Have Roman Bishops ever endorsed abortion?

Colosseum of Rome (Photo by Joyce Thiel)


Abortion is wrong and it is good that many Catholics now realize this.

Yet, most Catholics would generally be surprised to hear that in the third century, Callistus Bishop of Rome, openly allowed abortion.

In circa 217 A.D., Callistus became bishop of Rome. The Roman Catholic saint Hippolytus reported:

Callistus…a man cunning in wickedness, and subtle where deceit was concerned, (and) who was impelled by restless ambition to mount the episcopal throne…Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church! And some, under the supposition that they will attain prosperity, concur with them. (Hippolytus. Refutation of All Heresies, Book IX, Chapter VII)

Notice that Callistus allowed (or at least permitted) abortion and adultery.

Note what The Catholic Encyclopedia admitted this about Callistus:

Callistus…permitted noble ladies to marry low persons and slaves, which by the Roman law was forbidden; he had thus given occasion for infanticide. (Chapman , Pope Callistus I)

Yet, the following is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church on abortion and was approved by the late Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict XVI (when Benedict XVI was still known as Cardinal Ratzinger):

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to moral law (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2271. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 606).

However, they seem to be ignoring the Roman Bishop Callistus (as well as later Popes and others) who did allow abortion.

Furthermore notice what one Protestant scholar wrote about other Roman Catholic Popes:

Most Catholics are not aware that the infallible Church and popes have changed their minds several times on this topic–unthinkable from today’s perspective.

From the fifth century onward, Aristotle’s view that the embryo goes through stages from vegetable to animal to spiritual was accepted. Only in the final stage was it human. Thus Gregory VI (1045-6) said, “He is not a murderer who brings about abortion before the soul is in the body.” Gregory XIII (1572-85) said it was not homicide to kill an embryo of less than 40 days since it wasn’t yet human. His successor, Sixtus V, who rewrote the Bible, disagreed. His Bull of 1588 made all abortions for any reason homicide and cause for excommunication. His successor, Gregory XIV, reversed that decree. In 1621 the Vatican issued another pastoral directive permitting abortion up to 40 days (Hunt D. A Women Rides the BeastHarvest House Publishers, Eugene (OR), 1994, pp. 519-520).

Quite similarly notice what one former Roman Catholic priest wrote:

Most Catholics assume that the soul is infused at conception…For fourteen hundred years until the late nineteenth century, all Catholics, including the popes, took it for granted that the soul is not infused at conception…

From the fifth century, the church accepted without question, the primitive embryology of Aristotle. The embryo began as a non-human speck that was progressively animated.

In the fifteenth century, moralists began to ask whether it was not possible in certain circumstances to get rid of the foetus without fault…Some went further. They said it was permissable to save a mother’s life even after the foetus was humanized…

Gregory XIII (1572-85) said it was not homicide to kill an embryo of less than forty days since it was not human…His successor, the tempestuous Sixtus V, who rewrote the Bible, disagreed entirely. In his Bull Effraenatum of 1588, he said all abortions for whatever reason were homicide and were penalized by excommunication reserved to the Holy See. Immediately after Sixtus died, Gregory XIV realized that, in the current state of theological opinion, Sixtus’ view was too severe. In an almost unique decision, he said Sixtus’ censures were to be treated as if he had never issued them (De Rosa, Peter. Vicars of Christ. Poolbeg Press, Dublin, 2000, p.p 374-375).

Even some Catholic monks put out instructions for how women could perform abortions in the Middle Ages:

Looking for Medical Miracles in Medieval Manuscripts

Spiegel – March 25, 2010 excerpts…

Obscure passages can also be found in “Macer floridus,” another standard work of monastic medicine. “When a pregnant woman takes in the scent of the wilting flower through her nose, this shall abort the fruit of the womb,” a monk wrote in punchy Latin hexameter. He was referring to the flower of the wild arum plant. The same effect could be achieved, he added, “if the crushed root is inserted into the uterus from below with a small wool suppository.”

The abortion method involving the suppository could even have worked. “Arum is quite toxic,” says Mayer. However, the intervention was probably not completely safe for the pregnant woman. “In the Middle Ages, toxic substances were used very often,” Mayer explains. “The people in the monasteries knew about the risks and side effects, but they often had no better alternatives.”

Monks giving abortion tips? The medical historian doesn’t find this outlandish at all. “The Catholic Church only formulated its rigid position on abortion in the 19th century,” Mayer explains. It was not as clear in the past, he adds. http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,685432,00.html

Although there is no evidence that any legitimate Church of God leader endorsed abortion, sadly some affiliated with the Roman Church have.

So, while it is good that some Catholics now oppose abortion, Catholics may wish to consider that their church has sometimes held to different positions.

Most people, Catholic or otherwise, simply do not know enough about the real truth about early church history.

Some articles documenting these and other items of possibly related interest include the following:

Callistus (217-222) He is the first bishop known to have been a criminal prior to his election. He was also accused of a variety of corrupt acts, including allowing indulgences and infanticide (abortion).
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from c. 31 A.D. to 2014. A related sermon link would be Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D.
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
Abortion, the Bible, and a Woman’s Right to Choose Do you know what the Bible teaches on this? Has the Roman Catholic Church allowed abortions? What about the Continuing Church of God?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions. Português: Qual é fiel: A igreja católica romana ou a igreja viva do deus? Tambien Español: Cuál es fiel: ¿La iglesia católica romana o La Iglesia del Dios Viviente? Auch: Deutsch: Welches zuverlässig ist: Die Römisch-katholische Kirche oder die lebende Kirche von Gott?
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view? Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches? Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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