Sanctity Of Human Life: An Ancient View
On January 13, 1984 President Ronald Reagan designated January 22, 1984 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day.
The date coincided with the 11th anniversary of the Roe versus Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortions in the United States.
It has become an annual time for organized demonstrations where citizens affirm the sanctity and dignity of human life. The Church, that community who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, must be at the forefront of standing firm.
Life is seamless from the womb to the graveside. Every single person’s life is precious because each one is created in the image of God. Whatever else that means it proclaims that we are reflections of his glory, which automatically sanctifies human life.
We have systematically devalued the unborn child and in doing so detrimental repercussions have reverberated across the landscape of our society.
What follows is a review and reminder of what the early Church believed about the sanctity of human life. Many thanks to my good friend Gary Warden who compiled all the research work on this topic.
The result is clear evidence that from its beginnings the Church was consistent in its condemnation of abortion. Also, any consideration that was given about when life begins or when does the soul inhabit the flesh seems to be at conception.
70 AD Josephus
We begin with the Jewish historian Josephus. Though not a Christian he provides some insight into prevailing Jewish thought regarding abortion; it is apparent that first century Jews viewed abortion as murder. This was the backdrop against which Jesus and the Apostles lived.
Josephus, Flavius, The Works of Josephus, Flavius Josephus Against Apion, Book II, 25 - The law, moreover enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind.
74 AD The Letter of Barnabas
Letter of Barnabas 19 - The way of light, then, is as follows. If any one 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.
137 AD The Apocalypse of Peter
The Apocalypse of Peter 25 - 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.
150 AD Didache
Didache 2:1 - 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. Do not practice magic. Do not practice sorcery. Neither murder a child by abortion, nor destroy what is born.
170 AD Mark Felix
Mark Felix, Christian Lawyer, Octavius chapter 30 - There are some women among you who by drinking special potions extinguish the life of the future human in their very bowels, thus committing murder before they even give birth.
177 AD Athenagoras
A Plea for the Christians 35, Embassy chapter 5 - 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.
Athenagoras Plea, chapter 35 - 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.
210 AD Tertullian
The Soul 25 - 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.
Apology 9:8 - 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 27 - 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.
226 AD Minucius Felix
Octavius 30 - 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.
228 AD Hippolytus
Refutation of All Heresies - 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!
306 AD Council of Elvira
Nineteen bishops and twenty-six priests attended the council. Canon 63 states: “If a woman conceives in adultery and then had an abortion, she may not commune again, even as death approaches, because she has sinned twice.”
307 AD Lactantius
Divine Institutes 6:20 - 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.
374 AD Basil the Great
First Canonical Letter, canon 8 - 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.
391 AD John Chrysostom
Homilies on Romans 24 - 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.
396 AD Jerome
Letters 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.
692 AD The Council of Trullo
Canon 41 - Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the fetus, are subjected to the penalty of murder.
Is God the sole author of life & death?
It is interesting to note that from the earliest times the Church had the same issues, arguments and case histories of abortion that we do in our day. The stand consistently taken by the Church was to just plainly call abortion murder.
There were exceptions for the life of the mother, but zero evidence to suggest any leader ever put forward the notion that abortion was a women's moral and legal right to choose. Enlightened jurists in the twentieth century discovered abortion on-demand rights emanating from some between the lines place in the American Constitution.
May the God of all peace, the One who entered human history in the womb of a peasant woman, grant the modern Church the wisdom of the ancients; may we have the fortitude to remain steadfast in defense of the sanctity of human life.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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