Monday, February 01, 2010

How Christianity Transformed Civilization :: part 2

View of Life :: Wonderfully & Fearfully Made

“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
(Genesis 1:27 NIV)

Prior to the coming of Christ, human life on this planet was exceedingly cheap, especially in the Roman Empire, during the times of Jesus and the Early Church. In those days abortion was rampant. It was not uncommon for unwanted or inconvenient babies to be taken out into the forest, mountainside or valleys to starve to death or be consumed by wild animals, or to be picked up by some stranger passing by who would then use them for whatever perverted purpose they had in mind. Frederick Farrar has noted that “infanticide was infamously universal” among the Greeks and Romans during the early years of Christianity.[i] The Twelve Tables of Roman law states “we drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal.” If the parents were poor, they would abandon the babies. Moreover, female babies were often abandoned because they were considered inferior.

Early Christian literature repeatedly condemned the killing of children, both born and unborn. And, infanticide (murdering of infants) was no small part of society during the times of Christ. “Infanticide,” said the highly regarded historian W. E. H. Lecky “was one of the deepest stains of the ancient civilizations.”[ii] Greek poet of the fifth century B.C. mentions infants being thrown into rivers and manure piles, exposed on roadsides, and given for prey to birds and beasts.[iii] In Sparta, when a child was born, it was taken before the elders of the tribe, and they decided whether the child would be kept or abandoned.[iv]

In response to this, Christians leaders didn’t only speak out about the sanctity of human life, but they took action. Christians frequently combed through the forest and mountainsides looking for abandoned babies. They would then take them in, nurse them to health, care for them and raise them as their own. Another commonly practiced means of disposing of unwanted babies was to throw them over bridges to drown in the waters below. Christians would hide out underneath these bridges, catch the dumped babies and take them in. Infanticide, abandonment and abortion began to disappear in the early Church.

The low view of human life was repeatedly made manifest in these widespread practices of infanticide and abortion. But what was the root of such cruelty and low view of humanity? Some “historians and anthropologists tend to site poverty or food shortage as the primary reason for their prevalence. However, historical data indicates that poverty was not the primary cause for the high abortion rates among the Romans in the century preceding and during the early Christian era. At this time in history the Roman honor and respect for marriage had virtually become extinct.”[v] Roman “marriage, deprived of all moral character,” as one historian has noted, “was no longer a sacred bond, and alliance of souls.”[vi] Moreover, chastity was virtually nonexistent and adulterous relationships were par for the course within Roman marriages at this time. As a result, when an adulterous woman would become pregnant, she would destroy the evidence of her sexual indiscretions, thus adding to Rome’s widespread abortions. One does not have to have a doctorate in sociology to see the parallel between the culture of Rome and that of Post-Modern America. The sacred bond and alliance of marriage is quickly deteriorating. Adulterous promiscuity is so common that there is hardly a television mini-series, sitcom or mini-drama that doesn’t currently glamorize such activity. Could it be that these factors have also begun to erode at the American value of human life like that of the Romans? And, the response? Protest and picketing rarely produce the desired results of those involved. In fact, they are typically motivated out of a foul-spirit in the name of righteousness. Rather than constructing picket signs, the early Christians constructed baskets to catch babies being thrown over bridges and abandoned along the hillsides. Love was the operative verb of these first followers of Christ. Love for one another. Love for those who practiced injustice and deceit.

George Grant points out that in the seventh century, the Council of Vaison met to “reiterate and expand that pro-life mandate by encouraging the faithful to care for the unwanted and to give relief to the distressed.”[vii] At that time, the Church reaffirmed its commitment to adoption as the alternative to abortion.

Grant demonstrates how, in centuries past, the Church – through word and deed – gave rise to a pro-life view of human life. After reviewing much of the evidence for how the early Church and the early medieval Church impacted the value of human life, Grant sums up:

“Before the explosive and penetrating growth of medieval Christian influence, the primordial evils of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and exposure were a normal part of everyday life in Europe. Afterward, they were regarded as the grotesque perversions that they actually are. That remarkable new pro-life in consensus was detonated by a cultural reformation of cosmic proportions. It was catalyzed by civil decrees, ecclesiastical canons, and merciful activity.”[viii]

  1. What parallels can you detect between the Roman view of human life and the views that are permeating our American society today?

  2. Take a few moments and pray for the abused and unborn on this nation.

  3. Action: Do you know a child, who could benefit from you investing into their life in some small way?

[i] Frederic Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity, (New York: A. L. Burt Publishers, 1882), 71.

[ii] W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne, (New York: Vanguard Press, 1927), 2:24.

[iii] Euripides, Ion, trans. Arthur S. Way, (New York: William Heinemann, 1919), 51. Quoted in Under the Influence, 52.

[iv] Kenneth J. Freeman, Schools of Hellas, (London: Macmillian, 1922), 13. Quoted in Under the Influence, 52.

[v] Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 55.

[vi] C. Schmidt, The Social Results of Early Christianity, trans. R. W. Dale, (London: Wm. Isbister, 1889), 48.

[vii] George Grant, Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present, (Franklin, TN: Legacy, 1991, 1994), 20. Quoted by James Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, 14.

[viii] Grant, Third Time Around, 46-47.

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