A Pro-Choice Augustine?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked none other than Augustine on Meet the Press this Sunday for her dissident views on abortion and the moment life begins. As deceptive as politicians can be, I’ve always held Speaker Pelosi in high regard, despite my disagreements, but she did the unforgivable act of speaking about that which she has little knowledge of. Using Augustine to defend her position as a pro-choice Catholic, Madame Pelosi brought my favorite of the Fathers and the very founder of Western Theology to the forefront of controversy.
Did Augustine actually say that life doesn’t begin until three months? Well, yes. However, St. Augustine was discussing the legality of whether one can be charged for homicide in an abortion, to which he believed that the answer was “no” because he held, as many did in the Classical and Medieval stages, that a soul did not enter into the body right at conception but later in the hominization of the mind. Groups such as Catholic for a Free Choice often use this little statement from the twenty-eight chapter of Augustine’s Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love to justify their dissident position and further conclude that if we are not sure when life begins we should err to the higher value of a woman privacy. However, let us remember that Augustine is often the most misunderstood and misinterpreted philosopher, especially when abused by those who read him for proof-texting instead of reading him in his entirety.
In the same chapter of the Enchiridion we read Augustine’s statement that aborted children shall be resurrected in the an unblemished form (28:85) and not merely tossed out like unformed seeds. Further on (28:86) we find this statement, for which I use JF Shaw’s translation with emphasis added by myself:
To deny that the young who are cut out limb by limb from the womb, lest if they were left there dead the mother should die too, have never been alive, seems too audacious. Now, from the time that a man begins to live, from that time it is possible for him to die. And if he die, wheresoever death may overtake him, I cannot discover on what principle he can be denied an interest in the resurrection of the dead.
Are aborted children denied the resurrection? If so, then the crime of abortion is truly more disturbing when committed by one who believes in the resurrection, for now they are denying life and salvation. However, it does not appear to be the teaching of the Church that such happens (even if a RadTrad would rather it did). Likewise, the Didache, an early Catechism/Liturgical manual from the early second century, states in two different places the severity of the sin of abortion and does clearly equivocate it with murder. Likewise, St. John Chrysostom speaks in his sermons on the horrors of abortion, also calling it murder, especially when committed by adulterers.
While Madame Pelosi has made it clear that she believes in reducing the number of abortions, a noble and great purpose especially for a liberal democrat, I do wish she would heed her own Church’s warning. It may be said that we just don’t know when life begins, but we must decide to err on the side of life in these and many other incidents.
St. Augustine, on the eve of your feast day, pray for us!