What is the Earliest Dogmatic text condemning abortion?

This is just a quick question.

Can someone please tell me what the earliest dogmatic (infallible) text is (from the proximate rule of faith, i.e., approved or promulgated by a Roman Pontiff) which explicitly condemns abortion?

Quick answer: The Church has never acknowledged any teaching regarding abortion as infallible.

There are some who feel that Humanae Vitae (1968) meets the criteria of infallibility because it meets their own Vatican-1 checklists using their Kaptin Katholic DeKoder Rings, but the Church has never acknowledged that Humanae Vitae is infallibly promulgated, so we cannot say that it is. Humanae Vitae is doctrinal, and thus binding upon all Catholics, but it has not been recognized as infallible - a distinction which is relevant to only a handful of theologians and Canon Lawyers. No Catholic layperson is affected one way or another.

But the Church has always taught against the murder of innocent people, and in particular the ancient commemoration of the Holy Innocents - those babies slain at the order of King Herod. And this teaching goes well back into our Jewish heritage as well.

Abortion, as we know it today, is a fairly modern practice, going back to the 1920s. The Church has always believed (without the need for any formal definition) that unborn babies are persons (for example, the unborn John the Baptist reacted to the arrival of the unborn Jesus (Luke 1:44).

In 1973, when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, the “personhood” of an unborn baby was not scientifically understood. Ultrasound had not been invented. X-Rays were too dangerous to use for experimental purposes. Doctors had only a few miscarried (later term - none before the second trimester) babies to study. Nobody really understood, scientifically, what was going on, from the moment of conception.

No scientist today would contest the idea that a fetus, from the moment of conception, is a distinct individual human lifeform. It would therefore be considered murder to kill an unborn child, under Christian and Jewish statutes that go back to the Ten Commandments.

Yet, Pope Paul-6, in an unusual display of Church preemptive teaching (the Church tends to be reactionary), declared abortion morally wrong in 1968, five years before Roe v. Wade.

Do you acknowledge Gadium et Spes as infallible?

Here’s a quote from the Vatican II document

Furthermore, **whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

No, I do not. An Ecumenical Council (such as V-2) MAY teach infallibly, but does not always teach infallibly (just as a Pope MAY teach infallibly, but does not always teach infallibly).

The Church has not recognized Gaudium et Spes (or any other teaching of V-2) as infallible. So I don’t recognize it as infallible either.

But I’m just a guy in the pew. I have no idea why this whole idea of infallibility is so important to some people. It MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE to the guy in the pew (like me). The idea of infallibility is of interest ONLY to a handful of theologians and Canon Lawyers. The Catholic Faithful are expected to accept ALL doctrine, regardless of its “infallible status” (and this applies to Gaudium et Spes and Humanae Vitae). I have no idea why this distinction would matter to any of us, or anybody we are likely to know. It is a non-issue for the Catholic laity.

I wish the Church had never tried to define infallibility. It is probably the least understood (and least necessary) teaching of the Church. For the guy in the pew, IT DOES NOT MATTER,

I don’t know if this is dogma but this from the didache the apostles wrote and used it to teach
2) You must not murder; nor given to adultery; nor molest children; nor practice immorality; nor theft; nor a practicioner of black magic; nor a practicioner of witchcraft; nor a terminator of unborn children; nor any sort of infanticide

[quote="DavidFilmer]the Church has never acknowledged that Humanae Vitae is infallibly promulgated

I’m just curious: what, in your opinion, would the Church have to do in order to “acknowledge… [an] infallibly promulgated” magisterial document, or to “recognize… as infallible” a document of Vatican II?

(And, while we’re at it, what in the world does an “infallibly promulated” document mean, anyway? What is the proper scope of infallibility: at the level of a teaching or of a document?)


The first pope I could find speaking or writing on abortion was Pope Stephen who died in 891 He wrote: “That person is a murderer who causes to perish by abortion what has been conceived.”

From 90 ad THE DIDACHE
“You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born.”

