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religions began in order to serve the human need for reassurance in a hostile world in which injury, disease and the archenemy death, were ever presenting a threat to human life.
All primitive religions had two practical functions, neither of them the philosophical interpretations of existence or of life, as we today think of them. The primary function was to fill the need of the individual and of the tribe for food, and to insure their continuance by fertility in the woman, the corps and the animals. Imitative magico-religious rites, including the sexual act itself were thus performed to that purpose.
In this connection, woman, due to her menstrual cycle, was almost universally linked with the periodicity of the moon. The moon-god was believed to be husband to every woman, the one who first of all impregnated her. In view of woman's astonishing power to bleed once a month and live, not die; to give life (and sometimes bring forth death in the case of a stillborp child); to nourish that new life with food from her own breasts ;-woman was consequently believed to be possessed of mana, a godlike power for good or evil, which therefore rendered her taboo or forbidden, especially in those times when she was most womanlike, i.e., during menstruation, pregnancy and lactation, all of which taboos are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. (cf. Rabbi Jacob Singer, Taboos in the Hebreue Scriptures). Again, almost all religions (including Judaism and Christianity) have some mythical account of the origins of human life in what Mircea Eliade, Birth and Rebirth, refers to as the "dream times" or the long-forgotten past--or, as the Genesis puts it “In the beginning ...” Through these myths of the origins of life they attempt to re-live communally by imitative religious rites, that thus initiate them into a life that is, as Ediade points out-beyond the natural and so what was thought to be super-natural, such as the account of the creation of human beings in Genesis L-III.
In the natural order, of course, the real human mother begats her child by natural birth from the womb. In the “super-natural" order, however, the “re-birth" (and the only significant birth) is accomplished by initiation rites, such as baptisms or washings, from sin, such as are found in both Judiasm and Christianity. Such initiations attempt to beget the adolescent child (most often, the male-child, although in Christianity, the female child as well), or "give birth anew" by a kind of “role reversal" from the “death" to the old natural life with its mother love, to a "new" and "supernatural" life with the gods or God. This "new birth" or rebirth, of course, is usually accomplished by a male-mother called a priestor shaman.
The second function of primitive religion according to Briffault, was to avoid the anger of the gods or God, by ascetic practices of self-denial and funerary rites or rites of the dead, whose spirits were sometimes, like woman, viewed as dangerous to humans. With the rise of patriarchy, or the rule of the father, (which in almost all primitive religions, follows the demise of matriarchy), the original and universally recognized right of the mother over her offspring was played down to the advantage of the father. A tighter rein was drawn on woman and the fertility goddesses in civil and religious law, reducing them to second-class status in the state and religion, though as one University of Penna. Assyriologist pointed out, "goddesses die hard."
As in the creation account in Genesis, Eve, called “the mother of all the living” was depicted by the male author as being incredibly, the "offspring" of Adam, human physiology not withstanding, through the midwifery of God. As a result of the “primordial transgression” following upon the creation of man and woman, despite the fact that Genesis specifically blames and punishes both the woman and the man, the Judaeo-Christian tradition passed on the "Original Sin of Sexism” (as Dr. Rosemary Ruether and Dr. Mary Daly have both put it), or the philosophy of the "natural" or “divinely ordained supremacy” of the male over the female.
Woman became by “divine right” the property of man-she existed so solely for man's sexual pleasure, for procreation of "man's” child—as Genesis 3, 16 itself takes note when it says, of the dangers of repeated pregnancies, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, in sorrow shalt thou give birth to children; all thy longing shall be for thy husband, even though he shall lord it over thee.” Fear and jealousy of woman's maternal role led man to keep this “property” of his in the ghetto called the home, so as to keep her dangerous powers as mother away from “his" work, and prevent
her physical “weakness” believed due to menstruation from contaminating it. Thus the double standard of morality arose; a double standard imposed on females which regarded her not as the image of God and therefore a person as Genesis insists, but as primarily the image of man, a mere reflection of his ego, the one on whom he chose to project the myth of feminine evil by seduction. Whereas man as seen by male theologians was a spiritual and intelligent creature, woman, being primarily for sex, was viewed as a carnal and emotional creature. Whereas he was active and independent, she was passive and dependent on him, her Lord. Whereas his value transcended sexual caste and allowed him a full range of sexual freedom, her value was entirely based on her "used" or "unused” status in the sexual realm. (Indeed the Code of Canon Law still uses this opprobious term, “the use of woman", to describe the sexual act.)
