About Medicine & Morality
What did the saints really write about abortion?
by Father Edward Richard, MS
I've read people try to justify abortion by citing the writings of Sts. Aquinas and Augustine. How can they do that?
The argument that certain writings of Sts. Augustine and Aquinas are not consistent with the truth of Church teaching on the grave sinfulness of abortion is false. These saints taught the serious sinfulness of deliberate abortion and they believed that the child in the womb was human from the start. (See Anne B. Gardiner's article in the New Oxford Review, 2004.) In a published interview on the subject (National Catholic Reporter, Jan. 17, 2003), bioethics expert and professor Father Brian Johnstone, CSSR, stated, "There was never any question (in Augustine and Aquinas) of whether terminating a pregnancy was sinful, but rather what kind of sin it was in the early stages -- homicide or something else."
The tortuous logic of the claim originates in a 1970 article by Father Joseph F. Donceel, SJ. Father Donceel uses the medieval biology of St. Thomas Aquinas to question the arguments used by Catholics in support of the teaching identifying abortion as a killing of an innocent human being.
Father Donceel used the outdated biology to assert that in the first several weeks the fetus went through two prior stages, possessing first a vegetative soul then an animal soul, before becoming human. More recent arguments arising out of Father Donceel's musings have gone so far as to assert that no human person exists until the eighth month when the brain is developed to a point when it is capable of a certain level of knowledge.
However, in a refutation of Father Donceel's archaic analysis, David Granfield wrote that according to Thomistic philosophy a rational soul is infused at the moment of fertilization ("Abortion Decision," 1971).
Moreover, Germain Grisez ("Abortion: The Myths, the Realities and the Arguments," 1970) summarizes the whole issue when he states, "If St. Thomas had known about the specific and individual genetic uniqueness of the zygote which makes it biologically a living organism of the human species, he would have supported immediate animation." Grisez is referring to the point that human life begins at fertilization.
The history of the matter and the unbroken tradition condemning abortion is much clearer than those who challenge the Church on this issue would allow. In his book titled "Contraception," John T. Noonan reviews the historical evidence beginning with the very earliest writing we have, the Didache, and continuing on through the Letter of Barnabas from the early second century which holds, "You shall not kill the fetus by an abortion or commit infanticide." Referring to such documents and numerous other writings the testimony of history is so strong it leads Noonan to conclude, "The Christians taught that all life must be inviolate, and, using the terms the law reserved for the killing of adults, they charged that not only the destruction of existing life but the interruption of the life-giving process was homicide and parricide. They were led to attach sanctity not only to life but to the life-giving process."
Rev. Edward J. Richard, MS, DThM, JD, is a professor of Moral Theology, Vice-Rector and Dean of Students at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and the Director of the Paul VI Pontifical Institute of Catechetical and Pastoral Studies in St. Louis MO
First printed in the St. Louis Review, January 14, 2005. Reprinted with permission from Fr. Richard.
**Women for Faith & Family operates solely on your generous donations. See Join Page or for credit card conation see Network for Good instructions page.**
WFF is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.
Voices copyright © 1999-Present Women for Faith & Family. All rights reserved.
All material on this web site is copyrighted and may not be copied or reproduced without prior written permission from Women for Faith & Family,except as specified below.
Permission is granted to download and/or print out articles for personal use only.
Brief quotations (ca 500 words) may be made from the material on this site, in accordance with the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, without prior permission. For these quotations proper attribution must be made of author and WFF + URL (i.e., “Women for Faith & Family www.wf-f.org.)
Generally, all signed articles or graphics must also have the permission of the author. If a text does not have an author byline, Women for Faith & Family should be listed as the author. For example: Women for Faith & Family (St Louis: Women for Faith & Family, 2005 + URL)
Link to Women for Faith & Family web site.
Other web sites are welcome to establish links to www.wf-f.org or to individual pages within our site.
Back to top -- Home -- Back to Medicine & Morality
Women for Faith & Family
PO Box 300411
St. Louis, MO 63130
314-863-8385 Phone -- 314-863-5858 Fax -- Email