150 to 230 ad: TERTULLIAN
“To prevent birth is anticipated murder; it makes little difference whether one destroys a life already born or does away with it in its nascent stage. The one who will be a man is already one.”

These two cited from Declaration on Procured Abortion, (subsequently DPA) by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Nov. l8, 1974 in Abortion and Law, Dominican Publication, 1983, II

I found all these on catholicapologetics dot info.

Abortion is murdering a human child, at the child’s most vulnerable.

Take it back to the command of God Himself, Exodus 20 verse 13
5. You shall not murder


Of course the Church speaks for God,
but God’s own words are the source of that teaching.

Well, it’s not my opinion.

No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident. [Code of Canon Law, #749 §3]. emphasis mine

There are LOTS of people who want to whip out their Kaptain Katholic decoder rings and attempt to apply their five-point Vatican-1 infallible checklist to prior Papal teachings. But I’m pretty sure that’s not actually what the Church taught by the term manifestly evident. If I had to guess, I would think that the Church reserved to herself the ability to define what is “manifestly evident” (and what is not), and not to random Catholic scholars or laypeople who wish to overlay their interpretation of Vatican-1 upon historic Papal teachings,

“You shall not commit murder”- God.

This doctrine was uncontested in the Church until recently, so you find a definitive judgment from the Roman Pontiff on the issue–the teaching of the universal, ordinary Magisterium was sufficient.

However, in more recent times this truth has come under attack. As a result, in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II notes that “the Cardinals unanimously asked me to reaffirm with the authority of the Successor of Peter the value of human life and its inviolability, in the light of present circumstances and attacks threatening it today.”

And so he did:

[quote=St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae]Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.


If this is not manifestly evident of a definitive and infallible judgment by the Roman Pontiff in his role as successor of Peter proclaiming a doctrine of morals for the whole Church, then nothing is, IMO.

Why do you believe the Church would produce such a document?

Cicero, whom St John Paul II liked to quote, condemned abortion well before Christ.

There is a false premise in your question. The false premise is that everything True is defined dogmatically. Dogma are not defined as dogmatic until there is some question as to the subject, and then the issue generally continues unresolved for an extended period. Since, from earliest times, abortion was known to be the intrinsic evil of killing and innocent child in her mothers womb, it was never dogmatically defined. The very idea that it is licit to kill and innocent child was first propagated in law barely 50 years ago.

Paul VI solemnly promulgated every document of Vatican II using language as or more solemn than any other ecumenical council. His language was much more solemn than the approval given to the Council of Nicaea by Pope Saint Sylvester. All the portions concerning faith and morals do qualify as infallible. I don’t see how how some “traditional Catholics” accept Paul VI as Pope, but because they have problems with Vatican II, they do not recognize its teachings as infallible.

Do you acknowledge the portions on faith and morals of Trent as infallible?

Do you acknowledge Unam Sanctam as infallible? It states:

Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head,** not two heads like a monster;** that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter

I was under the impression that the Roman Pontiff alone possessed the Magisterium and therefore Conciliarism is a heresy. Other words, no matter how many bishops you have they are not infallible without a Roman Pontiff approving their decisions and also a Roman Pontiff can make definitions by himself which are irreformable, no matter what certain members of the Church think of his definitions later in time.

Furthermore Vatican I declared:

Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

According to Trent dogmatic statements are for all people, to determine truth from error

These are the things which it hath seemed good to the sacred Synod to teach the faithful in Christ, in general terms, touching the sacrament of Order. But It hath resolved to condemn whatsoever things are contrary thereunto, in express and specific canons, in the manner following; in order that all men, with the help of Christ, using the rule of faith, may, in the midst of the darkness of so many errors, more easily be able to recognise and to hold Catholic truth.

