The Early Church on abortion

Wyman Richardson, a commenter on James H. Grant’s blog In Light of the Gospel, posted some helpful quotations from various church fathers about abortion, which was a common practice in the Roman empire:

“You shall not kill the child by obtaining an abortion. Nor, again, shall you destroy him after he is born.” (Barnabas, 70-80 AD, 1.148)

“You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one who has been born.” (The Didache, 80-140 AD, 1.377)

“We say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder. And we also say that we will have to give an account to God for the abortion.” (Athenagoras, 175 AD, 2.147)

“In our case, murder is once for all forbidden. Therefore, we may not destroy even the fetus 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 way to kill a human. It does not matter whether you take away a life that has been born or destroy one that is not yet born.” (Tertullian, 197 AD, 3.26)

“Indeed, the Law of Moses punishes with appropriate penalties the person who causes abortion. For there already exists the beginning stages of a human being. And even at this stage, [the fetus] is already acknowledged with having the condition of life and death, since he is already susceptible to both.” (Tertullian, 210 AD, 3.218)

“Are you to dissolve the conception by aid of drugs? I believe it is no more lawful to hurt a child in process of birth, than to hurt one who is already born.” (Tertullian, 212 AD, 4.57)

“There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels. So they commit murder before they bring forth.” (Mark Minucius Felix, 200AD, 4.192)

“The womb of his wife was hit by a blow of his heel. And, in the miscarriage that soon followed, the offspring was brought forth, the fruit of a father’s murder.” (Cyprian, 250AD, 5.326)

“The soul is not introduced into the body after birth, as some philosophers think. Rather, it is introduced immediately after conception, when the divine necessity has formed the offspring in the womb.” (Lactantius, 304-313AD, 7.297)

“You shall not slay your child by causing abortion, nor kill the baby that is born.” (Apostolic Constitutions, 390 AD, 7.466)

HT: Glenn at In Defense of the Faith

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pingback: Justified! » Blog Archive » Veith, Once Again, Is Rich in Resources!

  • Pingback: Justified! » Blog Archive » Veith, Once Again, Is Rich in Resources!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Thanks, Veith! Sometimes its just nice to know that some of these unseen friends on the other side of the altar agree with you.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Thanks, Veith! Sometimes its just nice to know that some of these unseen friends on the other side of the altar agree with you.

  • fw

    wow what a great set of quotes. To think that for the first 300 or so years of the church after christ, these rules were set soley for christians!

    yet by the christians setting an example and without having to worry about supreme court appointments, they changed the world forever!

    infanticide, not just abortion, were extremely common and completely accepted in their time. fathers had the literal power of life and death over their families as head of family.

    now, with roe vs wade, that power has again been given to the head of the family as it was in ancient rome.

    I again believe that this practice will become shunned by society once again as they see christians provide for unwed mothers, abstain from aborting their own young, and promote whatever works to create alternatives to abortion. Women will still seek and obtain abortions even if they are illegal. the problems will then go underground and become even more intractable and complicated.

    abortions are illegal here in Brasil, yet they are rampant and there are alot of deaths as a result. One woman I know aborted and was asked to leave the “doctor´s” office while she was still bleeding heavily. imagine.

    what is missing today that existed then is the social security network known as the extended nuclear family. this network existed in all of human history up until around 1920 or so. movement from agrarian society, and women leaving their homes and working during wwii changed everything seemingly forever…..

    the debates about “big government” and the attempts to force change, top down, by legislation or appointment of the “right ” judges all are because of the disappearance of the nuclear family and the devastation this has caused to our society. These top down attempts will surely fail. this IS unfortunate. It would be great if we could solve societies problems by some governmental fiat or intervention judicial or legislative. Prohibition is evidence that that solution simply does not work and creates more problems than it solves.

    the republican platform correctly denounces abortion for ANY reason, even in cases of rape or incest. Yet it is safe to bet that even the republican candidates will not take this stance during the election or even after. Politicians reflect the public will in a democracy. We have moved on from being a republic governed by the law and not by men.

    we need to adjust ourselves to all these realities to truly be effective in combating the evils of abortion/murder.

    We need to focus as the early church did. These quotes are excellent reminders of the attitude of the early church! thanks!

  • fw

    wow what a great set of quotes. To think that for the first 300 or so years of the church after christ, these rules were set soley for christians!

    yet by the christians setting an example and without having to worry about supreme court appointments, they changed the world forever!

    infanticide, not just abortion, were extremely common and completely accepted in their time. fathers had the literal power of life and death over their families as head of family.

    now, with roe vs wade, that power has again been given to the head of the family as it was in ancient rome.

