14 Responses

  1. carn says:

    Translated to a Catholic context, an example of Demacopoulos’s above description is found among Catholic apologists for capital punishment. Appealing to St Athanasius during the Arian heresy, Catholic fundamentalists impose support for capital punishment as a litmus test for Catholic orthodoxy. … the College of Bishops in union with the Roman Pontiff as its head, now oppose capital punishment.

    So, did Pope Francis propose reversing this traditional teaching?

    The answer, obviously, is that previous Catholic teaching on capital punishment is neither traditional as in pertaining to Apostolic Tradition, nor irreformable. Here I would add Demacopoulous’s following description of the dangers of Orthodox fundamentalism, which is equally valid when imported to a Catholic context.”

    Sorry to say, but your argument seems to completely miss the mark; reason seems to be a lack regarding the difference between an intrinsic evil and something which is to be opposed “now”.

    Two different statements:

    1. Applying the death penalty today anywhere and in any way is wrong for any contemporary state.

    2. Applying the death penalty anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances and in any way is, was and always will be wrong.

    Nobody would see any serious theological issue if Pope Francis would suggest number 1.

    But if he would suggest number 2 there might be a serious theological problem.

    Unfortunately, some parts of what he says point towards number 1 and other parts point to number 2.

    But if you fail to appreciate the difference between number 1 and 2, then your argument misses completely.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      There is a middle way, and one that correlates to the development of the Catholic perspective on the death penalty.

      The 2nd Edition of the Catechism states:

      “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

      The “in a contemporary state” argument that you used only points to the utility of the death penalty, not its intrinsic morality.

      Yet the novelty introduced by the 1997 revision to the CCC also says that not employing the death penalty is (1) in keeping with the common good, and (2) better respects the human dignity of the person.

      In other words, there are actual moral factors to play – a growing realization that the death penalty is harmful to the common good and human dignity. Not just in a contemporary context, but in an intrinsic, moral way.

      It is possible that as our understanding of human dignity increases, the traditional justifications for the death penalty will become unconvincing to or incompatible with Catholic thought. I would suggest that it’s already happening.

      • carn says:

        “Yet the novelty introduced by the 1997 revision to the CCC also says that not employing the death penalty is (1) in keeping with the common good, and (2) better respects the human dignity of the person.”

        You missed “sufficient” in CCC; that word clearly implies that if lethal means are necessary for defense against the aggressor, then they are permissible. Hence, if death penalty would be necessary to keep some type of very serious crime at bay it would be permissible.

        Hence, it could have been ok in the papal state in 18th century, if given the situation then it was necessary; and it could be not ok today, if in today situation it is not necessary.

        But that is something completely different than intrinsic evil.

        “a growing realization that the death penalty is harmful to the common good and human dignity. Not just in a contemporary context, but in an intrinsic, moral way.”

        I cannot avoid to assume that when i say “intrinsic evil” you understand these words completely differently than i understand them.

        And it seems that is also the case with Pete Vere and Ed Feser; the latter seems to use “intrinsically wrong” as i would use the term, while Pete Vane seems to understand the term differently; and therefore miss what Ed Feser’s argument actually is.

        To explain it, how i and probably Feser understand it:

        If one stumbles into a time machine, gets to an unknown place, at an unknown time and meets an unknown group of people, who ponder whether doing something is moral or not; and if said people for some strange reason decide that the stranger exiting that strange machine is to decide whether to do it or not; and if said action is intrinsically wrong;

        then there is nothing to debate, ponder, weigh, investigate and so on for the time traveler; if it is intrinsic evil, its straight forward and always: “No, do not do it.”

        “We consider performing an abortion.” “Do not do it.”
        “We consider having sex with that captured woman to whom at least some of us are not married.” “Do not do it.”
        “We consider making a statue of Satan and bow before it as party fun.” “Do not do it.”

        And that would be the case no matter the time, the place, the people, the reasons, the circumstances.

        And if death penalty would be an intrinsic evil, then the same way the time traveler would always have to advice against the application of the death penalty, no matter the time, the circumstances, etc.

