Condemnation of Abortion in the Age of the Church Fathers

The condemnation of abortion by followers of Christ is not new. From the earliest days of Christianity, it has been considered a sin and preached against. Although the truth of this teaching has not changed, some seem to want to redefine both truth and sin. On Women’s Equality Day 2022, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called restricting abortion “sinful.” Specifically, on August 26, this U.S. representative twisted the idea of sin, stating, “The fact that this is such an assault on women of color and women [in] lower income families is just sinful. It’s wrong that they would be able to say to women what they think women should be doing with their lives and their bodies. But it’s sinful, the injustice of it all.” Pelosi’s idea of sin regarding abortion is the opposite of Church teaching. Her postmodern thinking has made her believe, or present as her belief, that rather than abortion being sinful, the restriction of it is “sinful.”

We will look at what the early church fathers had to say regarding the issue of abortion. For the record, this author has looked, but could not find, any church father that agreed with the U.S. Speaker Pelosi. In fact, every church father that addressed the issue roundly condemned it.

The Jews in the ancient world forbade abortion. The Jewish historian Josephus described the Mosaic law with respect to abortion. In his work Against Apion, Book 2, written circa 80 AD, he stated: “The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have done so, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind.” Christianity, rooted in the Mosaic law to which Josephus referred, did not change this understanding of the fetus as a living child, and of the deliberate destruction of it as murder.

In ancient pagan Rome, abortion was legal. Some people at the time thought that the soul was introduced into the body after the birth of a child. The church father Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 AD) refuted this idea. As part of his refutation, he described in chilling detail the process of the abortion procedure, which does not seem to have changed much in two thousand years. In chapter 25 of his work A Treatise on the Soul, he writes:

“Accordingly, among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted frame for opening the uterus first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted and covered hook, wherewith the entire foetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also (another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in the furtive robbery of life: they give it, from its infanticide function, the name of ἐμβρυοσφάκτης, ‘the slayer of the infant’, which was of course alive.”

Tertullian made it clear the fetus was alive, even if unborn. (For more details on abortion in ancient Rome and the Christians, see here).

One of the earliest Church Fathers who spoke on the topic of abortion was St. Barnabas. Writing between 70 and 100 AD, he exhorted “You shall not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shall you destroy him after it is born.” St. Barnabas clearly views the fetus as a living human child, and equates abortion with “slaying,” that is, murdering, the child. Notice also that St. Barnabas addresses abortion and infanticide in the same sentence, considering them equivalent sins.

St. Hippolytus, writing around 225 AD, explained in his work Refutation of all Heresies, Book IX, that “Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time!” Clearly, the practice of sidelining one’s religion [“reputed believers”] in order to accommodate [“for the sake of their family and excessive wealth”] or approve of pet sins did not originate recently.

St. John Chrysostom states that abortion is worse than murder. His Homily 24 on Romans, written in the late 300s AD, asked: “Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do you abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?” His heartfelt preaching against sin arose from certain conviction of the Gospel of life. How striking, and how current it seems, when Chrysostom upbraids those who “follow after a curse as if a blessing.”

Other early church fathers who spoke out against the sin of abortion were St Cyprian of Carthage (c. 210 – 258 AD) in his letter to Cornelius, (number 48, numbered 52 in some sources); St. Basil the Great (329 -379 AD), in his epistle 138; St Jerome (c. 347 – c. 419) in his epistle 22; and St Ambrose (339 – 397 AD), in his work On the Hexaemeron. The practice of abortion is likewise forbidden in the Didache also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles which was written in the first century or at the latest, the first part of the second century.

From the historical record, it is clear that the early church fathers condemned abortion as a sin. To speak otherwise is to confuse reality.

Phillip Cuccia is a retired army officer, who served in armored and cavalry units, and then taught Military History at West Point, before joining the Army attaché corps, and serving in Italy at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He has a Master’s degree in security studies from Sapienza University in Rome and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Napoleonic Studies from Florida State University. He currently teaches history for Liberty University. He established the Eusebius Society in 2019.

Featured: “Kronos devouring his Children,” by Goya, ca. 1797.

Historical Evidence Of Jesus From Non-Christian Historians

One of the most common objections to the belief that Jesus is the Son of God is the notion that he was a mythical figure, or that he was a real person but that the things he said and did were embellished or made up over time and He was “mythologized.” The “mythologized” argument is one of the most common scholarly atheistic objections to Christianity. In order to counter the idea that Jesus’ existence or His claim to be the Son of God was made up over the course of time, it is appropriate to see what some of the earliest non-Christian historians had to say about the existence of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Here we will take a look at four of the earliest non-Christian historians who mention Christ or Christians in their writings; Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius and Josephus.

