70 A.D. and All That
Tuesday August 26th 2008, 9:35 am
Filed under: Patristics

By now you know that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a botch of Christian history this week when she discussed abortion in light of her “ardent” Catholic faith. Newsman Tom Brokaw asked her how she would advise Senator Barack Obama regarding the beginnings of human life: “I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months.”

Not since the book 1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England have the Fathers been so badly mangled and tangled. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. The early Church left clear paper trails on very, very few issues, but abortion is certainly one of them. It is condemned by the Didache, the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, the apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter; by Clement of Alexandria, Athenagoras, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Hippolytus, Origen, and Cyprian. And that partial list takes us only to the middle of the third century. Those witnesses emerged from ancient Syria, Egypt, Rome, Greece, Samaria, and North Africa. So, as the Vincentian Canon puts it, abortion was condemned always and everywhere and by all. There is no exception in the ancient Christian record, and this is one of those moral teachings that set Christians distinctly apart from the pagan world. If there were Nancy Pelosis around before the discovery of California, everyone — pagan or Christian — recognized that such advocates for the “choice” of abortion were extra ecclesiam, outside the Catholic Church.

Thinking Catholics are taking the Honorable Ms. Pelosi to task, as well they should. The U.S. bishops cite Tertullian. Archbishop Wuerl goes back further and quotes the first-century Didache — a document he should know, since he hired me for a spell back in the late first century, when the document appeared.

In 1066 And All That the malaprop history was intentional. Alas, I fear that Nancy Pelosi was drawing from the depths of her knowledge of history and Christian doctrine.

Noticing some fair-haired children in the slave market one morning, Pope Gregory, the memorable pope, said (in Latin), ‘What are those?’ and on being told that they were Angels, made the memorable joke – ‘Non Angli, sed Angeli’ (‘not Angels, but Anglicans’) and commanded one of his saints called St Augustine to go and convert the rest.

Do you suppose maybe she picked up 1066 And All That and thought it was the Baltimore Catechism — and repeatedly made the mistake through her childhood years?

I’ve addressed the issue of abortion and the Fathers before. You’ll find an excellent patristic catena here.


13 Comments so far
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I fear that poor Congresswoman Pelosi’s statement was a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the clear teaching of the Church from the very beginning.To clarify, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both speculated that ensoulment occurs when the developing fetus is approximately three months old, but neither theologian inferred from this that abortion was anything but a grave sin, even before ensoulment. At the moment of conception the teleological train is set in motion, and you have a human being that must be protected and nurtured.

We must pray for Mrs. Pelosi’s conversion, and, failing that, her defeat in the next election.

PS Mike, did you really work on the Didache?

Comment by Carl Sommer 08.26.08 @ 11:19 am

Well, OK, maybe it wasn’t first century when I worked for His Excellency — but it seems that long ago!

Comment by Mike Aquilina 08.26.08 @ 11:22 am

I’m sorry to say her own bishop, thus far, remains silent on the matter. This is a brilliant opportunity for some flock-teaching on a fundamental concept.

Comment by Kyle 08.26.08 @ 11:22 am

Make. The. Hurting. Stop.

Comment by M. Swaim 08.26.08 @ 2:20 pm

Well, here’s some news on the better side of the continuum: http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/08/26/archbishop-of-washington-chides-pelosi-denver-archbishop-warns-biden-to-skip-communion/ The URL gives you a hint No doubt we’ll hear about “theocracy” and other silliness.

Comment by Kyle 08.26.08 @ 3:14 pm

Shouldn’t that be “not Angles/Anglicans, but Angels”? Or is the Latin backwards? (I tried not to geek out, but couldn’t help it!)

Comment by Kevin P. Edgecomb 08.26.08 @ 4:05 pm

You’re right, Kevin, if you’re talking about the Gregorian original. But the 1066 book is an extended joke based on misunderstood history and mangled Latin.

Comment by mike 08.26.08 @ 4:10 pm

“1066 and all that” is the only truly reliable guide to world history.

As for this congresswoman, when people describe themselves as “ardent catholics” and then go on to place themselves among the enemies of the church, we might reasonably conclude that the first declaration is merely intended to facilitate the second. Ardent Christians do not try to use their faith to undermine it.

Comment by Roger Pearse 08.27.08 @ 5:50 am

Well put, Roger.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 08.27.08 @ 10:28 am

Oh, I get it now. I think.

Your earthling concept of humour is so difficult….

Comment by Kevin P. Edgecomb 08.27.08 @ 3:16 pm

Pelosi’s choice of “ardent” is perfectly apt, if a bit anticipatory on her part. The first definition of “ardent” is “Burning, on fire, red-hot; fiery, hot, parching” in the OED.

Let the reader understand!

Comment by Kevin P. Edgecomb 08.27.08 @ 3:21 pm

Kevin, you made me spit out my toothpaste.

You should write the second volume of 1066 and All That.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 08.27.08 @ 3:35 pm

I’ll have to read the first one first!

I’ve been giggling internally since Tuesday. “Heh heh. She said, ‘ardent’!”

(And that serves you right for brushing your toothsies at the computer!)

Comment by Kevin P. Edgecomb 08.27.08 @ 11:25 pm



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