Abortion Teaching of the Church
LittleJohnnie asked this question on 10/20/2000:
I have just read something most startling. Is it true that the Church's teaching on abortion has not been consistent throughout her history?
Corinthians1_13_4to8 gave this response on 10/20/2000:
(We thank Corinthians1_13_4to8 for this post)
From Encyc. of Catholic Doctrine: (I'll have to send this in 2 parts because it is just over 125 character too long - but otherwise, you don't get the whole history!) Much love, Corinthians
The Church has condemned abortion from its earliest centuries. During some period, Church law relied on the biological knowledge of the time to distinguish between very early abortions and those performed at later stages, with a lesser penalty attached to the former. But this did not affect the moral teaching against all abortion, and canon law dropped the distinction when science demonstrated that a member of the human species begins life at conception. In other words, it was always a sin - the question was - what degree?
The Old Testament contains no explicit condemnation of abortion. This is not because the practice was accept in ancient Israel, but because it was so alien to a religion and culture that greeted children as a blessing and view sterility as a curse. Little was known at the tim about human development in the womb. It is in this context that one may understand the Old Testament's single reference to ACCIDENTAL abortion. The law specifies that if a man in a fight ACCIDENTALLY strikes a woman and causes her to miscarry, he must pay fine, but if the woman dies, he forfeits his life (Ex. 21:22-23).
Even within the OT, however, a development can be seen. Later prophetic books, the Psalms, and the Book of Wisdom show a fuller appreciation of God's loving and life-giving presence at all stages of human life, including life in the womb: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jer 1:5; cf. Ps 22:10-11, 139:15). This fuller appreciation reaches its culmination in Jesus, who embodies God's particular regard for the weak and helpless, including children. In the NT, we see not only that the Son of God first became incarnate as an unborn child but that his herald on eath, John the Baptist, first greeted him by leaping in the womb of his own mother Elizabeth (Lk. 1:44). The Incarnation gave Christians a new reason to abhor all killing, including abortion: In destroying human life, we destroy a brother or sister of Christ.
As Christianity expanded beyond it's Jewish roots, an explicit position on abortion became necessary. In the Greek and Roman culture of that time, abortion and infanticide were accepted, particularly when ordered by the male head of teh household. Christians' universal reaction to the practice was one of outrage. The earliest known manual of Christian practice after the NT, The Didache commanded: "You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish." In the 3rd Cent., Tertullian insisted that abortion is simply "an acceleration of homicide," for "he also is a man who is about the be one, just as every fruit already exists in the seed." Early Councils often equated abortion with homicide, establishing severe penances for any Christian resorting to this practice.
As Jerome, Augustine, and other early Church Fathers took up insights from pagan philosophy to develop reasoned defense of their faith, they became aware of speculations by Aristotle and others regarding development in the womb. Aristotle theorized that the formative element for each child is provided by the father's semn, which required time to develop unformed matter for the mother's menstrual blood into a specifically human form. Basd on this visual study of miscarried fetuses, he thought htis formative process is complete about 40 days of development, passing through intermediate stages in which the developing being has a "vegative" soul and then an "animal" or a "sensitive" soul before being prepared to receive a specifically human or rational soul.
The Septuagint translation of the OT, written by Greek-speaking Jews, reflected this theory. In this version, the above-mentioned passage from Exoduc requires a fine if the miscarried child is "unformed" but the death penalty if he/she is "formed." Early Christians using this translation thought it provided biblical confirmation of Aristotles distinction; they were unaware that the distinction had been inserted into the text by scholars familiar with that theory.
(End part one - please refer to part 2)
Corinthians1_13_4to8 gave this response on 10/20/2000:
The theory of delayed animation was rejected in the law of the Eastern Church. But in the West the distinction between formed and unformed fetuses was incorporated into the codification of canon law in the 12th Cent., so that the only abortion of a formed or "animated" fetus was equated with murder. At the same time, abortion at any stage was still seen as a grave sin - in other words - it was always a sin - but the penalty depended upon how formed it was or not. St. Thomas Aquinas described all abortion as sin "against nature," observing that even brute animals instinctively cared for their young.
By the 19th Cent, the discovery of the ovum and other new knowledge undermined the scientific basis for the theory of delayed animation. It became known that the male sper and female ovum unite at conception to form a living being of the human species with his or her own identity. In 1869, Pope Pius IX reorder the system of canon law, he dropped the distinction between formed and unformed fetuses. At the same time, and on the same scientific basis, the AMA persuaded American legislators to drop a similar distinction from civil law and treat abortion at any stage as a crime.
Throughout these centuries, theolgoians debated difficult circumstances in which some thought an abortion might be justified. One 17th Cent. debate focused on whether an "unanimated" fetus could be aborted to save the mother's life or reputation. In the 19th Cent., the Vatican had to resolve a dispute about craniotomy, because some theologians thought it might be justifiable to crsh the skull of a child as it was being born in order to save the mother's life. In eeach of these cases, the Church sympathized with people facing such harrowing situations but concluded that no circumstance can objectively give anyone a right to directly dispose of someone else' life.
After the 2nd Vatican Council restated the Church's condemnation of abortin in 1965, Paop Paul VI clarifed the status of this teaching in 1972 by declaring that it "has not changed and is unchangeable." In 1974, the Declaration of Procured Abortion issued by the Congregtion for the Doctrine of the Faith elaborated the teaching in the face of errors in some countries to repeal traditional laws against abortion. Appealing to principals of natural law, the Declaration emphasizd the right to life as a fundamental right of each human being - one that cannot be denied by any individual or society, because it flows from the inherent dignity of the human person. In 1995, Pope John Paul II appealed to this insight as well as to the universal tradition of the Church to declare solemnly that "direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being." The Church irrevocably judges abortion to be among those inherently evil that can never be justified.
Hope this helps.
Through Mary's Heart into Jesus' Grip,