The mean Calvinists at Triablogue recently posted something interesting.
Galen, a non-Christian writing around the middle of the second century, commented:
“For their [the Christians'] contempt of death and of its sequel is patent to us every day, and likewise their restraint in cohabitation. For they include not only men but also women who refrain from cohabiting all through their lives; and they also number individuals who, in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosophers.” (cited in Robert Wilken, The Christians As The Romans Saw Them [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984], p. 80)
Mathetes, an ante-Nicene Christian, wrote:
“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.
Here’s another article from Christian Cadre on Christian opposition to infanticide (post-birth abortion).
“Infanticide was infamously universal” in ancient Greece and Rome. Frederic Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity, page 71. As Will Durant stated, infanticide was so common in ancient Rome that “birth itself was an adventure.” Caesar and Christ, page 56. Indeed, so common was infanticide in ancient Greece that Polybius (205-118 BCE) blamed the decline of ancient Greece on it. (Histories, 6). It was “decimating pagan society,” Durant, op. cit., 698, and was the leading cause of the tremendous gender gap of men to women in the ancient world. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pages 97-98. Female infants were particularly vulnerable to infanticide. It was very uncommon for even wealthy, upper-class families to have more than one daughter in ancient Greece and Rome. An inscription found in Delphi illustrates this quite well. Of more than 600 second-century families, only one percent had raised two daughters. Susan Scrimshaw, “Infanticide in Human Populations: Societal and Individual Concerns,” in Infanticide: Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives, eds. Glenn Hausfater and Sarah Hardy, page 439. In sum, there is no dispute among historians and informed laypersons: Infanticide was incredibly widespread in the ancient pagan world.
But what is most chilling is that it was openly practiced. Pagan society approved of the practice and encouraged it. “Not only was the exposure of infants a very common practice, it was justified by law and advocated by philosophers.” Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, page 118. See also Durant, op. cit., page 56. In Greece and ancient Rome a child was virtually its father’s chattel-e.g., in Roman law, the Patria Protestas granted the father the right to dispose of his offspring as he saw fit. In Sparta, the decision was made by a public official. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law held: “Deformed infants shall be killed” De Legibus, 3.8. Of course, deformed was broadly construed and often meant no more than the baby appeared “weakly.” The Twelve Tables also explicitly permitted a father to expose any female infant. Stark, op. cit., page 118.
Leading pagan leaders and philosophers also encouraged the practice. Cicero defended infanticide by referring to the Twelve Tables. Plato and Aristotle recommended infanticide as legitimate state policy. Cornelius Tacitus went so far as to condemn the Jews for their opposition to infanticide. He stated that the Jewish view that “it was a deadly sin to kill an unwanted child” was just another of the many “sinister and revolting practices” of the Jews. Histories 5.5. Even Seneca, otherwise known for his relatively high moral standards, stated, “we drown children at birth who are weakly and abnormal.” De Ira 1.15.
And today, atheists and pagans agree on infanticide. They think it’s a good idea, because they want to have sex but without having babies come along to impose obligations and costs on them. Basically, it comes down to greed and selfishness. And that’s what causes atheists and pagans to support infanticide and abortion.
But what about Christians? Very different:
From its earliest creeds, Christians “absolutely prohibited” infanticide as “murder.” Stark, op. cit., page 124. To Christians, the infant had value. Whereas pagans placed no value on infant life, Christians treated them as human beings. They viewed infanticide as the murder of a human being, not a convenient tool to rid society of excess females and perceived weaklings. The baby, whether male, female, perfect, or imperfect, was created in the image of God and therefore had value.
Early Christian documents reveal that there was a clash of cultures as Christianity converted previously pagan Romans and Greeks. Whereas Judaism prohibited infanticide by Jews, Christianity was converting pagans and instructing them that infanticide was immoral and murder. The Didache (90 -110 CE), an instruction manual for Christian converts, commanded “You shall not commit infanticide.” Another early Christian document, the Epistle of Barnabas (130 CE), also explicitly condemned infanticide and prohibited its practices as necessary parts of the “way of light.” Moreover, by the end of the second century, “Christians were not only proclaiming their rejection of abortion and infanticide, but had begun direct attacks on pagans, and especially pagan religions for sustaining such crimes.” Stark, op. cit., page 125. Robin L. Fox also notes this activity: “Christians opposed much in the accepted practice of the pagan world. They vigorously attacked infanticide and the exposure of children.” Fox, op. cit., page 350.
Callistus, the Bishop of Rome — a onetime slave — in 222 CE strongly voiced his condemnation of infanticide to the pagan public. Justin Martyr’s First Apology (250 CE) stated, “We have been taught that it is wicked to expose even newly-born children.” Also in the second century, Athengoras, a Christian leader, wrote in his Plea to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, that “[we do not expose] an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child murder.” Another Christian writer, Minucius Felix, wrote to Emperor Claudius, “And I see that you at one time expose your begotten children to wild beasts and to the birds; at another that you crush when strangled with a miserable kind of death. . . . And these things assuredly come down from your gods. For Saturn did not expose his children but devoured them.”
Note:The First Apology of Justin Martyr was written around A.D. 150, not (as in the quotation) around 250.
One can easily see how this early Christian opposition to hedonism with the issue of infanticide led to opposition to slavery and to opposition to abortion today. They are all related – it’s always the strong classifying some group of weaker people as subhuman and then mistreating them out of greed (the desire for more money). But Christians think that children are not inconveniences, they are little people. And they are all made by God to know God. You don’t kill people who were made to know God, you help them to know God. You might have to kill evil people (just war), guilty people (capital punishment) and in self-defense (violent crime) – but you don’t kill innocent little babies. They haven’t done anything wrong, and so they don’t deserve to be killed. They have a right to impose obligations on us when they come along into our lives – especially when our actions are what caused them to come along! And I also think that the early church was right to discourage fornication (pre-marital sex) to discourage people from getting into situations where infanticide would be a temptation.
One of the ways that I make it easier for myself to do crazy moral stuff like chastity and charity is by reading about the earliest Christians. My opposition to abortion was heavily informed by looking at what the early church did, and their interest in eternity is what gives me my patience for building up people in my own life, and to now expect anything in return. Everyone needs to know God and be related to him. I mustn’t fuss too much about being a virgin, not being married, etc. People have questions and my job is to prepare to answer them, and to help others prepare to answer them. Happiness is irrelevant. If you have the eternal perspective, then you don’t really worry about trying to pack in happiness in this life. You are more interested in what God wants, and that eternal relationship with him. You want to work on that relationship by doing things for him and with him – things that are important to him. It doesn’t really matter if no one else approves of you.