When I was asked to review Dennis R. Di Mauro's book,
A Love for Life: Christianity's Consistent Protection of the Unborn, my first thought was, "Why a book about Christian teachings regarding abortion, or the sanctity of life?" I must, in the interest of full disclosure, admit to a strong bias in favor of the unborn. I am prejudiced; I have prejudged the issue and made my conclusion. I am a husband, father, pastor and inactive member of the bar. And yes, I thought I knew it all, until I read the book. After pondering the current political and cultural landscape of America (my political awareness having been banished to the state of denial for the past several months), I realized that now, more than ever, we have to have books to present us with the most basic teachings of the scriptures and the church, because we won't hear the message
of life from most Protestant and some Roman Catholic pulpits, and we certainly can't expect such a perspective from the majority of the mass media (Fox News, talk radio and the Internet excepted.) As with basic Christianity, we cannot expect the culture to teach the Lord's lessons on Life. Especially because of today's political landscape, with the president of the United States of America having supported partial birth abortion while in the Illinois state legislature, and now promoting a health care reform bill that includes provisions for abortions and judging the value of people's lives as they age, such a book as this is necessary. In light of the fact that this same president was invited to speak and receive an honorary degree at the Roman Catholic University of Notre Dame, in spite of the official teachings of the Roman Magisterium regarding the sanctity of life, this book is necessary. Not to put too much blame upon Roman Catholics, but the fact that, according to Joseph Bottum at
First Things (The Public Square, June/July 2009, issue 194, p. 63), 54% of Roman Catholics admitted voting for Barak Obama, indicates that perhaps even in a church that is so theologically and culturally identified with the pro-life movement this book is necessary.
A Love for Life apparently is a publication of Mr. Di Mauro's doctoral thesis in church history for the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. At the time of publication, Mr. Di Mauro was also secretary of the National Pro-life Religious Council and president of Northern Virginia Lutherans for Life. He is unashamedly a Christian, and in his introducton states clearly that he writes for those who are culturally and theologically confused by the rhetoric of church and state politics, and the exposure we all have to the "culture" (emphasis mine) that comes from the media outlets available today. He then proceeds with his presentation of Jewish and Christian thought and scriptures through the first five chapters spanning a timeline from before Christ through the 1950s. Chapter 6 is devoted to a discussion of pro-abortion positions (to be fair, Mr. Di Mauro uses the term "pro-choice") that have arisen in American Christian thought. In chapter 7, one finds a brief review of the upheavals in several denominations as well as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches regarding abortion. Chapter 8 presents a statistical summary of various churches and denominations from which Mr. Di Mauro concludes that 72% of the world's Christians are pro-life. Chapter 9 is Mr. DiMauro's conclusion where he calls for all Christians to join with God the Father, who is, as he says, "100% pro-life," to take courage and speak the truth in love and walk the walk of the sanctity of life. Mr. Di Mauro also provides two appendices. The first has selections from primary documents from various modern church conventions and resolutions that indicate the current status of that church's official teachings on abortion. The second appendix is a list of Member Organizations of the National Pro-Life Religious Council. There is also a good working index. Those clergy and laymen involved in the pro-life movement will find this book refreshing and encouraging. First and foremost, Mr. Di Mauro provides a broad survey of scripture from the TANAK and the Bible, a review of early Jewish and Christian thought and a roll call of theologians and church leaders through the Protestant Reformation and Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation. The pro-life foundation of Jewish and Christian scripture and thought are undeniable. Furthermore, Mr. Di Mauro honestly describes how most of American religious teachings through the early 1960's were pro-life. During the past half-century, it is easy to forget these facts, or not to have been exposed to that truth at all. Mr. Di Mauro provides us with a strong taste of the wealth of wisdom and teaching by the Church's great minds over the centuries. Mr. Di Mauro's conclusion is that the vast majority of Christian teaching and doctrine is pro-life. He also claims that 72% of all Christians live out their faith within the pro-life current of the faith. And that is comforting to know for those whose position is pro-life. While the scope of this book covers centuries of thought within its 147 pages, Mr. Di Mauro does demonstrate some weakness in his scholarship, and could spend more time developing some of his conclusions. Some statements, such as that Republicans take a predominately pro-life view, while the Democrats take mostly a "pro-choice" position is mostly true, yet there are quite a few "Rockefeller Republicans" who buck their party's platform on this issue, just as there are conservative Democrats who are staunchly pro-life. Such a broad generalization can be accepted, though perhaps a discussion of party platforms would not lead to a false conclusion that "all Republicans are pro-life." The more serious difficulty with Mr. Di Mauro's scholarship regarding the traditions of the Church's teachings cannot be so easily tracked down by a review of the congressional voting record. The fact is Mr. Di Mauro apparently relies almost exclusively on secondary sources or other authors for his presentations of fact, argument and quotation. This is not a charge of plagiarism. For those who want a good source for thought and commentary by eminent theologians of the past regarding teachings on this subject, as well as a discussion of the claims of those who promote a pro-abortion view within the Christian tradition, this would not be a problem. Mr. Di Mauro's down-to-earth writing style would certainly not put off anyone who is the least bit allergic to "scholarly tomes." Those who do not accept Mr. Di Mauro's arguments, however, and even those who do, should be concerned that Mr. Di Mauro's secondary sources are correct in their translations or quotations. For example, Mr. Di Mauro relies heavily in his research upon a book by Michael Gorman entitled
