Circumcision - current and past church teaching

In some anti-circumcision discussions on the internet, I saw a reference that the Church once prohibited circumcision. I traced the reference back to the Bull of Union with the Copts, from the Ecuminical Council of Florence (1438-1445) , which says

It firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ’s passion until the promulgation of the gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation. Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors. Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.

ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/FLORENCE.HTM#5

As I understand it, current Church teaching is that circumcision is unnecessary, but not forbidden. However, from a quick search of the Catechism, I don’t see any reference to this. The closest is in regards to “mutilation”, which is permissible when there is medical reason (a point on which people differ for circumcision, and a point that I don’t want to get into).

I would have thought that if anything, the teaching would be that doing it for the purposes of salvation might be wrong, but by a strict reading of the quoted text above, the Church at one point ordered Christians not to do so, because it could not “be observed” without loss of eternal salvation. I have trouble reading “be observed” as other than “be performed.” It’s vague as to whether the one losing salvation is the one performing or the one having the operation, but I’d presume it’s the ones involved in the decision. It seems there are three possibilities here: 1) it’s a matter of Christian morality that the Church couldn’t change, of which the Church is warning, implying that it’s for all time 2) it’s a matter of binding and loosing, in which case it would be in effect until the Church changed the teaching 3) it’s not Church teaching at all.

If 2), does anyone know of a specific subsequent teaching?
If 3), can anyone offer a reason? Bad translation? Not universal? Not ex cathedra?

It is a matter of discipline, not Dogma.

I believe that when they say it cannot be “observed” they use “observed” in the sense of a ritual observance. Thus as a medical procedure it would be ok.

peace
steve

Discipline can change, Dogma and Doctrine cannot.

I’m not exactly sure what the Church standing is on circumsicion, but if it changed then it’s discipline, not dogma or doctrine, that’s for sure.

I don’t have the time to do this now, but someone who does have time to kill could bring up, one at a time, the volumes of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, then the Nicene, then the Post-Nicene, 37 volumes in all, and search on the word. Searching on the character string “circumc” should bring up all possible forms of the noun and verb, without including much other detritus. A good place to start would be here:

oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1968

Basically, you can’t get circumcised to be more like Jewish or Muslim people, or to pretend to be Jewish or Muslim instead of Christian. Also, Jewish Christians can’t tell Gentile Christians that circumcision is essential to salvation.

But as said above, it’s okay as a medical custom.

Usually the Church doesn’t outlaw something neutral unless somebody’s doing something weird, hinky, or occult with it. In some times and places, the Church has been more worried about “Judaizers,” usually because some bishop is having serious theological problems or some Christians are trying to play both sides of the street. In medieval Italy, they might also have been worried about people pretending to be circumcised Muslims for trade advantages in the Mediterranean.

Circumcision is allowed when there is a medical necessity (as in the Catechism reference you found). What isn’t defined is what makes for a medical necessity. Proponents of Routine Infant Circ (RIC) claim that there are actual health benefits and the reduce of certain risks…therefore justifying a “medical necessity”. Parents in the US have tended to accept this and RIC has become the norm (until recently).

There is also debate on whether circ is “multilation”. Given the anatomy and the results of the procedure, it would seem to meet the definition. Female circumcision was finally declared “mutilation” and made illegal in the 80’s in the US, but male circ is still under debate.

I would have thought that if anything, the teaching would be that doing it for the purposes of salvation might be wrong, but by a strict reading of the quoted text above, the Church at one point ordered Christians not to do so, because it could not “be observed” without loss of eternal salvation.

Yep. It was explained to me that the particular document was only locally binding, not Church-wide?

…1) it’s a matter of Christian morality that the Church couldn’t change, of which the Church is warning, implying that it’s for all time 2) it’s a matter of binding and loosing, in which case it would be in effect until the Church changed the teaching 3) it’s not Church teaching at all.

If 2), does anyone know of a specific subsequent teaching?
If 3), can anyone offer a reason? Bad translation? Not universal? Not ex cathedra?

I was told it’ snot universal. I forget the details, but at the time it made sense and I do remember looking into it further (it’s been awhile). Mainly, we CANNOT observe/practice circumcision for the purpose of salvation…because Christ has fulfilled that and Baptism is out new entry into Covenant with God. But, in regards to “medical need”, it is permitted…though I personally have yet to see a credible argument for RIC. (But that’s a different topic. :stuck_out_tongue: )

Just to clarify, it’s not okay for “custom”, rather “necessity” (or “therapeutic reasons”).

I don’t know what a “medical custom” could mean.

I believe that the only reason to do Circumcision (at a time when the patient is not presently in need of such treatment) would be on the basis that it brings medical benefit, eg. by way of reduced susceptibility to serious medical illness. Certainly, there have been times when that was the strong opinion of the medical profession. The tide more of less seems to have turned on that front these days (though that may vary from place to place).

FWIW, circumcision was actually the first known point of contention in the Apostolic Church, and led to the proto-Council of Acts 15:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question…When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

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