Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pelosi's Patristics

Raise Your Hand if You're a Bad Catholic

(And before I get hate mail, Hitler was a nominal member of the Roman Catholic Church to his death, although he was a practicing pagan and Occultist.)

Forgive the "political" post, but a politician stepped into our territory. Our fearless Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, claimed on Meet the Press that Christianity has no clear teaching on when life begins, and hence on abortion, and St. Augustine denied life began until the end of the first trimester. Tom Brokaw asked her what she would tell Barack Obama if he asked her when human life has its genesis:
I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose...over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.
She went on to say Christianity has believed life began at conception for "like maybe 50 years or something like that." You can see the disgusting display here.

If she has studied this issue "for a long time," she would have known the Church Fathers had an unbroken teaching on this subject for 2,000 years. Yes, it is true that St. Augustine of Hippo made a distinction between a child before its "quickening" (the time it began to move) and afterwards; so, too, did Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, who is always cited in these arguments. However, none believed abortion before that time was blameless (!). More importantly, there was a long tradition in the Church that corrected these unrepresentative views, going back to the earliest days of Christianity:

The Didache

"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. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child" (Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]).

The 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" (Letter of Barnabas 19 [A.D. 74]).

The Apocalypse of Peter

"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" (The Apocalypse of Peter 25 [A.D. 137]).


"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" (A Plea for the Christians 35 [A.D. 177]).


"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 [A.D. 197]).

"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" (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).

"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" (ibid., 27).

"The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion [Ex. 21:22–24]" (ibid., 37).

Minucius Felix

"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" (Octavius 30 [A.D. 226]).


"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!" (Refutation of All Heresies [A.D. 228]).

Council of Ancyra

"Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees" (canon 21 [A.D. 314]).

Basil the Great

"Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not" (First Canonical Letter, canon 2 [A.D. 374]).

"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 dies upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees" (ibid., canon 8).

John Chrysostom

"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" (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).


"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" (Letters 22:13 [A.D. 396]).

The Apostolic Constitutions

"Thou shalt not use magic. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; for he says, ‘You shall not suffer a witch to live’ [Ex. 22:18]. Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten...[I]f it be slain, [it] shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed" (Apostolic Constitutions 7:3 [A.D. 400]).
We could add the testimony of St. Gregory of Nyssa, who denied the "quickening" theory: "There is no question about that which is bred in the uterus, both growing, and moving from place to place. It remains, therefore, that we must think that the point of commencement of existence is one and the same for body and soul." (On the Soul and the Resurrection [A.D. 379-80].) This last passage goes on quite a long while.

If Aristibule reads this, maybe he can add more specificity, but I know the Irish penitentials penanced the sin of abortion many, many times. If I remember right, at least one canon prescribed 12 years bread-and-water as a result of an abortion, though others varied merely 1-3 years.

The Church has consistently taught life begins at the moment of conception, and abortion is murder. That's why the question of abortion is not really a political issue at all but one of Orthodox doctrine and morality. One Nancy Pelosi failed miserably. I am not convinced she actually believes this assessment, much less that her screwed up theology has anything to do with her position on abortion. But she is complicit in the murder of millions, and has unconscionably used the saints of the Church for cover. The Catholic Epistle of St. James promises a heavy punishment will be forthcoming in eternity.

As I wrote earlier, this is one of the reasons we don't rely on merely one Church Father for an opinion but rely on the whole mind of the Church. In individual writings (including St. Gregory of Nyssa), mistakes sometimes occur. And sometimes, as in this case, those mistakes give people a convenient cover to believe and act as they wanted to all along.

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Blogger Eric John said...

Thanks for the post. I liked all the quotes.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Benedictus said...

"However, none believed abortion before that time was blameless (!)."


For Aquinas, at least, abortion before the "quickening" was criminal because the fetus was destined to become a human being, and therefore, it was to be protected. Some may have had different theories about when human life begins, but NO ONE taight that abortion was an option. It was this teleological construct that convinces Aquinas that all abortions are "grave sins" (peccatum grave) and against nature (contra natura) (See Commentary on the Sentences, Book IV, dist. 1, article 3).

The Angelic Doctor is wrong, of course, but the above shows that his position does not entail support for abortion, and that he, as well as Augustine, stood with the Apostolic witness in considering abortion to be a sin, and therefore to be condemned.

12:21 PM  
Blogger VSO said...

That woman disgusts me.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Fr Stephen said...

Ms. Pelosi is another example of those Catholics who want to claim to be faithful to the Church's teachings, and yet blatantly deny them. She doesn't know her church history. I wonder what the Vatican thinks?

1:20 PM  
Blogger Viator Catholicus said...

I think the written content of your post is great and don't think you intend to offend in the picture, but your disclaimer is not sufficient.

Hitler was as Catholic as Julian the Apostate! By his apostasy Hitler was excommunicated latae sententiae, that is, his rejection of Christ and occult worship separated himself from the Church.

It is as unfair to call Hitler a Catholic, albeit a bad one, as it would be to call the apostate Joseph Stalin a bad Orthodox seminarian.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Viator Catholicus said...

St. Thomas Aquinas was wrong because he accepted Aristotlean biology and hylomorphism.
In hylomorphism, matter receives a form. There is a hierarchy of forms and in living things, the form is the soul. The least complex form is vegetative, then the next is the soul with sensation found in animals, and finally, the soul which can reason, i.e. human soul.
Matter must be capable or made capable of receiving the form. Aquinas could not have known how complex the ovum already was at conception. He thought the ovum was just blood and that it would take time for the sperm working on the blood to dispose it to receive a human soul infused by God. We know his biology here was incorrect.
[Meanwhile, it is interesting to read ST III q. 33 on the Conception of Our Lord.]

Modern Thomists with the knowledge of modern biology can keep St. Thomas' principles and proclaim that human life begins at conception.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Wow, thanks for all the comments on the post. Benedictus, thanks for weighing in on Thomist thought.

Fr. Stephen, several American bishops have since corrected her. She's standing by her story...and still taking communion. Sad.

Vir, as the young people say (or said several years ago): don't hate the player, hate the game.

Viator, no offense intended. The comparison is not to say Hitler was a good Roman Catholic but that Pelosi is a bad one.

And your second comment is right on: ultimately, science and Apostolic faith are coinciding on an answer about when life begins. But somehow pro-life Christians get accused of opposing science, when such as Pelosi want to ignore the ultrasound and pretend the biological findings have not progressed since the time of the Summa....

Thanks again!

9:24 PM  
Blogger JTO Editor Nathan Lee Lewis said...

Ben, I have taken heat lately for my own post showing the mutual attitudes of Martin Luther and Hitler regarding Jews. I was told by an Orthodox brother that I was being mean spirited and un-loving to non-Orthodox. Wow, that Adolph doesn't have many friends. Seems like no one want to be associated with him and to even invoke his name is problematic. A valid point A hard point. A true point. Hitler embodies the depths of what evil can do. To use such as an example is appropriate. The massacre of Jews and the massacre of babies...Murder is murder.

8:12 AM  

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