Friday, August 3, 2018

Pope Francis and capital punishment


Pope Francis has changed the Catechism’s teaching on capital punishment so that it now flatly rules out the practice as “inadmissible” on doctrinal, and not merely prudential, grounds – apparently contradicting two millennia of clear and consistent teaching to the contrary.  I comment on this development in an article at First Things.

That capital punishment can be legitimate at least in principle is a teaching that clearly meets the criteria for being an infallible and irreformable doctrine of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, for reasons I set out at length in a recent article at Catholic World Report.  The evidence is set out in even greater depth by Joseph Bessette and I in our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment.

To contradict this traditional teaching is a doctrinal error, pure and simple – something possible when a pope is not speaking ex cathedra, albeit most popes bend over backwards to avoid even the appearance of such a thing.  However, on several issues – marriage and divorce, worthiness to receive Holy Communion, contraception, capital punishment, and more – Pope Francis has repeatedly made statements that appear to contradict traditional Catholic teaching, and has persistently refused to respond to respectful requests for clarification made by members of the hierarchy and prominent theologians.  Moreover, he has done so not only in offhand comments during interviews and the like, but in official magisterial documents, such as Amoris Laetitia, and now the Catechism.  

This is, to put it mildly, a highly unusual situation.  These are not normal times in the Church.  It was providential that the CDF under Pope St. John Paul II made it explicit, in Donum Veritatis, that Catholic theologians have the right and sometimes even the duty respectfully to raise criticisms of deficient magisterial documents.  As I showed in a recent article, this teaching is by no means a novelty, but has deep roots in the tradition of the Church – for example, in Aquinas’s discussion of the right and duty of the faithful to correct errant prelates, even publicly.  There can be no reasonable doubt that the norms set out by Donum Veritatis, by Aquinas, and by this neglected part of Catholic tradition in general, are by no means of merely theoretical interest.  They have urgent contemporary practical application.  

Defenders of the change to the Catechism will no doubt be trotting out the (sometimes shrill and poorly argued) critiques of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed that appeared last year.  Here are links to my replies to the most significant of these critiques:





On capital punishment, even the pope’s defenders are confused [A reply to Robert Fastiggi, Austen Ivereigh, Christian Brugger, and Mark Shea], Catholic World Report (October 21, 2017)


Yes, traditional Church teaching on capital punishment is definitive [A further reply to Fastiggi], Catholic World Report (November 21, 2017)

282 comments:

  1. On the one hand, the letter issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announcing the change asserts that it constitutes “an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.” Nor does the new language introduced into the catechism clearly and explicitly state that the death penalty is intrinsically contrary to either natural law or the Gospel. ,,

    Then taken at face value the "development" here is the DP can be "inadmissible" without it being "intrinsically immoral". The ambiguous term here is "inadmissible". It has no clear meaning.

    I am reminded of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS where St. Sir Thomas More said he agreed with an early resolution of Parliament that proclaimed the King of England "Head of the Church in England". He remarks "The resolution says the King is Head of the Church in England as far as the Law of God allows. What is ambiguous is how far does God's Law allow this to be so?".

    The Pope has clearly NOT contradicted earlier teaching but at worst he has created confusion.

    Also taking the Pope's "revised" teaching at face value we are all one Nuclear War away from it becoming "admissible" again.

    This is not doctrinal Dr. Feser this is discipline at best ambiguity at worst.

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    1. Man, this reminds me of those lunatics who read through Paul's letters and determine that all the "women are not to teach in church or have authority over a man" parts of the bible mean the opposite of what they say if you just assume Paul was being incredibly and inexplicably sarcastic when he was writing all that.

      As someone else said: Francis' closest allies turn out to be serial molesters or get caught up in gay orgies and he had no idea, but he's able to reliably ascertain the necessity of the death penalty throughout the entire world? Seriously?

      This before pointing out, as we need to do again and again: the problem here is that the death penalty was not just 'necessary for safety'. It was a just penalty. Some crimes merit it, and it can be doled out, in the name of justice alone, rightly.

      As I said a while ago: we've got three options with Pope Francis. "He is a bad Pope." or "He is quite literally mentally challenged." or both. Pick one.

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    2. This new potential doctrinal crisis is happening 50 years after Humanae Vitae and the contraception crisis.

      Coincidence? Or...?

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    3. :Man, this reminds me of those lunatics who read through Paul's letters and determine that all the "women are not to teach in church or have authority over a man" parts of the bible mean the opposite of what they say
      Since when do Catholics believe Martin Luther's Perspecuity of Scripture heresy Crude? Well? You claim you don't want to be called "Protestant" for your pseudo-SSPX views and here you are channeling Luther the King of the Protestants?
      Care to explain that?

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    4. @Crude,


      Except they aren't lunatics. They are making the argument that 1) Paul was a student of the rabbi Gamaliel, and thus he wouldn't make the mistake of saying that the Law requires the submission of women, 2) that Paul would be contradicting his earlier statement in 1 Cor 14:26 and 31 where he refers to both men and women and doesn't single out woman to be silent, and 3) that there is documentary evidence that Paul is actually quoting someone in 1 Cor 14:34-35 and is responding to a view by challenging those to whom he is writing.

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    5. JoeD

      Why must we assume Luther's Perspecuity of Scipture when reading Paul especially since the first Pope warns against it? (2 Peter 3:16)

      It's a lousy example. Crude should know better.

      So my wife is sitting in Church after Mass explaining something to my Son then she is violating Paul here? I think not....

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    6. I'm with Crude on the broad points. Either way you cut it, this is bad. And those trying to smooth it over are just excusing a really incompetent/bad pope.

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    7. What is ambiguous about "inadmissable"?
      To me, the meaning is very clear. Something that is inadmissable isn't permitted.

      That does not mean it was necessarily wrong to permit it in the past and neither does it man that it can't be permitted again some time in the future under diffrent circumstances, but not under present circumstances.

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    8. As I said a while ago: we've got three options with Pope Francis. "He is a bad Pope." or "He is quite literally mentally challenged." or both. Pick one.

      … or we can conclude he's not pope, because a non-Catholic can't be a valid pope.

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    9. I have attempted to rationalize the teaching as "while it may not be intrinsically immoral we will not admit public advocacy for the continued use of the death penalty".

      I take this to be equivalent to The Stance the church might use on somebody who would advocate for flogging or something else that might cause scandal even though flogging is not of itself intrinsically immoral.

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    10. @Son of Yakov:

      So the problem is that "inadmissible" is ambiguous? But that *is* the problem: the persistent ambiguity in the papal pronouncements. What the heck is going on on his mind? If it were just off the cuff statements to some semi-senile liberal journalist, ok, one could understand it and chalk it up to the iniquities of our Twitter culture. But in official Church documents? And then his refusal to clarify his statements when charitably requested for those with the proper authority, and in the spirit of filial love for the Pope (not just the office, but the man himself)? It becomes hard to resist the temptation to think that Pope Francis really does have an agenda of remaking the Church in his own image. At any rate, I do not see how we can resist the conclusion of Prof. Feser that the Pope does need correction. For love of the Church, for love of the Pope.

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    11. “Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” - I don’t see how this doesn’t contradict earlier teachings. This reason given has nothing to do with whether or not capital punishment is necessary because other options exist. This is morally loaded language. If something is in attack on the dignity of the person, then it must be an evil act.

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    12. @Jason,


      Actually, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI lauded the possibility of the death penalty being abolished completely in modern times, and even mention a greater awareness of human dignity as the cause of such a development.

      For example, John Paul II states in a homily dated January 22nd, 1999 that "he new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

      And Pope Francis explicitly cites Evangelium vitae and one of John Paul II's Christmas Messages from 1998, as well as Benedict XVI in the footnote to the Catechism passage.

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    13. JPII and Benedict wanted it to come about because civil authorities CHOSE to consider whether the DP was serving a needed purpose, and to decide themselves that it is not. Francis is trying to take the decision off their plates and make it for them. The crux of the matter is: whose judgment controls, that of civil authorities, or that of the Pope?

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  2. I pray that someone in the Hierarchy brings this up publicly. If there was any time for Pope Benedict to jump in the fray, it would be now. I really miss him and his resignation has been a disaster for the Church.

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    1. The problem with opposing the Pope here purely comes down to popularity. Ed makes what I think is a decisive case here. Clear and decisive.

      But he's going to be up against a small army of loud people screaming "But that doesn't seem nice! God is nice! God is love and love is nice and death is bad so God wouldn't do that because God is love!"

      And correcting those people requires guts. Extraordinary guts since you can't count on the institutional church to have your back.

      Which means the people who have to oppose the Pope are going to be Catholics who the hierarchy can't touch, but who have skin in the game enough to want to fight.

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    2. I am the first to defend Feser as a principled critic of the Pope. But Extremists who channel their inner Luther (like suggesting Paul is prespicuous-2 Peter 3:16) befuttle his efforts with their extremism. Papal Critics aren't infallible treating them like they cannot themselves make minor mistakes is the oppossite error to not criticizing the Pope at all. It also harms the principle critics. This is our Faith not crude politics. Don't treat them the same. The Church is the House of God and Congress is a whorehouse.

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  3. The real problem here and the sole problem here is ambiguity and lack of clarity not the clear teaching of error. Heretics unlike Pope Francis at least are clear about their rejection of Church teaching. Pope Francis is as ambiguous as Holy Writ and given Cardinal Muller sensibilities he makes it easy to interpret him in an orthodox manner most of the time. Of course if he was clear we wouldn't have too.

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  4. Ed,

    Could you comment on whether this constitutes formal heresy on the part of the Pope?

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  5. Most defenders of the new phrasing I have seen have sought to read it as still conditioned on present circumstances. The reading is a pretty tortured one, but that's where a lot of people have landed.

    The text does not seem to be very coherent. The first couple paragraphs insinuate that it has always been a mistake to apply capital punishment:

    Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

    Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.


    IOW, long considered appropriate, but not at all, because we know better.

    Then the third lists prudential reasons:

    Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

    This has led some to suggest that we're still with JPII.

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    1. It is not a "tortured" reading but a consistent one since it is not coherent as you noted. The phrase "appropriate response" doesn't tell us if we mean appropriate moral response or practical response to something that is moral to do in principle. It doesn't denote a mistake per say.

      >This has led some to suggest that we're still with JPII.

      IMHO it should be interpreted as JP2 thought stricter.

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    2. By the "however" of the second paragraph, the Catechism asserts that the following thesis is false: "Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, [is] an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good." That thesis is perfectly generic. Like any positive precept, it can have circumstantial exceptions. Its denial is the denial that the death penalty can be applied, not the denial that it should have been applied in the concrete circumstances of the past.

      The first sentence of the second paragraph, moreover, suggests that people thought that recourse to the death penalty was considered appropriate because people were mistaken about the dignity of the person; we, unlike them, know that the dignity of the person is not lost by the commission of crimes; that is why they applied the death penalty and we will not.

      Am I insane? I am so tired of jumping through hoops.

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    3. Or the Pope could have saved us the trouble and clearly said it is "interinsically evil" which would be clear heresy or clearly said it is still not intrinsically evil.
      This is a goofy change but to make it a change in doctrine I need clarity.

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    4. I wish I could say it were simply ambiguous. The kindest thing to be said about it is that it is incoherent and thus the first couple paragraphs, which clearly are making a principled rather than prudential remark, can be written off as rhetoric.

      Anyway, I don't care. I find this extremely discouraging, but it's not a reason to stop being Catholic.

      I find other worries more pressing than whether the Catholic is a formal heretic. For one thing, when each Catholic has to interpret the pope's words to make them into something he can assent to, the pope ceases to be an authority; this is true even if the Catholics in question are trying their darnedest to respect his authority. This is why I find the "if I read the text this way, the pope is consistent with tradition" tactic so taxing. In applying it, the authority being respected is my own estimation of Catholic tradition, not the pope.

      Then the concern is why, if the Catechism had to be updated to express in perhaps slightly altered form the JPII position, it should be so ambiguous. Is the pope a stupid man? Is he not aware of the sorts of debates people have about the death penalty? Did he want the scope of his change to be totally obscure, for different members of the Church to insist on different readings? If the unclarity was a mistake, why won't he clarify, as I suspect most will agree he won't? I hate that these questions come to the foreground whenever the pope speaks or writes about faith and morals. I wish trusting him led somewhere.

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    5. While I doubt the Pope finds his phrasing as obscure as everyone else does, it is indeed true that the Pope takes a certain delight in "mixing things up" and creating furor. It is his "hagan lio" nonsense. And I call it nonsense pointedly: he feels free to introduce nonsense just to make people uncomfortable, to get them off kilter. He thinks of it as "creative destruction", you have to get people out of their mental ruts before you can get them to think a new thought.

      Never mind that it's not the Pope's job to make people think a new thought: preservation and spread of the Truth that we have received is his job. Never mind that when the Church has taught something rightly for 2000 years, thinking a "new thought" constitutes error rather than an improvement. Never mind that his "hagan lio" applied with his broad brush unsettles holy people who had no need of being pushed out of their good and worthy habits. Never mind trying to convince people of a new thought by the objective force of its own truth properly illuminated by its own proper evidence, which is what JPII and Vatican II said in defense of religious freedom. Never mind all that: the Pope seems to delight in nothing so much as being an "agent of change" whether it is called for or not.

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  6. Out of curiosity, have any ecumenical councils addressed the death penalty?

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  7. Hello Dr. Feser and other regular commenters,

    I'm having a really hard time in avoiding the conclusion that this latest from Pope Francis has empirically disproved the Catholic Church's truth claims.

    If the Church cannot teach error on faith and morals, and if capital punishment is a moral issue, both unobjectionaly premises, then the Church's teaching must be consistent.

    Since the teaching of Pope Francis on this issue contradicts his predecessors, the Church has not been consistent.

    Conclusion: the Church can teach error on faith and morals, ergo the Church does not really exist.

    The way out you followed is to consider this new teaching as "Pope Francis's teaching", which we may question and disagree with, and not "the Church's teaching", which we may not.

    It seems to me this may work on, say "Amoris Laetitia". After all, when I open the text on the Vatican website, it says "POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION AMORIS LAETITIA OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS" etc. So, although of course a Church document, it is a personal one.

    However, when I open up the Catechism, it says only "CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH". And it makes sense. If I read (and believe) the Catechism, I'm believing the Church, not one of her members specifically. I didn't read previous Catechisms to learn John Paul II's personal opinions, but to learn the Church's view. So this way out of blaming Francis specifically does not seem to exist now. Especially if the whole Church accepts his proposed change, which it seems it will. I haven't seen any bishops asking the Pope to retract or threaten him with deposition otherwise.

    So... is Catholicism proven false?

    I know this is a Catholic forum and I'm an infrequent commenter. Let me assure you this is not trolling: I'd like to know how you can square this circle. Or maybe you can show me I'm seeing mirages.

    FWIW, for a few years in the recent past I had been slowly going towards the Tiber. You, Prof Feser, has been a major influence in convincing me of theism, and given that, Catholicism seems reasonable. But Pope Francis has put this process in reverse and with this latest one has all but ended it. He now has me wondering if all this isn't just God's way of saying, "hey men, the answer is Judaism (or Islam, or something else).

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    1. Or the teaching is ambiguous and unclear and should be interpreted in light of what is clear. Feser can be wrong on this minor point of it contradicting doctrine. OTOH if this is not an Ex Cathedra act on the Part of the Pope then it can contain error and it doesn't matter if Feser is right. So this does not empirically disprove the faith either way.

