Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Pro-Life Quotes from St. Basil the Great and Other Early Christians

January 2 is the Memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. They were good friends and holy bishops who fought courageously for the truth and defended the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

The following are quotes from St. Basil, other Church Fathers and other early Christian writings. They show a consistent witness in favor of life from the beginning of Church history. Below that is more about the lives of St. Basil and St. Gregory:

A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder.
St. Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.)

any hairsplitting distinction as to its being formed or unformed is inadmissible with us.
St. Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.)

Those who give potions for the destruction of a child conceived in the womb are murderers, as are those who take potions which kill the child.
St. Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.)

Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant. Didache (1st Century)

Never do away with an unborn child or destroy it after its birth. Epistle of Barnabas (c. 120 A.D.)

What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? Athenagoras of Athens, who wrote to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (c.177 A.D.) to defend Christians against false charges of murder.

You do not let a prostitute remain a prostitute, but make her a murderer as well. St. John Chrysostom (c.345-407 A.D.) said that men who pressured women into having abortions were guilty of even worse than murder.

St. Basil's brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-394 A.D.), saw the fetus as a complete human being from the time of conception, and specifically rejected theories based upon formation or quickening. He said:

There is no question about that which is bred in the uterus, both growing, and moving from place to place. It remains, therefore, that we must think that the point of commencement of existence is one and the same for body and soul.

Abortion is a precipitation of murder, nor does it matter whether or not one takes a life when formed, or drives it away when forming, for he is also a man who is about to be one. Tertullian of Carthage (c.160-c.230A.D.)

Saint Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.) was the Bishop of Cappadocia and a Doctor of the Church. He vigorously opposed both the Arian and Appollanarian heresies. Arians denied that Jesus Christ was a Divine Person. The Appollonarians went to the other extreme of denying that Jesus had a human soul

Basil was well known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Together with St. Gregory Nazianzen and Basil's brother Gregory of Nyssa they are referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers.

St. Basil’s monastic rule established norms for prayer, community life and manual labor. Eastern monks still follow this rule today.

Basil was born into the wealthy Christian family in Cappadocia in modern day Turkey. His mother was St. Nonna and his father, St. Gregory the Elder. His maternal grandfather was martyred during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian.

He began studies in law and rhetoric in Constantinople and later Athens. He and St. Gregory Nazianzen became great friends when they studied together at Athens, although they were quite different. Basil was a strong leader and a good administrator. Gregory was more of a poet and contemplative. Basil experienced a religious awakening when he was in Athens.

He described his spiritual awakening in a letter:

I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingnes of the wisdom of the princes of this world.
Following the advice of his sister, St. Macrina, Basil became a monk. He traveled to Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia to learn asceticism. To practice asceticism is to put one’s the body at the service of the spirit. He gave away his wealth to the poor. Then along with several family members he began to live a life devoted to piety and charitable works on his family estate in Pontus. Shortly after he was joined by Gregory Nazianzen.

St. Basil was ordained a priest by Eusebius of Caesarea in 365. Basil and Gregory spent the next few years using their rhetorical skills to fight against the Arian heresy. They beat Arian theologians in public debates presided over by representatives of the Emperor Valens.

In 370, St. Basil succeeded Eusebius as the Bishop of Caesarea. During a time of famine and drought, Basil gave away his family’s inheritance to the poor and built a large complex called the Basiliad just outside Caesarea which included a poorhouse, hospice and a hospital. The Basiliad was built on land donated by Valens who was impressed by him, but also banished him several times in order to try to make Basil compromise on matters of faith, which he never did.

He could be found at the Basiliad wearing an apron and feeding the hungry. He urged his followers to Give your last loaf to the beggar at your door, and trust in God's goodness. Though he was strong in denouncing sin he was equally zealous in proclaiming a message of God’s mercy to sinners. His letters show that he worked among thieves and prostitutes to win their conversion. One could imagine St. Basil addressing the following words to them:

Be aware of God's compassion, that it heals with oil and wine. Do not lose hope of salvation. Remember what is written--the one who falls shall rise again, and the one who turns away shall turn again, the wounded is healed, the one caught by wild beasts escapes, the one who confesses is not rejected.

For the Lord does not want the sinner to die, but to return and live.

There is still time for endurance, time for patience, time for healing, time for change. Have you slipped? Rise up. Have you sinned? Cease. Do not stand among sinners, but leap aside. For when you turn away and weep, then you will be saved.

He warned priests not to be tempted by wealth and a relatively easy life. He personally took on the task of making sure that only worthy candidates would be ordained as priests. St. Basil admonished public officials to pursue justice.

St. Basil suffered from a disease of the liver and his ascetical practices probably shortened his life. He died at the age of 49.

Many of his writings are still in existence including many of his homilies, letters and theological works The most important being On the Holy Spirit which he wrote to prove the Divinity of the Holy Spirit.

St. Basil’s letters reveal a personality that was optimistic, tender and even playful at times, despite health problems, unrest in the Church.

Here is a link to a beautiful homily by St. Basil the Great on the Feast of the Epiphany which we celebrate on Sunday:

St. Basil’s friend St. Gregory Nazianzen became the bishop of Constantinople. St. Gregory won many hearts to the faith through his preaching. He preached so well that he made is enemies angry. A young man planned to kill him, but at the last moment repented of his sin and asked for Gregory’s forgiveness which he gave willingly.

44 of Gregory’s speeches and 243 letters and many of his poems are still in existence today. St. Gregory Nazianzen died in 390 at the age of 60.


Andrew said...


rogers said...

Thanks for this material on abortion quotes from history.
I'm writing a children's book series on St. Nicholas.
I am a Protestant, trying to write him as he was in history.
Is there any possibiity that you could help me with information on things like his clothing?

Fr. Peter West said...

I think that, since St. Nichlas was the Bishop of Myra in present day Turkey, he would have wore the attire of a Catholic bishop, which is probably the origin of the red suit that "Santa Claus" is usually portrayed as wearing.

I recommend that you look at the website of the St. Nicholas Center for more information:

Anonymous said...

Fr. West,

Great history lesson -- thanks for your efforts!