Catholic Bioethics
EARLY CHRISTIAN
BIOETHICAL THOUGHT
 

  The Good Shepherd, Catacomb wall-painting


1. CHRIST the DIVINE PHYSICIAN: 1.1. Ignatius; 1.2. Origen; 1.3. Basil.

2. CHRISTIAN DEVOTION to LIFE: 2.1. Letter of Barnabas; 2.2. The Didache; 2.3. The Hippocratic Oath; 2.4. Christian Form of the Oath; 2.5. Tertullian's Obstetrical Lament.

3. CANON. PENALTIES and THEOLOGIANS on ABORTION and CONTRACEPTION 3.1. Basil's Canons; 3.2. Jerome; 3.3. John Chrysostom

4. AUGUSTINE on SUICIDE, ABORTION, CONTRACEPTION, and ENSOULMENT


 1. CHRIST the DIVINE PHYSICIAN

 

 

1. CHRIST the DIVINE PHYSICIAN
 

 

 


1.1 IGNATIUS of ANTIOCH  Letter to the Ephesians 7.2.


Εἷς ἰατρός ἐστιν, σαρκικός τε καὶ πνευματικός, γεννητὸς καὶ ἀγέννητος, ἐν σαρκὶ γενόμενος θεός, ἐν θανάτῳ ζωὴ ἀληθινή, καὶ ἐκ Μαρίας καὶ ἐκ θεοῦ, πρῶτον παθητὸς καὶ τότε ἀπαθής,Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν

ONE physician there is, both fleshly and spiritual, begotten and unbegotten, God become flesh, true life in death, both from Mary and from God; first subject to suffering then not subject to suffering - Jesus Christ our Lord.


1.2 ORIGEN of ALEXANDRIA, Contra Celsum, 3.61-62, SC 136, p. 142.


Χριστιανὸς [|] καλεῖ, ἵν' αὐτῶν καταδήσῃ ̧ τὰ τραύματα ς τῷ λόγῳ καὶ ἐπιχέῃ τῇ φλεγμαινούσῃ ἐν κακοῖς ψυχῇ τὰ ἀπὸ τοῦ λόγου φάρμακα, ἀνάλογον οἴνῳ καὶ ἐλαίῳ καὶ μαλάγματι καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς ἀπὸ ἰατρικῆς ψυχῆς βοηθήμασιν

THE Christian […] calls [sinners] in order to bind up their ‘wounds’ with the Word and apply to [their] soul, festering in vices, drugs [taken] from the Word, analogous to wine and oil and emollients and the rest of the soul’s medicinal remedies

[...] Ἐπέμφθη οὖν θεὸς λόγος καθὸ μὲν ἰατρὸς τοῖς ἁμαρτωλοῖς, καθὸ δὲ διδάσκαλος θείων μυστηρίων τοῖς ἤδη καθαροῖς καὶ μηκέτι ἁμαρτάνουσιν. […] God the Word was indeed sent as a physician to sinners, but as a teacher of divine mysteries to those who are already pure and who no longer sin.

1.3 BASIL of CAESARIA Asceticon magnum (reg. fus.) 55, PG 31.1044.


ἡ ἰατρικὴ τέχνη εἰς τύπον τῆς κατὰ ψυχὴν θεραπείας τὴν ἀπόθεσιν τοῦ περισσοῦ, καὶ τὴν τοῦ λείποντος πρόσθεσιν ὑποτιθεμένη ὑπὸ τοῦ πᾶσαν ἡμῖν τὴν ζωὴν οἰκονομοῦντος Θεοῦ συγκεχώρηται

THE ART of medicine [has been granted us] as a pattern for the healing of the soul, to guide us in the removal of excess and in the augmentation of what is deficient: it has been granted us by the God who directs our whole life.

