compiled by Dudley Sharp
1) Romano Amerio: “The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods.”
“This fits exactly with St. Thomas’s opinion that as well as canceling out any debt that the criminal owes to civil society, capital punishment can cancel all punishment due in the life to come. His thought is . . . Summa, ‘Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment due for those crimes in the next life, or a least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation and contrition; but a natural death does not.’ “
“The moral importance of wanting to make expiation also explains the indefatigable efforts of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist Beheaded, the members of which used to accompany men to their deaths, all the while suggesting, begging and providing help to get them to repent and accept their deaths, so ensuring that they would die in the grace of God, as the saying went.”
“Amerio on capital punishment “, Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007, www.domid.blogspot.com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html
Romano Amerio, a faithful Catholic Vatican insider, scholar, professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian) at the Council.
2) “The medicinal reason for inflicting punishment, goes beyond preventing the criminal from repeating his crime and protecting society, to encouraging the guilty to repent and die in a state of grace. The vindictive reasoning also has this interest in mind: for by expiating the disorder caused by the crime, the moral debt of the guilty is lessened. In the early years of the nineteenth century, St. Vincent Pallotti frequently assisted the condemned to the scaffold, as St. Catherine had done in Siena. He was edified by the many holy deaths he saw, while helping the Archfraternity of San Giovanni, under the patronage of his friend the English Cardinal Acton. Headquartered in the Church of San Giovanni Decollato (St. John the Beheaded), their rule was to urge the condemned to a good confession, followed by an exhortation and Holy Communion followed by the grant of a plenary indulgence. The whole population of Rome was instructed to fast and pray for the intention of the criminal’s soul.” “Hanging Concentrates the Mind”, by Rev. George W. Rutler, Crisis Magazine, 2/13/13, http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/hanging-concentrates-the-mind?utm
3) Saint Thomas Aquinas: ” . . . the death inflict
ed by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin anymore.” Summa Theologica, II-II, 25, 6, 2
4) Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey: “. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” synopsis: “A Bible Study”, from Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992. Dr. Carey was a Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College.
5) Clement of Alexandria (153 – 217) Saint & Father of the Church: Furthermore, the general of an army, by inflicting fines and corporeal punishments with chains and the extremest disgrace on offenders, and sometimes even by punishing individuals with death, aims at good, doing so for the admonition of the officers under him. And God does not inflict punishment from wrath, but for the ends of justice; since it is not expedient that justice should be neglected on our account. Each one of us, who sins, with his own free-will chooses punishment, and the blame lies with him who chooses. The Instructor – Bk I, Ch VIII (Against Those Who Think That What is Just is Not Good)
7) Romano Amerio: Some opposing capital punishment “. . . go on to assert that a life should not be ended because that would remove the possibility of making expiation, is to ignore the great truth that capital punishment is itself expiatory.”
“In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened.”
“In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life.”
“Amerio on capital punishment “, Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007 ,
8) The Catechism of The Roman Catholic Church (last amended 2003) states:
“The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.” “When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation.” 2266 (my emphasis)
“PRIMARY.” (my emphasis)
This is a specific reference to justice, just retribution, just deserts and the like, all of which redress the disorder.
We must first recognize the guilt/sin/crime/disorder of the aggressor and hold them accountable for it by way of penalty, meaning the penalty should be just and appropriate for the guilt/sin/crime/disorder and should represent justice/just retribution/just deserts and their like which “redress the disorder caused by the offence” or to correct an imbalance, as defined within the example of:
CCC 2260: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” “This teaching remains necessary for all time.”
The PRIMARY, eternal teachings, of Catholic death penalty support have existed for 2000 years and are based within justice and the ultimate respect for life, made in God’s image, which overwhelms and subdues any teachings based upon utilitarianism, “defense of society” and the current status of prison security.
9) Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey: ” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” “A Bible Study” (p. 111-113) Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.
Those teachings and others are in direct conflict with Pope Francis (fn 1), who stated:
“capital sentences (should) be commuted to a lesser punishment that allows for time and incentives for the reform of the offender.” “ . . . it is urgent that we remember and affirm the need for universal recognition and respect for the inalienable dignity of human life, in its immeasurable value,”.
The incentives for reform do not get more strong than when we are facing death (1-10, 13, 15,16) and “In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened.”(see 7, also see 17, 20-23)
“In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life.” (see 7, also see 17, 20-23)
10) Clement of Alexandria (153 – 217) Saint & Father of the Church:
The Law, even in correcting and punishing, aims at the good of men.
