Wherein Fr. Z asks a question about “reception” of a controversial doctrine

Libs are always saying that they don’t have to accept a teaching of the Church when they don’t like it.  For example, when it comes to Ordinatio sacerdotalis or Humanae vitae, they claim that the teachings haven’t be “received”.  Hence, they are not binding.

The “faithful” haven’t accepted that women can’t be ordained.  Therefore, I don’t have to believe what John Paul wrote.  The “faithful” haven’t “received” what Paul wrote about contraception.  As a result, I am not bound by it.

However, what will they respond when Catholics don’t “receive” this change to the CCC about capital punishment?

The argument about “reception” cuts both ways.  Will they come to regret it?

Nooooooo…. they’ll ignore the inconsistency and turn to raw power, threats, and obfuscation to push what they want.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. frjimt says:

    Notwithstanding those who enjoy “cafeteria style catholicism”, the faithful to Holy Mother Church will look at the directives, the wisdom of the Pope, the teachings of the Church & trust God to guide, guard, protect the faith…

  2. Imrahil says:

    Thing is, there actually are limits to the need of accepting non-infallible doctrine; there is a state where the theologian (and by inference, the thinking Christian) cannot bring himself to hold a doctrine at all, after having tried. See Donum veritatis no. 30. He can then be silenced by the Church, but no further; also, I think which Donum veritatis seems to put (in general) onto the theologian, viz. not to tell his doubts to anyone but the superior (but very much to them), which are obviously ex lege positiva duties, do not bind the layman.

    This new change is such a thing; not that capital punishment is necessarily a good thing (and I grant that it is always a problematic thing even in the situations where it is a necessary or advisable thing), but that the new teaching is

    i) in a sense, not even teaching and

    ii) insofar as it is teaching, manifestly untraditional.

    Proof of i): Apparently the reasoning why capital punishment is now supposed to be “adverse to the untouchability and dignity of the person” is twofold:

    1) “Because our consciousness has grown that the dignity of the person does not cease even if he is guilty of the most enourmous crimes.”

    The philosophical statement is quite true; the factual statement that our consciousness has grown may quite well be true. If it were true that the dignity of the person would exclude capital punishment, that indeed would forbid us to use it; but assuming it as if it were self-evident by a handwaiving and counting on the sentimental reason of modern Western man when hearing “dignity” is no such proof at all. The fact that executioners tended to say “and may God have mercy on your soul” before killing the convict speaks against it; as does the fact that, hang it all (pun originally not intended), Greeks considered prison a sentence against the dignity of free citiziens while allowing for their decapitation.

    2) “And there have been more effective means of containment, guaranteeing the dutiful defense of the citizens but not robbing the perpetrator finally of the possibility of betterment.”

    This is an argument for the prudential decision not to use capital punishment, in line with the old catechism, which, even though the Magisterium does not as such estimate current situations, sure does carry the weight of the authority who said it (the Pope).

    But it is not an argument for an absolute, situation-independent, reprehensibility of capital punishment (which is precisely the intent of the change; the old Catechism did by no means hesitate to say “I don’t think you have to or should use capital punishment today); if anything, it is the contrary.

    Hence, the new teaching arguments for an abstract rule of “whatever the circumstances” morality by applying to an estimate about the current situation; which means it does not know what it says.

    Proof of ii). In so far as it does teach, it teaches that capital punishment is – not intrinsically problematic, to be used with caution, and, as far as the Church leadership knows, not at all in modern times (as the Catechism hitherto, and largely quite rightly, said), but intrinsice malum, which among Catholics always means that we rather had to let the whole state and the whole world go to pieces than execute one death penality.

    To ascertain the incompatibility of this teaching with Church tradition, previous Church teaching, common sense (hint: morality is immutable; the present situations haven’t always been there and perhaps won’t always been there) and Scripture (hint: Romans 13,4) is left to the reader as an exercise.

  3. Mike says:

    Oooh, let me do one… I don’t “receive” that a Pope can change 2000 years of church teaching and call it “development of doctrine” or something.

  4. CasaSanBruno says:

    Hence, the ensuing arbitrariness of the disconnect from Tradition. When I was living in Germany many years ago, I remember a certain bishop of Limburg who made much of his “conscientious objection” to Pope John Paul’s directives When his own priests cited their own conscientious objection to him, he was left “verbluefft”.

  5. hwriggles4 says:

    Thanks for covering this newsbrief today. The first thing I saw from my newsfeed this morning was “Pope Changes Teaching on the Death Penalty. ” It came straight from the AP wire.

