As early as the middle of the first century, a treatise known as the Didache began to be circulated. The word means “teaching.” Attested in some manuscripts as the teaching of the twelve apostles, it is absolutely the teaching of an early Jewish Christian community who had compiled the work over decades on the basis of a preexisting Jewish catechetical text which spoke about “the Two Ways” for it’s opening lines, “there are two ways: one of life and one of death. There are great differences between these two ways.”
Today the Didache might be best known for what it teaches about abortion—but that’s not actually a distraction from its central teaching about God. That’s because the Jewish Christian authors were convinced that there were two, and only two, ways of viewing abortion, and they perfectly corresponded to how one responded to the command “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Those who loved God and their neighbor as themselves would fulfill the Torah — the Way of Life — not only by being merciful, guileless, long-suffering and generous, but also by abstaining from certain actions which would be contrary to the love of God and neighbor. Because life is sacred, and belongs to God, murder is contrary to the Way of Life. Because marriage is sacred, and is instituted by God as the womb of life, those who follow the Way of Life will not commit adultery. And when it came to raising children which are the fruit of marriage, they would not molest their neighbor’s children, as the Greeks did, but educate and safeguard them against evil.
These are not simply catalogs of sin. The authors of the Didache follow a logical chain to identify that which is contrary to the Way of Life. But it nevertheless sometimes surprises students that the authors conclude this chain with a powerful injunction against abortion. Because they recognized that life in the womb begins with the Creator of Life Itself, the Didache culminates this series of prohibitions by teaching that those who follow the Way of Life “must not procure abortion nor commit infanticide,” precisely because the child in the womb is your neighbor. To procure abortion, to commit infanticide is at the root of the Way of Death.
Thus those who follow the Way of Death are “persecutors of the good, haters of truth, lovers of lies” because they “have no knowledge of their Creator.” It is unthinkable that one could destroy your neighbor in the womb and love God. These are utterly incompatible. So it can only be that those who follow the Way of Death do so because they have no knowledge of their Creator. It is their hatred of God which leads them into the hatred of their neighbor in the womb, and they become “murderers of children, corrupters of God’s creation.”
This ancient 2,000 year old Jewish Christian text illuminates the whole dispute over abortion in America today. There are only two ways for us as well: the way which loves God and neighbor, and the way which has no knowledge of the Creator and so kills the neighbor in the womb.
Now one may say that they love God and support abortion, and one may say that they have no knowledge of God, and oppose abortion. But it strikes me that the authors of the Didache are less confused. For them, protecting one’s neighbor in the womb as you would yourself implies knowledge of the Creator who makes your neighbor worthy of love. Similarly, committing infanticide would manifest a hatred of the Creator that leads to death all the way down.
Today whole families will march together in defense of our smallest neighbors in the womb. School and church groups, religious orders, Jews and Catholics, protestants, and even “secularists for life” will walk together in total solidarity for life. It’s true the “secularists” are few among the half-million strong march. But I would wager that even their defense of the unborn derives from their understanding that every fetus shares our same nature, and that human nature has dignity according to its cause and end in God.
It is true that the March for Life is a protest. We oppose the unjust ruling of Roe v. Wade, and a whole raft of legislative fictions which have tried to support it. We are painfully aware of the over sixty-one million abortions — infanticides — which have been committed in sin and ignorance since 1973. But there is something far deeper than the political protest and the weight of the human cost running beneath the March for Life.
You can feel it when you are there — it’s powerful, palpable, generative, peaceful, and clear. There is something deeply celebratory about the March for Life. While it is certainly political, it runs on something prior to politics, and also something above political life. We don’t talk about it very much, but the March for Life runs on the love of neighbor. And the love of neighbor runs on the love of God. And the love of God is stronger than death. The secret of the March is that it runs on the same love that made Life Itself.