But when it sees any one in such a condition as to appear incurable, posting to the last stage of wickedness, then in its solicitude for the rest, that they may not be destroyed by it (just as if amputating a part from the whole body), it condemns such an one to death, as the course most conducive to health.
“Being judged by the Lord,” says the apostle, “we are chastened, that we may not be condemned with the world.” For the prophet had said before, “Chastening, the Lord hath chastised me, but hath not given me over unto death.” “For in order to teach thee His righteousness,” it is said, “He chastised thee and tried thee, and made thee to hunger and thirst in the desert land; that all His statutes and His judgments may be known in thy heart, as I command thee this day; and that thou mayest know in thine heart, that just as if a man were chastising his
son, so the Lord our God shall chastise thee.”
11) Saint Augustine: ” . . . inflicting capital punishment . . . protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer . . . through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on.” (On the Lord’s Sermon, 1.20.63-64.)
12) Romano Amerio: Some death penalty opponents “deny the expiatory value of death; death which has the highest expiatory value possible among natural things, precisely because life is the highest good among the relative goods of this world; and it is by consenting to sacrifice that life, that the fullest expiation can be made. And again, the expiation that the innocent Christ made for the sins of mankind was itself effected through his being condemned to death.” “Amerio on capital punishment “, Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007 , www.domid.blogspot.com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html
13) Clement of Rome (Saint & Father of the Church), Bishop of Rome, 90-100 C.E
Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order, living in all good conscience, with becoming gravity, and not going beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him. Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin- offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned. Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death.
Clement argued that God alone rules all things, that He lays down the law, punishing rebels and rewarding the obedient, and that His authority is delegated to Church leaders. Clement went as far as to say that whoever disobeys these divinely ordained authorities has disobeyed God Himself and should receive the death penalty. First Epistle to the Corinthians (Ch 41) 96-98
14) George MacDonald: God will give absolute justice, which is the only good thing. He will spare nothing to bring his children back to himself, their sole well-being, whether he achieve it here—or there. http://www.george-macdonald.com/
15) William Law : “To say, therefore, as some have said, if God is all love toward fallen man, how can he threaten or chastise sinners is no better that saying, if God is all goodness in Himself and toward man, how can He do that in and to man which is for his good?”“Nay, so absurd is this reasoning that if it could be proved that God had no chastisement for sinners, the very want of their chastisement would be the greatest of all proofs that God was not all love and goodness toward man.”
” . . . the pure, mere love of God is that alone from which sinners are justly to expect that no sin will pass unpunished, but that His love will visit them with every calamity and distress that can help to break and purify the bestial heart of man and awaken in him true repentance and conversion to God.”
“It is love alone in the holy Deity that will allow no peace to the wicked, nor ever cease its judgments till ever sinner is forced to confess that it is good for him that he has been in trouble, and thankfully own that not the wrath but the love of God has plucked out that right eye, cut off that right band, which he ought to have done but would not do for himself and his own salvation.” “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life”,http://www.answers.com/topic/william-law
16) Clement of Alexandria (153 – 217) Saint & Father of the Church: In order to check the impetuosity of the passions, it commands the adulteress to be put to death, on being convicted of this; and if of priestly family, to be committed to the flames. And the adulterer also is stoned to death, but not in the same place, that not even their death may be in common. And the law is not at variance with the Gospel, but agrees with it. How should it be otherwise, one Lord being the author of both? She who has committed fornication liveth in sin, and is dead to the commandments; but she who has repented, being as it were born again by the change in her life, has a regeneration of life; the old harlot being dead, and she who has been regenerated by repentance having come back again to life. The Spirit testifies to what has been said by Ezekiel, declaring, “I desire not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn.” Now they are stoned to death; as through hardness of heart dead to the law which they believed not. But in the case of a priestess the punishment is increased, because “to whom much is given, from him shall more be required.” Stromata, ii. (Bk II, Ch 23) On Marriage
17) Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus) replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43
Mercy, expiation, redemption and salvation will not be measured by the method of our earthly death , but by our state of grace in the context of the eternal.
18) St. Thomas Aquinas: “The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.” Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.
19) C. S. Lewis: “According to the Humanitarian theory, to punish a man because he deserves it, and as much as he deserves, is mere revenge, and, therefore, barbarous and immoral. It is maintained that the only legitimate motives for punishing are the desire to deter others by example or to mend the criminal. “
“I believe that the “Humanity” which it claims is a dangerous illusion and disguises the possibility of cruelty and injustice without end. I urge a return to the traditional or Retributive theory not solely, not even primarily, in the interests of society, but in the interests of the criminal.”
