What Has Christ To Do With Lycurgus?

Yesterday was a national day of penance and prayer for our nation for the sin of abortion. Just as an reminder of what we are facing, allow me to quote from Plutarch:

Offspring was not reared at the will of the father, but was taken and carried by him to a place called Lesche, where the elders of the tribes officially examined the infant, and if it was well-built and sturdy, they ordered the father to rear it, and assigned it one of the nine thousand lots of land; but if it was ill-born and deformed, they sent it to the so‑called Apothetae, a chasm-like place at the foot of Mount Taÿgetus, in the conviction that the life of that which nature had not well equipped at the very beginning for health and strength, was of no advantage either to itself or the state.

You see, the Spartans were a logical and unsentimental people, and regarded humans beings, including themselves, as livestock, to be bred or slaughters according to sound breeding principles.

Now, if there is a difference between the morality of killing a fully formed and healthy child one half second before his head clears the cervix, and one half second after, it is invisible to me. I do see the biological difference between a child who is breathing air and a child taking his nutriment and oxygen through an umbilicus, but I do not see how this difference in regime alters the duties which the mother has to protect her child and the laws have to protect the innocent.

I suppose an argument can be made that the less developed a child is, the less human he looks, and therefore he is a monkey or a fish or a worm or some other lower form of life not a member of the species as his parents. The argument founders on biological reality, and on the nature of cause and effect. Human young don’t grow up into monkeys and fish and worms, but into humans, and this trait is true even when the young is very young,  blastocyst, or zygote. Other uniquely human characteristics, such as the number and type of genes, are present at conception. Logically, uniquely human traits cannot be present in an organism not human.

The differences between the modern culture of death and the ancient laws of Lycurgus are these: First, the Spartans only slew members of the ruling warrior-aristocrat class. The Helots and Perioeci were left to breed as they wished. Among us, it is disproportionately minorities and the poor who abort their children.

Second, the Spartans had a logical, if coldhearted, reason for their child-murder, that is, that any crippled child was of no value to itself or the state. Among us, the reason urged for the child murder is sentimental and foolish, that is, that healthy children if unwanted are better off dead. This is urged as a necessity for the liberty of the mother and the wellbeing of the child. The father’s interests, of course, are not consulted at all. The ghastly levity involved in urging the wellbeing of the child is served by killing him is not something the stern Lacedaemonians would have countenanced.

Third, the Spartan practice was of a piece with their other spartan practices, a matter of military discipline. Among us, abortion is an extension of contraception, a method of indulging in the pleasures of sex without embracing the reality of sex: the morningafter murder.

I was this day nauseated with a forceful reminder that there are Christians who do not follow the Church teaching forbidding abortion. They follow Lycurgus rather than Christ.

In all other respects, they speak as Christians: but the incense of sanctimony with which these Christians cloak their dark crimes cannot cover the stench from the tiny and rotting corpses in the Apothetae.

Unlike the institution of slavery, or the doctrine of the Trinity, there is no argument in support of Christian abortion. The earliest surviving written record of this teaching is from the Didache, also called The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, written between AD 65 and 80. This is a thousand years before the split between Catholic and Orthodox, and cannot, even by the most strict Protestant, be considered a spurious teaching or later accretion.

The passage reads:

Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not corrupt youth; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use soothsaying; thou shalt not practise sorcery; thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born; thou shalt not covet the goods of thy neighbour.

[Ch 2, Hoole’s translation.]

The practice of abortion was known among the ancients. The only difference is that the operation was more dangerous for women. Being pragmatic, the pagans merely waited until the unwanted offspring was born, and performed the same operation, postnatally, by exposing the infant to the elements, or dashing out his brains.