 


2. OPPOSITION to INFANTICIDE and ABORTION:

 

 

2. CHRISTIAN DEVOTION to LIFE
Rejection of Infanticide, Abortion, and Assisted Suicide
 

 

 


2.1. The Letter of Barnabas (c. 100)

Engl: Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume I (pp. 137-149).

BARNABA EPISTOLH Épître de Barnabe (Cerf, Paris 1971).

19.1. The way of light, then, is {this}: [...]

19.1α Ἡ οὖν ὁδὸς τοῦ φωτός ἐστιν αὕτη–

LOVE the One Who created you:

[fear him who formed you]...

19.2αγαπήσεις τόν σε ποιήσαντα,

φοβηθήσῃ τόν σε πλάσαντα,

1) You shall not be of [divided] mind as to whether a thing shall be or not.

2) You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.

3) You shall love your neighbor more than your own soul.

19.5α Οὐ μὴ διψυχήσῃς πότερον ἔσται ἢ οὔ

19.5β Οὐ μὴ λάβῃς ἐπὶ ματαίῳ τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου.

19.5ξἈγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὑπὲρ τὴν ψυχήν

4) You SHALL NOT MURDER A CHILD THROUGH ABORTION; NOR AGAIN SHALL YOU DESTROY IT AFTER IT IS BORN.

19.5δ Οὐ φονεύσεις τέκνον ἐν φθορᾷ, οὐδὲ πάλιν γεννηθὲν ἀνελεῖς.

5) You shall not withdraw your hand from your son, or from your daughter, but from their infancy you shall teach them the fear of the Lord.

19.5ε Οὐ μὴ ἄρῃς τὴν χεῖρά σου ἀπὸ τοῦ υἱοῦ σου ἢ ἀπὸ τῆς θυγατρός σου, ἀλλὰ ἀπὸ νεότητος διδάξεις φόβον κυρίου.

   

2.2. The DIDACHE (c.95)
(Teaching of the Twelve
[Apostles]), ch. 2

 
AND the second commandment of the Teaching; 2. You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit paederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practise witchcraft,  2.1 Δευτέρα δὲ ἐντολὴ τῆς διδαχῆς·  2.2 οὐ φονεύσεις, οὐ μοιχεύσεις, οὐ παιδοφθορήσεις, οὐ πορνεύσεις, οὐ κλέψεις, οὐ μαγεύσεις, οὐ φαρμακεύσεις,̈

YOU SHALL NOT MURDER A CHILD BY ABORTION NOR KILL THAT WHICH IS BEGOTTEN.

οὐ φονεύσεις τέκνον ἐν φθορᾷ οὐδὲ γεννηθὲν ἀποκτενεῖς,

   

2.3_The_Hippocratic_Oath

2.3. THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH

Jusjurandum, ed. by É. Littré Oeuvres Completes d’Hippocrate, vols. 4 (Paris: Baillie 1844; Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1962) pp. 628-632. TLG canon 627.13.1-27.  Engl. Hippocrates, Works trans., Francis Adams (New York; Loeb) vol. I, 299-301

Hippocrates

ALTHOUGH possibly written as early as the late fifth century BC, it is unlikely that the Hippocratic Oath was widely-sworn or generally regarded as establishing binding norms for medical practice until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire during the fourth century AD.


[1] OATH

ΟΡΚΟΣ

I SWEAR by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation:

 Ὄμνυμι Ἀπόλλωνα ἰητρὸν, καὶ Ἀσκληπιὸν, καὶ Ὑγείαν, καὶ  Πανάκειαν, καὶ θεοὺς πάντας τε καὶ πάσας, ἵστορας ποιεύμενος, ἐπιτελέα ποιήσειν κατὰ δύναμιν καὶ κρίσιν ἐμὴν ὅρκον τόνδε καὶ ξυγγραφὴν τήνδε·̈

[2] INDENTURE 

 

TO REGARD the one who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; 

