Context, Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi’s people say that she’s studied the Fathers on abortion, and takes all her inspiration from St. Augustine. They said it was “On Exodus”, but that’s not what you want to look for. What you want is Quaestionum in Heptateuchum. Liber 2 is Quaestiones in Exodum. Go to Section 80. It’s about Genesis 21:22-25 — but a different version from the usual one.

(Btw, did I mention that cool Section 1 at the very beginning of Book 2? The one about how it was okay for the midwife to lie to Pharaoh, because it helped save babies’ lives and was no skin off Pharaoh’s nose? No, you want to hear Section 80….)

Okay…. Prepare for yet another incredibly ugly and incompetent Latin translation, courtesy of me! But hey, if I mess up enough, the Latinists will come out to tell me what I did wrong. (UPDATE: I’ve moved the bulk of St. Augustine’s Latin down to the bottom of the post, but it’s still available for factchecking.)


Utrum quod in utero formatum adhuc est, animatum posset intellegi.

(Whether what is already formed in the womb can be understood as ensouled.)


First, the Bible part. Literally, the Latin quote from the version of Exodus that St. Augustine is using says: “If two men quarrel, and they strike what a woman’s womb is holding, and her infant not yet shaped should come out (be miscarried, or be born prematurely)

The middle part isn’t quoted. (Not unusual, in the Fathers. They quote only what they’re talking about.) Then the Latin goes on to say: “…the damages permitted will be as much as the woman’s husband announces, and he will give it at request.

Augustine’s commentary goes on from there:


To me it seems that this is said for some cause of significance; more is done than what this kind of Scripture seems to be busy with. For if only that were being paid attention to, a struck pregnant woman would not be forced into miscarriage (abortum), two quarreling men would not be provided when by one it could be done and admitted that he would quarrel by this same woman — or would not even quarrel, but would do willing harm to another’s posterity. It [Scripture] thus truly did not will homicide to be extended to an unformed newborn, because surely what is so carried in the womb is not classified as a man.

Here the question of the soul is accustomed to stir: whether what is not formed can indeed be understood as not ensouled; and therefore that it is not homicide, because it can be said not yet to have been determined whether it did not have a soul yet.

Following that, it says: “Si autem formatum fuerit, dabit animam pro anima.”

[“But if it was formed, he will give life for life.” Literally, “breath for breath” or “soul for soul”.]

Whereby what else is understood, except that he himself would die?

For in this and in the others it now instructs on this occasion: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” — clearly the justice of retaliation.

That Law therefore is set up so that it demonstrates what vengeance is owed. Namely, if it is not understood through the Law what is owed by vengeance, from which it is understood what was relaxed by pardon, how can it be said: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors“?

Therefore, debtors are shown through the Law, so that as much is seen to be pardoned as is forgiven. Namely, neither are we forgiven debts, unless we did discern by the sign what is owed to the Law.

If, therefore, this newborn was still formless as yet, but already ensouled in a formless way (because the great question of the soul is not thrown down, unpleaded, by rash opinion), therefore the Law does not will that it be extended to homicide, because a live soul cannot yet be said to be in this body that lacks feeling, if such is in flesh not yet formed and therefore not yet gifted with senses.

But it also said: “And he will give it at request” — what the woman’s husband decided would be given for the removed formless one — is not to be understood easily. “Asioma“, of course – what the Greek holds — is understood in many ways, and more tolerably is said “at request” than if it were understood another way.

Indeed, perhaps he will demand what he should give; so that in this way, he does something adequate for God’s sake, even if the woman’s husband should not ask it.


First of all, notice that it’s a question of accidental manslaughter, not intentional murder or intentional abortion.

Notice the humble “if” and “whether”. St. Augustine is eager to grapple with the fascinating question of ensoulment, but he shies away from definitely saying the soul is not there. All he is saying is that it’s impossible to say, given what was known to him and his time, whether or not the soul’s there when the senses aren’t yet. Also that, since the Israelites couldn’t tell for sure whether the unborn child had a soul, it wasn’t quite fair to make someone pay soul for soul. (In his opinion. Being careful to avoid “rash opinion” or overly certain pronouncements.)

He says this based on a Bible translation not the same as that used by modern scholars; so there’s another factor.

Furthermore, the whole thing should make us more careful not to offend God, more eager to be more forgiving than the Law — but at the same time, the offender should pay more than the Law requires, of his own accord. Everyone should be in awe of our forgiving but just God.

None of this is considered in Nancy Pelosi’s interpretation.

(Especially not the mendacious, baby-saving midwife in Section 1.)

Btw, here’s a good modern take on the wording of this Bible passage.

UPDATE: Father Z has a good reference on St. Augustine and abortion which, among other things, explains a lot about the Bible wording that St. A used above. Basically, he was working off the Septuagint version in Greek, which apparently translated “harmed” as “formed” and “unharmed” as “unformed”. Everybody working off the Greek, and the Latin translation of the Greek, assume that the Bible was talking about the age of the fetus rather than whether the premature baby got hurt in the process. Ooops.

UPDATE AGAIN: I guess my translation wasn’t hideously inaccurate, as Fr. Z has very kindly linked and reposted it in a post encouraging bloggers to keep passing on the truth about this issue. Had I known he was going to repost it, I wouldn’t have moved things around so much when I updated. Hope I haven’t confused people too much!


St. Augustine in his own words, moved down here for readers’ convenience:

80. (21, 22-25) Si autem litigabunt duo viri, et percusserint mulierem in utero habentem, et exierit infans eius nondum formatus; detrimentum patietur, quantum indixerit vir mulieris, et dabit cum postulatione.

Mihi videtur significationis alicuius causa dici haec, magis quam Scripturam circa huiusmodi facta occupatam. Nam si illud attenderet, ne praegnans mulier percussa in abortum compelleretur, non poneret duos litigantes viros, cum possit et ab uno hoc admitti, qui cum ipsa muliere litigaverit, vel etiam non litigaverit, sed alienae posteritati nocere volendo id fecerit. Quod vero non formatum puerperium noluit ad homicidium pertinere, profecto nec hominem deputavit quod tale in utero geritur.

Hic de anima quaestio solet agitari, utrum quod formatum non est, ne animatum quidem possit intellegi, et ideo non sit homicidium, quia nec examinatum dici potest, si adhuc animam non habebat.

Sequitur enim et dicit: Si autem formatum fuerit, dabit animam pro anima. Ubi quid aliud intellegitur, nisi, et ipse morietur? Nam hoc et in caeteris ex hac occasione iam praecipit: Oculum pro oculo, dentem pro dente, manum pro manu, pedem pro pede, combustionem pro combustione, vulnus pro vulnere, livorem pro livore: talionis videlicet aequitate. Quae Lex ideo constituit, ut demonstraret quae vindicta debeatur. Nisi enim per Legem sciretur quid vindictae deberetur, unde sciretur quid venia relaxaret, ut dici posset: Dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris? Debitores igitur Lege monstrantur, ut quando ignoscitur appareat quid dimittatur. Neque enim debita dimitteremus, nisi quid nobis deberetur Lege indice disceremus. Si ergo illud informe puerperium iam quidem fuerit, sed adhuc quodammodo informiter animatum (quoniam magna de anima quaestio non est praecipitanda indiscussae temeritate sententiae), ideo Lex noluit ad homicidium pertinere, quia nondum dici potest anima viva in eo corpore quod sensu caret, si talis est in carne nondum formata, et ideo nondum sensibus praedita. Quod autem dixit: Et dabit cum postulatione quod maritus mulieris, informi excluso, dandum constituerit, non est in promptu intellegere: quippe, quod graecus habet, pluribus modis intellegitur, et tolerabilius cum postulatione dictum est, quam si aliud diceretur. Fortassis enim postulabit ut det, ut eo modo satis Deo faciat, etiamsi maritus mulierve non expetat.


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8 responses to “Context, Pelosi.

  1. Ian

    Ma’am, I’ve no idea who you are, but I’m a graduate student in theology who labored today to find and translate this obscure bit of St. Augustine, only to discover that you’d beat me to it by 24 hours. I congratulate you.

    Ian G.
    Chicago, IL

  2. It’s easy to see where the confusion in the LXX came from. Without knowing the meaning of the Hebrew word ason, “fatal injury”, which is pretty rare (appearing only in Gen 42.4, 48; 44.29; Ex 21.22; Sir 31/34.22; 38.18; 41.9), the phrase would naturally be taken to refer to the nearest masculine nominal antecedent, “her child”, yaldeha (we should likewise note that it is called a child in the Hebrew, not something else). So the Hebrew lo yihyeh ason, “And there was no fatal injury”, was thus taken to mean “And he was not formed”, with the ason probably read as a nominal formation from the possibly cognate root asah, to heal, so, literally, “he was not a formed one.” That’s pretty sophisticated for a bunch of people without lexicons. Likewise, it points to concerns of the translators. The question was obviously on their mind.

    Great job, Maureen!!!

  3. Pingback: … and these Thy gifts … » Honoring St. Augustine (and his mom)

  4. Pingback: Quid est Veritas? » Blog Archive » What Augustine Said

  5. Mister C

    Thank you for being a light. As for your work ….quod erat demonstrandum. molto grazie

  6. Pingback: Maybe Pelosi Will Talk to Her Bishop Now « Aliens in This World

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  8. About the lying midwives, do bear in mind, the king forced midwives to be truthful, based on his own premise which, itself, was both a lie and ego fest. Further, the midwives dislayed what the Bible teaches as superior shrewdness in the face of lesser craftiness.

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