“The reason is this. The Humanitarian theory removes from Punishment the concept of Desert. But the concept of Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust.”
“My contention is that this (Humanitarian) doctrine, merciful though it appears, really means that each one of us, from the moment he breaks the law, is deprived of the rights of a human being.”
“Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether . . .”.
” . . . 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. “
“The punishment of an innocent, that is , an undeserving, man is wicked only if we grant the traditional view that righteous punishment means deserved punishment.”
“But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we ‘ought to have known better’, is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.”
“This is why I think it essential to oppose the Humanitarian theory of punishment, root and branch, wherever we encounter it. It carries on its front a semblance of mercy which is wholly false. “
” . . . the Humanitarian theory wants simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it. Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. ” The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment
20) Why do parents punish their children for transgressions? I think it easy to understand sanction of a child, by a parent, is a reflection in love.
They want the child to understand the level of transgression, which is reflected in the degree of sanction (retribution), that the expected and hoped for result of that sanction is teaching, to encourage sorrow and apology that will be reflected in improved behavior, that such rehabilitation will result in a better person that will improve the total moral good (rehabilitation and redemption).
Few are so naive as to believe that any or all of these can or will take place in many or most circumstances with violent criminals/murderers within a criminal justice system. It does, however, recognizes that sanction/retribution is an essential requirement, which has a hoped for restorative and rehabilitative effect.
21) John Murray: “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life.” “… it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty.” “It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit.” (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).
22) “(Catholic) Tradition has understood that the spiritual aspect of the death penalty is to “concentrate the mind” so that the victim dies in a state of grace. Simply put, the less I believe heartily in eternal life, the more disheartened I shall be about entering “a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” “Hanging Concentrates the Mind”, by Rev. George W. Rutler, Crisis Magazine, 2/13/13,http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/hanging-concentrates-the-mind?utm
23) “All other considerations of the machinery of death aside, this paramount regard for the human soul is quaint only if belief in eternal life is vague. Pope Pius XII was so eager for vindictive penalties that he lent the help of a Jesuit archivist to assist the prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials. He personally told the chief United States prosecutor, Robert Jackson: “
“Not only do we approve of the trial, but we desire that the guilty be punished as quickly as possible.” This was not in spite of, but issuing from, his understanding of the dual role of healing and vindication. All this should not be remaindered as historical curiosities, for, as Pope Pius XII said, “the coercive power of legitimate human authority” has its roots in “the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine” and so it must not be said “that these sources only contain ideas which are conditioned by historical circumstances” for they have “a general and abiding validity.” (Acta Apostolica Sedis, 1955, pp.81-82). “Hanging Concentrates the Mind”, by Rev. George W. Rutler, Crisis Magazine, 2/13/13, http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/hanging-concentrates-the-mind?utm
24) “There are certain moral norms that have ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE been held by the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Although never formally defined, THEY ARE IRREVERSIBLY BINDING ON THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD”
“Such moral truths are the grave sinfulness of contraception and direct abortion. Such, too, is the Catholic doctrine which defends the imposition of the death penalty.”
“Most of the Church’s teaching, especially in the moral order, is infallible doctrine because it belongs to what we call her ordinary universal magisterium.”
“Equally important is the Pope’s (Pius XII) insistence that capital punishment is morally defensible in EVERY AGE AND CULTURE of Christianity.”
“IT IS WRONG, THEREFORE, ‘TO SAY THAT THESE SOURCES CONTAIN IDEAS WHICH ARE CONDITIONED BY HISTORICAL CIRCUMSTANCES. ON THE CONTRARY, THEY HAVE A ‘GENERAL AND ABIDING VALIDITY.’
(CAPS MY EMPHASIS, sharp)
” . . . the Church’s teaching on ‘the coercive power of legitimate human authority’ is based on ‘the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine.’ (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1955, pp 81-2).”
