Capital punishment...again


But you didn’t provide reasons, you simply made an assertion: “Punishment in general is not universally prohibited by Jesus … but killing is.” Do you not recognize that if Jesus universally prohibited killing then virtually every Father as well as every Doctor of the Church, plus every pope up to now, and all the catechisms and councils of the church were wrong? The church for 2000 years never understood Jesus to have prohibited all killing. If Jesus meant to do this how do you explain his direction to the soldiers:

Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Lk 3:14)

Surely he would have told them to leave the army if what they were doing was sinful.

How can church teaching in one are (killing) contradict church teaching in another (punishment)? Surely what the church teaches on one subject must agree with what it teaches elsewhere. There is no conflict between these concepts; they must fit together as a unified whole.


That is John the Baptizer, not Jesus. (soldiers,wages).


Well, I could cite any catechism older than 20 years and it would say the same thing, but if your position is that what is said today nullifies everything said before yesterday then it hardly matters what I cite.

OK, how about this (from the catechism of 1992, first edition)

2266 The traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.

(Now, before someone accuses me yet again of taking things out of context let me point out that, despite what else is said, this statement - and only this statement - describes the “traditional teaching of the church”, which is the point of citing it.)

Ambrose may have excluded the clergy from being complicit in executions, but he assuredly did not exclude Christian judges from passing such sentences. “Church members” is an ambiguous term.

If this is where the church will go next then clearly they are not there now. Doesn’t this accord with my position that the current objections are prudential and not moral? After all, if they were moral then we would already have to believe they were gravely evil.

Actually the choice is between your interpretation of what Jesus taught and the understanding of the Fathers, Doctors, and virtually everyone else living before this century.


Oh, rats (but thank you for the correction). Still, Jesus dealt with soldiers on many occasions and never once suggested they “go and sin no more.” Given that we repeat the words of a centurion at every mass I struggle to accept the idea that Jesus condemned their occupation.


I refuse to accept the implications of this statement: either that the truth is whatever the latest Magisterium says it is, or that the entire church up until last year failed to correctly understand the Fifth Commandment. It seems more reasonable to doubt your interpretation.

No, an evil act is not acceptable regardless of the intention.

1756 One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

It is not a question of authority, but of historical accuracy. The statement about the traditional teaching of the church in the 1992 edition was accurate. The statement in the 1997 version appears less so.


Arianism was never Catholic. I find it disturbing that you are comparing a heresy that says Jesus was not God with what the Church taught for 2000 years, implicitly claiming that the Church was teaching heresy for 2000 years.

If you are not implying that then the comparison is incorrect and should be withdrawn.


Absotutely incorrect. Arianism was always a heresy and was never the “mainstream” position of the Church.

You have a very flawed understanding of the Church’s history and of the theology of the Catholic Faith if you think something affirmatively and doctrinally taught for millennia can ever become heresy.


I read the whole chapter and it does not support your claim that the death penalty is a divine command. Bellarmine explains the nature of decrees and precepts within the Mosaic Law as specifically not being “prophecy”. (The Word of God)

Bellarmine’s treatise is worded as a defense of the death penalty against the Anabaptists emerging claim that all forms of killing were intrinsically evil including execution and war. It has the same nature of ‘prudential judgement’ as today’s Church’s decree against the use of the death penalty as if it were intrinsically just.

There is no point in trying to explain the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic evils to you.


“It seems that vengeance should not be wrought by means of punishments customary among men.”

This article is addressing the right of human law to punish men and that right is divine law.

If you look at Article 2 ST I II 105, it is establishing that human laws are correctly framed to address the relationship between people ie. serving the common good. The reply to Objection 9 particularly points to issues of culpability, local conditions and wider society implications to determine punishment.

These are the considerations that determine whether the death penalty is just. There is no wiggle room in human law to simply appeal to a ‘divine right’ to the death penalty. It’s justness is determined by its service to the common good.


When you use the word punishment, do you mean the infliction of ‘a penalty’, or is there more to it than that. Is there retribution involved? Justice? Vengeance? It seems to me that you’re using the word punishment to mean more than just a penalty. For example:

“deserve it”… “an issue of justice” Are you implying something more than a penalty, in the strictest sense of the word?

The CCC you quote uses the word penalty, which would be in keeping with the scripture I provided from the Pentateuch.

In these OT passages the prescription of death is strictly a penalty, a consequence, not a measure of justice or retribution. There is no “deserved” about it. But the responsibility for the death is on the hands of those who incurred the penalty, not the executioner. It is a means to “purge the evil from your midst”. Not something else.


I think you are setting up a false dichotomy between the Old Testament or Old Law and the New Testament or the New Law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as if they both don’t have a single author, namely, Christ and God. They are both divinely revealed covenants from the one God. Jesus said:

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5: 17-19). Jesus also said that Moses wrote about him in the Law.

Neither do I believe that the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ or Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount concerning the law of retaliation or an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth etc. are ‘absolutist’ precepts in a certain sense without a few distinctions.

For example, the commandment in the Decalogue God gave the Israelites ‘Thou shall not kill’ forbids the killing of innocent people thus it is written “The innocent and just person thou shalt not put to death” (Exodus 23:7). Thus murder is never lawful. But the commandment did not forbid the killing of people for various ‘capital’ crimes and sins such as murder, adultery, idolatry, cursing father and mother, etc. but rather the Israelites were commanded by God to apply capital punishment for these crimes but only if two or three witnesses could be brought forward.



I think Jesus’ teaching concerning the law of retaliation which was given by God to the Israelites ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ has to be understood in context. He is certainly not doing away with the virtue of justice which of its very nature implies a kind of equality for one of the beatitudes he taught is ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [justice], for they shall be satisfied’. In Luke 22:36, Jesus says “And let him who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” which could probably be argued for self defense. St Paul defended himself when he made that appeal to Caesar.

The various teachings or at least some of them in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount appear to me to be directed to the individual Christian. In the teaching on the law of retaliation, he is not telling us absolutely that we ought in all circumstances simply let anybody maime, kill, or do us or others harm at will or that we cannot justly defend ourselves, our family or nation or justly bring a case against somebody who has wronged us to court. Consider the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow and the mention of the court and judge concerning Jesus’ teaching on anger in the Sermon on the Mount. It could be a very serious sin against love of our neighbor and a breach of duty to not protect those whom we are especially more bound too such as our family and children. “You shall not stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake” (Leviticus 19: 16).

I think Jesus is saying that we ought not be rashly, inordinately, and to quick to retaliate at all times and under all circumstances but rather be prepared to suffer wrongs and injustices against us and forgive our persecutors and enemies for the love of God, Jesus, and our neighbor when various certain occasions may call for it as the better and more Christ like thing to do. As St Paul says, do not repay evil with evil but repay evil with good. And Jesus says “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. In this teaching on an eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, Jesus is also not saying that an authority such as the state has no right to apply justice or the law of retaliation against wrongdoers and St Paul also makes this clear where he says that the state or those in authority over us are the ministers of God’s justice in wielding the sword against wrongdoers and the wicked.


I’m not challenging you, just curious:

Are you saying that God did at one point “grant the sword” to the State and has since then withdrawn that authority, or are you saying that God never granted the State the authority to take vengeance upon the wicked and that the Church is just confirming what has always been true?


It was not a prophecy because it would not always be true, as he said. This simply recognized the validity of circumstantial exceptions, as Aquinas noted. It is nothing more than recognition of exceptions, which is why he said the passage was a “decree and a precept”. The words mean neither more nor less than what they plainly say.

decree: an official order issued by a legal authority.
precept: a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.