ἡγήσασθαι μὲν τὸν διδάξαντά με τὴν τέχνην ταύτην ἴσα γενέτῃσιν ἐμοῖσι, καὶ βίου κοινώσασθαι, καὶ χρεῶν χρηΐζοντι μετάδοσιν ποιήσασθαι, καὶ γένος τὸ ἐξ ωὐτέου ἀδελφοῖς ἴσον ἐπικρινέειν ἄῤῥεσι, καὶ διδάξειν τὴν τέχνην ταύτην, ἢν χρηΐζωσι μανθάνειν, ἄνευ μισθοῦ καὶ ξυγγραφῆς,̈

and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others. 

παραγγελίης τε καὶ ἀκροήσιος καὶ τῆς λοιπῆς ἁπάσης μαθήσιος μετάδοσιν ποιήσασθαι υἱοῖσί τε ἐμοῖσι, καὶ τοῖσι τοῦ ἐμὲ διδάξαντος, καὶ μαθηταῖσι συγγεγραμμένοισί τε καὶ ὡρκισμένοις νόμῳ ἰητρικῷ, ἄλλῳ δὲ οὐδενί.

[3] FAVOR LIFE 

 

I WILL follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion

 Διαιτήμασί τε χρήσομαι ἐπ' ὠφελείῃ καμνόντων κατὰ δύναμιν καὶ κρίσιν ἐμὴν, ἐπὶ δηλήσει δὲ καὶ ἀδικίῃ εἴρξειν.  Οὐ δώσω δὲ οὐδὲ φάρμακον οὐδενὶ αἰτηθεὶς θανάσιμον, οὐδὲ ὑφηγήσομαι ξυμβουλίην τοιήνδε· ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ γυναικὶ πεσσὸν φθόριον δώσω.

 

 

With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art. 

Ἁγνῶς δὲ καὶ ὁσίως διατηρήσω βίον τὸν ἐμὸν καὶ τέχνην τὴν ἐμήν.  

[4] NO DRASTIC SURGERY 

(if untrained?)
I WILL not cut persons laboring under the stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work. 

Οὐ τεμέω δὲ οὐδὲ μὴν λιθιῶντας, ἐκχωρήσω δὲ ἐργάτῃσιν ἀνδράσι πρήξιος τῆσδε.

[5] NO ABUSE of OFFICE 

 

INTO whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves. 

Ἐς οἰκίας δὲ ὁκόσας ἂν ἐσίω, ἐσελεύσομαι ἐπ' ὠφελείῃ καμνόντων, ἐκτὸς ἐὼν πάσης ἀδικίης ἑκουσίης καὶ φθορίης, τῆς τε ἄλλης καὶ ἀφροδισίων ἔργων ἐπί τε γυναικείων σωμάτων καὶ ἀνδρῴων, ἐλευθέρων τε καὶ δούλων.

[6] CONFIDENTIALITY (SECRECY) 

 

WHATEVER, in connection with my professional practice or not, in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret. 

Ἃ δ' ἂν ἐν θεραπείῃ ἢ ἴδω, ἢ ἀκούσω, ἢ καὶ ἄνευ θεραπηΐης κατὰ βίον ἀνθρώπων, ἃ μὴ χρή ποτε ἐκλαλέεσθαι ἔξω, σιγήσομαι, ἄῤῥητα ἡγεύμενος    εἶναι τὰ τοιαῦτα.

[7] OATH  -  REITERATION 

 

WHILE I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times! But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot!

  Ὅρκον μὲν οὖν μοι τόνδε ἐπιτελέα ποιέοντι, καὶ μὴ ξυγχέοντι, εἴη ἐπαύρασθαι καὶ βίου καὶ τέχνης δοξαζομένῳ παρὰ πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐς τὸν αἰεὶ χρόνον· παραβαίνοντι δὲ καὶ ἐπιορκοῦντι, τἀναντία τουτέων.


