He beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God' s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil

Hello,
At the moment, I am trying to understand the question of the death penalty in the light of the teaching of Christ. In my opinion, Jesus would of course be against it: didn’t he stop an execution with the words “who of you is without sin, cast the first stone”? And isn’t he himself an icon of an innocent wrongly executed? Besides, the Gospel requires us to forgive and love our enemies. But, can you say: “I forgive you and love you, but I’ll kill you anyway”? It seems inconsistent to say the least. Besides, currently the Catholic Church doesn’t allow for the death penalty except in extreme cases where no other methods of prevention are available, cases which are said to be “very rare, if not practically non-existent” (Evangelium Vitae). But, I am not going to argue about it. My question is this:
The verse which is often cited in support of the death penalty is Romans 13:4: “For he is God’ s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’ s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.” Can somebody explain this verse* from the anti-death penalty position*? I.e. how can we reconcile it with “who of you is without sin, cast the first stone”, the recent magisterium, etc.? Paul seems to contradict himself when in 1 Corinthians 6 he says “do not go to law before unbelievers,” which even complicates the question. Thank you for clarifying this to me!

The verse does not say it is okay for the government to kill whoever it wants whenever it wants. It only implies that the government can Sometimes use the sword for the purpose of execution. The Church has clarified the conditions that must be in place to justify an execution, and today, the prudential judgment of the five or six most recent popes seems to be that those conditions are extremely rare or non-existent.

The principle has not changed – the government still does not bear the sword in vain, but is prepared in case a just condition for the death penalty arises. Pray to God that the need never arises, and work to stop them from using it now, when there is no need.

True, he did stop it, but that in and of itself is not a strict admonition against the death penalty.

And isn’t he himself an icon of an innocent wrongly executed?

True, he is; but there is a mistake in conflating an innocent wrongly sentenced with every execution.

Besides, the Gospel requires us to forgive and love our enemies. But, can you say: “I forgive you and love you, but I’ll kill you anyway”?

You can love someone and forgive them while still acknowledging that if they are left alive they will only bring more harm to the people around them. (This is the situation for which the death penalty was envisioned, that there is someone who refuses to rehabilitate themselves, or believes they are “above” the moral law.)

Besides, currently the Catholic Church doesn’t allow for the death penalty except in extreme cases where no other methods of prevention are available, cases which are said to be “very rare, if not practically non-existent”

You are conflating an Papal Encyclical with Dogma. Pope Francis does no believe that the death penalty has a place in modern, developed societies. That is is prudential judgment, and we are free to disagree with him so long as we do so with Charity. The Church still acknowledges that a proper civil authority has the right to enact the death penalty if it deems it necessary for the safety of the citizens.

My question is this:
The verse which is often cited in support of the death penalty is Romans 13:4: “For he is God’ s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’ s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.” Can somebody explain this verse* from the anti-death penalty position*? I.e. how can we reconcile it with “who of you is without sin, cast the first stone”, the recent magisterium, etc.? Paul seems to contradict himself when in 1 Corinthians 6 he says “do not go to law before unbelievers,” which even complicates the question. Thank you for clarifying this to me!

1
Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God.
2
Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.
3
For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it,
4
for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.
5
Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience.
6
This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
7
Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

This is stating that, if we reject righteous authority, we are subject to judgment. Righteous civil authority is necessary for the safety and well being of a society, and if we seek to disrupt that we are, in effect, seeking to disrupt the safety of those around us. If we do this, we will be subject to judgment for our actions.

I’m not asking you to justify the death penalty to me from the Gospels, because you never will and if you do, I’ll leave the Church that very instant and never open the Gospels again. I didn’t start this thread to argue with anyone. I’m only addressing myself to death penalty opponents.

What did you think of my response?

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