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St. Thomas Aquinas and the Culture of Life – January 24, 2018

source site Upon this 45th annual March for Life, I read a line of attack against the Church’s pro-life stance that I had not heard before now. Some pro-choice advocates use the Church’s greatest theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, to argue in favor of abortion. Nicholas Kristof did it in a May 2017 N.Y. Times column about Dr. Willie Parker, an oxymoronically called “Christian Abortion Provider.” Mr. Kristof falsely claimed that St. Thomas Aquinas “believed that abortion was murder only after God imbued fetuses with a soul, at 40 days or more after conception.” Moreover, Aquinas even made it into the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, citing “the 40-80 day view, and perhaps to Aquinas’ definition of movement.” What they are both referring to is the mistaken notion that the unborn baby receives its soul (“ensoulment”) 40-80 days after conception depending upon gender. In the pre-scientific mind, this was generally thought to be recognized in the baby’s movements, or “the quickening” around 20 weeks after conception. Aquinas’ apparent false opinion was based upon the primitive science of his day (13th century), which was notably still rooted in the ancient writings (4th century B.C.) of Aristotle.

http://crochetedbuddies.com/product/1570548706/US/shmyje-20/page/2/?cart=y St. Thomas actually never wrote anything explicitly on abortion. So, to say that he approved of abortion is utterly false. In fact, he did condemn it implicitly in his magnum opus, Summa Theologica. For example, in his commentary on murder, he states: “He that strikes a woman with child does something unlawful: wherefore if there results the death either of the woman or of the animated fetus, he will not be excused from homicide.” (ST II-II, q.64, a.8) In another section he addresses various scenarios of whether to baptize a baby in the mother’s womb, saying: “If, however, the mother die while the child lives yet in her womb, she should be opened that the child may be baptized.” (ST, III, q.68, a.11) St. Thomas’ underlying philosophy is correct: to kill an unborn baby is murder. He ran into some ambiguity with his era’s limited understanding of embryology. It is very clear that if St. Thomas had lived in the modern scientific age of biology, genetics and sonograms he would have concluded beyond a doubt that life begins at conception. Natural science clearly demonstrates the existence of a new genetic individual at fertilization. He was, in this respect, a victim of his time.

go to link Nevertheless, St. Thomas did touch on this indirectly again in the third part of Summa Theologica while discussing the Immaculate Conception of Mary. He certainly argued that the human soul is present by the time of the quickening. On the other hand, he did not think philosophy itself could say definitively whether or not the soul is present before any observable body movements in the fetus. To reiterate, he did not say the soul was definitely not there, only that he could not prove it was there. In the case of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, he argued that we do not know exactly when she was sanctified (i.e., received her soul), so the Church correctly celebrates her sanctification from the time of conception. (ST, III, q. 27, a.2, ad.3) We can infer through his conclusion that he considered ensoulment possible from the moment of conception, and thus, making any abortion tantamount to murder.

The idea of “delayed ensoulment” is a red herring, however. The Church has always taught that abortion is intrinsically evil, and is not dependent upon the idea of ensoulment. The Church’s position is built upon Scripture, Tradition, and natural law, which St. Thomas surely knew and accepted. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5) The prophet Isaiah similarly wrote, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb.” (Is. 44:24) The Didache, a vade mecum written sometime near the end of the first century states, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion.” Abortion is similarly condemned throughout the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, from Clement to St. Jerome, and so many more. St. Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century that those who have “deliberately destroyed a fetus has to pay the penalty of murder.” St. Thomas knew extraordinarily well all of these ancient Church teachings on abortion, and that it was forbidden at any stage of development.

The Catechism too is clear on this: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion . . . is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (CCC 2271) St. Pope John Paul discussed ensoulment too as a red herring in Evangelium Vitae: “Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion.” (EV, 61) In our era today, with the force of modern scientific evidence of D.N.A. analysis and 3D ultrasounds, we can understand without question a person is a person from the moment of conception.

This is why in light of modern science the permissive acceptance of abortion is so scandalously pernicious. This callous perniciousness of the culture of death is crystallized in the fascinating case of Dr. Stojan Adasevic. Dr. Adasevic was an infamous Serbian doctor who performed abortions in the communist country of Yugoslavia for a couple of decades, killing in utero somewhere between 48,000 to 62,000 babies. His abortion mill even killed up to 35 babies in one day.