 
2.4. THE CHRISTIAN FORM
of the
HIPPOCRATIC OATH
(Greek variants ca. 3rd - 6th cent; Latin text of the 14th century.)

The Articella, A Master of Medicine, teaching .
Oxford, 13th c. DeRicci NLM [78].) fol 61r

(ms Vaticanus Urbinas Latinus 64 ) tr. W.H.S. Jones, the Oath According to Hippocrates In So Far as a Christian May Swear It : "The Doctor’s Oath: An Essay in the History of Medicine" (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1924), pp. 23- 25.


BLESSED be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for ever and ever; I lie not.

I will bring no stain upon the learning of the medical art

NEITHER will I give poison to anybody though asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a plan. Similarly I will not give treatment to women to cause abortion, treatment neither from above nor from below.

But I will teach this art, to those who require to learn it, without grudging and without an indenture. I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment. And in purity and in holiness I will guard my art’.

Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will do so to help the sick, keeping myself free from all wrongdoing, intentional or unintentional, tending to death or to injury, and from fornication with bond or free, man or woman.

WHATSOEVER in the course of practice I see or hear (or outside my practice in social intercourse) that ought not to he published abroad, I will not divulge, but consider such things to be holy secrets.

NOW if I keep this oath and break it not, may God be my helper in my life and arts and may I be honoured among all men for all time. If I keep faith, well; but if I forswear myself may the opposite befall me.



 

 

 

 

2.5.  TERTULLIAN'S__
OBSTETRICAL LAMENT

 

 

 

 

 

THE early Christian theologian and later Montanist heretic, Tertullian (160-220), lamented the terrible practice of craniotomy and embryotomy to save a mother's life in childbirth.  However he neither clearly condemns it as forbidden to Christians, nor states that it is permissible.  He only laments that it seems to be regarded as a tragic necessity.  As David Albert Jones has noted:

The first Christians followed the Jewish ethical principle that ‘we do not set aside one life for another’ (Talmud, Mishnahh Oholot 7.6). However, they faced a difficulty in accepting that ‘her life takes precedence over its life, for they saw the life of the unborn child as equally inviolable. The practical question of what to do in a situation in which a woman’s life was threatened by her pregnancy was therefore extremely problematic for Christians. It is not altogether surprising that in the first thousand years of the Church’s history, theologians preferred to pass over this difficulty in silence and to speak of abortion in circumstances where they were clear that it was sinful. It was not until the late Middle Ages that Christian theologians begin to address directly the question of abortion to save the mother’s life.

 

TERTULLIAN On the Soul 25


FOR how could one die, who had not previously been alive?

Qui autem et mortui, nisi qui prius vivi?

But sometimes by a cruel necessity, while still in the womb, an infant is put to death, when lying sidewise at birth he makes delivery impossible, and kills his mother unless he dies himself. 

Atquin et in ipso adhuc utero infans trucidatur, necessaria crudelitate, cum in exitu obliquatus denegat partum; matricida, ni moriturus. [692A]

Accordingly, among physicians’ tools there is an instrument, which is formed with an adjustable flexible frame for first dilating and keeping open the private parts;

Itaque et inter arma medicorum et organon est quo prius patescere secreta coguntur, tortili temperamento,

it is further furnished with an annular blade, [Anulocultro] by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fœtus is extracted by a violent delivery.

cum anulocultro quo intus membra caeduntur, anxio arbitrio; cum hebete unco, quo totum facinus extrahitur violento puerperio.

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 ἐμβρυοσφάκτης  the slayer of the infant, which was of course alive.

Est etiam a neum spiculum, quo jugulatio ipsa dirigitur, caeco latrocinio: μβρυοσφάκτην appellant, de infanticidii officio, utique viventis infantis peremptorium.

Such apparatus was possessed both by Hippocrates, and Asclepiades, and Erasistratus, and Herophilus, that dissector of even adults, and the milder Soranus himself, who all knew very well that a living being had been conceived, and pitied this unfortunate sort of infant, which had to be killed before [birth], so it would not be alive as it was torn to pieces.

