The Early Church on Abortion

The Didache – First Century:

“Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; do not steal; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.”

The Epistle of Barnabas – First Century:

“You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not slay the child by abortion. You shall not kill that which has been generated.

Apologia of Athenagoras of Athens- 177 A.D.:

“What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? For the same person would not regard a fetus in the womb as a living thing and therefore, an object of God’s care, and at the same time slay it, once it had come to life.”

Tertulian (Western Church) – Third Century:

“Abortion is a precipitation of murder, nor does it matter whether or not one takes a life when formed, or drives it away when forming, for he is also a man who is about to be one.”

Clement of Alexandria – Third century:

“Universal life would proceed according to nature if we would practice continence from the beginning instead of destroying, through immoral and pernicious acts, human beings who are given birth by Divine Providence.”

The Regional Council Of Elvira, Spain – 303 A.D.:

Prescribes life-long excommunication for penitent persons involved in abortion. Eucharist denied even on the death bed.

The Council of Ancyra, Canon 21-314/315 A.D.:

“Regarding women who become prostitutes and kill their babies, and who make it their business to concoct abortives, the former rule barred them for life from communion, and they are left without recourse. But, having found a more philanthropic alternative, we have fixed the penalty at ten years, in accordance with the fixed degrees.”

St. Basil The Great (330-379 A.D.):

“. . . we do not have a precise distinction between a fetus which has been formed and one which has not yet been formed.”

“. . . any hairsplitting distinction as to its being formed or unformed is inadmissible with us.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 A.D.): 

“There is no question about that which is bred in the uterus, both growing, and moving from place to place. It remains, therefore that we must think that the point of commencement of existence is one and the same for body and soul.”

St. John Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.): 

Speaking about those who force a woman to have an abortion to hide immorality: “You do not let a harlot remain a harlot, but make her a murderer as well.”

Regarding the abortionist, St. John considered him/her: “. . . worse than a murderer.”

Quinsext Ecumenical Council, Canon 91-691 A.D.: 

Decreed that people “. . . who furnish drugs for the purpose of procuring abortion, and those who take fetus-killing poisons, they are made subject to the penalty prescribed for murderers.”

All these various writings and canons were codified by St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople in the Ninth Century, into the “Photian Collection” and are still in effect today. In fact these teachings were universal in the whole Christian Church, East and West. Even the Protestant reformers such as Luther and Calvin were outspoken in their opposition to abortion.

“A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder.”

“Those who give potions for the destruction of the child conceived in the womb are murderers, as are those who take potions which kill the child.”

Ante-Nicene Fathers: Vol. VII, Moral Exhortations: 

Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten; for “everything that is shaped, and has received a soul from God, if it be slain, shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed.” 

The Apocalypse of Peter 26 (137 A.D.): 

And near that place [in hell] I saw another strait place into which the gore and the filth of those who were being punished ran down and became there as it were a lake: and there sat women having the gore up to their necks, and over against them sat many children who were born to them out of due time, crying; and there came forth from them sparks of fire and smote the women in the eyes: and these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion. 

Jerome Letters 22:13 (396 A.D.): 

I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their mother... 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. 

St. Basil the Great: 

The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry 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. .... It behooves us, however, not to extend their confessions to the extreme limit of death, but to admit them at the end of the moderate period of ten years, without specifying a definite time, but adjusting the cure to the manner of penitence.. . . Women also who administer drugs to cause abortion, as well as those who take poisons to destroy unborn children, are murderesses. So much on this subject.  (Letter to Amphilochius, 188:2, 8.) 

Tertullian (Western Church) – Third Century: 

"The mold in the womb may not be destroyed." 

For us murder is once for all forbidden; so even the child in the womb, while yet the mother’s blood is still being drawn on to form the human being, it is not lawful for us to destroy. To forbid birth is only quicker murder. It makes no difference whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it comes to birth. He is a man who is to be a man; the fruit is always present in the seed.”  (Tertullian, Apology, 9:8.), around 197 A.D. 

“How, then, is a living being conceived? Is the substance of both body and soul formed together at the same time, or does one of them precede the other? We do indeed maintain that both are conceived, formed and perfected at the same time, as they are born together; nor is there any moment intervening in their conception, which would give prior place to either. Consider the first events in the light of the last. If death is defined as nothing other than the separation of body and soul, then life, the opposite of death, should be defined as nothing else but the union of body and soul... We acknowledge, therefore that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul begins with conception.”  (Tertullian, “On the Soul”), 208 A.D. 

St. Hippolytus of Rome: 

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 or excessive wealth. Behold into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time!” [For the heretic teaches] women... to take drugs and render themselves sterile and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived.”  (Refutation of All Heresies, 9:17.), A.D. 199-217 

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.): 

"Sometimes their sadistic licentiousness goes so far that they procure poison to produce infertility, and when this is of no avail, they find one means or another to destroy the unborn and flush it from the mother's womb. For they desire to see their offspring perish before it is alive or, if it has already been granted life, they seek to kill it within the mother's body before it is born." 

“The soul is mingled with the body so as to form the one person of a man! Just as the soul employs the body in the unity of a person to form a man, so too God makes use of man in a unity of a person to form Christ.”  (St. Augustine, Letter to Volusian), 412 A.D. 

Athenagoras of Athens: 

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.  (A Plea for the Christians, 35:6.), 177 A.D. 

St. Clement of Alexandria: 

But men are not always willing to let marriage serve its purpose. For marriage is the desire for the procreation of children, and not disorderly sexual conduct, which is as much outside the laws as it is foreign to reason. Universal life would proceed according to nature if we would practice continence from the beginning instead of destroying, through immoral and pernicious acts, human beings who are given birth by Divine Providence. Those who use abortifacient medicines to hide their fornication are causing the outright destruction, together with the fetus, of the whole human race.  (The Tutor, 2:10.), 200-202 A.D. 

St. John Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.): 

Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? where there are many efforts at abortion? where there is murder before the birth? for even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine. Hence too come idolatries, since many, with a view to become acceptable, devise incantations, and libations, and love-potions, and countless other plans. Yet still after such great unseemliness, after slaughters, after idolatries, the thing seems to many to belong to things indifferent, aye, and to many that have wives too. Whence the mingle of mischief is the greater.”  (Homily 24 on Romans.)

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