  6. Sawyer says:

    I think a good case can be made that the change in the Catechism is inauthentic and illegitimate. That’s not the same as “not receiving” an authentic teaching.

    Is the Catechism now going to be a papal wiki in which the currently reigning Holy Father can delete/revise/add text according to his whim? Now that this precedent has been set, what’s to stop future pontiffs from tinkering with the text illegitimately?

    The Catechism should not have been amended by Pope Francis.

  7. WVC says:


    This is a very good point. The damage to the teaching authority of the Church is one thing, but the tarnishing of the CCC is another. A very bad and stupid precedent has now been set, and the CCC is, I’m afraid, now doomed to descend into uselessness. Yes, Catholics who care about their Faith have the Roman Catechism and Denzinger to rely upon, but the average Catholic thinks “the big green book” is the one with the answers. Now I will have to stop recommending it as a source, but whether the average Catholic is going to follow through on a recommendation to seek out anything else that might be slightly harder to find – that remains to be seen.

    Sometimes things are so stupid it makes me want to spit. A plague on all this stupidity. Islam is laughing on one side of us, and the anti-Christian secularists are gyrating in hysterics on the other side of us, could we please dispense with all the stupid and get back to being the Church Militant?

    Heaven help us. We need it.

  8. Lurker 59 says:

    The core consistency in all of this, indeed all of this not just these last 5 years, is the position that morality is not universal but rather changes over time. The only consistency is change.

    Part of the upcoming agenda is a rewriting of the Universal Catechism. This death penalty issue is just a part of that program, possibly a trial balloon. When we read through the history of the development of the CCC, we see that it is more traditional that what the heterodox bishops wished, but what both camps saw in the development of the CCC was not so much a singular catechism, but rather an overarching catechism that would be further developed to meet the needs of the particular Churches, and local Churches. After all, the catechetical needs and expressions of the Maronite Church are far different than the catechetical needs and expressions of the local Roman diocese in San Francisco.

    The obvious strategem for the heterodox would have been to develop local catechisms that downplayed eliminated certain doctrine and developed other heterodox positions in a codified form. Then in the name of “received teachings”, “accompaniment”, “mercy”, “learning from the smell of the sheep” etc., go back and update the Universal CCC to reflect the heterodox positions and force the orthodox into a new paradigm. There are some local catechisms that were produced along these lines, couple that with the opportunity presented by all the recent synods, encyclicals, and various other pressures such as “lived experience”, you have got yourself both fulcrum and leaver to change officially taught morality. Not like it hasn’t been unofficially taught either for decades at the local parish level anyway. (For example, I met a friend who believed the Catholic moral position on hot topic X was A, when it was really B. A was actually a position developed from a loose reading of the CCC locally applied in such a way that the loose reading was not consistent with the historical teaching of the Church which allowed the local application to be the opposite of Church teaching.)

    Looking at things from another angle, what are the orthodox Catholic’s sources when they talk about “the Church teaches….”? The Universal Catechism and Papal Documents. I got flack when I was doing my MA for pointing out that Catholics shouldn’t be using the CCC as an ultimate “it says it so it is true”. As then Card Ratzinger wrote, the CCC is not a super-dogma, and has less authority than its sources as it rests on that authority and is not an authority in it of itself. My point is that it wouldn’t be too hard to corrupt catechetics by inverting the loose interpretations in the CCC from being minor positions to being dominate positions.

    Which has happened and is happening.

    Anyway, it is very difficult to get into an apologetics argument with a heterodox Catholic because they now have 5 years of “official documents” and this is just yet another one on the pile.

  9. Egad_Trad_Dad says:

    Might we find guidance in the International Theological Commission’s 2014 document on the ‘Sensus Fidelium’ in the Life of the Church?

  10. gretta says:

    It is interesting that so many of the comments have been “I don’t like/agree with capital punishment, but I don’t like that the Church has changed its position on this.” I seem to recall there being a similar outcry about this section when St. JPII originally published the CCC.

    But what I don’t understand is that there have been a number of moral issues that have developed and changed over time. For many hundreds of years the Church did not object to slavery, theologians and Church fathers did not denounce slavery as evil, and we even had religious orders that owned slaves. We clearly have a different understanding now. Theologians used to believe that aborting a baby before it was ensouled was sinful but not necessarily murder: that understanding of “life from the moment of conception” and abortion being both a sin and a crime has developed over time with a greater understanding of human biology and development. If we believe that these instances in which our theology has developed over time are good and positive and presumably not outside Church Tradition, why is this any different? Why isn’t this change a good thing, in the same way that changing the Church’s position on slavery is a good thing?

