Friday, September 20, 2019

Fastiggi on the revision to the Catechism (Updated)


UPDATE: The conversation continues.  Prof. Fastiggi has responded to this post in the comments section over at Catholic World Report. I have cut and pasted his responses below, under the text of my original post, together with my replies.  Scroll down to take a look

In the comments section under my recent Catholic World Report article “Three questions for Catholic opponents of capital punishment,” theologian Prof. Robert Fastiggi raises a number of objections.  What follows is a reply.  Fastiggi’s objections are in bold, and I respond to them one by one.

Fastiggi begins:

There are multiple problems with Prof. Feser’s article.

1. He sets up a false dichotomy with his insistence that either Pope Francis’s revision of CCC 2267 represents a doctrinal change or merely a prudential judgment. This either/or does not do justice to the new formulation in the Catechism, which represents a deepening and a development of the moral principles of John Paul II that apply to the prudential order (but is not merely prudential in nature).

The revision to the Catechism asserts flatly that the death penalty should never be used.  My claim is that there are only two ways to read this.  Either the revision is saying that capital punishment should never be used even in principle, which would constitute a doctrinal change; or it is making a merely prudential judgment to the effect that it should never be used in practice.  This is what Fastiggi characterizes as a false dichotomy.

Now, if I really were guilty of setting up a false dichotomy, then there should be some third alternative way of reading the revision that I have overlooked.  So what is this third alternative?  Tellingly, Fastiggi never tells us!  He merely asserts that the revision “represents a deepening and a development of the moral principles of John Paul II” etc.   But this is mere hand-waving unless we are told exactly what this deepened moral principle is that is neither (a) a reversal of past doctrine nor (b) a mere prudential judgment.

The reason he does not tell us what this third alternative is is that there could be no third alternative.  Think about it.  Any such alternative would have to say flatly that the death penalty is never permissible for reasons that are both stronger than merely prudential reasons (otherwise the purported third alternative would collapse back into alternative (b)), but not as strong as reasons of principle (or it would collapse back into alternative (a)).  But that simply makes no sense.  If the reasons why it is flatly impermissible are more than merely prudential, then there is nothing left for them to be than reasons of principle.  And such reasons would inevitably entail a doctrinal change, since the Church has in the past consistently taught that capital punishment can in principle be used.

2. Feser falls into the fallacy of begging the question when he insists that a total rejection of the death penalty contradicts “the irreformable teaching of Scripture and Tradition.” This is his position, but I don’t believe he’s proven it to be true. There’s no irreformable teaching of Scripture and Tradition that prevents the Church from judging now that the death penalty is inadmissible in light of a deeper understanding of the Gospel.

This is an even less plausible charge than the claim that I had set up a false dichotomy.  I would be guilty of begging the question if I simply asserted, without argument, that capital punishment is the irreformable teaching of scripture and tradition.  But of course, I have in fact provided a great deal of argumentation in support of that claim, in writings such as my Catholic World Report article Capital punishment and the infallibility of the ordinary Magisterium,” and in my book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed (co-authored with Joe Bessette).  And of course, Fastiggi knows this, both because he has commented before on these earlier works, and because I refer to them in the very article to which he is responding here!

Fastiggi has the right to disagree with the arguments I present in those writings, but he has no right to speak as if they don’t exist.  Yet one would have to pretend that they don’t exist in order to accuse me of begging the question.  Indeed, if I wanted to play Fastiggi’s game, I would say that he is begging the question, given that his comments here simply assume, without argument, that my other writings fail to make the case for irreformability.

Anyway, the interested reader is directed to the article and book just referred to, where he will find ample evidence that the Church has indeed taught irreformably that capital punishment is not per se contrary to either natural law or the Gospel.

But even if Feser were persuaded that his position is true, he should abide by what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) teaches in its 1990 document, Donum Veritatis, no. 27: “ the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions.”

Fastiggi is attacking a straw man.  I have never said and never would say that my own opinions are non-arguable conclusions.  What I have said is that the consistent teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and two millennia of popes are non-arguable conclusions.  The Church says the same thing (as I show in the writings referred to above), and the Church says that the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is among these consistent teachings of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and two millennia of popes (as I also show in the writings referred to above).

3. Feser assumes that Pope Francis’s opposition to life sentences is not defensible. In fact, Pope Francis’s position is in line with the top human rights court in Europe, which in 2013 ruled that sentences of life in prison without parole represent inhuman and degrading treatment and violate the European Convention of Human Rights: https://thinkprogress.org/top-european-human-rights-court-deems-life-in-prison-without-parole-inhuman-and-degrading-d615fc306396/ 

First, whatever one thinks of this “top human rights court in Europe” and its assertions about life imprisonment, they have zero doctrinal relevance.  They are relevant at most only to the prudential question about whether life imprisonment is a good idea in practice, not to the doctrinal question about whether it is legitimate in principle.  So, Fastiggi’s remark here hardly undermines my main point that the pope’s remarks about life imprisonment are best interpreted as the expression of a prudential judgment rather than as a doctrinal revision.

Second, it is worth noting that Fastiggi completely ignores the points I made about the problematic consequences of abolishing life imprisonment (such as that it would entail paroling serial killers and Nazi war criminals).  Surely any attempt to show that the abolition of life imprisonment is “defensible” should address this rather glaring difficulty?

Feser’s [sic] suggests that Pope Francis’s opposition to life sentences represents “a secular rather than a Catholic understanding of hope.” This is a complete non sequitur. To hope for criminals to undergo reform and eventually be released from prison in no way denies hope in eternal life. Feser’s suggestion is gratuitous and insulting to Pope Francis.

Fastiggi’s remarks here are a gratuitous and insulting misrepresentation of what I actually wrote.  I never said that either the pope, or his view about life imprisonment, “denies hope in eternal life.”  What I said is that when he appeals to hope when criticizing life imprisonment, he is making use of a secular conception of hope rather than the Catholic theological conception of hope.  It’s not that he denies the latter, but just that he does not make use of it. 

And that is manifestly the case.  For one thing, as I pointed out in my article, life imprisonment is obviously not incompatible with hope in the theological sense, because no misfortune we can suffer in this life is incompatible with hope in that sense.  For another thing, it is clear from Pope Francis’s own words that he has a secular conception of hope in mind.  In my article, I cited remarks in which he ties hope to the possibility for the offender to “plan a future in freedom.”  And in a speech from just a few days ago wherein he revisited the theme of life imprisonment, the pope tied hope to the offender’s “reintegration” into society and “the right to start over.”

I fail to see why it is “insulting” to Pope Francis simply to call attention to what he actually said.

4. Feser speaks of Pope Francis “attributing” a certain position to the Russian author Doystoyevsky. [sic] Feser, though, seems ignorant of the source of the Holy Father’s citation. The passage Pope Francis cites is from the novel, The Idiot, and it needs to be read in context to appreciate the profound insight of the Christ-like character, Prince Mishkyn, concerning the death penalty: https://flaglerlive.com/25951/dostoevsky-idiot-death-penalty/

Pope Francis’s reference to Doystoyevsky is not really central to his arguments against the death penalty. Nevertheless, Feser should not comment on the quote from Doystoyevsky unless he understands the context in which it appears. It should also be noted that Doystoyevsky was once brought before the firing squad to be executed (only to receive a last-minute reprieve to serve five years in Siberia). Doystoyevsky saw a side to the death penalty that few of the living know.

Naturally, I was aware that the quotation came from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.  When I said that the pope “attributes” the quotation to Dostoyevsky, I was not implying that the attribution was mistaken.  Rather, I used that word precisely to forestall quibbles about matters of Dostoyevsky exegesis.  I knew that some readers might complain that the words are actually those of a character in a novel rather than something Dostoyevsky said in a non-fiction context, that to pull them from context risks oversimplifying their meaning, etc.  So I simply spoke of “the view [the pope] attributes to Dostoyevsky” in the hope of avoiding getting into all that.  As Fastiggi’s quibbles here indicate, my hopes were in vain.

Anyway, the average person who reads the pope’s remarks is hardly likely to know all the context that Fastiggi says needs to be taken into account.  The average reader will just see that the pope approvingly quotes a remark to the effect that executing a murderer is worse than what the murderer did – a claim that many are likely to find shocking and incompatible with traditional Catholic teaching.  If Fastiggi wants to insist that people shouldn’t cite this Dostoyevsky passage without making the context clear, then it seems he should direct his complaints to Pope Francis rather than to me.

5. Prof. Feser continues to appeal to a leaked 2004 memo of Cardinal Ratzinger regarding worthiness to receive communion. This memo was not focused on the death penalty, and it was written within the context of the 1997 Catechism on the death penalty. Since the new formulation of CCC 2267 has replaced the version in force in 2004, the brief comment of Cardinal Ratzinger articulated in his 2004 memo no longer applies. Moreover, it’s simply bad theology to cite a document of lesser importance to override a later document of greater importance and authority.

First, it is extremely misleading to say that the memo in question “was not focused on the death penalty.”  It was not focused only on the death penalty, but it was most certainly intended to clarify the Church’s teaching on matters of life and death, including the death penalty (alongside war, abortion, and euthanasia). 

Second, the memo is in fact extremely important to the current discussion, precisely because it clarifies the status of the Church’s teaching on those matters, including its current teaching. 

Here’s why.  The memo was written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who was at the time the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope St. John Paul II.  In other words, he was the Church’s chief doctrinal officer, responsible for clarifying for the faithful the meaning of the Church’s teachings, including those of John Paul II himself.  And Ratzinger made it clear in that memo (and elsewhere, as Joe Bessette and I discuss in our book) that John Paul II’s teaching on capital punishment was a prudential matter rather than a development of doctrine.  That’s why, as the memo explicitly says, even a faithful Catholic can be “at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment” and why “there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about… applying the death penalty.”

Now, Pope Francis appeals to Pope John Paul II’s teaching in order to justify his own revision to the Catechism.  He says that he is merely extending what John Paul said.  But John Paul II’s teaching was prudential rather than a matter of doctrinal revision, as John Paul II’s own chief doctrinal officer confirmed.  So, Pope Francis’s extension (as he sees it) of John Paul’s teaching can itself be merely prudential.  Whereas John Paul II made the prudential judgment that the cases in which the death penalty is called for are “very rare, if not non-existent,” Francis makes the prudential judgement that they are flatly non-existent.  But in both cases, we have merely a prudential judgment.

So, Fastiggi is mischaracterizing my use of the memo.  I am not guilty of citing a document of lesser magisterial authority in order to override a document of greater magisterial authority.  What is in fact going on is this.  There are two documents here of equal magisterial weight: (a) the text of the Catechism as John Paul II left it, and (b) Pope Francis’s revision to the text of the Catechism.  What I am doing is citing a clarification made by the Church’s official doctrinal spokesman – the man whose job it was to make such clarifications and who spoke for John Paul II – about the proper understanding of (a).  And I am then saying that we have to interpret (b) in light of this proper understanding of (a), especially because Pope Francis himself has indicated that he is merely extending what is already there in (a).

Now, what we are debating here is the proper interpretation of the Church’s magisterial documents.  And Fastiggi, who has over the years consistently tried to downplay significance of the 2004 memo, is guilty of ignoring the Church’s own clarification of the meaning of those documents.  Now that, I submit, is bad theology.

6. Feser seems to believe he is justified in not accepting what Pope Francis and the Catholic Church now teach about the death penalty because he finds the arguments unpersuasive. Here Prof. Feser directly contradicts the teaching of the CDF in no. 28 of Donum Vertitatis [sic] which explictly says that disagreement with a magisterial teaching “could not be justified if it were based solely on the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable.”

This is a gross misrepresentation of my position.  Fastiggi makes it sound as if I have identified some teaching unambiguously put forward by Pope Francis as binding on the faithful, and then gone on to reject that teaching.  As anyone who has read my article knows, that is precisely what I have not done.  What I have actually done is to note that Pope Francis’s words are ambiguous between two possible teachings: (a) a reversal of the Church’s traditional teaching that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate, and (b) a mere prudential judgment to the effect that even if it is in principle legitimate, it is better in practice to abolish capital punishment.

Now, as Fastiggi well knows, it is a general principle of Catholic theology that magisterial statements ought if possible to be interpreted in a way consistent with traditional teaching.  That alone makes reading (b) preferable to reading (a).  Furthermore, as is clear from the passages from Donum Veritatis that I cited in my article (and which Fastiggi conveniently ignores, since they undermine his case), the Church permits respectful criticism of magisterial statements that are problematic in various ways, including with respect to their content.  And there can be nothing more problematic with a magisterial statement than an apparent conflict with scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and two millennia of consistent papal teaching.  Therefore, even if the pope intended reading (a) (which he has not said he intends, and indeed which he has implicitly rejected since he says that he is in no way contradicting past teaching) a Catholic would be within his rights to withhold assent to (a).

So, the better reading is reading (b).  But if reading (b) is what is intended, then the Church herself does not require assent to it in the first place, because prudential judgments require only respectful consideration rather than assent.  As I argue in my article, if (b) is the correct interpretation, then what then-Cardinal Ratzinger said in the 2004 memo still applies.

So, though Fastiggi accuses me of dissenting from some binding teaching, the whole point of my article was to show that that is not what is going on with those who have been critical of the revision to the Catechism.  He is simply begging the question against the argument presented in the article.

7. Feser’s rejection of the new teaching of the Church on the death penalty is in direct violation of what Lumen Gentium, 25 teaches about the need to adhere to teachings of the ordinary papal Magisterium “with religious submission of mind and will.” His rejection also violates canon 752 of the 1983 CIC and no. 892 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Again, this simply begs the question in the way I just described.  It also ignores inconvenient texts like the passages I quoted from Donum Veritatis and from St. Thomas, as well as the qualifications that the Church herself puts on the requirement of assent, which I set out at length in an earlier post to which I linked in my article.

Feser and his followers do not seem to understand the “argument from authority” that applies to teachings of the ordinary papal magisterium and judgments of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Catholics who support the new formulation of CCC 2267 are being faithful Catholics. Prof. Feser’s attempt to put such faithful Catholics and the Pope on the defensive suggests that he believes he has more authority than the Roman Pontiff. If he has difficulty accepting the Church’s new teaching on the death penalty he should, in a spirit of humility, make every effort to understand the teaching “with an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve his difficulties” (CDF, Donum, Vertiatis, 30). [sic] I have no difficulty with the new teaching. I hope and pray that Prof. Feser and his followers will overcome their difficulties.

Here we see Fastiggi once again deploying two of his favorite rhetorical tricks.  The first is to suggest that I am appealing to my own “authority.”  Of course, I am doing no such thing.  Again, I am only ever appealing to what the Church herself says.  In particular, I am appealing to the consistent teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and two millennia of popes.  I am appealing to what the Church says about the proper interpretation of scripture and scripture’s freedom from moral error.  I am appealing to what the Church says about the conditions under which the ordinary magisterium teaches infallibly.  I am appealing to what the Church says about the authority of the Fathers and the Doctors.  I am appealing to what the Church says about the conditions under which respectful criticisms of deficient magisterial statements might be raised.  And so on.  Again, see By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed for the mountain of evidence and argumentation along these lines, or, if you lack the time or patience for that, at least my article on capital punishment and the ordinary magisterium.

What Fastiggi does is to try to chip away a little at this mountain by raising weak objections to some of the arguments I have presented, and then to try to undermine the rest of it by writing it off as an appeal to my own “authority.”  This is a rhetorical distraction, nothing more.  Either the arguments I present are cogent or they are not.  If they are cogent, then labeling them mere appeals to my own “authority” does not magically make them less cogent.  And if they are not cogent, then the problem is that they are not cogent, not that they are appeals to my “authority.”  Either way, the focus should be on the arguments themselves.  To go on about my “authority” or lack thereof is just to kick up dust.

The second rhetorical trick Fastiggi likes to play is to make reference to my “followers,” as if I were the leader of some movement.  I don’t have “followers.”  I have readers.  And some of them sometimes find some argument that I have given to be convincing, while finding Fastiggi’s counterarguments to be unconvincing.  That’s all.  Characterizing these people as “followers,” while fancying himself a noble defender of the magisterium against them, doesn’t magically make my arguments any worse or his any better.  It is simply another rhetorical distraction. 

Moreover, Fastiggi doesn’t see that these same rhetorical tricks could be turned against him.  Someone inclined toward Fastiggi-style rhetoric could say that he is pitting his own “authority” against the weight of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and two millennia of popes.  One could suggest that Fastiggi and his “followers” are bent on encouraging Pope Francis to teach something contrary to traditional teaching – rather than respectfully encouraging him, in line with Donum Veritatis and the teaching of St. Thomas, to reaffirm traditional teaching.  Again, one could do these things if one were inclined toward Fastiggi-style rhetoric.  I’m not.

One last comment.  Fastiggi’s expression “the Church’s new teaching” should give every faithful Catholic the dry heaves.  The Church has no “new teachings.”  The Church only ever teaches what has been believed “always, everywhere, and by all,” as St. Vincent of Lerins put it.  The Church only ever teaches “the same doctrine, [in] the same sense, and the same understanding,” as the First Vatican Council solemnly affirmed.  While the Church may clarify the sense of her traditional teachings and draw out the implications of those teachings, she may never reverse those teachings or introduce “some new doctrine,” as the same council taught.  The Church cries out, with Pope St. Pius X: “Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty!” 

The most faithful Catholics, and the most loyal sons of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, are those who interpret his teaching in continuity with tradition, and who respectfully implore him – in obedience to the teaching of Donum Veritatis and of St. Thomas – explicitly to reaffirm that tradition.

UPDATE 9/21: Prof. Fastiggi has responded in the comments section over at Catholic World Report.  Here are his responses, followed by my replies:

I am honored you would give so much attention to my comments regarding your recent article in Catholic World Report. I will now respond to the points you raised to my numbered comments:

1. You seemed to miss what I said. The third alternative would be that the revision of CCC 2267 represents both a doctrinal development/change and a prudential application. To my mind, you did set up a false dichotomy.

This is no answer at all.  As I said before, in order to show that I was guilty of setting up a false dichotomy, Fastiggi needs to tell us exactly what this new doctrinal principle is that both rules out the death penalty in all cases and yet is neither a reversal of past doctrinal principle nor merely a prudential judgement.  Just saying that there is such a principle does not suffice.  If I say “Either A or B” and you accuse me of a fallacy of false dichotomy, the accusation is groundless unless you can identify some further proposition C that I have failed to consider.  All Fastiggi has done is yet again to assert, without argument, that there is such a proposition.  He hasn’t told us what that proposition is.

The proposition can’t be something like “The death penalty is always wrong in principle,” because that would contradict past doctrinal principle, and Fastiggi claims that the pope’s revision does not contradict past doctrine.  Nor can it be “The death penalty is always wrong in principle unless necessary to protect society against the offender,” for two reasons.  First, the revision says flatly that capital punishment is “inadmissible,” and makes no reference to any exceptions.  Second, Fastiggi holds that Pope St. John Paul II already limited the legitimate use of capital punishment even in principle to cases where it is necessary to protect society against the offender.  (In fact this is not true, since as Joe Bessette and I show in our book, John Paul’s teaching was merely prudential rather than a development of doctrinal principle.  But what matters for present purposes is that Fastiggi thinks it was a development of doctrine.)  So, since Pope Francis presents the revision as going beyond what John Paul already said, it must be insisting on a more thoroughgoing ban on capital punishment than the thesis that the death penalty should never be used except where necessary to protect society.

But the only remaining possibility seems to be to interpret it as the expression of a thesis like “The death penalty is always wrong under current circumstances.”  But that reduces it to a mere prudential judgment, and Fastiggi says that the revision entails something stronger than a mere prudential judgment (even if, he says, it also in part involves a prudential judgment).

So, again, we have yet to be told by Fastiggi exactly what this principle is that is neither a reversal of past doctrinal principle nor a mere prudential judgment.  And until he tells us, his accusation that I am guilty of a false dichotomy rings hollow.

2. I think you do beg the question because you state your opinion at times as if it were an established fact.

That’s not what “begging the question” means.  Fastiggi’s conception of what “begging the question” amounts to would entail that anyone who thinks that something is an established fact, but who turns out to be wrong, is begging the question.  And that is not the case.  For example, Europeans used to think that all swans are white, and this turned out to be wrong.  But they weren’t for that reason begging the question.  They were just mistaken, that’s all.  Similarly, even if it turned out that I am wrong to think that the Church’s traditional teaching on capital punishment is irreformable, that doesn’t entail that I am committing the fallacy of begging the question.  It would just mean that I was mistaken.

3. Pope Francis has not articulated his position against life sentences with the same insistence as he has against the death penalty. Perhaps it is only a prudential judgment. Behind every prudential judgment, though, are certain principles that are worthy of respect.

Actually, the only significant difference is that the pope has not inserted the teaching against life imprisonment into the Catechism.  But as the citations I gave show, he has raised the issue many times, he has characterized life imprisonment as morally on a par with the death penalty, and he has invoked the Magisterium when commenting on it.  That’s pretty significant.  Now, as I have argued, because what he says about life imprisonment would be very problematic if interpreted as a statement of doctrinal principle, it is better interpreted as a prudential judgment.  But since he characterizes the death penalty and life imprisonment as morally on a par, this would give us good reason to interpret his teaching on capital punishment as merely prudential as well.  That was my argument, and Fastiggi has not answered it.

I provided the example of the European court of human rights to show that Pope Francis’s position against life imprisonment without parole is held by many respectable people. The authority of Pope Francis’s position comes from his authority as the Roman Pontiff not from the European court.

As some of Fastiggi’s readers have pointed out, the suggestion that the European Court of Human Rights is a source of “respectable” moral opinion is dubious given the court’s rulings on abortion.

Here is what you said about Pope Francis’s view of hope: […]

My point was that hope for life outside prison does not deny a Catholic understanding of hope. I am glad you now accept that point. It wasn’t clear in your article. In fact, you took it upon yourself to quote 1 Cor 15:19 as if the Holy Father needed to be reminded of this Scripture.

I highly doubt that the Holy Father reads my blog.  I quoted that passage to illustrate how radically different the theological virtue of hope is from hope in a secular sense.  I fail to see what is wrong with that.

4. I am glad you are aware of the context of the Dostoyevsky quote. It’s not central to the Holy Father’s argument, but it’s something worth considering. Since the reference is not so central, I wonder why you gave it so much attention. I suspect it’s because you want to make Pope Francis look bad. But it doesn’t really make him look bad. The insight on the death penalty provided in the novel, The Idiot, is something we all need to contemplate.

Pope Francis is known for a tendency to say things that are theologically imprecise and sometimes even extreme.  For example, he once famously remarked that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” (a remark he later qualified).  I quoted his remark about Dostoyevsky to illustrate that he has this tendency when he talks about capital punishment no less than when he talks about other subjects.  And the point is that, precisely because of this tendency toward imprecision and overstatement, we need to be very cautious before drawing momentous doctrinal implications from Pope Francis’s various statements.

Now, it is true that calling attention to this tendency might make him look bad, because popes, of all people, should, given the nature of their office, be precise and cautious in what they say in public.  But it is unfair to accuse me of wanting to make him look bad.  That was not my intent.  My intent was to call attention to a consideration that is highly relevant to interpreting the meaning of the pope’s remarks on capital punishment and evaluating their doctrinal status.

This is hardly some novel point of my own.  As Joe Bessette and I note in our book (at p. 170), in volume I of their Contemporary Moral Theology, Ford and Kelly give examples of statements from Pius XI and Pius XII that were potentially misleading because of their imprecision, and that were later qualified.  Ford and Kelly use these examples to illustrate the point that “a theologian is not necessarily irreverent or disloyal in supposing that [some papal] statements may need clarification or restriction or rephrasing” (p. 30). 

5. You completely miss my point on the 2004 memo of Cardinal Ratzinger. First of all, the Cardinal in the memo never says that the teaching of John Paul II on the death penalty was merely prudential. The word “prudential” does not appear in the text.

The word “prudential” does not have to be in the text in order for it to have the implication that John Paul’s teaching was prudential.  The memo says that “if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment… he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion,” and that “there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about… applying the death penalty.” Obviously, it follows that the views of John Paul II with which a faithful Catholic may be “at odds” and have a “legitimate” difference of opinion about cannot be matters of doctrinal principle.  Hence they must be prudential.

The 1997 version of CCC 2267 left open the possibility of applying the death penalty if it were “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” This is why Cardinal Ratzinger could say in 2004 that the death penalty could still be applied and there might be a legitimate diversity of opinions about applying the death penalty. Since Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the major editors of the 1997 Catechism we must assume that the legitimate diversity of opinions corresponded to the very limited possibilities for the use of the death penalty in that edition of the CCC.

As I’ve said, Joe Bessette and I show at length in our book (at pp. 163-82) that there are several considerations, including other remarks from Cardinal Ratzinger, that make it clear that John Paul II’s restriction of the death penalty to cases where it is necessary to protect society was itself merely a prudential judgment rather than a development of doctrine.  But even if it had been a development of doctrine, the memo makes it clear that a Catholic would still have the right to argue that capital punishment is necessary in some cases for the defense of society against the aggressor.  And given the argument I gave above about the relevance of the memo to interpreting both the 1997 version of the Catechism and the new revision (which claims to be merely extending the principles underlying the 1997 version), the teaching of the memo applies today no less than it did in 2004.

Because Pope Francis ordered a revision of CCC 2267, the more authoritative text is the revised text of 2018. This text supersedes the 1997 version and has more authority now.

But the question is, exactly what is the doctrinal principle that the 2018 version contains that is different from what the 1997 version contained.  And as I noted above, Fastiggi still hasn’t answered that question.  But then, since he hasn’t even told us what the doctrinal principle is, he can hardly claim to have shown that that principle leaves no room for there to be legitimate disagreement among Catholics on the prudential question of whether capital punishment is still sometimes necessary in practice.

You are simply wrong to claim that we are dealing with two documents of “equal magisterial weight.” The 2018 version supersedes the 1997 version just as the 1997 version superseded the earlier 1992 version. Because the 2018 version does not allow for the very limited possibilities of applying the death penalty found in the 1997 version, it is bad theology to cite a 2004 memo of Cardinal Ratzinger to override the authority of the later revised version of CCC 2267. This revised version was ordered by the Roman Pontiff and supported by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It clearly supersedes the authority of the leaked 2004 memo, which is now outdated with respect to the death penalty.

Fastiggi is here equivocating on the expression “magisterial weight.”  The expression could connote either:

(a) the relative authority of documents of different types, such as ex cathedra definitions, conciliar decrees, encyclicals, catechisms, papal allocutions, documents from the CDF, etc. (where you might label this a synchronic notion of magisterial weight), or

(b) the way later magisterial statements may be intended to clarify earlier magisterial statements (where you might label this a diachronic notion of magisterial weight).

Now, in our earlier exchange, Fastiggi objected that a memo didn’t have the same weight as a catechism, and thus was clearly appealing to notion (a).  I responded that the significance of the memo was that it clarified the meaning of the 1997 version of the catechism – which, qua catechism, has the same magisterial weight in sense (a) as the 2018 version of the catechism has.  A catechism doesn’t somehow cease being a catechism just because a later revision, or a later catechism altogether, comes along.  For example, the Roman Catechism of Pope St. Pius V is not somehow now a non-catechism just because Pope John Paul II issued a new one.  So, in sense (a) – which is the sense I had in mind – the 1997 and 2018 versions of the current catechism, along with the Roman Catechism, are indeed of “equal magisterial weight.”

But isn’t the 2018 version nevertheless of greater magisterial weight than the 1997 version in sense (b)?  And doesn’t that mean that we should now ignore the 1997 version and care only about the 2018 version?  No, because as I have said, the 2018 version claims precisely to be extending the principles of the 1997 version.  So we need properly to understand the latter if we are properly to understand the former.  But the 2004 memo shows (or, to be more precise, is one of several considerations that show – again, see the discussion at pp. 163-82 of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed) that the 1997 version amounted to a prudential judgment.  And my point was that this prudential nature of the 1997 version carries over into the 2018 revision.

Fastiggi hasn’t answered this point.  He simply misses it.

6. I am afraid you also miss my point here. It is quite clear that you disagree with the revised text of CCC 2267, which carries magisterial authority because it was ordered by the Roman Pontiff. Here is what no. 28 of Donum Veritatis says:

“Such a disagreement could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable. Nor, furthermore, would the judgment of the subjective conscience of the theologian justify it because conscience does not constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine”

Now it’s quite clear that you believe Pope Francis’s teaching on the death penalty is not evident and the arguments for the opposite position are more probable. The CDF, though, specifically says that your disagreement is not justified on such grounds. The claim that the Church does not require assent to authentic teachings of ordinary magisterium is nowhere supported by the CDF in Donum Veritatis.

As I have said, in order to disagree with some teaching, you first have to know what it is.  And as I have also said, what is at issue here is precisely the question of exactly what Pope Francis is teaching.  Is he saying (a) that capital punishment is always illegitimate even in principle, or (b) that it is legitimate in principle but always illegitimate under current circumstances?  The revision to the Catechism is ambiguous between readings (a) and (b) (though (b), as I have also suggested, should be the default interpretation given the “hermeneutic of continuity”).  But either way we interpret it, I have argued, assent to it cannot be obligatory on Catholics.  For on interpretation (a) we would have a conflict with traditional teaching, and the norms for legitimate respectful criticism set out by Donum Veritatis (in passages quoted in my original article) would kick in.  And on interpretation (b), we would have a mere prudential judgment, and Catholics are not obligated to assent to such judgments in the first place.

Now, Fastiggi is here simply ignoring this argument rather than answering it.  He is simply stomping his foot, shouting that “it is quite clear that you disagree with the revised text,” and then expressing his disapproval of this purported disagreement.  But what is at issue is precisely whether the text is in fact saying something that Catholics are obligated to agree with in the first place.  And if it isn’t saying something that Catholics are obligated to agree with, then the passage from Donum Veritatis cited by Fastiggi is moot.

What Fastiggi owes us, then, is an actual response to the argument, rather than a reiteration of the same question-begging, foot-stomping accusation.

The document does make room for raising questions “regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions” (no. 24). Respectfully raising questions is not the same as public dissent from a magisterial teaching. As I explained above, I do not believe the revised text of CCC 2267 is merely prudential. A prudential judgment applies principles to concrete cases. Here is the revised teaching of CCC 2267:

“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’, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

How is this teaching merely prudential? The “light of the Gospel” is not merely prudential but normative. The “inviolability and dignity of the person” is not a prudential judgment but a theological principle by which to make moral judgments. Your claim that this teaching is merely prudential does not correspond to the text and, therefore, must be rejected. Moreover, even with respect to interventions in the prudential order, Donum Veritatis never says that such interventions only require “respectful consideration rather than assent.” This is your inference, but it’s not to be found in the text itself. Nowhere does Donum Veritatis ever justify dissent. Instead it speaks of dissent as a “problem.”

Here too Fastiggi yet again just begs the question and misses the point.  I have already myself explained how the revision contains some elements that point to a “prudential” reading, but also elements that point to a “doctrinal revision” reading.  So in pointing to the latter, Fastiggi is merely reiterating things I have already acknowledged.  But he is also ignoring the problem that, if the new text is read as a doctrinal revision, then it would seem to contradict traditional teaching.  And I have already explained ad nauseam why that is a massive problem, and how the Church allows the faithful respectfully to disagree in such a case.

Now, though Fastiggi himself is open to a reversal of the traditional teaching, he appears to think that the revision to the Catechism does not quite amount to that.  He thinks it does constitute a novel doctrinal principle, but not one that strictly contradicts past teaching.  Yet as we have seen, he has also now twice failed to tell us exactly what this novel doctrinal principle is.  Even Fastiggi, it seems, does not know exactly what the revision is saying.  But then how can he accuse anyone of “dissent,” if he cannot tell us what we are dissenting from

7. You completely fail to respond to my point here. It’s quite clear to me that you do not adhere to the teaching of the revised text of CCC 2267 with religious submission of will and intellect. In spite of your attempts to justify your dissent, the fact remains that you do dissent from the teaching. Your reasons justifying your dissent fail because Donum Veritatis, no. 28 specifically says that disagreement with a magisterial teaching “could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable.” Your appeals to the Church Fathers and “two millennia of popes” are all open to challenge. At the end of the day, all you can offer are your own reasons for justifying your dissent. But who’s to decide whether your reasons for dissent are sufficient to justify your resistance to a clear magisterial teaching? It seems that you are assuming the authority that belongs to the magisterium itself. You certainly have the right to make known to the magisterial authorities your difficulties with the revised version of CCC 2267. In the final analysis, though, it’s up to the magisterium to decide the issue not you. So until the magisterium decides to revise the text of CCC 2267, I will abide with what the magisterium teaches and not Dr. Feser.

This is just more of the same question-begging and foot-stomping.  Phrases like “it is quite clear to me,” “it seems that,” etc. merely inform us about the subjective feelings of certainty that Fastiggi finds when he introspects the contents of his own consciousness.  They provide exactly zero evidence that I am actually guilty of what he accuses me of.

And once again, Fastiggi’s last redoubt is to object that “at the end of the day, all you can offer are your own reasons,” and to claim that I am appealing to my own “authority” – despite the fact that I consistently appeal, not to my own authority or reasons but rather to scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the popes, what the Church herself says about the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium over time, what the Church herself says about the circumstances under which respectful criticisms may be raised, etc.

But Fastiggi is guilty of a rather simple and obvious fallacy.  No matter what the reasons are that any person gives for any conclusion, he is in a trivial sense giving what are his reasons.  They are, after all, reasons that he gives.  And in that completely trivial sense, I have indeed been giving “my own reasons.”  But then, in that completely trivial sense, Fastiggi too has been giving “his own reasons.”  They are, after all, reasons he gave – they came from his keyboard, out of his mouth, etc.

Now, obviously this has nothing to do with “private judgment,” putting one’s own “authority” in place of the Church’s, etc.  It is just a trivial consequence of the fact that a person can’t give any reasons for anything at all, not even when the reasons amount to “The magisterium says so,” without he himself being the one who is presenting those reasons.  That is simply a point about the nature of communication, and has no theological significance.

Fastiggi’s fallacy is in thinking that, since anything I say is at the end of the day coming out of my mouth or from my keyboard, and thus in that (completely trivial) sense counts as “my reasons,” it follows that I am guilty of pitting my “authority” against that of the pope, that I am guilty of the error of private judgment, etc.  But again, that is nothing but a crude fallacy, rather than the devastating trump card Fastiggi supposes it to be.

Further reading:




194 comments:

  1. Man alive. Fastiggi calls himself a theologian?? That kind of sloppy work merits a dunce cap.

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    1. Especially with the new update. He doesn't seem to get it.

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    2. So ordinary work from the average Catholic academic "theologian"?

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  2. When Pope Francis changed the CCC the CDF issued a "clarification" that said this change was not in contradiction to the prior Majesterial teaching. Well if that is true the prior Majesterium has taught via the clarification of then Cardinal Ratzinger and later as Pope threw his CDF chief that Catholics are allowed to disagree with the Pope on the Death Penalty in a way they are absolutely not allowed to disagree in terms of Abortion and or Euthanasia.
    Neither Pope Francis nor the CDF clarification address wither or not that is still valid thus until they speak plainly I am confident I am allowed to respectfully disagree with the Pope on the Death Penalty.
    Also I note Prof Fastiggi said "Whether this means it is intrinsically immoral seems open to question. Some actions, however, are worthy of severe condemnation even if they are not intrinsically evil. For example, amputations are not intrinsically evil, but they would be very evil if done without necessity. It’s important to look at prior magisterial examples of inadmissible or “not admitted.”END QUOTE

    Can we all agree even those who interpret Francis to be maximally against the death penalty even to the point of restricting Catholics from advocating it that the Death Penalty is not intrinsically evil and Francis teachings and change in the CCC may not and must not be interpreted in such a way?

    Can we all agree on that? Because as has been said before to say the DP is intrinsically evil is to make God command what is intrinsically evil. God can command the DP in the OT and by extra-ordinary public divine revelation even command the extermination of whole populations including women and children as he did to the Canaanites and Midianites but God could not commmand the Canaanite women and children be raped to death or sodomized to death as those acts are intrinsically evil.

    Can we all agree the Death Penalty is NOT intrinsically evil and start from that position?

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  3. The Impoverished LastsSeptember 20, 2019 at 1:39 PM

    "Feser assumes that Pope Francis’s opposition to life sentences is not defensible. In fact, Pope Francis’s position is in line with the top human rights court in Europe, which in 2013 ruled that sentences of life in prison..."

    I'm a bit taken aback at the irrelevance of Fastiggi's comment quoted here.
    Feser already addresses it but what a weird comment to make from someone like Fastiggi. Kind of like desperately throwing out anything you can get your hands on.

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    1. Exactly. He's throwing everything at the wall in the hope that something will stick.

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    2. If anything it strengthens Dr. Feser’s point. It’s like saying, “Well the secular United States Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of abortion in Roe vs. Wade, takes a hardline stance against Capital Punishment. Therefore the 2,000 year old inerrant Catholic Church that is guided by the Holy Spirit should follow suit.”

      Ummm what?

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  4. Being charitable with Fastiggi, maybe his point depends on the meaning of "prudential". There are possible subtleties here. For instance, human beings have a natural right to not suffer coercion in religious matters. This is the right of religious freedom which Dignitatis Humanae and the Catechism defend: it is a subtle and very interesting concept, and it features some important characteristics which might (perhaps?) be illuminating in this discussion:
    1) it doesn't contradict any past teaching, it doesn't defend any positive right to error or anything like that; rather it is a negative right, a right to not suffer coercion (especially from the State) in matters of religion; 2) it is not entirely absolute, at least in the sense that there might be some situations in which coercion could be applied (for instance, to protect public peace, if there are cases where there would be a real, serious threat of religious civil war), even though it is clear that such situations do not apply in our world and times anymore, and even then the presumption should first be in favor of the person's natural right against coercion in religious matters. 3) It is NOT merely prudential either, because it is not just up to political prudence in favoring tolerance for its citizens, for the sake of peace or stability. It is a natural right founded on the dignity of the human person which should stop us from coercing people in religious matters, even though this right might be overidden in some very rare situations - such as when a more basic right, like the right to life, is being seriouslt threatened.

    Perhaps someone could defend the recent development in a similar fashion? I don't think it would be as clear in this case as it is with the (properly explained) right of religious freedom. But it might be possible,
    Maybe the development is something like that: 1) it is not merely prudential, because the Death Penalty shouldn't be opposed simply because this could bring better results for a society, and it would be more merciful, and avoid bad consequences. It is not simply up to prudence. Rather, it is founded on a recognition that human dignity, that humans should not end another's life when there are other options available; this would be something like an obligation arising out of the dignity of human life. If a murderer can be imprisoned instead of executed, the choice here wouldn't simply be prudential, but would be one of obligation arising out of the dignity of human life - which requires us to respect it as much as possible. The death penalty, thus, wouldn't simply be imprudent, but it would go against this natural obligation that humans have in respecting life as much as possible. If the man can be imprisoned instead of executed, he should be imprisoned.
    At the same time, this would not be absolute in the sense of making the death penalty an intrinsic evil. Capital punishment might be acceptable in principle, but humans have an obligation to not apply it unless it is really, really unavoidable. This might perhaps be included in Feser's idea of "prudential" as referring only to practical application, but there is this other sense of prudence which would not be an appropriate description for what Fastiggi takes to be the doctrinal development.

    For the record, I am not against the death penalty in principle, and I am in fact sympathetic to its practical application (even though I really don't have a strong position about that). I am just trying to be charitable to Fastiggi and the pope. Maybe the situation is a bit more complex.

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    1. Atno, I have been thinking along similar lines. The way I have been wondering about the third possibility between "merely prudential" and "wrong in all circumstances" is that Pope Francis is talking about not so much specific applications, but rather that he is clarifying the "kinds" of circumstances that would render the death penalty unacceptable.

      There are (at least)two ways that one could say that people disagree on the application of the death penalty. The first is that people might disagree on what kinds of circumstances would render it legitimate. Some could say only as a last resort for the general maintenance of society (i.e., what's already present in countries that have it on the books), and others could say there are strictly retributive justifications for it.

      However, there is another way that people might disagree on the application. For example, you might have people who both believe that the death penalty should be used only as a last resort, but then disagree whether it would be justified in the case of dangerous murderer X on death row, because they might disagree on the ground facts.

      I think at best we can say that we might still disagree on the DP in the second way, but not so much in the first. He points to modern prison systems in the developed world, and argues that such conditions are sufficient to make it wrong to apply. However, in the end of the CDF document, countries that don't meet these conditions are encouraged not to get rid of the DP outright, but rather to create the necessary conditions to abolish the DP. The inadmissibility plays into this in that in light of the fact that it is now indeed possible to protect human life and society without recourse to the DP, countries should work towards creating these conditions, rather than seeing their current state of affairs to be sufficient.

      This approach makes sense both of PF's CDF document and the one written by Ratzinger. It isn't at first clear whether Ratzinger meant the first or the second possibility, or both, or maybe he didn't distinguish these in his mind. But if there is in fact a distinction, then PF and BXVI are in fact magisterially consistent, at least with respect to the official documents..

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    2. it is not merely prudential, because the Death Penalty shouldn't be opposed simply because this could bring better results for a society, and it would be more merciful, and avoid bad consequences. It is not simply up to prudence. Rather, it is founded on a recognition that human dignity, that humans should not end another's life when there are other options available

      The problem I have is bolded bits. (And there are further examples; those where terms like "if possible" pop up.) How can those be read as other than referring to prudence.

      I sometimes wonder if some of the problem is that the word "prudence" has a negative connotation with many today. Like "virtue". Just as the latter does not in fact mean merely refraining from promiscuous sex, the former doesn't mean merely making safe investments. But those connotations are fairly widespread.

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    3. As I said, it could have something to do with the meaning of "prudential". Maybe Fastiggi and Feser are understanding it differently. But here's the thing, assuming "prudential" would refer more to consequences and to specific circumstances and context, the idea would be that the teaching is not merely prudential. It is supposed to be moral; there is something about the dignity of human persons that forces us to choose to preserve it when we have the real chance.
      We are not called to preserve the convict's life simply because this would bring better consequences; or would be more merciful; or more timely. We are called to preserve his life (and instead imprison him) because his life still has a dignity that calls for that.
      However, this does not mean that there are absolutely no possible situations whatsoever where it would be completely unjustifiable to execute him. There might perhaps be some extreme cases in which execution would be acceptable, though always something to lament. I imagine the pope wants to stress that nowadays there are no such situations anymore.

      So the teaching is not about the DP being intrinsically evil in the strong sense of never, ever, ever being even in principle justifiable in any situation whatsoever. But it is also not merely prudential, because it is not just based around consequential and/or contextual issues, but founded on the dignity of the human person.

      I think this is the best interpretation I could make of it.

      Again, think of DH and religious freedom. There is a natural right, based on the dignity of the human person and its autonomy, to not suffer coercion in matters of religion. This isn't just a prudential rule that is concerned with maintaining peace, stability, and so on. This is a moral teaching about a negative right founded on the dignity of persons. At the same time, this is not an absolute right in the sense that there might be some extremely rare cases in which coercion would be justified - though nowadays this does not apply in the world, pretty much.
      Could the new teaching on the death penalty be something similar? If so, then Feser might be wrong and it would not really contradict past teaching, and would not simply be prudential either.

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    4. We are called to preserve his life (and instead imprison him) because his life still has a dignity that calls for that.

      What dignity is that?

      Past generations of Catholic prelates, pope's and theologians accounted for human dignity, and approved of the death penalty as not violating dignity that the criminal retains, when it is proportional and when it is needed for the common good. If you propose that what PF means is some other dignity than has already been accounted for, please indicate what dignity that is. If you propose that PF means that the former teaching that accounted for dignity and declared it was not in contradiction to the DP was wrong, this would seem to indicate that PF means to reverse prior doctrine, which he claimed he didn't mean to do.

      This is a moral teaching about a negative right founded on the dignity of persons. At the same time, this is not an absolute right in the sense that there might be some extremely rare cases in which coercion would be justified - though nowadays this does not apply in the world, pretty much.

      There is a great deal of debate on the negative prohibition in Dignitatis Humanae, and it's implications. By no means is it clear that the conditions do not apply in the modern world (even "pretty much": there are some who say that it doesn't apply very much today precisely because pluralistic societies wrongly avoid trying to formulate social order according to the proper common goods, and as long as they fail to do so they have not the orientation needed to rightly apply it in constraint of false religions that harm the common good).

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    5. But it would be a significant change. It could be a reversal of past attitudes and beliefs - just not a problematic one, because the main point about the DP not being intrinsically evil would stand. There is no infallibility whatsoever to past applications of the death penalty or the idea that it was admissible in many cases which we have now come to conclude were in fact not acceptable. There would be a problem, indeed, if the Church now taught that DP was intrinsically evil and never acceptable in any situation. That the DP is not intrinsically evil is a much better established traditional view. But there is no problem if the teaching is rather about the DP being inadmissible and morally problematic even though not intrinsically evil - and as the Church stresses, it has come to see this after careful consideration of the points Dr. Fastiggi mentions. So, yeah, turns out a lot of popes and theologians might have been wrong about that - they were also wrong about other issues, such as coercing common people in religious matters.

      About DH: Yes, some fringe radicals might think it's acceptable to coerce people and impose fines on them, or even imprison them, for having different religious beliefs or publicizing them. But the Church firmly disagrees, and has firmly disagreed for over 60 years. I was only mentioning DH as an example for how we might get subtle teachings that can tread the lines between prudence and principle. The new development on the death penalty could be a similar case.

      The biggest and strongest argument the pro-DP camp has is that the Church cannot declare the DP intrinsically evil. Not that the Church cannot condemn the DP as a matter of principle, so long as it doesn't do that to the point of holding the DP to be intrinsically evil: just like how the Church has consistently taught for over 60 years that coercing people in matters of religion is IN PRINCIPLE wrong and inadmissible, even though there might be some situations in which prudence could require (and thus admit of) coercion in matters of religion.

      It could be the same here. Neither a declaration of evil, nor merely prudential teaching. But a moral, principled teaching that may also be involved with prudential matters.