    I again believe that this practice will become shunned by society once again as they see christians provide for unwed mothers, abstain from aborting their own young, and promote whatever works to create alternatives to abortion. Women will still seek and obtain abortions even if they are illegal. the problems will then go underground and become even more intractable and complicated.

    abortions are illegal here in Brasil, yet they are rampant and there are alot of deaths as a result. One woman I know aborted and was asked to leave the “doctor´s” office while she was still bleeding heavily. imagine.

    what is missing today that existed then is the social security network known as the extended nuclear family. this network existed in all of human history up until around 1920 or so. movement from agrarian society, and women leaving their homes and working during wwii changed everything seemingly forever…..

    the debates about “big government” and the attempts to force change, top down, by legislation or appointment of the “right ” judges all are because of the disappearance of the nuclear family and the devastation this has caused to our society. These top down attempts will surely fail. this IS unfortunate. It would be great if we could solve societies problems by some governmental fiat or intervention judicial or legislative. Prohibition is evidence that that solution simply does not work and creates more problems than it solves.

    the republican platform correctly denounces abortion for ANY reason, even in cases of rape or incest. Yet it is safe to bet that even the republican candidates will not take this stance during the election or even after. Politicians reflect the public will in a democracy. We have moved on from being a republic governed by the law and not by men.

    we need to adjust ourselves to all these realities to truly be effective in combating the evils of abortion/murder.

    We need to focus as the early church did. These quotes are excellent reminders of the attitude of the early church! thanks!

  • Carl Vehse

    fw wrote, “we need to adjust ourselves to all these realities to truly be effective in combating the evils of abortion/murder.”

    Yet elsewhere fw wrote: “i support obama and the dems”

    These are mutually exclusive statements.

    “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

  • Carl Vehse

    fw wrote, “we need to adjust ourselves to all these realities to truly be effective in combating the evils of abortion/murder.”

    Yet elsewhere fw wrote: “i support obama and the dems”

    These are mutually exclusive statements.

    “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

  • Anon

    Carl, the Lord was speaking explicitly about the inconsistency of serving God and money. Does not then the verse more aptly apply to one who serves Republican interests?

  • Anon

    Carl, the Lord was speaking explicitly about the inconsistency of serving God and money. Does not then the verse more aptly apply to one who serves Republican interests?

  • fw

    #4 all candidates, as far as I know, are committed to reducing the numbers of abortions and unwed pregnancies as much as possible.

    NO candidate as far as i know is actually committed to zero abortions. all make exceptions for rape or incest.

    if I remember, your proposed solution to this dilema is to not vote or to vote for some obscure 3rd party candidate.

    I politely disagree with you Carl. Abortion is not the sole issue of this election or facing our nation.

  • fw

    #4 all candidates, as far as I know, are committed to reducing the numbers of abortions and unwed pregnancies as much as possible.

    NO candidate as far as i know is actually committed to zero abortions. all make exceptions for rape or incest.

    if I remember, your proposed solution to this dilema is to not vote or to vote for some obscure 3rd party candidate.

    I politely disagree with you Carl. Abortion is not the sole issue of this election or facing our nation.

  • Carl Vehse

    Tap-dancing won’t help, fw. Barry and the Dems still advocate and support abortion-on-demand and its funding. That’s advocating, supporting, and funding – as you admitted – murder.

    fw, your “as far as i know” isn’t very far. While McCain has previously argued for exceptions, he could (or did) not change the GOP platform, which includes no exceptions (e.g., rape, incest) in its demand for an abortion ban. Palin has stated the same GOP platform position.

    Maybe Sarah-Cuda will be able to bring McCain around to her views on abortion, as well as more domestic oil-drilling, before they are sworn in as P/VP in January.

  • Carl Vehse

    Tap-dancing won’t help, fw. Barry and the Dems still advocate and support abortion-on-demand and its funding. That’s advocating, supporting, and funding – as you admitted – murder.

    fw, your “as far as i know” isn’t very far. While McCain has previously argued for exceptions, he could (or did) not change the GOP platform, which includes no exceptions (e.g., rape, incest) in its demand for an abortion ban. Palin has stated the same GOP platform position.

    Maybe Sarah-Cuda will be able to bring McCain around to her views on abortion, as well as more domestic oil-drilling, before they are sworn in as P/VP in January.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    For a while, I was having trouble finding a source for any of these quotes, as they seem to be passed around, email-forward style.

    If anyone wants to read up on these in context, I could find all of them but the last three (Cyprian, Lactantius, and the “Apostolic Constitutions”) at EarlyChristianWritings.com, which seems to be a useful resource. I think the quotes in context are even more forceful.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    For a while, I was having trouble finding a source for any of these quotes, as they seem to be passed around, email-forward style.

    If anyone wants to read up on these in context, I could find all of them but the last three (Cyprian, Lactantius, and the “Apostolic Constitutions”) at EarlyChristianWritings.com, which seems to be a useful resource. I think the quotes in context are even more forceful.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Second “Anon” (@5), could you please pick a different handle? I know “Anon” isn’t much of a handle, anyhow, but it’s all the more confusing to have two of you, with conflicting viewpoints, no less. (Besides, I think I know who you also comment as here.)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Second “Anon” (@5), could you please pick a different handle? I know “Anon” isn’t much of a handle, anyhow, but it’s all the more confusing to have two of you, with conflicting viewpoints, no less. (Besides, I think I know who you also comment as here.)