    This change also seems to me to have the practical benefit of the Church professing a consistent ethic of life that mitigates the criticism that the Church is not truly pro-life if we don’t uphold the sanctity of life across the board. This seems to put us into a stronger position against secularism – where we can argue a consistent theology for the protection of all life, whether it be pre-born, elderly, infirm, the handicapped, and now the imprisoned. When questioned we can definitively say – Yes, every life has inherent dignity, check our catechism. I understand being hesitant about change, but aren’t there some times when change is positive, particularly in a time where the dignity of so many groups including the pre-born, the elderly, the handicapped, and the migrant is under constant and sustained assault?

  11. DeGaulle says:

    I’m no theologian, but would Our Lord have chosen execution by the contemporary lawful authorities as His method of carrying out the most important job in the history of His universe if there was the slightest possibility that at any time during that history this method might, due to whatever circumstances, become intrinsically illicit?

  12. Gerard Plourde says:

    If the teaching of the Church, as stated in the Catechism promulgated by St. John Paul II, has consistently been that the sole permissible reason to employ the death penalty was due to the unavailability of a means “to render one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself”, it seems to me that the rationale employed here in the United States (punishment and deterrence of others from committing the offense) has been illicit for decades.

  13. DeGaulle says:

    Gerard Plourde, the teaching promulgated by St. John Paul II would, if applied by Pontius Pilate, certainly definitively take away the possibility of Christ’s redeeming the rest of us.

  14. Carrie says:

    This brings us closer to being a truly pro-life Church. Perhaps Pope Francis was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

  15. Imrahil says:

    Dear gretta,

    1. Slavery was never condoned by the Church, has been called “something in itself foreign to natural law (but now part of the law of nations)” (no literal quote) from time immemorial by Christian lawyers; it was overcome, gradually, it is true, but all the time it has been true that freeing slaves was a meritorious act, and that slavery was in itself something to be overcome (1 Cor 7,21 is quite clear on the subject, though some have translated it wrongly).

    That some, though I guess not normally the Catholics, gave supposedly Christian reasonings for continuing slavery is immaterial here – that thought only appeared in the 19th century, has all the marks of being a made-up excuse, and Abraham Lincoln crushed it with all the might of the Union’s army, doing a good day’s work, or rather a couple of years’. God’s truth really was marching on then.

    And when the Emperor of Brazil finally destroyed the remnants of the institution of slavery within Christendom (and the rest of the world) – and lost his Empire in the process – this was greeted by a jubilant encyclical of the then-reigning Pope, Leo XIII, I believe, who was – shall I say it – not known to overly favor the spirit of the times.

    As for the perennial and quite Scriptural teaching that the legitimate state may put offenders to death – which is not a (possibly problematic) institution we have to deal with (somehow), but an element of God’s actual order – it certainly is adaptable to suggestions as to when should he do so, but not to questioning if he could possibly do so at all in any circumstance.

    2. The abortion of certain young fetuses is immaterial to the issue. It was always clear that it was sinful to kill a innocent man, even if he was only a fetus. What did change was merely the factual knowledge about when fetuses do qualify as men – and, frankly, not greatly at that, since the abortion of (supposed) pre-ensoulment-fetuses was always regarded as a grave sin, being then considered an aggravated form of what we now call contraception.

    The Church has no mandate to change her doctrine, and these cases are not examples for her doing so at all.

    – Now, it may well be arguable that the change towards less capital punishment is a good thing, and so on[*]. This was precisely what Pope St. John Paul II did; he laid down the traditional teaching in such a manner as to allow as little capital punishment as possible – whereas the present Holy Father, I am sorry to say, did away with the traditional teaching. Surely there is a difference recognizable?

    That people argued against him in his time does not change that by an inch. Sure they would; people argue against change in nuance just as they argue against change in substance. Whenever there is development, there is arguing against; but some time is just the time that it is right.

    3. As for “being more consistent”, especially in the apologetic fight in the outer space we cannot appear as consistent if we change our doctrine, in the first place. The opponent does not allow us the excuse “but we changed and don’t say that anymore”; this, perhaps, is something to the credit of the opponent.

    Also, the core of the pro-life fight, at least in so far as the Church is concerned, has always been, not “abortions are as bad as capital punishment”, but “we may not like capital punishment quite much, but abortion kills the innocent in an arbitrary manner; so this is much worse than that and surely evil”.

