Friday, December 10, 2010

A History of the Catholic Church and Abortion #prolife

An excellent two-part article by professor Donald DeMarco. God Bless Him. He's one of the best.

Part One
Part two

Here is something that I did not know:

The distinction between the formed and unformed fetus (animated and unanimated), though recognized and accepted by many jurists, philosophers, and theologians, was used only for purposes of classification and distinguishing penalties. The first person in the Christian tradition to suggest that the distinction might be used as a basis to justify abortion in special cases is a Dominican, John of Naples (c. 1450). In an unpublished work, the Quodlibeta, John argues that a doctor may and should give the mother an abortifacient medicine if it is necessary to save her life, provided he is certain that the fetus is not animated. This opinion was brought to light by another Dominican, Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence.Discussion of this exception occupied the attention of theologians for the next three or four centuries, until theories of delayed animation—on which it was based—became obsolete.

The exception introduced for discussion by John of Naples met with considerable opposition, although it did claim some followers, particularly, the Jesuit theologian Thomas Sanchez. Sanchez' argumentation to justify abortion in certain instances (and when it was determined that ensoulment had not yet taken place) was eventually condemned in 1679 by Pope Innocent XI. A French Jesuit, Theophile Raynaud (1582-1663) was the first author to argue in favor of aborting an animated fetus to save the mother's life. Raynaud's position was unique for his time and had no adherents for the next two centuries.

In the seventeenth century, two scientists—Thomas Fienus and Paolo Zacchia —who rejected the Aristotelian theory of delayed animation, made important historical contributions that led ultimately to the Church's abandoning the speculation that there is such a thing as unanimated (or non-human) fetus.

Fienus, a professor of medicine at Louvain, published a biomedical treatise in 1620 on the formation of the fetus (De formatrice fetus liber). He concluded that the soul is infused on the third day. The Aristotelian notion of a succession of souls or "functions" of one soul (first vegetative, then sentient, and finally rational) made no sense to him. He developed nine lines of argumentation to support his thesis. In general, Fienus argues that the soul must be present at the beginning in order to organize the body. Moreover, in order to avoid an unnecessary multiplicity of explanatory factors, there must be one soul from the beginning that establishes the specific unity and individual continuity of the developing embryo.

Concerning the Septuagint passage in Exodus, Fienus stated that it does not oblige one to believe that the unformed fetus has no rational soul, but only that it is an incomplete man. He also points out that the Latin (Vulgate) text, which is authoritative in the Church, makes no distinction between the formed and unformed fetus. St. Jerome had translated the Bible into Latin directly from Hebrew and therefore avoided the erroneous Septuagint version of the celebrated Exodus passage.

Zacchia, physician general of the Vatican State, published a book, also in the year 1620 (Quaestiones medico-legales) in which he argues a position remarkably similar to that of Fienus. He concludes that the rational soul is created and infused at conception. He also maintains that the development of the fetus is a continuum, rather than a series of distinct stages. Like Fienus, he reasons that the soul must always organize the body if development is to be determined from within.
The Unborn A person At Every Stage

Concerning the Septuagint passage, Zacchia argues that it is commentary and not inspired text. The dichotomy between animated and non-animated fetuses, he contended, is maintained by lawyers because they want to distinguish the punishments for abortion. Besides, early pregnancy is an uncertain fact and the law takes the less strict possibility.

In 1644, Pope Innocent X conferred upon Paolo Zaccharia the title of "General Proto-Physician of the Entire Roman Ecclesiastical State."

The rejection of the theory of delayed animation by these two scientists was met with considerable opposition. Nonetheless, the reasonableness of their arguments—which received added confirmation from the scientific research of Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood, Gassendi, DeGraaf, and others—gradually found acceptance. By the end of the seventeenth century important theologians such as Caramuel of Prague and the Spanish Jesuit, Juan Cardenas, found the distinction between the animated and unanimated fetus to be of no practical significance. Cardenas argued that abortion to save the life of the mother is impermissible if there is any reason to suspect the presence of a rational soul. But, Cardenas added, this suspicion is always present. It took another century, however, before immediate animation was generally accepted.

In 1869, Pope Pius IX officially removed the distinction between the animated and unanimated fetus from the penal legislation of the Church. This was, of course, disciplinary and in no way involved Church teaching on abortion. Henceforward, every direct killing of human life after conception would be treated in the same way, that is, the penalty of excommunication applied to all abortions.