That all changed one night when he began to have a profound reoccurring dream that haunted him for weeks and weeks on end. In the dream he was in a beautiful sunlit meadow full of flowers with many children playing and laughing. All of the children were from four to 24 years of age. Whenever he would try to approach and speak to the children they would run away screaming in terror. Despite the idyllic setting of the dream, he felt oppressed and would wake up in a cold sweat each night. The recurring scene was watched over by a figure in a black and white habit who would stare silently at him.

Eventually one night, he was able to catch one of the children, and the child cried out in terror: “Help! Murderer!” At that moment, the man in the black and white habit turned into an eagle and swept down to pull the child away. The next night the doctor decided to ask the man who he was. The man replied, “My name is Thomas Aquinas.” Stojan then asked, “Who are these children?” St. Thomas answered, “These are the ones you killed with your abortions.” With that, Stojan woke up in shock, refusing to participate in any more abortions. There were many other details involved revealing this as something more than just a dream. Since that time, Dr. Adasevic became heavily involved in the pro-life movement and reverted back to the Orthodox faith of his childhood. Stojan has since apparently had a great devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas. He wonders now, having read the Summa Theologica and St. Thomas’ ambiguous writing on Aristotle’s idea of ensoulment, if “the saint wanted to make amends for that error.”

Whether or not that was, in fact, one of St. Thomas’ errors remains debatable. Clearly, he thought ensoulment was possible from the moment of conception, but he left some ambiguity in regards to the provability of that belief. Unfortunately, the primitive “science” of St. Thomas’ day could not establish that as empirical fact. Yet, he unquestionably followed the Church’s teaching on the evils of abortion, so that those who use him to promote the culture of death are wrong. We can infer that St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, was unwaveringly pro-life, condemning abortion as murder. And, if he were alive today, St. Thomas would clearly stand with those who accept modern science that life begins at conception.

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Reconsidering Contraception and the Way of Life – July 26, 2017

Contraception was not always as widely accepted as it is now. This is important to remember, especially for those of us born after the so-called sexual revolution, when contraceptives have become nearly ubiquitous, even farcical to the point of absurdity, just ask the Little Sisters of the Poor. However, in the not-so-distant past, in the first part of the 20th century, Christians of all stripes, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants were nearly unanimous in their belief that contraception was a grave sin and against the will of God. When did attitudes change so radically?

Many point to the Lambeth Conference on August 4, 1930 as the first crack in the dam. The Anglican Conference of Bishops passed a controversial resolution to allow for the use of birth control when “there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood.” This declaration was the first of its kind and perhaps the ‘camel’s nose under the tent’ that opened Christians to the practice of contraception. T.S. Eliot noted prophetically in his Thoughts After Lambeth, “The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse.” The Catholic Church was not so patient in her response. Soon after Lambeth, on December 31, 1930, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Casti Connubii (“of chaste marriage”) reaffirming the historical Church teaching that contraception is a “grave sin.”

The leaders of the birth control movement took offense at the encyclical and derided the Pope. Margaret Sanger, head of the movement and future founder of Planned Parenthood, wrote an article in The Nation on January 27, 1932 mocking Catholic doctrine as “illogical, not in accord with science (sound familiar?), and definitely against social welfare and race improvement.” Race improvement was a euphemism for Sanger’s infamous eugenics ideology. Later in the essay, she accused the Church, by forbidding contraception, of increasing the “number of feeble-minded, insane, criminal, and diseased.” Sanger’s utopian vision harnessed contraception to engineer biological and racial purity. Interestingly, and perhaps to her credit, Sanger did not condone abortion as a form of birth control, calling it “dangerous and vicious.” Latter-day pro-choice and Planned Parenthood disciples have strayed where even she would not go.