    [* However, we may say that while the sacredness of human life is a thing that should lead us to be cautious with using capital punishment, it is equally evident that it is opposed by the World by all the wrong reasons, and that Pope St. John Paul just, as it were, found the one Christian reason he could oppose it too for.

    All the other reasons do not square. “The state makes himself equal to the murderer” – no, it does not, killing a criminal after due process is a world of a difference to the action of the murderer. “No state should have the right to the life of a citizen” – but what about his freedom? How justify prisons? Finally, the only justification is that the State is, within its responsibilities, God’s Vicar; which the moderns don’t belive. But only that can possibly be the justification of any/i> punishment, if it really is punishment; only, with death sentences, it is a little more obvious. “But there may be misjudgments, who can give the life back to them” – yes, as there are misjudgments concerning lengthy prison sentences, possibly with death in prison. The only solution to that – in either case – is that the person sentenced can count his sentence as a penance for his other sins, and on the Other World to set scores right – but this is, again, just a slight but more obvious in death sentences than it is in prisons.]

  16. Imrahil says:

    Dear DeGaulle,

    whatever about the “only to render the person himself incapable of harm” – which I did not read in the hitherto Catechism, which, I believe, had a more general “necessary for defending society from harm” or so,

    it is quite clear in our Lord’s case that he chose being the victim of a miscarriage of justice as the method of salvation.

    Pilate knew, because our Lord told him and he had no reason to doubt (and did not), that our Lord was not carrying arms against the Roman Empire. His talk about being a King from Truth with everyone from Truth hearing His voice caused the remark “what is truth”; a snide, yes, but also including the recognition “this Man is not a danger to Rome and hence none of my business”. In our time, in his lack of understanding, he might have suggested the lunatic asylum, it would be quite in line with his “what is truth” remark; but not the electric chair.

    Pilate knew that well; that was why he didn’t at first suggest the cross, in his time, but “sought to set Jesus free”, as the Scriptures tell us. Only what he didn’t do was actually set him free on his own word, as he could have; he gave in to the pressure and blackmail of the Jewish leaders, and sentenced to death an innocent soul (as far as he knew) and the Man that was God (in fact). May God have mercy on him; he knew part of what he was doing, but he is not an unsympathetic figure.

    But long story short, our Lord really did die a death that resulted from miscarriage of justice.

    It is not altogether unfitting, as well, that He who had not committed any sin, but died bearing the sins of the many, did so by being accused and convicted for something he did commit.

  17. Imrahil says:

    I meant to write at the end of my last comment:

    … for something He did not commit.

  18. WVC says:

    The only thing I’ll say about Capital Punishment itself, and an issue often ignored by many, is the dimension it serves with regard to Justice. If you look at things solely in terms of practicality, than, I supposed, you can make the argument that the Death Penalty is not necessary because people could be safely incarcerated forever (ignoring whether that, in and of itself, is humane or not). While this is most definitely not true, either in the USA or in other countries (incarceration in and of itself is not a practical way to keep society or even individual people safe), all of this ignores the VERY important and VERY real element of Justice. When St. Paul writes that the State is given authority to wield the sword by God, he does not mention that it is done for practical reasons.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Uh, and dear WVC,

    I said above that capital punishment is opposed for all the wrong sorts of reasons.

    It is likewise true that it is often endorsed for all the wrong sort of reasons.

    The one thing the Church really always has said here is that the idea that capital punishment would be the only just punishment in any given case is dead wrong, pun not intended. That is Kant’s idea; but Kant wasn’t that insightful a Christian. The simple reason is that killing the perpetrator does not bring the victim back to life (if we are talking about murder). The only thing that can cancel the guilt out is the Precious Blood; and It is there for the taking (as it were).

    Hence, a state may sometimes inflict the death penalty on a perpetrator if this is practical (I leave open the question how necessary it must be; and as you see, I follow the traditional teachung); what it cannot, really cannot, do in Christian morality is to kill him because of the guilt and because of no more than that. Nor, of course, can it kill anyone because of practicality and no more than that. At least the two elements must come together.

  20. Imrahil says:

    Correcting note: when I above wrote

    And when the Emperor of Brazil finally destroyed the remnants of the institution of slavery within Christendom (and the rest of the world)

    I meant to put a question mark into the parenthesis. I am not entirely sure whether Brazil really was the last country in all the world that had slavery.

  21. Joe in Canada says:

    CCC 2266: The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.

