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Are Pro-Life and Compromise Compatible?
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Just to remind ourselves that this is a retreat on the pro-life movement. Our present conference is on the sanctity of human life. A gift of Christianity to the world having seen something of the foundations of faith for the pro-life movement. In other words mere reason could not provide the human mind with the foundations it needs to safeguard unborn human life. The human mind has been too darkened by sin to, by itself, recognize the sanctity of helpless, innocent unborn human life. Revelation from God and faith on the part of man are necessary.
Our present reflection, however, now goes back into history. It is a little known fact that Christianity provided the foundations of faith in the sanctity of human life to the human race and, I would add, and not only for believing Christians. Christianity provided those foundations for all mankind. The Roman Empire into which Christianity was born practiced abortion and infanticide on a wide scale. Chronologically, infanticide came earlier and was fully sanctioned by Roman law. The male head of the household, called the pater familias, had power of life and death over his offspring. The moment the child was born he could have it either killed or allow it to live. He could tell his, either the wife or concubine after she conceived, either to abort or bring the child to term at birth. Abortion was universally approved.
There are certain basic facts that I wish to bring out during this retreat. This is one. Pagan society, before the dawn of Christianity, was a society that sanctioned, legalized and, I should add, legislated contraception, abortion and infanticide. We have records of abortion-inducing drugs from 2000 B.C. Generally speaking, those who wished to abort had to have the financial resources. The poorer people preferred infanticide. Women would practice abortionIm speaking of the Roman Empirein the first century of what we now call the Christian era. Over the years in teaching the morality of contraception, abortion and infanticide, I have found from records going back to centuries, B.C., women would have abortion because they disliked the father of the child; or because that they knew that the father did not want the child; or because they were concubines and did not have the means, both social and financial, to support the child. They would practice abortion because a child was conceived as a result ofthis needs to be saidas the result of rape or incest. Every singlelet me repeatevery single movement in our supposedly developed civilization in the direction of abortion, every single move is back, back, back to what society had been at the dawn of Christianity. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of what I am saying.
Why would women abort in the Roman Empire? Because they would have to take care of the child and this would deprive them of the freedom they desired. Having not only studied Latin, or taught Latin, for my first 15 years of teaching theology, I taught exclusively in Latin. Theres a mountain of literature in Latin, about the conditions of the Roman Empire at the dawn of Christianity. Then, and this is found especially among the playwrights and the poets, women would abort because they wanted to preserve their bodily figure, and not have to appear in public as either pregnant or whatever a woman thinks happens to her body after she gives birth to a child. Pulchritudo, thats Latin word for beauty, was a source, psychologically, for many abortions in first century B.C. and first century A.D. of the Roman Empire. This is background.
Now, our first subtitle: Christianity vs. paganism. What, then, Christianity did from the very outset, was to warn its followers that they could not, if they were to be Christians, they could not conform to the homicidal philosophy of Roman paganism. We have a document, 80 A.D., called the Didache or, the full title in English, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. They were told, and I quote, You shall not procure abortion; You shall not destroy an unborn child. The precondition for becoming and being and remaining a Christian was the rejection of the pagan philosophy of killing the unborn.
About the year 138 A.D. there was written an Epistle of Barnabas. It is equally clear. It placed the crime of abortion among the actions of those who walk the way of darkness. Christians enlightened by Christ, who called Himself the Light of the world, were walking in the light. There are two ways of living and there are two powers in the world: that of light and that of darkness. And theres a great deal of difference between these two. The one is controlled by the light-giving angels of God, and the other by the devils of Satan, because Satan is the ruler of the present age, and the former is Lord from eternity to eternity. Among the commands of the way of light, I quote: Do not murder a child by abortion or commit infanticide. I thought it was worth noting that the two critical words in this early second century document of Christianity are murder, in Greek, phonos, and child, in Greek, teknon. Christianity had no doubt that abortion is the willful murder of a human being. One reason that I thought it was not only useful but even necessary to come out so far with two books, one The Treasury of Christian Wisdom, going back to the first centuries of the Church and the second, A Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan, is because most certainly Americans, and Im speaking of American Catholics, and educated Catholics, are ignorant when it comes even to know the names of some of the Great Masters of Catholic wisdom over the centuries. I wont ask by a raising of hands. In fact from this side I can hardly see anyone because of the light. I wont ask anyone to put up their hands or even to shake your heads, how many of you have read the City of God, by St. Augustine; or The Confessions of St. Augustine. All I know is that in the last 25 or so years not only has there been a down-playing and a minimizing of the great Catholic literary heritage of our Faith. Did you know that thousands of books have been removed from the libraries of Catholic universities and seminaries by those great Masters of Catholic wisdom that have written, by now, a library about which we Catholics had better know.
Now the teaching of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has never wavered and her fidelity to the teaching that abortion is murder. It never mattered as far as the Catholic Church was concerned whether the abortion was done in early pregnancy or later or nearer to the time of delivery. No doubt there were those who distinguished between what they called (and call), including somemay God enlighten themCatholic leaders in the pro-life movement, national leaders have the gall to distinguish what the Church, as Church never distinguishedbetween the gravity of the crime committed by killing a child shortly after conception or killing the child closer to the time of delivery. No doubt, there were some Catholics influenced by the then Greek philosophers, who claimed that the unborn child went through three stages of development: first the vegetative, then the animal and only in later months, the human. But that was not the teaching of the Church. As though the woman who killed a child early in pregnancy would be less guilty before God. Its almost unnecessary to say that not everything which is said or written by nominal Catholics is professed by the Catholic Church. Is not now and never was, and never was! There were the Hans Kungs in the early centuries; there were Edward Schillebeeckxs in the early centuries; there were Richard McBriens in the early centuries; there were Charles Currans in the early centuries. For us Catholics, what matters is what the Catholic Church, magisterially speaking, under the authority of the Bishop of Rome tells us Catholics to believe. Thats what matters.
I have a quotation from St. Basil, an Eastern Doctor of the Church writing this time in 375 A.D. I quote: A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is guilty of murder and any clever distinction as to its being formed, that is not quite human as being formed, being human or unformed not yet human, is not admitted by us. Now, what needs to be said, and if there is an underlying thesis in this retreat, it is this: Christians from the beginning were tempted by their pagan contemporaries to conform to pagan immorality. And the temptation is identical today. As a consequence, the Church had to repeat and keep repeating that the Fifth Commandment, You shall not kill, applies to abortion. Literally hundreds of documents by the Popes and Bishops are issued down the centuries and to our own day, all the Churchs teaching and I keep repeating and will continue repeating, those Bishops who are in conformity with and obedience to the Bishop of Rome, all were unanimous and are to this day unanimous in insisting that abortion is willful homicide and therefore forbidden not only to Christians or Catholics, but to every human being. Why? Because abortion is contrary to the law of God, written in mans nature and provable by human reason.
But as weve said before, and I will keep insisting, when we talk about having a fallen human nature, lets be clear we understand what we mean by a fallen human nature. Having been conceived, as we believe, without the state of grace, it is not onlyhear it! It is not only are we deprived of the supernatural life which then, thank God, is restored at Baptism. Because we are fallen human beings, we all come into this world as the Psalmist says, In sin my mother conceived me. We are conceived and born without the supernatural life. But thats not all. That is not all. Our fallen human nature also means that our minds, thats the natural reason, are darkened, and our wills are weakened. Now we dont go to the other extreme and say that the light of our mind is extinguished. No. Or that we lose our human freedom. No. But both reason and freedom are badly weakened. And consequently, even though the Ten Commandments, including for our purpose the fifth, You shall not kill, even those Ten Commandments, although they are inscribed in our minds, our minds are able to reach by logical reflection and deduction that abortion is murder. Nevertheless, our minds being darkened by sin with which we come into the world and further darkened by the sinful world into which we are born. That is whyhear it!that is why God had revealed not only the mysteries of faith, like the Holy Trinity or the Incarnation or the Divine Indwelling, God has seen fit to reveal what the human mind could, left to its own resources, conclude to being true here. The grave sinfulness of the willful destruction of an unborn child. But in order to enlighten the mind and assist the mind to know what had better be known in society is the direction that directly intended abortion is willful homicide.
We continue asking why, why has the Church over the centuries, speaking to the pagans of first century A.D., and the pagans of, I like to say this, represented by the Washington Post and the New York Times . . . the Church founded by Christ has had to cope with pagans since Good Friday. There is one pagan whose name we repeat every time we recite the Apostles Creed, suffered under Pontius Pilate. Thats the history of Christianity. Why has the Church condemned direct, willful abortion as murder? Because, as we shall see in a separate conference, it is the usurpation of a life which belongs only to God. He is the Creator; He is the Lord; He alone may decide first whether theres going to be a conception at all. I cant see how many empty pews there are on the other side; Id say there are quite a few on this side. Could God, had He wanted provided those empty pews be filled by people who will never be conceived or born? Of course. The madness, except there is such a thing as willful madness, of daring to tell God, So You thought, You thought that you were master of life and death. Well, God, Youve got another thought coming. Im the master.
It was in 1958 when I had dinner in Chicago with a constitutional lawyer who was a member of a small group of some ten men. And the group is still in existence and in operation planning, years ahead, planning what laws should be changed. He predictedI say this with complete certitudehe predicted in fifteen years, the Supreme Court will legalize abortion.
Before we finish this retreat I hope to make one thing clear. Satan is planning, he is scheming , and he uses human beings to do his work. There is leadership in the world and one of my hopes as the fruit of this short retreat, not because of what Ive said, thats why I was so happy that we could have the Blessed Sacrament exposed during the conferences. All I can do is beat the air with syllables that I hope are intelligible. It is Christs Incarnate truth which must enlighten you. My hope is that we will begin at long, dear Lord, at long last to provide authentic, real, bonafide, Catholic leadership in the pro-life movement. We dont have it. But when I say authentic leadership, I mean those who really know, know their faith, and understand what this cosmic conflict through which the world is now passing is all about.
When St. Ignatius, as part of the Spiritual Exercises, told the director of retreats to always during meditation on what he called the two standards, the devil organizing, planning and getting followers to do his bidding, Christ is also calling. And for the first time in the Catholic Churchs history, calling the laity to positions of leadership that they had never had before as CatholicsHere to take hold as followers of Christ the moment which in such large measure is in the hands of those who are following their satanic leader and being phenomenally, diabolically successful in their efforts. Let me close with a prayer.
Almighty Lord of the universe, our Maker from whom we come and our Destiny for whom we were made, protect us from ever daring to claim that we and not You are Master of human life. Keep us humble in submission to Your will. Inspire us to teach others what You have revealed to us, that you are our God and that we are only Your creatures who are to be obedient to Your divine will in this life as a condition for enjoying Your divine presence in the life to come. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
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