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    6. I still do not understand this third way. I'm especially puzzled by "merely prudential". Surely ALL prudential judgments are themselves based on moral principles, in determining the ends in view. And also in determining what means are lawful.

      This would apply, would it not, to picking out those cases where the DP or religious coercion are (or, if you prefer, were) admissible? If so, I fail to see what work the supposed 3rd category is doing.

      "Prudence" does not mean "acting on a whim." Or anything close to that.

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    7. I am saying it is not merely prudential because the teaching tells us we are not supposed to execute criminals not merely because it would be better for society in some way; or give a good example of mercy; or that, although we could execute the convict now, it would be unwise, etc. Rather, the Church is teaching that we should in principle not execute the convict because his life has an inherent dignity that precludes us from executing him unless it's a very specific and rare situation which hardly ever occurs (for instance, perhaps if there really is no other possible way to detain him and he poses a real threat to society). If you think this immediately makes the teaching "prudential", you could say that, but it won't be "prudential" in the sense that is often used in theology. Again, religious freedom provides an example. It is not a prudential teaching, we cannot disagree with it; it is not prudential, it is a teaching that human persons have a natural right against coercion in religious matters. This natural right might be overridden in some extremely rare cases, but this doesn't make the teaching merely prudential; it is a moral teaching about what we ought to do in pretty much any circumstance except the very rare occasions which the Church judges pretty much doesn't even happen today.

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    8. So, denying the validity of capital punishment “would be one of obligation arising out of the dignity of human life”, but “at the same time, this would not be absolute in the sense of making the death penalty an intrinsic evil.”

      So, you’re saying it is not “an intrinsic evil” to deny the “obligation arising out of the dignity of human life.”

      Well, good luck with that.

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    9. Yes, I am saying that. Thanks for wishing me luck, but I don't think it's particularly troublesome. It would also go against the dignity of human life and autonomy to coerce people in religious matters, forcing them to believe in such and such or imprison them simply because they are sharing wrong religious views. But there might in principle be some extremely rare situations (which no longer apply today) in which it would be justifiable to do so in order to protect society from e.g. a civil war.

      Something similar could be the case for capital punishment.

      Human life has great dignity, so much so that it forces us to act (or not act) in certain ways under pain of being immoral. But there might be some situations so grave that could justify what would in normal circumstances be unacceptable. What's the problem with that?

      I'm starting to think that some people *really* don't want to be convinced. It quite amazes me how unwilling and uncharitable some people are being w.r.t. this teaching. I am (or was?) personally pro-capital punishment. But I don't see this huge problem some of you are supposedly seeing.

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    10. If you think this immediately makes the teaching "prudential", you could say that, but it won't be "prudential" in the sense that is often used in theology.

      Actually, that IS what "prudential" means. Your usage is odd, and that is the problem. Not that people "don't want to be convinced", but that your argument isn't convincing. You would have to work out just what the third way really is.

      That means more than saying "it's like religious coercion". Note, I equated the two in my earlier comment. The bottom line is this: if deciding that the cases where they are permitted (however rare) is not a matter of prudential judgement, what is it? And how does it differ.

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    11. George,

      How do you interpret the teaching on religious freedom? The one that has been taught and defended in a universal council of the Church, and which has been consistently defended by all subsequent popes in the last 60+ years. Do you think the teaching on religious liberty is simply "prudential"? Or do you think it is a moral teaching?

      If you wanna say that a teaching such as "X is an inadmissible act that would violate natural rights and dignity, though it is not intrinsically evil" counts as "prudential", you can do so, but what most people think about when they think of a prudential reason is something far weaker, and much more concerned about contextual consequences and circumstances. Such is not the case with the teaching on religious freedom, and neither does it seem to be the case with the death penalty. Human life has such a great dignity that we cannot execute a convict, unless it's an extremely rare and specific situation (such as God Himself issuing a command, or perhaps when there is a real threat to people, etc). I don't see that as a "prudential" teaching. It isn't saying that executing convicts is a-okay, we just shouldn't do it because it would bring about negative consequences to society at large or to the person's soul, etc. It is saying that the death penalty is an inadmissible attack on the dignity of the person; the convict's life must be preserved under normal circumstances.

      I do maintain that I think people here don't want to be convinced; I think a lot of people are being motivated by a will to maintain their old convictions, mixed in with anger at how the Church does not conform to their traditional view and expectations. And I can kind of understand that, tbh - I myself don't like the new teaching, because I am in favor of capital punishment, and I'm kinda annoyed at the recent developments. But I do not see it as doctrinally problematic; it is not merely prudential, but it's not a declaration of the DP being intrinsically evil, either. It really could be akin to the teaching on religious freedom.

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    12. I will simply repeat that your use of "prudential" does not seem to be that traditionally used. And is not that in which Ed uses it, either. Your continual use of "mere" makes me suspect you don't buy it as one of the cardinal virtues.

      Any situation in which an act MAY be justified, is one on which prudence is applied. Strictly, any action we take falls under prudence. Since cases where imposing religious coercion or the death penalty can occur ONLY in particular cases, their application necessarily falls under prudence.

      You really seem to think it means no more than "don't draw to an inside straight."


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    13. I disagree, but if you wanna call it "prudential", you are free to do so; but it's a very different kind of prudential teaching, then. If you consider the teaching about religious freedom to be "prudential", then the same could be said for that one, but
      1) in this case, the confusion over whether the Church was reverting past doctrine about the DP not being intrinsically evil, because of the strong moral language employed, has been dissolved. The teaching could be understood along the lines of the interpretation I proposed: similar to religious freedom, it is a strong moral teaching about X being unnaceptable and an attack on human dignity under normal circumstances;
      2) it is not "prudential" in the sense that the faithful might disagree with it, just like how the teaching of religious freedom in Vatican II (which you classify as prudential) must be accepted and receive assent - and Feser himself, in his post about degrees of church authority, has mentioned how the teaching of Vatican II must be accepted and is to be distinguished from other "prudential" (different sense of the word, since for you Religious freedom was also "prudential") teachings - including that on the DP at the time.

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    14. Atno, the religious freedom teaching (and the changes surrounding it) is NOT analogous, and hence is not much of a support for your point.

      First, there is no instance of a pope who declared that non-Christians should be forced to convert. To the contrary, there are multiple instances throughout history of popes saying the exact opposite.

      Secondly, the change that happened with Dignitatis Humanae is that the Council declared that religious freedom is a human right, (and so it applies to ALL persons), but even then it retained important qualifications to that "right", so that it is NOT an absolute right: there remains (in the teaching) room for the state to forcibly restrain someone's exercise of their religion under the appropriate conditions. (There remains considerable debate - even among those who accept the teaching - about just what those qualifiers and limits actually mean in practice, some people arguing that it is not impossible or contrary to the intent of the Council to claim that under the conditions of medieval Europe, some types of punishment of heretics WOULD meet the conditions for civil authorities to restrain the exercise (or teaching) of erroneous religious notions. The Church has not declared such an interpretation of DH erroneous.)

      Here, even without asserting that the criminal retains the right to life as a human right, or a civil right, the pope seems to be taking the DP off the table no matter what conditions apply, because the rationale he offers is phrased in such a way as to appear to apply to ALL humans NO MATTER WHAT conditions are present. He did this intentionally. If he meant to allow for unusual situations, he certainly hid that very, very well.

      So there are VERY GREAT dis-analogies here as compared to the religious freedom changes.

      it is a strong moral teaching about X being unnaceptable and an attack on human dignity under normal circumstances

      Do you envision, then, that DP would remain a licit and even an appropriate option in "abnormal circumstances"? If so, could you please give a couple of examples of such abnormal circumstances?

      Let me offer one that I thought of recently. Around 2006, the US and Iraqi forces finally located and caught Saddam Hussein. Assuming (for the sake of the argument) that he had a fair trial and it was established that he was guilty of genocidal murders of Kurds (along with many other crimes), would it have been "abnormal conditions" and appropriate for the Iraqis to execute him? Here's the abnormality: (a) the civil government was very rocky, with a lot of civil unrest (not to mention insurrection - they could not reasonably be confident the state would last long enough to keep him imprisoned. (b) Saddam in prison could not avoid being the locus of attention for others' hopes for a different political result - both those who wanted to go back to "the old days", and those who wanted yet another revolutionary re-arrangement with themselves on top. Plans and conspiracies to break him out of prison (with or without his prior knowledge) would continue to create conditions of unrest and danger for the fledgling government. In addition, (c) if he was not executed, the (understandable) outrage of relatives of his victims could easily arise to the level of civil unrest, leading to storming the prison to lynch him. Arguably, then, conditions were sufficiently abnormal that the DP would be a reasonable option - if (and only if) the new 2267 is taken to mean "in normal circumstances."

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    15. First, the defense of religious freedom was controversial - especially at the time - because it did seem to contradict past papal teachings and condemnations against freedom of religion and conscience. No pope ever defended coercing people into Catholicism, but there were indeed popes who criticized religious freedom at large - some with pretty strong condemnations. So it WAS a controversial teaching at the time, and many people complained about it contradicting past teaching. But such a contradiction rested on a misunderstanding not only about the authority of some past statements, but especially their content as well, in relation with the new teaching. The Church in Vatican II was NOT teaching a "positive right to error", as it had been condemned; rather, the Church was teaching a negative right against coercion in religious matters.
      And the Church was clear that this new teaching - about the right to religious freedom - was NOT simply a continuation of defenses of prudential tolerance. In fact the Church quite explicitly rejected using the word "tolerance" instead of the more robust notion of "religious liberty". Many traditionalists, who favored the wording of "religious tolerance", were shocked at the insistence on using the term "right to religious liberty". This was a conscious choice in the Council; the pope and bishops wanted to emphasize that they were not simply defending a prudential acceptance of different faiths. They wanted to stress the fact (a very important one at the time) that religious liberty wasn't simply a matter of straightforward political judgment, on what was better for society at large, and so on. They were also aware that many authoritarian regimes at the time justified attacks on religious freedom under the pretext of political prudence and what was better for the "State". So the Church very sinificantly rejected the term "religious tolerance" in favor of the stronger doctrine of "religious liberty", and defended it as a natural right founded on the dignity of the human person.

      Now the recent condemnation of the DP could be relevantly similar. The Church is purposefully avoiding the use of more traditionally prudential language, and instead teaching that the DP simply is unacceptable, inadmissible, an attack on human dignity under normal circumstances. And so we should strive for its abolition, and should always presume against executing any convict, unless we are really faced with an extraordinary situation. And this is based on the dignity of the human person, which calls for life to be defended even in such cases.

      The teaching on religious freedom also emphasized how the dignity of human persons obliges us to refrain from certain acts, namely, coercion in religious matters. It also emphasized how defense of religious liberty should be based first and foremost on the dignity of human life and autonomy, and not just prudential judgments about its being good for society and stability. They even consciously rejected the wording of "religious tolerance" to emphasize this point.
      The same could be the case with the DP. The Church wants us to know that opposition to it does not rest on prudential considerations of protecting innocents who might be unjustly condemned; or on just being more merciful towards convicts; or that it would bear better fruits for society at large and foster a culture of life etc. The Church wants us to know that the DP is morally problematic and inadmissible under normal circumstances, because it violates the dignity of human life in some way.

      And the teaching on religious freedom also made clear that although it was giving us a principled reason to oppose coercion in religious matters, it was also a possibility that there could be some very rare cases in which the requirements of peace and social order could trump this right and thus justify some forms of coercion. But that presumption should definitely be in favor of religious liberty. Same for the DP.

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    16. If you take the existence of such exceptions to mean the teaching is inherently "prudential", you should do the same with religious liberty. Yet while technical, this would not have the same meaning of "prudential" that is relevant for the debate, and Feser assumes this in his post on the degrees of authority of the Church - because while the teaching of Vatican II (including that of the "prudential" religious liberty) should be accepted and has a very strong authority, the "prudential" statements of the Church about the death penalty - at the time - did not require acceptance in the same way. But clearly the teaching on the DP, including its very strong moral language, is more similar to the first kind of "prudential" teaching (such as religious liberty) than the second one.

      "Do you envision, then, that the DP would remain a licit and even appropriate option in "abnormal circumstances"? If so, could you please give a couple of examples of such abnormal circumstances?"

      Yes, I do. This is rather obvious. My whole point here has been that the Church is not saying the death penalty is intrinsically evil and therefore entirely unjustifiable in every possible situation whatever. Rather, the Church is saying something like:

      "DP is morally inadmissible under normal circumstances; a violation of the dignity of human life, which the Church strongly condemns and wishes to abolish around the world".
      Which is also different from:
      "Normally, there is nothing wrong with the death penalty, but we should reject its application today because it would be more merciful towards convicts, would be better for society, etc. While the death penalty as an act is morally acceptable in normal circumstances, it should not really be applied today; we condemn its modern application."

      Which is what I mean when I claim that the Church is indeed giving a strong, principled condemnation of the act of putting convicts to death - not just a prudential condemnation -, while nevertheless stopping short of saying it is intrinsically evil.

      It is not in my position to provide examples of when the DP would still be acceptable. I don't know that. I am simply trying to interpret the teaching of the Pope and the Church in continuity with past teachings, as we are all called to do - not to question and challenge such teaching, at least not before trying our very very best to accomodate it in continuity with doctrine.
      And this, I think, can be done with the DP. And the teaching of religious freedom provides a good model for comparison. A strong, principled teaching that moved beyond prudential defenses of "religious tolerance", but which nevertheless accepted the possibility of some very rare exceptions.

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    17. The Church is purposefully avoiding the use of more traditionally prudential language, and instead teaching that the DP simply is unacceptable, inadmissible, an attack on human dignity under normal circumstances. And so we should strive for its abolition, and should always presume against executing any convict, unless we are really faced with an extraordinary situation.

      It is not in my position to provide examples of when the DP would still be acceptable. I don't know that.

      That's just part of the problem here. Because the pope provided no content to the urged rationale, (the "increased awareness" and "new understanding"), we are left (according to your interpretation) a BARE ASSERTION that it is "wrong" in "normal circumstances", and absolutely no guidance, suggestion, or even HINT as to what distinguishes "normal" from "abnormal" for this purpose. Furthermore, without any hint as to how to ascertain whether you have normal or abnormal circumstances, the authorities are left with no clue how to judge the wisdom or foolishness of abolishing the DP. If they abolish it, and an abnormal case comes along, then it won't be there when they need it. (Re-introducing a law like this takes years to accomplish, and DOES NOT APPLY RETROACTIVELY.) So it appears that the pope is declaring (I refuse to use the term "teach" because of the intentional obscurity and lack of explanation) that "the right conditions for DP are very rare, so we should NEVER use it, therefore abolish it." That, I am afraid, is irrational. If the right conditions are very rare, then the use should be very rare, and that's not never.

      Without explaining the nature of this "dignity" and this new "penal" meaning, it is impossible for anyone (i.e. the authorities) to fairly and properly judge that "given those truths, we really don't need the DP on the books at this time". But it is the public authorities, not the pope, whose judgment determines the issue of how the penal impositions will best serve the common good (assuming, first, that the penal form is morally licit). They don't have the right to turn their judgment over to the pope, for the pope to give them a blind assurance "leave it to me, I know best how you can secure the common good in these difficult situations, you don't need this punishment to do that." Until the pope (or the Church at large) supplies the underlying content of the premises that Francis is using, they CANNOT rest assured that they have no further need of the DP, because it is ONLY the underlying content that could (if the premises are true) TELL THEM how to judge between the goods served via the proportionate punishment and the goods served by mercy and other efforts.

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    18. That goes beyond the purpose of my posts. I am not in a position to talk about when the DP would still be acceptable. Perhaps it would only be acceptable in cases of divine command. Whatever the case, it seems the Pope judges that whatever extreme situation could justify the use of the DP does not really hold nowadays, so working for its abolition is not irrational. Or the cases are so extremely rare that abolishing the DP is nevertheless still better (for protecting human dignity) in any case.

      My point was merely to argue that there might be a reasonable way to interpret the new teaching in a way that does not fall into either problem that Feser has identified. The new teaching does not say that the DP is intrinsically evil. But it does say that it is in principle immoral under normal circumstances, as an attack on the dignity of human life. And the possibility of some very rare exceptions would not make it merely prudential in the sense that it makes it a far weaker teaching (such as how it used to be in the past).

      I think the interpretation I provided deserves more attention, and it could help to clarify issues a bit.

      That being said, I do understand people wanting more clarification from the Church. But these things can take time. I myself sympathize with DP proponents, and think it would be better to have further studies and theological discussion on the issue.

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  5. What a mess.

    In "Contraception and Chastity" Anscombe wrote:

    [W]hile one doesn't have to be learned (nobody has to be learned) or able to give a convincing account of the reasons for a teaching - for remember that the Church teaches with the authority of a divine commission, and the Pope has a prophetical office, not a chair of science or moral philosophy or theology - all the same the moral teaching of the Church, by her own claims, is supposed to be reasonable. Christian moral teachings aren't revealed mysteries like the Trinity. The lack of clear accounts of the reason in the teaching [on contraception, prior to Humanae vitae,] was disturbing to many people. Especially, I believe, to many of the clergy whose job it was to give the teaching to the people.

    I'm thinking we have the same sort of problem here. Those who attempt to argue that the death penalty is always wrong are so preoccupied with accusing others of disobedience that they don't worry about actually making the teaching they want to present clear and plausible. But that's your job if you're a theologian, cleric, or apologist.

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  6. Yes the “new doctrine” line almost reminded me of A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson says “You can’t handle the truth!” That moment when someone presses you into giving up the charade and saying what you really want to say. It seems like Fastiggi does want the Church to change Her doctrine. I hope I am misinterpreting his words. Either way, we should pray for peace in the Church and that she boldly upholds and defends her constant teaching.

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  7. The problem with Feser's position is two-fold. First, the Pope made it clear in the new Catechism that the death penalty is now considered evil doctrinally. The reading is clear. The Pope teaches its against the Gospel. Feser doesn't want an ordinary teaching he doesn't like. Of course, ordinary teachings don't add up to an infallible one, so the whole issue is one which is up for everyone to make up their own minds. Feser is trying to force an infallible teaching out of fallible ones but the teach has never infallibly said this is allowed.

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    1. No, it is not clear. The question is how it is reconcilable with earlier teachings, how it does not change doctrine. And Francis (here and elsewhere) seems unwilling to clarify. It is not enough simply to say it doesn't change doctrine. (If that were so, what does "now considered" mean?)

      I don't say there can be no answers, merely that they have not been forthcoming.

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  8. Dr. Feser's comment about "Fastiggi’s expression 'the Church’s new teaching'" is spot-on. One could perhaps charitably interpret that he only meant by this 'a clarification,' not literally 'a new teaching,' yet that he would even use such unbecoming language to begin with seems rather telling. There is no mark of that "religious caution" which Blessed [soon to be Saint, come October 13th] John Henry Cardinal Newman lauds and attributes to the Apostles (Prophetical Office, L. 12) and St. Athanasius (Treatises of Athanasius, v. 2, "Athanasius"), nor of that conserving and pious "strictness" bearing on theological subjects which he attributes to the Church Fathers generally (Essay on Development, Ch. 7, S. 6).

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  9. Maybe the rationale for the killings in the Old Testament is that God, if he exists, can command these things, but that they are not allowed by natural law alone. Anyway, the Catechism now says "there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes... 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'. Feser just doesn't want to say that the Catholic Church has changed its teaching. I've studied theology my whole life. There is no infallible ruling from this Church that says "a bunch a Popes saying something fallible makes it infallible". Notta. So it seems everyone in that faith must make up their own minds. (Why do I get into these debates?)

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    1. Well that would not work as a rationale because capital punishment was codified in the Law of Moses which was given by God through Moses. There is also the general statement given by God in Genesis 9:6.

      You are missing the point of Dr. Feser’s articles. He is not questioning what the Catechism currently teaches regarding capital punishment. What he is questioning is whether or not the current teaching is prudential or in principle.

      Of course, even if it were intended to be in principle, I am not 100% certain that it is impossible for the Pope to have a heretical point of view. While I would say that the ordinary magisterium of the Church (including the Pope) has effectively made a prudential ban on capital punishment (which can obviously be disagreed with by faithful Catholics), the ordinary magisterium has certainly not endorsed a ban in principle, and even Pope Francis has not explicitly endorsed a ban in principle given his claim that he is not changing past teaching. It seems that he knows that to completely prohibit the death penalty in principle would in fact be a change.

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    2. It is certainly possible for a pope to hold a false belief on a matter of faith or morals. Pope John XXII famously did (on the topic of whether the elect immediately experience the Beatific Vision upon death, or must wait until the Final Judgment).

      And it is certainly possible for a pope to neglect the duty of his office by failing to teach orthodoxy when heresy arises. This was famously done by Pope Honorius I in his weaselly issue-ducking reply to Sergius regarding Monothelitism.

      The question of whether it is impossible for a pope to have a heretical point-of-view on some topic, then, seems to have already been answered...unless one means by "heretical" something more than merely "false, on a matter of faith or morals."

      If by "heretical" one means "culpably false on a matter of faith or morals, in an are of teaching wherein the Catholic truth has already been plainly articulated by the Magisterium," then I agree that history does not yet provide a perfectly clear example of a pope with a "heretical point-of-view." John XXII is pretty close, but the doctrine upon which he erred was not formally defined by the Church until Benedict XII, John XXII's successor.

      Of course all Catholics agree that a pope will be prevented by the charism of infallibility from defining and pronouncing, in virtue of his Petrine office, something erroneous as a teaching to be held by all the faithful.

      But...
      1. thinking X;
      2. saying X privately;
      3. saying X publicly; and,
      4. exercising one's office to obligate all the Christian faithful to think and say X,
      ...are very different things.

      It seems that bad popes will fall (and have fallen) into items 1-3, but Jesus will protect His Church from falling into item 4.

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    3. I've studied theology my whole life. There is no infallible ruling from this Church that says "a bunch a Popes saying something fallible makes it infallible". Notta.

      Anon, I am not sure what theology you have been studying, but it doesn't appear to be Catholic theology. Or at least, there are some very big gaps you missed.

      The Church declared in the ecumenical council of Vatican I dogmatic constitution Dei Filius, that

      “Wherefore, by divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.”

      The Church declared in the ecumenical council of Vatican I dogmatic constitution Dei Filius, that


      “Wherefore, by divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.”

      She also declared, in further clarification, in the ecumenical council of Vatican II, in the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium:

      Although the bishops, taken individually, do not enjoy the privilege of infallibility, they do, however, proclaim infallibly the doctrine of Christ on the following conditions: namely, when, even though dispersed throughout the world but preserving for all that amongst themselves and with Peter's successor the bond of communion, in their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held definitively and absolutely.

      Hence it is true that under certain conditions, what “bishops” (which includes popes) have said repeatedly throughout the centuries – and have taught individually in fallible teachings – are in universal agreement, that universal agreement can make their individually fallible teachings into an infallible doctrine. This is precisely what is meant by the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium. When enough bishops fallibly teach it as "to be held definitively" it takes on the character of infallibile.

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  10. I've been thinking, and maybe it is possible to get some third option between "(a) a reversal of past doctrine nor (b) a mere prudential judgment"...