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    2. I'm having a really hard time in avoiding the conclusion that this latest from Pope Francis has empirically disproved the Catholic Church's truth claims.

      It seems to me there's several options available.

      * What's been empirically disproven is the claim that Pope Francis is the Pope. (Hello, sedevacantism.)

      * Nothing empirically has been proven, because "The Church cannot teach error" is not some empirical claim, certainly not about the papacy. There is a consistent teaching, traditional and well-established, on this topic. This doesn't change just because Francis teaches otherwise. When a modern Pope conflicts with past Popes and established teaching and tradition, the modern Pope loses. (Hello, open defiance to the Pope situationally without rejecting his papacy. Aka, SSPX styled interaction.)

      * Pope Francis isn't the Pope after all. Benedict is. (Hello, open defiance to a... what, antipope?)

      I'm sure other variations can be discovered, but I think any talk of an 'empirical disproof' here just doesn't work, much less is necessary.

      For my part, the second reply has long been my view. I know this is a part where some Catholics will attempt to fight back with a kind of shaming - "You sound like a protestant!" - but honestly, even with better Popes, my understanding and the presentation of the Church has been that 'The Church' was not just the Pope. Catholic teachings were not this thing that you needed the Pope's input to have any knowledge of; some things were well-established already, and the current Pope was bound by them. If he acted otherwise, so much the worse for him.

      Granted, this places us in a situation where we have to ask awkward questions - like 'Who's going to tell the Pope he's not just wrong about this, but his proclamation literally lacks moral and spiritual authority? - but I'm afraid those are available for every meaningful position out there.

      And besides, for that last question, I'm happy to volunteer. In fact I do so, semi-regularly, on twitter. Rather bluntly in fact.

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    3. No Crude.
      The correct alternative is the Pope's teaching is ambiguous and thus must be interpreted in light of what is clear.
      When the Pope clearly and unambiguously says in an official way the DP is intrinsically evil then we are at Defcon one.
      Also the CCC is not in and of itself a magisterial document but a summery of magisterial teaching.

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    4. Doesn't the Church teach that the Pope by himself, when speaking ex cathedra regarding faith and morals something to be believed definitively by all the faithful, is infallible and cannot define error or heresy?

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    5. The correct alternative is the Pope's teaching is ambiguous and thus must be interpreted in light of what is clear.

      Hey, I'm all in favor. Tell the Pope that the death penalty is not intrinsically immoral, that he has no authority to say otherwise, and that he - spiritually and authoritatively - is bound by tradition. That he cannot, in fact, teach otherwise.

      Correct any cardinals and bishops and priests who say otherwise too. Make it clear that when they huff and say, loudly, "I. AM. A. CARDINAL. AND. YOU. ARE. NOT." that that doesn't matter, and if they say the death penalty is immoral, they're teaching heresy.

      Clear up that ambiguity however you can! I sure plan to.

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    6. The last two Popes who spoke Ex Cathedra clearly said they where speaking thus.

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    7. Crude are you trying to continue a fight we had years ago when we ended our friendship? Cause if so I am not interested and our friendship is still dead.
      >Hey, I'm all in favor.

      Good now ditch your apparent Luther way of reading Paul and we can tolerate each other or ignore each other.

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    8. Hello Al,

      No, the sorts of errors in question here are possible and have occasionally occurred, albeit very rarely. I've discussed this in other posts:

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/11/papal-fallibility.html

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/12/denial-flows-into-tiber.html

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-church-permits-criticism-of-popes_20.html

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    9. Al,

      An ex cathedra statement would sound something like this:

      If anyone does not admit that the application of the death penalty is intrinsically evil, let him be anathema.

      This would be in a formal document written by the Pope with the express intent of clarifying a question on the moral permissibility of the death penalty specifically (along with any other relevant doctrines).

      Typically he will also make some reference to the authority of his office and his connection with St. Peter. It is very uncommon for an ex cathedra statement to be given, and this does not meet those criteria. However, it is very concerning that Pope Francis is teaching something that is almost certainly against traditional Catholic doctrine (unless he is using his vocabulary in a very loose way).

      We should pray for his guidance, since he is still our spiritual leader.

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  8. Hi Ed,

    It seems to me that in his revision of the Catechism, Pope Francis attempts to have his cake and eat it. On the one hand, he declares that "the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that 'the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,'” which suggests that it is intrinsically wrong.

    At the same time, he writes that "more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption," which seems to imply that if these enlightened methods of detention had not been developed, capital punishment might still be justifiable when necessary to protect the common good - which in turn implies that it is not intrinsically wrong, after all.

    Which is it, then? Both statements cannot be correct.

    Finally, the claim that there are no longer any cases where the execution of an offender is necessary in order to protect the common good, is doubtful. If we are prepared to allow that there were times in the past when capital punishment was necessary, then by the same token, there are surely some nations in the world where the same holds true today, for there are still many poor countries in which law and order have effectively broken down, and where dangerous criminals can bribe their way out of prison. Conversely, if the Pope wishes to insist that capital punishment today is always and everywhere wrong because it violates the dignity of the human person, then by this logic, the same must have also been true in the past - including Old Testament times. If this is what Pope Francis believes, he really should come right out and say so.

    What I find most annoying about the whole episode (apart from the 1984-style rewriting of the Catechism) is that the ordinary infallible magisterium of the Church has been redefined by papal fiat. As anyone who read Avery Cardinal Dulles' memorable article on capital punishment in "First Things" (April 2001) would realize, it was commonly agreed among Catholic bishops and theologians that capital punishment could be justified in extreme circumstances, when it was necessary to protect the common good. And now, after a mere 17 years have elapsed, the Pope is suddenly claiming that a new consensus exists among Catholic bishops and theologians, to the effect that capital punishment is never justifiable, and that Catholics are obliged to believe this. Which invites the question: who is authorized to declare whether such a morally binding consensus exists among the Church's bishops and theologians? If we answer, "The Pope," then it seems that we have rendered the bishops' teaching authority redundant, as the Pope could then declare the ordinary magisterium to be whatever he wishes it to be, so long as he contravenes no defined dogmas of the Church. That cannot be right.

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    1. Heretics are at least clear in their denial of the truths of the Faith. Because Francis is infallible by the power of God and Divine Providence assuming he is trying to teach heresy well he isn't teaching anything clearly.
      You could read what he says in an orthodox manner but he doesn't lend us to unambiguous error. At least we all know what Luther clearly but erroneously taught about justification.

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    2. That's a clear and (ahem) unambiguous presentation of the issues at work, as I see them. Thanks for the comment, Vincent.

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  9. on doctrinal, and not merely prudential, grounds
    Are you sure about that Doc? You know I luv ya but I am not sure I agree?

    “2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
    Well "appropriate" is ambiguous here? Is it morally "appropriate" or are we talking prudence?
    Cause it could simply be referring to prudence?
    Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.
    And? That is a dangling modifier.


    In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.
    Ditto!
    Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
    This leans more toward prudence then doctrine. I don't see how it can be otherwise?

    Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
    So does he mean because it is now intrinsically evil or is he merely arguing we should seek "redemption" rather then execute the person?

    Also given what was said we are all one nuclear war away from it being "admissible" by the above practical standards.

    I don't think it's doctrinal here. I don't he is asking us to believe the death penalty is intrinsically evil. He is telling us not to execute people but try to "redeem" them. Now you have argued quite successfully why that is a false/either or fallacy. But that is not a change in doctrine.

    But it is confusion. Cheers.

    I'll let others chime in. To bad past trolls have made it impossible to post in real time.

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  10. Al,

    If a person took over the Vatican printing press and placed something erroneous in the Catechism, it would not mean the Church is teaching error. The fact that the person might be the pope, and that he might have accomplices, does not change that. We do not confuse what the pope says is the truth with the truth; nor do we concede that just because a pope says something is a dogma it becomes a dogma. There are criteria, just as there is a reality to these things. Pay attention to the Fathers, to the great saints Dr. Feser references, learn the Tradition. I am a convert, luckily during the years of JPII. Dr. Feser has many excellent articles explaining how popes might err and what is to be done. We've had worse than Francis, but it is unsettling and I expect will get worse. We must be troubled because what this Pope is doing is troubling, very, very troubling. But be not afraid.

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  11. Thank you, Dr. Feser. Indeed, if Pope Francis is presenting capital punishment as being wrong precisely because of inviolable human dignity, then what other judgment is possible other than capital punishment being intrinsically immoral? After all, capital punishment necessarily involves killing a human. Ergo, capital punishment is per se wrong according to the revised Catechism, which contradicts Church teaching. I have never seen something like this.

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    1. Based on our last discussion over at First Things I deleted my post. Carry on.

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  12. Defenders of the change to the Catechism will no doubt be trotting out the (sometimes shrill and poorly argued) critiques of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed that appeared last year.

    But of course, Dr. Feser: Mark Shea is already on it!

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    1. Tell Shea for me to stop helping.

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    2. Wow we need those two intellectual heavyweights Dave Armstrong and Mark Shea to weigh in on this. Armstrong isn't a bad guy, I'll leave it at that. Shea is, well, I'll leave it at that.

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    3. Don't pick on my buddy Dave ya Anonymous Sassanach.

      But pick on Mark Shea I dina fash about him.

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  13. Philip Lawyer a fierce critic of Pope Francis weights in.

    https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=1300

    https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=1301

    “Section 2266 of the Catechism remains unchanged, reminding us that “the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.” Can we conclude, then, that in some circumstances, despite the new language that follows, capital punishment might be admissible?”

    My response is so how can the Pope be teaching the DP is intrinsically evil?

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    1. "My response is so how can the Pope be teaching the DP is intrinsically evil?"

      By using language that means the death penalty is intrinsically evil.

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    2. How so, James? The presence of correct teaching in CCC 2266 doesn't make the faulty, erroneous language of New CCC 2267 any less problematic.

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  14. Are you absolutely sure that it cannot be reconciled with tradition? I'm thinking of two things in particular.. (1) are you familiar with Dr. Thomas Pink's position on Dignitatis Humane? He basically holds that the Church can use the civil arm to coerce baptized people back into the faith, but what DH did was basically issue a prudential decision by forbidden civil authorities from interfering in all matters of faith. (2) I read somewhere that Cardinal Ottaviani advocated for the abolition of the Just War theory, in application to modern times. Basically he held that given the current situation (mankind's capacity to create weapons of mass destruction), there can never be a just war given the current modern day circumstances. Could similar principles be applied to this situtation? I'm thinking that is a prudential decision by the Church, and not one that address the morality of the death penalty in various possible situtations in the past or in the future.

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    1. M, those are worth considering, but finally they are not enough. (1) Thomas Pink's position on Dignitatis Humanae is not quite right. He ultimately fails to account for what Pope Leo XIII said about the two orders, the secular and the ecclesiastical: that they are each, in their own areas, supreme. It is in overlap areas where it is neither solely a secular area, nor solely an ecclesiastical area, that create the tension, but in those areas, the secular order has a role stemming from its own sources, even if it must also be guided by the ecclesiastical order in fulfilling its role. The ecclesiastical order is powerless to tell the state not to surpress Moloch worshiping in the form of child sacrifice, for such acts are known sufficiently (by natural reason) to the state's authorities to be contrary to the common good that is in the care of the state, without needing to be informed of the matter by revealed truth or the Church. Pink errs in the matter.

      (2) Cardinal Ottaviani also erred in a matter of prudential judgment: in the 70 years since the use of the first nuclear weapons in war, no nation has used them in war again, even though 6 nations who had them have gone to war, and even though at least 40 wars and smaller-scale military campaigns have been fought. In all, only one despot has used weapons of mass destruction in war since Nagasaki, (Saddam Hussein), and the world collectively dealt with him.

      Effectively, the US bishops conference made an allied error about WMD in their 1980 statement, implying that it is impossible to use them morally. This was and is false, and their errors came in part from speaking on matters which are outside their own areas of expertise. For example, they ignored the existence of tactical, or "battlefield-sized" super-small nuclear weapons. They also ignored the possibility of using them only on targets at sea, and/or distant in space. They assumed that once they were put in play, the other countries would retaliate in kind (with an assumed escalation); but in nearly all of the wars of the last 70 years, at most only one country in the war had nuclear weapons (or any WMDs), so the opponent could not possibly retaliate in kind.

      But more importantly, the decision to go to war or not to go to war, and the judgment of when the conditions of just war have been met, ARE NOT THE CHURCH'S decisions, but those of "legitimate authority", namely, that of the civil states. The Church can (and should) rightly teach about the added difficulties that now attend working out the criterion of there being a reasonable expectation of success, where "success" is properly measured in terms of a just peace. That there are new difficulties in prudentially estimating that issue does not mean it is impossible to make a rational estimate. And, in any case, it only takes one belligerent to start a war, and if started unilaterally the other side can only either submit or fight: it is necessarily impossible to say universally that in prudence the attacked nation must always submit.

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    2. Likewise here: the last 3 popes have reiterated a similar prudential judgment over and over: in the modern penal system, it is no longer necessary to kill a criminal to render us safe from him. This is a prudential judgment about which those 3 popes have no special expertise to judge. And in the 26 years since JPII first issued his opinion, no pope or prominent cardinal has seen fit to deal with the difficulties of that position. Such as: in the modern prison, prisoners are not safe from violence from each other, they are typically at risk for beatings and sexual assault, and more than a trivial number of murders happen there. Secondly, in the modern state, gangs and organized crime continue to operate from and in prison, using their men inside to pursue evils of various kinds, including intimidating witnesses so they won't testify (or killing them), etc. My point is not that these 3 popes were necessarily definitively wrong if they estimated that the evils of these ongoing violences from prisoners are lesser (and therefore to be borne) than the evil of putting to death a criminal; it is that they have made no effort to show a morally balanced analysis to weigh the competing evils in order to establish whether it can validly be claimed "we can keep people safe 'enough' with modern prisons". They have, it appears, taken into account the bleeding-heart-liberal side of the claims about prisons keeping people safe, and not tried to consider alternative theses that suggest otherwise - and thus their prudential judgment is legitimately suspect. They have thus stuck their oar into a matter in which they have not studied deeply and thoroughly, (or, what amounts to much the same, they have declined to provide any indication that they HAVE studied both sides, and declined to provide any suggestions about how to answer the above two disputed problems (and other problems) with their position), and we don't have to take their prudential estimations as if they were protected from error by the Holy Spirit. We only have to listen respectfully and give them a careful hearing. And we have.

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    3. @Tony: Your 2 comments preceding are excellent. I do give JPII and BXVI a bit of a pass in remembering that they lived under totally depraved regimes, and may have been influenced by that. (Though how in the world they didn't see that imprisonment could be every bit as bad as DP, I don't know.)

      But there's one point you slightly touch on that troubles me. That is the role of the "state". My problem is that it's not clear to me that all societies are ruled by a "state" as we normally use the term. Others in this thread have commented on the problem of places where that has broken down entirely. And personally, I don't see any reason to rule out that happening in most of the world.

      Where I am puzzled is that Catholic thinking here (with which I am certainly not very well read) doesn't seem to address it much. When I read Aquinas or other scholastics, they seem to be drawing very heavily from sources ultimately Greek or Roman, and NOT talking about the actual medieval societies about them. And it is key to understanding the Middle Ages, to grasp that the idea of a "state" was, in practice, radically different than what followed it. So I end a bit puzzled.

