Thursday, December 14, 2006

Abortion in the Early Church

Note this "fire and brimstone" passages from Apocalypse of Peter:

And near this flame there is a pit, great and very deep, and into it flows above all manner of torment, foulness, and excrement. And women are swallowed up therein up to their necks and tormented with great pain. These are they who have caused their chidren to be born untimely and have corrupted the work of God who created them. Opposite them shall be anotehr place where their children sit alive and cry to God. And flashes of lightning go forth from those children and pierce the eyes of those who for fornification's sake have caused their destruction. Other men and women shall stand above them, naked; and their children stand opposite them in a place of delight, and sigh and cry to God because of their parents saying, "These are they who despised and cursed and transgressed your commandments and delivered us to death: they have cursed the angel that formed us and have hanged us up and begrudged us the light which you have given to all creatures. And the milk of their mothers flowing from their breasts shall congeal and from it shall come beasts devouring flesh, which shall come forth and turn and torment them for ever with their husbands because they forsook the commandments of God and slew their children. As for their children they shall be delivered to the angel Temlakos. And those who slew them shall be tormented eternally for God wills it so. (Apoc. Pet. [Eth] 8; cf. Clement of Alexandria, Eclogae, 41.1-2. Text from Elliott, NT Apocrypha).
See also this text from Did. 2.2

And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.
I know this is a touchy subject and I do not want to prompt an endless debate on this, I am opposed to abortion (with some exceptions), but I think it worth noting that early Christianity was largely pro-life and pro-child in its ethos: life is a gift from God. I once heard Tom Wright say that in the ancient world Christians stood out because they did not sleep around and they did not abort or "expose" infants. Those interested should read the volume by Michael Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish (Gorman is a great scholar isn't he, and he's also written Holy Abortion? a Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice ).

A few remarks:

1. The difference between pro-life and pro-abortionists I think comes down to this: "Life, what a wonderful choice!" or "Choice, what a wonderful life!". Sadly, I do not think it possible to conduct meaningful dialogue when you have paradigms as mutually exclusive as these. We are just operating with a different worldview and with a different string of values. Do not expect non-Christians to agree since the Christian view sounds like trying to put a round peg in a square hole.

2. To this day abortion is the single largest form of discrimination against females in the developing world. What is more, abortion is also the cause of further discrimination and violence against women in these places. In many countries like China and India the number of females in the population has fallen dramatically due to the abortion of unwanted female pregnancies, resulting in increased sexual trafficking and wife stealing to make up for the lack of available wives. (I owe this information to Ron Sider's recent ETS paper about women in the majority world).

1 comment:

slaveofone said...

As a Christian, I have to agree with the saying, "choice, what a wonderful life" against "life, what a wonderful choice." For better or for worse, it is the condition that Yahweh created us that we have choice for good or for evil and anyone who would circumvent or deny that right will be held just as accountable as him whom choses evil.