With the suppression of the legal rights of woman and the rites of the female deities in the supernatural order, the second function of primitive religions, that of appearing and averting the anger of the gods or God by asceticism and rites of the dead, took precedence over the Magico-religious rites, which included ritual sexual intercourse. By avoiding good things of which the gods might be jealous, such as food, drink, and above all, sexual relations, in short, things that were, like woman, taboo, our primitive forbearers in the Semitic tradition passed on to Judiasm and subsequently to Christianity, their more sophisticated heirs, a dubious heritage of which they formed an often inexplicable part. (cf, Rabbi Singer, Taboos in the Hebrew Scriptures.) “Sexism”, as Rosemary Radford Ruether puts it, “that is, the oppressive relationship of the man to the woman, is essentially social projection of the self-alienation which transcends certain initial biological differences into a power relationship. This relationship in turn is totalized in social structures (such as civil and canon laws) and cultural modes that eliminate woman's autonomous personhood, to define her solely in terms of male needs and negations.” Rosemary Radford Reuther, Sexism and Theology of Liberation, Christian Century Magazine, December 12, 1973.
This resulted in the unfortunate and for woman, tragic, tradition of Christianity and especially Roman Catholicism in the West that, as Briffault put it “no two spheres stand more sharply opposed than that of religion and that of sex." The natural manifestations of sex, and especially of woman-sex, are in the Roman Catholic tradition, the type of sin of which “the head-fount of that evil and impurity, with which the religious spirit cannot be brought into touch without defilement and dissolution."
The theology of marriage as explained by male Christian theologians was really little more than a tribal view of marriage, in which the act of sexual union was viewed as the “use” of woman, with little or no recognition of it as an act of love until the last decade of this century with the Second Council of the Vatican. This belief in the myth of feminine evil did not, however, stem from the teaching of Jesus who was, as Dr. Leonard Swidler pointed out, a feminist in his own time, but was a carry-over from the sexual taboos common to all primitive religions including the Semitic from which Judaism and Christianity ultimately derive. cf Jesus was a Feminist.
This overwhelming fear of sex and therefore of woman as a temptress, was heightened by the Church's insistence of clerical celibacy. That, coupled with the fact that theologians insisted on doing her thinking for her (woman) in view of her "intellectual weakness”, is most manifest to all intelligent people in the official or hierarchical Church's intransigent stand against artificial contraception, sterilization, and abortion. Such a stand is designed to leave women at the mercy, not only of her biological makeup, but also at the mercy of a merciless celibate hierarchy, who claimed the right to damn her eternally if she used such methods.
Without medical control over the bodily power of reproduction, woman is left at the mercy of an irrational fertility which even the Bible in Genesis 3, 16 recognized as a curse. The time of rational ensoulment or the time when the fetus becomes specifically human has been and still is a matter of debate in the Catholic tradition as is evident from the following list of authorities ranging from the first century to the present day.
Pope Gregory XIV, in his Bull Sedes Apostolica in 1591, revoked the punitive legislation of Pope Sixtus V saying, “where no homicide or no animated
fetus is involved,” the law ought "not to punish more strictly than the sacred canons or civil legislation does."
The Roman Ritual from 1617 to 1625 prescribed baptism be administered in danger of death only if either the head or some limbs of the fetus shows and only if this limb gives some sign of life, only after "quickening" (Hominization). Unorganized fetuses are not to be baptized.
St. Alphonsus Ligouri 1696–1787, a Doctor of the Church, insisted that the fetus is "certainly not animated before it is formed.” Moral Theology 6, Tract. 2.
Sacred Congregation of Studies in Rome offered Thomistic theses as guidelines to Catholic seminaries and universities. The 15th thesis states that the human soul, which is created by God, “may be infused into a subject that is sufficiently disposed."
H. M. Hering, O.P. 1951, “De Tempore Animationis Foetus II umani” Angelicum, 28, 1951, 18–29 says the theory of delayed animation or hominization "counts strong defenders, especially among the philosophers who are wont to investigate the matter more profoundly than the moralists and the canonists.” For the latter part of the 19th century he mentioned as upholders of this theory, Liberatore, Zigliara, Cornoldi, Lorenselli, Sanseverino and di Maria. More recent authors mentioned were, Cardinal Mercier, V. Remer, A. D. Sertillanges, D. Prummer, A. Farges-d, Barbedette, A. Vermeersch, B. Merkelbach, A. Pirotta, C. Carbone, F. X. Macquart, R. Jolivet, A. Lanza, E. Messenger, R. Lacroix and M. Barbado."
Others still more contemporary who are today questioning the one-dimensional nature of Catholic theology regarding abortion are: Rev. Bernard Haring, Hans Kung, Teilhard de Chardin, Giles Milhaven, S.J., Joseph Donceel, S.J., Robert Springer, Dr. Daniel Callahan, (Abortion: Lau", Choice and Morality, who testified before the N.Y. State Abortion commission for a reform of the law), Cornelius Vander Poel, Charles Curran, Dr. Mary Daly, Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Dr. Elizabeth Farians and myself.
