The Bishops Are Wrong About Biden — and AbortionRoundup
tags: abortion, Catholicism, Joe Biden, Theology
Garry Wills is an emeritus professor of history at Northwestern and the author of more than 50 books, including Why I Am a Catholic.
What is the worst crime a society can commit? Some people (I among them) would say the Holocaust, the cold methodical murder of six million people just for being Jews.
But some Catholics and evangelicals say they know of an even greater crime — the deliberate killing of untold millions of unborn babies by abortion. They have determined that a fetus is a person and abortion is therefore murder. This is a crime of such magnitude that some Catholic bishops are trying to deny the reception of Holy Communion by the president of the United States for not working to prevent it.
No one told Dante that this was the worst crime, or he would have put abortionists, not Judas, in the deepest frozen depths of his Inferno. But in fact he does not put abortionists anywhere in the eight fiery tiers above the deepest one of his Hell.
This is not a singular omission. No one told “Matthew” or “Mark” or “Luke” or “John” or Paul, or any other New Testament author, that he should condemn this sin of all sins. Nor did any author of the Old Testament raise this alarm, with the result that we do not have Moses or Jesus on record as opposing abortion. Nor did any of the major definitive creeds.
Even major figures of religious history do not tell us that the fetus is a person. St. Augustine says he searched Scripture trying but failing to find out when in the procreative process personal life begins. But St. Thomas Aquinas knew. Aristotle told him — that it came at or near childbirth, after an earlier stage of having a nutritive soul (like plant life), which developed into an animal soul, at last receiving a rational soul. Thomas kept Aristotle’s biology, just adding that God himself infuses the soul into the body at some unspecified time during the last stage of this process. In other words, the fetus in its long pre-rational life is not a human being.
In 1930, Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Casti Connubii, forbade all ways to prevent procreation, lumping them together with the condemnation of Onan, who prevents his widowed sister-in-law from childbirth by coitus interruptus. But the Vatican was embarrassed by scholars who noted that what was attacked there was a violation of the duty of Levirate marriage, to continue his brother’s line. The Vatican has never again tried to connect abortion with Scripture. The best comment on the pope’s disastrous “church teaching” came via Alexander Woollcott, who said of Dorothy Parker: “Of her birds, I remember only an untidy canary whom she named Onan for reasons which will not escape those who know their Scriptures.”