August 15, 2009


Moratorium against the new pagans (Francesco Agnoli, 8/14/09, Chiesa)

One of the ideas that recur most in the writings of the first Christians is in fact their desire to frequently repeat one concept: we Christians are different from the pagans, in part because we do not kill our children, neither within our women's wombs or outside of them.

In chapter XXX, paragraph 2 of his "Octavius," the second-century apologist Minucius Felix, comparing the teaching of Christ with that of the pagans, writes: "you expose your newborn children to wild beasts and to birds; or strangling them you crush with a miserable kind of death. There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, smother in their very bowels the seed destined to become a human creature, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And you learn these things from your gods, for Saturn did not simply expose his children, but even devoured them."

For his part, the great Tertullian, in his "Apologeticum," chapter IX, states: "For us Christians murder is expressly forbidden, and therefore it is not even permitted for us to destroy the fetus in its mother's womb. Preventing birth is murder in advance. It doesn't matter at all whether one destroys a life already born or crushes it at birth: what is about to be born is already a human being. Every fruit is already contained in its seed."

Another very important document from second-century Christianity, written in Asia Minor, the Letter to Diognetus, reiterates the same ideals in this rather concise manner: "Christians marry like everyone else and produce children, but they do not throw away their newborns."

On this same theme of infanticide, the historian A. Baudrillart has written: "There may be no matter on which ancient pagan society and modern Christian society are in more stark opposition than in their respective ways of thinking about children."

In effect, if we look at the ancient world, we note that abortion and infanticide are fairly widespread. "Seneca," recalls the American sociologist Rodney Stark in 'The Rise of Christianity, "regarded the drowning of children at birth as both reasonable and commonplace. Tacitus charged that the Jewish teaching that it is 'a deadly sin to kill an 'unwanted child' was but another of their 'sinister and revolting' practices. It was common to expose an unwanted infant out-of-doors where it could, in principle, be taken up by someone who wished to rear it, but where it typically fell victim to the elements or to animals and birds."

So in Rome just as in Greece, children were casually killed, or sold, or exposed and left to die of hunger and cold when there was no one to rescue them, usually in order to make them slaves. We know of the discovery, in the Roman sewers, of piles of bones from infant children who were abandoned and then thrown away like trash or garbage.

The victims of infanticide were usually girls, as in China and India today, while abortion, in addition to killing the fetus, often killed the mother as well, or left her sterile.

The first Christians' refusal to resort to abortion and infanticide, which was connected to a high rate of fertility among them, was not only a great victory of humanity, but also one of the elements that, together with conversions, allowed the first Christians to expand more and more, to the point of surpassing the pagans in numbers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 15, 2009 6:20 AM
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