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Thursday, June 12, 2014

How will children be valued if Christianity is lost?

I've written before about how modern culture takes for granted many of the values and benefits that are specifically rooted in Christianity.1 Christianity has single-handedly improved the world in multiple ways. One very clear example of that is how Christians were unique in abolishing infanticide and child abandonment.

George Grant in his book The Third Time Around  writes, "Virtually every culture in antiquity was stained with the blood of innocent children." 2 Alvin Schmidt agrees, writing:
Frederic Farrar has noted that "infanticide was infamously universal" among the Greeks and Romans during the early years of Christianity. Infants were killed for various reasons. Those born deformed or physically frail were especially prone to being willfully killed, often by drowning. Some were killed more brutally. For instance, Plutarch (ca. A.D. 46 - 120) mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, "offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan" (Moralia 2.171D). Cicero (106 - 43 B.C.) justified infanticide, at least for the deformed, by citing the ancient Twelve Tables of Roman law when he says that "deformed infants shall be killed" (De Legibus 3.8). Even Seneca (4 B.C.? - A.D. 65), whose moral philosophy was on a higher plane than that of his culture, said, "We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal" (De Ira 1.15). So common was infanticide that Polybius (205? - 118 B.C.) blamed the population decline of ancient Greece on it (Histories 6). Large families were rare in Greco-Roman society in part because of infanticide.3
Schmidt goes on to catalog that this practice wasn't reserved by the ancient near-eastern societies but that  "it was common in India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos" as well as the pagan parts of Africa until Christian missionaries reached them.4

George Grant offers a list of just some of the Christians who changed this practice, even to their own detriment. He writes:
The heroes of the faith who demonstrated the grace of Christ through such deeds of kindness during the apostolic era were legion:
  • Addai ofEdessa was one of the Apostle Thomas's earliest disciples. Sometime at the end of the first century he was sent to what is now Urfa in Iraq. There he established the church and launched innumerable evangelistic enterprises. He also was forced to confront the barbarous program of child limitation and elimination practiced in that region. Eventually, he was martyred for his refusal to temper his pro-life fulminations.
  • Benignus of Dijon was a missionary from Lyons who was martyred in Epagny in the late second century. He was renowned for his generosity and charity especially to the sick and suffering. A mob of superstitious citizens in that pre-Christian Gallic region slew him because he nursed, supported, and protected a number of deformed and crippled children that had been saved from death after failed abortions or exposures.
  • Callistus of Rome was a Christian slave who was imprisoned and sentenced to hard labor in the Sardinian quarries late in the second century after becoming involved in a scandalous financial scheme. After his release he was emancipated and put in charge of the church's shelter and cemetery on the Appian Way which still bears his name. He faithfully occupied himself with his duties-caring for the poor, comforting the bereaved, and giving refuge to the dispossessed. His compassion for abandoned children was especially noteworthy-it was Callistus that helped to organize the famed "Life Watches" that placed hundreds of exposed children into Christian homes. Eventually, he was chosen to serve as Bishop of Rome.
  • Alban of Verlamium is widely venerated as the first Christian martyr on the island of Britain. During the last few decades of the second century he offered refuge to those fleeing the persecution against the church. He succored the sick, cared for the poor, and saved abandoned children from certain death. Bede the historian records his brutal martyrdom on Holmhurst Hill after he tried to intercede on behalf of a pitiful family of refugees.
  • Late in the third century, Afra of Augsburg developed a ministry to the abandoned children of prisoners, thieves, smugglers, pirates, runaway slaves, and brigands. Herself a former prostitute, she cared for the despised and the rejected with a special fervor, taking them into her home, creating an adoption network, and sacrificing all she had-that out of her lack they might be satisfied. Ultimately, her work came under the scrutiny of the authorities, and she was martyred during the great persecution of Diocletian.
  • George of Diospolis, patron of both England and Lebanon, was a Christian soldier who gained fame after several daring rescues of children in distress. He was known as the "Dragonslayer," not so much because of exploits with rare and dangerous reptiles, but because of his willingness to snatch innocent life out of the jaws of death. Eventually, he too fell victim to Diocletian's wrath in the persecution of 304, and was beheaded in Nicomedia. Later, innumerable legends made much of his exploits-romantically associating him with damsels and dragons-but it was his willingness to risk all for the sake of the sanctity of life that earned him his place in history.
  • Barlaam of Antioch was a cobbler for the imperial forces who devoted all his free time to the care of orphans and widows in his church. Because he himself had been saved from the infanticide wall outside the city, he was especially concerned for exposed children. Even though he was not a pastor or church leader, his good deeds were so widely known that the enemies of the faith sought to have his witness silenced. During the calamitous persecution in 304, they succeeded in having him martyred.5
It is Christianity's view that every person bears the image of God that stopped the horrific practice of killing or disposing of infants. As our culture now seeks to abort Christianity from its social moral fabric, they also abort the foundation that roots the equal value of all human life. How will the weakest among us fare in such an expulsion?


1. For an extended quote on this from scholar Alvin J. Schmidt, see my previous post "The Effects of Jesus on the Western World."
2. Grant, George. The Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Pub., 1991).27-29.
3. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).49.
4. Schmidt. Ibid.
5. Grant. Ibid.27-29.

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