For a quick video explaining the essence of the historical writings quoted below in this article, please see:

One of the earliest known historians to write about Jesus was the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. 55 – c. 117). Little is known of Tacitus’ life but much can be deduced from his writings and from the letters addressed to him by his intimate friend and historian Pliny the Younger.

The most influential part of Tacitus’ education took place during the initial part of Vespasian’s reign and it is possible that Tacitus, like his friend Pliny, was schooled in rhetoric by Quintilian, who under Vespasian was made the first public chair of Latin rhetoric at Rome. Although it is not known when Tacitus started his own political career, he did gain renown quickly as evidenced by a famous letter from his junior, Pliny.

Pliny stated that of all the eminent men then active, Tacitus seemed to be the worthiest of imitation. When writing about the burning of Rome during Nero’s reign, Tacitus mentions Christ and the Christians, in his work Annals (c. 115 – c. 116) where he states in book XV chapter 44:

“…But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

The friend of Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, did not mention Jesus specifically in his writings, but he did mention the plight of the early Christians. Pliny was the Roman governor of Bithynia and Pontus (modern day Turkey) and, with respect to Christianity, he is famous for his letter to the Emperor Trajan around AD 112 asking counsel on how to deal with the early Christian community. His letter (X, 96) explains how Pliny had tried suspected Christians who were brought to trial before him. His letter asks for the Emperor’s guidance on how the Christians should be treated. The specific crime is not mentioned in the letter but the crime is most likely refusing to pray to the Roman gods.

Pliny details the practices of the Christians, stating, “But they declared their guilt or error was simply this—on a fixed day they used to meet before dawn and recite a hymn among themselves to Christ, as though he were a god. So far from binding themselves by oath to commit any crimes, they swore to keep from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith and not to deny any trust money deposited with them when called upon to deliver it. This ceremony over, they used to depart and meet again to take food—but it was of no special character, and entirely harmless.”

A possible acquaintance of Pliny was Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus who was another Roman historian that mentioned the Christians. He was probably born around AD 69 as deduced from his statement describing himself as a “young man,” twenty years after Nero’s death. Most scholars say his place of birth is Hippo Regius, a north African town in Numidia in modern day Algeria. He may have served on Pliny’s staff when Pliny was Proconsul of Bithynia and Pontus between 110 and 112. Under Trajan, he served as director of the Imperial archives. In his history concerning Nero (Nero 16), Suetonius describes Christianity as excessive religiosity and superstition (superstitio). When writing about the punishment of Christians he states: “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous [or ‘magical’] (maleficus) superstition.”

The fourth of these early non-Christian historians, Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100), like Tacitus, mentioned Christ explicitly. Josephus was born Yosef ben Matityahu in Jerusalem, which was then part of Roman Judæa, to a father of a priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry. He was a Romano-Jewish historian.

In Josephus’ Testimonium Flavianum (the testimony of Flavius Josephus) he writes a passage in Book 18, Chapter 3.3 of the Antiquities which describes the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman authorities. This passage is considered the most discussed passage of Josephus’ writings. Note in the passage below that Josephus writes “He was [the] Christ.”

Josephus states:

“Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, — a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and the thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

The early non-Christian historians were important in documenting early Christianity. Even Eusebius, two centuries later, references Josephus in his History of the Church, Book I, stating:

“It was the forty-second year of Augustus’s reign, and the twenty-eighth after the subjugation of Egypt and the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, when our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, at the time of the first registration, while Quirinius was governor of Syria, in accordance with the prophecies about Him, was born in Bethlehem, in Judaea. This registration in Quirinius’s time is mentioned also by the most famous of Hebrew historians, Flavius Josephus, who gives in addition an account of the Galilean sect which appeared on the scene at the same period, and to which our own Luke refers in the Acts …”

In his History of the Church, Eusebius also mentions Pliny the Younger in Book III.

“So great was the intensification of the persecution directed against us in many parts of the world at that time, that Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger), one of the most distinguished governors, was alarmed by the number of martyrs and sent a report to the emperor about the number of those who were being put to death for the faith. In the same dispatch he informed him that he understood they did nothing improper or illegal: all they did was to rise at dawn and hymn Christ as a god, to repudiate adultery, murder, and similar disgraceful crimes and in every way to conform to the law. Trajan’s response was to issue a decree that members of the Christian community were not to be hunted, but if met with were to be punished.”

