sorcerers":-
"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Rev 21:8)
"For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and makes a lie." (Rev 22:15)
I quote from John Jefferson Davis book "Evangelical Ethics" who quotes from John T. Noonan "The Morality of Abortion"(1970).
"John Noonan has argued that the term which is often translated as "sorcery" in Gal 5:20 is more properly translated as "medicine". In the ancient world, "medicine" was associated with religion and the occult in a way that is difficult for the modern mind to appreciate. Pharmakeia is generally used of drugs, potions, and spells, and hence can include sorcery, but is not limited to it.
In at least one case, the word [pharmakeia] is used by the second century A.D. Greek physician Soranus of Ephesus, sometimes called the "father of gynaecology," to refer to abortifacient drugs. So, Noonan would appear to be correct in saying that the word used by Paul in Galatians 5:20 is broad enough to include abortifacient drugs, though the term is certainly not limited to that meaning."
Also I quote:-
"Noonan also notes that in the early Christian document Didache 2.2, the practice of "medicine" is mentioned in the immediate context of a prohibition of slaying the child in the womb by abortion."
"Thus certain types of "contraception", such as the IUD, the "morning after pill", and prostaglandins drugs, all of which can cause abortion of the fertilized ovum, would not be licit for the Christian."
In summary, in all three of the above verses the Scriptures unequivocally condemn abortion and abortifacient drugs.