Hoc et Hippocrates habuit, et Asclepiades, et Erasistratus, et majorum quoque prosector Herophilus, et mitior ipse Soranus, certi animal esse conceptum, atque ita miserti infelicissimae hujusmodi infantiae, ut prius occidatur, ne viva lanietur.

Of the necessity of such harsh treatment I have no doubt even Hicesius was convinced [...]

De qua sceleris necessitate nec dubitabat credo Hicesius,

 


 4. CANON. PENALTIES ABORTION and CONTRACEPTION

 

 

 

 

3. CANONICAL PENALTIES
and
THEOLOGIANS
on Abortion and Contraception

St. Basil

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.1.  BASIL, LETTER 188
Canonical Penalties for Abortion

 

 

 

 

 

(Canonica Prima. Canons 1-16)

 

The importance of the so-called "canonical" letters (Letters 188;199;217) of St. Basil the Great cannot be overstated. They attest to the penitential practice of the early church, and provided a precedent for later authoritative canonical penalties.  They have been continuously reiterated in Eastern Christian Churches down to the present, and they also powerfully influenced the development of the western practice of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

 NPNF 8; Saint Basile. Lettres, vol. 2 , ed,  Y. Courtonne, ser. Les Belles Lettres (Paris, 1961) Les Belles Lettres (Paris, 1961)

To Amphilochius, concerning the Canons.

ΑΜΦΙΛΟΧΙΩ ΠΕΡΙ ΚΑΝΟΝΩΝ

2.  The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder.  With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed

188.2 Ἡ φθείρασα κατ΄ ἐπιτήδευσιν φόνου δίκην ὑπέχει. Ἀκριβολογία ἐκμεμορφωμένου καὶ ἀνεξεικονίστου παρ΄ ἡμῖν οὐκ ἔστιν.

In this case it is not only the being about to be born who is vindicated, but the woman in her attack upon herself; because in most cases women who make such attempts die

Ἐνταῦθα γὰρ ἐκδικεῖται οὐ μόνον τὸ γενη σόμενον͵ ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ ἑαυτῷ ἐπιβουλεύσας͵ διότι ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ ἐναποθνήσκουσι ταῖς τοιαύταις ἐπιχειρήσεσιν αἱ γυναῖκες.

The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events if we regard it as done with intent. 

Πρόσεστι δὲ τούτῳ καὶ ἡ φθορὰ τοῦ ἐμβρύου͵ ἕτερος φόνος͵ κατά γε τὴν ἐπίνοιαν τῶν ταῦτα τολμών των.
The punishment, however, of these women should not be for life, but for the term of ten years.  And let their treatment depend not on mere lapse of time, but on the character of their repentance. Δεῖ μέντοι μὴ μέχρι τῆς ἐξόδου παρατείνειν αὐτῶν τὴν ἐξομολόγησιν͵ ἀλλὰ δέχεσθαι μὲν τὸ μέτρον τῶν δέκα ἐτῶν· ὁρίζειν δὲ μὴ χρόνῳ͵ ἀλλὰ τρόπῳ τῆς μετανοίας τὴν θεραπείαν.
8.  [...]  188.8

Women also who administer drugs to cause abortion, as well as those who take poisons to destroy unborn children, are murderesses.

