Church Fathers and abortion

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Among the early Christians who are regarded as Church Fathers by various Christian denominations, some of them wrote on the topic of abortion. Of these, some wrote that abortion is murder. Their arguments were threefold: abortion is infanticide because the woman uses drugs to kill the child in her womb, abortion is parricide because it kills the potential life of a future adult man, and abortion due to adultery is because the adultress wishes to get rid of the evidence of her adultery. The Church Fathers who made these arguments are Athenagoras of Athens, Tertullian, Marcus Minucius Felix, Hippolytus of Rome, John Chrysostom, Basil of Caesarea, Saint Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, and Augustine of Hippo.[1] This article includes a brief introduction of each of these figures, followed by an excerpt from their writings that demonstrates each one's views on abortion. Two of these figures, Tertullian and John Chrysostom, include certain facts about them that some people might find offensive, or even use to discredit said figures via an Ad hominem fallacy, which facts are included for the sake of transparency about the identity of the church fathers. This article does not include church councils, such as the Synod of Ancyra and the first seven Ecumenical Councils, or apocrypha, such as the Didache and the Apocalypse of Peter, since it is concerned only with the church fathers.

Background and context[edit]

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches that a person has a body and a soul.[2] Based on this teaching and on Exodus 21:22,[3] some Christians influenced by Pythagoreanism, such as Athenagoras of Athens, believed that ensoulment happened at the moment of conception, making killing of the embryo murder;[4] while other Christians influenced by Aristotelianism, such as Augustine of Hippo, believed that ensoulment happened when the fetus formed, making killing of the embryo not murder.[5] During this time as well, some women - adultresses who wished to get rid of the evidence of their adultery, wives who lived under population control, and poor and needy women who were being oppressed[6][7][8] [9] [10] - took abortifacient drugs.[11][12][13]

First century[edit]

Athanagoras of Athens[edit]

Athanagoras of Athens, an Ante-Nicene Christian apologist, philosopher, and Apostolic Father, wrote in 177 AD, in A Plea for the Christians, that "women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder."[14]


Tertullian, a Christian writer and Latin Father influenced by Stoicism, who is not regarded as a saint by the Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church because of his denial of the Trinity, wrote in 197 AD, in Apology, that Christians, being forbidden to murder, could not "destroy even the fetus in the womb."[15] In 208 AD, Tertullian wrote in On the Soul that Mosaic Law punishes "the man who shall cause abortion."[16]

Second century[edit]

Marcus Minucius Felix[edit]

Marcus Minucius Felix, a Latin Father and apologist, wrote in 226 AD, in Octavius, that women who "extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels" commit parricide.[17]

Hippolytus of Rome[edit]

Hippolytus of Rome, a Latin Christian theologian who at one time committed schism before reconciling with the Christian church, wrote in 228 AD, in Refutation of All Heresies, that women who "expel what was being conceived" commit murder.[18]

Third century[edit]

Augustine of Hippo[edit]

Augustine of Hippo, a Latin Christian theologian and bishop of Hippo influenced by Neoplatonism, wrote in 320 AD, in On Marriage and Concupiscence that "sometimes...cruel lust...resorts to...poisonous destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born."[19]

Basil of Caesarea[edit]

Basil of Caesarea, a Latin Christian theologian and bishop of Caesarea Mazaca who supported the Nicene Creed, wrote in 374 AD, in Epistle to Amphilochius, that the woman "who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder."[20]

Jerome of Striden[edit]

Jerome of Striden, a Latin Christian priest, confessor, theologian, and historian who translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate, wrote in 384 AD, in Letter to Eustochium, that adultresses who "use drugs to procure abortion" commit "child murder."[21]

Ambrose of Milan[edit]

Ambrose of Milan, a Latin Christian archbishop of Milan and opponent of Arianism, wrote in 388 AD, in Hexameron, that women by "the use of parricidal mixtures they snuff out the fruit of their wombs in the genital organs themselves. In this way life is taken away before it is given."[22]

John Chrysostom[edit]

John Chrysostom, a Latin Christian archbishop of Constantinople, whose views on the Jews are considered antisemitic, wrote in 391 AD, in Homily 24 on Romans, that abortion is "murder before birth...or rather something even worst than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born."[23]

See also[edit]

  • History of abortion
  • Religion and abortion
  • Christianity and abortion
  • History of Christian thought on abortion
  • Catholic Church and abortion
  • Mormonism and women


  1. Stay Catholic: ECF on Abortion
  2. Biblehub Matthew 10:28
  3. USCCB Exodus 21:22
  4. Daniel Schiff, Abortion in Judaism (Cambridge University Press 2002 ISBN 978-0-521-52166-6 Search this book on Logo.png.), p. 40.
  5. David L. Hull, Michael Ruse (editors), The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology (Cambridge University Press 2007 ISBN 978-0-52185128-2 Search this book on Logo.png.), p. 328
  6. Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish, and Pagan Attitudes (InterVarsity Press 1982 ISBN 0-87784-397-X Search this book on Logo.png.), p. 50
  7. Jane F. Gardner and Thomas Wiedemann, The Roman Household: A Sourcebook (Routledge 1991 ISBN 0-415-04421-9 Search this book on Logo.png.), p. 98
  8. Paul Carrick, Medical Ethics in the Ancient World (Georgetown University Press 2001 ISBN 0-87840-848-7 Search this book on Logo.png.), p. 123
  9. Bakke, Odd Magne. When children became people: the birth of childhood in early Christianity. ISBN 9781451415308. Search this book on Logo.png
  10. Johannes M. Röskamp, Christian Perspectives On Abortion-Legislation In Past And Present (GRIN Verlag 2005 ISBN 978-3-640-56931-1 Search this book on Logo.png.)
  11. Riddle, John M. (1994). Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. Harvard University Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0674168763. Search this book on Logo.png
  12. Kolata, Gina (March 8, 1994). "In Ancient Times, Flowers and Fennel For Family Planning". New York Times. p. C1.
  13. Rensberger, Boyce (July 25, 1994). "Pharmacology". Washington Post.
  14. Early Christian Writings: Athenagoras' A Plea for the Christians, chapter XXXV
  15. Early Christian Writings: Tertullian's Apology, chapter IX
  16. Early Christian Writings: Tertullian's On the Soul, chapter XXXVII
  17. Early Christian Writings: Minucius Felix's Octavius, chapter XXX
  18. Early Christian Writings: Hippolytus' Against All Heresies, book IX, chapter VII
  19. New Advent: Augustine's On Marriage and Concupiscence, book I, chapter 17 (XV)
  20. New Advent: Basil's Epistle to Amphilochius (Letter 188), section III
  21. New Advent: Jerome's Leetter to Eustochium (Letter 22), section 13
  22. Internet Archive: The Fathers of the Church A New Translation Vol. 42, Ambrose's Heameron, chapter 18
  23. New Advent: John Chrysostom's Homily 24 on Romans

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