New Testament Bible Class

Roman vs. Christian Treatment of Children

From http://www.geocities.com/christiancadre/member_contrib/cp_infanticide.html  (“Christian Cadre” stands for Christian Colligation of Apologetics Debate Research & Evangelism)  Colligation is “ the state of being joined together”. 

From its earliest creeds, Christians “absolutely prohibited” infanticide as “murder.” Stark, at 124. To Christians, the infant had value. Whereas pagans placed no value on infant life, Christians treated them as human beings. They viewed infanticide as the murder of a human being, not a convenient tool to rid society of excess females and perceived weaklings. The baby, whether male, female, perfect, or imperfect, was created in the image of God and therefore had value.

So long as Christianity remained a disfavored–and sometimes persecuted–religion, their appeals to the pagan government to act against infanticide were ineffectual in changing government policy. Even so, Christians worked against infanticide by prohibiting its members from practicing it, voicing their moral view on infanticide to the pagan world, and by providing for the relief of the poor and actually taking in and supporting babies which had been left to die by exposure by their pagan parents. As Fox explains, “to the poor, the widows and orphans, Christians gave alms and support, like the synagogue communities, their forerunners. This ‘brotherly love’ has been minimized as a reason for turning to the Church, as if only those who were members could know of it. In fact, it was widely recognized.” Fox, op. cit., page 324. According to Durant, “in many instances Christians rescued exposed infant, baptized them, and brought them up with the aid of community funds.” Durant, op. cit., page 598. Christians worked to diminish some of the causes of infanticide.

Immediately after his conversion, Constantine–the first Christian Emperor–enacted two measures targeting the problem of infanticide: 1) Constantine provided funds out of the imperial treasury for parents over burdened with children; and 2) Constantine gave all the rights of property of exposed infants to those who saved and supported them. But more generally, Constantine broadened the scope of imperial charity and provided assistance for the poor and needy. “He also acknowledged the new ideal of charity. Previous emperors had encouraged schemes to support small numbers of children in less favored families, the future recruits for their armies. Constantine gave funds to the churches to support the poor, the widow and orphans.” And according to Robin L. Fox, the church used those funds for charity. “Swollen by the Emperor’s gifts, it helped the old, the infirm, and the destitute.” Fox, op. cit., page 668.

Although the church, with the assistance of the government, was working to address many of the causes of infanticide, it continued to pressure Rome for a ban on infanticide. Bishop Basil of Caesarea argued persistently and persuasively for such a ban. Finally, he convinced Emperor Valentinian (364-375 CE)–a Christian–to outlaw the practice of infanticide in the Roman Empire. Finally, infanticide was banned.

The following information is from the website http://www.pobronson.com/factbook/pages/198.html which drew its information from A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, by A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), pp. 104-106.

“An infant could be abandoned without penalty or social stigma for many reasons, including an anomalous appearance, being an illegitimate child or grandchild or a child of infidelity, family poverty, parental conflict (ob discordiam parentum) or being one of too many children. Sometimes there were given to friends, but more often than not they were abandoned to the elements, and death resulted from hypoglycemia and hypothermia. Sometimes the infant was devoured by the dogs that scavenged public places. It was likely however, that the expositi were rescued from these fates and picked up by slavers. Abandonment generally occurred in a public place, where it was hoped that the infant could be taken up by some wealthy person. A well-traveled street called the Velabrum, where oil and cheese merchants worked, and the vegetable market in the Forum (Olitorium), with columna lactaria, or nursing columns, were two favored locations for placing sucklings. Such an infant was considered a res vacantes (an unclaimed thing) and legally could be claimed. If picked up by wealthy persons, the child could become a slave, a play companion for another child, a pet (delicia), or a prostitute; it could be sold for begging purposes after mutilation or become a truly adopted child, a treasured alumnus. Most adoptions, however, were not of abandoned infants but of a close relative, a propinquus, because adoption commonly was used for purposes of succession or inheritance, to keep wealth within a biological family.”

It wasn’t really until Christianity took hold that things changed for Roman children. Christianity taught that children were gifts from God, and therefore harm to a child was a violation of God’s will. Gradually, Christian Roman emperors increased the penalties for abandoning children, they limited the number of years a child could be enslaved to five years.

And from another site for which I forgot to copy and paste the link.  Sorry

Around the time Christianity was taking hold, attitudes towards this method of destroying unwanted life were changing. The poor had to get rid of their unwanted children because they couldn’t afford them, but they had not been allowed to sell them formally, so instead, they were leaving them to die or to be used to economic advantage by other families. The first Christian emperor, Constantine, in A.D. 313, authorized the sale of the infants [”Child-Exposure in the Roman Empire,” by W. V. Harris. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 84. (1994), pp. 1-22.]. While selling one’s children seems horrible to us, the alternative had been death or slavery: in the one case, worse, and in the other, the same, so sale of infants offered some hope, especially since in Roman society some slaves could hope to buy their freedom. Even with legal permission to sell one’s offspring, exposure didn’t end overnight, but by about 374, it had been legally forbidden.

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