  • E. Malley

    I understand, tODD; it can be confusing. Forgive the initial E., but you may consider this my first post under the right name.

  • E. Malley

    I understand, tODD; it can be confusing. Forgive the initial E., but you may consider this my first post under the right name.

  • Anon The First

    There are some compelling reasons to infer that the Didache dates to within a decade or so of the destruction of the Temple. This has to do with papyrii and pollen residues.

    fw, Mrs. Sarah Palin is opposed to baby-murder in the case of rape and incest. So, your statement is mistaken. Anyone who thinks that there are issues greater in this particular election than how we treat the least of these, is a savage, for barbarians care for their young.

    The core principles of the Democrat Party are these: Abortion and infanticide on demand, and the black mass of homosexual “marriage”. (Whatever may have been important to that party in past generations)

  • Anon The First

    There are some compelling reasons to infer that the Didache dates to within a decade or so of the destruction of the Temple. This has to do with papyrii and pollen residues.

    fw, Mrs. Sarah Palin is opposed to baby-murder in the case of rape and incest. So, your statement is mistaken. Anyone who thinks that there are issues greater in this particular election than how we treat the least of these, is a savage, for barbarians care for their young.

    The core principles of the Democrat Party are these: Abortion and infanticide on demand, and the black mass of homosexual “marriage”. (Whatever may have been important to that party in past generations)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Ah, “Democrat Party”. Yes, that sounds more like the “original” Anon (@11). Word games, word games, word games.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Ah, “Democrat Party”. Yes, that sounds more like the “original” Anon (@11). Word games, word games, word games.

  • ex-preacher

    This makes it all the stranger that there is not a single word on abortion from Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude or any other NT writer. We know that abortion was fairly widespread in the first century, yet they never even touched on the subject. Odd.

  • ex-preacher

    This makes it all the stranger that there is not a single word on abortion from Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude or any other NT writer. We know that abortion was fairly widespread in the first century, yet they never even touched on the subject. Odd.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Ex-preacher (@13), perhaps it was because they figured people could use logic and infer from proscriptions of murder? Why not also argue that there is no explicit discussion of pederasty?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Ex-preacher (@13), perhaps it was because they figured people could use logic and infer from proscriptions of murder? Why not also argue that there is no explicit discussion of pederasty?

  • Joe

    Hey tODD – I am a bit confused by the “Democrat Party” word games statement. Is that a slur of some kind? I honestly thought it was just different word choice. I have never heard anyone take offense to it before. Help a guy out?

  • Joe

    Hey tODD – I am a bit confused by the “Democrat Party” word games statement. Is that a slur of some kind? I honestly thought it was just different word choice. I have never heard anyone take offense to it before. Help a guy out?

  • Anon The First

    Don’t feed the trolls.

  • Anon The First

    Don’t feed the trolls.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe (@15), I explained this a little bit at the post “Politics of personal – and family – destruction”.

    Sure, some people really are bad at spelling and grammar, but others here consistently only refer to it as the “Democrat” party. You’d have to ask them why they enjoy this ridiculously petty game, but it usually has to do with claims that the party is not actually (lowercase D) democratic, with the added bonus of emphasizing the ending “rat”. This is played up all the more when people like “Carl Vehse” refer to them as the “demonrat” party.

    I don’t take offense at the game, anymore than I would being called a “mean, mean poopy-head”. I just think it’s sad that grown men play this game.

    And Anon (@16), am I to infer that I am now a “troll”? If so, how nice for you that you can now ignore what I’m saying. Kind of the same way declaring the media as all liberally biased works — you can cherry-pick what you want to hear now. Convenient! However, trolls usually don’t get linked to in blogrolls.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe (@15), I explained this a little bit at the post “Politics of personal – and family – destruction”.

    Sure, some people really are bad at spelling and grammar, but others here consistently only refer to it as the “Democrat” party. You’d have to ask them why they enjoy this ridiculously petty game, but it usually has to do with claims that the party is not actually (lowercase D) democratic, with the added bonus of emphasizing the ending “rat”. This is played up all the more when people like “Carl Vehse” refer to them as the “demonrat” party.

    I don’t take offense at the game, anymore than I would being called a “mean, mean poopy-head”. I just think it’s sad that grown men play this game.

    And Anon (@16), am I to infer that I am now a “troll”? If so, how nice for you that you can now ignore what I’m saying. Kind of the same way declaring the media as all liberally biased works — you can cherry-pick what you want to hear now. Convenient! However, trolls usually don’t get linked to in blogrolls.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X