In the decades that followed, the outcome of this culture war is plainly obvious with the widespread acceptance and legalization of contraception (and abortion). Yet, the Church has steadfastly remained a “sign of contradiction” (HV, 18) opposing contraception in all its facets as “intrinsically evil.” (CCC 2370) Some may say this is one of the Church’s ‘hard teachings.’ Indeed, this hard teaching has been reflected in the day-to-day, rank-and-file parish level, where many Catholics have accepted and use artificial birth control. This is probably why we do not hear sermons against contraception or have proactive discussions on periodic abstinence and Natural Family Planning. The point, however, is not to mete out judgment in the disconnect between truth and practice.

In an era of same-sex ‘marriage,’ abortion on demand, and gender fluidity, does it even make sense to discuss contraception – ground long ago ceded? As witnessed last century with the unleashing of Pandora’s box of sexual promiscuities and the idolization of sexual pleasure, perhaps it is the right moment to contemplate again the Church’s wisdom on contraception – the place where the “experiment” began. This also gets to the heart of the issue: procreation as the primary end of sexuality and marriage. The “contraceptive mentality” reduces sexuality to sensuality, and the dignity of the human person to an object of pleasure. The ‘unitive without the procreative’ mindset is the underlying zeitgeist of our generation, and the root of many modern social ills.

Even CC recognized the potential burdens of parenthood: “We are deeply touched by the sufferings of those parents who, in extreme want, experience great difficulty in rearing their children.” (CC, 60) No one is suggesting this is an easy, unemotional topic. It is uncomfortable and impractical, the way the world sees, but nonetheless we should reconsider because it is the right thing. Doing the right thing is something we as Catholics should be interested in doing. This means heeding the voice of the Church, and heeding the words of Christ. Jesus said we should strive to enter in through the “narrow gate” for “the way is hard, that leads to life.” Jesus also commands us to take up our cross and follow Him. In the context of marriage, we offer self-sacrificial love for our spouse. The marital vocation is a “work of mutual sanctification.” (GS, 52) It is their way to holiness and to heaven. As part of that, “fidelity and fecundity” are the twofold obligations of their conjugal love. (CCC 2363)

This is not to say that we are obligated to necessarily form very large families beyond our means. We are obligated in our openness to life, but we can regulate births and space children apart by natural means with “virtuous continence.” (CC, 53) Pius VI adjures us that virtuous continence should be used only after prudently reflecting on the moral law and our obligation of openness to having children. Yet, part of our responsible parenthood would factor in difficulties of “physical, economic, psychological and social conditions.” These are potentially “serious reasons” for spacing out pregnancies and limiting the size of families. It is illegitimate to say no to the primary good of marriage (children) for any trivial or selfish reasons. The couple with clearly formed consciences must have the moral judgment that they have serious, grave, or just reasons for delaying or limiting the size of one’s family. The contraceptive mentality of not being open to life for non-grave reasons is morally wrong, even if done through natural means.

One of the main points of Paul VI’s prescient 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae is that contraception is contrary to natural law. The male coming together with the female naturally procreates a child. The natural law purpose then of sexual intercourse is procreation. Any artificial interference, whether through contraception or sterilization, is against natural law, and against the intentions of God as reflected in nature. It breaks the unitive and procreative significance of the marital act, and reduces it to just sensual pleasure; an offense against the dignity of the human person created in the image of God. The conjugal love between a husband and wife is “by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children.” (HV, 9)

The question then is, if we have correct moral consciences and serious, just reasons for limiting the size of our family, how do we go about this in a morally licit way? The first and obvious way, as stated by CC, is abstinence. The next is natural family planning in one form or another. HV states that married couples may control births by taking advantage of the infertile “natural cycles immanent in the reproduction cycle.” (HV, 16) Abstinence and NFP are not “Catholic contraception” because nothing artificial has been introduced into the process to render intercourse infertile. The procreative potential remains intact. As the late moral philosopher Joseph Boyle stated, “Refraining from intercourse is not contraceptive intercourse, since it is not intercourse at all.” By our recourse to abstinence and natural family planning we preserve our inherent human dignity, respect the moral order, and offer humble obedience to our Creator.