Καὶ αἱ τοίνυν τὰ ἀμβλωθρίδια διδοῦσαι φάρμακα φονεύτριαί εἰσι καὶ αὐταί͵ καὶ αἱ δεχόμεναι τὰ ἐμβρυοκτόνα δηλητήρια.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.2.  JEROME, LETTER 22
 on Contraception and Abortion

 

 

 

 

 

   
13. [...] You may see many women widows before wedded, who try to conceal their miserable fall by a lying garb. Unless they are betrayed by swelling wombs or by the crying of their infants, they walk abroad with tripping feet and heads in the air. 13. [...] Videas plerasque viduas, antequam nuptas, infelicem conscientiam mentita tantum veste protegere. Quas nisi tumor uteri, et infantium prodiderit vagitus , erecta cervice, et ludentibus pedibus incedunt.
Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Aliae vero sterilitatem  praebibunt, et necdum sati hominis homicidium faciunt.
Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion,  Nonnullae cum se senserint concepisse de scelere, abortii venena meditantur,
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. Yet it is these who say: “‘Unto the pure all things are pure;’ [Tit. i. 15.] my conscience is sufficient guide for me [. . .] et frequenter etiam ipsae commortuae, trium criminum reae, ad [0402] nferos perducuntur, homicidae sui, Christi adulterae, necdum nati filii parricidae. Istae sunt quae solent dicere: «Omnia munda mundis» (Rom. 14. 20). Sufficit mihi conscientia mea.
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.3.  JOHN CHRYSOSTOM  (391)
 on Contraception and Abortion

 

 

 

 

 

Hom. on the Gospel of St. Mat.; Hom 28.5; NPNF 10

PG 57.357 li.13-20

 

 
[...] in truth all men know that they who are under the power of this disease [i.e. covetousness] are wearied even of their father’s old age; and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, namely having children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome: καὶ γὰρ πάντες ἴσασιν ὡς οἱ τούτῳ κατεχόμε νοι τῷ νοσήματι͵ καὶ γῆρας βαρύνονται πατρὸς͵ τό τε γλυκὺ καὶ πᾶσιν ἐπέραστον͵ τὸ παῖδας ἔχειν͵ βαρὺ καὶ ἐπαχθὲς εἶναι νομίζουσι.
many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, Πολλοὶ γοῦν καὶ ἀτοκίαν διὰ τοῦτο ὠνήσαντο͵

and have maimed their nature,

καὶ τὴν φύσιν ἐπήρωσαν͵
not only by slaying their children after birth, οὐκ ἀνελόντες τεχθέντας τοὺς παῖδας͵

but by not allowing them even to be born at all.

 ἀλλὰ μηδὲ φῦναι τὴν ἀρχὴν συγχωρήσαντες.

 

 

 

 


 3. AUGUSTINE ON ENSOULMENT and SUICIDE

 

 

 

 

4. AUGUSTINE on
Suicide, Abortion,
Contraception, and Ensoulment,

St. Augustine, illum ms.
 

 

 

 

 


SUICIDE in the GRECO-ROMAN WORLD

THE general attitude towards suicide and euthanasia in classical antiquity is complex.  On the one hand, prior to the imposition of Christianity, military suicide to avoid capture, and political suicide to avoid public execution and disgrace, are widely attested and were rarely condemned in pagan sources.  A physician who was a slave would have been expected to assist in the suicide of his master, whatever the slave's moral convictions.  On the other hand, suicide is expressly condemned in Cicero's famous Dream of Scipio (Republic, bk. 6,15), in the Jewish Talmud (Tract. Ebel Rabbathi 2), and it was technically illegal in some parts of the Roman Empire.  It was widely-know to be forbidden in the Hippocratic Oath; and medical treatises are reticent on the subject of deadly drugs at the end of life.  The legal penalties for suicide, however, in both Judaism and the Greco-Roman world seldom affected much more than burial practices and funerary privileges; and later Jewish scholars assumed that most victims of suicide were not in their right minds.


 

 

 

 

 

 

4.1 Augustine on Suicide

 

 

 

The City of God, bk,1. ch.22 (15).

