Thursday, August 02, 2018

Pope Francis Declares Capital Punishment Inadmissable in All Circumstances

It's all over the news, and the blogosphere. My views on this Pope have been firm for quite some time. Pope Francis is a heretic. And no, I am not referring to the various theological differences dividing Rome from Orthodoxy. He is essentially a liberal Protestant.

I have no idea how serious Catholics, who have been doing contortions to try and reconcile themselves with this papacy, are going to jam this particular square peg into the theological round hole. But I expect most will find a way. What alternative do they have? The Catholic concept of Doctrinal Development has been used to explain some crazy stuff before, but this is going to be on an altogether new level. To accept this is to effectively concede that there is no fundamental article of faith that cannot be revised or in this case, de facto reversed.

[Longtime readers will know that I am generally opposed to capital punishment. But my opposition is not based on Christian morality. It is pragmatic and utilitarian. And I do concede some rare exceptions.]

27 comments:

August said...

Agreed.

123 said...

The death penalty is a "fundamental article of faith"?

Further clarification / change has been a part of the Church since the beginning. As St. Gregory the Theologian wrote of the first Council of Nicea, “To be only slightly in error [then, concerning the divinity of the Holy Spirit] was to be orthodox” (quoted in Pelikan, 'The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition', p. 213.)

unreconstructed rebel said...

Do we believe in the redeemability of man? Yes or no? If yes, then capital punishment is out.

To take the position that confession is made available while on the way to meet the hangman is to reduce Christianity to Islam. To wit: Allah be praised or off with your head.

It has taken me a long time to get to this position, but I am convinced that there is no valid Christian argument for capital punishment. What the unbelieving state does is another matter.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Rome cannot adopt this position w/o contradicting what it has always taught even in the Catechism of the Council of Trent...

"The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.

In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8)."

And if capital punishment is intrinsically evil, then there are whole sections of Scripture that are going to need rewriting.

Sorry, but whenever someone comes out and announces how they just discovered that Christianity has been wrong for 2000 years about x, then it's time to put on your knee boots.

123 said...

That line in Psalms and similar examples are interpreted by the Fathers allegorically. For example, "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" is not literally about dashing children's brains' in, it's about fighting logismoi. The difficulty walking back what had been misunderstood to be literal when it was allegorical is difficult. Admitting we were wrong is hard, but we are called to metanoia. If we can do it with Genesis 1-2, we can do it with capital punishment. It is neither effective nor necessary for justice; previously, we thought it was both. But we were wrong.

123 said...

When Fr. Florovsky (and other less admired theologians by traditionalists) spoke about the necessity of not simply repeating the formulae of the Fathers, he was talking about issues and argumentation like this. True patristic theology is not agreeing with what the results the Fathers came to, it is following their method in getting there, it is adopting their phronema. Use the best information available to you, reflect on it both intelligently and prayerfully, and come to a conclusion. Conclusions are not generally provided by the Bible or the Tradition, we are called on to be rational sheep not simply sheep.

unreconstructed rebel said...

The Council of Trent took place in 1545, a good 500 years after the East & West went their separate ways. What is the Orthodox position on capital punishment?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

From the doctrinal perspective, I don't believe there is one. Which is probably the right approach. The subject is complicated and making blanket pronouncements is likely ill-advised.

Archimandrite Gregory said...

And when some of the psychopathic killers escape from prison and then murder whole families, present that theology to the families who remain. Granted capital punishment should be rare, to the point of phased out but exceptions must always be taken into account. See the Document of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000 on this very subject.

The Anti-Gnostic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Anti-Gnostic said...

It has taken me a long time to get to this position, but I am convinced that there is no valid Christian argument for capital punishment.

Of course there isn't. Christianity is a religion of endless cession to evil. Really, the ultimate Christian act is to be raped and murdered, hopefully leaving no surviving children to complicate life for your enemies.

What I'm saying is, you're a nihilist.

What the unbelieving state does is another matter.

When there was a Christendom, there was capital punishment.

123 said...

And who says Orthodoxy surved Islam and Communism?

Greg Pavlik said...

"There is in fact not a single dogma of the Catholic Church that requires the liceity of the death penalty. The Pope could tomorrow declare all capital punishment sinful and incompatible with Catholic teaching ex cathedra, and he would not be contradicting a single recognized doctrine. If you doubt this, tolle, lege any copy of Denzinger." DB Hart on Feser. That aside the moral retardation of conservative Christians as a rule is deeply depressing.

Patrick Kelly said...

"Really, the ultimate Christian act is to be raped and murdered, hopefully leaving no surviving children to complicate life for your enemies."

Agreed. Recently I had a conversation with a woman at our parish about keeping and bearing arms as an Orthodox Christian.

She concluded that since she became a mother and experienced love for her children she could never use deadly force against anyone because she could never kill anyone else's child. (everyone is someone's child, etc.)

I came to the conclusion that I could never sacrifice my child for someone else's "child", and solemnly accept the responsibility of defending my children, other people I love, or even myself with deadly force.

"And who says Orthodoxy surved(sic) Islam and Communism?"

Assuming you meant "survived".

Who?

Me.
My Priest.
Our Parish.
My Bishop.
My Patriarch.
And the whole rest of the One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Orthodox Christian Church.
That's who.

123 said...

Correct, "survived".

My point was, not without taint, not without becoming more like the persecutors. To be fair, it wasn't the Turks and the Bolsheviks who taught Christians to be more worldly, that was Constantine and every Christian leader of government following who found the Church useful to its other than religious ends.