From these four early non-Christian historians, writing about Christians or Christ and his claim to be the Son of God, we can conclude that there is plenty of evidence to support Jesus’ existence even outside of Holy Scripture and early Church Fathers’ writings about Jesus. These writings clearly show not only that Jesus existed as a historical figure but also that his followers professed him as the Christ and Son of God, and therefore this belief was not made up or “mythologized” years after he walked on the earth as fully human and fully God. The writings of Eusebius punctuate that fact, as he uses Josephus’s and Pliny’s histories as historical sources in his History of the Church, which he produced around AD 325, a full half-century before the canon of the Bible was closed.

Phillip Cuccia is a retired army officer, who served in armored and cavalry units, and then taught Military History at West Point, before joining the Army attaché corps, and serving in Italy at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He has a Master’s degree in security studies from Sapienza University in Rome and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Napoleonic Studies from Florida State University. He currently teaches history for Liberty University. He established the Eusebius Society in 2019.

Featured image: Christ Healing the Paralytic. Baptistry, Dura-Europos, ca. 232 AD.

The Genealogy Of Jesus

We are very excited to introduce an important undertaking in the area of Patristics and Church history. This initiative is the undertaking of Dr. Phillip Cuccia, who is a retired army officer and who served in armored and cavalry units before changing his job specialty to teaching Military History at West Point. He changed his job specialty once again to work in the Army attaché corps, serving in Italy at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He has a Master’s degree in security studies from Sapienza University in Rome and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Napoleonic Studies from Florida State University. He currently teaches history for Liberty University. He established the Eusebius Society in 2019.

Welcome to the Eusebius Society, whose mission is to promote the study of Patristics through learning and sharing about the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and other early Church Fathers, in order to gain a better understanding of the world of the early Christians and the Sacred Scriptures. My interest in writing about Eusebius and early Church history developed out of the intersection of my general interest in writing history and my interest in the mutual effect that culture has on religion and religion has on culture. I hope that these writings may spark some interest in the topic of the early Church Fathers, encouraging the reader to pursue further independent reading and study of the early Christian Church.

Eusebius is considered the first church historian. He was born about A.D. 260 and was probably a native of Caesarea, the limestone city built by Herod the Great on the coast of Palestine. Early in life, he became the disciple and close acquaintance of Pamphilus, a teacher who greatly influenced him. Pamphilus established at Caesarea a large and well-stocked library of theological books, which contributed greatly to Eusebius’ education. Eusebius had already published many books when he paused his own publications to help his tutor with composing the work, Defense of Origen.

In A.D. 309 Pamphilus and Eusebius were imprisoned as confessors of Christ. However, they continued to labor with their writings until Pamphilus was put to death for the Faith—a martyrdom which greatly affected Eusebius. When released from prison, Eusebius went to Tyre, where he honored his mentor’s memory by assuming the name Eusebius Pamphili “Eusebius, son of Pamphilus,” and contributed the sixth and final book to the Defense of Origen. Completing his tribute to his mentor, he wrote a Life of Pamphilus, which, like his part of the Defense of Origen, is lost.

In A. D. 311 Eusebius left Caesarea for Egypt where he was once again imprisoned, but only briefly, and the next year he returned to Palestine. It is unknown when he was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood but it is known that in A. D. 314 he was consecrated Bishop of Caesarea, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Although twice imprisoned, he toiled his whole life edifying his fellow Christians. His publication output was phenomenal: he is credited with no less than 46 works, some of them in 10, 15, 20 and even 25 volumes. He was not content to write books and forget about them, as he revised and enlarged them, putting forth newer and better editions.

As an introduction to the Eusebius Society, I thought it would be interesting to look at the genealogy of Jesus. St. Matthew’s Gospel gives an account of the genealogy of Jesus – the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and hence the first story in the New Testament. But St. Luke’s Gospel gives a totally different genealogy of Jesus. Why does Matthew give Joseph’s father as Jacob and trace a different genealogy from Luke’s gospel, which states that Joseph was the son of Eli?

Can they both be right?

Today people who dismiss the Scriptures because of this apparent discrepancy, are no different than people in ancient times who used it to dismiss Christian beliefs. Several early Christian authors responded to these criticisms. The Manichaeans used this discrepancy to promote their heresy. The Church Fathers Irenaeus, Augustine, Africanus, and Eusebius responded to the heretical writings concerning questions about these two divergent genealogies.