“Capital Punishment: New Testament Teaching”, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., 1998
25) “While punishment does serve the purpose of protecting society, it also and primarily serves the function of manifesting the transcendent, divine order of justice–an order which the state executes by divine delegation.” ” . . . it may be argued that such a conception of punishment, rooted in the restoration of moral balance, always presupposes an awareness of the superordinate dignity of the common good as defined by transcendent moral truths.” (p. 511-552)
“Yet the presence of two purposes–retributive and medicinal justice–ought not obscure the priority of assigning punishment proportionate to the crime (just retribution) insofar as the limited jurisdiction of human justice allows. The end is not punishment, but rather the manifestation of a divine norm of retributive justice, which entails proportionate equality vis-à-vis the crime.” “The medicinal goal is not tantamount merely to stopping future evildoing, but rather entails manifesting the truth of the divine order of justice both to the criminal and to society at large. This means that mere stopping of further disorder is insufficient to constitute the full medicinal character of justice, which purpose alike and primarily entails the manifestation of the truth. Thus this foundational sense of the medicinality of penalty is retained even when others drop away.” (p. 522)
“Evangelium Vitae, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Death Penalty”, p 519, Steven A. Long, The Thomist, 63 (1999)
Fn 1 “Papal Message Reaffirms Call to Abolish Death Penalty”, National Catholic Register, 6/19/13
Some additional thoughts:
1) G. K. Chesterton : Children are innocent and love justice, while most adults are wicked and prefer mercy.” http://www.online-literature.com/chesterton/
2) C. S. Lewis: “Some enlightened people would like to banish all conceptions of retribution or desert from their theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself. They do not see that by so doing they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it? And if I do deserve it, you are admitting the claims of retribution. ” “The Complete C.S. Lewis”, Signature Classics, The Problem of Pain, P407, Harper Collins, 2002
3) Reconciliation has to be built with full recognition and accountability for the wrong. –Martha Kilpatrick
4) “I have been asked on hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer totally, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering.” Billy Graham
Some secular thoughts:
5) Murderers, as all criminals, are neither powerless nor harmless, prior to their deaths.
In the case of King Louis the XVI, Robespierre, a death penalty abolitionist, agreed:
“(Louis) is condemned, or the republic cannot be absolved.”
“To propose to have a trial of Louis XVI, in whatever manner one may, is to retrogress to royal despotism and constitutionality; it is a counter-revolutionary idea because it places the revolution itself in litigation. In effect, if Louis may still be given a trial, he may be absolved, and innocent.”
“But if you will never reclaim these principles in favor of so much evil, the crimes of which belong less to you and more to the government, by what fatal error would you remember yourselves and plead for the greatest of criminals? You ask an exception to the death penalty for he alone who could legitimize it?”
“Yes, the death penalty is in general a crime, unjustifiable by the indestructible principles of nature, except in cases protecting the safety of individuals or the society altogether.”
But it is not Louis XVI alone, Robespierre’s exception is always justifiable for all violent criminals, based upon safety, alone. Yet, his real entreaty is to justice, that Louis deserves to die but, also, that he must die for “the safety of individuals or the society altogether”.
“But for a king dethroned in the bosom of a revolution, which is as yet cemented only by laws; a king whose name attracts the scourge of war upon a troubled nation; neither prison, nor exile can render his existence inconsequential to public happiness; this cruel exception to the ordinary laws avowed by justice can only be imputed to the nature of his crimes.”
“With regret I pronounce this fatal truth: Louis must die so that the nation might live.”
Maximilien Robespierre, ROBESPIERRE’S SPEECH ON THE EXECUTION OF THE KING, DECEMBER 1792, http://crookedsin.tumblr.com/post/16246204069/robespierres-speech-on-the-execution-of-the-king
6) “Executing a murderer is the only way to adequately express our horror at the taking of an innocent life. Nothing else suffices…A murderer sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole can still laugh, learn and love, listen to music and read, form friendships, and do the thousand-and-one things (mundane and sublime) forever foreclosed to his victims.” Don Feder, Boston Herald Columnist. “McVeigh Makes the Case for Capital Punishment”. 21 May 2001
7) Nothing is to be preferred before justice.” Socrates
8) William Shakespeare: Nothing emboldens sin so much as mercy.
9) “The death penalty honors human dignity by treating the defendant as a free moral actor able to control his own destiny for good or for ill; it does not treat him as an animal with no moral sense, and thus subject even to butchery to satiate human gluttony. Moreover, capital punishment celebrates the dignity of the humans whose lives were ended by the defendant’s predation.” Bruce Fein, JD, constitutional lawyer and general counsel to the Center for Law and Accountability, in an American Bar Association’s website section titled “Individual rights and Responsibility – The Death Penalty, but Sparingly,” (accessed June 17, 2008)
10) Judge Brendon Sheehan: “There may not be closure today. I think there is peace.” Sheehan on the execution of Frank Spisak who murdered Sheehan’s father, Timothy, on Sheehan’s 15th birthday.” “Judge Says ‘No Closure’ After Execution of Father’s Killer”, By Bill SheilFox 8 I-Team Reporter 7:28 p.m. EST, February 18, 2011
11) Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens : Plato