    For example, maybe it is possible to have an interpretation that death penalty as such does not violate human dignity, but executing someone while (wrongly) thinking that any execution violates human dignity would violate human dignity? And (that would be a prudential part) that nowadays, because of "moral development" (otherwise known as "spread of wrong opinions"), such situations are what happens?

    Of course, the obvious problem with that is that I do not remember anyone actually suggesting this interpretation...

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    1. Executing someone when you think it's wrong to do so would indeed be wrong, and plausibly it would also be a violation of human dignity, as it is plausibly a violation of human dignity to act in a way in which one takes oneself to be indifferent to someone's dignity.

      But no, that's not what the pope has in mind. 'Development' clearly is meant to have a positive connotation; the pope has elsewhere used the word 'matured'; and he has described the death penalty as, among other things, 'inhumane'.

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    2. Has anyone yet tried to articulate why it is that executing an offender for a proportionately serious crime in any way constitutes a denial/diminishing of the human dignity of the offender?

      I ask, because I don't see it that way, at all. In fact that seems to me to be the opposite of the truth.

      As a matter of fact, it seems to me that executing a duly-convicted offender for a crime that clearly warrants execution is a loud, full-throated re-affirmation of their human dignity. Indeed the failure to do so usually proceeds from some denial/skepticism of their capacity as a moral agent, and thus, of their humanity.

      So I just can't understand why anyone says the opposite.

      Here's a way to look at it: one executes a multiple rape-torture-murderer; but one puts down a rabid dog. What's the difference between "execution" and "putting down" when both involve killing a living organism?

      It is this: The execution is a punishment; but the "putting down" is a kind of permanent "separation from society in order to protect society from harm."

      They both involve a death, but for radically different reasons. With the dog, it's sufficient to say, "well, we don't want anyone bitten by a rabid dog." We do that even if the dog hasn't bitten anyone yet.

      But with the man, we determine whether he's insane (unable to morally choose). We ask, "did he really mean it?" And only if he chose to do this great evil, do we punish with death. And when we punish with death, we are trying to give the offender the fullness of the consequences of his exercise of free choice for evil. We are saying, "This outcome is intrinsically, properly, a part of your choice; we are granting you the full import of that choice."

      If the sane murderer is not executed, it seems to me we are simply treating him as the insane person: Denying him the dignity of his choice. And if we merely lock him up for the sake of protecting society, it seems to me we are treating him like the dog: Protecting society from him by isolation, but entirely ignoring the import of the choices he has made.

      Now the above argument could be made better, given more time and space. But the point is that an argument can be made.

      I've seen NO argument, whatsoever, that capital punishment for proportionate crimes injures human dignity.

      It's always just assumed. And a lot of people seem to share it -- not as an argument, but as a sentiment.

      Does anyone have an argument?

      Or is it just a widespread sentiment with no rational justification?

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    3. "If the sane murderer is not executed, it seems to me we are simply treating him as the insane person: Denying him the dignity of his choice.

      "I've seen NO argument, whatsoever, that capital punishment for proportionate crimes injures human dignity."

      Very true. It's an infantilization of the criminal, and it kseems to me to lead to the attitude of "There are no consequences to anything we do; and we'll all go to heaven regardless of our behavior, because it would be against human dignity if we didn't."

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    4. Does anyone have an argument?

      R.C. I have had the same issue. As far as I can tell, Francis in CCC 2267 alludes to something that might serve as such an argument(s), but does not give them.

      "new understandings of the significance of penal sanctions" and "increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost".

      The problem is that not only does Francis not do more than merely allude to these, neither does anyone else. So far as I can tell, nobody anywhere has yet actually presented the ACTUAL CONTENT of the "new understanding" or the "increased awareness", only that there is such.

      Francis, by implication, seems to want to indicate that on account of new understandings and increased awareness, we are now able to say that NO use of the DP is allowable. However, without stating the actual content of these new understandings, it is impossible for anyone to verify how or why or in what SENSE they result in the conclusion that DP is no longer allowed. Nobody can say, for example, whether there is some qualifier, or limitation, or implicit constraint, to the result he has determined. (Also, of course, nobody can say (or even suggest) whether the conclusion actually follows from the premises stated, or whether he made a clear error. That may or may not be the reason he didn't attempt to state the content.)

      It is a boondoggle. That, in itself, doesn't completely undo our obligation to pay proper respect to the Pope's teachings, but (in the case of both religious assent teachings and prudential judgments) it may modify the required assent we are expected to give.

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    5. Doesn't it go beyond paying proper respect. To my eyes, it seems we don't have sufficient guidance to know what the teaching really entails. At best, we are like soldiers marching to commands; actually applying the rule is beyond me, as I'm not really sure what the rule is.

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  11. Guys, curious if someone with more knowledge than me on this can assist:

    Are our fundamental teachings on faith and morals, those outside the 150 or so dogmatic assertions, all subject to reversal in theory?

    I am really a bit worried that I have been naive in my faith in the Church here and perhaps too sure of myself and the Church..not a prideful thing, but this feeling of assurance I had when I came into the Church, that perhaps I shouldn’t have had...and maybe that’s a dangerous and wrongheaded thing too.

    Thanks for any help.

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    1. No, they are not. They can be developped, but not reversed. Development does not mean "This teaching means something completely different now". It will always have the same meaning, but the way we understand it deepens.

      For example, the first Christians of course had their Eucharistic celebrations in which they commemorated the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and they understood that Bread and Wine became Body and Blood of Our Lord.
      However, the term "Transsubstantiation" did not exist in 120 AD. This term is a deepening of the understanding of the doctrine, based on Aristotelian terminology, but it does not contradict the original doctrine, not even in the smallest part.

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    2. Don't worry.

      Read John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Doctrine to get better-grounded on this.

      If you give humanity a True Premise P1, and another True Premise P2, and P1 and P2 together happen to logically lead to a Conclusion C, then eventually someone's going to say, "P1 and P2, therefore C." Once that happens and everyone checks their work, C will become P3 for the development of further conclusions later on.

      But if C ever contradicts P1 or P2, then it isn't a logical conclusion, but a false conclusion.

      And that, in a nutshell, is why "doctrinal development" will always happen, but will not produce reversals of existing dogmas.

      Oh, sure, heretics will always be fond of claiming that their innovations are merely "developments of doctrine." But one need only find the contradiction to falsify that claim.

      The Apostolic Deposit of Faith gave us a lot of True Premises. There were always a lot of True Conclusions implicit within that deposit. Over time, several of those conclusions have been revealed.

      But if some pope (Francis, or other) comes out and unambiguously says, "Hey, turns out that Adoptionism is true after all!" then you can safely treat that as (a.) his private opinion, and (b.) heresy, because in a valid Development of Doctrine no later C is permitted to contradict one of the earlier P's.

      Newman likens the Development of Doctrine to the development of an organism, like a tree. It is certainly true that the Church today doesn't look much like an acorn or mustard seed. But one can look logically at its history (and its doctrinal history) and see the logical connections. And one can observe that it never suddenly turned into an octopus or a tapir. None of its branches ever suddenly came out as tentacles. That would be a mutation, a contradiction of the prior integrity of the whole. That's not true development.

      Here, I suppose, is the real crux of the matter: What if Pope Francis were suddenly to take his newfangled prudential opinion on capital punishment and dogmatically define and promulgate it, as a thing to be held by all the Christian faithful, in virtue of his Petrine office and duty to confirm all the brethren throughout the world?

      Now THAT, I think, would require Ed (and me, and all of the other faithful) to really, really rethink things. I would certainly give a second look at the validity of the election of Francis, which I have hitherto had little reason to question, in spite of the hinkiness and shenanigans of various heretical cardinals canvassing for his election in contradiction of canon law. (Someone ought to have excommunicated them for it; but it doesn't make their votes invalid.)

      Such a terrible event would, in many cases, probably lead to previously-faithful Catholics abandoning Catholicism, because it would constitute a falsification of Catholicism's claim to have an infallible Ordinary Magisterium. As a practical matter, it would render the content of the Christian religion unknowable to any modern person, save by the same kind of best-guessing that leaves all the Protestant denominations permanently disagreeing with one another about that content. And that, if you think about it, would mean that no-one on earth could have any principled reason for confidence that they knew what Christianity was. You might just as well sleep in on Sundays.

      All that dire stuff would apply, IF the (true) successor of Peter were to succeed in poisoning the brethren under the guise of confirming them, in spite of Christ's promises to the contrary. For if Christ can't keep His promises, how could He be God?

      But be of good cheer. That won't happen. Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore He is God, and God keeps His promises. He has already overcome the world and death itself; will He find it much harder also overcome the deceptions of limp-wristed leftists?

      Stand firm.

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  12. I personally thought your article makes perfect sense. And there is no "false" dichotomy. It is the only two ways to understand PF.

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  13. So those on the other side of this debate genuinely don't see this as a contradiction or reversal of teaching? I guess that is obvious with the introduction of the change by the congregation for the doctrine of faith. What then do they believe is the fundamental kernel of truth that hasn't changed with this new teaching?

    Proponents of capital punishment in this debate say the fundamental kernel of truth continued in the teaching is that civil authorities in principle have the right to execute dangerous members of our society, correct?

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    1. Correct.

      And that's been taught with incredible consistency for all of the last 2,000 years of Church history, up to and including the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. On many occasions popes, saints, doctors, the fathers as theologians, and the fathers as interpreters of scripture have held that civil authorities in principle have the right to execute properly-convicted evildoers for proportionate crimes, while simultaneously advocating for limited use of this punishment.

      Pope Francis has changed the advocacy part of this to zero use of this punishment.

      As justification, Pope Francis seems vaguely to be teaching two things:

      1. Technological or sociological changes in circumstances mean even limited use of capital punishment is no longer licit; and,

      2. The Church now understand human dignity better than it did previously, and this for some unspecified reason means that even limited usage of capital punishment is no longer licit.

      Now, whatever one might say about Item 1, it is clearly an area of study in which popes and bishops have no special expertise, and certainly no applicable charism. Such considerations could only ever be prudential conclusions.

      Item 2 is trickier.

      Popes can certainly teach (indeed, have certainly taught) things about the dignity of humans as moral agents, or as subjects of moral or immoral actions, which fell under the charism of infallibility.

      But, can popes, even in principle, teach with infallibility a sort of sociological observation about the Church as a whole, claiming that the Church -- a term not defined for this purpose, but possibly meaning the entire population of canonically-Catholic persons, whether practicing or not -- claiming that they, collectively or on-average, now appreciate human dignity better than a comparable cohort did in 1900, or 1600, or 325, or 33 A.D.?

      (I am not saying that Pope Francis has used any infallible instrument for saying this. But since he's used non-infallible media to claim it, it's worth asking what it would mean if it ever were asserted in the kind of way that engages the charism of infallibility of his office.)

      And, even if Pope Francis's sociological observation about the Church could be trusted, how could such an observation lead to the conclusion that capital punishment is now illicit in all cases? How does that syllogism work? Is it...

      Premise 1: Prior generations of Catholics didn't grasp human dignity as well as the current generation (in some unspecified way);

      Premise 2: Prior generations of popes, saints, and doctors (and the fathers) taught capital punishment was in principle licit, but now a cavalcade of heretical theologians believe otherwise, and the pope likes their company better than the company of the faithful; therefore,

      Conclusion: Catholics may not now support capital punishment (or even life-imprisonment) in any cases, for any kind of crime, no matter how horrific.

      That doesn't make any sense.

      I'm reminded of the C.S. Lewis quote that "talking nonsense doesn't stop being nonsense, even if we talk it about God." If Pope Francis were to say, "Gunter Glieben Glauchen Globen" for nine minutes, it wouldn't be infallible just because he's the pope.

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  14. Robert Fastiggi is a deeply evil man.

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    1. Reminder that according to Exsurge Domine, that heretics be burned is not against the will of the spirit, and the contrary proposition is condemned as heretical, a much stronger censure than anything Francis has put out.

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    2. What does a stronger censure mean? None of them claim infallibility

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    3. Terilien, Prof. Fastiggi is not evil. I am certain that he is motivated by a sincere and deep love for the Church. But he is deeply confused.

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    4. Sorry for being uncharitable Mr Feser I just feel very gaslit by such people. :(

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  15. This guy Fastiggi is embarrassing himself.

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  16. To what extent does historical-grammatical criticism attack the authority of sacred tradition in Catholic biblical studies?

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  17. I'm not Catholic, and maybe this is a dumb question, but what's wrong with the church teaching something that contradicts past doctrine?

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    1. What's wrong is that it destroys the Church's credibility as a teacher of morals.

      If the Church teaches A one day and B the next and A and B contradict each other, why should I believe anything the Church says?

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    2. For the same reason you believe something else: because it makes sense.

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    3. But, Walter, the point is that it doesn't make sense to keep believing the Church is what she claims to be in Jack's hypothetical situation. Your flippant response completely overlooks the issue at hand.

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    4. That's true. It doesn't make sense in that case to keep believing the Church is what it claims to be. And that why, in that case, you should believe the things that do make sense.

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    5. Prestonute,

      I don't think the replies you've gotten are as clear as they could be.

      Your question relates to this question: How is it that Jesus intended all of us Christians to find out what the content of the Christian religion actually is?

      In the 16th century after the invention of the printing press, a novel idea never before seen in Christian or Jewish history was introduced: Using "Scripture alone" to reverse-engineer the original content of Christianity. The idea was that, in order to extract real Christianity from the fog of history, Christians should use the texts of Scripture and reverse-engineer answers to any contested questions through exegesis. Using this technique, in theory, any honest, Spirit-led believer -- even an uneducated "ploughboy," to quote Luther -- would be able thereby to derive the content of the Christian religion without recourse to Church authority, Early Church Fathers, etc.

      But Catholics hold that Jesus never intended that method. Catholics say if it were true, then Spirit-led well-intentioned Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians would agree with one another on critical doctrines; but they don't. It's also self-contradictory, because the Bible alone doesn't provide us a list of which books should be in the Bible (so, one can't use the Bible alone to even find out the content of the Bible, which is a prerequisite to using the Bible to find out the content of Christianity). And anyway, the idea is unknown in both early Christianity and Judaism.

      Catholics hold instead that Jesus established a Teaching Church with ordained leaders in Apostolic Succession and granted to them authority to "bind and loose" in a judicial fashion on the permissibility/impermissibility of theological opinions and/or moral actions. This allows objective knowledge of the content of Christianity: If a doctrine is rejected (or an act condemned as immoral) then it is not Christianity; and this allows the Church to rule out certain bad interpretations of Scripture (and also to rule on what books make up the Bible).

      Importantly, the Catholic church holds that under certain circumstances -- basically any time such a judicial decision would become binding on all the faithful in an irreformable way -- God intervenes to provide the Church a "charism of infallibility" such that the decision will not err. This is described in Matthew 16 and 18 with the phrase "whatsoever you [Peter] or y'all [the episkopoi as a whole body] bind on earth is bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you/y'all loose on earth is loosed in Heaven." (Other verses also express this thought.)

      Thus, in the Catholic view, "Jesus protects His Church" from the Magisterium ever officially promulgating an erroneous doctrine as being Real Christianity if it isn't.

      And THAT, Prestonute, is why it's a big deal among Catholics if Doctrine X were...
      - promulgated irreformably at some date; and,
      - reversed, in favor of some contradictory doctrine, at a later date

      This has never happened in 2,000 years. But if it ever did, it would prove Catholicism false.

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  18. Fastiggi cannot keep track of the argument.

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  19. Dear Professor Feser,

    Please forgive me, but I don’t have time to reply to all of your points (some of which strike me as polemical and incidental). If time permits, I’ll explore the historical and doctrinal issues connected with the revised text of CCC 2267 in a scholarly article (I really don’t like to write in blogs). The key issue to me is that you are trying to justify your dissent from a teaching of the ordinary magisterium. As a Catholic seminary professor I try to be mindful of canon 245.2 of the 1983 CIC, which tells us that students in priestly formation "are bound by humble and filial charity to the Roman Pontiff." Canon 273 states that "clerics are bound by a special obligation to show reverence and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and their own ordinary." If I’m teaching future priests, I want them to develop a spirit of charity, reverence, and obedience toward the Holy Father. This does not mean that the Holy Father cannot make prudential mistakes, but it does mean manifesting proper submission to his teachings on faith and morals.

    The revised text of CCC 2267 is a teaching on faith and morals. I don’t believe the revised teaching is merely prudential, but even it were, I don’t think dissent is allowed.

    You, though, seem to think that if a teaching is prudential dissent is allowed.

    Below is what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in its 1998 Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Profession of Faith. Please pay attention to the final sentence. Dissent from teachings of the prudential order can still be qualified as "rash or dangerous and therefore 'tuto doceri non potest' (cannot be safely taught)."I hope and pray you'll stop dissenting from Pope Francis on the death penalty, which in the revised text of CCC 2267 is also presented as the teaching of the Church. I don't doubt your sincerity, but you don't seem to realize the seriousness of dissent. This issue is not between you and me. It’s between you and the magisterium of the Church.
    From the CDF's 1998 Commentary:
    10. The third proposition of the Professio fidei states: "Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act." To this paragraph belong all those teachings ¬ on faith and morals - presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Such teachings are, however, an authentic expression of the ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff or of the College of Bishops and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect.18 They are set forth in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of revelation, or to recall the conformity of a teaching with the truths of faith, or lastly to warn against ideas incompatible with these truths or against dangerous opinions that can lead to error.19
    A proposition contrary to these doctrines can be qualified as erroneous or, in the case of teachings of the prudential order, as rash or dangerous and therefore "tuto doceri non potest".20

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    1. Aren't Catholics also meant to hold what has been consistently taught by the ordinary magisterium for two millennia?

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    2. Dear Prof. Fastiggi,

      I'm sorry if anything I wrote seemed to be needlessly polemical. Some of my remarks are hard edged, but I was simply calling it as I see it. Nor do I think I said anything that was more polemical than your rash accusations that I am dissenting from binding teaching, insulting the pope, trying to make the pope look bad, etc.

      Anyway, if you are going to keep accusing me of dissent, I am going to ask you one more time. Exactly what is the proposition you think I am dissenting from? Is it:

      (a) The death penalty is inadmissible because it is intrinsically an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the human person,

      (b) The death penalty is inadmissible because it is given such-and-such modern circumstances an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the human person,

      or some third proposition (and if so, exactly what is that proposition)?

      Unless you can tell me exactly what the proposition is that I am both obligated to assent to and yet refuse to assent to, it is unjust and uncharitable of you to accuse me of dissent from obligatory teaching.

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    3. Dear Dr. Fastiggi,

      Your argument hinges on whether this is a third paragraph truth or not. I think that Dr. Feser's point is that it is not a third paragraph truth, but rather it is a prudential theological judgment. Donum Veritatis 24. If it is not a third paragraph truth, then it does not require "a religious submission of intellect and will". It only requires a "loyal submission". This loyal submission only requires him not to execute anyone while the teaching was in force, but he could argue against it. I think his point is that the Church's judgment is similar to the Church's prohibition on the historical critical method (HCM). This prohibition on the HCM was not a third paragraph truth, but rather a prudential judgment on a theological matter. It was only necessary until the Church could cleanse HCM from its more problematic elements. If it is merely a prudential judgment on a theological matter, then Dr. Feser is not engaging in dissent.

      -Your colleague

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    4. Dr. Fastiggi,

      I've been trying to defend your view and the new teaching in the comments in the best way I could interpret it - in my understanding, "the teaching could be a development along the lines of a moral teaching (not merely prudential; but rather founded on a kind of moral duty and understanding of the dignity of persons) that does not, nevertheless, imply that the DP is always absolutely intrinsically evil in principle (ergo, there might be some putative scenarios where the DP would be acceptable, though lamentably so; and these do not apply today, the pope might say)."

      That being said, I think it would be better if you stopped accusing Feser of dissent, because it's not helping. If anything, it is just making things more polemical and confusing. Feser and other people are genuinely troubled by how to interpret the new teaching in continuity with relevant past teaching.

      I know you are probably worried about dissent, but maybe it would be better to just focus on elucidating the current developments and teaching first.

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    5. Are there any canon lawyers here? It seems that Prof. Fastiggi is accusing Dr. Feser of replacing the magisterium with his own judgements. But isn’t accusing someone of formal heresy (which is what Prof. Fastiggi seems to be implying) the role of the magisterium and not lay people?

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    6. I do not understand how one can dissent from Church teaching when what is Church teaching is the very issue. Accusations of dissent is precisely Begging the Question. Even worse, if Fastiggi is correct and the revision does claim that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, this would undermine the very foundation of the Church. In fact, it would prove it to be a false Church. But maybe that is exactly Fastiggi's aim. I think at this point it is best for Catholics to ignore the revised CCC.

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  20. Dr. Feser, if I may try to explain what that ominous "third principle" is?

    You say: Either this is heresy or it is a purely prudential statement (which would still be silly). Fastiggi says: No, it's doctrinal development. So the only logical conclusion must be that the thing you call "heresy" is what Fastiggi calls "doctrinal development".

    You open no false dichotomy. The dichotomy is correct. Fastiggi objects to the fact that you object to doctrinal reversals. He likes to call heresy "development", yet seems to be too scared to openly state that. The case is, in my opinion, closed. It's the typical thing you hear from ANY liberal theologian: No, it's not heresy, it's doctrinal development!
    It is used to justify everything the Vatican Council did away with or introduced. Doing everything in an opposite way means "development". Others call it heresy or reversal of an eternal Truth.

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  21. Hi everyone,

    I don't wish to comment on the vexed question of whether Ed is right in claiming that the Church's age-old teaching that the death penalty is sometimes permissible is an infallible exercise of the ordinary magisterium, although I do think he's made a very good case for that claim.

    What worries me a lot more is that the papacy seems to be arrogating to itself a new power it never claimed previously: the power to declare that a proposition which all theologians agree was previously NOT infallibly taught by the Church's ordinary magisterium is now an infallible teaching of the Church's ordinary magisterium, and that Catholics who refuse to believe it are guilty of heresy. Popes have no such power.

    In 1950, Pope Pius XII infallibly defined the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, after consulting with the world's bishops. This was an exercise of the extraordinary magisterium. All Catholic theologians agree that Popes have this power.

    In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his famous encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which he declared artificial contraception intrinsically immoral. In so doing, he was confirming a long-standing tradition that had been upheld by every bishop, doctor of the Church and Catholic theologian, until around 1960. He was not attempting to redefine the Church's infallible ordinary magisterium, but merely to restate the obvious: that it was indeed (as previously agreed) a binding teaching.

    Compare this with the present Pope's alteration of the Catechism, to the effect that the death penalty is "inadmissible." As recently as 2001, Avery Cardinal Dulles, a theological liberal who was opposed to the exercise of the death penalty, wrote an essay titled, "Catholicism and Capital Punishment" for First Things (April 2001), in which he proposed "ten theses that encapsulate the Church’s doctrine, as I understand it." Proposition 6 read: "The State has the right, in principle, to inflict capital punishment in cases where there is no doubt about the gravity of the offense and the guilt of the accused." This has been the consistent position of the Catholic Church for the past 1,600 years, at least. Clearly, the proposition that the death penalty is inadmissible has never been infallibly taught by the Church's ordinary magisterium, and no amount of tampering with the Catechism can make it so. This is "creeping infallibility," and it must be stopped. The Church is not a democracy, but neither is it an autocracy.

