Early Christian Church Fathers views on abortion

Courtesy of the Orthodox Christianity blog, I discovered another blog called Early Christians on Abortion, which features just one post majoring on Jewish and early Christian thought relating to abortion.

In terms of Jewish thought, I was particularly interested to note that 1 Enoch 68:18 avers that an evil angel taught humans how to perform abortions:

The stroke of the embryo in the womb, to diminish [it]; (69) the stroke of the spirit [by] the bite of the serpent, and the stroke which is [given] in the mid-day [by] the offspring of the serpent, the name of which is Tabaet. (70)

(69) The stroke…to diminish it. Or, “the blows (which attack) the embryo in the womb so that it miscarries” (Knibb, p. 162).
(70) Tabaet. Literally, “male” or “strong” (Knibb, p. 162).

I’d strongly recommend hopping over and reading this blog post, which must surely be the definitive online resource on Jewish and early Christian thought on abortion.

Here’s a few quotes from the Church Fathers:

Letter of Barnabas

“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.” (19:5; ca. 75-100 A.D.).

Didache (i.e., the so-called “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”)

“And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.” (Didache 2:2; ca. 100 A.D.?)

Clement of Alexandria

“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, in order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the matter completely dead, abort at the same time their human feelings…Abortion is killing human life that is under God’s care, design and providence.” (Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 2.10, ca. 190-200 A.D.)

Tertullian

“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 9:8; ca. 200).

Basil the Great (329-379 A.D.)

“She who has deliberately destroyed a fetus has to pay the penalty of murder. The hairsplitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us….Here it is not only the child to be born that is vindicated, but also the woman herself who made an attempt against her own life, because usually the women die in such attempts. Furthermore, added to this is the destruction of the child, another murder… Moreover, those, too, who give drugs causing abortion are deliberate murderers themselves, as well as those receiving the poison which kills the fetus.” (Letter 188:2)

Ambrose of Milan (339 to 397 A.D.)

“The poor expose their children, the rich kill the fruit of their own bodies in the womb, lest their property be divided up, and they destroy their own children in the womb with murderous poisons. and before life has been passed on, it is annihilated.”

I’ll leave it there. Powerful stuff I’m sure you’ll agree.

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