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.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Capital Punishment and the Church: St. Alphonsus Liguori

IN PRIOR POSTS ON THIS SUBJECT, we have discussed how the Church Fathers--pre-Constantine and post-Constantine, including the redoubtable St. Augustine--, Pope Innocent I and Pope Innocent III, the theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, the canonist Gratian, and the Roman Catechism issued under the authority of the Roman curia and pursuant to the Council of Trent all, without exception, confirm the moral liciety--in the order of justice--of the death penalty for malefactors when applied by the public authority for grave crimes. There is therefore unanimity in the medieval Papal magisterium, theologians, canon law, and doctrinal and pastoral teachings on this issue. To suggest that we are not dealing with an ordinary teaching of the Church infallible and irreformable in nature is temerarious, at best.

In this blog posting we will look at yet another source that confirms this. We will turn to the witness of St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Patron of Confessors and Moral Theologians.

St. Alphonsus Liguori

As Thomas Slater, S.J., put it in his A Short History of Moral Theology: "St. Alphonsus Liguori is recognized as the Doctor of moral theology as St. Thomas is of dogmatic." As his fellow Jesuit Fr. John Hardon, S.J., also confirmed:
In moral theology, Alphonsus has no peer. He is the outstanding moral theologian of the Catholic Church. It is not too much to say that he created moral theology as a distinct theological discipline in the Church. His method was mainly what we would call the case method: a problem or a case in moral which he would present very pointedly and clearly, and then resolve the problem and then draw out the principles. What Alphonsus teaches in moral theology, the Church tells us can always be safely followed. Even though others may disagree with Alphonsus, he is a safe guide in moral theology.**
As these Jesuits state in no uncertain terms, St. Alphonsus is obviously no mean authority, and, without very good reasons, we are fools to depart from him.

There is reason for holding the opinion that St. Alphonsus de Liguori is a strong authority in the area of the Church's moral teachings. Not only was he a Roman Catholic bishop, he was a canonized saint, displaying heroic sanctity and fidelity to orthodox teachings, especially in the area of morality. Moreover, was declared a Doctor of the Church precisely because of his teachings on moral theology, and indeed declared patron saint of confessors and moral theologians, suggesting that the Church finds him in some form superlative in this area. Moreover, the Holy Penitentiary during the papacy of Gregory XVI, held, in a response dated July 5, 1831, that the opinions of St. Alphonsus in matters of morals were trustworthy and so professors of moral theology could "quietly [that is, safely] follow and teach" the opinions of this teacher without fear of falling into moral error. He has consistently been held in high regard by the Papacy. DS 2725-27. As Michel Labourdette put it in the Revue thomiste:
Many times praised and recommended by the Sovereign Pontiffs, and again recently by His Holiness Pius XII, Saint Alphonsus remains a Master omni exceptione major. . . . No theologian can afford to ignore in resolving a concrete case what Saint Alphonsus thought. His authority is so great, so authentically established, that . . . it comprises one of the"common principles" to which it will always be permissible for a confessor to appeal when seeking a way out of doubt.
Granted, none of this means that his teachings are infallible; after all, he did not enjoy the charism of infallibility. But at the very least, he is an important representative of the sensus ecclesiae or the sensus fidei. You would have to have a very good reason to contradict the teachings of St. Alphonsus, especially in those areas where he is supported by Tradition.

In his great work, the Theologia Moralis, we find the following short treatment of the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill":
Doubt II
Whether, and in what manner, is it lawful to kill a wrongdoer
376. Whether it is lawful for proper authority to kill a criminal?
376.—Response: Other than the case of necessary defense, of which more below, no one except public authority may lawfully do so, and then only if the order of the law has been observed, as is made clear in Exodus 22 and Romans 13.
. . . . The public authority is given the power to kill wrongdoers, and that not unjustly, since it is necessary for the defense of the commonwealth. (Killing may not be done outside of the criminal’s territory, neither is it presumed that another prince has this right.) They also sin who kill not out of the zeal of justice, but out of hate, or private vengeance. Vide Laym l.c. Similarly, a prince or magistrate sins (normally speaking) see below l. 4. C. 3. D. 1, who orders a wrongdoer to be put to death without being properly cited, or heard, or adjudged (by public trial), even it if he has personal knowledge of that person’s guilt, because as a matter of natural law, a public act ought to be derived from public knowledge and authority. There is an exception to this rule if: (1) the crime is notorious, or (2) if there is a danger of sedition, or the King’s disgrace, if the cause proceeds juridically.