    Attempts to silence dissent from the new teaching (for that is what it is) by appealing to Donum Veritatis are risible. Put simply: Catholics cannot have a morally binding obligation to believe a teaching which is not guaranteed to be true. Only infallible teachings - whether taught by the Church's ordinary or extraordinary magisterium - can be binding on Catholics.

    My two cents.

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    1. Vincent, while I agree with the overall direction of your comments (that DP has been taught as licit in principle), I don't agree with (or I don't understand) the way you get there. Of course the popes have the special authority to take a teaching that had already been taught in a non-infallible way (i.e. in a fallible way) through the Ordinary Magisterium, and decide to silence all dispute on it by teaching it instead in an ex cathedra statement so that it is now an infallible teaching. The very nature and exercise of ex cathedra statements is to include a reference to "to remove all doubt" sorts of language. So the idea is that when there is some ongoing dispute that can be settled by an official, ex cathedra statement by the Pope, he exercises his special charism of teaching authoritatively and DEFINITIVELY, and to define the truth as to be held definitively.

      What the popes cannot do is do this to a brand new idea that had no source in the teachings received from the Apostles. The whole of the deposit of faith originates as what we received from the Apostles, and so everything that the bishops and popes can declare definitively must have their source in what was taught by the Apostles, even if in an implicit way. Not even the popes can make up a brand new teaching that is not an extrusion from prior teaching, and simply declare it as an original idea.

      Put simply: Catholics cannot have a morally binding obligation to believe a teaching which is not guaranteed to be true. Only infallible teachings - whether taught by the Church's ordinary or extraordinary magisterium - can be binding on Catholics.

      A Catholic is obliged to give unreserved assent to both of two kinds of teaching: those that are revealed, to which we must give "divine and catholic faith"; and those which are necessarily true to explain or defend the first group but are not contained themselves revealed by Scripture, to which we must give firm and definitive assent. Both of these are defined, infallible teachings. After these, the Church teaches most of its doctrine by teachings which are NOT "defined" to be true by specific, authoritative declarations which specify that they must be believed. They may are technically fallible, or at least most of them are. To these, the Catholic is required to give "religious assent", which is a kind of assent that is not unreserved, but is instead a reserved assent, i.e. an assent appropriate to something that is taught by the authoritative teachers but not proposed infallibly - the assent one gives is a kind capable of revision. But it is still an assent of some sort. This is an obligation, not merely a good counsel.

      This sort of assent is capable of degree, because it is to be executed "according to the mind of the teacher", and that too is capable of variation in degree, as to how firmly he asserts it or how firmly he intends his hearers to accept his teaching.

      What I THINK is or ought to be true is that when a bishop teaches a brand new teaching that on its face appears to contradict prior teaching, he either has an obligation to explain the conformity with prior doctrine, or he is NOT ASKING for religious assent. But I cannot prove this theory by anything I have seen in other teachings.

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    2. Hi Tony,

      Thank you for your response. You write:

      "Of course the popes have the special authority to take a teaching that had already been taught in a non-infallible way (i.e. in a fallible way) through the Ordinary Magisterium, and decide to silence all dispute on it by teaching it instead in an ex cathedra statement so that it is now an infallible teaching. The very nature and exercise of ex cathedra statements is to include a reference to 'to remove all doubt' sorts of language."

      I agree, if you are talking about an ex cathedra pronouncement. The present Pope's statements about the death penalty do not fall into that category, as you yourself acknowledge.

      You also write:

      "...[T]he Church teaches most of its doctrine by teachings which are NOT 'defined' to be true by specific, authoritative declarations which specify that they must be believed. They may are technically fallible, or at least most of them are. To these, the Catholic is required to give 'religious assent', which is a kind of assent that is not unreserved, but is instead a reserved assent, i.e. an assent appropriate to something that is taught by the authoritative teachers but not proposed infallibly - the assent one gives is a kind capable of revision. But it is still an assent of some sort. This is an obligation, not merely a good counsel."

      I have difficulty following you here. By assent, do you mean (a) an obligation to believe a statement X to be true, (b) an obligation to refrain from publicly criticizing X, or (c) neither of the above? My position is that one cannot have an obligation to believe a statement that is capable of revision, because it might be wrong. Of course, if the Church is merely asking that dissenters remain silent for the time being, in the interests of peace or for other prudential reasons, then that is something I can understand. But I cannot see what you mean when you say that "this sort of assent is capable of degree," depending on the teacher - specifically, on "how firmly he intends his hearers to accept his teaching." It seems to me that acceptance of a proposition is an all-or-nothing affair. I cannot see how it could come in degrees. Cheers.

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    3. (a) an obligation to believe a statement X to be true,

      I am not a great expert on this area, but I will add what clarity that I can. "Belief" has many aspects to it, but in the main it comes in two flavors: unreserved, and reserved. As Josef Pieper discussed in his essay on faith (if I recall correctly) unreserved belief happens in the natural realm when you "believe in" someone whom you find to be wholly trustworthy. Such as, e.g., your spouse, when you exchange vows with each other for life: you put your trust in the other person to the extent of believing without reservation that she intends the same commitment you do - a complete one. It also goes also for other people as well, but in my opinion it applies most visibly to your spouse. In the supoernatural order, unreserved belief occurs in the act of Faith, in which one unreservedly adheres to what God has revealed (and to the proposition that God has revealed the Bible and what is taught in Tradition).

      A quintessential example of "reserved assent" is the kind of belief you give to an opinion. Do you think that Roosevelt was a worse president than Truman? That's an opinion - you can't possibly prove it in a scientific demonstration. But obviously we hold some opinions mildly, and some we hold rather firmly. We say all the time something like "I strongly believe" or "I firmly believe", indicating that it would take a mountain of new evidence to get me to change my mind.

      I grant that there is something slightly odd about thinking of teachings that call for religious assent as if they were "the Church's opinions", but given that they are technically fallible and might in the future be altered, they share at least some of the characteristics of opinions.

      The critical feature of them is that they are issued by one who is given authority to teach by God, and who participates (even incompletely and imperfectly) in the charism of infallibility in a remote way: the bishops as a whole are led by the Holy Spirit that they cannot, as a body, teach something that flatly contradicts the truth. This does not mean that each individual one cannot make a mistake, but the teaching of each individual one deserves our respect in that it participates in the protection of the whole; and in addition that protection limits how long and how gravely many can be in error.

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  22. Dear All,

    We should be more generous to Dr. Fastiggi as he is doing the Church a service. Someone should make arguments in defense of the pope's position prior to making any charge of heresy or doctrinal error against the pope. We should, as loyal sons of the Church, first try to find ways to understand the pope's position as consistent with the tradition. If these arguments fail, then the pope needs to be rebuked. After all we should not take delight is such a serious pastoral error. Unfortunately, it is looking less and less like the pope's statements on this issue can be saved.

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    1. I don't have any problems being generous to Dr. Fastiggi. But we do not have to grant that ALL of his arguments are fully reasonable and respectable arguments, even while some are worthy of extended consideration and debate. His argument bringing in the European rights court was one: it famously upholds "rights" that contradict Catholic doctrine in many ways, and is hardly reliable or trustworthy as a source of truth, and Dr. Fastiggi should have realized that before he added it to his other points.

      We loyal sons of the Church would be much pleased if someone (Francis, Dr. Fastiggi, anyone) would bother to resolve these amorphous, nebulous assertions of "new understandings" and "increased awareness" are actually of: WHAT proposition is now understood that was not understood before? What specific truth do we have a new awareness of that we were not sufficiently aware before? Give me a proposition to understand, and I can understand it. Point out that THERE IS something to understand, without stating it, is effectively empty rhetoric, hardly suitable to Catholic doctrine. Why do we need to be so reticent about stating what we are now so aware of and what we now understand?

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  23. Feser writes that a “top human rights court in Europe”--i.e. a group of fallible, contemporary liberals--and "its assertions about life imprisonment"--"have zero doctrinal relevance."

    But he also writes: "What I have said is that the consistent teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and two millennia of popes"--that is, the words of a small cluster of fallible, religious conservatives from the past--"are non-arguable conclusions."

    Non-arguable. Absorb that. What shall govern interpretation--and who decides?

    Clear the fog, and one might just as well consult the entrails of birds in deciding which obscure texts--and subsequent opinions about them--are to govern interpretation over yet other texts and opinions, ad infinitum.

    It recalls for me the contending over bird signs in the Iliad, where colliding interpretations from Hector and Polydamas are attached to an eagle carrying off a snake.

    What sign from Zeus is this? Which interpretation of the obscure sign shall govern all our other actions? Is it a portent of victory or defeat?

    The scene sounds curiously like the tone of numerous dust ups and threads here (The Iliad, book 12, lines 225-280 in Fagles's translation).

    Perhaps the Iliad renders noble the contentions in this blog. It does for me. (Western humans interminably arguing and contending. It's one of our strengths as a civilization.)

    But that too is an interpretation.

    Maybe, ultimately, what the fuss is over in this case concerns "a black cat in a dark room that isn't there."

    How would one ever really know?

    These lines from the Iliad are especially arresting: "grim [Hector's troops] set / above all to breach the wall and torch the ships, / still halted up at the trench, torn with doubt" (12.227-229).

    Thus perhaps a text to bring into play here is not just "the top human rights court" and the Church Fathers, but the twelfth chapter of the Iliad.

    Why exclude it?

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    1. Dear Santi,

      It should be excluded for two reasons. First, the Illiad is irrelevant for determining Catholic doctrine. Second, Catholic theology has always weighted authorities. Human rights courts have almost zero authority in determining Catholic doctrine. The unanimous consent of the Fathers has a great amount of weight.

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    2. Don't feed the troll.

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    3. Anonymous 1:

      Not Homer, but another pagan author--Aristotle--was once "irrelevant for determining Catholic doctrine."

      And Aristotle's incorporation seems to have been contradicted by at least one Church Father, Tertullian, who famously invoked St. Paul as his normative authority and wrote the following:

      "[W]hen the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, 'See that no one beguile you through philosophy...'... What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?...Our instruction comes from 'the porch of Solomon,'..."

      If the response is, well, the Holy Spirit guided history to the right normative interpretations, that's circular reasoning and question begging. The normative choice (the thing that will govern other interpretive acts) is as historically grounded in chance as the patterns of bird entrails.

      Whatever one individually chooses to declare normative and "non-arguable" (Feser's word) is necessarily prior to reason, for it is not decided by reason, but by individual temperament (conservative or liberal), desire, and fiat.

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    4. Dear Anonymous,

      Aristotle has not authority in determining Catholic doctrine. I must say it is as if you know nothing about Catholicism.

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  24. Thank you for noting the three main items that frustrated me from Mr. Fastiggi's response. First that we are followers of Mr. Feser; rather we are followers of Christ who despise doctrinal developments that are clearly opposite what the Church and scripture have always taught. Second, that smarmy comment about "Europe's highest court" and in his reply he calls them respectable people; utterly laughable. Finally, what he calls the Church's "new"
    teaching. I didn't get the dry heaves, I puked. This man instructs seminarians? What could possibly go wrong? I look forward to his defense of future Pope Martin's new teaching on human sexuality.

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    1. The position is not clearly contrary to Scripture, and as professor Fastiggi has said, the new teaching could be a development along the lines of a moral teaching (not merely prudential; but rather founded on a kind of moral duty and understanding of the dignity of persons) that does not, nevertheless, imply that the DP is always absolutely intrinsically evil in principle (ergo, there might be some putative scenarios where the DP would be acceptable, though lamentably so; and these do not apply today, the pope might say).
      Europe's highest court does include respectable people. Yes, they may be wrong about abortion, but they still have many respectable and knowledgeable people and their positions on other topics shouldn't just be dismissed so lightly.
      "New" teaching doesn't imply a contradiction of real past teaching.

      You know, I'm even sympathetic to capital punishment, but I wish my camp would stop being so hysterical over a potential teaching against the death penalty.

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    2. Respectable people don't support abortion.

      "New" teaching doesn't imply a contradiction of real past teaching. -That can be true, but Francis is literally inverting the Church's constant teaching.
      No matter how Fastiggi tries to massage it for nearly 2000 years Catholics knew what Church taught regarding capital punishment now we are told to believe something that is contrary to what we were taught. I don't want to live in a church that can alter truth. It is fascinating watching intellects like Fastiggi twist, contort and massage words attempting to cover for a pope who is so gravely injuring the Church.

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    3. Europe's highest court does include respectable people. Yes, they may be wrong about abortion, but they still have many respectable and knowledgeable people and their positions on other topics shouldn't just be dismissed so lightly.

      Atno, they may be respectable in some sense without being respectable in the pertinent sense.

      Consider that we are not asking whether their opinions on the suitability of increased or decreased shipping on the Rhine, or on the advisability of changing certain internet protections for innocent parties, we are asking about their opinions on the protection of guilty criminals. The fact that they have gone gravely, grossly astray on the principles of protecting innocent life, it is not at all likely that their ideas on the proper protection for those who are guilty of grave crime is trustworthy.

      Moreover, it is also true that for MANY people involved in the EU Parliament, they are secular humanists, and their reasons for objecting to the DP are completely incompatible with Catholicism. In their cases, especially, Catholic theologians need not "respect" their opinion one tiny bit in deciding whether a conclusion is "respectable".

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  25. The Church has never infallibly said "Catholics are meant to hold what has been consistently taught by the ordinary magisterium for two millennia". Ordinary magisterium's authority is based on ordinary magisterium, a contradiction. Also, since we don't know how many times Popes would have to say something for it to be infallible, there is no criteria, and without that there can be no infallibility.

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    1. The truth about Catholicism. It's theology has many holes

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    2. ordinary magisterium's authority is not based on ordinary magisterium. The ordinary magisterium's authority is based on Christ's commission of the apostles in Matt 18 and 28.

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    3. That's a fallible opinion of yours. Couldn't Jesus have only given infallible authority? The Church's use of "fallible teaching" has ruined herself. Greg

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  26. Dear Professor Feser,
    Thank you for your gracious note. Please accept my apologies for anything I said that you found offensive or overly polemical. I certainly did not intend any personal offense. I am grateful for your question about what is the proposition I think you are dissenting from. It seems that you are dissenting from the teaching of the Church as presented in the revised text of CCC 2267. Here is the proposition:
    “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,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide” (revised text of CCC 2267 as mandated by the Supreme Pontiff Francis).

    This proposition is presented as the teaching of the Church (Ecclessia … docet). It is not a definitive, infallible teaching, but it is an authoritative teaching of the Church, which requires adherence with religious submission of will and intellect (Lumen Gentium, 25 and canon 752 of the 1983 CIC). If you do not adhere to this teaching with religious submission of will and intellect, then you are dissenting from it (I am sorry if the word “dissent” offends you, but it seems to apply). The assent required is to the revised teaching of CCC 2267 as stated above. Whether capital punishment is intrinsically evil is something that needs further study. The death penalty is judged to be inadmissible for the following three reasons as found in the revised CCC 2267: 1) an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes; 2) a new understanding of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state; 3) more effective systems of detention which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Of the three reasons given, only the third seems dependent on modern circumstances. The other two are the result of theological and moral developments. This article might be helpful in understanding the new teaching on the death penalty as more than prudential: https://wherepeteris.com/the-death-penalty-doctrine-or-personal-opinion/ This article explains why the new teaching is not just the personal opinion of Pope Francis as a man: https://wherepeteris.com/cardinal-burke-this-is-an-opinion-of-pope-francis-as-a-man/

    You seem to think that the teaching must be either a judgment that the death penalty is intrinsically evil or a judgment based on “such and such modern circumstances.” The new teaching, though, involves a convergence of the development of more effective systems of detention and other moral and theological developments leading to the conclusion that the death penalty is inadmissible. The teaching as stated above is the proposition requiring religious assent. It is a moral judgment that applies to the concrete prudential order but it is not merely prudential.
    When the magisterium issues a teaching, the faithful are to adhere to the teaching according to the manifest mind and will of the magisterium and the level of assent required. Questions often remain after a teaching has been issued; but when some action is judged to be inadmissible by the magisterium, that means the faithful are NOT allowed to support it. For example, dueling was prohibited several times by the magisterium (D-H 799, 1830), but it was never explicitly declared to be intrinsically evil. Just because it was not declared to be intrinsically evil did not mean the faithful could engage in it. In fact, the 1917 Code of Canon Law forbad ecclesiastical burial for those who died in duels (canon 1240.4). I hope these comments are helpful. I continue to pray for you and others who have difficulty with this teaching (including colleagues of mine).

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    1. Prof. Fastiggi:

      Is it not problematic for the new CCC2267 that it deviates significantly from consistent Church teaching of the past 2,000 years?

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    2. If the death penalty is not (yet) judged intrinsically evil, then "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" is not intrinsically evil. Is this really Francis's view?

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    3. Basically the pope can contradict the Church's teaching and we must submit to it? We must submit to something we were told was incorrect 15 months ago?

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    4. As I said, the new teaching might perhaps be interpreted as a moral development akin to the teaching on religious freedom.

      Does it say that the death penalty is intrinsically evil? No, it says that it is inadmissible. It does not necessarily mean that capital punishment is in principle absolutely forbidden in every possible circumstance and context. There might be some very rare situations in which the death penalty would be (lamentably) justifiable. It is hard to identify those situations, though they might exist. Whatever they are, they do not apply in this day and age.

      Does this mean the teaching is merely prudential? No, if we understand prudential teachings as as pertaining mostly to context and consequences. The death penalty shouldn't simply be opposed because it would be more merciful, or because it would have better consequences for society. It should be opposed in principle because human beings are such that their dignity compels us to preserve their lives if possible. If a convict can be imprisoned instead of executed, we should imprison him and not execute him. This isn't just because of context and consequences. It is because of the intrinsic dignity of human life.

      Here is what the teaching might have looked like if it were prudential: "while there isn't anything wrong with the death penalty in principle, it should not be applied now because it would help make society more merciful; it would prevent innocents from being executed; it would give the convict a chance to reform or convert; the death penalty could scandalize people in some way, etc..."
      Here is what the new teaching might actually be conveying: the death penalty is not acceptable because the dignity of human life remains even after grave crimes, and the dignity of life is so great that we should spare the convict. He should instead be imprisoned, etc.
      So it is not merely prudential. The reasoning is based on the value and dignity of human life.
      But again, it does not mean that the death penalty could never ever be acceptable even in principle in some rare occasions which do not apply today.

      This is my interpretation of what it might be.

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    5. And if that is the case, it does not contradict any past infallible teaching. It does not even say the death penalty is intrinsically evil. It tells us there are moral, principled reasons to oppose capital punishment - beyond prudential reasons - even if capital punishment is not intrinsically evil.

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    6. How can the Church expect folks to submit to the opposite of what She told ones parents?

      On a subject so serious and involving faith and morals in spades, how can She tell us for thousands of years X then on a certain day tell us Not X - and on that very day expect us to submit to the opposite of what we believed yesterday? We don't get a while to try and work this out?

      This just doesn't work and is tragically irresponsible given it undermines the Magisterium as Feser has aptly pointed out.

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    7. We did get a while. We got a long time to think about these things, and the changes didn't simply happen overnight. Saint John Paul II already favored abolishing the death penalty. There is nothing wrong with the Church coming to realize that its clergyman (fallibly) taught some errors at a certain time. This obviously doesn't mean we cannot trust the clergy as a moral guide anymore. Some fallible mistakes about some things which were never central to catholicism (the death penalty was never central to anyone's faith, let's be clear) does not undermine the authority of the Church. Such a suggestion would be ridiculous.

      Look, I am *sympathetic* to the death penalty to the point of even favoring its practical application - though I might change my stance if the Church really decided against it -, so I understand where some people might be coming from. But can we stop being hysterical? It would be a moral teaching that has developed over some time and reflection. It would not contradict any infallible tradition or teaching, if my interpretation was correct. And come on, this is just about the death penalty. Could people please stop being hysterical?

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    8. Prof. Fastiggi - Your assertion seems to be that the death penalty is something like 2/3 intrinsically evil, 1/3 imprudent given modern circumstances (which really only obtain in some parts of the 1st world, FWIW,) and that this somehow "adds up" to 100% moral illegitimacy. There is no such method or category in Catholic moral theology. Either the death penalty is intrinsically evil and can never be used (which must face the arguments given about the strength of the traditional teaching on it qua infallible magisterium) or it is merely prudential, which would mean it only requires respectful consideration. As the old Thomistic adage goes - "There is no third."

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    9. Or it could be a moral teaching that gives us moral and principled reasons to reject X even if X is not intrinsically evil. There is no contradiction with this idea, and in fact it is very sensible.

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    10. "It seems that you are dissenting from the teaching of the Church as presented in the revised text of CCC 2267."

      It seems to me that the revised text of CCC 2267 is dissenting from the constant teaching of the Church, which is the problem. You appear finally to be admitting that the text does not mean that the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Therefore, it is a matter of prudential judgment. We're making progress.

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    11. @ Dr. Fastiggi

      You seem to think that the teaching must be either a judgment that the death penalty is intrinsically evil or a judgment based on “such and such modern circumstances.” The new teaching, though, involves a convergence of the development of more effective systems of detention and other moral and theological developments leading to the conclusion that the death penalty is inadmissible.

      You seem simply to be saying that the death penalty is now ruled out both as a matter of doctrine and as a matter of prudence. "Convergence" is not some third option; you are just grabbing both horns of Feser's dilemma. It seems, then, that you read Pope Francis as contradicting what Ed has argued is the consensus of the prior Fathers, Doctors, and Popes.

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    12. Prof. Fastiggi,

      Thank you for your gracious reply. I appreciate your consistent civility and willingness to engage reasonably, and as always I have nothing but respect for your wide theological knowledge and love of the Church.

      I do think we are going around in circles.
      Whether the word "dissent" offends me isn't really here or there. The point is precisely that it does not apply.

      Take a parallel example. Suppose I said: "It is inadmissible to take away a person's freedom because this is an attack on his inviolability and dignity. Do you assent to that or not?"

      You'd probably reply: "Do you mean that it's intrinsically wrong to do that or only wrong under certain circumstances? Do you mean that it's wrong to do that to an innocent person or even to a guilty person? Are you ruling out jail or merely kidnapping and the like?"

      And suppose I responded: "Never mind all that, just answer my question. Do you assent to it or not?"

      You might reply: "I can't answer that until I know exactly what is being asked of me. The statement is ambiguous. Please remove the ambiguity and we can go from there."

      And if I said: "Aha! You dissent from it!" I imagine you would be quite frustrated, since in fact the question of dissent or assent cannot arise in the first place until the ambiguity is removed.

      Or suppose I said: "Here's your answer: The proposition has both principled and prudential elements. Now, do you assent to it or not?" You'd no doubt still be frustrated, since this also does nothing at all to remove the ambiguity.

      That is the situation we are in here. You quote the revision to the Catechism, but of course, I am already well aware of what it says. My complaint is that it is ambiguous in exactly the way my parallel example is. The question of assent or dissent cannot arise until it is made clear exactly which reading one is expected to assent to. And saying, as you do, that the revision has both principled and prudential elements is no answer at all.

      You might say that there is a crucial difference between the two cases, viz. that the Church has made no revision to the Catechism that includes a proposition like the one in my parallel example. You might say that the difference is that the revision has Magisterial authority behind it and the proposition in my parallel example does not.

      But that is completely irrelevant and such a response would completely miss the point. What is at issue is not the nature or degree of authority of the person or document making an assertion. What is at issue is the question of what exactly is the content of the assertion itself. To take an extreme example, if the Catechism were to say "Blah blah blah" it would be quite absurd to insist that people assent to it, because they would have no idea what they are being asked to assent to. Of course, the revision to 2267 is nowhere near as unintelligible as that, but it is still ambiguous, and thus still requires clarification before we can know what it is we are being asked to assent to.

      You say that the revision is like any other teaching that is bound to raise further questions but that this is irrelevant to whether we should assent to it. But this too misses the point. If, in my hypothetical parallel example, I said "Those are further questions we can get to later. Now answer: Do you assent or not?" you'd surely say "But those aren't further questions. They are the initial questions that have to be answered before I can even begin either to assent or dissent!"

      In short, it seems that for the third time now you have failed to answer the question I keep asking: Exactly what is the revision saying if it is neither (a) a reversal of past doctrinal principle or (b) a prudential judgment? You have insisted that this is a false dichotomy, but are yet again unable to tell us what the third alternative is.

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    13. Dear Professor Feser,

      Thank you for your kind note and your further questions. I appreciate your intelligence and your passion. I recently recommended this article of yours to someone who was asking whether God and Allah are the same divinity. God:http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/12/christians-muslims-and-reference-of-god.html

      Getting back to the capital punishment issue, you and I have the read same revised text of the CCC 2267 and the same CDF letter explaining it. Your questions are valid, but I approach the matter in a different way. I read the texts, and then I ask: what is the Church asking us to hold about the death penalty? I think the answer is that the Church wants us to be against it. This opposition to the death penalty is based not just on more effective systems of detention, but on consideration of various teachings of the Gospel (mercy, love for enemies, etc) and a sense that the inviolability and dignity of the human person is still present in the worst of criminals. There is also the belief that intentionally killing someone who is not posing an immediate threat is not justifiable. In light of all these considerations, the Church is asking us to be against the death penalty and to work for its worldwide abolition. Whether the death penalty is intrinsically immoral is an important question, but it's not necessary to decide this question to come to the conclusion that we should oppose capital punishment. Execution as a form of punishment is something Catholics should reject. Where the death penalty still exists, the Church wants us to work for the conditions to eliminate it. Ultimately, then the Church asks us to assent to an anti-death penalty mentality and posture. We should not be looking for hypothetical scenarios in which the death penalty would seem to be necessary. Instead, we should be making every effort to eliminate the death penalty wherever it exists. I hope these thoughts help.

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    14. "Whether the death penalty is intrinsically immoral is an important question, but it's not necessary to decide this question to come to the conclusion that we should oppose capital punishment."

      Well there it is - a prudential exhortation. And that does seem to be the correct and most charitable reading of the new paragraph. Note also that "the Church wants us to" stop using air conditioning (Laudato Si 55), or to use it less often. While less grave an issue, and in arguably a document with lesser weight, these statements have the same character of prudential exhortation: "given the circumstances 'do/don't do this'" - and that is a claim which should be respectfully considered, as all such exhortations are. The difference here is that there is a wealth of Scriptural, patristic, and papal teaching which does not seem to square at all with this sudden "awakening" to what Gospel mercy demands, and while there are some prison systems which are "highly developed" they are neither universally available nor is mere detention/prevention the only value of capital punishment, as Prof. Feser has argued at length (deterrence, retribution, etc.).

      We all understand that Francis does not like capital punishment and wants it to end. Some reject that exhortation due to a disagreement over particular circumstances - a case which the Ratzinger letter addresses directly and helpfully. What one cannot say is that there is a "new teaching of the Church" (!) that demands assent to something which denies what the Church has always taught with Her full authority, rather than merely occasionally mused about, tolerated in practice, or was disengaged from altogether. Nor is it the case that there is a set of underlying reformable principles (like "penal justice," or "the demands of the Gospel vision of mercy," "dignity," etc.) which gave rise to a conclusion that capital punishment is admissible. Instead, we have a direct teaching about an action/practice which, if contradicted in principle, is a clear violation of Catholic Faith. Bad theology indeed. So, if one's principled position on capital punishment contradicts this based on one's new understanding of "mercy" or "dignity" then one has erred both in contradicting the teaching on capital punishment and in one's understanding of "mercy," "dignity," etc. Analogous errors/"developments" can be made with the sacraments, abortion, or any issue you like.

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    15. Or it could be a moral teaching that gives us moral and principled reasons to reject X even if X is not intrinsically evil.

      Atno, could you elucidate exactly what moral and principled reasons are being relied upon to arrive at the conclusion that the DP is an attack on the inviolability of human dignity?

      You (and others (e.g. Francis), it's not JUST you) keep suggesting the possibility of such new moral principles, without ever STATING what they are.

      See, the historical teaching is that human life is not a good so great that it trumps justice, and serving justice is an essential purpose of the state: justice comprises one aspect of "the common good" to which the state is ordered. The new teaching SEEMS to contradict that position, that human life DOES IN FACT trump justice. Is this the new moral principle? If not, what precisely is the principle that Francis is relying on?

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    16. This opposition to the death penalty is based not just on more effective systems of detention, but on consideration of various teachings of the Gospel (mercy, love for enemies, etc) and a sense that the inviolability and dignity of the human person is still present in the worst of criminals.

      Dr. Fastiggi, thank you for your continued efforts to educate us. Can you elucidate on what you mean by "sense that the inviolability and dignity of the human person is still present in the worst of criminals"?

      First, what do you mean by "sense"? Do you mean an apprehension of a good, a direct experiential perception of the value of a human being, an experiential phenomenon (like sight or hearing) not needing intellection to occur? Or, perhaps, do you mean an intuition of the value of a human being, which is the result of a many and complex internal mental operations that produce an inchoate but strongly FELT DESIRE to respect the human person? Or, perhaps, do you mean a specific proposition held in the intellect of the sort like "the inherent human person's worth is more than X". Or something else?

      Second, what do you mean by "the dignity of the human person"? Do you mean the dignity inherent to a human person by reason of his nature as a rational animal? Do you mean the dignity of the human person as due to his being baptized and the recipient of sanctifying grace? Do you mean his dignity as an adult and the (presumptive) subject of self-responsible voluntary acts?

      Thirdly, what do you mean by "inviolability"? Do you mean that there is something that is present which implies the human is "not to be attacked" and that the DP does in fact attack it? If so, on what basis is it not to be attacked, and in what sense does the DP attack it? To explain this last: the nature of a rational animal is to freely and voluntarily act for the good. Hence it might be thought that imposing a constraint (such as a prison cell), by precluding free choice, is contrary to the nature of the human rational person, and thus is an attack on his natural dignity as a person. Yet WE DON'T call imposing prison on a criminal an attack on his human dignity, even though it would be an attack on the human dignity of an innocent person. So, we allow that there is something within the human person together with his act of voluntarily choosing a crime that alters the moral meaning of putting him in prison so that it is NOT "an attack on the inviolability of the human person". We place at that conjunction of the nature of the free human person together with the moral nature of his vicious voluntary free act a resolution of the two into a result that specifies that he no longer holds the "right" to the exercise of his free will to the extent of his leaving prison, he has "lost" his right to freedom. I.E. While the innocent person's human dignity is inviolable, that inviolability is (due to the conjunction of the freedom implicit in the rational nature and the responsibility implicit in that same rational nature) conditioned on his free choices.

      Do you mean to assert that while FREEDOM (as explained above) has an inviolable status conditioned on voluntary actions freely chosen, LIFE is not also conditioned the same way? The question then remains: on what basis is that true?

      Fourthly, (assuming the above is cogent enough), is your answer to the third question a reversal of what had been taught by the vast numbers of bishops and theologians who taught that the state was right to take the life of the criminal guilty of very grave crimes when doing so is necessary to the common good? Why not?

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    17. It sounds like Prof. Fastiggi's bottom line is this: The Church wants us to "be against" the death penalty, and not enquire too closely about the reasons why. Just do it.

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    18. First, what do you mean by "sense"?

      My sense is that Dr. Fastiggi is using "sense" to refer to a belief, adopting the tendency of the new Catechism text, as well as the pope's remarks on the topic, to couch the reasons for its teachings in claims about what people now believe:

      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.

      Maybe it's just awkward style. Maybe it's evasion. Maybe it's something else.

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    19. Greg, it is my "sense" (ha!) that unless "sense" and the "awareness" and "understanding" can be reduced to specific propositions, we don't even know what we are expected to assent to - certainly not WHY. If they CAN be reduced to specific propositions, why is it that nobody can actually state them? So far I have not seen them stated. Why?

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    20. So the assertion seems to be that the Catechism is a magisterial teaching of a sort that a lay person (or does this also include theologians and bishops?) may not question, but must assent to in intellect and in action. Is that correct? And, the argument seems to continue, that since that is the case, lay Catholics are obligated by the current Catechism to assent to the teaching that the death penalty is inadmissable and must work to see it abolished.
      The Roman Catechism (also called The Catechism of the Council of Trent or The Catechism of Pius V apparently) also teaches about the Fifth Commandment. (Yes, I understand there is a question of whether this Catechism has been superceeded, but bear with me.)
      This older Catechism teaches clearly that both murder and suicide are violations of the commandment and also teaches quite extensively about our duties to love our neighbor, to have charity towards others, and to forgive injuries. It also includes advice on how to help people forgive injuries and avoid desire for revenge. All of this seems as modern as anything being said or written today, so it doesn't seem to me that the authors are ignorant of the teaching of the Gospel on mercy nor particularly deficient in their understanding of human dignity.
      The older Catechism does make it clear however that there are exceptions to what is considered unlawful killing. These include the killing of animals, killing in a just war, killing by accident, killing in self-defense, and, of course, the execution of criminals.
      If anyone is not familiar with it the exception reads:
      "Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment--is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord."
      So my problem is: for 400 years a document that ot is contend had the status of a magisterial teaching of the Church from which no lay person could licitly dissent said that civil authority has the "power of life and death…to punish…and protect" and that the "just use of this power,…, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder" and also taught that the civil authority is the "legitimate avenger of crime".
      You just can't get from this to the "new" Catechism teaching the death penalty is inadmissible without admitting that the previous Catechism to which, according to Prof. Fastiggi's telling, the Church demanded her children's unquestioning assent, was not only complicit in, but encouraged, a great moral evil for 400 years. And if that was the case, why should anyone believe that this "new" teaching in a document of the same magisterial force isn't itself a great moral evil? I mean, we already got it wrong once!
      And it would be nice if instead of schooling me on canon law and part B of directive A found in document C the response actually addressed the content of the concern which is the destruction of confidence in the Magisterium.

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    21. "Whether the death penalty is intrinsically immoral is an important question, but it's not necessary to decide this question to come to the conclusion that we should oppose capital punishment."

      It's not just an important question, it's the only question that Church has the authority to answer, or even ask. Outside of the Vatican, the Holy Father's opinions on public administration are just that, his opinions.

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    22. @ Tony

      I really don't know. I'd certainly like to know what our new understanding of the penal system is.

      Though in some cases some sort of proposition is given, e.g.: "Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes." The dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. Of course we are not told how the Church's traditional teaching depends on the contrary! Indeed people have always recognized that there is a sense in which humans do not lose their dignity by committing crimes and a sense in which they do.

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    23. "To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals."

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    24. Are we expected to replace our old catechisms of Pope St. John Paul II?

      What if you weren't in contact with Rome? Would you be doing wrong if you followed Her earlier teachings? What a mess.

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    25. I really don't know. I'd certainly like to know what our new understanding of the penal system is.

      I agree. My suspicion is that most of the people who AGREE with the sentiment (I refuse to call it "idea" or "thought" until someone unpacks it) about this new awareness of the penal system do so on account of an absolute, total rejection of the very principle of retributive justice. Given that rejection, new "understandings" (really, misunderstandings) can approach toward things they would call "mercy" and "therapeutic" treatment without balancing them against justice, and thus arrive at demands to plan to eventually integrate the criminal back into society as an absolute obligation. I have no clue how ELSE you arrive at such conclusions.

      But of course an absolute rejection of retributive justice would in fact constitute a direct reversal of Church teaching, including a reversal of JPII's own teaching just 22 years ago when he affirmed it as the "primary" purpose of punishment.

      It may be a low, unkind, even unfair estimation that at least some of the people who simply refuse to STATE CLEARLY what that "new understanding" actually is, do so because they know precisely that their theory is 180 degrees off from prior doctrine. Maybe they really have high and honorable motives for constantly talking around the bush without ever describing the bush itself in any detail. But it would be nice to hear what those reasons are. So far: crickets.

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    26. The problem with the argument that the Church wants me to be against the death penalty is the same Church says I can disagree with the Popes on the Death Penalty and Pope Francis hasn't clearly told me Pope Benedict's teaching on this matter is now null and void and until he clarifies it I am well with in my rights and my readings of Francis and Benedict to be for the Death Penalty and I am till further notice.

      Note I post over at Wherepeteris blog under the name Jim the Scott.

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  27. Supporters of Frances can easily just say "there hasn't been ENOUGH Pope's on this". So they go with the current teaching. They can also say the present Pope, not MANY future Popes, have the power to reverse previous teaching. As it stands, Catholics now believe in general that it is wrong to kill ALWAYS except in self defense or if God commands it

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  28. Professor Fastiggi,

    I have a question that I think you could clear up. I have questions about the precise content of the new CCC 2267 teaching. Above, you write:

    "The new teaching, though, involves a convergence of the development of more effective systems of detention and other moral and theological developments leading to the conclusion that the death penalty is inadmissible. The teaching as stated above is the proposition requiring religious assent. It is a moral judgment that applies to the concrete prudential order but it is not merely prudential."

    This convergence idea is interesting and raises questions. Here's one that I have. In places of the world where "effective systems of detention" are lacking, is the death penalty still inadmissible? Why or why not?

    Also, I look forward to your scholarly article on the subject that will expound on the teaching.

    Peace,
    John

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    1. If I may respond, he says: "Where the death penalty still exists, the Church wants us to work for the conditions to eliminate it."

      This sounds at least different than what one would say if it were an intrinsic evil. If it were intrinsically evil, then you are obligated to eliminate it full stop, not just create the conditions to eliminate it.

      I don't want to speak for him though.

      The general point is that you shouldn't be upholding the DP as a good in itself, but rather something that you should hope to stop having to do. This i why the Pope calls it inadmissable (at least I think why). Aquinas compares the DP to an amputation. You don't want to cut you arm, but if you were infected, or bitten, and that poses a threat to your body, it is not only permissible, but just to amputate, contrary to the though of a hypothetical Hypocratic physician who opposes any surgery. However, such a scenario requires amputation as a last resort. Again, you shouldn't want to amputate unless you absolutely have to. Why? Because your arm doesn't stop being good, even though it was poisoned. Suppose that an antidote was invented that could contain/ counteract the infection/ poison. Would it be right for the doctor to do so if the antidote was available to him? Not anymore. But now, would it be ok for the doctor who doesn't have the antidote to not even try to get it? That would be wrong as well, if he has the ability to work towards its acquisition. He may still need to do amputations in the meantime, but he is now obligated to work so that he no longer needs to use them.

      Keep in mind the the Church teaching on the DP in the middle ages did talk abut it with reference to justice, but in many instances, it argued for it on the bases of preservation of society and human life. If you look carefully at the passage from Trent, it seems to place a high importance on this motivation for the DP, even more so than retribution.

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    2. but in many instances, it argued for it on the bases of preservation of society and human life. If you look carefully at the passage from Trent, it seems to place a high importance on this motivation for the DP, even more so than retribution.

      Mary A, you seem to be presenting these as "either X or Y" options. That is not in the least how the Fathers and Doctors thought of it. It is not even merely "we can achieve BOTH the punishment due, AND preserve society and human life, at the same time". That doesn't capture it either. It is that "it is by reason of using the proportionate punishment properly that we can foresee the secondary goals of preserving society and saving human lives". The secondary effects are secondary not merely because they are not the SAME THINGS as the primary purpose (which is retribution, as JPII, and Pius X, and many other popes said), they are secondary because they have a relationship to the primary purpose that makes them derivative. It is nonsensical to aim at secondary purposes of punishment without regard to the primary purpose. The Fathers and Doctors respected the internal relationships of the many goods that flow out of punishment, and organized them according to a hierarchy. The highest ordering principle is "the common good" in its entirety, and within that overarching principle, justice is very close to the top, which is the reason St. Thomas says "the order of justice is the order of the universe." And further, while the state is ordered to many lower-order goods within "the common good", justice is one of the sine non qua goods of the state: a state can be a good state without many lower-order goods, but it cannot be a good state without justice.

      Hence the retributive aspect of punishment cannot be placed lower down in the hierarchy than the secondary goals of punishment.

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  29. Atno

    We are being hysterical because we here are general faithful Catholics and care about the logical implications of what She is trying to say....and we enjoy the debate, if you will.

    And it might be naive to think the “dignity of the person” will only be used to reverse just this one teaching. I for one am glad folks like Feser are pointing out the bad logic.

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    1. The capital punishment debate in the Church is no fun. I don't care about capital punishment at all as a legal matter. The only reason I care about the capital punishment debate is because of its bearing on the credibility of the Magisterium.

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    2. Agreed. Even contemplating the necessity of putting someone to death is a terrible burden.

      I would be pleased as all punch if this pope, or any previous pope had in an ex cathedra statement, explained the prior teaching, and then PROPERLY explained a development of that teaching (in such a way as to conform to the same principles) resulting in a conclusion that we are now obliged to be against the DP. I would happily adopt the new thinking. This change by innuendo and ambiguous implication without ever even attempting to explain and deal with the apparent contradiction to prior teaching is like the death of a thousand cuts.

      If the authorities think that the new teaching is NOT to be considered prudential in nature, I recommend to them that they attempt to make it via an ex cathedra declaration that explicitly asserts that it a moral principle. I invite them to try. I encourage them. Just, (please) make sure their will is up to date.

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  30. The absoluteness of the new teaching is nonsensical. Moving aside the traditional purpose of punishment...think of the most insane criminal you can dream up, and the poorest little jail-less village that must try and contain him....that the villagers can’t protect themselves and end this mans life is just preposterous, especially in light of what the Church has always taught. What is the village to do!?!

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  31. Well, my little Remnant. That's the new teaching. Get used to it. Or depose the pope. Or maybe this part of the End Times,

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  32. The Lonely ProfessorSeptember 23, 2019 at 8:55 AM

    I'm all for honesty among Catholics and Catholic theologians and philosophers, but I'd appreciate some refreshing honesty from Feser as well. He (rightly) dissents because he has powerful reasons to dissent, and the Church's claim to "religious assent" does not and cannot mean one is expected to shut off any and all cognitive faculties. Otherwise the Church merely becomes a new Ministry of Truth: We have always opposed the death penalty (been at war with Eastasia).

    The "prudential judgment" claim strikes me as quite a bit of a cop-out. To say something is immoral (even albeit under certain specific circumstances) is a claim of doctrine of morals, and merely a "prudential judgment". It is a claim that it is intrinsically evil given the circumstances. It is not the same thing as exhorting a State to a grant of clemency, which is something a State prudently can grant, judging that (for whatever reason) some greater good is obtained versus that of strict justice.

    To show how absurd this is, following this principle, we could go from 1) Killing a man is not intrinsically evil to 2) To claim that direct killing of the innocent is intrinsically evil is only a mere "prudential judgment", since it involves circumstances. That's nonsense obviously.

    And there is absolutely no question whatsoever that Pope Francis is saying that in current circumstances the death penalty is immoral, at least in the broader sense of contrary to the Gospel.

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    1. There is no such thing as "intrinsically evil given the circumstances"; it's an incoherent description. Circumstances are not intrinsic to actions (they are things that are 'around' it). And the assumption that calling something immoral implies that it is intrinsically evil is false; most things that are immoral are immoral because they are extrinsically evil, i.e., while they could be done well they are not done in a way appropriate to circumstances.

      The difference between (deliberate) killing in general and (deliberately) killing an innocent is the object of the action, which constitutes the action as what it is, and thus is by definition not a circumstance. It is in-stantial, not circum-stantial.

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    2. He (rightly) dissents because he has powerful reasons to dissent, and the Church's claim to "religious assent" does not and cannot mean one is expected to shut off any and all cognitive faculties.

      Feser does not describe himself as dissenting.

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    3. Lonely, you appear to misunderstand some of the categories of action (and of teaching) under Catholic teaching.

      Under Catholic doctrine, ALL fully voluntary, fully deliberate human acts are either morally good or morally bad in the concrete. If an act is immoral (i.e. morally bad) in the concrete, the cause of its being morally bad can come from one of three types, kinds, or "fonts" that apply to every fully human deliberate choice. (a) it can be bad from its object, which is determined by the species of the act, or its nature. (This font is "general" in character, in that it prescinds from acknowledging and weighing all of the concrete particulars that the acting person was able to consider in choosing the act.) The second is the intention, which is the goal which the person aims to achieve by reason of choosing this act. The third is the set of circumstances that inform the uprightness or defectiveness of the act in its particular character here and now in a concrete situation. As an example of the latter: a road might have a speed limit of 45, but at twilight in a snowstorm, going 45 might be so utterly hazardous as to comprise a wrongful act (imposing on others an undue risk of injury or death). The wrongness doesn't come from the general nature of driving, nor from the intention (to get home quickly) but from the circumstances making driving that fast too unsafe in those specific conditions.

      In Catholic parlance, the consideration of nature, object, or species of the act can be dealt with as a matter of principle because some kinds of acts are ALWAYS wrong, because their wrongness is inherent in the very nature of the act itself. Rape is an example: Whether the woman is young or old, rich or poor, in good or poor health, or any other specific situation, raping her is wrong from the very nature of the human person and the nature of human sexuality. Hence when the Church condemns rape, she can do so at the level of principle and know that this condemnation applies to ALL cases because it applies as a matter of principle.

      Also in Catholic parlance, the expression "prudential judgment" is intended to refer especially to a consideration of the concrete particulars that go into the judgment of whether an act is good or bad in these concrete circumstances, (presumably, because the nature of the act does not condemn it as a matter of course, at the level of principle). Thus, saying "X is a matter of prudential judgment" is not intended to mean or imply that we can make some morally good acts without even applying prudence, but rather (as a negative) we can condemn some acts without the necessity to consider the particular circumstances and details, whereas other acts we can only say they are wrong by taking into account such concrete circumstances - the latter would be prudential judgments.

      The issue of what kind of determination is being advocated here in the CC is significant because the Church DOES NOT CLAIM to have the same access to divine guidance (and even infallibility) about matters of principle and matters of prudential judgment. And, as a result, she does not expect the same kind of assent to teachings of the different sorts.

      Whether Francis's central point in the new 2267 is teaching a matter of principle or a teaching of a matter of prudential determination is highly significant to the kind of assent Catholics are called on to give it.

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    4. The Lonely ProfessorSeptember 23, 2019 at 2:35 PM

      Brandon:

      But that's the whole point. The difference is completely ad hoc. One can always redefine any supposedly extrinsically evil act as intrinsically evil merely by saying the circumstances change the nature of the action. Or vice versa, dependent on the desired conclusion. Just like you do here:

      The difference between (deliberate) killing in general and (deliberately) killing an innocent is the object of the action, which constitutes the action as what it is, and thus is by definition not a circumstance. It is in-stantial, not circum-stantial.

      But I could say the exact same thing about the death penalty.

      The difference between the death penalty in general and using it when not needed to defend society from the aggressor is the object of the action, which constitutes the action as what it is, and thus by definition not a circumstance. It is instantial, not circumstantial.

      No doubt you will argue that there is in this case no difference in the object of the action, but this is purely ad hoc.

      ...most things that are immoral are immoral because they are extrinsically evil, i.e., while they could be done well they are not done in a way appropriate to circumstances.

      OK, but this doesn't get you out of the problem. Is it intrinsically evil to do something in a way not appropriate to circumstances? If not, what makes that evil? There's some virtue, somewhere, that's being violated in order for that particular act to be evil, would you agree? And it's intrinsically evil not to act in a virtuous manner, would you agree?

      Basically it comes down to this. If

      Necessarily, act A is evil.

      is a binding moral teaching of the Church then

      Necessarily, under conditions B, act A is evil.

      should be also. It is not a prudential judgment. It is a moral teaching.



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    5. One can always redefine any supposedly extrinsically evil act as intrinsically evil merely by saying the circumstances change the nature of the action.

      No, again, this is literally incoherent. If it is a circumstance it is not part of the act itself, by definition. If it is part of the object of an action, it is part of the action itself and not a circumstance. And since the object of an action is what you are deliberately trying to do in an action, it is also incoherent to claim that something's being an object or a circumstance is "ad hoc"; you can't arbitrarily "redefine" whether you are deliberately trying to kill an innocent person or not.

      ut I could say the exact same thing about the death penalty.

      And yet you haven't done so, so there is no possible way for me to know what you could possibly mean, particularly since you keep misusing the terms. 'Death penalty' is not an action; it's a genus of punishment. The action would be executing someone. Deliberately executing someone you know to be innocent is intrinsically immoral, because killing an innocent person is what you are trying to do. Whether other kinds of deliberate execution are immoral depend on the object being chosen, not on the circumstances.

      s it intrinsically evil to do something in a way not appropriate to circumstances?

      I just told you. No. It is by definition extrinsically immoral.

      If not, what makes that evil?

      Again, I just told you: inappropriateness of action to circumstances. The circumstances are by definition not part of the action (as, again, I have already told you) so explicitly mentioning them doesn't change anything.

      And it's intrinsically evil not to act in a virtuous manner, would you agree?

      This is gibberish. First, there are many kinds of actions that are "not...in a virtuous manner" that are nonetheless not evil or immoral; bad actions have to be inconsistent with virtue, not just 'not in a virtuous manner'. To claim the latter would require that any sort of defectiveness, wavering, or confusion in how you performed an action would make it immoral, which is absurd. Second, as I already explicitly said, most ways of being immoral get their badness extrinsically; they don't have it intrinsically, which requires a moral inconsistency in the very action itself. Even actions that are immoral are usually so because of their inappropriateness to circumstances.

      If

      Necessarily, act A is evil.

      is a binding moral teaching of the Church then

      Necessarily, under conditions B, act A is evil.

      should be also.


      It does not basically come down to this, because this is irrelevant to the question, which is about whether an act is intrinsically evil or not. But it is also equivocating between the type of act and particular acts of that type. If "Necessarily, act A is evil" is referring to a particular action, then the conclusion doesn't follow, since in the conclusion 'act A' can only be understood as a type (since it's only types that we restrict by conditions). And since you have explicitly said that it is ad hoc whether you are considering the circumstances, this means you are not distinguishing type and token in your premise, making it an illicit inference.

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    6. I accidentally dropped an 'intrinsically' in one sentence; it should read "Whether other kinds of deliberate execution are intrinsically immoral depends on the object being chosen, not on the circumstances."

      The fundamental problem is that you cannot at all make all immorality a matter of intrinsic evil; the whole point of identifying certain kinds of actions as 'intrinsically evil' is to indicate that they get their badness specifically from the object that constitutes the particular action as the kind of action it is. This is explicitly to distinguish such cases from those in which the badness comes from circumstances; things perfectly fine in themselves can be bad for circumstantial reasons. The two cases have to be handled in different ways. This is a fundamental distinction in Catholic moral theology; it has been so literally for centuries. It doesn't magically stop being so because you have, for reasons unknown, decided that all bad actions are intrinsically bad.

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    7. Brandon, I am confused about how ertain conditions are tied to the object of the act rather than being a circumstance. For example, we say, deliberately killing a person is not intrinsically evil, but deliberately killing an *innocent* person is. But how is innocence tied to the object of the act? It seems like it better fits a "circumstance". The innocence of the person seems extrinsic to my action of killing him.

      This seems to be at least in part what the lonely professor is talking about.

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    8. @ Mary Angelica

      That is a good question. Aquinas asks the question whether circumstances can give an act its moral species. His answer is basically no; when what would generally be a circumstance gives moral species, it is in that case part of the object. His example is stealing something from a sacred place. Ordinarily, the location of something is a circumstance of the act, but here it gives the action the species of sacrilege and is part of the object.

      It is not easy to provide an account of this. If one thinks that the object of an act is simply given by what the agent intends (as, for instance, the new natural lawyers do), then it will not make sense to say that the innocence of the victim is part of the object in general. The murderer kills because it is convenient to him; his victim may be innocent, but that is of no interest to him. The thief is looking to steal something valuable; it happens to be in a church, but he does not care about that fact.

      What Aquinas says and what his interpreters have tried to make sense of is that there are certain features of the act which bear especially upon reason and thus contribute to the specification of what one does. That is, again, not so easy to do, but I don't think one should hastily despair of explaining how that is so and why it matters.

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    9. but I don't think one should hastily despair of explaining how that is so and why it matters.

      And, particularly, JPII in Veritatis Splendor gave a very pointed magisterial approval to the Thomistic analysis of the moral act in this way. One might say that the whole point of that encyclical was to assert definitively that there are moral acts that are immoral because the object of the act makes them intrinsically evil. So it is not only a "theological opinion" of how one might approach an understanding of the moral act, it is stronger than that. It is, admittedly, a difficult mental effort to understand how this act includes X as determining its moral species, and that act has X' as a "condition" making it evil circumstantially, when X and X' are very nearly the same thing. That it is difficult to make it manifest does not mean it is wrong.

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  33. The Lonely ProfessorSeptember 23, 2019 at 2:45 PM

    Tony:

    Yes, I know, but the problem is you can't, in fact, prescind from the all the particulars, as I pointed out to Brandon. And when you do give an example of an extrinsically evil act, such as driving home too fast in a snowstorm, it is intrinsically evil considered under another aspect. It is intrinsically evil to endanger your own safety or that of another without a reasonable motive, would you agree?

    Anyway, I think you're using an idiosyncratic meaning of "prudential judgment". So let's be clear on what you're saying. You're saying the Church has the authority to make a statement like

    Necessarily, act A is evil.

    but not a statement like

    Necessarily, if condition B applies, act A is evil.

    Because that would be a mere "prudential judgment".

    However what is normally meant by "prudential judgment" is exactly how fast one could go safely in the snowstorm, NOT that one shouldn't drive too fast in a snowstorm (Which is a "prudential judgment" according to your definition). And the Church doesn't claim competence over matters of automobile design, road design, physics, etc.


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    1. And when you do give an example of an extrinsically evil act, such as driving home too fast in a snowstorm, it is intrinsically evil considered under another aspect. It is intrinsically evil to endanger your own safety or that of another without a reasonable motive, would you agree?

      What constitutes a reasonable motive depends on the circumstances, so no.

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    2. Yes, I know, but the problem is you can't, in fact, prescind from the all the particulars, as I pointed out to Brandon. And when you do give an example of an extrinsically evil act, such as driving home too fast in a snowstorm, it is intrinsically evil considered under another aspect.

      So what you mean to say, Lonely, is that you understand what the Catholic Church teaches, you simply disagree with its teaching.

      OK, fine. You disagree with it. In that case, none of the OTHER Church teachings that hinge on the three component sources of the moral act, including the divisions of authoritative teachings by the Church, are going to be OK with you. Fine. In that case, a lot of the debate in this posting is simply beside the point for you: it is an internal debate among those who DO accept the Church's teaching on the component elements of the moral act and the divisions of authoritative Church teachings.

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  34. I of course like very much Professor Fastiggi's reasoning concerning life terms and the death penalty, but for me, monotheism has always been Janus faced (God loves you, God's people love you, but if you don't respond correctly to that love, you will be tortured in an Auschwitz-like realm for eternity).

    I thus wonder whether a too fastidious Christian liberalism about the death penalty might open up an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance in the average conservative believer: why is it evil for humans to cause individuals to "abandon all hope, ye who enter here," but not for God to do so in eternity?

    It just seems to me that the death penalty is the first domino toward a doctrine of universal salvation. I hope for the day that all traditional monotheisms finally adopt universal salvation. Prospects for the human future will be better for it. But for now it seems like the death penalty is a first skirmish surrounding that larger battle.

    By opposing torture, life sentences, and the death penalty, are contemporary humans better, morally, than the deity of Dante's Inferno?

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    1. As you are hard of thinking, that's not much of a recommendation for Fastiggi.

      Go away.

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  35. Santi,

    You say: "It just seems to me that the death penalty is the first domino toward a doctrine of universal salvation. I hope for the day that all traditional monotheisms finally adopt universal salvation. Prospects for the human future will be better for it."

    Spoken like a Leftist, an Occasionalist, a Truth-Relativist, and a Voluntarist. (I'm not saying you are those things; since I can't possibly know your heart. I'm just saying it's exactly what they'd say, and not what a champion of truth and reason would say.)

    I personally can't think of much that would be worse for the human race than having even one of the traditional monotheisms adopting a doctrine of universal salvation.

    I know it seems nice to those who're thinking in a narrow window of time, but ideas have consequences that play out over centuries. Right now, for example, much of our contemporary inability to rational resolve moral and political debates stems from philosophical errors made in or before the time of Descartes. If we fix those errors now, we can expect human civilization to improve as a result by, oh, maybe the year 2300.

    Now one consequence of any religion which claims to contain "divine revelation" reversing itself on universal salvation is this: It falsifies its own claim to be a true revelation, and extracts itself from the cultural conversation, permanently. It might just as well have shot its adherents in the head.

    Another consequence is that it forces the adherents who continue their adherence to adopt contradictory ideas simultaneously in their heads: X and Not-X are both true. One cannot reify unreason at the heart of one's civilization without consequence. I would expect initial population collapse and eventual economic or technological stagnation to result.

    And yet another consequence is that you have to deny the idea that our choices are formative of what we are. This basically denies human persons the dignity of real causation. Give that notion 400 years to percolate, and every affected society will reject the idea of deservedness in punishment, replacing it with a view of humans as "soft machines" to be tinkered with and manipulated (by whatever means, no matter how torturous) until they do what the manipulators want. I can think of no more permanent road to Orwell's vision of totalitarianism in 1984: "a boot, stamping on a human face, forever."

    In the end, universal salvation is a "soft soap," to use C.S. Lewis' term: A religious indifferentism which logically collapses into hopelessness and despair. But you have to look not at it, but alongside it with an eye towards human history and the playing out of civilizational memes, to see this.

    Anyway, it's false. And that counts against it more than any litany of destructive consequences.

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    1. Please don't feed the troll.

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    2. Santi needs to get lost and you're not helping.

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    3. Oy.

      Thanks, I suppose...but, I can't keep track. Is there an official list of who's been officially designated a "troll" around here, and on what basis?

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    4. Santi, StardustyPsyche, Counter-Rebel, and Danielos are definite trolls. There's also Papalinton, although he hasn't been around for a long time, and some guy called Skeptico or something and the guy with the gorilla in his profile pic (can't recall his name).

      Santi has actually improved a little, but far from enough not to still be a noxious presence. Don Jindra was a troll, but he has pretty much reformed, although he still mostly makes bad arguments.

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    5. R. C., can't we differentiate between a weak and a strong universalism? To say we will all be saved, even against our will, does seem to denigrate our free choices, but I don't see how that is necessarily the case for the claim we can repent post mortem. That would seem to affirm our free choices. Lewis famously talked about hell being locked on the inside, which could imply that those that inside can unlock that door if they choose.

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    6. @R.C. "I personally can't think of much that would be worse for the human race than having even one of the traditional monotheisms adopting a doctrine of universal salvation" - you may be too late. There is no requirement in Rabbinic Judaism to believe in eternal damnation, and few Jews actually do. This is true even among the most conservative, even among the ultra-Orthodox – a widespread belief among the later is that the wicked are punished in hell for a limited period of time, after which they are reincarnated (gilgul) on the earth for another chance at life.

      I don't think universal salvation need require religious indifferentism. Even if everyone arrives at the same final destination, it doesn't mean all roads lead to it. Some roads may be dead ends, and some people may waste a lifetime (even more than a lifetime) going down a dead-end road and getting nowhere; all universal salvation claims is that eventually, after some finite time, even if only after they've been dead for million years, those people will turn back to the right road, and arrive at the final destination, a lot lot later than those who took the right road from the very start.

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    7. R.C.:

      You speak of your desire for a rational resolving of "moral and political debates," and so I simply appeal to your reason.

      Think of these six things: (1) eating penned-up, factory produced pigs; (2) torture; (3) retributive life sentences without any hope of parole; (4) the death penalty; (5) widespread belief in eternal torture in hell; and (6) the demonizing people.

      What do these all have in common? They corrode character and brutalize the human psyche.

      How can one enjoy pleasure and play in the presence of these--either in heaven or on earth--without the practice of severe cognitive dissonance?

      Cognitive dissonance damages the inward heart. This is why I suggest that society would be better off with the end of all six of these--and they all seem to track together. As society questions one, it necessarily questions all six. Why? Because the underlying logic for their abolition is the same.

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    8. What do these all have in common? They corrode character and brutalize the human psyche.

      How can one enjoy pleasure and play in the presence of these--either in heaven or on earth--without the practice of severe cognitive dissonance?


      Ahem...No.

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    9. Thing is if you want to play this sort of game,
      Many of us can't enjoy pleasure and play in presence of the most wicked and irredeemably evil not getting what they deserve. So there is no cognitive dissonance here on part of defenders of these doctrines.

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    10. Red:

      "Ahem...No." Why do you say that? Could you enjoy heaven knowing people are being tortured in hell?

      Out of sight, out of mind?

      And aren't all six of the ways that we clump sentient beings together in preparation for visiting pain upon them (from Abu Ghraib to Auschwitz) frequently committed in a manner such that the average person doesn't have to witness the pain? We bureaucratize a process of pain--and so brutalize the collective conscience.

      Slavery could have been added to the list as well. White southerners in the 19th century South surely practiced cognitive dissonance in relation to blacks.

      And please recall that the death penalty is a white-black issue as well. In practice it has always shown itself to have a strong racial bias component. Given our fraught history in relation to race, how in practical application does one get white judges and juries to apply the concept with equity?

      How could one possibly expect a prominent religious leader like Pope Francis to go on endorsing a form of punishment that has shown itself to have so powerful a racial component at work?

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    11. Red, knock off feeding the trolls. Seriously, I haven't seen the slightest hint of anything worthwhile in your conversations with Santi, from him anyway. He's still a fallacy machine and windbag.

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    12. Anon,
      Ok..but I would say that while my discussion with him hasn't been worthwhile in the sense of changing opinions, I still liked addressing some of his points.

      Santi,
      Like I said I would have liked to address some of your more interesting points, here particularly, I think some of these doctrines in question are more attractive and theoretically benifficial than the contrary. But it seems a really worthwhile discussion can't be had under the circumstances.

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    13. Red:

      No worries. Whatever you determine is fine. And thanks for your ongoing, consistent civility and decency in conversation.

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    14. Santi, what you ignore is that your behavior is not civil to us. To come here and post reams of fallacious nonsense, often off-topic, that clogs up the combox is disrespectful to Feser and this blog.

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  36. Much as I support and agree with Pope Francis' intentions, I wonder if he went about this whole exercise in the best possible way.

    Suppose that he were to present the following idea: As well as there being acts which morality prohibits or requires, there are also acts which it discourages (without prohibiting) or commends (without requiring). What if he was then to say the abolition of the death penalty was a commendable act, and its retention was discouraged? He could then also say, that given that commendable acts are morally superior to discouraged ones, abolitionism is morally superior to retentionism. On the face of it, that would not contradict past Church teaching which permits the death penalty, since permission and discouragement are not necessarily incompatible. It could be supported from the Church Fathers, see Jerome's Letter to Studius. Something's moral status as discouraged or commendable could be principled rather than merely prudential; and a Catholic might be obliged to accept the Pope's teaching on that point. It would be very difficult, even verging on self-contradiction, to defend the retention (or reinstatement) of the death penalty in practice while affirming its in-principle moral inferiority to its abolition.

    I wonder where the debate would be, if he'd put something like what I just said in the Catechism, instead of what he actually did.

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    1. St. Ambrose's letter, not St. Jerome's letter. Not enough sleep.

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    2. While it would be compatible with SOME of the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors, it is incompatible with others, in the following way: Some taught that under the general duty of the state to punish malefactors, it is a good and virtuous thing to punish malefactors to secure and promote the common good with punishments that are proportionate to the crime, and this extends to "the sword", i.e. the DP. Hence, in certain circumstances, it is (according to them) NOT praiseworthy to fail to apply the DP, it is wrong, and harmful to the common good.

      Hence we have even JPII (who greatly disliked the DP) taught that Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.

      The "and duty" implies that while it might be commendable to avoid using the DP in some cases, it is also blameworthy to refuse to use it in some cases. Which seems to reduce to NOTHING ELSE than the very same conclusion JPII had: there is a necessary judgment call, and even if the cases that properly call for the DP are rare, it remains that such cases are possible. And it is a judgment call of the proper civil authorities who have the care of the common good in the temporal order, not the Church.

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    3. It would be very difficult, even verging on self-contradiction, to defend the retention (or reinstatement) of the death penalty in practice while affirming its in-principle moral inferiority to its abolition.

      The prior teaching of the Church is not that DP is "inferior", it is that it should be used only when and as it promotes the common good. In THOSE cases, its use is superior to not using it. It is not "across the board" inferior at all, the "better" and "worse" require an examination of cases, and application of judgment between different particulars.

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    4. @Tony "it would be compatible with SOME of the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors, it is incompatible with others, in the following way" – if it is compatible with some of their teachings, and incompatible with others – well, surely we agree that not everything taught by the Fathers/Doctors is equally binding, so, insofar as the proposition that "DP is in principle morally discouraged in all cases but may nonetheless be morally permissible in some of those cases" contradicts some of those teachings, are those teachings which contradict that proposition irreformable?

      With respect to "Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense", I don't think that means that there is a duty (in any case) to impose the death penalty. There is nothing in the Catechism (even under JP2's wording) that requires one to believe that there exists a crime so heinous that the death penalty would be the only proportionate punishment, such that the State would be under a moral obligation (as opposed to merely a moral permission) to impose the death penalty. There is nothing in the Catechism which implies that the duty could not be discharged by non-lethal means in every case, even if the State has the moral discretion to discharge it by lethal means in some of those cases. If one believes that there is no offence so heinous that, were the State to punish it with life imprisonment without parole, one could charge the State with having sinfully failed to obey its duty to inflict proportionate punishment–such a belief doesn't contradict the Catechism.

      Suppose Hitler had been captured alive at the end of World War II, and was put on trial for the Holocaust, among other myriad crimes. There is nothing in Catholic doctrine which requires one to believe that the victorious Allies would have had the duty, as opposed to merely the permission, of executing Hitler. Suppose, against all probability, the victorious Allies decided to imprison him for life instead. I don't believe there is anything in Catholic doctrine that would require one to believe that such mercy would be sinful. But, if there is no moral duty to execute Hitler, there is no moral duty to execute anybody.

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    5. if it is compatible with some of their teachings, and incompatible with others – well, surely we agree that not everything taught by the Fathers/Doctors is equally binding, so, insofar as the proposition that "DP is in principle morally discouraged in all cases but may nonetheless be morally permissible in some of those cases"

      You have misunderstood my point, so let me clarify. If Bishop X had said "don't execute these criminals...", then the new teaching would be compatible with that. But if Bishop X had said "...you should reserve the DP for more serious crimes", then the new teaching would NOT be compatible with the second part of what X said. Taken as a WHOLE, the new teaching is not compatible with what Bishop X taught.

      Now, development moves in one direction only. By teaching as he did in 405, Innocent I effectively implied (at least) that "when certain of the bishops of the last 3 centuries said 'don't execute criminals' they were speaking from a narrow perspective that referred to certain cases, or certain officials, etc; in general there is nothing from the Apostles that forbids the DP, and so we must take those instances of bishops repudiating the DP as limited in scope." The new teaching is "compatible" with those earlier bishops in their limited scope, but not compatible with Innocent's more general declaration. But by trying to NOT be limited in scope, that means that the new teaching is not compatible with the old teaching as developed.

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    6. There is nothing in the Catechism (even under JP2's wording) that requires one to believe that there exists a crime so heinous that the death penalty would be the only proportionate punishment, such that the State would be under a moral obligation (as opposed to merely a moral permission) to impose the death penalty. There is nothing in the Catechism which implies that the duty could not be discharged by non-lethal means in every case,

      The Catechism is not the repository of the entire Deposit of Faith.

      On the contrary, the Bible repeatedly displays the DP as the proportionate punishment for certain crimes, and for certain heinous crimes it forbids the Isrealites to allow the criminal to run off to the sanctuary cities (as it allows for other crimes that are classed as capital crimes). Further, in Luke 23:39-41 we have the good thief assert the justice of the DP.

      One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

      But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”


      It is inconceivable that the inspiration that the Good Thief was under that enabled him to accept grace moving him to repentance also had him utter an erroneous message about the justice of his punishment, and that the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include this statement in the Gospel without any corrective to it.

      It is, further, an error to think that "while the DP might be within the class of proportionate punishments for X crime, so is the lesser sentence of life in prison, and so we should always prefer to use life in prison." The sheer FACT that people find the DP so horrific and urge so strongly against it is clear evidence that THEY don't think both punishments are proportionate to the same class of crimes: if one is proportionate, the other is not, because there is too great a divide between those two kinds of punishment for them to be FULLY proportionate to the same crime.

      There is, also, ample evidence from natural law and positive (human law) that the DP is in fact proportionate to some crimes and any lesser punishment is not. See this discussion for a (small) elaboration of the point, though much more could be said:

      http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2019/01/death_penalty_and_proportional.html

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    7. @Tony, Pope Innocent I said: “It must be remembered that power was granted by God, and to avenge crime the sword was permitted; he who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister. What motive have we for condemning a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? (Innocent 1, Epist. 6, C. 3. 8, ad Exsuperium, Episcopum Tolosanum, 20 February 405, PL 20,495)

      That doesn't appear to be talking about the morally excusable/discouraged or the morally praiseworthy/commendable, only about the distinction between that which is permissible and that which ought to be condemned. It says nothing against the idea that the death penalty is permitted-but-discouraged. Even when it calls the one who carries out vengeance "God's minister" – the state can act as God's minister in vengeance even when it punishes by non-lethal means, such as imprisonment, fines, etc. The state is acting as God's minister whenever it punishes, whether it does so in a commendable way, or a permitted-yet-discouraged way.

      I don't think OT passages imposing the death penalty prove that it cannot belong to the category of the morally discouraged. Jesus said that some of the provisions in the Torah (those allowing divorce) were there due to "hardness of heart" (Matthew 19:8), and quite possibly the same is true of aspects of OT criminal law as well. Something which may be required under the Old Law may no longer be required under the New Law, but may have moved to another category – permission, prohibition, or discouragement. The New Law expresses divine law more perfectly than the Old Law did. The OT mandates the death penalty in multiple places; the NT never once mandates the death penalty, although there are passages which express some permission for it; the later more perfectly reflects the divine law than the former.

      When the Good Thief says that he was punished justly, he was admitting that he had done wrong which deserved punishment. I don't think we should take his words as commenting on the proportionality of his punishment per se. Otherwise, we might be forced to endorse the position that death by crucifixion is a proprtionate and proper punishment for theft, but even many supporters of capital punishment would not want to go that far – both on the grounds that theft alone does not deserve the death penalty (although, the Gospel does not report his exact offense, so maybe it was more serious than mere theft, but then again maybe it was not) and also on the grounds that less barbaric methods of execution ought to be employed than crucifixion.

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  37. There is nothing in Catholic doctrine which requires one to believe that the victorious Allies would have had the duty, as opposed to merely the permission, of executing Hitler.

    Allowing him to live and sentencing him (and I suppose all of his fellow conspirators in war crimes and genocide, down to the on the ground perpetrators) to life imprisonment would have been very harmful to the common good.

    So there probably was a duty on the temporal power to execute notorious and scandalous criminals like these. Rather than protecting and preserving them and looking like you were validating and giving credibility to their genocidal political ideology and war effort in the process.

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    1. The claim that sentencing Hitler (and his subordinates) to life imprisonment "would have been very harmful to the common good" is simply your opinion, with which others are free to disagree. Binding Catholic doctrine nowhere says that the State has a duty (as opposed to permission) to impose the penalty of death in any particular case.

      Is sentencing Nazis to life imprisonment "validating and giving credibility to their genocidal political ideology and war effort"? So, when the tribunal at Nuremberg sentenced Walther Funk, Rudolf Hess and Erich Raeder to life imprisonment, and also sentenced Karl Donitz, Konstantin von Neurath and Albert Speer to shorter terms of imprisonment, it was validating and giving credibility to their genocidal political ideology and war effort? And I take it that when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced Jean-Paul Akayesu to life in prison for his role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, it was validating and giving credibility to the ideology behind that genocide?

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    2. Binding Catholic doctrine nowhere says that the State has a duty (as opposed to permission) to impose the penalty of death in any particular case.

      While I don't think you would assert the following, the way you phrased this argument slides quite well into this: "Binding Catholic teaching says that "adultery is wrong", but there is no binding Catholic teaching that adultery between this person John and that person Jane is wrong. You won't find finding Catholic teaching saying that." In a case where the state judges that the proportionate punishment is DP and no lesser punishment is proportionate, the logic of the case implies the state's duty is not fully met with a lesser punishment.

      The only way to escape that result is to teach that the DP IS NEVER the proportionate punishment for any crimes - but this is a teaching that would contradict prior teaching. Which the pope said he wasn't doing.

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    3. Is sentencing Nazis to life imprisonment "validating and giving credibility to their genocidal political ideology and war effort"? So, when the tribunal at Nuremberg sentenced Walther Funk, Rudolf Hess and Erich Raeder to life imprisonment, and also sentenced Karl Donitz, Konstantin von Neurath and Albert Speer to shorter terms of imprisonment, it was validating and giving credibility to their genocidal political ideology and war effort?


      The Allies spared some repentant top Nazis (or Hess, who was insane) but executed or enslaved 10,000s of others, many of them much more minor collaborators and supporters.

      The Western allies were more merciful because the Nazis did not engage in genocide against Western nations and these countries suffered much fewer military losses.

      And yes, not executing and enslaving these individuals would have validated their ideology in the eyes of its supporters and former soldiers, besides being actively dangerous and burdensome for the society that had to host them. It's partly academic because there was almost zero chance that peoples whose nations the Nazis invaded and wrecked weren't going to take violent revenge on them and, unfortunately, ethnic German people in general.

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  38. It is certainly true that the Good Thief deserved death for his offenses, but that does not mean that the state had the obligation (or even necessarily the right) to execute him. As a character in a novel by a well-known Catholic writer once said: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement."

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    1. but that does not mean that the state had the obligation (or even necessarily the right) to execute him

      Seamus, it is a valid point that the full and complete "just desserts" that are proper recompense for an offense may be more than is applicable to the civil authority: a grave offense not only offends against the civil order, it also offends God. And the civil authorities are not specifically constituted to address that aspect of the offense that is directed at God and does not bear on the civil order itself.

      As a result, some people argue that "even though X crime is evil enough to justify the DP as a proportionate punishment, it does not belong to MAN to punish with death, only to God alone (Who has the final say on redressing ALL injustices with a completed retribution.) But contrary to this position we have two passages in Scripture: in Genesis 9:6, God says to Noah of a murderer "by man shall his blood be shed", thus revealing that man has a proper role in applying the DP. In the New Testament, in Romans 13:4, St. Paul teaches that God delegates to man, in the civil authority to deal in retributive justice on God's behalf, even to the point of "the sword", i.e. even to the extent of capital punishment. Thus St. Paul's thesis is witness to both (a) that civil offenses, even with respect only to the limited evil in them being addressed by the civil authority, can warrant the DP as the proportionate punishment, and (b) that man is a proper agent to carry out that punishment as well.

      As a character in a novel by a well-known Catholic writer once said: "Many ..." JRRT would have been happy to see Gandalf's admonition taken to heart by civil authorities not being too eager to resort to the DP. This does not lead to the conclusion that he meant that it should never be used, even after a lengthy, dispassionate, carefully judged case determines that the DP is the best way to serve the common good.

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    2. Tony:

      You wrote that the death penalty may be deployed after "a lengthy, dispassionate, carefully judged case determines that the DP [death penalty] is the best way to serve the common good."

      Notice that you've slipped away from the individual case before a jury to a determination of the common good--which is a broader political calculation concerning competing goods.

      For example, given that white jurors statistically recommend the death penalty for blacks far more than for whites, racial bias's expression necessarily becomes subtractive of the common good. Is racial bias to be rendered a secondary consideration to whatever good you imagine the death penalty brings to society? If so, how does one arrive at such an ordering of values (racial bias concerns subsumed to deterrence)?

      Also, you are not considering the bureaucratization of the death penalty, which arguably brutalizes the collective psyche via cognitive dissonance (out of sight, out of mind, which is akin to how people feel about eating industrial produced pigs: they don't see the conditions of mass production or witness the deaths).

      In terms of the common good, the question thus becomes: should a mixed race democracy with a fraught history of race relations have a bureaucratic prison infrastructure that includes a disproportionate number of brown people sitting on death row?

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  39. Even if Feser's option that the Pope was speaking of there not being situations anymore where the DP is allowed, we still have the Pope teaching that you can't do it for justice sakes alone

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    1. If I understand Feser's point, this too is part of the prudential judgment that does not require religious assent.

      The prior teaching was that the primary purpose of punishment is for justice, and the other purposes are secondary, then it is a logical conclusion of that relationship of purposes that it IS legitimate to use DP when justice calls for it, even if none of the other purposes do. If the current pope is asserting the contrary, then this would seem to be teaching in contradiction to the earlier teaching - which he claimed he was not doing.

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    2. Tony:

      You wrote: "The prior teaching was that the primary purpose of punishment is for justice, and the other purposes are secondary."

      But what about racial justice? Is that secondary?

      In other words, justice itself is not a stand alone, unified concept, but a concept necessarily in tension with itself, entailing competing goods.

      For example, given that white juries recommend the death penalty for black defendants more than for white defendants, shall we have the death penalty to serve justice for the victim, or shall we have the abolition of the death penalty for the systematic reduction of unjust racial bias in the court system (racial justice).

      Victim justice or racial justice?

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  40. Thanks so much for slinging it out in the trenches. I know it's boring arguing with somebody who keeps committing the most basic fallacies. But it was the arguments of the nominalists that made me an essentialist. In the same way Fastiggi, and others like him, are doing great work converting people to the traditional (ie, Catholic) position on the DP.

    So you're doing good work, even though it must feel like arguing with a brick wall.

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    1. Edward:

      You wrote, "[I]t was the arguments of the nominalists that made me an essentialist."

      I doubt it.

      How do you know that you are not engaging in a correlation-causation fallacy here? Maybe it's more complicated than that; maybe it's not Fastiggi's fault.

      In other words, what if you are temperamentally inclined to reject nuance and change, and so you naturally recoil from arguments from anyone that might advance them?

      If this is the case, then you could be arriving at your position, not out of a dispassionate weighing of arguments, but out of fear and desire.

      Deities (presumably free of fear and desire) don't philosophize. People do.

      So I think you may be minimizing the role that temperament, emotions, desires, and aversions play in where we start and stop our arguments--and what we take to necessarily follow from our premises and arguments.

      For example, I don't know how people could imagine enjoying heaven knowing that so many others were being tortured in hell simultaneously. But there are people who temperamentally see no incoherence in it.

      You may just be of the tribe of temperamental conservatives attracted, out of desire, to conservative philosophy, religion and politics; to attributing to your signifiers forever stable signifieds, etc. This may be what pleases you, as a fetishist is pleased by high heels.

      As a liberal, I too have my intellectual high heel fetishes that please me, and that I return to (deconstruction, Rorty, etc.).

      I find Feser's books to be a pleasure (perhaps I'm intellectually bisexual?), but given my temperament I also find myself turning in my attractions to nominalist play.

      Truth or play?

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    2. Nope. Really. It was the terrible, illogical arguments of the nominalists. Happy Michaelmas!

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  41. When did Pope Francis say that he wasn't contradicting any past Popes? His teaching, in accord with JPII's, is that although justice is the main objective of punishment, but that human dignity is not taken away by crime. So the criminal cannot be put to death unless it is a danger to someone else. Like killing someone on LSD who is trying to kill you. It's like that. The human dignity angle has been formulated by at least two Popes, and can overturn previous teachings if there are such

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    1. When did Pope Francis say that he wasn't contradicting any past Popes?

      Well, Greg, Francis had Cardinal Ladaria, his prefect for the Congregation of the Faith issue the "Letter to the Bishops" on the revision to the Catechism. The pope clearly approved the letter. In it, Ladaria said the following:

      7. The new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope Francis, situates itself in continuity with the preceding Magisterium ...

      8. All of this shows that the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.


      He didn't say "is not in contradiction to the teachings of John Paul II, but of course it contradicts the teachings of prior popes." He said "is not in contradiction to the prior teachings of the Magisterium."

      I think that's pretty straightforward.

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    2. Since it is not in contradiction according to the CDF then we can cite that same Magisterium that says we are free to disagree with the Pope on the DP and that such disagreement does not deprive us of communion like persons who support Abortion or Euthanasia or Contraception.

      With that in mind the change is a big nothing burger and it shows how the Pope can't just sit around and do nothing. He has to get off his duff and clarify. Till he does as I told the anti-DP fanatics I am 100% for the DP & will till someone clearly tells me different.

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  42. The "use of the sword" is badly used by DP supporters. A sword could be used to disarm someone with a sword and imprison him

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    1. The actual Greek word, macairus, is effectively the word that they would have used to refer to the Roman short sword - the standard empire-wide equipment of the entire Roman armies, and the weapon with which they conquered half the known world. The Fathers are consistent in interpreting Paul to be referring to the penal authority here, (not merely the police function), and that "the sword" is intended to refer even to the extent of DP.

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  43. The Church has never given the list of Fathers, so Trents statement about them being together infallible has no efficacy. Even the decrees making someone a Doctor of the Church never claim to be infallible. Feser is bassing his dissent from the common voice of the Church on fallible things from previous generations. Strange

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  44. wonderful work dr feser simply wonderful thank you for all you do in your service to the church.

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  45. The deepened moral principle is the principle of the sanctity of life. The teaching of Francis about the inadmissibility of the Death Penalty flows from that principle, developing its consequences. Sanctity means that God and not the state is the Lord of Life.

    What Francis has pronounced regarding the Death Penalty is prudential in a particular sense: he judges that it is prudent at this juncture of history to pronounce the inadmissibility of the Death Penalty. He is thus reading the signs of the times, which means acting prudentially.

    Why should it be prudent at this juncture of history to pronounce inadmissibility?

    Inadmissible must be understood as morally inadmissible. Francis is not saying merely that the Death Penalty is a bad idea in some ill-defined way. He is saying that it is wrong.

    The reason why the death penalty is not declared to be a sin is simply because its moral subject is the state and not a person. It is not a sin, but a structure of sin. (Cfr. John Paul II in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia).

    But how is it possible that it should become prudent (all of a sudden!) to pronounce the inadmissibility of the Death Penatly? If it is prudent in the pontificate of Pope Francis, wouldn´t it have been prudent for all of the predecessors of Fancis to have done so and imprudent not to have done so? If Capital Punishment is a structure of sin in the conemporary world would it not have always been a structure of sin, and does it not follow from the fact that the Church did not condemn it prior to the pontificate of Pope Francis that the Church had been culpably remiss in her social doctrine?

    Wht resolves this problem is a sense of history, and especially a sense of the history of the Church. The Social Doctrine of the Church dates from the Nineteenth Century, though to say this is not to deny that this Social Doctrine has its roots in the Gospel and in the Catholic theological tradition. When John XXIII elaborated a full articulation of human rights in his social encyclicals he was doing something new, and when the Council and John Paul II articulate the doctrinal foundation of universal human rights they are doing something which is likewise new and important. And when Francis affirms the sanctity of life as he denies to the state the prerogative of Capital Punishment he is likewise doing something new and important.

    The state in the modern sense is the state in the proper sense. And the state in the proper sense is a new thing. And if we are speaking in the proper sense it becomes clear that it is simply anachronistic to maintain that the Church has always approved of the Death Penalty.

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  46. 1. Feser tells us that since the Catechism tells us that Capital Punishment is never permissible, this must be understood in one of two ways: it must either be telling us that it is in principle never permissible, or that it is in practice never permissible.

    In the first case, he correctly argues, the pronouncement is doctrinal, while in the second it is merely a prudential judgement.

    But it is clear that in this sense the Catechism is making a doctrinal pronouncement, because it simply tells us that CP is never permissible

    To say that CP is in practice never permissible is to weaken the force of never.

    John Paul II had already told us that given the circumstances of our age, there would be few circumstances in which an option for “Capital Punishment” could be justified. This is a prudential judgement.
    It it is not, however, merely merely a prudential judgement.

    The sensible reading of John Paul II entails that the change of circumstances according to which there is presently hardly ever justification for “Capital Punishment” is regarded as a good thing, indicative of the moral progress of humanity, the growth which is of the very essence of natural law. Feser´s conception of natural law ignores the reality of this growth, but that is his problem, and not the problem of John Paul II.

    This implies in turn that “Capital Punishment” is regarded globally as bad thing, a physical evil, if not a moral evil (malus intrinsicus).
    Here you have the basis of the doctrinal development which has now been concretized in the Catechism.
    If you wonder why I put Capital Punishment in quotation marks, I will get to that presently.

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  47. 2. Feser argues that if “Capital Punishment” is not intrinsically wrong “Capital Punishment” by rape would still be wrong, because rape is intrinsically wrong.

    This is fine as far as it goes, that is it is fine if I get to keep Capital Punishment enclosed in quotation marks. It illustrates the teaching of Veritatis Splendor that there are acts which are intrinsically and always wrong, and which may never therefore be realized as means towards my end.

    But it does not help me to show that Capital Punishment is not intrinsically wrong, while rape is.
    The problem here is that one is comparing apples and oranges: Capital Punishment is not intrinsically wrong simply because it is not an actus humanus.
    That does not however make Capital Punishment belong to the genus of indifferent acts which are neither good nor evil but which may be either good or evil in a given context.

    Capital Punishment, according to the teaching of the Catechism should be classified, rather, under those structures of sin, which John Paul II speaks of in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia. Capital Punishment, though it is not an intrinsically disordered actus humanus, is still wrong, and the Church may thus affirm that it is never permissible as a consequence of natural law.


    Since it is not in the strict sense a matter of Faith or morals, the condemnation of Capital Punishment cannot be considered an act of the Extraordinary Magisterium which pronounces infallibly.

    Still it can and does fall under the class of teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium which bind the conscience of Catholics.

    It falls namely under the Social Doctrine of the Church.

    Though the Social Doctrine of the Church does not directly concern morals, it does impinge on moral decision-making. Hence Christians cannot simply wash their hands of this Social Doctrine.

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  48. 3. The Church does not forbid the use special modes of language. In fact it will never do so, because to do so would create a short-circuit in human communication.

    Human communication has different registers, and though formal language may be preferible in the abstract, there exist situations in which special forms of language may be necessary and good.

    When John the Baptist told soldiers that what God wanted from them was that they be content with their pay and to avoid pillaging, he used language accessible to them.

    Likewise when Father James Martin exercises his apostolate with lgbt persons he uses a language accessible to them.

    Certain people have attacked Father Martin for not “teaching the whole catechism,” but what he is doing is exactly what John the Baptist did when he spoke to the soldiers. He is using a special form of language: one which is pastorally adequate.

    Today´s rigorists argue that homosexuality is different, because it is intrinsically wrong. But ii is also intrinsically wrong for persons to solve conflicts by violence: to do so violates the Fifth Commandment which forbids killing/murder.
    So if I am bound to preach the whole catechism at homosexuals I am also bound to preach the whole Catechism at military men.

    But I would argue that there are circumstances in which preaching the whole catechism is imprudent. It is too much.

    In such cases there arises a need for special modes of language.


    The Church has rightfully used such modes in dealing with sinners. In dealing with politicians and soldiers the Church has produced “Just War Theory” and justifications of “Capital Punishment.”

    Yet in due course the Church has clarified and developed her teaching in these matters, and made improvements in her Catechism: the complete Catechism is there when one needs it.


    In the past the Church has availed itself of special modes of language to deal with difficult cases with just urbanity and sophistication; it knew how to put certain expressions in quotation marks (literally or figuratively) in order to recognize recalcitrant forms of reality


    And it is the same today.

    And just as in the past there are those who accuse the Church of ambiguity.

    Father Chiodi who is regarded in certain quarters as representative of the Bolshevik faction at the john Paul II Institute got pilloried for having said in a conference that contraception in certain circumstances might be necessary.

    But the problem he did not say that. What he said was that contraception “tra virgolette” (i.e. in quotation marks) might be necessary. This is quite different.

    What he was doing was admit the difficulties of language, or in other words, admitting realistically the existence of difficult cases that need discernment. He was making the point that Pope Francis makes in Amoris Laetitia. And sometimes it is necessary to do this. This does not mean that one gives up and doesn´t search for all the necessary distinctions and discernment that one needs to arrive at clarity in due course. One is, rather, affirming the need for discernment.

    (And curiously, the New Champions of academic freedom at the John Paul II Institute seem to be oblivious to the injustice that has been done to Father Chiodi.)


    If you say that Fr. Chiodi and Fr. Martin are ambiguous, you must also say that the Church was ambiguous when it defended “Capital Punishment” and when it taught “Just War Theory” and you must also say that John the Baptist was ambiguous in merely telling the soldiers to be content with their pay and to avoid pillaging, instead of giving them a full treatise on the Social Doctrine of the Church and you must say of course that Jesus was ambiguous when he sat down to eat with sinners and when he gave time to publicans and prostitutes without preaching the whole Catechism at them.

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  49. As an Orthodox Christian I hesitate to make a comment, but I must reject the relativistic theory that if capital punishment is sanctioned by scripture as understood by the tradition of the Church as expressed through the Fathers and Doctors that a present Pope can change doctrine. We are no better than our predecessors, have no greater wisdom than St Paul, St Augustine or the Doctors of the Church or any greater claim to knowledge of the truth. St Augustine taught that the Church was in but not of the world. Social attitudes have changed in the past 50 years, including as regards capital punishment, but none of this should be of any concern to the Church whose teaching is rooted in scripture as understood through tradition. Whatever some European court says is simply neither here or there, it represents the moral judgments of the individual judges; in my country (the UK) the highest court has repeatedly upheld life sentences without parol on prudential grounds. The redemption of the offender sentenced to death or life imprisonment is to be found in his acceptance of his punishment, submission to God and seeking divine grace for forgiveness of sins. There is no need for the temporal “redemption” of criminals by letting them out to form a new life, or commit further crimes. This is a category mistake. Love the sinner but hate the sin does not require that prudential judgments by the secular arm as to temporal punishment and protection of the public should be discarded. Redemption is always possible for cardinal sins.

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  50. I meant venial sins and do not wish to spread any new heresy.

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  51. The mistake you are making, is that The Church has always taught, that the intellect is per se infallible.

    The reason, John Paul, never came out and said, what Francis has said, about the death penalty, despite the fact, that he wanted to, was because he knew (was not of the opinion), but knew, that it was as clear a contradiction of The Gospel as you are likely to find, as anyone, who isn't pathologically intellectually dishonest or an ideological zealot, ought to recognise, and so, if someone, claiming to be a Catholic, told me, that they did not accept this doctrine, I would hand them Prof. Fesser's book, together with a copy of Denzigger, preferably, not the one edited by Festiggi, which removes 3 paragraphs from Quanta Cura, and explain to them, that there cannot be contradictions of previous Catholic teaching (something, that is moral and permissible, in principle, cannot become immoral and impermissible, in principle), and quote Pope Leo XIII, who said:

    "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)."

    In other words, no matter, who this person might be, who would attempt to correct me, I would not change my opinion, no matter what, because there is no objective impairment to me being able to discern the truth of the statement, that anyone, who pertinaciously, denies the pre-Francis teaching on the death penalty, is a heretic, and ejects themselves from The Church.

    On the contrary, I expect them to modify their judgement, in light of the truth a child would have no trouble demonstrating, and not even a putative pope could persuade me to change mine, not because I have some particular commitment to this doctrine, but because I believe, that The Church is established by The Second Person of The Holy Trinity, protected from error by The Third Person of The Holy Trinity, that God is not a modernist or a relativist, and that He, does not contradict Himself, and would never allow His religion, to teach evil and error, at all, let alone, for 4000 years. As Saint Paul says:

    "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema."

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  52. I should also add, that if Francis, is not saying 'something different', then there is no reason for him to have changed the CCC, because one thing is clear, he hasn't made it clearer or this discussion, wouldn't be taking place.

    And if he is saying 'something different', then as Prof. Fesser says, he needs to simply, affirm that the death penalty, is still admissible, in principle, and is not intrinsically, immoral, which it either is or is not, but Francis, refuses to do this, and so it seems are those carrying his water for him.

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