        As long as you mean something different with the words “intrinsically wrong” the two “camps” talk about different issues.

        • Mike Lewis says:

          I am not neglecting the definition of intrinsic evil. Nor am I going to jump ahead of the Church in defining the death penalty as such.

          The intrinsic morality of the death penalty deserves more than a comment, but I do think that it is becoming more and more clear that justifying capital punishment based on protecting society has historically been applied way too liberally. If not an intrinsic evil, it is in general not a good thing.

          • carn says:

            But the whole issue Feser has in this article:
            http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2017/10/15/the-popes-remarks-on-capital-punishment-need-to-be-clarified/
            is that supposedly the Church teaches that

            death penalty is not intrinsically evil

            and that some comments of Pope Francis supposedly might be understood that according to Pope Francis

            death penalty is intrinsically evil.

            What is the point of using a text of someone basing all his thoughts upon the issue of intrinsically evil and whether or not who teaches what about death penalty being or not being intrinsically evil as an example of “opposing” the “wider Church” and then not closely stick/use the definition of intrinsically evil?

            One cannot criticize someone for opposing Church teaching on apples, when his argument is about what the Church supposedly teaches about oranges.

            “it is in general not a good thing.”

            To which i guess Feser would agree at once. And probably most of the supposedly fundamentalist catholics.

            Their issue is just whether Pope Francis and/or others consider it an intrinsic evil and want to “develop” Church teaching in that direction.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            I don’t know exactly what the pope, his successors and the Church will eventually teach.

            Feser believes the death penalty to be a moral good in certain cases (which is consist with the principle of retributive justice – a Thomistic theory but never taught magisterially). The argument that Feser advocates certainly found favor in the Church but was never the doctrinal reason for justifying it. The Church’s justification has always been that it can be used to protect society. Essentially self-defense.

            On the other hand, there are certain principles that the Church teaches are intrinsically evil – targeting non-combatants, engaging in preemptive war, avoiding violence when there are other means available – that seem to challenge the idea that it is self-defense to execute an apprehended and contained criminal.

            I could see that someday a blanket condemnation of the death penalty (except in cases that truly are self-defense) might be issued by the Church. Then again, I am not pope, so I am willing to defer to the wisdom of the Church on that subject.

            As it stands now, the Church generally opposes the death penalty, no matter what Feser says. I am in no position to impose it, and thankfully my state has abolished it, so I will never be in a position where I would have serve on a jury where I would have to make decision about it.

            I am curious about what revisions to the Catechism might have to be made, eventually.

          • carn says:

            “Feser believes the death penalty to be a moral good in certain cases”

            Why not address the argument raised in said article by Feser and instead address some position he might hold and might have raised elsewhere?

            Which is:

            a) Church taught for centuries and teaches now that death penalty is not intrinsically wrong.

            b) What Pope Francis says in regard to death penalty could be understood to mean that Pope Francis teaches that death penalty is intrinsically wrong.

            =>

            Potential contradiction between some presumable infallible teaching of the Church (the predecessors clearly teaching death penalty is not intrinsically wrong) and some other presumable infallible teaching of the Church (Pope Francis)

            =>

            Potential problem

            =>

            needs to be discussed

            That is not rocket science.

            “I could see that someday a blanket condemnation of the death penalty (except in cases that truly are self-defense) might be issued by the Church.”

            Then Church still would not teach death penalty to be intrinsically wrong. Intrinsically wrong means no exceptions.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            I am not a fortune teller. I don’t know what the Church might eventually teach about the death penalty. These are only my thoughts.

            I have read enough of Feser to understand his point (probably 5-6 articles). Therefore I felt no desire to re-read any particular article. My response still addressed these two points.

          • carn says:

            “I have read enough of Feser to understand his point”

            From what i see, you did not understand his point. But maybe i am the one not understanding.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            I understand that he explains the traditional understanding of the death penalty. His position is that the Church has traditionally taught that #1) Exercising it under the principle of retributive justice is a social good and commendable for a Christian society; and #2) It can be exercised to protect society – a self-defense justification.

