Common Ground? The Sanctity of Life

Do Catholics and Protestants agree about the sanctity of life? Tough question. First of all, let’s make abundantly clear the Catholic position on abortion. That really shouldn’t be necessary; doesn’t all the world know that the Catholic Church opposes abortion? Ah, but there are Catholics, and then there are Catholics. A group called the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice has produced a video on the subject of “The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics.” Their website claims that “Catholic teachings on issues related to reproductive health and rights are far more nuanced than the hierarchy acknowledges.” You get the drift – this is the rock that pro-abortion politicians crawl out from under. Going on the assumption that Catholic teaching can CHANGE, the group attempts to prove that because there are Catholic theologians who dissent from Catholic teaching (yes, Dan Maguire, we’re talking about you), Catholic teaching is “far more nuanced than the hierarchy acknowledges.” In these circles no one seems to have caught on to the fact that “majority rules” doesn’t cut it as far as Catholic dogma is concerned; the Church professes certain truths to be revealedThat’s why Catholic teaching can’t change. That’s why no matter how many dissenting Catholic theologians a news network can find to say that abortion actually is okay – it’s not. The Catechism couldn’t be any clearer on the subject:

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, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.

Catholic history couldn’t be any clearer on the subject:

“You shall not kill”: “There are two ways, a way of life and a way of death; there is a great difference between them… In accordance with the precept of the teaching: you shall not kill … you shall not put a child to death by abortion nor kill it once it is born … The way of death is this: … they show no compassion for the poor, they do not suffer with the suffering, they do not acknowledge their Creator, they kill their children and by abortion cause God’s creatures to perish; they drive away the needy, oppress the suffering, they are advocates of the rich and unjust judges of the poor; they are filled with every sin. May you be able to stay ever apart, o children, from all these sins!”. Didache, 1st century

Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born. Epistle of Barnabas, 2nd century

How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? 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 s 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. But we are in all things always alike and the same, submitting ourselves to reason, and not ruling over it. Athenagorus, 2nd century

“Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person. See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!” St. Hippolytus of Rome, 3rd century

In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed. Tertullian, 3rd century

She who has intentionally destroyed [the fetus] is subject to the penalty corresponding to a homicide. For us, there is no scrutinizing between the formed and unformed [fetus]; here truly justice is made not only for the unborn but also with reference to the person who is attentive only to himself/herself since so many women generally die for this very reason. St. Basil, 4th century

You may see many women widows before wedded, who try to conceal their miserable fall by a lying garb. Unless they are betrayed by swelling wombs or by the crying of their infants, they walk abroad with tripping feet and heads in the air. 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. Jerome, 5th century

No woman should take drugs for purposes of abortion, nor should she kill her children that have been conceived or are already born. If anyone does this, she should know that before Christ’s tribunal she will have to plead her case in the presence of those she has killed. St. Caesarius, 6th century

Pope Paul VI couldn’t have been any clearer on the subject:

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes. Gaudium et Spes

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith couldn’t have been any clearer on the subject:

The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. Donum Vitae, 1987

Blessed John Paul II couldn’t have been any clearer on the subject:

Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact, “from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and … modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the program of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time-a rather lengthy time-to find its place and to be in a position to act”. Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide “a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?”.

Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit: “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life”. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae

Pope Benedict XVI couldn’t have been any clearer on the subject:

“The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right — it is the very opposite. It is a deep wound in society.”

And don’t listen to the MSM – Pope Francis couldn’t have been any clearer on the subject:

Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. … Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.

That last part certainly bears repeating: “Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations’. It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”

So which part of this aren’t dissident Catholic theologians understanding? The big secret they want to let you in on is that up until the 20th century, no one could be scientifically sure when life actually began in the womb, and because of that there were Catholic theologians who suggested that it might be possible to abort a fetus if that fetus were not yet “alive.” Please note, the official teaching of the Church concerning the evil of abortion never changed despite this. Of course, science now tells us that life begins at conception, so it’s a moot point. As Papa Francesco said as clearly as he possibly could: the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question.

End of discussion.

Let’s migrate over to the never-ending discussion on the Protestant side of the issue.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America does not oppose abortion; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does. The United Methodist Church can’t seem to decide what it believes, and supports the right of each woman to choose abortion if she sees fit. The Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Christ, and the Quakers support abortion rights, as do the Episcopalians. The Presbyterian Church (USA) styles itself “pro-choice.” The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America are all pro-life. As a rule of thumb, anyone who calls himself an Evangelical will be pro-life; Evangelicals are Catholics’ greatest allies in the fight against abortion. They were about 20 years late to the party, but Catholics couldn’t be happier to have them on our side! Of course, pro-life Protestants have muddied the waters with their embrace of contraception – they tout it as the great remedy to abortion. What they don’t realize is that behind the Catholic opposition to contraception as well as to abortion lies an even larger issue – the sanctity of life. In the absence of a coherent Protestant Theology of Life, it is no wonder that a number of Protestant pro-life leaders have converted to Catholicism, Randall Terry, Lila Rose, Norma McCorvey, the Rev. Paul Schenck, and Bryan Kemper among them. Explaining his conversion, Kemper wrote, “Another concern of mine that has been eating at me for many years was teachings on pro-life issues and contraception. I have actually followed the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception since 1993 and have been trying to bring this truth to Protestants. There is only one Church that has been consistent from the time of Christ to today on the teaching of pro-life issues and contraception. Before 1930 there was never a single Christian church in history to accept any form of contraception, and today the Catholic Church is the only one that absolutely has kept this Christian truth.” As Reverend Schenck (now a Catholic priest) put it, “The pro-life movement drew me toward reunion with the Catholic Church… I saw that coherent moral theology, Christian unity and spiritual authority were essential to success.” You see, the Catholic Church knows what she believes, and why; she has the authority vested in her by her Divine Spouse to teach that truth, and the faithful are united when they adhere to her teaching.

End of discussion.

Is there common ground between Protestants and Catholics on the subject of the sanctity of human life? Plenty – but there could be much, much more. As Protestants put more effort into developing a “coherent moral theology,” as Fr. Schenk put it, the Catholic position will begin to make more sense to them. Catholics need to learn to articulate the truth of Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae, along with the beauty of Bl. John Paul’s Theology of the Body, and begin discussing these with our siblings in Christ. Truth and beauty are a one-two punch! When Protestants become convinced of these ideals, Christians can truly present a united face to the world on life issues, and the world will sit up and take notice.

Let’s get that discussion started!


On the memorial of Bl. László Batthyány-Strattmann

Deo omnis gloria!

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