HV did put one asterisk in the encyclical regarding contraceptive usage. This is the exception for therapeutic treatment of bodily diseases. The statement reads: “On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.” (HV, 15) Intention is key. One of the footnotes for this paragraph is for a speech Pope Pius XII gave to the Congress of the International Society of Hematology in 1958. In that, he references the “principle of double-acting actions,” or the principle of double-effect. He says, “If the woman takes this medicine, not with the intention of preventing conception, but only by medical indication, as a necessary remedy due to a disease of the uterus or of the organism, it causes an indirect sterilization, which is permitted according to the general principle of double-acting actions.”

In some instances one spouse accepts contraception and the other does not. How does the Church handle this? The Vade Mecum for Confessors (3, 13) addresses this by referencing CC: “Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin.” (CC, 59) Again, as outlined, certain conditions must be met.

One need not look all the way to 20th century magisterium, however, to find Church pronouncements against contraception. In the New Testament, the word pharmakeia (same root word for pharmacy) appears three times, which some scholars have linked to contraception. The ancient Greek word denotes the mixing of “magic potions,” or as the New Testament sometimes translates it, “sorcery.” The meaning is not entirely explicit, and may have multiple levels of meaning. Yet, in the context of the ancient pagan cults, with widespread sexual fertility rites and orgies, it probably refers to contraceptive and abortive practices. The second century physician, Soranos of Ephesus, in his book Gynecology, for example, uses the term to refer to potions for both contraception and abortion. These “magic potions” were likely illicit drugs used in conjunction with pagan sexual rituals to stimulate hallucinations, sterilization, prevent conception, or to end a pregnancy. In the letter to the Galatians, the usage of pharmakeia appears alongside other sexual sins. St. Paul warns that those who practice “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery.. shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21) In two other references found in Revelation (Rev. 9:21; 21:8), it is similarly condemned.

The word pharmakeia also appears in the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. This first century document was possibly a vade mecum, the early Church’s first handbook on morality and fundamental doctrines. In the first part of the document are proposed two ways of living – the way of life and the way of death. The Didache exhorts: “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 use potions, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.” The focus here again is on sexual immorality. The practice of “magic” and the use of “potions” could have multiple levels of possible meanings, including the occult and illicit drugs. However, in the context of the passage, it more than likely refers to abortifacients and artificial birth control.

Contraception closes off marriage from the divine love it is meant to image and reflect. St. Paul speaks about the love of a husband and wife as a “great mystery” meant to image the love of Christ and the Church. Marital love is also an icon in creation of the eternal exchange of love among the three persons of the Holy Trinity; so that, the very love between the Father and the Son is, in fact, another person, the Holy Spirit. In an analogous way, from the conjugal love between two persons, a husband and wife, comes a third person, a child. Their love is em-bodied literally. Sterilized sex cuts God, the ultimate ‘Giver of Life,’ out of the life-giving equation, so that man becomes by unnatural means the sole-arbiter in generating life or not. This stifles the Trinitarian image of God in creation, as a “communion of persons” in marriage and the family.

Shakespeare wrote “what’s past is prologue.” The past has brought us to this moment, and yet, it need not be our future. It may be difficult, but we should reconsider our comfortable acceptance of contraception and our uncomfortable omissions from being fully pro-life. God entrusted us with the awesome responsibility and role as co-creators with Him in bringing forth new persons. This presupposes our openness to life. The pseudepigraphical and extra-biblical book of Enoch tells the pre-history story of the fall of the angels from heaven, and how they spread sin across the earth, teaching man “charms and spells, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants.” That is to say, they taught magic potions and sorcery, and led mankind astray. It is this type of neopaganism that seems to have reemerged again in modern times under the guise of social progress. The civilized, non-Christian experiment is still in its slow-motion collapse. As the faithful of the Church, we should play the part, and be a countercultural sign of contradiction.