Your original claim to which my response was directed was this:

it is evident that the general comment “These punishments are fixed by divine law” references the eternal punishment due in regard to Gods judgement of souls

It is quite clear that you are no longer defending that position (“This article is addressing the right of human law to punish men and that right is divine law.”) The rest of your position is based on your own fantasy about what I believe, and no matter how often I correct you, you refuse to accept my explanation of my own position.


I try not to use words in any way other than their common meaning, so yes, punishment and penalty seem to me to be the same thing. As for the objectives of punishment, there are four: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and defense.

This is where we disagree. It is absolutely a measure of justice/retribution, and it is only because it is deserved that it is a just act. If you remove the concept of desert from “penalty” then anything is permissible as you will have completely abandoned the concept of justice.

" . . . in the process of giving him what he deserved you set an example to others. But take away desert and the whole morality of the punishment disappears. Why, in Heaven’s name, am I to be sacrificed to the good of society in this way? unless, of course, I deserve it." (C.S. Lewis)


It is critical to recognize the distinction between the responsibilities of the individual and those of the state. As individuals we are forbidden to take revenge even as the state has the duty to do so. It is a mistake to assume that all the commands directed to us as individuals (Turn the other cheek, do not return evil for evil…) apply to the state.

…when Our Lord says: “You have heard that it hath been said of old, an eye for an eye, etc.,” He does not condemn that law, nor forbid a magistrate to inflict the poena talionis, but He condemns the perverse interpretation of the Pharisees, and forbids in private citizens the desire for and the seeking of vengeance. For God promulgates the holy law that the magistrate may punish the wicked by the poena talionis; whence the Pharisees infer that it is lawful for private citizens to seek vengeance (St Bellarmine, De Laicis)


Emeraldlady - “The Church is correcting the false assertions by US Catholics that capital punishment was a ‘divine command’ and a default sentence. That was never taught by the Church in its history.”

Ender - "Don’t be too sure of that…

For God says, “Whosoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed.” These words cannot utter a prophecy, since a prophecy of this sort would often be false, but a decree and a precept . (St. Bellarmine)"

A decree and a precept are not ‘divine command’. That’s sorted.

You also then spliced together grabs from the ST to force it to support your position.

"(3 objection 3) … Therefore it seems that the punishment of death should not be inflicted for a sin.
On the contrary, These punishments are fixed by divine law as appears from what we have said above (I-II, 105, 2). (Aquinas ST II-II 108, 3)"

Divine law pertains to salvation and is unchangeable. The fact that there is punishment for sin is unchangeable. While divine law informs the basis of positive law, it doesn’t make positive law ‘fixed’ or unchangeable. Positive law is concerned with what serves the good of the relations between men. The common good. That logically means that no sentence is fixed and unchangeable including the sentence of death. They are flexible in human law serving first and foremost the common good. That’s sorted.


You’ve packed a lot of meaning into the word punishment. I don’t know how useful that’s going to be in a discussion like this

If those prescriptions for death in the Pentateuch were truly “just” and “deserved” for the corresponding act which is cited in each passage, then would a death sentence still be a just and deserved penalty today? Obviously not. So why is there a disconnect between the penalty and the justice, or what’s deserved?


Remember what is required for a punishment to be just: it must be of commensurate severity with the severity of the crime, and it must not be harmful to the society that employs it. If a punishment was truly just in the past then its severity must have been appropriate to the severity of the crime. For some crimes, the severity depends partly on the circumstances: stealing $100 from a rich man’s surplus is very different than stealing the last $100 from a poor man’s pocket.

For some crimes, such as first degree murder, the severity of the crime does not change. That is, while the nature of the murder may make some worse than others, no murder ever falls below the level where death is not a commensurate punishment.

So, if death was a just punishment before because of the nature of the crime then it is equally just today. If the severity of the crime was more serious in the past because of existing circumstances then it would merit a more serious punishment in the past than would be just today.

I don’t believe there is. Can you be more specific?

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