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    4. George, I take it as taught by Leo XIII as well as many popes before and after, that living in a state is the normal human condition, not merely as the most common and typical situation, but as the NORM about which other situations are to be judged as more or less defective. And although there are in fact concrete situations in which person have lived not under a state, I think it is manifestly true that nearly all of the persons now alive are living under, and rightly subject to, a state.

      There is a possible caveat regarding some few countries, which amount to "failed state" regimes, Somalia in the 1990s for example, and Myanmar in the 00's, but these are few and small. This is based on the (necessary) understood qualification that a "state" can approach near or far from the ideal and still have the legitimate civil authority. I would, for example, estimate that Nazi Germany certainly should have been held to be the legitimate government from 1932 through 1936, probably was so from 1936 to 1939, and arguably was from 1939 until 1941 (when they formally embarked on the express policy of outright killing all Jews). Few countries have governments as far from the ideal as these, and yet Roman rule during the persecutions was in many ways as oppressive as the Nazis were in 1936 (or even 1942), without Catholic Fathers teaching that the Roman civil order was no longer legitimate and was owed no obedience. (I have sadly perhaps failed to respect sufficiently the difference between a "state" and a "government", but I think most readers can sort them out enough.)

      The modern notion of how to organize a polity is different from the ideas of medievals like Aquinas, but that is a peripheral problem, for the crux of the matter is whether there IS a legitimate civil governing authority. For if there is one, the highest such civil governing authority has, per se the authority to exercise plenary civil authority in punishing, which includes the death penalty. The mechanics through which there is a highest civil authority is not critical to the conclusion. St. Paul, in Romans 13:1-4 is saying that by nature the civil authority has, delegated from God, the authority to punish even so far as the death penalty. It is not in virtue of it being established in any special form or any special structure that it has it. The authority belongs to it simply in virtue of it being the supreme civil authority of the polity. (It may, depending on structure, also reach to lower levels of such authority, but it cannot fail to belong somewhere in the various levels.)

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    5. What I question is this: " For if there is one, the highest such civil governing authority has, per se the authority to exercise plenary civil authority in punishing..." It is not clear to me that that was actually the situation in the Middle Ages. In some cases, it can be questioned even further. It was very often an open question just whose law, and under which authority, punishment would be given. And it wasn't just a matter of royal power being too weak; those resisting didn't claim to be rebels, but also to be upholding the law.

      And I don't see Medieval philosophy as being all that much help. They, including Aquinas, often seem to speak of a polity which didn't bear much relation to the one actually operating around them.

      But I also see that this is a parenthetical point; not really germane to what we are talking about now.

      (I will note that I am also unclear about why today I can sign in and comment, on other days - most, really - I cannot. I am not speaking here of the delay in approval, or what might be called de-Santification.)

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    6. de-Santification! LOL! Thanks.

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    7. Tony,
      The Nazis had murderous policies only towards certain groups. They weren't murderous towards Germans or the French or Danish people. I would say that Nazis lacked or themselves renounced the burden of civil authority over those people they were malicious towards.
      Thus, the Nazi state was a legitimate govt over the Germans (and this is evident from the loyalty that Germans showed towards the Nazi war machine till the very end). But the Jews, the Roma and other persecuted people, the Nazis had no such authority. These people were in effect stateless.

      So, the proper statement isn't "Nazis were legitimate government" without any qualifications. They certainly were, even upto 7 May 1945. After all, the war ended when the Nazi authority, I think Hitler's successor chosen by himself, signed the surrender.

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  15. Prayers for Pope Francis and the Holy Spirit’s guidance of His Catholic Church.

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  16. Of course if this is intended as a "change in doctrine" (instead of a way for Pope Francis muscle the Church into opposing the DP on the practical level) then Pope Francis would have to amend Canon Law to impose penalties for Catholics who participate in Lawful executions and or vote for the DP on Juries etc and excommunicate Catholic politicians who support the DP.

    Just like Canon Law imposes Church penalties for murderers or Abortionists etc.....

    Does anyone imagine that will happen? I don't.

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  17. "Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state."

    I don't see a lot of ambiguity here. It clearly says the Church once permitted the death penalty because it had a benighted understanding of human dignity, which we have lately transcended. This is an indictment of the entire Catholic tradition - anyone who acknowledged the permissibility of the death penalty is necessarily implicated as holding a deficient view of human dignity, which includes just about everyone prior to the current generation. Francis struggled to keep his progressive impulses in hand in his previous innovations, but let fly with this one.

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    1. Right now David T I am debating an Atheist over at the Strange Notions blog who thinks Matthew 24:36 is unambiguously denying Christ is omniscient because "only the Father" knows the day and the hour of the end. Of course we know better because we don't read this verse by itself apart from the rest of scripture and Tradition. If the CDF says the previous teaching isn't contradicted then you harmonize it.
      Reading this Passage alone apart from everything else seems like adding to the problem.

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    2. The point of the Catechism is to provide the authoritative reading of Scripture and Tradition you are talking about. The advantage of being a Catholic is (or was) that Christian doctrine is not a matter of endless dispute over controversial Scripture passages. The Magisterium is to provide the clear and definitive interpretation - "Rome has spoken" and all that. If the voice of the Magisterium itself needs to be endlessly parsed, interpreted and debated, then it has lost its point. Of course the CDF has to say that it hasn't contradicted past teaching, even if true, as any admission otherwise would be fatal to its claims to have the authority of Christ. These are trying times to be a Catholic.

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    3. The Catechism unlike Scripture isn't inspired. If Inspired Scripture can't be clear or doesn't have to always be clear then what chance has the CCC? That is a bit daft. Also Holy Writ is not the sole rule of Faith so why should we treat the CCC as such? The CCC is not the magisterium but a document that is suppose to summarize the teaching of the magisterium which contains more then the nere CCC. The magisterium can be ambiguous and issue ambiguous statements. It is an absurd Protestant error that just because the Church can settle doctrinal disputes that She somehow by Her existence has already settled all disputes. Or that no future disputes will come to pass. If Pope Francis doesn't get a jolt from above tomorrow from the Holy Spirit a future Pope will come and clarify what he has left or caused to be ambiguous.
      The case for contradiction & heresy here is not made because real heretics are quite clear. Till Pope Francis formally and officially says "inadmissible" means "intrinsically evil" then I have no reason to believe that and won't till the Pope clarifies it.

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    4. Of course I never said that the Church had settled all disputes, so I reject your charge of Protestantism. I merely said that the point of the Church is to be the authoritative voice that resolves disputes.

      As long as we are leveling charges of Protestantism, I think your position is the Protestant one. For you reduce the Church from being the authoritative voice that clarifies and resolves disputes, to just another ambiguous voice that it is up to the individual to interpret in light of scripture and tradition.

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    5. James, in light of what St. Pius X of the heresy of Modernism, it cannot be maintained that "real heretics are quite clear." Contradiction and confusion and ambiguity are intrinsic to heresy.

      But prescinding from the question of whether or not Pope Francis' catechetical doctrine on capital punishment is heretical, it is still plainly erroneous. It is just not true that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” It's not true that the death penalty is inadmissible -- the Church is clear that it is sometimes admissible. It's not true that the inviolability and dignity of the person makes the death penalty inadmissible -- rather, the death penalty rightly administered is ordered to upholding the dignity of the person which murder and cruel tyranny transgress. To state that the death penalty is inadmissible is an assault on the inviolability and dignity of the person. This is something that all Catholics understood until recently.

      Again, it is simply not true that the light of the Gospel renders the death penalty inadmissible. As the Catechism said until a couple days ago, the traditional doctrine of the Church is that the death penalty is inadmissible. The new doctrine does not qualify it's state on the inadmissibility of the death penalty -- it simply states that it is, not that it is *usually* inadmissible or some such language. It's the absence of qualifying adjectives and adverbs that makes the novel doctrine statement erroneous.

      Finally, it is not true that the Church teaches what the Catechism now says it teaches. The Church's teaching encompasses what is believed always, everywhere, and by all -- it's not limited to what is said by the present generation of magisterii, but diachronically links every generation of the Church. We know that from Jesus until the 20th century, the Church clearly taught as a matter of natural and divine law that God has given the state the authority to impose the death penalty. The Church has no authority to deny the state its divine rights, nor to contradict the natural law, let alone the divine law.

      Erroneous statements have no place in a Catholic catechism. This is a grave scandal and crisis of the very highest magnitude.

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    6. "Till Pope Francis formally and officially says 'inadmissible' means 'intrinsically evil' then I have no reason to believe that and won't till the Pope clarifies it."

      Well and good, James -- but let's keep in mind that the Church and formally and permanently condemned Pope Honorius for doing less than Pope Francis has done. Let's not kid ourselves -- this act of the pope is a ghastly, dreadful matter.

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    7. David T.

      >As long as we are leveling charges of Protestantism, I think your position is the Protestant one. For you reduce the Church from being the authoritative voice that clarifies and resolves disputes, to just another ambiguous voice that it is up to the individual to interpret in light of scripture and tradition.

      Hardly I simply recognize She doesn't always instantaneously settles things but she will. Also I recognize it is not legitimate to only look at modern teaching and ignore the past. If the CDF said (& I don't care if they really didn't mean it in your estimation) this teaching doesn't contradict the prior teaching then we should assume the core of the prior teaching is still valid and interpret accordingly.

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    8. Confitebor,

      This is what I think of Honorius.
      https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-truth-about-pope-honorius

      Also you are getting ahead of yourself. God will judge the Pope and I am content to leave it that way.

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    9. >James, in light of what St. Pius X of the heresy of Modernism, it cannot be maintained that "real heretics are quite clear." Contradiction and confusion and ambiguity are intrinsic to heresy.

      Yeh giving me your impression of what S Pius X means is interesting but I need to respond to actual words otherwise this is all just ambiguous.

      >But prescinding from the question of whether or not Pope Francis' catechetical doctrine on capital punishment is heretical, it is still plainly erroneous. It is just not true that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

      Your argument is with St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict who both use this same language.

      "“eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”-Pope Benedict.

      The sole issue here is wither or not the Pope has explicitly & clearly taught the death penalty is intrinsically evil. I still say no.

      > It's not true that the death penalty is inadmissible --

      Well if I believe Fr. Michael from the Church Millitant article I cited the term "inadmissible" is not a term of Art and is itself a novelty and is ambiguous. Either is means "intrinsically evil or not. I say not.

      >the Church is clear that it is sometimes admissible.

      In the sense not chattel slavery can be "admissible" in that it is not against the moral or natural law and governments but it may no be prudent to do it or to keep doing it if other alternative can be employed. The government may prudently execute criminals to protect the public order and punish criminals. But we have no moral obligation to specifically execute any particular person so I don't see why the Pope can't prudently instruct us to never do it ever?
      We can wage just wars but that doesn't mean we must have war. If war can be made "inadmissible" that doesn't mean just war cannot exist or that all wars are intrinsically unjust.


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    10. part ii
      > It's not true that the inviolability and dignity of the person makes the death penalty inadmissible -- rather, the death penalty rightly administered is ordered to upholding the dignity of the person which murder and cruel tyranny transgress.

      It can do that but it doesn't follow we must do that. We can in fact show a murderer mercy and it upholds the dignity of the victim even more. It's not an either or proposition.

      >To state that the death penalty is inadmissible is an assault on the inviolability and dignity of the person.

      That sounds more like Kant saying you are morally obligated to execute persons for capital crimes? Is it your opinion we are morally obligated to have a death penalty& we can never abolish it? Because that is beyond Catholic teaching & worst then you accuse Francis.

      > This is something that all Catholics understood until recently.

      So you are lamenting the existence of Catholic who oppose Capital Punishment? I am pro-death penalty and I find that a bit daft.

      >The new doctrine does not qualify it's state on the inadmissibility of the death penalty --
      Because it is ambiguous so as Fr. Micheal said the interpretive principle of Pope Boniface applies.
      In obscuris, minimum est sequendum"

      > it simply states that it is, not that it is *usually* inadmissible or some such language. It's the absence of qualifying adjectives and adverbs that makes the novel doctrine statement erroneous.

      No the ambiguity of the term "inadmissible" itself is the problem. Real heretics are clear. Otherwise you are not teaching heresy but gibberish. Gibberish is not heretical but misleading.

      >Finally, it is not true that the Church teaches what the Catechism now says it teaches.

      The USCCB itself said Catechisms can contain error. But the problem here is the teaching is ambiguous and thus real heretics can read their errors into it. I think the orthodox should try to get there first.

      > The Church's teaching encompasses what is believed always, everywhere, and by all -- it's not limited to what is said by the present generation of magisterii, but diachronically links every generation of the Church.

      Which is why I don't believe in Sola CCC or Sola Vatican II. I believe in the whole faith.

      >We know that from Jesus until the 20th century, the Church clearly taught as a matter of natural and divine law that God has given the state the authority to impose the death penalty. .

      But we are not obligated to execute any particular person and can extend mercy or prudently judge we don't need to execute people.

      >The Church has no authority to deny the state its divine rights, nor to contradict the natural law, let alone the divine law.

      The Church can prudently call on all states to abolish it by using moral pressure.


      >Erroneous statements have no place in a Catholic catechism. This is a grave scandal and crisis of the very highest magnitude.

      The problem is not that is is erroneous. If it was erroneous it would be clear & clearly say the death penalty is intrinsically evil. It is ambiguous and as such heretics will read their errors into it and other heretics like the Sedes, Schismatic dissident oriental church advocates and Protestants will support a heretical interpretation so as to claim the Church taught error.
      The orthodox must get there first.

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    11. James, regarding the 1994 opinion column you cite on the Church's formal and permanent condemnation of Honorius as a heretic, on this point I agree with the Church Universal and the Pope rather than the anonymous Catholic Answers column. The Oecumenical Council and the Pope responded appropriately to Honorius' fault.

      "Your argument is with St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict who both use this same language."

      But the erroneous language in dispute was not in the Catechism until a few days ago. When they fallibly spoke erroneously on capital punishment, still they did not presume to insert that language into the Catechism. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger even clarified that Catholics need not agree with the Pope and Bishops on their desire to abolish the death penalty. As long as the Catechism is being rewritten on this point, those words ought also be inserted in the Catechism.

      As for the opinions expressed by the canonist you quoted, the canonical, juridical interpretive principle "In obscuris, minimum est sequendum" applies to the reading and application of Canon Law. It is NOT a principle of Catholic theological reading of magisterial statements. Father regrettably has confused the categories of canon law and doctrine.

      "That sounds more like Kant saying you are morally obligated to execute persons for capital crimes?"

      I have no idea how you can get that from what I said. Go back I re-read my words. They mean precisely what I said, nothing more, nothing less. If I had meant to express the errors of which you suspect me, I would have expressed them.

      "But we are not obligated to execute any particular person and can extend mercy or prudently judge we don't need to execute people."

      True, but to say that the death penalty is always and everywhere inadmissible, and always has been (which is what Pope Francis has said, and which is what the Catechism now says), is to trangress the limits of the Faith.

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    12. James, regarding this exchange:

      "James, in light of what St. Pius X of the heresy of Modernism, it cannot be maintained that 'real heretics are quite clear.' Contradiction and confusion and ambiguity are intrinsic to heresy.

      "Yeh giving me your impression of what S Pius X means is interesting but I need to respond to actual words otherwise this is all just ambiguous."

      I will refer you to St. Pius X's encyclical on the Modernist heresy, Pascendi nos. 4 and 18:

      ". . . the Modernists (as they are commonly and rightly called) employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast . . ."

