"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 1) I am
angry about this topic, and 2) I believe 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.
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.
But I do want to say this to the Judaizers 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 shadow 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, 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.
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 and want to see black and white line drawings of the
differences between Biblical circumcision (brit milah) and brit
per'iah, see this page (for adults only).
You will also find there information for new parents on caring for the
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.