God protected the definition of Papal infallibility for a reason. Therefore it was true since the death of the last apostle. There are no new doctrines. The Roman Pontiff did not make the doctrine true by defining Papal infallbility. He was simply asserting what was already true. I believe it to be heretical to assert otherwise… God protected this definition so that individual Catholics can determine what the Church teaches more easily. When the Pope declares something on faith or morals meeting the criteria it is something God protects from error regardless of “the consent of the church”. The rest of the Church may not recognize a document as infallible but if the Roman Pontiff approves it as a document of a general council or meets the criteria from Vatican I, it is by that very fact an ex cathedra statement and not by the consent of the church.

This is important because Popes have directly contradicted each other when they are not repeating what the church has always taught, (not in their ordinary and universal magisterium) and not in their solemn (ex cathedra) Magisterium. This dogma of Papal infallibility does make a difference for Catholics because knowing the truths of the faith is important. Therefore knowing what the Church has unequivocally declared as true is important so you can make sure not to contradict it. This does not mean you should question things not explicitly taught infallibly. But you should if you have a Papal teaching of higher authority that contradicts it.

Final authority for Catholics is the dogmatic definitions of Roman Pontiffs. The Magisterium is the “proximate rule of faith” which tells us what Apostolic Tradition and Scripture means. It is not the same as sacred scripture which is interpreted by the Magisterium. If once you quote a dogmatic definition of a Roman Pontiff which states something clearly and the argument concerning what is clearly stated does not end, then dogmas are meaningless and can always be revised and the church can change its teaching. Saint Francis de Sales said this in his book the Catholic Controversy

“(When the Councils) decide and define some article. If after all this another test has to be tried before the Council’s determination is received, will not another also be wanted? Who will not want to apply his test, and whenever will the matter be settled?.. And why not a third to know if the second is faithful? – and then a fourth, to test the third? Everything must be done over again, and posterity will never trust antiquity but will go ever turning upside down the holiest articles of faith in the wheel of their understandings… what we say is that when a Council has applied this test, our brains have not now to revise but to believe.”

It was not my intention to make an assertion. I was honestly interested in finding out more about what the Popes have taught on this matter and if the Popes have condemned abortion with the fullness of their authority.

The earliest dogmatic document was not Christian at all. It was from Greek pagans and dates about 500 years before Christ. The Hippocratic Oath,

I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, likewise Hygeia and Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness, that I will observe and keep this underwritten oath, to the utmost of my power and judgment.
I will reverence my master who taught me the art. Equally with my parents, will I allow him things necessary for his support, and will consider his sons as brothers. I will teach them my art without reward or agreement; and I will impart all my acquirement, instructions, and whatever I know, to my master’s children, as to my own; and likewise to all my pupils, who shall bind and tie themselves by a professional oath, but to none else.
With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.
Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will get no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.

Before starting this thread I was convinced the Church had not and I was seeing if I could prove myself wrong.

I was having a discussion with my friend who thought that he only has to accept “ex cathedra statements” which is clearly false. In order to prove him wrong I wanted to prove that the Roman Pontiffs had never solemnly condemned abortion and therefore, even if you disagree with a teaching not taught solemnly by a Pope, it is still heresy.

A quick note on this – ultrasound was in fact invented in the late 1950s, in Scotland; it was commercially available in the US in the early 1960s. They were not commonly used for pregnancies until the 1970s – but it was most certainly around well before Roe v. Wade.

I’m not sure of the intent of your question. It doesn’t really matter. Abortion has been treated and understood as the sin of murder since men had ideas and wrote them. In addition to the Oath I posted which has been taken by physicians since 500 BC, God condemned murder in general in the OT as a part of the 10 commandments. No religious dogma is necessary however to establish the immorality of killing human beings. It is a “natural law” and written in our hearts. It has always been assumed and known until sometime in the 20th Century A.D., and my guess is that this would be when the Church of Jesus Christ would have found it necessary to be spoken of directly by the Roman Pontiff. These references have been made by others below. As well as the Church Fathers.

I’d be much more concerned and interested in what authority, and by what promulgated document is the murder of infants declared as moral and acceptable. How ancient and natural is THAT thought? What is the source of this proposition?

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