I could tell that Garry Wills’ weak and logically distorted defense of Catholics who support abortion was a disgraceful display for a distinguished historian; indeed, almost any objective reader could. I was hoping one of the commentariat would delve into the substance of his desperate historical and theological argument, and Rich in CT delivered with gusto.
Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “From Garry Wills, A ‘Bias Makes You Stupid’ Cautionary Tale.
Garry Wills is either pompously ignorant of the theological topics he purports to write about, or he is lying.
His article is scatter-shot, meant to intimidate and confuse unprepared Catholic Apologists who might attempt rebuttal. It offers so many arguments that it is difficult to cohesively refute because it changes topic so quickly. Yet, it touches each topic so quickly because its analysis or portrayal of the content is blatantly distorted or outright wrong. It falls apart entirely upon any sort of careful review.
I shall address it point-by-point, rearranging it slightly to form a more logical, cohesive rebuttal.
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.
Matthew portrays Herod as a monster for slaughtering the young children of Bethlehem. Luke has the infant John leap for joy in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of Mary (obviously, Luke would approve of injecting saline into the fetal John’s heart to end his nascent life…). Most importantly, no Pharisee attempted to trap Jesus by asking whether he approved of abortion.
Early Christians did not disagree on abortion, so it was not addressed in scripture. Saint Paul writes extensively about the disagreements in the early church. No one wrote to him asking if abortion were permitted, so he did not need to address it.
Other early Christian writings, however, did address the topic: the first century catechism, the Diache, specifically condemns abortion and infanticide. Many over the centuries have argued abortion should not be condemned, but never denied that the Catholic Church taught it was a grave sin from the beginning.
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.
That is not an argument for abortion. It is pathetic to represent it as such. St. Augustine knew what the Church taught since the first century, and attempted to explain it. That he could not find the specific answer to when life began in scripture cannot be construed in anyway as endorsement of abortion. Again, scripture did not address the issue, because it was not under contention.
But St. Thomas Aquinas knew [when life began]. 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.
Again, St. Thomas knew the church’s teaching. St. Thomas attempted to explain the teaching against abortion using an Aristotlian framework. Based on ancient Greek understanding of biology, he concluded it was not a sin of murder prior to the infusion of the “rational soul”. He then provided an alternative explanation for why it was immoral to abort a fetus with a vegatative or animalistic soul. He never endorse abortion, or claimed the church was wrong to oppose it.
The religious opponents of abortion think that the human person actually antedates the Aristotelian scheme, dating it from “conception” (when the semen fertilizes the ovum).
Isn’t it cute how modern theologians use a modern understanding of biology when appropriate?
(As an aside, for those who want to make a purely religious argument for abortion, one must consider a vision given to a Russian abortionist, where Saint Thomas appeared to him, renouncing his outdated understanding of biology, and encouraging the abortionist to repent.
This is of course irrelevant to the ethical discussion, but Wills already cited public prophecy documented in scripture to try to explain why the bishop’s were wrong, so private prophecy contradicting him cannot be excluded out of principle)
But the Catholic theologian Bernard Häring points out that at least half of the fertilized eggs fail to achieve “nidation” — adherence to the uterus — making nature and nature’s God guilty of a greater “holocaust” of unborn babies than abortion accounts for, if the fertilized ovum is a “baby.”
One might also point out that every single human being currently alive will eventually die. The natural death of a preterm infant is tragic, but not equivalent to deliberately killing the child.
The opponents of abortion who call themselves “pro-life” make any form of human life, even pre-nidation ova, sacred.
This is actually the official teaching of the Catholic Church, so is fair to bring up.
But my clipped fingernails or trimmed hairs are human life.
This is patently absurd. Once the hair to nail clippings are removed, they are no longer alive. You cannot kill a toe clipping, so it is irrelevant to the abortion debate. To expand upon this as a Catholic example; if we had a sample of Jesus’s hair, we would venerate it as a holy First Class relict, but we would not consider it equivalent to the living Body of Christ in the Eucharist. (Some church’s claim to possess Jesus’s foreskin (EWWWW!); sure enough, it is not worshiped like the Eucharist.)