    The primary aim of punishment is never retributive, nor does it correspond to “what the mob wants”.

    I will wait for the first prominent Catholic politician who dissents from the new announcement to be denounced by fellow Catholics. Then we will have a base to deal with pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

  22. Grumpy Beggar says:

    That it might provide fellow members/readers with a stunning “visual”, here is a link to the physical analogy of the spiritual , which I believe explains quite vividly why certain Church teachings, according to libs , were “never received” :
    Click HERE

  23. TonyO says:

    The primary aim of punishment is never retributive, nor does it correspond to “what the mob wants”.

    Joe in Canada: what do you think the words you yourself quoted from the CCC 2266 actually mean:

    Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense.

    In saying this, JPII repeated what had been taught for many hundreds of years, (at least since Thomas Aquinas, but probably much longer) on the primary purpose. And this “redressing the disorder” just is what Thomas Aquinas (and Pius XII, and many, many others) always meant by the “retributive” aspect of punishment. Exactly that redress. If you think it means something else, please explain.

    To provide a little more background: Thomas speaks of the “debt” due for sin, and explains that in sin there is a passing aspect and a persisting aspect. The sinful act itself passes away when the action is over. What remains, then, after the act is over, is guilt, and this guilt implies a debt of punishment. The sinner, by sinning, chooses to adhere to his own will in opposition to (depending on the context) God’s law, or to the natural law, or to civil law. And this choosing of his own will over the law requires a redress: naturally, the redress is that he suffer something that is contrary to his own will, by imposition of the law (or its agent, such as the courts). This is the essence of punishment: that it be due recompense for the disorder of acting contrary to the law, that it be an imposition of a nature contrary to the will of the criminal, imposed by the lawmaker.

    It is utter balderdash and nonsense to argue that capital punishment (or any punishment) can rightly be used for “practical” reasons (such as to keep people safe) without it being, at the same time a punishment that ALSO is the due recompense for the crime committed. You cannot keep a man in prison for 50 years because he punched a jerk in the nose, on the claim that “he might punch someone else in the nose, and he isn’t repentant for his crime, so we have to keep him locked up”, because a 50 year sentence for the crime is far greater punishment than is due. Safety or no safety, only proportionate punishment can be redress for the crime ACTUALLY committed, and recompense for an actual crime is intrinsically a restrospective consideration, not a prospective consideration. Hence safety (and deterrence, which is likewise a prospective consideration) are necessarily secondary purposes for punishment, and must necessarily hang on the primary purpose as appendages to it.

  24. Lurker 59 says:

    Being a convert, one of the skills that I picked up during my conversion was the ability to look at an official statement from an official leader and question if the statement was true or rather was only masquerading as being true and hiding behind the authority that people gave the official leader.

    Humans have a natural psychological tendancy to believe statements from individuals that they believe have authority. Dress a man in a white lab coat and you are likely to believe whatever he says.

    Unfortunately, disproving something that people think to be true because someone with authority said it, kills a small forest. You would think that the emphasis in Laudato si would result in people being careful what they say, lest they kill off more of the world’s rainforests.

    Capital punishment is a legitimate course of action for societies to take, for Kings to impose, for judges to the decree, and for Catholic jurors to recommend as the sentence. This truth is part of the nature of our fallen world, the horror of sin, and the interplay of what both justice and mercy are. This is the metaphysical reality that the Church has always taught and still teaches.

  25. TonyO says:

    I wish to make one comment about the actual text of the new CCC paragraph:

    Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

    Claptrap and poppycock. This statement should be recognized as containing both outright error, and an implied nonsequitur.

    The outright error: modern prisons are full of violent men who do violent things to each other. A man in prison for a long sentence is virtually guaranteed not to live a life free from harm, including (sometimes) murder. Are prisoners no longer due the protection of the law? Have they lost their human dignity to that extent?

    Why are modern prisons full of violence? Because the prison system, like the justice system, as a whole, (and the education system that educates society’s criminals) has gotten into the hands of those who (a) don’t believe in moral evil; and (b) don’t believe in just punishment, and (c) don’t believe in the retributive aspect of punishment, and (d) undermine at every turn that punishments should usually be proportionate to the offence, but (especially) for grievous crimes that call for death as the just recompense. In a word, because crime is not properly speaking punished, but only “treated”. But this is all due to the distortions imposed on the system by the modernist secular anti-Christians who repudiate that there is an afterlife, so why should we accept the word of those very same modernist secular anti-Christians about the new-fangled theory that the death penalty opposes human dignity? Their notion of dignity is not Christian.

