by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
“On the morning of the first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, suddenly, Jesus stood among them and said: ‘Peace be with you,’ alleluia.”
— Antiphon, Evening Prayer, Easter Sunday.
In the twelfth chapter of the twenty-second book of the City of God, St. Augustine gives us a remarkably up-to-date objection to the resurrection of the body, one that might be of rather unsettling concern to many of our contemporaries. “It is the habit of the pagans to subject our belief in a bodily resurrection to a scrupulous examination and to ridicule it with such questions as, ‘What about abortions?’” Augustine tells us. “’Will they rise again?’ … Now we are not going to say that those infants (who die early) will not rise again: for they are capable not only of being born, but also of being reborn.” All persons capable of being born are capable of being reborn.
The fact that a significant percentage of the actual human race, though conceived, are not born, does not mean those unborn do not have the same destiny and purpose of those born. The pagan assumption is, of course, that, while those once born may perhaps rise again, surely not those who were never born but were instead aborted. In our time, the number of those who were not born but aborted, on a world wide scale, is simply staggering—around forty to fifty million a year at a minimum. Yet, these too participate in the same end designed for all of us.
Contemporary pagans and others usually do not give aborted infants the honor even of worrying themselves about the final status of such infants. Or of considering their final status as participators, directly or indirectly, in decisions and actions that terminate actual lives. But it is quite clear in this regard that the eternal status of aborted children is not a frivolous issue if their claim to humanness is as solid as that of anyone else, which it is.
Why bring up at this time the same issue of aborted children brought up by the pagans in Augustine’s time? It is standard biological and Church teaching, on the basis of evidence, that an individual human life begins at conception. However lightly we want to dance around this fact, it remains true. Everyone who ever came forth out of the womb had his beginning in the union of a male and female element. This new life is not “part” of the mother, nor is it unnatural to her body. That is where it belongs.
Moreover, aborted babies and babies who die in the womb before birth have the same destiny as the mother who carries them and the father who begot them. What it is to be a human being begins here. Mortal life ends with death, whenever that occurs, be it by abortion at five months, be it by miscarriage at six months, be it by sickness at three years, heart attack at thirty, or Parkinson’s disease at ninety-five.
Now none of these human beings, however or whenever his death might occur, is caused solely by his parents or by himself. The ultimate origin of each human person is within the Godhead itself, within the Trinity. Our initial origin is in the image of God in which our very possibility must first exist. This origin too is why we are all related to one another in our very being. To be a person is to be related to others. Our dependence on one another is based on trues of one another. And this trust must be freely accepted. In this sense, all abortions are a violation of a truest that is ultimately rooted in that Trinitarian life in which we are to participate in God’s grace.
Easter is our central feast, our fundamental doctrine. “If Christ be not risen,” Paul says, “our faith is in vain.” We grant that logic. That Christ rose from the dead is known to us because the fact of it was observed by certain definite witnesses. They did not invent what they saw, but, with some astonishment, reported what they went on. They were neither liars nor ideologues. They were not wishful thinkers or deluded mystics. Hard headed fishermen and a tax collector, among others, were among them. Many of them died for their testimony.
But when the Apostles were gathered together behind closed doors, they were in fact being cautious. What they were claiming in public was in its day not “politically correct.” They were testifying to the fact of the resurrection of Christ. Christ did not break down the doors to lead them out on a triumphant, overwhelming conquest. Rather, He appeared among them. He told them to be at peace. I bring this Easter passage up to remind us that even the aborted children are at peace. Even if their lives were unjustly cut off, God’s grace is sufficient for them to reach the end for which they were initially created as images of God.
The real drama of the aborted babies of our time, or any other time, concerns rather those who aborted them. To remind our contemporaries of their responsibility in this area is perhaps one often reasons that Benedict XVI speaks so often and so earnestly of final judgment. No human act is finally complete unless and until it is judged. Everything is done to keep the reality of abortions, what is actually done, from our eyes. They are in fact “behind closed doors.” But they bring no peace unless they are repented, and even then they unsettle our souls with the knowledge that members of our kind could justify such things.
And yet, Christ’s resurrection is an assurance that each of us, including those whose lives we cut short, will rise again, first to judgment. The assurance of that fact is this: When Christ appeared to the frightened Apostles after the resurrection, He told them that His peace was with them. Easter is indeed the Day the Lord hath made. This is why we can rejoice and be glad. It is not because whatever we do, including killing our kind as infants, makes no difference, but because it does matter. The peace follows the judgment of how we receive the give of the image of God in which we are all, from conception to death, created.
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things(Ignatius Press, 2007).
His new book, The Modern Age, is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his website.