            My argument is that #1 is not a doctrinal justification. While Aquinas and others have put forward this idea, it has never been taught magisterially. The Church has always justified it on #2 the grounds of self-defense.

            I was trying to say that the principles of self-defense (and just war) do not apply in our typical understanding of the death penalty. The person is neutralized as a danger to society, in bondage, and not an immediate threat to others.

            Generally, those conditions don’t justify the use of lethal force against another person. Additionally, the Church (contrary to Feser’s argument) has never officially taught that resorting to lethal means as a “punishment” or “penalty” for the crimes an individual has committed is justified. It has always been (in official teachings) couched in terms of restoration of order and the safety of society.

            Basically, my point is that I can foresee the Church someday making a clear statement about the intrinsic evil of directly killing a prisoner who poses no threat to others. Basically, such an act does not conform to the principles that justify self-defense.

          • carn says:

            “Basically, my point is that I can foresee the Church someday making a clear statement about the intrinsic evil of directly killing a prisoner who poses no threat to others.”

            Which would not be a declaration of the death penalty being intrinsic evil, as even a prisoner might under some circumstances still pose a threat to others.

            E.g. if a state torn by civil war gets hold of one of the most ruthless and powerful warlords, who declares his intent to continue his deeds whenever there is opportunity and whose followers declare there intent to shed any blood necessary to free him, so he can lead them again, then said warlords would still pose a danger even if in chains and is still actively committing a crime, namely inciting his followers to attempt to free him by his declared intent to continue as a warlord, when they free him.

            In such a state prison security might also be rather mediocre.

            Hence, according to “traditional” church teaching said state may resort to death penalty to protect the society from such warlords.

            If death penalty is declared intrinsic evil, then there is contradiction within church teaching, as intrinsic evil is always to be avoided no matter the excuse.

            I see only potential for strong statement against death penalty in regard to “functioning” modern states.

            But Pope Francis seems to want more, as indicated by him judging rulers of several hundred years ago to have acted morally wrong by resorting to death penalty, although we probably do not know enough details for excluding self-defense needs for death penalty.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            There are certainly times in the past where Catholics believed that the death penalty was justified but we would not endorse today: on non-violent criminals, for example: heretics and revolutionaries and political opponents; not to mention many who committed minor crimes. I think it might be possible for such executions to be called intrinsically evil.

            For murderers or other violent criminals, The point of difficulty would be to determine the level of danger they pose. Certainly the way it is carried out in the US is very problematic: years after the crime, when all appeals have been exhausted.

            My issue with Feser’s argument is that Feser’s view is not the view taken by the last several popes, and he actually advocates for the implementation of the death penalty, and doesn’t see it as a last resort.

            Regarding whether it’s intrinsically evil, I think it would be interesting to see how it is worded, when and if there is a change.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    “The key intellectual error in Orthodox fundamentalism lies in the presupposition that the Church Fathers agreed on all theological and ethical matters. That miscalculation, no doubt, is related to another equally flawed assumption that Orthodox theology has never changed—clearly it has or else there would have been no need for the Fathers to build consensus at successive Ecumenical Councils.”

    If Orthodox theology has changed, we are among the most pitiable of fools for believing it. What was true yesterday cannot become false today. The methods and words we use to convey and explain our beliefs about God can and do change, but, provided that Jesus is Who He says He is, the truth about Him is necessarily changeless.

    An evolving or progressive revelation in practice means there are no fixed truths, not even about the divinity of Christ. Every faith community that has embraced this theory of a developing theological tradition, from Mormonism to Ba’hai to Episcopalianism, has ended in strange, contradictory places. The life of those communities is solely about controlling or appeasing their constituencies. All that remains are politics.

    • carn says:

      “An evolving or progressive revelation in practice means there are no fixed truths, not even about the divinity of Christ.”

      Evolving would be mostly unproblematic, if the evolution does not end up in contradiction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *