Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Galatians 5:6 "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing,
nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity"

Philippians 3:3 "For we are the circumcision, who in spirit serve God;
and glory in Christ Jesus, not having confidence in the flesh."

What is a page on circumcision doing on a Catholic site? Because it's important for Catholics to be very clear about the Church's thoughts on the matter.

First, the Church's thoughts:

From the document, "Cantate Domino" (A.D. 1442), signed by Pope Eugene IV, from the 11th session of the Council of Florence (A.D. 1439, a continuation of the Council of Basle, A.D. 1431, and the Council of Ferrara, A.D. 1438) :

[The Holy Roman Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the Old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our Lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the Passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ's passion until the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation. Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the [Jewish] sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors. Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.

The most recent catechism is just as clear:

2297 ...Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.

Bottom line: there is no reason rooted in Catholic teaching to support non-therapeutic circumcision.

Circumcision is done routinely in the American West, as though it were almost a "given"; a boy is born, cleaned up, circumcized, and sent home. In the rest of the West, this isn't so, and most Western male children are not circumcized; people from Italy, Scandinavia, Germany, Brazil, etc. are amazed at the prevalence of circumcision of Christian babies in America and, rightfully, find it odd indeed. Thankfully, Americans are catching up with their Western brothers and are refusing circumcision. In 1960, over 80% of American men were circumcized, but between 1987 and 1996, "only" 37% of newborn males were circumcised during their hospitalization as newborns.

Given that the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society, the Canadian Paediatric Society, among others, don't see value in routine circumcision, how'd it happen that the American Christian parents of male children were for so long actively encouraged by the medical establishment to have their sons undergo a medically needless, excrutiatingly painful, Jewish ceremonial rite? Why were even adult Catholic men encouraged to undergo circumcision when they joined the Army during World War II? How, in Victorian times, did circumcision come to be seen as a cure for solitary sexual sins when studies on the topic have shown the exact opposite desired effect -- a positive corellation between circumcision and the sin of Onan? I leave those questions for you to research.

To those who love to remind us that Jesus was circumcized: first, the Old Law has passed away, fulfilled in the New; Baptism has replaced circumcision. Roma locuta est (and besides, we recall Christ's circumcision each and every 1 January, so you're telling Catholics nothing new). Second, while Jesus was circumcized in obedience to the Law and as a foreshadowing of His shedding His Blood at Calvary, He did not undergo the procedure that is used by modern, post-Temple Jews and by doctors in Western hospitals today.

The Biblical rite of circumcision, called brit milah (or brith milah or bris milah), entailed the trimming of just the very tip of the foreskin, only that amount that could be pulled down over the tip of the glans. It did not destroy the entire foreskin, it did not affect normal sexual functioning, it was not the brutal rite that baby boys undergo today. The procedure was so less intrusive than what is now practiced that many practitioners of the Old Testament religion could, by pulling on the foreskin that remained, easily make themselves appear to be uncircumcized -- and many did (1 Machabees 1:11-15, 1 Corinthians 7:18). Around A.D. 140 -- that is, around 110 years after Christ rose from the dead, and around 70 years after the Temple was destroyed -- rabbis reacted to those men who did this and instituted two procedures to follow brit milah. Thereafter, a brit peri'ah and a brit mezizah were to be performed on the child after the Biblical rite. All of these procedures are described like this in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia:

The child having been placed upon a pillow resting upon the lap of the godfather or "sandek" (he who is honored by being assigned to hold the child), the mohel [the circumcizer] exposes the parts by removal of garments, etc., and instructs the sandek how to hold the child's legs. The mohel then grasps the prepuce between the thumb and index-finger of his left hand, exerting sufficient traction to draw it from the glans, and places the shield in position just before the glans. He now takes his knife and with one sweep excises the foreskin. This completes the first act. The knife most commonly used is double-edged, although one like those ordinarily used by surgeons is also often employed. [Ed. This is where the Biblical procedure ends. What follows is from the Pharisees' Talmud.]

After the excision has been completed, the mohel seizes the inner lining of the prepuce, which still covers the glans, with the thumb-nail and index-finger of each hand, and tears it so that he can roll it fully back over the glans and expose the latter completely. The mohel usually has his thumb-nail suitably trimmed for the purpose. In exceptional cases the inner lining of the prepuce is more or less extensively adherent to the glans, which interferes somewhat with the ready removal; but persistent effort will overcome the difficulty.

By this is meant the sucking of the blood from the wound. The mohel takes some wine in his mouth and applies his lips to the part involved in the operation, and exerts suction, after which he expels the mixture of wine and blood into a receptacle provided for the purpose. This procedure is repeated several times, and completes the operation, except as to the control of the bleeding and the dressing of the wound.

A Jewish izmel used in circumcision

In modern Western hospitals, it is not the simple, Biblical brit milah that is performed, which is against Church teaching enough given that the Old Law is finished; after that Biblical trimming of the foreskin, the Pharisees' Brit Peri'ah is then carried out -- not with fingernails and clumsy knives, but with either a Gomco Clamp or a Plastibell, and scalpels -- and little or no anesthesia.

If you are over 18, see these black and white line drawings of the differences between Biblical circumcision (brit milah) and brit per'iah. You will also find there information for new parents on caring for the uncircumcized penis.

I implore parents to not mindlessly, routinely circumcize their sons. Reserve the procedure for valid medical reasons (circumcision under such circumstances having been always allowed by the Church). Study this issue and learn about the medical, psychological, and sexual ramifications of this highly invasive and painful procedure. Dispel the malicious myths about "hygiene" and "aesthetics." If you are a healthy, faithful Catholic, the decision about circumcision has already been made for you by the Church, as far back as the New Testament Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21).

I Corinthians 7:18
Is any man called, being circumcised? let him not procure uncircumcision. Is any man called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
And, again, the Catechism prohibits it:
2297: ... Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.

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