This quick video concerning these discrepancies aptly uses Eusebius’ writings as one of the possible explanations:

Eusebius explains in Book 1, Chapter VII of his Church History:

  1. “Matthew and Luke in their gospels have given us the genealogy of Christ differently, and many suppose that they are at variance with one another. Since as a consequence every believer, in ignorance of the truth, has been zealous to invent some explanation which shall harmonize the two passages, permit us to subjoin the account of the matter which has come down to us, and which is given by Africanus, who was mentioned by us just above, in the epistle to Aristides, where he discusses the harmony of the gospel genealogies. After refuting the opinions of others as forced and deceptive, he gave the account which he had received from tradition in these words:
  2. For whereas the names of the generations were reckoned in Israel either according to nature or according to law – according to nature by the succession of legitimate offspring, and according to law whenever another raised up a child to the name of a brother dying childless; for because a clear hope of resurrection was not yet given they had a representation of the future promise by a kind of mortal resurrection, in order that the name of the one deceased might be perpetuated—
  3. Whereas then some of those who are inserted in this genealogical table succeeded by natural descent, the son to the father, while others, though born of one father, were ascribed by name to another, mention was made of both of those who were progenitors in fact and of those who were so only in name.
  4. Thus neither of the gospels is in error, for one reckons by nature, the other by law. For the line of descent from Solomon and that from Nathan were so involved, the one with the other, by the raising up of children to the childless and by second marriages, that the same persons are justly considered to belong at one time to one, at another time to another; that is, at one time to the reputed fathers, at another to the actual fathers. So that both these accounts are strictly true and come down to Joseph with considerable intricacy indeed, yet quite accurately.
  5. But in order that what I have said may be made clear I shall explain the interchange of the generations. If we reckon the generations from David through Solomon, the third from the end is found to be Matthan, who begot Jacob the father of Joseph. But if, with Luke, we reckon them from Nathan the son of David, in like manner the third from the end is Melchi, whose son Eli was the father of Joseph. For Joseph was the son of Eli, the son of Melchi. [Eusebius quotes Africanus verbatim. In Africanus’ original Epistle to Aristides, it does in fact state “For Joseph was the son of Heli, the son of Melchi.” But Luke 3: 23-24 states “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of …” Africanus, and hence Eusebius, leaves out two generations skipping over Matthat and Levi.]
  6. Joseph therefore being the object proposed to us, it must be shown how it is that each is recorded to be his father, both Jacob, who derived his descent from Solomon, and Eli, who derived his from Nathan; first how it is that these two, Jacob and Eli, were brothers, and then how it is that their fathers, Matthan and Melchi, although of different families, are declared to be grandfathers of Joseph.
  7. Matthan and Melchi having married in succession the same woman, begot children who were uterine brothers, for the law did not prohibit a widow, whether such by divorce or by the death of her husband, from marrying another.
  8. By Estha then (for this was the woman’s name according to tradition) Matthan, a descendant of Solomon, first begot Jacob. And when Matthan was dead, Melchi, who traced his descent back to Nathan, being of the same tribe but of another family, married her as before said, and begot a son Eli.
  9. Thus we shall find the two, Jacob and Eli, although belonging to different families, yet brethren by the same mother. Of these the one, Jacob, when his brother Eli had died childless, took the latter’s wife and begot by her a son Joseph, his own son by nature and in accordance with reason. Wherefore also it is written: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ (Matthew 1:6) But according to law he was the son of Eli, for Jacob, being the brother of the latter, raised up seed to him.
  10. Hence the genealogy traced through him will not be rendered void, which the evangelist Matthew in his enumeration gives thus: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ But Luke, on the other hand, says: ‘Who was the son, as was supposed’ (for this he also adds), ‘of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Melchi’; for he could not more clearly express the generation according to law. And the expression ‘he begot’ he has omitted in his genealogical table up to the end, tracing the genealogy back to Adam the son of God. This interpretation is neither incapable of proof nor is it an idle conjecture.” [Eusebius, Book I. Church History]

Thus, Eusebius gives an explanation to this apparent discrepancy in the genealogy of Jesus. There are many apparent biblical discrepancies that people bring up today. By looking at some of the earliest Christian writings, one can discover logical explanations to various apparent inconsistencies.

Featured image: “The Root of Jesse,” attributed to Jan Mostaert, ca. 1500.