Christianity’s Contributions: Life protected (Part 3)

This month we’ve explored Christianity’s contributions to life on the planet in the specific area of protecting human life.  As we have seen, through the Church’s influence, abortion and infanticide were curbed.  Sadly, the inhumane treatment of children did not stop with those atrocities.  Child abandonment was another aspect of human life that the Church needed to address.

The Greek poet Euripides says infants were thrown in manure piles and roads, left to die of exposure, starvation, or dehydration.  Sometimes, children were even thrown into rivers to drown.  Evidently, this practice was so widespread that Greco-Roman plays even featured heroes who had been abandoned as infants yet survived and went on to do noteworthy things.  One can read about Oedipus, Poseidon, or Paris as examples of these neglected children who overcame their misfortune.

Thankfully, Christianity didn’t just offer fictional accounts of a better world for those abandoned–it offered real world help to the most helpless of all humans, newborn infants.  The Church spoke out against the practice, offered adoption to those abandoned, and eventually helped outlaw the practice entirely.

Clement of Alexandria noted that Romans protected birds yet abandoned children.  He serves as an example of the Christians who spoke out and were not silent when confronted with the horrors of the day.  Moreover, as the practice of child abandonment continued, Christians practiced what they preached–they adopted children and loved them as their own.  James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  In addition to families adopting those abandoned, the Roman government eventually put an end to the practice due to the Church’s influence.  The Christian Emperor Valentinian outlawed the practice in 374 AD.

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