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Both ancient Greek thought and ancient Jewish thought are considered to have affected early Christian thought about abortion. According to Bakke and Clarke &Linzey, early Christians adhered to Aristotle's belief in delayed ensoulment, and consequently did not see abortion before ensoulment as homicide. Lars Østnor says this view was only "presaged" by Augustine, who belongs to a period later than that of early Christianity. According to David Albert Jones, this distinction appeared among Christian writers only in the late fourth and early fifth century, while the earlier writers made no distinction between formed and unformed, a distinction explicitly rejected by 4th-century Saint Basil of Caesarea, who also, though earlier than Saint Augustine, does not belong to the early-Christianity period. While the Hebrew text of the Bible only required a fine for the loss of a fetus, whatever its stage of development, the Jewish Septuagint translation, which the early Christians used, introduced a distinction between a formed and an unformed fetus and treated destruction of the former as murder. It has been commented that "the LXX (Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint) could easily have been used to distinguish human from non-human fetuses and homicidal from non-homicidal abortions, yet the early Christians, until the time of Augustine in the fifth century, did not do so."

The view of early Christians on the moment of ensoulment is also said to have been not the Aristotelian, but the Pythagorean:

As early as the time of Tertullian in the third century, Christianity had absorbed the Pythagorean Greek view that the soul was infused at the moment of conception. Though this view was confirmed by St. Gregory of Nyssa a century later, it would not be long before it would be rejected in favour of the Septuagintal notion that only a formed fetus possessed a human soul. While Augustine speculated whether "animation" might be present prior to formation, he determined that abortion could only be defined as homicide once formation had occurred. Nevertheless, in common with all early Christian thought, Augustine condemned abortion from conception onward.

Scholars generally agree that abortion was performed in the classical world, but there is disagreement about the frequency with which abortion was performed and which cultures influenced early Christian thought on abortion. Some writers point to the Hippocratic Oath as evidence that condemnation of abortion was not a novelty introduced by the early Christians. Some writers state that there is evidence that some early Christians believed, as the Greeks did, in delayed ensoulment, or that a fetus does not have a soul until quickening, and therefore early abortion was not murder; Luker says there was disagreement on whether early abortion was wrong. Other writers say that early Christians considered abortion a sin even before ensoulment. According to some, the magnitude of the sin was, for the early Christians, on a level with general sexual immorality or other lapses; according to others, they saw it as "an evil no less severe and social than oppression of the poor and needy". The society in which Christianity expanded was one in which abortion, infanticide and exposition were commonly used to limit the number of children (especially girls) that a family had to support. These methods were often used also when a pregnancy or birth resulted from sexual licentiousness, including marital infidelity, prostitution and incest, and Bakke holds that these contexts cannot be separated from abortion in early Christianity. Johannes M. Röskamp agrees that one reason for Christian disapproval of abortion was that it was linked with attempts to conceal adultery, but stresses that the main reason was the "all new concept" of concern for the fetus, which, Michael J. Gorman declares, "distinguishes the Christian position from all pagan disapproval of abortion".


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