Church Fathers on Abortion

Originally posted 3/6/2009.

The God-bearing Fathers unanimously condemn abortion as a grave evil.


1st Century
Didache 2:2 in 90: You shall not kill a child by abortion nor kill it after it is born.”

It also says [5:1-2], The Way of Death is filled with people who are … murderers of children and abortionists of God’s creatures.”
WRH: This is the irreformable teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

2nd Century
West: Marcus Minucius Felix says in 170 [Octavius 30], “There are some 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.”

East: St. Athenagoras of Athens says in 177 [A Plea for the Christians 35 in PG 6:969AB],

And when 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. But we are in all things always alike and the same, submitting ourselves to reason, and not ruling over it.

West: Bishop Tertullian of Carthage says in 197 [Apology 9:8],

In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fœtus 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 man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.

WRH: In this most forceful passage, Tertullian is accurately representing the Apostolic Tradition; his witness is solid because it comes well before he became a Montanist heretic, which happened in 206.

East: St. Clement of Alexandria says [The Instructor 2],

Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, in order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings.

3rd Century
West: St. Hippolytus the Martyr of Rome says in 228 [Refutation of All Heresies 9:7],

Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church!

West: Bishop St. Cyprian the Martyr of Carthage says in 251 [Epistle 52, to Cornelius], “He [the schismatic Novatian] struck the womb of his wife with his heel and hurried an abortion, thereby causing parricide.”

4th Century
East: Bishop St. Basil the Great of Caesarea (Doctor, Cappadocian Father, & Holy Hierarch) says in 375 [Epistle 188:2 in PG 36:672],

The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice inquiry as to its being formed or unformed. 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. The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events if we regard it as done with intent.

West: Hieromonk St. Jerome the Great of Strido (Doctor) says in 380 [Epistle 22:13 in PL 22:401],

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.

West: Bishop St. Ambrose the Great of Milan (Doctor) says in 386 [On the Hexaemeron 5:18 in PL 14:231], “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.”

East: Patriarch St. John Chrysostom the Great of Constantinople (Doctor & Holy Hierarch) says in 391 [Homilies on Romans 24 in PG 60:626-627]: Abortion “is something worse than murder,” and an abortionist “does not take away life that has already been born, but prevents it from being born.”

5th Century
West: Bishop St. Augustine the Great of Hippo (Doctor of Grace) says in 419 [On Marriage and Concupiscence 1:17 in PL 44:423-424],

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. Well, if both parties alike are so flagitious, they are not husband and wife; and if such were their character from the beginning, they have not come together by wedlock but by debauchery. But if the two are not alike in such sin, I boldly declare either that the woman is, so to say, the husband’s harlot; or the man the wife’s adulterer.

6th Century
West: Bishop St. Caesarius of Arles says [Sermon 44:2 in PL],

No woman should take drugs for purposes of abortion, nor should she kill her children that have been conceived or are already born. If anyone does this, she should know that before Christ’s tribunal she will have to plead her case in the presence of those she has killed. Moreover, women should not take diabolical draughts with the purpose of not being able to conceive children. A woman who does this ought to realize that she will be guilty of as many murders as the number of children she might have borne. I would like to know whether a woman of nobility who takes deadly drugs to prevent conception wants her maids or tenants to do so. Just as every woman wants slaves born for her so that they may serve her, so she herself should nurse all the children she conceives, or entrust them to others for rearing. Otherwise, she may refuse to conceive children or, what is more serious, be willing to kill souls which might have been good Christians. Now, with what kind of a conscience does she desire slaves to be born of her servants, when she herself refuses to bear children who might become Christians?

East: Emperor St. Justinian I the Great of Rome says [Digest 48:19:38:5],

Because the thing is a bad example, lower-class people who give a drink to cause an abortion or to excite passion (although they do not do it deceitfully), are to be condemned to the mines, and more distinguished persons to be relegated to an island and deprived of a part of their wealth. If by this drink a woman or a man has died, they are condemned to capital punishment.

9th Century
West: Pope Stephen V of Rome says on 9/14/887 [Epistle to Archbishop of Mainz], “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.”
[UNDER CONSTRUCTION]

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One Response to Church Fathers on Abortion

  1. […] Ethics Abortion *Abortion: An Ongoing Dialogue with My Friend, Pt. 1 *Abortion: An Ongoing Dialogue with My Friend, Pt. 2 *Church Fathers on Abortion […]

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