    But in addition to the unlawful harm done to other inmates: modern gangs and organized crime make use of all sorts of modern methods to continue to operate both FROM prison and IN prison, acting on society in general and on prisoners in coordination with the organization as a whole, pursuing many evils, especially those of perverting the justice system itself, (such as threatening witnesses and judges and lawyers and jurors). This aspect of modernity seems to escape the Pope altogether, as if it did not even exist. The thesis that people in prison can’t cause harm to others is just not true. Provably true. Manifestly true.

    The implied nonsequitur is that imposing the death penalty by its nature “deprives” the sentenced criminal of the possibility of redemption. This is false. The criminal has until the last moment of his consciousness to repent and be saved. This can occur during the period he has been sentenced but the execution has not yet been carried out – which is (on AVERAGE) over 12 years in the US, but sometimes stretches to 20 years. Saying that a man who has 12 years of appeals ahead of him is “deprived” of the possibility of repentance is nonsense. Prisoners on death row sometimes die of natural causes before execution can take them – has God also deprived him of the possibility of redemption? Don’t be absurd: God Himself (in the Person of Jesus) died for redemption’s sake. It is reasonably argued (by Doctors of the Church, and Francis is no Doctor) that if a man will not repent at the prospect of a scheduled execution, there is no good reason to expect it at some other time. Indeed, given the modern secular penal system’s distortion of the very idea of punishment, there is good reason to DOUBT that criminals will properly speaking repent of their sins and be saved by leaving them in prison longer.

    It is bamboozled “logic” such as this sentence by Francis which makes us pause, and gives us very good reason to think again before giving ready and willing support to such statements.

  26. WVC says:


    Hmmm – I think we are miscommunicating. I’m not talking so much about personal vengeance and vendetta as I am actual Justice. The State would not execute a criminal just because he is guilty – it would execute the guilty criminal because that would be the just thing to do given the grave level of the atrocity he has committed. It’s not a personal thing. Far from it.

    Justice is an often misunderstood concept, at least in these bizarre modern times. It is not replaced by Mercy, as many mistakenly think – those two things coexist – it’s not a one or the other game. A wise man once told me to think of Justice as an actual commodity. Like coal or wood or food. Human society needs food to survive. Food is normally provided by authorized institutions (farms, supermarkets, restaurants…etc.). If food is no longer supplied by those institutions (famine, shortages, war time rationing…etc), then people will start growing their own food in their backyard. The same goes for Justice. It’s necessary – not an option, and it will be supplied, one way or another. Human history strongly supports this idea.

    Regarding what the Church has taught regarding Capital Punishment, are you saying the Roman Catechism was just being cheeky when it said things like:
    Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. [N.B. – it’s BOTH – protect the innocent AND punish the guilty]


    Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime . . .

    Avenger – seems pretty clear to me. It’s not JUST about protecting the innocent.

  27. Imrahil says:

    Dear WVC,

    no, I think we did not misunderstand each other. I never thought you meant anything about revence or vendettas. Indeed, revenge is just the technical term for excessive vengeance, and vengeance is a virtue (albeit not the most unproblematic one), as the Angelic Doctor teaches.

    It is also true, and obvious to the Christian, that whenever a State punishes, including one day of prison, the object is and has to be first and foremost avenging the breach of law, with things like protection, disciplining, even doing satisfaction for the sin (in accepting the punishment) only come in as secondary motives.

    So, this much is quite true. Guilt, and guilt alone, justifies the death penalty or any other penalty – if it does justify it. But when someone takes a step further and says that guilt, and guilt alone, demands the death penalty (for, say, murder) in natural law, then, I am sorry to say, he has entered the realm of thought where most pre-Christians, Immanuel Kant, and Brigham Young say hello to each other. The Christian believes in guilt; but he does not believe in any guilt which he could only be redeemed from by shedding his own blood, or for that matter taking any punishment upon himself. That is the Precious Blood’s job.

    This is why though the first aim of any punishment, the death penalty when appropriate not excepted,is justice (as in “legitimate vengeance”), some other motive, though secondary, is still necessary. (Note that this need not be “protection of society from the perpetrator”, or as the lawyers call it, “negative prevention in the special case”, but also things like general prevention and stuff.)

  28. WVC says:

    @ Imrahil

    Although I don’t think I would say it the same way as you did, I’m fairly certain I don’t disagree with you.

  29. Imrahil says:

    That’s great :-)

Comments are closed.