Of course as to the graver question of abortion, or foeticide, there can be no serious conflict of moral judgment; although the frequency with which the crime is committed, in these later days, is sufficient evidence that civilization itself, if it teaches, fails absolutely to guard, the sanctity of human life; and that there is no power in education, law, refinement, nor any other influence, save that possibly of religion, to repress savage and utilitarian instincts, and subordinate them to the best uses of society. Indeed, there appears to be a growing sentiment, bom chiefly of the crime, degradation and suffering of the very poor, with a too slavish regard for the not clearly defined, and very much overrated, law of human heredity,1 which pet theory of "criminal heredity," showing that there is no such thing as a "criminal type," and that "the classification of criminals must rest on observation of each individual, his antecedent history, and his mental and physical condition." teaches that the prevention of birth is, in many cases at least, an act of mercy. One of the greatest minds of Greece1 not only condoned the practice, but advocated its adoption by law, when the population had exceeded certain defined limits; and the laws of Rome, during the Republic and the greater part of the Empire, so far as I am enabled to ascertain, nowhere condemned it.1
1 In an address before the Scientific Convention of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Dec., 1904, Dr. Spitzka, of Columbia University, clearly defined the modem reaction from Lombroso*»
A great army of writers, both Pagan and Christian, represent the practice as both deliberate and universal; ascribing it, not to poverty nor to licentiousness in sexual indulgence, but to the very same motives which underlie it to-day—the shrinking of the fashionable mother from the pains and necessary disfigurements of child-bearing, the difficulty of discharging social duties, and a selfish desire to avoid parental cares and responsibilities.
Weighty motives, truly, to lie at the root of murder! It speaks well for the poets and philosophers of Rome and Greece, that, while Ovid, Seneca, Favorinus, Plutarch and Juvenal, all regarded abortion as notorious and common, they were equally unanimous in pronouncing it reprehensible and criminal.'
* "Nunc utcrurn vitiat quffi vult fonnosa videri, raraque in hoc tevo est, quae velit ease parens." (Ovid, "De Nuce," 22,23.) The same writer reproaches his mistress, Corinna, with having been guilty of the monstrous crime.
But the attitude of the Christian Ohurch toward it has been at all times uncompromisingly hostile. In the penitential discipline of the Catholic Church it was placed alongside infanticide; and, by the sternest sentences, the enormity of the crime was impressed upon the popular mind. The Council of Ancyra excluded a guilty mother from the Holy Sacrament until the very hour of her death; and although the period was afterwards commuted to ten, and finally seven years, yet the crime even today is one of the very gravest in Roman Catholic legislation. And this is readily accounted for by the fact that Roman Catholic theology teaches that the moment the foetus acquires life in the womb it becomes an immortal being; and, dying unborn, without baptism for the remission of sin, it must rise at the judgment responsible for the sin of Adam, and be condemned to eternal exclusion from heaven.*
4 Among other barbarian laws, mentioned by Canciani, is a very curious one, fixing the daily compensation for the sufferinpB in hell of children who had been killed in the womb. *Vtd. " Leges Barbar.," n, 374.
It is probably to the awfulness of this idea that we owe, in the first instance, that salutary sense of the sanctity of infant life which distinguishes Christianity from all pagan religions, and which is so ingrained in the moral consciences of all Christians as to be totally uninfluenced by mere doctrinal changes or opinions. But whatever of gain has resulted to humanity from such a belief has been purchased at a tremendous price, in that complete stultification of human reason which alone could have produced so horrible a doctrine.
Of the Augustinian teaching of the damnation of unbaptized infants, it is not an exaggeration to say, as has been said,1 that it surpasses in atrocity the most horrible tenet of any pagan creed; and would, were it indeed a part of Christianity, more than justify the term "pernicious superstition" which Tacitus applied to the Faith of the Nazarene. That a little innocent babe, created without any will of its own, living but a few hours before birth, and dying without the mystic sprinkling of a few drops of water, should be made responsible before God for its ancestors having eaten some forbidden fruit, six thousand years before, and doomed, for this ancestral crime, to burn forever in a lake of unquenchable fire, and that by the command of an all-righteous, all-merciful God, is at once so fantastically absurd, and so unspeakably horrible, that, as Mr. Lecky justly says, its adoption might well lead thinking men "to doubt the universality of moral perceptions."'
The teaching, so far from being associated in any way with the sweet, tender, holy and merciful creed of the Christ, is simply demonism in its worst, wildest, crudest and most inhuman form; and far wickeder than any act the inventive genius of man has yet been able to ascribe even to the devil.