Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Abortion and the Early Christians

From Justin Buzzard:
The first Christians engaged extensively with the abortion culture of their day.

One of the earliest Christian references to abortion is found in the Didache. It represents the first Christian statement opposing abortion. A late 1st century or early 2nd century document, the Didache is essentially a code of Christian community life complete with instructions on morality, worship, ritual, and politics. In a section expounding the commandment,“Love your neighbor as yourself,” the Didache lists a series of “thou shalt not” statements, including prohibitions against murder, adultery, illicit sex, theft, and practicing magic.

From the middle of this list comes the prohibition, “you will not murder offspring by means of abortion.” Further along comes a list of those who are a part of the “way of death.” Alongside “those persecutors of the good” and “those not showing mercy to the poor,” stands the condemnation of “those murders of children, those corrupters of God’s workmanship.” Here, the Didache links abortion with murder and presumes the humanity of the fetus. With this first of many Christian statements against abortion, “thou shalt not abort” becomes aligned with the ancient Hebrew commandment against murder, presenting the abortion-frequent Greco-Roman world with a vital countercultural path.

Tertullian (160-240 A.D.) offers, perhaps, the early church’s strongest polemic against abortion. In his most acclaimed work, Apology, addressed to both the Roman emperor and a series of Roman governors, bold Tertullian proclaims:
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.
(Read entire post.)

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