Dubium II
An, et quomodo liceat occidere malefactorem.
376. An liceat occidere Proscriptos propria auctoritate? . . . .
Resp. Extra casum necessariae defensionis, de quo infra, nulli id licet, nisi auctoritate publica, et juris ordine servato, ut patet Exod. 22 et Rom. 13.
. . . Secus est de proscriptis quos occidendi cuius acutoritas publica datur: idque non injuste, cum ad Reipublicam defensionem sit necessarium. (Modo occisio non fiat extra territorium proscribentis: nisi praesumatur licentia alterius principis. Sal. De V Praec. C. 2 n. 19 Vide. n. 380. Vers. Decius) Peccant tamen qui no ex zelo juistitae, sed odio, aut privatae vindicate causa id faciunt. Vide Laym. l. c. Peccat Princeps, vel Magistratus (regulariter loquendo) ut vide infra l. 4. c. 3 d. 1 qui occidi juebt reso non citatos, vel no auditos, vel non damnatos, etsi privata scientia conste eos esse nocentes; quia ex jure naturae actus publicus fieri debet ex scientia et auctoritate publica. Vide Caj. V. Homicidium, Fill. Tr. 29. C. 2 q. 6 n. 27. Bon. L.c.p.1 n.7 Vide et infra l.4.c.3.d.1. (Excipe 1. Si crimen set notorium. 2. Si esset periculum seditionis, aut esset dedecus Regis, si juridice procederetus. Salm. Ibid. num. 18)
This was his formal teaching, and it is rather succinct and curt, surely because this teaching was so well known that no one would even bother to contest it. This position was hardly controversial. As Brugger expresses it, St. Alphonsus Liguori's teaching on capital punishment "is typical for its measured rearticulation of the Church's traditional teaching."***

To his credit, Brugger is honest in his treatment of St. Alphonsus and the teaching contained in the Theologia Moralis. He could recruit him for his particular viewpoint of Evangelium vitae,† but he does not. As he explains:
When Liguori teaches that criminals may be killed "if it is necessary for the defense of the republic [idque not iniuste {occidere proscriptos} cum ad reipublicae defensionem sit necessarium] he appears to be using the principle of "necessity" as it is used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Evangelium Vitae. But his further statement that "beyond the cause of necessary defense, it is never licit [to kill malefactors], except by public authority and in order to preserve the order of law" [nisi auctoritate publica, et juris ordine servato] makes a distinction between "necessary defense" as self-defense (as in the Catechism, no. 2267) and the killing necessary for "preserving the order of law."

Brugger, 124-25.

In other words, St. Alphonsus does not limit the moral or just application of the death penalty by private authority to instances where it is necessary in the manner that it would have to be necessary for a private individual to justify killing another in self-defense. The notion of "necessity" when it comes to the public authority's defense of the common good is much broader than the notion of "necessity" required to justify deadly force against an unjust aggressor.

In his Instructions for the People, a sort of concise and more popular version of his magnum opus, the Theologia Moralis, St. Alphonsus addresses those "causes" which permit the killing of another person. St. Alphonsus identifies only three causes that "render it lawful to take away the life of man: public authority, self-defense, and a just war."

With respect to his treatment of the death penalty, St. Alphonsus expands as follows:
It is lawful to put a man to death by public authority: it is even a duty of princes and of judges to condemn to death criminals who deserve it; and it is the duty of the officers of justice to execute the sentence; God himself wishes malefactors to be punished.

Per l'autorità pubblica è ben lecito, anzi è obbligo de' principi e de' giudici di condannare i rei alla morte che si meritano, ed è obbligo de' carnefici di eseguire la condanna. Dio stesso vuole che siano puniti i malfattori.

Here, St. Alphonsus ascribes an affirmative duty to the public authority to condemn to death and execute criminals who are guilty of capital offenses.

Of course, St. Alphonsus Liguori is just one of literally scores of moral theologians which, either relying upon him or independently relying on the Magisterial, theological, patristic, scriptural, or natural law sources all held--in virtual unanimity--that the public authority could, in proper instances and with proper purpose, put a malefactor to death without falling into any mortal sin or moral fault.†† It is impossible in light of this witness for the Church to hold that capital punishment is per se evil, and that the State has no authority given to it by God, to put a malefactor to death and not infringe upon the demands in justice. Indeed, justice may in fact demand it.

*Rev. Eugene Grimm, ed., The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, Vol. XV, "Instructions on the Commandments and the Sacraments" (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1890)I.V, p. 462
**John A. Hardon, "History of Religious Life: St. Alphonsus Liguori and the Development of Popular Piety" accessible here.
***E. Christian Brugger, Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition (Notredame University Press, 2003), 124.
†As quoted in Théodule Rey-Mermet, Moral Choices: The Moral Theology of Saint Alphonsus Liguori (Paul Laverdure, trans.) (Liguori Publications, 1998), 78.
††Brugger's argument is that Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium vitae set up the possibility of the Church teaching that capital punishment is per se evil. He argues that the encyclical teaches that the only justification for capital punishment--in the order of justice--is self-defense, i.e., it being necessary for the defense common good. I strongly disagree with Brugger's position because he finds too much discrepancy between the Tradition and Evangelium vitae, and he seeks to supplant the former with the latter instead of trying for a true reconciliation of what is only an apparent contradiction. He also, in my mind, confuses the order of justice with the order of mercy.
†††Eighteen exemplars of these are indicated in Brugger, foonote 95, p. 228, and with a little bit more effort he could have found dozens more. He is honest about their unanimity: "The first thing a reader notices in these works is the overwhelming consensus on the morality of capital punishment."

1 comment:

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    Her grandmother