Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Catholic Theology and Capital Punishment

Lifted from Mirror of Justice:

=start of excerpt=

[The] claim that the "last century was the first time the church ... condemned the death penalty" is wrong by a margin of 800 years. The death penalty was roundly condemned by canon 18 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

Moreover, the inspiration for the Church's long-standing antipathy to all forms of blood punishment, including the death penalty, did not come from the human sciences ... but from [the] discipline of theology. The decisive argument had to do with the risk to the immortal soul believed to be associated with the shedding of human blood. Although this was a theological argument developed by the Latin fathers of late antiquity, it was taken up by the canon lawyers of the 12th and 13th centuries, who made it the cornerstone of the new concept of voluntary homicide.

Because the medieval canonists defined the mortal sin of homicide as including all forms of negligent and unjustified killing (as well as otherwise lawful killings done with an improper motive), Pope Innocent III, who convened the Fourth Lateran Council, decided that the only safe course was to ban priestly involvement in any procedure, whether judicial or surgical, which entailed the risk of wrongful killing thus defined, thereby effectively bringing to an end the centuries-old practice of trial by fire and water and inaugurating the Church's long and honourable association with an enlightened penology of rehabilitation.

... [It] is depressing, if sadly predictable, to learn that theological studies in the modern age do not appear to include an appreciation of the enduring contribution to legal civilisation made by the Catholic theologians and canon lawyers of the medieval period.

Is it any wonder that the new pontiff, himself a distinguished theologian, seems to view the blinding certainties of its practitioners with modified rapture? - Yours etc.,

Prof FINBARR McAULEY, Faculty of Law, UCD, Dublin 4.

=end of excerpt=


Post a Comment

<< Home