PL 41. 34-36

 That it is not possible to attribute suicide (voluntary death) to greatness of soul

CAPUT XXII.---Quod nunquam possit mors voluntaria ad magnitudinem animi pertinere

BUT they who have laid violent hands on themselves are perhaps to be admired for their greatness of soul, though they cannot be applauded for the soundness of their judgment. However, if you look at the matter more closely, you will scarcely call it greatness of soul, which prompts a man to kill himself rather than bear up against some hardships of fortune, or sins in which he is not implicated. Is it not rather proof of a feeble mind, to be unable to bear either the pains of bodily servitude or the foolish opinion of the vulgar?

1. Et quicumque hoc in se ipsis perpetraverunt, animi magnitudine fortasse mirandi, non sapientiae sanitate laudandi sunt. Quanquam si rationem dili gentius consulas, ne ipsa quidem animi magnitudo [Col.0036] recte nominatur, ubi quisque non valendo tolerare vel quaeque aspera vel aliena peccata, se ipse interemerit. Magis enim mens infirma deprehenditur, quae ferre non potest vel duram sui corporis servitutem, vel stultam vulgi opinionem;

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.2 Augustine on Contraception and Abortion

Fetus abortivi an resurgent.

 

 

De Nube et Concupiscentia 1.17 (15).

PL 44: 434-424

Sometimes, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born. 17. .. Aliquando eo usque pervenit haec libidinosa crudelitas, vel libido crudelis, [424] ut etiam sterilitatis venena procuret; et si nihil valuerit conceptos fetus aliquo modo intra viscera exstinguat ac fundat, volendo suam prolem prius interire quam vivere; aut si in utero jam vivebat, occidi antequam nasci.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.3 The resurrection of an aborted fetus Enchiridion 23.85; PL  49.272

Fetus abortivi an resurgent.

 

 

Augustine, Enchiridion 23.85

PL  49.272

85.  Hence in the first place arises a question about abortive conceptions, which have indeed been born in the mother's womb, but not so born that they could be born again. For if we shall decide that these are to rise again, we cannot object to any conclusion that may be drawn in regard to those which are fully formed. Now who is there that is not rather disposed to think that unformed abortions perish, like seeds that have never fructified? But who will dare to deny, though he may not dare to affirm, that at the resurrection every defect in the form shall be supplied, and that thus the perfection which time would have brought shall not be wanting, any more than the blemishes which time did bring shall be present: so that the nature shall neither want anything suitable and in harmony with it that length of days would have added, nor be debased by the presence of anything of an opposite kind that length of days has added; but that what is not yet complete shall be completed, just as what has been injured shall be renewed.  Unde primo occurrit de abortivis fetibus quaestio, qui jam quidem nati sunt in uteris matrum, sed nondum ita ut jam possent renasci. Si enim resurrecturos eos dixerimus; de iis qui jam formati sunt, tolerari potest utcumque quod dicitur: informes vero abortus  quis non proclivius perire arbitretur, sicut semina quae concepta non fuerint? Sed quis negare audeat, etsi affirmare non audeat, id acturam resurrectionem, ut quiquid formae defuit impleatur? Atque ita non desit perfectio, quae accessura erat tempore, quemadmodum non erunt vitia quae accesserant tempore: ut neque in eo quod aptum et congruum dies allaturi fuerant, natura fraudetur; neque in eo quod adversum atque contrarium dies attulerant, natura turpetur; sed integretur quod nondum erat integrum, sicut instaurabitur quod fuerat vitiatum

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.4 When is the fetus alive?

 

 

 