I know nuance isn't really a thing online, but the reason capital punishment can now be seen as unnecessary now is our ability to incarcerate. There is no longer any need to execute the captured proverbial "psychopathic killer" (because they are captured) to keep women, children, and society safe, at least not in developed and developing countries.

Pseudo Bessarion said...

What in the world gives DB Hart the authority to pontificate on Roman Catholic dogma? He's out of his depth there.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

That is, we charge crime victims for the food, housing and medical care of criminals (and their protection from retribution by aggrieved family members). This bizarrity is rationalized as a Christian duty. Such a Christianity is for people who get a perverse frisson at the prospect of their own extinction.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

If it's not dogmatic, then it is a matter of complete discretion for the civil authorities and an ex cathedral declaration on the death penalty is just the Pope making up dogma. He could just as well declare 75% tax rates to fund Third World transfer payments.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

In a move that should surprise no one, Pope Francis has once again appeared to contradict two millennia of clear and consistent scriptural and Catholic teaching. The Vatican has announced that the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be changed to declare the death penalty “inadmissible” given the “inviolability and dignity of the person” as understood “in the light of the Gospel.”

There has always been disagreement among Catholics about whether capital punishment is, in practice, the morally best way to uphold justice and social order. However, the Church has always taught, clearly and consistently, that the death penalty is in principle consistent with both natural law and the Gospel. This is taught throughout scripture—from Genesis 9 to Romans 13 and many points in between—and the Church maintains that scripture cannot teach moral error. It was taught by the Fathers of the Church, including those Fathers who opposed the application of capital punishment in practice. It was taught by the Doctors of the Church, including St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church’s greatest theologian; St. Alphonsus Liguori, her greatest moral theologian; and St. Robert Bellarmine, who, more than any other Doctor, illuminated how Christian teaching applies to modern political circumstances.

It was clearly and consistently taught by the popes up to and including Pope Benedict XVI. That Christians can in principle legitimately resort to the death penalty is taught by the Roman Catechism promulgated by Pope St. Pius V, the Catechism of Christian Doctrine promulgated by Pope St. Pius X, and the 1992 and 1997 versions of the most recent Catechism promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II—this last despite the fact that John Paul was famously opposed to applying capital punishment in practice. Pope St. Innocent I and Pope Innocent III taught that acceptance of the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy. Pope Pius XII explicitly endorsed the death penalty on several occasions. This is why Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as John Paul’s chief doctrinal officer, explicitly affirmed in a 2004 memorandum:...


From here...
https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/08/pope-francis-and-capital-punishment

123 said...

I would say DB Hart has the same authority to pontificate on RC dogma as the author of this post who isn't even RC criticizing the Pope on this thread. Anti-liberalism, anti-modernism is the most acceptable of ecumenical activities for those despising ecumenism.

Greg Pavlik said...

It has nothing really to do with ecumenism. The Tradition is meant to Express the mind of Christ. Arguing that anything not explicitly spelled out is a perpetual ambiguity is absurd - do you think Christ would endorse the death penalty, the ultimate retribution?

I will note also that the identical arguments around Scripture and silence can (and has) been made in favor of slavery. Again, the required a special form of moral idiocy but that seems to be something many religious people specialize in.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Scripture is not silent on the subject of capital punishment.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." Genesis 9:6

“Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death." Exodus 21:12

“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. Whoever takes an animal's life shall make it good, life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him." Leviticus 24:17-22

“If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death." Numbers 35:30-31

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience." Romans 13:1-14

Nor is Scripture silent on the subject of slavery...

“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death." Exodus 21:16

I'm going to stop there with the quotes though I could go on for quite a while. Scripture is so clear in its affirmation of the permissibility of capital punishment that unless you deny its inerrancy, which is a condemned heresy, I don't see how one can seriously argue that it is morally inadmissible in any circumstance.

Now to be sure, people can make all kinds of reasonable arguments against its continued use. And I am on record as opposing the death penalty in all but the rarest cases. But no, this is not a moral absolute. The Pope's pronouncement is at the very least ultra vires. And since it contradicts what has been always and everywhere taught within the Apostolic and Catholic Christian Tradition, as well as Holy Writ, a strong argument can be made that the Pope is preaching formal heresy.

unreconstructed rebel said...

"do you think Christ would endorse the death penalty, the ultimate retribution?"

A most excellent question.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

"do you think Christ would endorse the death penalty, the ultimate retribution?"

He did, unless you are an Aryan. Christ is 100% God and 100% man, "begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made..." That means that every word of Holy Scripture, including those I quoted, is inspired by Him.

rick allen said...

But you left out "Let him who is without sin throw the first stone." It is a complex question of applied ethics, and the Church has been going this direction for a very long time.

Not saying you can't call the pope a heretic if you like. But I suspect most Catholics are thinking, "Yeah, that sounds about right."

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Nowhere in that verse does He say capital punishment is wrong, much less wrong in all circumstances. Such an interpretation can only be reached if one discards all of the other verses that clearly affirm (and in some cases mandate) it. Since Scripture is inerrant in matters of faith and morals that interpretation cannot be accurate.

Greg Pavlik said...

I am sorry but your use of Scripture reads like a Rushdoony argument. For Orthodox our understanding is in the light of the ministry, death and resurrection of Christ.

It is worth noting that the pre-Constantinian church was opposed to the taking of life in any form. I am guessing they had recourse to the same Scriptures, but received them differently.