      "In the writings and addresses they seem not unfrequently to advocate now one doctrine now another so that one would be disposed to regard them as vague and doubtful."

      Given these facts, it cannot be maintained that "real heretics are quite clear." Modernists are real heretics, but they are not quite clear -- it's their method to ply their trade in ambiguity.

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  18. Here's a question for you, Professor Feser, on behalf of a Mennonite acquaintance of mine: you seem not to address in your writing (from what I've seen) the passage in 1 Corinthians 5. In summation, the Corinthian church was told by Paul to exclude a person who had committed incest, a crime that would have been punishable by stoning in Mosaic Law. He says that this shows that Paul, in not prescribing death for such a horrible act, did not in fact support the death penalty at all. What do you think of this line of reasoning. I'd like to hear your comments.

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    1. It's an interesting Bible study question, but it's not directly relevant to the death penalty issue. The moral principles of the Old Covenant carry through to the New Covenant (i.e. things affirmed *in principle* in the old are not denied *in principle* in the new), but practical applications and the penal sanctions are not required to remain the same.

      There are Reformed Christians, some Puritans and so forth (Greg Bahnsen in recent times), who are called "Theonomists" and they argue that the *penal sanctions* should indeed be carried through (and will indeed come to be in a post-millenial Christian culture). But, that's not a Catholic view.

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    2. It is hard to give the death penalty under the Old Testament. You need conditions that are hard to meet. Warning by the two witnesses before the act. Telling the person from what verse the act is forbidden and the punishment and the acknowledgement from the person.Then the two witnesses need to see the actual act. To any other kind of evidence does not count.

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    3. the Corinthian church was told by Paul to exclude a person who had committed incest, a crime that would have been punishable by stoning in Mosaic Law. He says that this shows that Paul, in not prescribing death for such a horrible act, did not in fact support the death penalty at all.

      Ghost, it shows nothing of the kind. The law prescribing death for a person guilty of incest was given by Moses. Moses was establishing rules for a newly forming society, once the Israelites were out from under the Egyptians, and they needed both civil and religious authorities. As a theocracy, Moses was (under God) fulfilling the ultimate office of both, but under him, Aaron and the priests had religious offices, and the "elders" had civil authority. But in any case, the society thus formed had the authority to carry out the civil law and its punishments, including those of the death penalty of sufficiently grave evils.

      St. Paul was admonishing the Christians, who were part of the Roman-controlled social order, and who had no authority to demand or carry out civil punishments. Thus what St. Paul was saying had nothing to do with what civil laws of penalties applied or didn't apply. He is writing to the local authorities of the Church, and was speaking (explicitly) only to ecclesiastical authority.

      However, as the passage finishes up, St. Paul says:

      So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

      What St. Paul means here is not absolutely clear, but arguably he means "hand him over to the civil authorities for their punishment (which Paul seems to assume will entail the destruction of the flesh), for by this punishment perhaps he will be brought to repent of his evil and thus save his soul." St. Paul seems to take for granted that the civil authorities will "destroy the flesh", and he (a) says nothing against it; and (b) allows that it can serve a good purpose.

      So, while the passage is not as explicit as some might like, so far as we can tell, St. Paul not only cannot be read to take issue with the death penalty (from this passage, at least), but there is good reason to say it points at his tacit approval of it.

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  19. You Feserites have to start getting a grip on the enormity of the deception that has taken place. Here is a breaking story on how the Vatican-II sect has been exposed for foisting upon the world an imposter Sister Lucy of Fatima since the 1960s:

    https://radtradthomist.chojnowski.me/2018/08/fraud-facial-recognition-technology.html

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    1. We are Catholics dude. You Sedes well obviously not...:D

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    2. Sedes are Protestants with Sacraments.

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  20. "In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state."

    Can anyone tell me what the "new understanding . . . of the penal sanctions imposed by the state" are, or, to be blunt, what this means?


    Neil P.

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    1. No, nobody can. This is typical liberal clap-trap: issue a word salad with enough catch-phrases or words, and anything sounds like it is serious. Liberals like to pretend that when they pronounce a serious-sounding claim, that it has the force of an argument, but that too is nonsense. Every one of the claims suggested (both by JPII in his version of the Catechism, and by Francis now) about this have counter-theses with every bit as much force to them, if not much more - but they also have the tradition of Church teaching behind them as well.

      Some would also say that it is pure out-and-out modernism: "new understandings" are part and parcel with the modernist heresy, which claims that Truth changes as people's ideas and customs change, and what was true "in principle" yesterday can be not true today (and vice versa). I would hesitate to call the Pope formally a modernist - but that's mostly because I sometimes doubt he is theologically formed enough to be anything formally. He surely seems to be the least theologically capable pope in a couple hundred years, if not more. Shame on the Jesuits - gone are the days when their lengthy seminarian training program had rigor and substance, so that when a man completed that, you knew that he knew the ins and outs of various theological "isms" and he could be a Thomist or what not by active assent, not out of mere ignorance.

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    2. " Shame on the Jesuits - gone are the days when their lengthy seminarian training program had rigor and substance..."

      Just when did it go downhill? I would have thought that at his age, Francis would have gotten at least part of the older education. Was Argentina worse than others? Not that long before, I know Albert Jay Nock had praised the Jesuits as the only serious educators in America.

      On your main point, I can say only "Yes." There is nothing more suspect than the assumption that the beliefs standard to one's own time and place are universal, and the summit (so far) of human progress. I have never seen it argued, for instance, exactly how those earlier people were wrong in believing that executions could be more or less dignified. And they did believe that. But our society seems to have a horror of any death not in a hospital bed, a view I find unconvincing.

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  21. Dr. Feser,

    What type of Magisterial statement would Pope Francis' alteration of the Catechism be? Is it a Type 3, 4, or 5? Even if we are fairly confident that Pope Francis' change is wrong, are faithful Catholics required to abstain from advocating for the death penalty?

    Thank you

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    1. Neophyte,

      I think you've asked a crucial question here! I read the Pope's teaching here as a 4 or 5. "Statements of a prudential sort which require external obedience but not interior assent" or "Statements of a prudential sort on matters about which there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics."

      If it's category (4), there is a presumption in favor of the Pope's teaching, but this presumption is defeasible.

      I look forward to reading Dr. Feser's future material on this matter. I think we may also see clarification from the Vatican this week.

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  22. JoeD,

    Except they aren't lunatics.

    Yes, they are.

    First, it's question begging to assume that Paul would not "make the mistake" of teaching what he did, since putting it like that presupposes he was mistaken.

    Second, considering that's the exact same book where Paul gives his explicit instruction - and it's reflected in Christ's own ministry, and further in Timothy - the quotes do nothing here. The "documentary evidence" claim is, frankly, desperate.

    You know what's really operative? Men who are terrified - literally terrified - to tell women they have no authority to teach in church.

    Which is why the sort of people who desperately scramble for an alternative interpretation don't argue it - they assert it, declare the case to be closed, and close their ears against any argument for the contrary. Because if they so much as suggest it's *possible* that Paul's teaching, obvious as it is, is what it is - and that tradition is correct - feminists will eviscerate them.

    And they're a lot more afraid of feminists than Paul, or even Christ.

    George R.,


    Yeah, I covered that in another response. I'm talking specifically about this idea that 'The Pope is just misunderstood'.

    He's been misunderstood constantly for five years now. He's apparently incapable of providing clarity.

    There's precedent for calling him stupid since the amount of amazing foulups during his papacy have been as embarrassing as they've been frequent. I'm tired of being expected to forgive all that because he gave a homeless guy DiGiorno's for a freaking photo op or something.

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  23. There is absolutely no way to prove something is infallible by the ordinary Magisterium of the Church in the way Feser tries. How many Popes need to make a teaching before its infallible? Four? Five? What's the number? Without criteria there can be no infallibility. The Pope teaching with all the bishops? But how do we know ALL the bishops agree on something without a Council. I call BS. Anonymous

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    1. The criteria isn't something reducible to arithmetic. It's the Vincentian principle of "always, everywhere, and by all." The ordinary Magisterium is the Church's doctrinal tradition, beginning with Christ and the Apostles and continuing to the present day, in synods, councils, popes, writings of Fathers and Doctors, and, yes, catechisms.

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  24. As an outsider to this debate, it's the new natural lawyers that I find puzzling here. They are (generally speaking) conservative, traditionally minded, and intellectually honest. Yet it seems obvious to me that their position is deeply flawed, and their responses are weak and problematic. Insofar as NNL arguments elide over certain controversial metaphysical issues, I tend to find them interesting and useful, but the sheer weight of the Biblical and patristic evidence on this issue is overwhelming. I would understand it better if they had a political axe to grind, but insofar as they do, it tends to swing in the other direction. I guess what I'm asking is that an argument this weak usually requires more than just a failure of reason, but a motivated stubbornness. But what is that motivation exactly? Is there a political point I'm missing, or some psychology I'm not privy to? Or, having committed to a particular metaphysical path, it's just too painful to back up and cede ground? If they were to insist that they are simply following their reason as it brings them, I wouldn't dispute it, but I would still remain puzzled.

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    1. They have a very simple theory which produces the desired arguments about abortion, lying, sexuality, etc. There is just not a straightforward way to building into the theory the norm "thou shall not kill the innocent intentionally" rather than what they have: "thou shall not kill intentionally". I think it's really just the consistency and simplicity of the theory which are at stake. If you'd like to psychologize their attachment to those, you could say that they bite the various bullets in order to hold onto their public arguments on hot button issues.

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    2. As to the "motivation" or "psychological" ground for their pushing this: In addition to what Greg said (thanks, Greg), I have long suspected that a very significant portion of the motivation by Grisez was to be innovative, to come up with a NEW argument to the old positions against abortion, contraception, lying, etc. The old arguments were not "working" in the 50s and 60s, in the sense that people were refusing to accept them. Unfortunately, if Grisez (and many others) were to have looked at that empirical point carefully and properly, they would undoubtedly have come to the conclusion that people were NOT rejecting the old arguments of the classical natural law because they were bad arguments. Not at all. The were good arguments then, and they are good arguments now. The common refusal to accept them (within the Church, primarily) had far more to do with the fact that the schools were not bothering to teach them fully and properly, with adequate grounding. They basically gave up on the studies necessary for the proper grounding, the studies that were adequate for many hundreds of years in bringing the mind the preparation for understanding natural law: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Boethius, etc. The Catholic universities simply copied the secular ones in the 20th century, which by the 1950s had become completely given over to a salad-buffet style of organization of studies: whatever the student feels like, that's what we'll give him. Hard stuff - sayonara. Skip the 4-semester program of Aristotle's foundational works, give a 2-week seminar on him, and let it go. No wonder moderns think Aristotle was "disproven" by science - they don't know a thing about him.

      Back to NNL: The motivation, I think, was to come up with arguments that could be accepted without the hard work and the hard principles of Aristotle and St. Thomas. And, (more than a tiny bit, I suspect) to be creating a NEW theory, something original.

      But you are absolutely right: when they came up against the brick wall of the traditional teaching on capital punishment, they SHOULD have said something like "hmmmm, maybe this new theory has some basic flaws in it, let's go back to square one and figure out where we went wrong", instead they decided to plow ahead with the newfangled theory, and then come up with tortured and twisted mis-readings of Scripture and magisterial documents instead. If there wasn't pride involved at the beginning, I think there must have been at this point.

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    3. Isn't NNL just repeating the experience of the early moderns? They are trying to keep as much as they can of the shipwreck (as they see it) of classical and scholastic thought. And in so doing, they're just setting themselves up to be similarly exploded. They just can't get there from here. (I've always felt this was true of the Straussians, too. But that's a side matter.)

      OTOH, I am inherently suspicious of looking for the motives in any deep or underlying sense. The open statements surely are enough to go on. It was enough for St Thomas, when dealing with pagan, Jewish, and Mahometan thought, wasn't it?

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    4. I too usually am suspicious, but I think some tentative opinion is warranted here.

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  25. I think many of the followers of neo-scholasticism would benefit from honest and deep readings of works like: Puntel, Structure and being; Lacey/Oakly, Crisis of authority; Fergus Kerr, 20th century Catholic Theologians; Allison, Constructing Jesus; Kugel, How to read the Bible. A paradigm shows its strengths - or weakness - to the degree that it (among other things) is able to incorporate, or respond to, knowledge from other spheres. Also, a paradigm might, unconsciously, be decisively shaped by the forces that it is pressured by (e. g. modern secularism and materialism).

    Hallvard

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  26. All of this is clearly proof that Orthodoxy is the way to go.

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    1. Not a chance. Orthodoxy only look good to jaded westerners viewing it from a very high altitude and through tinted lenses. In reality, Orthodoxy is a mere confederation of ethno nationalist churches with an incoherent ecclesial structure. (i.e. Ethno-church A is in communion with ethno-church B, and ethno-church B is in communion with ethno-church C, but A isn't in communion with C, etc.) They aren't as prone to modernism and liberalism, but corruption and dissension are just as bad within Orthodoxy and arguably their situation is even worse, because there is no principle of visible unity that can resolve disagreements even in principle.

      So while Orthodoxy is light years better than the 16th century distortions of authentic Christianity that one finds in Protestantism, it's still not the answer. It's Apostolic and, in small pockets, Holy. But it is neither One nor is it (visibly) catholic.

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    2. Well the Canon Lawyer I cited below makes a strong case that this change in the CCC technically is a change in prudent judgement not a change in doctrine. So the Pope has come up near the line and per Matt 16:18 the Holy Spirit he does not cross it.
      Eastern Orthodoxy is a dead end. What you people are still planing your "8th" ecumenical council and still can't get anywhere?

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    3. Other anon. I like the cut of your jibb.;-)

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    4. It is true that the orthodox Catholic faith, received by the Apostles and handed down faithfully by them, subsists in and is faithfully preserved by the Roman Catholic Church. We should indeed stick with that orthodoxy. Thank you for pointing it out.

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  27. Here is a commentary by Canon Lawyer Rev. Michael X., J.C.L. over at Church Millitant. A professional theologian is what we need here.
    Not a bunch of armchair theologians like us or even a distinguished Thomistic Philosopher.
    Read the whole thing is is very enlightening. It also in my opinion takes issue with the charge of “change” in doctrine.
    https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/the-devil-is-in-the-details-pope-francis-changes-catechism-on-the-death-pen

    Some choice quotes.

    . ……….Yesterday, governments across the Earth were authorized by the Catholic Church to execute criminals found guilty by regular due process according to the laws of their lands. Today, that is no longer the case. The application of the death penalty by a civil power is officially deemed by the Roman Catholic Church to be morally reprehensible in every circumstance, without exception, as a matter of prudential judgment………..

    ……The Nature of the Change. Paragraph no. 2267 of the Catechism (CEC), the actual text of the new formulation is unsettling and ambiguous: unsettling because the term "inadmissible" not being a term of art consecrated by the centuries by the Magisterium, or the Church's canonists, dogmatic or moral theologians lending itself to clarity of meaning, renders the plain attempt to decipher the substance of the change to be frustrating; ambiguous, because the term "inadmissible" can be interpreted to mean that a moral act is either intrinsically or extrinsically evil. Which of the two natures of the moral act the Pope really intended to teach as constituting the change in position is the real nodus, and indeed unanswered question, pertaining to the new formulation.
    According to Regula juris XXX in Sexto, "In obscuris, minimum est sequendum" ("In things which are obscure, the minimum is to be followed") promulgated by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298 and still a guidepost of sound canonical interpretation according to canons 17 and 18 of the Code of Canon Law, the canonist cannot conclude that the Magisterium has imposed the stricter interpretation regarding the formulation, namely that application of the death penalty is morally illicit in principle, or "intrinsically evil.”………..end of part one.

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    1. "Yesterday, governments across the Earth were authorized by the Catholic Church to execute criminals found guilty by regular due process according to the laws of their lands. Today, that is no longer the case. The application of the death penalty by a civil power is officially deemed by the Roman Catholic Church to be morally reprehensible in every circumstance, without exception, as a matter of prudential judgment"

      First of all, it doesn't appear that the novel formulation in the Catechism qualifies the inadmissibility as depending on prudential judgment, but more immediately as a deduction from the light of the Gospel and the inviolability and dignity of the human person -- which can only mean the death penalty has always been intrinsically evil. The problem here is that the novel doctrine on capital punishment contradicts both the Church's doctrine and the novel doctrine's adverting to prudential considerations.

      Secondly, the Church has no authority to tell the civil authority, which has been instituted by God, that it is morally reprehensible in every circumstance to avail itself of its divine rights.

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    2. Thank you for that opinion but how do I know you are right and Fr. Michael X canon lawyer is wrong? Well?

      Barring an extra-ordinary ruling from the Church (which is not likely to come with this Pope) I have no reason to prefer your interpretation over Fr. Michael's and as such in my prudent judgement I hold to his to be the more correct.
      Till the Pope gets off his butt to clarify this change(we are still waiting on the Dubia to clarify Amoris) you and I are in the same practical position as Protestants with dueling theologians each offering a contrary interpretation with no means to solve the issue. Except you and I know via Matt 16:18 that one day a Pope will come and solve it.

      Anyway I prefer the interpretation that preserves the Church rather then undermines it.

      >First of all, it doesn't appear that the novel formulation in the Catechism qualifies the inadmissibility as depending on prudential judgment,

      Sir what part of "ambiguous" is ambiguous to you? The text doesn't come out and tell us explicitly wither "inadmissible" means "intrinsically evil" or not? It doesn't tell us anything. That is it's problem.

      >but more immediately as a deduction from the light of the Gospel and the inviolability and dignity of the human person -- which can only mean the death penalty has always been intrinsically evil.

      So the unjust or unnecessary application of the DP which would be an extrinsic evil would not violate a person's human dignity? Forgive me but that seems off....

      >Secondly, the Church has no authority to tell the civil authority, which has been instituted by God, that it is morally reprehensible in every circumstance to avail itself of its divine rights.

      Traditional Catholic teaching never claimed that the state must impose the death penalty. In this, the Catholic view differs from, for example, the view of Immanuel Kant. Kant held that it was a strict duty, a duty that must be discharged, to execute those guilty of capital crimes. So it seems just as St Paul VI can get rid of the Old Rite of the Mass (even if that sucks) the Pope can in his prudent judgement insist nobody be executed.

      So thanks for your interpretation but you have as much chance of convincing me of it as you have of convincing me to become a Molinist again(these days I am more Dominican on that issue then Jesuit). But I will agree with you it would have been better if the Pope didn’t cause this problem.

      Peace.

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    3. "Thank you for that opinion but how do I know you are right and Fr. Michael X canon lawyer is wrong? Well?"

      By comparing what I said with what Father Michael said, and comparing our words with what Pope Francis said.

      You insist "inadmissible" in its context in New CCC 2267 is merely ambiguous. That means it can easily, and perhaps correctly, be read to mean "intrinsically evil" (which happens to be the natural and plain meaning of the Pope's words). Given that you agree that the words do not clearly state the truth about the Church's doctrine on capital punishment, you agree that the Church now has a really serious problem. It at the very least sounds like the Pope is formally teaching something heretical.

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  28. Part II
    ……..In sum, the change ordered by Pope Francis to be made in paragraph no. 2267 to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not so much a change in the teaching of the Church on the death penalty, as opposed to a change in the prudential judgment on the morality of application of the death penalty to concrete cases, such that now, as opposed to yesterday, the Holy See no longer asserts that the execution of criminals is, in practice, admissible. This change in judgment would appear to be effectively governed by canon 747, § 2 of the Code of Canon Law, due to the ambiguity of the new formulation promulgated by Pope Francis. (R.J. XV in Sexto, "Odia restringi et favores convenit ampliari" — "Things which are odious are to be restricted, and those which are favorable are to be broadened in interpretation.")
    Until the Roman Pontiff should dispel the ambiguity of the terms he has employed in the change, according to centuries of official and established rules of canonical interpretation, the undersigned canonist cannot reach an interpretation of the doctrinal value and canonical effect of the new formulation of the Catechism that would be more onerous for anyone of good will to observe, neither does it appear to be possible for any competent ecclesiastical authority to impose an obligation upon a Catholic to adhere to a stricter interpretation, viz. that application of the death penalty is now proposed by the Church as being intrinsically evil and governed by the norms of canons 750, §1, § 2, or canon 752 CIC such that violation of said obligation would lead to the valid and licit incurrence or imposition of a canonical penalty.
    Without proper identification of the "devil in the details," Catholic faithful are subject to running the risk of reaching conclusions that are unsupported in canon law.END


    Well with all due respect to Ed Feser(who I rarely disagree with)I am gonna have to say this is not a change in doctrine. Of course it is still quite bad for reasons that should be obvious. I agree with this essay and where it differs with Ed’s post I disagree. That is not so bad. A lot of people have accused me
    of being too much of a Feser Fanboz I am actually quite happy to find an area of major disagreement. But I am likely still a Fanboyz. Cheers.

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    1. I think people are missing the significance of this revision of the CCC. It's not a quibble over the meaning of the word "inadmissible" and whether that means the Pope is a heretic. It's the fact that the Pope quite clearly says that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the human person. The circumstances that have changed are that we understand this now ("increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes") whereas in the past they didn't. So in the past, the Church had a deficient understanding of human dignity that allowed it to approve of things like capital punishment.

      It's important to see that the circumstances in question are not so much circumstances about the world, which the Pope mentions only in passing, but the circumstances of the Church's developing understanding of human dignity. The key change with the past is that it was once understood that, through the Gospel and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church had from the first a fully developed understanding of human dignity, since it was God's understanding, not man's. The progressive view is that man's understanding of human dignity unfolds through history, so that prior understandings are not so much contradicted as transcended.

      Charging the Pope with contradiction or heresy misses the point, because heresy implies the traditional view that doctrine is an expression of eternal truths that man, through the Incarnation and the Holy Spirit, is competent to access at any time. The Pope apparently holds the progressive view that man's understanding of doctrine is historically conditioned, and develops over time, not in contradiction with itself but in transcendence.

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    2. David T.
      Your attempts to divine the Pope's subjective views are futile and not needed. It doesn't matter what any Pope subjectively believes but what he formally teaches and the teaching here is clear, that is clearly ambiguous.
      Pope Francis cannot be accused of being Perspicacious.

      >It's the fact that the Pope quite clearly says that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the human person.

      Yes that is what he said but what did he mean?The term "inadmissible" can mean "intrinsically evil" or "extrinsically evil".
      Obiously both interinsic evils and extrinsic evils can offend human dignity. If Pope St. John Paul II's teaching must be interpreted as strong council then Pope Francis has merely given us stronger council nothing more.

      >The key change with the past is that it was once understood that, through the Gospel and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church had from the first a fully developed understanding of human dignity, since it was God's understanding, not man's.

      One obvious flaw right there. You are equivocating between the Church's transcendent understanding of human dignity with our collective understanding of the application of the doctrines of human dignity. I don't think they are the same. It is a fallacy to believe the Apostle had the Nicaea creed already in their heads when they wrote the Gospels.

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    3. "Yes that is what he said but what did he mean?The term "inadmissible" can mean "intrinsically evil" or "extrinsically evil". "

      You keep missing the point, I'll make it this one last time and leave it at that. The Pope says the death penalty is an attack on human dignity. That means the Church, which in the past not only permitted but enjoined the death penalty for certain crimes, has advocated an attack on human dignity, and that because it had an incomplete understanding of the requirements of human dignity. This Pope rejects the death penalty because he has an "increasing awareness" of human dignity that was somehow unavailable to his predecessors. That's not divining some mysterious subjective view of the Pope. It's simply what he wrote, and it's a straightforward statement of a progressive view of history. Whether that rejection is ultimately of the form of "inadmissibility" or "intrinsic evil" is entirely irrelevant to this point.

      Of course my views on this or anything else are not needed. Neither are yours, so we are even. The point of comboxes is that we get to comment, even if our comments are not necessary.

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    4. "One obvious flaw right there. You are equivocating between the Church's transcendent understanding of human dignity with our collective understanding of the application of the doctrines of human dignity"

      Nope. Again I'm simply taking the Pope's words at their straightforward and obvious meaning. He's not talking about the application of a common understanding of human dignity. He clearly states that his understanding of human dignity is different and superior to that of the past, because the past thought people lost their dignity in committing serious crimes, whereas he doesn't. That's a difference in doctrine concerning human dignity, and it is in light of the difference of that doctrine that he justifies the change.

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    5. >Nope. Again I'm simply taking the Pope's words at their straightforward and obvious meaning.

      Straight forward meaning? This is Pope Francis we are talking about right?

      >Of course my views on this or anything else are not needed. Neither are yours, so we are even. The point of comboxes is that we get to comment, even if our comments are not necessary.

      Yes what you are writing about here is just too esoteric for me to care about and it really has noting to with the article I quoted from Fr. Michael that you replied too. It is clear you don't want to talk about that Article I quoted in my post but whatever this alleged subjective belief he has about modern superior understanding of human dignity vs the inferior understanding of those in the past or some such nonsense.
      That doesn't interest me but I wish you well. I would rather discuss wither or not Pope Francis has actually changed doctrine. That interests me. If it doesn't interest you then see ya later. Go in peace. cheers.

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    6. With due respect to the effort of Canonist Rev. Michael X., J.C.L., the pope did not issue a new canon law (i.e. a juridic act), he issued a new thesis in the Catechism, i.e. a teaching. If the new piece were a revised law, then we would be far more confident that the interpretive stance about how laws apply is valid. But it wasn't a law, it was a teaching. The interpretive rule about how laws apply doesn't bear on TEACHINGS the exact same way it bears on laws.

      What he seems to be going on about is whether a Catholic is bound to obey the new teaching via the DP being either intrinsically or extrinsically bad, but to get to that by deciding whether the teaching is clear enough to force us out of the position that it is extrinsically bad (never mind that the prior teaching was that DP is, provisionally, sometimes good, not always but extrinsically bad) into a new stance that it is always proscribed. But that's not how prudential judgments (which the Church has previously taught belong properly to the civil authorities) of a pope work: if the new stance by Francis is his own prudential judgment, then it is not binding on Catholic civil authorities, though they must give it their sincere attention and careful thought. The pope cannot make his personal prudential judgment binding merely by putting it in the Catechism as a teaching - it would still retain its lack of force there as before.

      The prior popes taught that the authority to decide whether a person ought to be put to death for a crime belonged to the civil authority. Pope Leo XIII taught that the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, each in their OWN SPHERE, are supreme. JPII and Benedict taught that the decision-making authority belonged to the civil sphere. In order for Francis' teaching here to reach beyond his OWN juridical sphere, into the juridical sphere of civil authorities (and be binding), he has to stake the claim that it CAN'T be within the civil authority's power, because it is intrinsically wrong. He is not (and cannot) be saying that it belongs to the Holy See to decide juridically whether civil states shall or shall not exercise their authority on a matter that is properly within their own sphere, without either invading their sphere, or by taking it out of their sphere by declaring it intrinsically wrong. The Church cannot at one and the same time say "this is particularly within the civil sphere of authority" and then say "but we hereby decide it for them".

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    7. I simply do not see how discussing the actual words Francis used about "increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes" is in any way an overly esoteric seeking after his subjective intent. That's what he said. The question is what they mean, and whether what he means is true, and whether it is accord with the tradition of the Church.

      What you are saying looks analogous to a kind of legal positivism. Or what am I missing?

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    8. @Tony

      >With due respect to the effort of Canonist Rev. Michael X., J.C.L., the pope did not issue a new canon law (i.e. a juridic act), he issued a new thesis in the Catechism, i.e. a teaching.

      So a Catechism cannot say the application of the death penalty by a civil power is officially deemed by the Roman Catholic Church to be morally reprehensible in every circumstance, without exception, as a matter of prudential judgment? You are saying Catechism cannot ever express the prudent judgements of the Church on a particular situation? Catechisms according to you can only contain teachings on faith and morals and do only contain teachings on Faith and morals or they impose disciplinary laws but never express prudent judgements (no matter how strongly worded)?

      Yeh Tony the problem with that is if you are correct then it is not just Pope Francis teaching error but Pope Benedict and Pope St John Paul since the expression of their prudent judgements on restricting the death penalty found in the earlier Catechism must now be seen as erroneous teachings on matters of Faith and Morals not matters of prudent judgement. That means Feser is wrong and Mark Shea is right(cause he treats there prudent judgement like doctrinal or moral teaching or at least seems too).

      While the later is possible.....I don't think it is likely.;-) . My Money is on Feser.

      The Church is not so much passing a law but full on lending it's moral authority in Her prudent judgement as lead by the Holy Father to pressure governments into banning the DP.

      This whole act by itself is unclear & would would better serve us as you note bellow if the Pope was more clear.

      I should note back when St John Paul II was Pope people ran around orthodox Catholics and liberal alike treating his opposition to the DP as doctrinal. On that nothing has changed and the media that acts like this is a great change I seem to recall acted like that change was already put into effect by JP2.
      We have to wait and see but I don't see the Pope changing canon law to impose penalties on persons who are Catholic and executioners for the state or catholic judges for handing down DP. I suspect the worst that will happen is a finger or two will be waged but those guys will still be taking communion.

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    9. Yeh Tony the problem with that is if you are correct then it is not just Pope Francis teaching error but Pope Benedict and Pope St John Paul since the expression of their prudent judgements on restricting the death penalty found in the earlier Catechism must now be seen as erroneous teachings on matters of Faith and Morals not matters of prudent judgement.

      It does not follow. JPII and Benedict preserved, in their teaching, the possibility that in SOME cases the DP was the right punishment to use. In doing so, they also preserved the teaching that it belongs to the civil authority to make the judgment call decisively, i.e. as the final decision-maker. They were willing to go out on a limb and say what their own personal estimation was about most cases (that the DP was not needed in most cases), but they did not impose that view as mandatory: Benedict explicitly averred that a person could disagree with JPII on this and remain in good standing as a Catholic.

      The change by Francis here is to alter the "most of the time" to "all of the time", and to attempt to assert that this conclusion rests not on prudential matters capable of variation (difficulty of keeping people safe) but on human dignity which is universal and constant. But resting the conclusion on a basis that is universal and constant and incapable of being different under ANY circumstances renders it no longer a prudential judgment.

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  29. Dr. Feser, I have read your book on this subject on all your articles, and found them very powerful. However, one thing that troubles me is this-- doesn't such an approach to papal and magisterial teaching have a destabilising effect? Must the faithful assess every document and pronouncement from the Holy See in the light of all the previous teaching, and effectively only defer to teaching of the highest authority, such as the new dogmas? Doesn't this have a ripple effect through all arguments? For instance, you often quote the CDF document in which Cardinal Ratzinger says that a Catholic may disagree with the Pope on certain matters, but what weight does THIS have?

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    1. Must the faithful assess every document and pronouncement from the Holy See in the light of all the previous teaching, and effectively only defer to teaching of the highest authority, such as the new dogmas?

      They shouldn't have to, but in—as Feser notes—the strange circumstances we're in, it's truly necessary.

      Doesn't this have a ripple effect through all arguments? For instance, you often quote the CDF document in which Cardinal Ratzinger says that a Catholic may disagree with the Pope on certain matters, but what weight does THIS have?

      It's not by administrative fiat or anything that Ratzinger is right. It's because his document is actually reflective of the state of the teaching. It was made a few years after JPII's prudential remarks in EV, so it reflects both Catholicism's longstanding affirmation that capital punishment is permissible and its more recent judgment that recourse to capital punishment should be rare and of last resort.

      If your question is whether we have any reason to have trusted Ratzinger on this score before seeking out the evidence to back him up—the prefect of the CDF is, like the pope, someone you're supposed to be able to trust on doctrinal matters. Our presumption would certainly be that he's right, and his long career at the CDF and theological expertise indicate that all the more. Francis has no such career or expertise and—to be blunt—has squandered much of that presumption with moves like Amoris laetitia.

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    2. However, one thing that troubles me is this-- doesn't such an approach to papal and magisterial teaching have a destabilising effect?

      Prof. Feser is pointing out the STABILIZING effect of paying attention to immemorial teaching, the constant and persistent teaching from Apostles forward, through centuries of consensus that Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:1-4 support the DP because it is in principle morally licit. The past 40 years of dispute on a fine point, and the past 72 hours of heated and spirited combat about an ambiguous declaration, are mere surface spray on the top of a wave on the top of a perennial ocean current in one direction. The nature of the infallible ordinary magisterium absolutely demands paying attention to the long history of teaching, and taking the surface spray of the last few years IN CONTEXT of that underlying body of work. What that means is that Catholics are asked to be adults, not children: they can take what God says on faith along with the mature understanding that comes from discernment of what He says. Faith seeking understanding, faith working WITH reason and not apart from it. We have to man up and do the study that is implied in this.

      Must the faithful assess every document and pronouncement from the Holy See in the light of all the previous teaching,

      Yes. This is exactly the nature of the "ordinary Magisterium" implies. If the Pope insists on giving a teaching on which there is a 20-century history of teachings of the ordinary Magisterium, there is NO OTHER WAY to read his statement other than through the lens of that prior history of teaching. That's how it works.

      That's how it MUST work in a Church in which not only the Pope, but all bishops have a share in the magisterial office of teaching truth, protected by the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible for the bishops' general teaching to participate in the divinely ordained obligation to "teach the truth" if there was no protection at all by the Holy Spirit over the bishops, and yet the bishops as a body and over time cannot possibly present a congruent teaching that conforms to the Faith Christ gave the Apostles unless that teaching can command respect as being protected by God. This inevitably means that the POPE himself must, also, respect that body of teaching, as being protected. Either God gave the charism of teaching truth to ONLY the pope, or there must be an "ordinary Magisterium" that, alongside the extraordinary teachings of the pope that bind the pope as well as the faithful.

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  30. A Different PerspectiveAugust 4, 2018 at 3:18 AM

    I think this is simply legitimate development and is perfectly compatible with what the Church has always taught. It might not be perfectly compatible with Thomas' argument on CP, but then he was a saint and genius, not the magisterium.

    This is an issue that Americans wrangle over, because it seems to be a further encroachment on conservative values or whatever. Catholics who aren't Pixies, Radical Traditionalists or American scratch their heads a little at how CP is defended in the USA.

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    1. The Church taught, long before Aquinas, that the DP does not per se impermissibly violate human dignity.

      Catholics who are liberals, modernists, progressives, secularists, and new-agers scratch their heads over why abortion remains a contentious issue in the US, while the rest of the "civilized" world has gone on with life and no longer sees any issue with it. Catholics WHO AREN'T in the above groups scratch their heads in puzzlement at what those groups mean by "human dignity" and how it is that human dignity permits killing of the innocent who are inconvenient, but not killing of the guilty who are at least as inconvenient.

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    2. I didn't make any mention of what the Church taught before St. Thomas or abortion.

      Delete
  31. What we hear from conservative Novus Ordo types like Ed is, in effect, that the pope only has to be Catholic when he speaks ex cathedra, which is convenient thesis for them since they know that there hasn't be an ex cathedra definition from Rome since the reign of Pius XII. So for the last 60 years Rome has vomited forth a constant torrent of modernist filth, and yet nobody is expected to draw any definite conclusions from this, because (all together now!) it was not ex cathedra. But it's not difficult to see that the reason there have not been any dogmatic ex cathedra statements from Rome is not is not that the Holy Spirit was protecting the Church from error, but that the modernist heretics that have taken over the See of Peter hate dogma, so are not inclined to dogmatically define anything whatsoever. They would much rather subtly spread their lies and heresies among the faithful, quietly drop all traditional teachings against the modern errors, and then "let a thousand flowers bloom," as they say. This is exactly what has taken place.

    These fake popes have almost entirely destroyed the Catholic faith in the world, and, in my humble opinion, we are all morally bound to hate and oppose the destroyers.

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  32. Ed, I don't come to gloat but to offer you a lifeline. I'm glad you aren't defending this. But please consider that the Reformation was always correct. No church is infallible. Christ is. Scripture is. Trust in Christ alone for your salvation.

    The old claims of Rome are untenable.

    May God richly bless you.

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    1. Geoffrobinson,

      Is it possible that the Church is infallible and yet can suffer periods of inner tumult and controversy? There are periods of debate on certain doctrine in the Church. Think of the expression “Athanasius contra mundum” (Athanasius against the world). Athanasius fought Arianism and Semi-Arianism when it was at its height in the Church to the point that he was even stripped of his position as Bishop. He had to be reinstated by the Pope. It is certainly possible to have situations where many people in the Church, including the Pope himself, are wrong on significant points. But at the end of the day, “the gates of hell will not prevail against [the Church]” (Matthew 16:18). That implies that the Church will be guided into all truth. It does not mean there will be no struggles. Even in the apostolic age (and in Sacred Scripture), there was serious debate over whether circumcision was required for salvation. Does that mean that the Apostles were not guided by the Holy Spirit?

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    2. I would sooner become a (mere) classical theist or even atheist before becoming Protestant. It just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

      Delete
    3. Scott, I'm glad you brought up Athanasius. I agree with you if you're discussing the church universal. But if you confuse the church universal with Roman Catholicism, no. If you listened to the Catholic apologists say about the Magisterium and the clarity etc etc, and you were alive then, I don't see how a person at that time wouldn't become an Arian.

      It seems Athanasius was able to do what he did because he stood on Scripture.

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    4. //I would sooner become a (mere) classical theist or even atheist before becoming Protestant. It just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.//

      The claims of Protestantism or just the claims of Christ and the New Testament.

      Roman Catholicism on the other hand is the system that cannot stand under historical scrutiny. Even Catholic historians will tell you that there wasn't even one head bishop over Rome until later in the second century.

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    5. @Geoffrobinson

      I don’t really understand what you mean by the “universal” Church as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic just comes from the Greek word katholikos which literally means universal (derived from kata + holos, with respect to the whole). Do you believe that there is a universal church? If so, what must its adherents believe? And what do you do if two people who claim to be Christians disagree on core beliefs (like the divinity of Christ)? If Catholic apologists say that there can never be any confusing statements issued by the Magisterium, then they are bad apologists. The point is, if there is a serious debate about a particular point of doctrine, the Church can form a council with the Pope to settle it as it did in the Acts of the Apostles to determine that circumcision was no longer necessary (and indeed spiritually dangerous) for salvation. That doesn’t mean the Pope can never be wrong, much less never be ambiguous. Even Jesus Christ himself was vague and ambiguous at times!

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    6. Actually the second century writers testify historically to the first century Pope. If you reject their evidence then why believe their testimony about the first century origin of the NT writings themselves?

      The 16th century human origin of Protestantism is beyond dispute.
      Your false religion is not wanted.

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  33. Is this not ex cathedra? It is to the whole Church, and it is on a matter of faith and morals.

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    1. The last two ex cathedra decrees where clearly stated to be infallible. I missed that part in this change in the CCC text.

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    2. Thiago,

      From the USCCB website:

      17. Is the doctrinal authority of the Catechism equal to that of the dogmatic definitions of a pope or ecumenical council?

      By its very nature, a catechism presents the fundamental truths of the faith which have already been communicated and defined. Because the Catechism presents Catholic doctrine in a complete yet summary way, it naturally contains the infallible doctrinal definitions of the popes and ecumenical councils in the history of the Church. It also presents teaching which has not been communicated and defined in these most solemn forms. This does not mean that such teaching can be disregarded or ignored. Quite to the contrary, the Catechism presents Catholic doctrine as an organic whole and as it is related to Christ who is the center. A major catechism, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, presents a compendium of Church teachings and has the advantage of demonstrating the harmony that exists among those teachings.

      That means that everything in the Catechism should be highly respected and that many things are infallible, but not everything. The things that are infallible are infallible by virtue of their being presented in a solemn declaration in a church council or by the ordinary magisterium of the Church and not because they are in the Catechism. It is therefore possible for the Catechism to be in error on nuances points, although extremely rare (to the point of making international head lines whenever there is even the appearance of error).

      The Catechism can be trusted, but that does not mean everything in the Catechism is set in stone. If it were, there would be no need (and indeed no ability) to revise the Catechism or put forth new Catechisms.

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    3. Thanks for the comments, Son of Ya’Kov and Scott Lynch.

      Was this change in the text not accompanied by an audience or proclamation of some sort, however? I guess such an audience would not be to the whole Church, though, so it would fail to fit the definition of ex cathedra.

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  34. Professor Feser
    In light of what I posted can we all collectively stop saying Pope Francis "changed doctrine" on the DP and correctly say Pope Francis changed the text of the Catechism?
    If it is a scandal for the Pope to cause confusion then I submit it is wrong for laymen like us to add insult to injury & help him.
    Also it is self evident in light of Fr. Michael's analysis that the term "inadmissible" is ambiguous (and a novel term)and doesn't automatically mandate that the death pentality is intrinsically evil. Thought granted Catholics will more easily misinterpret it that way like they did with Pope St. John Paul II. Also given this ambiguity we must interpret the Pope's ban on the DP to be officially deemed by the Roman Catholic Church to be morally reprehensible in every circumstance, without exception, as a matter of prudential judgment not doctrine as you assert above. You are free to disagree till the Church formally and extra -ordinarily tells either of us different.

    Cheer boss.

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  35. “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

    In light of what I read in Fr. Michael X's essay I wonder? Is this teaching the offense is the DP is an attack on the dignity of the person because it is in itself intrinsically evil or because the Church has deemed in it's prudent Judgement it ought not to be done today given the reasons it gives?
    Cause I think that is the better understanding?

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    1. Possibly true. However, that way of interpreting it is modernist: It is on account of changing and constantly changeable perceptions about dignity that it is now thought to be contrary to human dignity, and therefore now it should not be practiced. But when conceptions of human dignity change in the future, we may "discover" at that time that the DP no longer violates human dignity. The Church here is not asserting anything about human dignity in principle and per se.

      If that is the way to read it, then it would be true that the Pope is not contradicting prior teaching on DP directly, he would be defying Pius X's teaching against modernism, instead. For, if what the Church has taught (implicitly) through her understanding of Genesis 9:6 sets out a truth about human dignity that is in principle and per se, demanding that a different, (contradictory) secular humanist understanding should trump that understanding as a mandatory prudential prohibition against DP, then modernism supercedes Christian teaching in practice.

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    2. @Tony

      I don't see how it can be modernist? The moral teaching here is that it is not intrinsically evil for the state to put a criminal clearly guilty of a genuine capital crime to death. But there is no intrinsic moral compulsion to execute any particular person or persons in general. The teaching of Kant are heresy. Kant taught we are morally obligated to execute those who are found guilty of capital crimes and they cannot ever be shown mercy. That is not true.

      A modernist says the intrinsic moral status of actions is fluid based on perceptions. But not doing certain actions in this case based on prudent judgements is of a different order. I don't have to have sex with my wife when she is fertile & that is not the sin of contraception but I cannot ever use a condom even if she is not fertile because it would be contraception. The Church can prudently judge it is not inadmissible to have an active DP if we don't have too in Her prudent judgement.

      You think the Church cannot impose a mandatory prudential prohibition against DP? I think it can and maybe that is the legitimate development here? Because even under a mandatory prudential prohibition the DP would still not be intrinsically evil.

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    3. But could not SoY respond that, surely, the perceptions of a given time and place DO have some bearing on the matter? That this is an example of "particular determination" of which Aquinas speaks?

      If you wholly reject that, are you claiming that the actual legal code can in itself be deduced from Natural Law (a position I don't know of any premodern as holding).

      I will grant that if you put too much emphasis on a society's mores, you get Hell. But surely prudence takes it into account as one factor. And on that basis, it might be argued that the use of the DP today is counterproductive. (I don't believe that, but I think someone might so argue.)

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    4. You think the Church cannot impose a mandatory prudential prohibition against DP?

      I think that the Church cannot issue binding and universal prudential judgments, about an issue that she has already taught is a matter that belongs to the competence of the CIVIL authorities. You can't have all three, that it be binding, that it be universal (applicable to all cases) and STILL that it belong to the civil authorities in subject matter. For making it binding and universal takes it away from the civil authorities sphere of judgment.

      Now, perhaps Francis thinks the subject shouldn't belong to the civil authorities. But the usual reasons for thinking so would be either that the CRIME is not civil in nature (not applicable here), or that the PUNISHMENT is per se outside licit bounds...which is what you said isn't what is being claimed here.

      So, sorry, no I don't think it all holds together. If the Pope wants to say that it is his opinion and personal prudential judgment that all DPs are contrary to concrete prudence here and now, he can, but his opinion isn't binding. If he wants to say all DP is contrary to good morals because they are per se evil, then he takes them out of the sphere of prudential judgment. If he wants to leave civil punishment in the hands of civil authorities because it is their proper sphere, he has to give them room to make their own judgments in their own proper sphere and not impose his judgments on them.

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  36. Tomislav OstojichAugust 4, 2018 at 9:40 AM

    This is a good article. I think you are doing great things for God in defending against some of the foolishness found in the modern era.

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  37. What I don’t understand, not what Francis is doing, that is as plain as day, but the reaction to it.

    Pope Leo XIII said in Satis Cognitum #9:

    “The Church, founded on these principles and mindful of her office, has done nothing with greater zeal and endeavour than she has displayed in guarding the integrity of the faith. Hence she regarded as rebels and expelled from the ranks of her children all who held beliefs on any point of doctrine different from her own. The Arians, the Montanists, the Novatians, the Quartodecimans, the Eutychians, did not certainly reject all Catholic doctrine: they abandoned only a tertian portion of it. Still who does not know that they were declared heretics and banished from the bosom of the Church? In like manner were condemned all authors of heretical tenets who followed them in subsequent ages. "There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition" (Auctor Tract. de Fide Orthodoxa contra Arianos).

    The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium.”