Augustine, Enchiridion 23.85

PL  49.272-273

85.  [...] And therefore the following question may be very carefully inquired into and discussed by learned men, though I do not know whether it is in man’s power to resolve it: At what time the infant begins to live in the womb: whether life exists in a latent form before it manifests itself in the motions of the living being. To deny that the young who are cut out limb by limb from the womb, lest if they were left there dead the mother should die too, have never been alive, seems too audacious. Now, from the time that a man begins to live, from that time it is possible for him to die. And if he die, wheresoever death may overtake him, I cannot discover on what principle he can be denied an interest in the resurrection of the dead. Fetus in utero quando vivere incipiat. Ac per hoc scrupulosissime quidem inter doctissimos quaeri ac disputari potest, quod utrum ab homine inveniri possit ignoro, quando incipiat homo in utero vivere; utrum sit quaedam vita et [occulta, quae nondum motibus viventis appareat. Nam negare vixisse puerperia, quae propterea membratim exsecantur et ejiciuntur ex uteris praegnantium, ne matres quoque si mortua ibi relinquantur occidant, impudentia nimia videtur. Ex quo autem incipit homo vivere, ex illo utique jam mori potest. Mortuus vero, ubicumque illi mors potuit evenire, quomodo ad resurrectionem non pertineat mortuorum, reperire non possum. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.5 The Case of Monstrous Births

Monstrosi fetus quomodo resurrecturi.

 

 

Augustine, Enchiridion 23.87

PL  49.272-273

We are not justified in affirming even of monstrosities, which are born and live, however quickly they may die, that they shall not rise again, nor that they shall rise again in their deformity, and not rather with an amended and perfected body. God forbid that the double limbed man who was lately born in the East, of whom an account was brought by most trustworthy brethren who had seen him,—an account which the presbyter Jerome, of blessed memory, left in writing; —God forbid, I say, that we should think that at the resurrection there shall be one man with double limbs, and not two distinct men, as would have been the case had twins been born. Neque enim et monstra quae nascuntur et vivunt, quamlibet cito moriantur, aut resurrectura negabuntur, aut ita  resurrectura credenda sunt, ac non potius correcta emendataque natura. Absit enim ut illum bimembrem, qui nuper natus est in Oriente, de quo et fratres fidelissimi quod eum viderint retulerunt, et sanctae memoriae Hieronymus presbyter scriptum reliquit absit, inquam, ut unum hominem duplicem, ac non potius duos, quod futurum fuerat, si gemini nascerentur, resurrecturos existimemus.
And so other births, which, because they have either a superfluity or a defect, or because they are very much deformed, are called monstrosities, shall at the resurrection be restored to the normal shape of man; Ita caetera quae singuli quique partus vel amplius vel minus aliquid habendo, vel quadam nimia deformitate monstra dicuntur, ad humanae naturae figuram resurrectione revocabuntur;
and so each single soul shall possess its own body; and no bodies shall cohere together even though they were born in cohesion, but each separately shall possess all the members which constitute a complete human body. ita ut singulae animae singula sua corpora obtineant, nullis cohaerentibus etiam quaecumque cohaerentia nata fuerant; sed seorsum sibi singulis sua membra gestantibus, quibus humani corporis completur integritas.  PL 272-273

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.6 Is Abortion Always Homicide?

 

 

 

Augustine, Question 80 on Exodus
Seven Books of Questions on the Heptateuch,
Book 2

Quaestionum in Heptateuchum libri vii, ed. J. Fraipont, Aurelii Augustini Opera, v, CCSL 33 (Turnhout, 1958),

In his discussion of Exodus 21 Augustine demonstrates his familiarity with the Jewish Septuagint tradition that distinguishes between the formed and unformed fetus.  Note, however, that Augustine is discussing the case of secondary injury to the child following an act of violence directed against the mother - NOT deliberate induction of abortion by the mother or a third party.  
IF what is brought forth is unformed (informiter), but at this stage some sort of living, shapeless thing, ... then the law of homicide would not apply, for it could not be said that there was a living soul in that body, for it lacks all sense, if it be such as is not yet formed and therefore not yet endowed with its senses. Si ergo illud informe puerperium iam quidem fuerat, sed adhuc quodam modo informiter animatum ideo lex noluit ad homicidium pertinere, quia nondum dici potest anima uiva in eo corpore quod sensu caret, si talis est in carne nondum formata, et ideo nondum sensibus praedita.

 

 

 

 


This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 2002....x....   “”.