The Church’s Original Social Justice Struggle
A prominent social and moral issue facing our global society today is the issue of abortion. We tend to think in terms of the ‘here and now.” However, there is nothing new about abortion, and the Church’s response to abortion has not changed since the beginnings of Christianity.
In a current article posted in the Angelus, https://angelusnews.com/faith/the-churchs-long-fight-against-abortion/, Mike Aquilina teaches us about the Church’s stance against abortion. He tells us, “Abortion was, in fact, the first social injustice confronted by Christians, plainly, passionately, and without qualification. In time, believers would similarly oppose slavery, capital punishment, and other institutions of pagan society. But the condemnation of abortion was singular in its consistency and vehemence from the very beginning of the Gospel proclamation.”
Here are just a few of the highlights from Mike Aquilina’s article.
-The “Didache,” the earliest Christian document, compiled between A.D. 49 and A.D. 100, is often described as the first Catechism and “The Teaching of the Lord by the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles.” The “Didache” places abortion among the primordial concerns of the Church and the most fundamental laws of God. It charges its readers: “Thou shalt not procure abortion.”
The early Church required repentance for those who transgressed these norms. “Thou shalt confess thy transgressions,” says the “Didache,” “and thou shalt not come to thy place of prayer with an evil conscience.” Later, the text declares the necessity of a previous confession of sins before Eucharistic Communion, “that your sacrifice may be pure.”
-In the Second Century there arose a movement known as the Apologists that provided a well-reasoned explanation of the Christian faith. Christian doctrine regarding abortion required explanation and defense, because it was something that set Christians apart from almost every other culture and subculture on the planet. “The pagan Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, and Persians had no qualms about the practice; and it was condoned and even promoted by Socrates, Aristotle, Seneca, and many others. Christians (and Jews) stood alone in their rejection of abortion. That required explanation.”
-Tertullian, a North African Christian jurist who lived at the end of the Second Century, was the first to state explicitly that human life begins at conception. He wrote shockingly graphic descriptions of several methods of abortion commonly used at that time, while also detailing the instruments involved. He called abortion a “furtive robbery of life” and described an instrument used in abortions as “the slayer of the infant.”
Mike Aquilina tells us, “The Christian principles that protected the unborn would eventually lead to other notions that today we take for granted: universal human dignity, human equality, human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights.
These are all historical novelties, made possible by Christianity. What makes them work is their universality, their catholicity, which the Christian Way demands. But if one class of people can deprive another of the right to life, then all the other principles, and all the rights and protections they brought about, will fall in time.
The prohibition of abortion was distinctive to early Christianity and key to Christian identity. For the first Christians — the Fathers, the martyrs, the apologists — this doctrine on abortion was essential, not peripheral. Thus, it was subject to the Church’s discipline.
What seems news to the media today — and even to some Catholic politicians — is actually an argument settled against brutal paganism a long, long time ago.”
Holy Mary, Queen of the Family,
and St. Joseph, Pilar of Family Life, pray for us!
~St. Luke Life, Justice and Peace Ministry