A review of the Catholic Church’s unbroken 2000 year stance that abortion is homicide

A common misconception is that the Catholic Church at one point in its history unanimously concurred that not all abortions were homicides, or more specifically that abortions before the “animation” of the fetus were not considered to be a homicide. This theory was part of an official Church document, the “Decretum Gratiani”, which was created in the 12th century and lasted in some form up until the 20th century.

Nonetheless, there is plenty of historical evidence that animation theory was never able to displace the traditional stance that all abortions were the equivalent of homicide. Specifically, there are examples of governments prosecuting abortions as homicide during the period when the animation theory was considered to be valid.  Given that these same governments used Catholic doctrine in the absence of formulated civil codes and it is clear the animation theory was resisted in practice. This is understandable; after all before the animation theory was integrated into Church doctrine abortion had been considered homicide for more than a thousand years.

The animation theory, like many other new theories proposed by Catholic theologians throughout the centuries, had to be subject to normal peer review process and eventually would fall to the more rigorous traditional perspective regarding abortion. The lack of the animation theory’s ability to displace its predecessor no doubt had to do with the difficulty of accepting the premise that a person was created without a soul. Below is a translated excerpt from the Degretum Gratiani:

It is not a murder who procures an abortion before body has been infused with a soul.

Here it is apparent that a distinction is made between a person with and without a soul. We know that the issue at hand is a person as opposed to just a body as referenced above because of other well known biblical verses such as:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. (Jer. 1:5)

The obvious difficulty of accepting such a precarious theory was no doubt the reason that governments chose to ignore the animation theory and rather chose to prosecute abortions before the animation of the child as homicides. We can also be assured that this would only have been possible if Catholic clergy supported the traditionalist argument that all abortions were homicides. As evidence of this pragmatical position by traditionalists there were various decrees and doctrines that were promulgated during the animation period. For example, the “Malleus Maleficarum” of 1484 was one well known document that created to address the prosecution of  witches. In this document we see that any abortion after the conception is considered a crime. We also know that many women accused of wirtchcraft were burned at the stake for their offenses, perceived or otherwise. King Henry II of France in 1556 also declared any women that chose to abort their child would be charged with murder. Pope Sixtus V issued a papal bull in 1588 that nullified the problematic animation doctrine, again demonstrating the internal traditionalists efforts to do away with the problematic animation doctrine. Nonetheless, shortly afterwords this papal bull was overturned due to the severity of the punishment effected by Catholic governments who used Church doctrine as civil law as opposed to a rejection of the traditionalist stance regarding abortion, thus allowing the ensoulment theory to stand. However the traditionalists would not be dismayed and this is evidenced by King Louis IV re-affirmation in 1708 of King Henry II’s edict and as well as the creation of the French Penal Code of 1810 that all abortions were the equivalent of murder. Spain, like France, formally declared all abortions as homicide in their civil code at the beginning of the 19th century as well. Eventually Pope Pius IX once and for all did away with the conflicting teachings of ensoulment in 1869, although it would be a matter of years before any references to pre-animated states of fetus would be removed from the removed from the Corpus Juris Canonici.

In summary, it is quite evident that while the animation doctrine was considered valid the traditionalist element in the Church was never displaced, nor poorly represented for that matter, but in fact, it promulgated guidelines and laws that clearly ignored the animation doctrine. Thus is it is clear that there was a battle of wills between traditionalists and animationists among Church hierarchy and governments during the most active years of the animation discussion as witnessed by the fact that Catholic governments prosecuted all abortions as homicide while the animation theory was still considered doctrine. Also, the very fact that references to fetal animation could remain in Church doctrine in spite of the Pope Pius IX ‘s decree clearly establishes that final doctrinal interpretations within the Church have depended more on leadership and/or more prominent theology as opposed to attempting to apply all doctrinal theories, conflicting at times. In the end it is apparent the animation theory existed mostly on paper but in the whole context of applied doctrine was mostly absent and therefore irrelevant. Thus the Catholic Church’s traditional stance that all abortions were homicides stood the temporary challenge brought by the ensoulment theory and prevailed.

Ironically, the Roe v. Wade court opinion chose to use a use the animation theory’s existence in Catholic Church history to attempt to establish legal precedence for the acceptance of abortion before “animation” occurred. Nonetheless, this theory is without any academic basis because the Catholic Church has always considered abortion to be a serious crime and cause for excommunication in fact. This should be expected because the Catholic Church has always considered abortion to be the willful destruction of a person, albeit with or without its soul.

 Even more ironic is the fact that the Roe v. Wade decision would choose to use the animation theory as legal precedence for the justification of legal abortion when the animation theory was clearly dependent on an archaic understanding of science. It is clear the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take a step backwards in terms of science in order to legalize abortion. See more discussion regarding this topic our upcoming book “Justifiable Homicide: The Radical Scheme to Destroy a Race”.