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The Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles – 25 January 2016

Wouldn’t it be great to have a snapshot into the life of the early Church to see what they believed and taught and practiced on a day-to-day basis? Of course, we have the New Testament, which is divinely-inspired, and tells us about the life of Jesus Christ and the faith of the first Christian communities. Its 27 books, and eight (possibly nine, depending on if you think St.Paul, or a disciple of St.Paul, wrote the letter to the Hebrews.) authors – including the Apostles St.Matthew, St.John, St.James, St.Peter, St.Jude, and disciples St.Mark, St.Luke, and St.Paul – is the scriptural foundation of all Christian canonical beliefs. All of the books were written in the first century by eye-witnesses to Jesus, or by the first disciples of the Apostles. Aside from being the Word of God, these are incredibly reliable historical documents, reflecting direct contact with the person of Jesus and written relatively soon after. Yet, there are also many extra-biblical sources and letters, from the first century and early second century, that describe the life, belief and practices of the early Church. These are the writings of the early Church Fathers, in particular, the Apostolic Church Fathers, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna. They are considered “Apostolic” because they had direct contact with the Apostles themselves, thus making their work fascinating and of utmost importance (even though they were not ultimately included within the canon of Church Scripture).

One such document is called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” or known simply as “The Didache.” It is one of the earliest known Christian writings, even possibly predating some of the New Testament books. It is generally agreed to have been written between 50-120 AD, well within the lifetime of some of the Apostles and first disciples. Some of the early Christians even considered it an inspired book, although again it was ultimately not included in the canon. The Didache is generally divided into four different sections concerning: (1) a moral catechesis (ie, “The Way of Life” vs. “The Way of Death”), (2) liturgical instruction, (3) a Church manual for various ecclesiastical and community norms, (4) and a brief eschatology of the parousia (ie, the second coming of Christ). One of the most profound aspects of the early Church Fathers’ writings is that they are thoroughly sacramental in nature, that is, they speak explicitly of the sacraments of the Church. Simply, from an apologetics point of view, they demonstrate that the sacraments and doctrines of the Catholic Church are not something contrived or incrementally slipped into Christianity over the centuries. They are not paganism, or a so-called Roman mystery religion. Christianity holds all of that in contempt as idolatry and blasphemy. Rather, the sacraments, the prayers, the Church, they were all there from the beginning. This is also true in The Didache. The tracts of the Didache, as are all the early Church Fathers’ writings, are decisively Catholic. [of note: The Way of Life specifically mentions not to commit “abortion, or infanticide,” which is probably the earliest known Christian writing explicitly condemning abortion and infanticide. Later, it references The Way of Death, in which they “murder their infants, and deface the image of God.”]

The Didache speaks matter-of-factly about Baptism, going to Church on Sundays, receiving the Eucharist, and making a general confession of sins. For example, as part of “The Way of Life,” the author says “In church, make confession of your faults, and do not come to your prayers with a bad conscience.” Later, he instructs:

“Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations.”

In the Church manual section, he similarly states, “No one is to eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for the Lord’s own saying applies here, ‘Give not that which is holy unto dogs.’” The manual gives in-depth instruction of the eucharistic prayers to say over the chalice and over the broken bread, offering us a glimpse into the first century Mass. They are to pray, “Thou, O Almighty Lord, hast created all things for thine own Name’s sake; to all men thou hast given meat and drink to enjoy, that they may give thanks to thee, but to us thou hast graciously given spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal, through thy Servant. Especially, and above all, do we give thanks to thee for the mightiness of thy power.” The manual similarly gives precise details about how to go about baptizing people saying, “..immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” It offers a similar prescription for standing water, or simply pouring water over the person’s head. The manual delves also into fasting, instructing people to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, much like the modern tradition, and to pray the Our Father three times every day.

And, how should this affect us? These brief snippets offer us glimpses, from outside the New Testament (i.e., accepted Scripture), into the hearts and minds of the first Christians. They lived a sacramental life in toto. Their daily lives were rooted in Baptism, Confession, the Eucharist, Sunday worship, fasting, and prayer. This is what they called The Way of Life. The Way of Life involves modeling our lives after Christ, that is, among many other things, loving our enemies, living a moral life, being meek and compassionate. Moreover, it instructs us, “Accept as good whatever experience comes your way, in the knowledge that nothing can happen without God.” We are to live out our Christian vocations within our ordinary circumstances and trials of each day, with Christ as our “spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal.” As some have argued, The Didache could be a form of vade mecum, a small handbook that Christians would have carried about with themselves. It spoke to them of how they should live their lives, conduct themselves and embrace the sacramental life. And so it remains with us!

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