Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Capital Punishment and the Church: The Roman Catechism

IT IS INCONCEIVABLE THAT AN OFFICIAL Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially one geared toward the instruction of priests, would contain fundamental error. Until the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Catechism of the Council of Trent or Roman Catechism enjoyed preeminence as a summary of Christian teaching. Those who suggest that the Catholic Church's Magisterium could declare capital punishment in all cases violates justice and is a mortal sin would essentially be calling into question every moral teaching of the Church. To suggest that capital punishment is a malum in se, an intrinsic evil, would be to overturn two millenia of Church teaching; rather, the Tradition has always regarded capital punishment, justly applied within the rule of law, to be a moral and just punishment for malefactors guilty of serious wrongdoing against the common good.

St. Charles Borromeo
who proposed, and had a role in,
developing the Roman Catechism

The Roman Catechism or the Catechism of the Council of Trent (Catechismus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini ad Parochos) handles the issue of the Fifth Commandment's prohibition against killing. The purpose of this commandment, states the Roman Catechism, is "to protect the life of each one." The words of the Fifth Commandment "emphatically forbid homicide." It is an absolute, exceptionless norm.

In explaining the commandment, the Roman Catechism excludes from its auspices brute animals, as these "form no part of human society." It also excludes killing in a just war; consequently, a "soldier is guiltless who, actuated not by motives of ambition or cruelty, but by a pure desire of serving the interests of his country, takes away the life of an enemy in a just war." Killing by accident, by ignorance of fact, "without intent or design," is likewise an exception to the rule in that it "involve[s] no guilt whatever." Similarly, killing in self defense, "having used ever means consistent with his own safety to avoid the infliction of death" does not constitute a violation of the divine injunction not to kill.

The Roman Catechism also excludes from the scope of the Fifth Commandment the execution of criminals. It states that this is an example where "life may be taken without violating this Commandment." Specifically, the Roman Catechism states:

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. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment­ is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.

Alterum permissum caedis genus est, quod ad eos magistratus pertinet, quibus data est necis potestas, qua, ex legum praescripto, iudicioque in facinorosos homines animadvertunt, et innocentes defendunt. Quo in munere quum iuste versantur, non modo ii caedis non sunt rei, sed huic divinae legi, quae caedes vetatur, maxime obediunt. Quum enim legi huic finis is propositus sit, ut hominum vitae, salutique consulatur: magistratuum item, qui legitimi sunt scelerum vindices, animadversiones eodem spectant, ut audacia et iniuria suppliciis repressa, tuta sit hominum vita. Quare David: "In matutino," inquit, "inteficiebam omnes peccatores terrae, ut disperderem de civtitate Domini omnes operantes iniquitatem."

(Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566, Part III, 5, n. 4)

Surely this teaching is of no less magnitude than the teaching found in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church. After all, to follow St. Vincent of Lerins, the Faith is what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all [quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est], and so we may believe that the same Faith underlies the 16th century Roman Catechism with the 20th century Catechism of the Catholic Church. Though we may not begrudge development in the span of five centuries, we certainly will not entertain contradictions.

In fine, the teaching of the Roman Catechism must be reconciled with the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It will not do to have one contradict the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment