Tertullian (c. 160 - 240)
That the unborn child is alive:
How are they dead unless they were first alive? But still in the womb an
infant by necessary cruelty is killed when lying twisted at the womb's mouth he
prevents birth and is a matricide unless he dies. Therefore there is among the
arms of physicians an instrument by which with a rotary movement the genital
parts are first opened, then with a cervical instrument the interior members are
slaughtered with careful judgment by a blunt barb, so that the whole criminal
deed is extracted with a violent delivery. There is also the bronze needle by
which the throat - cutting is carried out by a robbery in the dark; this
instrument is called and embryo knife from its function of infanticide, as it is
deadly for the living infant.
This Hippocrates taught, and Asclepiades, and Erasistratus and Herophilus,
the dissector of adults, and the milder Soranos himself, - all of them certain
that a living being had been conceived and so deploring the most unhappy infancy
of one of this kind who had first to be killed lest a live woman be rent apart.
Of this necessity of crime, Hicesius, I believe did not doubt, as he added souls
to those being born from blows of cold air, because the word itself for "soul"
among the Greek relates to such a cooling.
- De Anima 25.5 - 6
They [John and Jesus] were both alive while still in the womb. Elizabeth
rejoiced as the infant leaped in her womb; Mary glorifies the Lord because
Christ within inspired her. Each mother recognizes her child and each is known
by her child who is alive, being not merely souls but also spirits.
- De Anima 26.4
Thus, you read the word of God, spoken to Jeremias: "Before I formed thee in
the womb, I knew thee." If God forms us in the womb, He also breathes on us as
He did in the beginning: "And God formed man and breathed into him the breath of
life." Nor could God have known man in the womb unless he were a whole man. "And
before thou camest forth from the womb, I sanctified thee." Was it, then, a dead
body at that stage? Surely it was not, for "God is the God of the living and not
- De Anima 26.5
It is not permissible for us to destroy the seed by means of illicit
manslaughter once it has been conceived in the womb, so long as blood remains in
- Apologia, cap 25, line 42
To the governors of Roman provinces and to the Emperor Septimus Severus,
defending Christianity against various charges:
'That I may refute more thoroughly these charges ['we are accused of
observing a holy rite in which we kill a little child and then eat it',
Apologia 7.1], I will show that in part openly, in part secretly, practices
prevail among you which have led you perhaps to credit similar things about us.
- Apologia 9.1
In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the
foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts
of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man -
killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or
destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one;
you have the fruit already in the seed.
- Apologia 9.6
Give us your testimony, then, ye mothers, whether yet pregnant, or after
delivery (let barren women and men keep silence), - the truth of your own nature
is in question, the reality of your own suffering is the point to be decided.
(Tell us, then,) whether you feel in the embryo within you any vital force other
than your own, with which your bowels tremble, your sides shake, your entire
womb throbs, and the burden which oppresses you constantly changes its position?
Are these movements a joy to you, and a positive removal of anxiety, as
making you confident that your infant both possesses vitality and enjoys it? Or,
should his restlessness cease, your first fear would be for him; and he would be
aware of it within you, since he is disturbed at the novel sound; and you would
crave for injurious diet, or would even loathe your food - all on his account;
and then you and he, (in the closeness of your sympathy,) would share together
your common ailments - so far that with your contusions and bruises would he
actually become marked, - whilst within you, and even on the selfsame parts of
the body, taking to himself thus peremptorily the injuries of his mother!
Now, whenever a livid hue and redness are incidents of the blood, the blood
will not be without the vital principle, or soul; or when disease attacks the
soul or vitality, (it becomes a proof of its real existence, since) there is no
disease where there is no soul or principle of life. Again, inasmuch as
sustenance by food, and the want thereof, growth and decay, fear and motion, are
conditions of the soul or life, he who experiences them must be alive. And, so,
he at last ceases to live, who ceases to experience them. And thus by and by
infants are still - born; but how so, unless they had life? For how could any
die, who had not previously lived? But sometimes by a cruel necessity, whilst
yet in the womb, an infant is put to death, when lying awry in the orifice of
the womb he impedes parturition, and kills his mother, if he is not to die
Accordingly, among surgeons' tools there is a certain instrument, which is
formed with a nicely - adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus
first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular
blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious
but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook,
wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also
(another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the
actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: they give it, from its
infanticide function, the name of ….., the slayer of the infant, which was of
Such apparatus was possessed both by Hippocrates, and Asclepiades, and
Erasistratus, and Herophilus, that dissector of even adults, and the milder
Soranus himself, who all knew well enough that a living being had been
conceived, and pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put
to death, to escape being tortured alive.
Of the necessity of such harsh treatment I have no doubt even Hicesius was
convinced, although he imported their soul into infants after birth from the
stroke of the frigid air, because the very term for soul, forsooth, in Greek
answered to such a refrigeration! Well, then, have the barbarian and Roman
nations received souls by some other process, (I wonder) for they have called
the soul by another name than ….? How many nations are there who commence life
under the broiling sun of the torrid zone, scorching their skin into its swarthy
hue? Whence do they get their souls, with no frosty air to help them? I say not
a word of those well - warmed bed - rooms, and all that apparatus of heat which
ladies in childbirth so greatly need, when a breath of cold air might endanger
their life. But in the very bath almost a babe will slip into life, and at once
his cry is heard! If, however, a good frosty air is to the soul so indispensable
a treasure, then beyond the German and the Scythian tribes, and the Alpine and
the Arguan heights, nobody ought ever to be born!
But the fact really is, that population is greater within the temperate
regions of the East and the West, and men's minds are sharper; whilst there is
not a Sarmatian whose wits are not dull and humdrum. The minds of men, too,
would grow keener by reason of the cold, if their souls came into being amidst
nipping frosts; for as the substance is, so must be its active power. Now, after
these preliminary statements, we may also refer to the case of those who, having
been cut out of their mother's womb, have breathed and retained life - your
Bacchuses and Scipios.
If, however, there be any one who, like Plato, supposes that two souls
cannot, more than two bodies could, co - exist in the same individual, I, on the
contrary, could show him not merely the co-existence of two souls in one person,
as also of two bodies in the same womb, but likewise the combination of many
other things in natural connection with the soul - for instance, of demoniacal
possession; and that not of one only, as in the case of Socrates' own
demon; but of seven spirits as in the case of the Magdalene; and of a legion in
number, as in the Gadarene.
Now one soul is naturally more susceptible of conjunction with another soul,
by reason of the identity of their substance, than an evil spirit is, owing to
their diverse natures. But when the same philosopher, in the sixth book of
The Laws, warns us to beware lest a vitiation of seed should infuse a soil
into both body and soul from an illicit or debased concubinage, I hardly know
whether he is more inconsistent with himself in respect of one of his previous
statements, or of that which he had just made. For he here shows us that the
soul proceeds from human seed (and warns us to be on our guard about it), not,
(as he had said before,) from the first breath of the new - born child.
Pray, whence comes it that from similarity of soul we resemble our parents in
disposition, according to the testimony of Cleanthes, if we are not produced
from this seed of the soul? Why, too, used the old astrologers to cast a man's
nativity from his first conception, if his soul also draws not its origin from
that moment? To this (nativity) likewise belongs the inbreathing of the soul,
whatever that is.
- De Anima 25
Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the
soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same
moment and place that the soul does" (ibid., 27).
The Law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause
abortion [Ex 21:22-24]" (ibid., 37).