In the very first book of the Bible, the two-facedness of procreation as both a blessing from God and a curse from the same God is very aptly described. Genesis 1,28 recounts the blessing of man and woman by God who told them "to increase and multiply and fill the earth and rule over it.” The same book of Genesis (3, 16) later on after the “Fall" from God's favor indicates quite clearly that the blessing of procreation is now because of its frequency and painfulness covered with a curse for the woman to whom God said, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” According to Scripture itself then, childbearing, in itself a great blessing, is also because of the possible multiplicity of pregnancies a woman may undergo and because of the painfullness associated with pregnancy and birth in many cases, the curse of the woman. However, this text has largely been ignored by celibate theologians in the Catholic Church. cf Contraception and Eve, Dr. Jane Cahill, New Blackfriars Magazine, London, June 1966.
The text of Exodus 21, 22 had a far more powerful influence on both Jewish and Christian theologians, however. This passage dealt with the abortion that is caused accidentally by a man who struck a woman who was pregnant. In The Septuaguint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew test) the text itself prescribes the penalty of “life for life" if the embryo is “formed". ("Formed" here was taken to mean, by Christian theologians at any rate, what Aristotle meant by “formed”. According to Aristotle, a fetus becomes human forty days after conception if the fetus is male, and eighty days after conception if the fetus is female. (History of Animals, 7, 3.) A similar view seems to underly the old prescription regarding purification, forty days being required for purification if the child was a boy, eighty days if the child was a girl. (Contraception, John T. Noonan, P. 90). This theory of delayed hominization, or ensoulment with a rational soul, regarding the fetus was held by some of the greatest theologiana in the Catholic Church and is still held by a goodly proportion of theologians today. Among those who held this theory were :
St. Jerome, the translator of the Bible (Vulgate), who said in his Epistles 121, 4, that abortion is not homocide until the elements of the fetus "receive their appearance and members”.
St. Augustine, On Exodus, 21, 80, a commentary, says if the embryo is “unformed”, the law does not provide that the act (of abortion) pertains to homocide.
St. Anselm, a medieval theologian, wrote that it is "inadmissible that the infant should receive a rational soul from the moment of conception”.
Peter Lombard, Bishop of Paris, Four Books of Sentences, 2,d. 18, 8., “The soul is created and infused after the body has already been formed.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 2, 89 held that the rational soul was created by God only after the embryo passed through a kind of vege tative and sentient stage in its development.
Catechism of the Council of Trent 1566 clearly held delayed rational epsoulment when it said “since in the natural order no body can be informed by a human soul except after the prescribed space of time.” It was here discussing the extra-ordinary conception of Jesus whose soul was joined to the body at conception, unlike all others.
This is precisely the point at issue in the abortion dilemma, i.e., whether or not the fetus is, in fact, a human person from the moment of conception or whether it becomes a human person sometime afterward during the ninemonth period of development. Bernard Haring, C.S.S.R., the dean of Catholic moral theologians, insists in The Law of Christ, page 205, “In fact, if we could assume that the Aristotolian opinion were certain, we could not condemn abortion committed before the infusion of the spiritual soul as a crime of murder against a fully human life.” Richard A. McCormick, S.J., in an article in America, June 19, 1965 on Abortion says, “The theory of retarded or delayed animation is unquestionably a tenable and respectable theory. It is still preferred by a notable number of philosophers and theologians. The Church has very wisely never decided the matter definitively; indeed, it is perhaps questionable if this is within her competence.”
It seems to me it is certainly not within the Church's competence to pronounce one way or the other on a matter that requires an interpretation of biological facts on which from ancient times to the present, good women and men of all faiths have disagreed. This being the case (but even if it were not) that a doubt of fact regarding the human personhood of the fetus exists, the same rules of morality must be applied here as in all other cases.
The most fundamental rules underlying all morality as Jesus explained are the love of God above all else and the love of our neighbor whom we are commanded to love as we love ourselves. These two commandments are the essence of the New Law of Christ, as St. Thomas says, as well as the foundation and first general principles of the natural law. (Summa Theologica I.II, Q. 109). We are bound, after God, to love ourselves and love our neighbors, not equally with ourselves, but in a manner patterned on true love of self. II.II ,Q. 44, a. 7. We should love especially those nearest to us in the natural order, our spouses, children, parents, etc. The secondary principles of the natural law such as the Ten Commandments are simply explicitations of these primary rules.
The Fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” has always been interpreted by Jewish and Christian moralists to mean, not an absolute prohibition of killing a person, but the unjustified taking of life. Father Haring in the same work mentioned earlier (Vol. I, P. 288) explains it this way, “Killing of a man, is not an unconditional evil action, because the bodily life of one's neighbor is not a value which must be preserved under all circumstances. Only the unjustified attack on the life of one's neighbor is always evil.” The Law of Christ.
Christian theologians have always permitted the so-called "just war”, even though it certainly results in the foreseen killing and maiming of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of innocent human lives, including infants, children, women and men. Popes have led armies to war, hierachys have condoned hundreds of wars, as did the American Catholic hierarchy condone the war in Vietnam. All this wholesale slaughter of the innocent as well as the “enemy” is and was justified on the basis of the principle of the double effect. The most atrocious methods of killing, such as bombs, napalm, flame-throwers, of both the “enemy” and the innocent, he would not even release the bomb on a site, knowing full well that hundreds of innocent people will be killed along with the “enemy" he must intend only the death of the “enemy” not the death of the innocent, even though he knows for certain that many innocent people will die as the direct result of his action. But the simple fact of the matter is, that if he did not intend, but certainly not rejoice in, the death of both the “enemy” and the innocent, he would not ever release the bomb
from its hatch. In short, the right to life, even of the innocent, while it is the most basic right is not an unconditional right to be preserved at all costs. It can only be taken, justly but regrettably, under certain conditions; but it most certainly can be and has been taken and the taking has been sanctioned by Catholic theologians and the hierarchy from the earliest days of Christianity.
Theologians can and do justify the taking of life (or lives) of a fully conscious human being (or beings) on the basis of the principle of the double effect, in order to preserve some other human rights or values. Such values can be any of the following:
1. The preservation of freedom, whether physical or spiritual, as in a “just war".
2. The defense of self or another person in order to preserve one's own or another's life, personal liberty, bodily integrity, or property, i.e., material goods deemed essential to life, such as food, a horse, etc.
In view of these exceptions to the command "Thou shalt not kill", it seems to me, a woman may be justified in seeking an abortion from a physician. Correspondingly, the physician may be justified in performing the abortion, however distasteful they may both find the task. Briefly, the reasons I hold this are the following. The purposes of marriage and the marital act are two-fold, the fostering of mutual love between the spouses and the procreation and education of any children who may issue from the marriage. The latter duty of course only binds when procreation is possible and reasonable. Procreation involves not merely the physical begetting of the child, but also seeing that it is cared for and educated in truly human fashion. In short, it entails the bringing of one's children to the human perfection of knowledge and virtue according to St. Thomas. Many times, however, through contraceptive failure (whether of rhythm or other artificial contraceptives, of my article Contraception and Eve, impregnation can occur without its being intended, or in the case of rape by forceful violation of bodily integrity.
Should impregnation occur to a woman who is so extremely poor that neither she nor her husband, nor their existing children, if any, can be supported in human fashion, the woman may be obliged in justice to herself, her husband and her children, and out of justice to the potential rationality of the fetus, to seek an abortion. Here, albeit "innocently” the pregnancy constitutes a grave internal threat to the very existence of the family. Thus the common good of the family requires this tragic but necessary action. Mental illness, severe enough to incapacitate the woman for human motherhood would also be, in my judgment, serious reason for termination of pregnancy. Every fetus by reason of its potential rationality is in justice entitled to a mother who is herself rational. Furthermore, the loss of one's ability to use the highest powers one has, the reason and will, is a fearful enough loss in itself and pregnancy in addition to such a state constitutes a grave and often unbearable threat to the woman's total well-being.
Crippling physical disease would be sufficient reason for termination of pregnancy because the disease itself constitutes a grave enough internal threat to her health and life, to which the mere presence of the fetus add
another “innocent” but nonetheless serious threat. In the case of rape and . incest, the resulting pregnancy has been inflicted unjustly and violently
against the woman by a violation of her right to physical integrity. Therefore, she has the right to remove by an abortion the result of this assault out of true love of self.
The possibility of severe deformity is sufficient reason to warrant an abortion. Nature itself intends, as St. Thomas observed, bodily perfection and of itself (not by direct Divine intervention) aborts in almost one-third of all pregnancies where the fetus is defective. Here we would be imitating the unconscious "intelligence" of the natural processes, consciously. As the late Dr. Joseph Stokes, the renowned pediatrician pointed out, many cases of mongolism with its severe mental retardation can already be detected early in pregnancy by amniocentesis.
In summary, the pregnant woman is first of all a human being, herself, with her own set of rights which she does not lose simply by becoming pregnant. Thusly, she may be regarded as the bearer of another as yet no fully human life, in the early months of pregnancy, (though the very same moral principles hold even if the full humanity of the fetus were certain.) As with some