I did not know what my Catholic Church prescribed about treatment of a miscarried baby, if that should occur. I went to John Henry Newman’s Oratory fathers, where I had been attending Mass, and asked what I should do in that event. They looked puzzled and said the hospital should handle that.
A miscarriage is a natural death. Over the centuries, miscarriage and early childhood death were tragically common. Families would be overwrought with grief if every miscarriage had to be treated exactly as a full term child. Even young children weren’t always properly mourned, as the numbers were staggering. Deaths of youths were seen as an ordinary if sad event, and it wasn’t treated with the shock we see today. That cannot, however, be extrapolated into endorsing the killing of children (born or unborn).
I found, in later questions, that the church did not prescribe or recommend baptizing a miscarriage as if it were a full human being, nor giving it last rites, nor burying it in consecrated ground
Well of course not. A miscarried child simply cannot be baptized; it sadly died before this was possible. You can only baptize a living (anyone who purports to write about Catholic doctrine should understand this, proving Wells is an utter fraud!) Any child born alive but in duress would be immediately baptised; and if a priest were available, an infant in duress could absolutely receive last rites.
It is true that it is not required to bury a fetus, but there is no “cult of the fetus” that would dictate this must be done for a natural miscarriage. It should be noted that persons who receive baptism have the right to be buried in consecrated ground (ie, a Catholic cemetery). There is no duty to bury a non-baptized person in consecrated ground, although all deceased persons’ bodies must be treated with dignity. The standard of dignity for a miscarried child is simply not as extensive.
My Catholic grandmother, Rose Collins, had three or four miscarriages, but told me she did not worry about how the discharges were disposed of — she had four living children to care for.
This is precisely the reason; resources are limited, and a natural death does not require extraordinary recognition. In a similar manner, infant funerals historically were often very simple affairs, because they were sadly common. A baptized person, including an infant, has a canonical right to burial in consecrated ground, so churches would set aside a small corner for infant burials. In practice, stillborn children may be buried as well, because the dignified alternatives were limited.
The Catholic Church no longer claims that opposition to abortion is scriptural. It is not a religious issue. It is called a matter of natural law, which should be discernible by natural reason. Yet as the Catholic judge John T. Noonan said, the most recognized experts on natural law, in universities, human rights organizations, medical and psychological bodies, do not generally oppose abortion.
“Natural Law” is simply the framework that the Church uses to express its opposition (Saint Thomas used the Arostotlian framework centuries earlier, but new science led to a new approach). That others purportedly use the same framework to come to another conclusion is irrelevant.
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 Vatican was not “embarrassed” by this. The pope cited good old Saint Augustine’s ancient teaching against birth control, in which Augustine noted Onan was smote for using contraception to thwart the marital duty marriage; the Levirate duty to produce an heir for one’s brother is a special subset of the general marital duty. Casti Connubii argues that the duty to not thwart procreation is found in natural law, and by no means made a scriptural argument that would be “embarrassed” by noting the Levirate duty. (Did Wells read Casti Connubii, and see that Saint Augustine was against birth control, yet still cite Augustine as silent on an extreme method of controlling against live birth)?
Nor, according to polls, do a majority of American citizens, even Catholic citizens.
The church is not a democracy. Jesus is literally called a King in all four Gospels (which were previously admitted into evidence by Wells). Jesus was also rejected by the majority, who decided to nail him to a cross than follow him. That today’s majority continues to disagree is irrelevant.
President Biden seems to be on their side, as is Pope Francis. This, of course, does not affect the American bishops. They hate this pope and this president anyway.
Francis is the most misquoted pope in recent history. Pope Francis called for a balance of issues to be taught (this was reported with wide enthusiasm by the media). Pope Francis also specifically praised the United States Bishops for their approach to abortion and social issues (this follow up was met with crickets from the media).
To say the US bishops hate Francis is utter nonsense. That there is any hesitancy to censure President Biden shows that hating him is utter nonsense.
Will’s article is written in the style of a survey, purporting to summarize many well established scholarly interpretations, hoping to catch his critics off guard and make himself look intelligent. Instead, his article is completely wrong in every fact that it asserts, and its conclusions are universally unsubstantiated. He has clearly never read any of the documents or authors he cites, or worse, intentionally misrepresents them.
This is an embarrassingly void attempt at scholarship.