Abortion and the Early Church. (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock publishers, 1998). Mr. Di Mauro, on page 3, cites Mr. Gorman for the proposition that, "It was a given of Jewish thought and life that abortion, like exposure, was unacceptable, and this was well known in the ancient world." (Gorman, pp. 33-34). To back up this statement, Mr. Di Mauro then quotes the
Sibylline Oracles, Jewish apocalyptic writings from the first and second centuries, B.C., as stating, "These women, ‘having burdens in the womb[,] produce [d] abortions; and their offspring [were] cast unlawfully away.'" Mr. Di Mauro's citation for this supportive source is not the
Oracles, but Mr. Gorman. Indeed, the rest of Mr. Di Mauro's citations for other Jewish sources on page 3 are from Mr. Gorman's book. This type of intellectual bootstrapping occurs throughout the book. In chapter 3, on page 11, Mr. Di Mauro gives a quotation from Clement of Alexandria from Clement's book,
The Tutor, and it is a very powerful quotation speaking of the theological, moral and psychological problems of abortion for women. Where is this quote found, even in translation, in this interesting work called
The Tutor? Once again we need to consult Mr. Gorman, for this quotation is actually out of his book
Abortion and the Early Church on pages 52-53. Another problem with Mr. Di Mauro's use of sources arises from technological advancements in storing our heritage not on pages of vellum but on CD-ROM. A citation to a writing by Minucius Felix in "The Octavius" is apparently found in
The Early Church Fathers on CD-ROM. (Salem, OR: Harmony Media, Inc., 2000), but where? Presumably, one uses a word search to locate these sources in the computer, but for those of us still using quill pens, a book and page number would be helpful. These issues of scholarship are raised only to say that, for someone truly skeptical of Mr. Di Mauro's assertions, they could argue that he has not the Greek, Hebrew or Latin language skills to read the original sources, or that his interpreters whom he chooses have made incorrect assumptions or misunderstood the language of the original sources. And some of the information regarding church denominations is not always correct, judging by the information he has put together on the Episcopal Church. For example, on pages 72-76, Mr. Di Mauro gives a good account of the pro-life efforts of Episcopalians still in The Episcopal Church (TEC), but includes the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC) in his discussion. A quick check to the website of CEC at
www.cechome.com will lead one to the CEC's statement that they have never been a part of TEC or in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Mr. Di Mauro also overlooks a significant number of Continuing Anglican churches that have developed over the last 40 years, groups that are generally pro-life. While admittedly the roster of the TEC is of little interest to most Americans, one hopes that the other denominational discussions in this book have been more carefully vetted. While there are minor issues of scholarship with
A Love for Life, Mr. Di Mauro clearly provides an informative overview of cultural thought through the centuries regarding differing societies' views on life for the pre-born. Mr. Di Mauro provides a chilling and fascinating picture of Roman society, where children are aborted as inconvenient for the family probate plans. His review of the term
pharmakeia from the Septuagint provides great insight into a term with the usual connotation of "merely" witchcraft, and which actually involved the production of abortifacients. His presentation of the trajectory of thought in light of medical progress regarding the question of just when a foetus is "ensouled" and thereby subject to civil protections is the essential background needed to understand how pro-abortion writers such as Marquette Professor Daniel C. Maguire can claim abortion can be a moral, political and even sacred choice. One is struck by the similarities to the issues in our modern world where abortion for inconvenient children by RU 488 is governmentally approved along with partial birth abortion. The echoes of Clement and Mr. Di Mauro's study of the penitential sentences provides a stark insight into the dehumanizing of women into believing they are goddesses with gnosis by people who wish to eliminate the guilt and shame of abortion through liturgies in communal celebration of an abortion. We know again that there is nothing new under the sun (or Son?).
A Love for Life provides a much needed resource for anyone who's concerned or confused by the arguments made by those who claim that the Holy Scriptures and the Church's teachings and traditions support abortion as a moral choice. Mr. Di Mauro does a fine job of pulling together from the vast material written over the centuries to give an overview of this hot topic of today when 4000 babies are being aborted each day in America. This book is recommended to anyone who wants to go beyond catechisms or church resolutions to understand the Culture of Life in modern society. Above all, Mr. Di Mauro leaves us with the challenge to walk the walk through the support of abortion alternatives such as adoption, the social and moral support for women facing unplanned pregnancies, and through forgiveness for those who have participated in abortion. Mr. Di Mauro rightly reminds us all that this is ultimately about our walk with Christ reflecting his love for us all.
The Rev. James M. Guill
practiced law for 13 years before entering seminary and becoming the pastor of a small Anglo-Catholic parish in Nashville, Tennessee.
© May 2010
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 10, Issue 5