It is always tragic when some Catholic politicians try to revise the Church’s historical teaching on the life issues. History shows that from the very beginning the Church has always held that life is sacred. However, some politicians try to confuse the faithful in such a way to make it seem that the Church’s teaching on the life issues are a recent phenomenon. This is far from the truth.
From its earliest days the Catholic Church has taught that life within the womb is sacred. But how is this known?
In fact it can be traced back to something that is called the Didache. This relatively short document from the first century has given modern Catholics much to be thankful for. It is also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve” and seems to have been used as a catechetical guide for early Christians. It is within this document that the Church begins to assert her position on the Culture of Life.
In fact, the Didache names quite a few prevalent practices within the Roman Empire. So what did the ancient Christians associate with the Culture of Death? Chapter 5 devotes itself to what the path of death is composed of. In this small, but insightful chapter, one reads about murder, adultery, fornication, pride, self-will, etc. Does any of this sound familiar?
Much of what is being seen in society today is simply a rehashing of pagan practices within the Culture of Death. But a person may ask why these sins? One typically does not associate sexual sins with death, nor does one associate pride with death. But the early Church certainly did and still does today.
Obviously, abortion and infanticide were practices within the ancient world that were common enough for people to have known about them. The early Church not only knew about theses immoral acts, but also officially condemned them.
The opening paragraph of the Didache states, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death and the difference is great between the two” (1:1). This should sound familiar for two reasons. First, Christ proclaims himself to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (see John 14:6; emphasis added). Second, Blessed Pope John Paul II uses a similar distinction when he describes the Culture of Life and a Culture of Death in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae where he too cites the Didache to some extent.
The modern Catholic has forgotten, in many ways, what the ancient Catholic understood—that is, that they too were facing a culture enamored with the Culture of Death. Abortion was a very real practice within the pagan Roman Empire. Hence, the Didache along with other writings of the early Church severely condemned this heinous act (see Didache 2:2). But the killing of the unborn was not the only practice that the early Christians faced when it came to the Culture of Death.
In many ways sex, when it is not used the way God intended, becomes dangerous for the life of the Christian. When the procreative and unitive purposes of sex are removed then sex, as an act, is intended to be sterile and recreational. As a result, life that results from the sexual act is seen as a nuisance and not a gift. Clearly, the Church has held a very consistent view.
In the Didache it is commanded that one shall not fornicate, or participate in unlawful sexual practices (see Didache 2:2). But what did this exactly mean?
Well, for one, it is obvious that they meant sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman. But it seems to have meant something more as well.
Contraception seems to be included in this idea of “unlawful sexual practices” as well and there is ample proof to support this proposition. One only needs to read the Letter of Barnabas, Clement of Alexander’s The Instructor of Children, and Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies to get a handle of what the Church Father’s thought when it came to contraception in the ancient world. To summarize, they condemned it.
So it is no wonder that Blessed John Paul II stated the following: “But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree” (see Evangelium Vitae, no. 13). But how are they connected?
Very simply, when people practice “sterilized” sex and end up conceiving a child then it is likely that the child will be seen as an impediment, and as such, that child is seen as something to be gotten rid of. The early Church Fathers knew this and they foresaw the consequences of such actions, hence the condemnations of abortion and infanticide.
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The good news is that the Church has faced this battle before and won. With Constantine’s conversion he begins the implementation of laws that help institute a Culture of Life within the Roman Empire. By the time of Emperor Justinian many of the aforementioned practices were forbidden within the secular law.
While the mere mention of Constantine as helping establish this culture may be surprising to Western Catholics, it is important to note that in the Eastern Catholic Churches Constantine is venerated as a saint. But even this fact teaches something; that it is vitally important to have true believers as civic leaders. We need more than political leaders who pay lip service to the faith and the gift of life. We need leaders who are actual believers – those who are truly willing to put their faith into actual practice. In the famous words of Constantine, “You are bishops of those within the Church, but I am a ‘bishop’ appointed by God over those outside.” Constantine was not perfect, but at least he actually believed.
Should modern society expect any less from their elected leaders particularly those who publicly proclaim that they are practicing members of the Church?
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