Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Father William Most Collection

Abortion: Scripture; Ancient Jewish and Christian Writers

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

(Cf. John R. Connery, Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective, Chicago, Loyola Univ. Press, 1977, and Germain Grisez, Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments NY. Corpus Books, 1970)

1. Exodus 21. 22 RSV: "When men strive together and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judge determine. 23 . If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye etc."

Comment: Hard to determine whether chief point is harm to the child or to the woman &husband. Probably chiefly the latter, but yet the harm to the child seems not ruled out. The Septuagint reads: "If two men fight and strike a woman with child, and the child that is not fully formed, comes forth, there shall be a fine according as the husband of the woman imposes, he shall set it with fair measure. But if it was fully formed he will impose life for life, eye for eye, etc."

2. Pseudo-Phocyclides, lines 184-85:"Do not let a woman destroy the unborn babe in her belly, nor after its birth throw it before the dogs and the vultures as a prey."

Comments: Phocylides was an Ionic poet in Miletus, middle of sixth century BC. Was famed for useful advice for daily life. It is a part of propaganda for favor to the Jewish religion. The translator in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha II (ed. James H. Charlesworth, Doubleday, 1985) was . W. Van der Horst. He estimates the date as between 220 BC and 200 AD.

Note 1 on p. 580 says:" Abortion and exposure of children were the current methods of family planning in pagan antiquity. Though the OT forbids neither practice (but see the LXX translation of Ex 21:22f), they are frequently condemned (in this combination) in Jewish and Christian writings, e.g., Philo, Spec. Leg. 3:108-09; Josephus Apion 2:202; SibOr 2:281ff. ; Did 2:2; EBar 19. 5, etc."

3. Flavius Josephus, Against Apion 2:202: "The law [Jewish law] orders us to bring up all our children, and forbids women to cause abortion of that which is begotten; and if any woman seems to have done so, she will be a murderer of her own child, by destroying a living creature." (Probably late first century AD).

4. Sibylline Oracles 2. 281-82:" ... as many as aborted what they carried in the womb, as many as cast forth their offspring unlawfully [will be punished after the resurrection]."

Comment: The editor in Charlesworth, J. J. Collins, estimates second century A.D. for Christian redaction, but the Jewish original was about the turn of the era. The lines cited above seem Jewish original.

5. Didache 2, 2: "you shall not kill a child by abortion nor kill it after it is born." Comment: date usually given as 100-150 AD.

6. Epistle of Barnabas: Those on the "way of darkness" include in 20. 2,"the murderers of children, aborting the work of God." Comment: Probable date perhaps between 132 & 138 AD.

7. Tertullian, Apologeticum 9:8: For us, since murder has been forbidden, it is also not permitted to dissolve what is conceived in the womb while the blood is being formed into a human being. It is an anticipation of murder to keep one from being born; nor does it make a difference whether one takes the life of one already born, or disturbs one in the process of being born: even the one who is going to be a human being is one." Text from Sources Chrétiennes No. 108, p. 184. (Written about 197 A.D. )

8. St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 52, to Cornelius: "He [the schismatic Novatian] struck the womb of his wife with his heel and hurried an abortion, thereby causing parricide." (Written about 251 AD)

9. St. Basil the Great, Epistle 138: "He who destroys the fetus deliberately is guilty of murder." PG 36:672. (Written about 375 AD)

10. St. Jerome, Epistle 22. 13: [speaking of virgins] "Others drink for sterility and commit murder on the human not yet sown. Some when they sense that they have conceived by sin, consider the poisons for abortion, and frequently die themselves along with it, and go to hell guilty of three crimes: murdering themselves, committing adultery against Christ, and murder against their unborn child." PL 22. 401. (Written about 380 AD).

11. St. Ambrose, On the Hexaemeron 5:18:" The rich women, to avoid dividing the inheritance among, many kill their own fetus in the womb and with murderous juices extinguish in the genital chamber their children." PL 14:231. (Written about 386 AD).

12. St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 24: To destroy the fetus "is something worse than murder." The one who does this "does no to take away life that has already been born, but prevents it from being born." PG 60. 626-27. (Written about 391 AD).

13. St. Augustine, De nuptiis et concupiscentia 1:15: "At times their lustful cruelty or cruel lust goes so far as to obtain poisons to cause sterility; and if this does not work, to somehow extinguish and destroy the fetus conceived within the womb, wishing the offspring to be killed before living, or if it was living in the womb, to be killed before being born." PL 44:423-24. (Written about 419 AD).

14. Pope Stephen V, Epistle to Archbishop of Mainz, Sept 14, 887 (SA 670): "If he who destroys what is conceived in the womb by abortion is a murderer, how much more is he unable to excuse himself of murder who kills a child even one day old."

15. Vatican II, Church in Modern World ยง51: "Therefore life starting at conception is to be guarded with the greatest care, and abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes" [nefanda sunt crimina].



To Most Collection home page