    Ever since Saint Robert Bellarmine, the consensus of theologians, has been, in the words of McDevitt (The Renunciation of an Ecclesiastical Office), that:

    “Since it is not only incongruous that one who has publicly defected from the faith should remain in an ecclesiastical office, but since such a condition might also be the source of serious spiritual harm when the care of souls in concerned, the Code [of Canon Law] prescribes that a cleric tacitly renounces his office by public defection from the faith.”

    And that this applies to the office of the papacy, just the same as it does to anyone. You cannot be a Catholuc if you are a heretic, and it is not a matter of waiting for the college of Cardinals or anyone else to make an official judgement, because no one can judge the Pope, all he can do, as Saint Robert Bellarmine taught, is place himself outside The Church, just like anyone else, and public heresy, does that.

    So, my question is: What are we still doing here?

    If it walks like a duck ...

    Why can’t we just state the obvious, that he isn’t the Pope, and anyone in communion with him is in communion with a heretic, not a Pope, and be done with it?

    Saint Paul, states clearly, that there is a Gospel, and that if he or Angel from Heaven, were to teach anything else, then anathema be upon him, which assumes that all Catholics, are in a position to make this judgement, without ‘hearing voices or discerning spirits’, purely, from being able to differentiate between ‘The Gospel’ and ‘not The Gospel’, which is to say, that there is, as The Church has always taught, a determined body of doctrine, that must be believed, in the same sense, and according to the same interpretation, as The Apostles and The Fathers, understood it, forever. If what someone says, is not what they said, yhst’s It, end of story, isn’t it?

    What more does Francis have to do? What red lines are left that he hasn’t crossed? What possible substantial reason can we have for not drawing a simple logical conclusion that requires nothing more than simple comprehension of public language to be qualified to make?

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    1. You Sede lunatics have been making the same complaint back when St. John Paul II kissed the Koran.

      You lot are just High Church Protestants nothing more. What you propose here is no different then offering a cure for cancer by shooting yourself in the Head.

      Outside the Church there is no salvation.

      Good luck outside.

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    2. Absolutely true.

      It's a simple syllogism:

      Only a Catholic can be pope.
      Francis is not a Catholic.
      Therefore, Francis is not the pope.

      I suspect that few people would have a problem with the premises, except that the conclusion is so hard to stomach.

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    3. Except George who was the last Pope for you? Pius XII? All his cardinals are dead and if every Pope after him was an antiPope heretic then how do you elect a new one? You are just a Protestant only more high church.

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    4. Well, he's a Protestant who embraces none of the distinctive teachings of Protestantism -- which means he's not a Protestant at all. I don't know George R. or Patrick James, but I doubt they accepts any of the five Solas.

      "Protestant" is a precise word with a specific meaning. It's not a rhetorical club to be used as an insult. Find fault with Sedevacantism (we don't know if either George or Patrick are Sedevacantists), but don't accuse of them holding to heretical opinions when there is no reason to believe they hold to any such ideas.

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    5. @Confitebor

      You are a pretty inconsistent individual.

      >"Protestant" is a precise word with a specific meaning. It's not a rhetorical club to be used as an insult.

      I'll remember that the next time one of your fellow Traditionalists calls me a "neo-Catholic". The only difference between Protestants and Sedes is one believes there hasn't been a valid Pope in the last 50 years the other since 67 AD or whenever Pope St Peter met his end. I have no moral obligation to conform my use of satirical insult to your personal standards sir and I will not conform to them. But thank you for your input.

      > Find fault with Sedevacantism (we don't know if either George or Patrick are Sedevacantists),

      Which is like saying we don't know Martin Luther held to Sola Fide? Both unlike Pope Francis are rather explicit here and unambiguous.

      > but don't accuse of them holding to heretical opinions when there is no reason to believe they hold to any such ideas.

      Yet it is Ok for you & others to do that to the Holy Father?

      Really?

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    6. I'm confused that being in the body of Christ is considered an insult to Catholics. Or maybe it isn't that confusing.

      Delete
    7. Lurky McLurkersonAugust 6, 2018 at 4:52 AM

      Protestantism isn't even a body- it's a collection of severed limbs with no connection to a head, united by man made doctrines of 16th century origin that were subsequently back-projected onto the early Church. In this respect protestantism has more in common with Islam and Mormonism than the true faith- it purports to reclaim a mythical "lost" version of "true" Christianity that could not be found in the institutional church and had to be re-established through rebellion and schism. The fact that virtually nobody believed in sola fide, sola scriptura, forensic justification, eternal security, congregational church structure, an "invisible" body of "true believers" and a merely symbolic conception of the sacraments for 1500 years. Or if they did exist, they all disappeared without ever writing anything down. Protestantism is a man made theory of what the gospel's "really" meant that cannot stand up to even minimal historical scrutiny. The only serious arguments for it are cherry picked selections from various fathers like Augustine and some historically idiosyncratic interpretations of Paul that had no precedent until the Reformers showed up to correct the Church after 1500 years of "darkness". Like others have said, if Catholicism proved false I'd just go Atheist before I'd take seriously the claims of the Protestants, or Mormons, or Muslims.

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  38. The whole move is bizarre to me, although we can never predict the "God of Surprises." But the "God of Retroactive Editing"? What does it mean to change the Catechism? It's bizarre as editing the Council of Trent. Will he be updating the Catechism of Trent and the Syllabus of Errors as well? Usquequo, Domine? Usquequo?

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  39. Did not Thomas Aquinas have something to say about this?

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  40. I'd like to make a key point here. By declaring that at one point in the past, the Church has been mistaken on a subject relating to faith and moral teaching, the Pope has declared the Church to be capable of error and hence, fallible. Since the Pope's infallibility is derived from the Church's infallibility and not the other way around, the Pope has also declared himself to be a fallible source of authority, has he not?

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    1. Your reasoning is valid, your conclusion is sound. Sawing off the "capital punishment" branch of the Deposit of Faith requires the sawing off of the dogmas of Ecclesial and Petrine Infallibility.

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  41. On a personal note, I'm a potential convert to the Catholic church. The thing is, I'm a big supporter of the death penalty. I believe that serial killers, human traffickers, child rapists, terrorists and many other forms of human scum should be promptly executed. Now with this new development, it would seem that a Catholic cannot hold this belief without contradicting the catechism. Do I now have to relinquish this belief if I decide to convert, or can I disagree with the catechism on this point?

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    1. Re-read Feser's last paragraph. I also note that Lord Acton opposed the popular interpretation of his day that was given to Vatican I and gave way to the "Neo-Catholic" movement. He died in full communion with the Church.

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    2. Well since the Catechism hasn’t changed yet, you certainly could disagree. Remember, only God can change the Natural Law (and He would have to change nature to do that). At best, this is a more extreme prudential judgement by the Pope that you can disagree with. At worst, this is a heretical teaching proposed by the Pope in which case you would be bound by the Church to disagree with him.

      However, I would still urge you to pray for a merciful heart towards criminals, even if they are deserving of Capital Punishment.

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    3. "Do I now have to relinquish this belief if I decide to convert, or can I disagree with the catechism on this point?"

      You may, and should, disagree with the edited Catechism on this point. Keep in mind what the Catechism is, and isn't. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the 1994 "Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church," commented as follows (pages 26-27):

      The Catechism is not "a sort of super-dogma . . . What significance the Catechism really holds for the common exercise of teaching in the Church may be learned by reading the Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum, with which the Pope promulgated it on October 11, 1992 . . . : 'I acknowledge it [the Catechism] as a valid and legitimate tool in the service of ecclesiastical communion, as a sure norm for instruction in the faith.' The individual doctrines which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess. The weight of the Catechism itself lies in the whole. Since it transmits what the Church teaches, whoever rejects it as a whole separates himself beyond question from the faith and teaching of the Church."

      To notice a serious fault in a revised article of the Catechism and thus reject that fault is NOT to reject the Catechism as a whole.

      And at least as important are the words that I bolded above. The doctrines in the Catechism have only the weight they had before being compiled and summarised in the Catechism. Notice that the new article on capital punishment cites just a single authority -- a rather low-level (in terms of authority or weigh) statement of Pope Francis. Being cited and quoted in an official Catechism doesn't elevate that letter to any higher authority than it had before. Nor do the words of the Catechism eradicate 3,500 years of Scripture, Doctrine, Tradition, and Patristic teaching. To become a Catholic means embracing the whole deposit of Faith, not just the contents of the most recent Catechism. It means accepting the whole testimony of the Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Apostolic Tradition, yes, and even what the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent says.

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    4. Actually here I agree with Confitebor thought I disagree with him elsewhere..

      What he said.

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  42. I do wish the Protestants, sedevacantists, theological liberals, and panicky faithful Catholics and would-be Catholics here would all chill out. Worst case scenario, what we have here is another Honorius- or John XXII- type situation, that's all. Scandalous, horrible, and extremely rare, but perfectly consistent with what the Church has always actually acknowledged about the range of possible error. Those who are either doing a victory dance or ready to jump off the nearest bridge really need to have a drink and calm down.

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    1. Can you at least admit all the "there's no certainty without the papacy" arguments from Catholic apologists are completely b.s.?

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    2. Dr. Feser,

      Well spoken. Preferably a double shot of stiff bourbon the way people are talking.

      I would love to see a blog post by you on the relationship between mercy and justice. One point I have found amongst people who oppose Capital Punishment in principle (including my former self) is that mercy should always be preferred to justice.

      However, given Divine Simplicity, God’s mercy simply is His justice. Furthermore, without justice there can be no mercy. For example, it isn’t merciful for me to not kick a nice dog in the face because nice dogs haven’t done anything deserving of being kicked in the face. If you say a criminal does not deserve death (because Capital Punishment violates his intrinsic dignity), then not executing him is not an act of mercy but demanded by justice. But in that case, one could also question whether or not he has done anything to deserve imprisonment (which no doubt violates the dignity of a human under ordinary circumstances). It seems like a short jump to say that mercy and justice are not even objective features of reality.

      I still haven’t read By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed. I’m going through some of the books recommended on your Scholastic library posts as well as Aquinas’ Summa, so I’ll probably get to it in about 10 years.

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    3. geoffrobinson, I think you're missing the point. There are always ambiguities in every Christian tradition. But the Catholic tradition undoubtedly clears up so much more about theology than say an evangelical one. What apologists are saying is that without a church which has proper authority you don't have a tool for cleaning up these controversies.

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    4. We have a Pope you Protestants are your own Popes. Francis may have caused a Mess with this ambiguous statement in the CCC but if he doesn't have a St Paul moment some future Pope will clearly correct the situation.

      I wonder to myself why didn't the Pope just simply plainly state the Death Penalty was intrinsically evil in plain language? Like your false Protestant Confessions clearly state their heterodox views in plain language on Justification(Sola Fide that human doctrine Luther made up that contradicts James 2:24) , Baptism, so called "Eternal Secutity"(that human doctrine Calvin made up) Symbolic Eucharist (that human doctrine Zwingli made up).etc
      The reason why the Pope has not clearly bound us to believe the DP is intrinsically evil is because of Matt 16:18 which when I compare it to Isaiah 22:20 -21 looks a heck of a lot like a Papacy. They even have a biblical basis for calling him a Father.
      I would consider Atheism before I would consider Protestantism. God forbid I loose my Faith but I refuse to loose my reason.

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    5. So the Pope is behaving in a way so scandalous it was last seen in the 14th century, and it's nothing to worry about? A time when the Pope didn't even reside in Rome and was battling an antipope? It's not my faith in the historic claims of the Church as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic that is at issue - my reasons for believing that don't depend on Francis - but that the crisis of Francis is far more significant and historic than we seem to be acknowledging. And Francis is just getting started.

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    6. ben Ya"Kov, I hope the Pope DOES attempt to make an ex cathedra statement that "the death penalty is an intrinsically immoral act." And announces publicly that he intends to do that, beforehand. I hope he tries it.

      Either he will succeed, or he will fail. If he succeeds, then clarity will have been given, a clarity we need (and indeed deserve). If he fails (say, he dies of a heart attack, or the bite of a rabid dog on his way to a homeless shelter), before it gets issued, then this too would help clarify the situation: God will not permit a pope to say something ex cathedra that is wrong.

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    7. I think that a John XXII-type scenario should be avoided at all cost.
      I am not sure the Catholic Church can survive that kind of scenario. the situation in the 14th century was quite different from now.

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    8. That is where you are wrong Walter. Christ promised it would survive and Christ cannot lie.

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    9. @Tony

      Maybe the Pope realizes he takes his life into his own hands if he tries to speak Ex Cathedra? Maybe not. We will see.

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    10. Tony,

      I think the "ex cathedra" scenario might actually happen without lightning bolt or heart attack, but here's the catch :

      Any statement of thruth by a minister of the Church, be it of the highest authority like a Pope speaking ex cathedra, is ALWAYS REQUIRED TO CONFORM TO TRADITION in the first place.

      Should Francis issue a statement in clear contradiction with Tradition, it would not be made infaillible (or prove Hell has prevailed) just by virtue of having been solemny proclaimed along ex cathedra modus.
      Tradition is the ultimate Litmus test, no amount of technicalities can override this principle. Thinking otherwise is pure legalism.

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    11. I hope he speaks ex cathedra about this. It would shut up the trads for awhile. Maybe they'll take a sabbatical and rethink their position.

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    12. No, dr. Feser, the worst case scenario is a schism between progressives and so-called conservatives.

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  43. “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”

    Question: is this statement (a) more true, and (b) better substantiated via Christian sources of truth, than the following:

    Administering the death penalty where it is the just punishment for a crime harms the criminal in his physical aspect, but does not violate his human dignity; rather, it defends his human dignity in that it upholds his moral and spiritual aspects, and gives him a definitive way to redress his offence and obtain salvation.

    Is it possible that the thesis "the death penalty violates human dignity" can only be strongly defended based on secular or modernist understandings of human dignity, and cannot be strongly defended with a Christian understanding of human dignity?

    If so, of what epistemic value to Catholics is the Pope's statement now appearing in the Catechism?

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    1. Tony

      If the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, then it is not the just punishment for a crime.
      I do not see how a Christian understanding of human dignity can be reconciled with killing a person. Christian understanding of human dignity doesn't even allow people to kill themselves , not even in cases of unbearable suffering.

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    2. Walter, if you will stay away from my comments about the DP and human dignity, I will stay of of yours. You and I are unable to converse in peace on the issue.

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    3. If the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person...

      But that is precisely what Tony seems to be questioning, if I understand him correctly. And which I flat-out do question as imposing the attitudes of a particular time and place (here and now) as if they were universal. They are not.

      If our society's perceptions of value differ from those of other times and places, well, we might be right, or we might be wrong. (My presumption is that the latter is more likely.) But in any case, it has to be argued, and not assumed.

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    4. George

      Of course that can be questioned, and that is why I wrote the "if". My point is simply that assuming that the DP is a just punishment begs the question with regards to what human dignity means.
      BTW, I did present an argument, namely that the absolute and inviolable dignity of a person is one of the reasons why euthanasia is comdemned, so if human dignity is truly that absolute and inviolable, the DP is inadmissable.
      The real ambiguity seems to be in the exact meaning and scope of the concept of human dignity.

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  44. Well, I've just had a drink, so I hope I'm not over-reacting. I would just like to point out that despite their heterodox views, neither Pope Honorius nor Pope John XXII attempted to teach anything. Nor did they edit catechisms in an attempt to change their teaching.

    Does anyone on this thread seriously believe that 50 years from now, the Pope's latest edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will have been expunged?

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    1. Vincent, if Christ's second coming delays for 200 years, I seriously believe that there will be an official Church document, with greater stated authority than the current act to change #2267, that clearly and explicitly denies the stance in this statement:

      the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”

      Whether it is through expunging the Catechism or through another document, matters not.

      Sooner or later there will be a Pope who has the constitutional fortitude to declare forthrightly and with clarity, contrariwise to the modus operandi of Francis which is to confuse and obfuscate. When we do, he will tackle several of the most heinous of Francis and some other popes') obfuscating statements, and clarify teaching about them. At that point, we will either get Church documents that relegate acts like this one to a "demoted" status like, say, "nonbinding", or documents that directly repudiate the error contained therein (and, at least sometimes, explicitly name the erroneous document that is being repudiated). I do not believe God will leave the Church in this kind of confusion for several centuries at a time.

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    2. As was cited above this thread the USCCB said official Catechisms contain infallible teaching but are not themselves infallible and can contain errors or insufficiencies. If Catechisms where infallible there would be no need to update them. I guess the Pope can put an erroneous statement in the CCC just as John XXII can preach an erroneous statement or Pope Honorus can make a statement that is easily interpreted in a heterodox manner by the monothelite heretic Patriarch Sergus.
      I OTOH prefer to say the Pope's teaching here is ambiguous and the best interpretation we can make is "The application of the death penalty by a civil power is officially deemed by the Roman Catholic Church to be morally reprehensible in every circumstance, without exception, as a matter of prudential judgment."

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    3. If the application of the death penalty by a civil power is morally reprehensible in every circumstance without exception, then that is not a matter of prudential judgement. Prudential judgement must necessarily consist in deciding in which cases an act is permissible and in which it is not. Acts that are morally reprehensible are never permissible and are not subject to prudential judgement.

      If that is the best interpretation of the Pope’s statement, then the Pope is talking nonsense. If that is the only way to save the Pope from the formal appearance of heresy, it is not sufficient.

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    4. Ya'Kov, in what sense are we to understand the Church claiming an official and binding say over prudential judgments of this sort, when the Church has already declared that in this matter, prudential judgments belong to the civil sphere, not the ecclesiastical one? On what basis can the Church claim a universal and binding conclusion with respect to prudential judgments outside of her special sphere of authority?

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    5. Does anyone on this thread seriously believe that 50 years from now, the Pope's latest edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will have been expunged?

      Surely it won't be the catechism 50 years hence. There are 2 possibilities. If Francis is vindicated, then undoubtedly there will be much more of this coming, so the Franciscan Catechism will soon be outmoded. Or he will fail, and just go down as another unfortunate case of a Pope denying Christ.

      Either way, this is not a stable end point.

      (And SoY, I do not for a moment believe that Francis is actually the future of the Church. I speak wholly hypothetically.)

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    6. @Tony

      >Ya'Kov, in what sense are we to understand the Church claiming an official and binding say over prudential judgments of this sort, when the Church has already declared that in this matter, prudential judgments belong to the civil sphere, not the ecclesiastical one?

      So you are saying the Church can't morally pressure the civil sphere to give up the DP via it's moral authority? I am Scottish on my Father's side but Italian on my Mother's.

      So none of you people have an Italian Mother who technically can't tell you what to do as an adult but she really practically CAN still tell you what to do?

      Hmmmm...did I just type that out loud?

      >On what basis can the Church claim a universal and binding conclusion with respect to prudential judgments outside of her special sphere of authority?

      Moral Pressure. Of course to further understand the actions of the Church let us see if Pope Francis attaches formal penalties to persons who as per the instructions of Pope Benedict choose to disagree on the DP. If there is no penalty for being pro-death penalty (excommunication, interdict etc) like there is for abortion then the above interpretation is vindicated. Anyway we will have to wait and see.

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    7. So none of you people have an Italian Mother who technically can't tell you what to do as an adult but she really practically CAN still tell you what to do? ... Moral Pressure

      I have an Italian grandmother.

      The point of the "moral pressure" that a parent wields upon a grown and independent child is precisely that it is NON-BINDING (and thus unlike the authority a parent wields over a minor child). If the parent says "don't do that, you'll regret it, I can guarantee you...", and the grown child weighs the evidence offered and concludes "I think Mom is dead wrong, and I would be foolish in this instance to follow her judgment rather than my own because I am more educated than her in this area", he CAN act contrary to her "advice", without offence to good morals or good order in the family. That non-binding "don't do it" carries no moral penalties precisely because it has no binding moral force. It's proper delineation is "advice" and not "authoritative command". If Mom is acting in charity rather than as a shrew, when her son rejects her advice, she waits until the outcome proves whether she is right or wrong: if right, she lets him suffer the consequences (at least to some extent), if wrong she sucks it up and apologizes. It is only if she is an uncharitable shrew that she imposes her own unjust punishment on him (no more visits, the cold shoulder, etc).

      To put it succintly, this kind of pressure is present as "this is my best attempt at wisdom, but the decision-making authority is not mine but yours". Is this what you think Francis is saying in declaring "Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person"?

      If there is no penalty for being pro-death penalty (excommunication, interdict etc)

      There is no TEMPORAL punishment in the Church for using non-abortifacient contraceptives, but that doesn't mean that what the Church says about such is non-binding.

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  45. The Church in the 19th century ruled non-chattel slavery was not against the Moral or Natural Law. That is an authentic teaching but you will not find it in the CCC in it's condemnation of slavery.

    You will find this

    2414 The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason - selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian - lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord."194.

    So if the Church can "forbid" the slave trade because it is officially deemed by the Roman Catholic Church to be morally reprehensible in every circumstance, without exception, as a matter of prudential judgment(because this would forbid non-chattel slavery as well as chattel) then why can't we understand the change in the CCC by the Holy Father as expounded on by Fr. Michael X?.

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    1. Slave trade as a matter of prudential judgement? Slave trade is another matter, related but not equivalent to slavery.

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    2. Probably because the Church has made clear distinctions in its condemnation and prohibition of the slave trade, but has not done so in the context of Pope Francis' attempted prohibition of the death penalty, but rather is issuing a declaration that on the face of it has classified everything the Bible, Tradition, and Magisterium have ever said on the subject to be erroneous.

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    3. Confitebor

      Then the same case can be made against the teachings on slavery as they imply non-chattel slavery is intrinsically evil which goes against the Bible since God issued laws governing this institution and God cannot command what is intrinsically immoral because of his Holiness.
      It seems if the Church can ban slavery across the board including the species of slavery that is not intrinsically immoral (because they know it can be abused & lead to practical chattel slavery which is intrinsically immoral) then why not the DP?
      Of course I haven't even brought up the ancient Rabbis opposition to the DP while also teaching it wasn't intrinsically evil.
      The Church cannot ban the Mass. But she can suppress specific rites(even if that sucks). Why because having those rites is not inherently needed. Nobody is required to be executed for a capital crime even if they are guilty. Mercy can be offered and the Church can morally pressure governments to grant mercy. Under the old political order where we had Catholic States ruled over by Catholic kings Rome could depose rulers by excommunication or interdict.
      I was under the impression Popes do have temporal power and can exercise such power?

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  46. If Innocent III was wrong in require converts from Catharism to admit that the DP was legitimate, how can we be certain that, in the year 3000, Pope Francis the 85th will not condemn as “inadmissible” the proposition that abortion is always wrong ? But if it could possibly be admissible after 3000, why should Catholics in 2018 be dead-set on rejecting it utterly ? If an unpopular traditional doctrine can transmogrify into its contrary as regards the DP, what power or logic can prevent can the similar transmogrifications of doctrines that, at present, are deemed of very great importance ?

    Those who are zealous for (say) the exceptionless prohibition of abortion, may not care for the notion that in 3000, a Pope may judge that the contrary doctrine can develop from the prohibition: but if the lawfulness of the DP can develop can develop into its contrary, they cannot rule out the possibility of a reversal of the current exceptionless prohibition. Maybe - who knows ? - there will in that far future be a liturgical Rite of Contraception. With, perhaps, a Papal apology for the issuance of Humanae Vitae. Paul VI (who is to be canonised in October) will become the new St Pius V.

    At the very least, the Holy Father ought to explain how the new doctrine develops from the old, and how the alleged “evolution” is not Modernism. But it is improbable that any such explanation will be given.

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    1. Acting as though the "evil" of opposing the death penalty is like the evil of abortion is the most absurd and morally disturbing idea so far.

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    2. Anonymous, you clearly miss the point. If Catholic teaching can be altered on the whim of any pope, there is nothing to stop a future pope (or, for that matter, this pope) from proclaiming that abortion is permissible. Indeed, many Protestant denominations have wholly endorsed both abortion and homosexual unions on grounds entirely similar to those given for the change in CCC 2267: that we now have a ‘better understanding’ of human sexuality, that the Apostles and Fathers of the Church were ignorant and prejudiced people living in ignorant times, and it is our job to lift the Church out of its 2000-year-old folly. Apparently it was not Jesus’ job to establish a Church that taught the truth; oh, no, that job was left for men a hundred generations later, once they finally attained true enlightenment by their own efforts.

      The entire line of reasoning stinks, and it has already been used to justify abominations and the mass slaughter of innocent human beings. It is not ‘absurd or morally disturbing’ to point out that this is a thing that can happen, because it already has happened outside the Catholic Church.

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  47. I can't but help to see a strong correlation between a weak doctrine of Hell and a weak doctrine of justice. The "pastoral" phase of the Catholic Church does not make the Gospel clearer, it obscures it. Thankfully there are some bishops and priests left who take this stuff seriously. My family and I became Catholics this year (formerly traditionalist Anglicans) - I knew I was in for a crazy ride, but this is so disheartening.

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    1. I am a convert to Catholicism myself, and I fully understand why you are disheartened. One of the reasons I chose to convert was the beauty, solidity, and logic of the Magisterium, and the fact that the Catholic Church did not change its doctrines under political pressure from the civil powers of the passing day. That reason has now been taken from me. If the Church has taught error on capital punishment, and now openly admits that its own teaching was false and heretical from the beginning, which of its teachings can be trusted? Either the Church has always lied, or it is lying now. I have submitted myself in all humility to a body that I thought was dedicated to the truth, and now that body is officially and confessedly lying to me. Is anything taught by the Church of any value?

      Dr. Feser, I think, is quite wrong when he tells people not to panic. The weakest words I can use to describe the effect of this action on the laity are ‘total and general scandal’. The Church has undercut its own teaching authority and trustworthiness in general, and if the current Pope is not corrected, destroyed it entirely.

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  48. For a very interesting example of how attitudes and ecclesiastical law changes over time why not check out the review of a 1906 book by E P Evans titled The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals.
    The review by Jeffrey St Clair titled Let us Now Praise Infamous Animals is featured on the Counterpunch website - which is probably not exactly a favorite website for any/all of the right-thinking suspects who contribute to Edward's website.

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  49. But it is improbable that any such explanation will be given.

    That' my friends, is a masterfully massive dry understatement if there ever was one! Improbable? why, it would be hard to locate something less probable without venturing into the fields of the impossible.

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  50. It seems to me that this is an attempt to get the Catholic Church to be in agreement with Socialism. Otherwise I can not see how it could come from the Old or New testament or any of the old church fathers.

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  51. The death penalty as inflicted by the legitimate civil authorities, following a fair trial, was long considered to be an _appropriate_ response for the gravity of certain crimes that had been committed; it was seen as an _acceptable_ means, albeit extreme, of safeguarding the common good.

    Nowadays, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the human person is not in fact lost even after very grave crimes have been committed. In addition, there is an increasing sensitivity towards the social significance of the State imposing capital punishment. Moreover, increasingly effective systems of incarceration have been developed that both ensure the proper protection of the public at large, and at the same time do not deprive the offending individual of the opportunity to atone for their actions.

    For this reason, the Church, guided by Gospel values, teaches that “the death penalty is an _unacceptable_ measure since it is _incompatible_ with the inviolable nature and the dignity of the human person”. Hence the Church asserts its strong commitment to the abolition of the death penalty throughout the world.

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  53. Have any of you tried to analyze the words "attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" to see what they actually mean?

    They flow off the tongue fairly easily, and fairly easily we imagine that they mean something coherent and sensible, even if troubling. But when you peer more closely, it all unravels.

    What, precisely, is "inviolable"? It is something in us that, if you do harm to it, amounts to a "violation". But TRUE punishment, is, per se, a kind of evil visited upon a person as just redress for the evil they have imposed upon society, so that justice is restored. (This is the explicit teaching of both St. Thomas and JPII). The judicial evil thus imposed is not an "attack", and - unless it exceeds the bounds of due proportion - is not a "violation" of the person.

    I examine all this in much greater detail in this blog comment:

    http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2018/08/pope_outlaws_the_death_penalty.html#comment-444959

    Pay especial attention to the notion of "violation", which implies imposing an evil that contradicts the proper end and due ordination of the person.

    Ultimately, the only way the Pope's phrase can be supported is by a question-begging assumption that the DP is, inherently, an excessive evil to impose as punishment because no offense can be due a punishment that severe.

    But this novel theory has VERY GRAVE IMPLICATIONS to the very foundation of the Christian religion, namely, that God became man to save us from the JUST PUNISHMENT of death (and worse) by suffering for us the punishment due for sin. If no offence is capable of warranting death as a punishment, then God was a tyrant when he told Adam in the Garden "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die", and he was a worse tyrant in requiring of his own Son to die in our stead to satisfy justice.

    There is no way to retain Christianity if one discards death as the justly and proportionately due punishment for truly grave offences. In actual fact, one of the most common heretical errors of the modernists is to take away the atonement aspect of Christ's passion and death, and make it all into a syrupy "teaching moment" or something of the kind, precisely because "God could not be so cruel as to demand death as a punishment". All that nonsense is heretical and undermines the entirety of the Gospels.

    So, today the DP is "inadmissible". Tomorrow, the DP cannot be a just punishment. Next week, Christ's death was not in atonement for our sins. Next month, atonement as a concept is irrational and demeaning - no loving God acts like this. The modernists have already mapped this all out, we already know this is how they think, they have said it, repeatedly.

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  54. I just don’t believe what I’m hearing.

    None of you get to tell a Pope he is wrong, once he has made his judgement clear, and changing the Catechism, is is clear statement, even if the statement itself can be construed as ambiguous.

    As Pope Benedict XV says:

    “…[W]henever legitimate authority has once given a clear command, let no one transgress that command, because it does not happen to commend itself to him; but let each one subject his own opinion to the authority of him who is his superior, and obey him as a matter of conscience. Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church. All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says.”

    (Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Ad Beatissimi, n. 22)

    As for this idea of a pick and mix Catholicism or that you don’t have to believe a determined body of doctrine, whole and entire, in the same sense, and according to the same interpretation as The Apostles and The Fathers:

    “It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as “profane novelties of words,” out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.”

    (Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Ad Beatissimi, n. 24)

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  55. Ed Feser: "That capital punishment can be legitimate at least in principle is a teaching that clearly meets the criteria for being an infallible and irreformable doctrine of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, ..."

    CIC 1983: Canon 750 — “All that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church and also proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium, must be believed with divine and catholic faith; it is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore, all are bound to avoid any doctrines which are contrary to these truths.”

    Ed Feser: "To contradict this traditional teaching is a doctrinal error, pure and simple ..."

    CIC 1983: Canon 751 — “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt regarding the same; ..."

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