I’m going to take a break from the topic of the death penalty soon – I’m quite sick of it myself, believe you me – but the trouble is that critics of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed keep saying things that demand a response. The latest example is Prof. Robert Fastiggi, who in a series of combox remarks has replied to my recent Catholic World Report article on capital punishment and the ordinary magisterium. Once again, he ties himself in ever more convoluted logical knots trying to justify the unjustifiable, viz. the possibility of a reversal of 2000 years of clear and unbroken magisterial and scriptural teaching. But the attempt is well worth calling attention to, because it shows just how far one has to go through the looking glass in order to try to avoid the implications of the evidence Joe Bessette and I have set out in our book.
Since one of his more oversensitive admirers has falsely accused me of gratuitous attacks on Prof. Fastiggi, I want to preface the remarks that follow by saying that they are in no way intended personally. On the contrary, I admire Prof. Fastiggi for his unwavering dedication to the Church, for his erudition, and for the unfailingly gentlemanly way he has engaged his critics both in the debate over capital punishment and in the other, often heated, theological debates that have arisen during the pontificate of Pope Francis. Prof. Fastiggi hits hard but he plays fair. I am only doing the same. (And any reader offended by the occasional joke or Photoshop image needs to get a sense of humor.)
Let me start with Prof. Fastiggi’s strangest remark. In my article, I cited the CDF document Donum Veritatis, which rejects the thesis that the magisterium could be “habitually mistaken” in its prudential judgments. I argued that if the Church could not be habitually mistaken even in her prudential judgments, then a fortiori she could hardly be habitually mistaken on much graver matters of moral principle and scriptural interpretation. Now, the Church has for two millennia taught that the death penalty is legitimate at least in principle, and done so on biblical grounds. Hence, if she were to reverse this teaching – which Fastiggi claims is possible – then it would follow that the Church would be saying that she has after all been habitually mistaken, for two millennia, about grave matters of moral principle and scriptural interpretation. Therefore, I concluded, the Church cannot carry out such a reversal, consistent with her claims about her own infallibility.
Here is how Fastiggi responds:
Professor Feser, in his book co-authored with Prof. Bessette, states that St. John Paul II’s position [according to which capital punishment should be applied very rarely at most] “is a mistake, and a serious one” (p. 197). This, though, means that since 1995 the magisterium has been habitually mistaken on a prudential judgment (and it’s really much more than prudential). Feser, therefore, contradicts the very passage from the CDF’s 1990 instruction, Donum Veritatis, that he cites… To suggest that the magisterium has been habitually mistaken for 23 years on the death penalty seems very problematical. Does not Feser believe that the Church’s magisterium has enjoyed divine assistance in the last 23 years with regard to capital punishment?
End quote. So, according to Fastiggi, it “seems very problematical” to suppose that the magisterium could have gotten a prudential judgment wrong for 23 years, but not problematical to suppose that the magisterium could have gotten a matter of basic moral principle and scriptural interpretation wrong for two millennia. What can one say about such a manifestly absurd position other than that it is manifestly absurd? I am sorry if that sounds unkind to Prof. Fastiggi, but the offended reader should worry less about whether this judgment sounds unkind, and more about whether it is true. And if the reader thinks it is not true, I challenge him to explain exactly how this particular view of Prof. Fastiggi’s can be defended against the charge of absurdity.
Furthermore, I am also puzzled that someone with Prof. Fastiggi’s knowledge of Church history would think 23 years is a long time for the magisterium to have gotten a prudential judgment wrong. By the standards of Church history, 23 years is a mere blip. Moreover, there are many examples of bad prudential judgments that have stood for comparable lengths of time.
Take, for example, the notorious Cadaver Synod and its aftermath, which not only involved the bizarre spectacle of Pope Stephen VI putting the corpse of his predecessor Pope Formosus on trial and then desecrating it, but also Stephen’s nullifying all of Formosus’ official acts and declaring his ordinations invalid. Two later popes and two synods reversed Stephen’s decision, but then a yet later pope, Sergius III, and a synod he called, reversed that decision and reaffirmed Stephen’s judgments. Sergius also had his predecessor murdered and backed up his reaffirmation of Stephen’s decrees with threats of violence. The whole sorry spectacle was initiated by a scandalous and indeed insane public act by one pope, reinforced by gravely immoral acts by another, involved contradictory judgments made by several popes and synods, and lasted for about 15 years. As The Oxford Dictionary of Popes notes, given that the sacraments and much of the life of the Church depend on the validity of ordinations and the reliability of official papal acts, “the resulting confusion was indescribable” (p. 119).
Or consider the Great Western Schism, which lasted for forty years. It was a consequence of mistakes made by Pope Urban VI, whom the Catholic Encyclopedia describes as “obstinate and intractable” and “inconstant and quarrelsome,” with “his whole reign [being] a series of misadventures.” It was perpetuated by further decisions made by other members of the hierarchy. At the lowest point of the schism there were three men claiming to be the true pope, and theologians, and indeed even figures who would later be recognized as saints, were divided on the issue. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “to contemporaries this problem [seemed]… almost insoluble.”
Further examples could easily be given, but these suffice to show that it is possible for grave prudential errors to persist for years. In comparison with the Cadaver Synod and the Great Western Schism, the hypothesis that recent popes have been mistaken in their prudential judgment that capital punishment is no longer necessary for the protection of society is actually pretty modest.
Now, if a mistake that persists even for decades wouldn’t count as “habitual” in the sense ruled out by Donum Veritatis, then what would count as “habitual” prudential error? For exactly how many years would the mistake have to persist? That’s a good question, but we needn’t give a precise answer for present purposes. We need only note that, since the Church is 2000 years old, we can be certain that a mistake that persists for 2000 years would count as “habitual” in the relevant sense. But that is precisely the kind of mistake that Prof. Fastiggi (not me!) thinks might be attributable to the Church. Indeed, he thinks the Church might have been wrong for that long about matters of moral principle and scriptural interpretation, and not merely about a prudential judgment. So, how Fastiggi can maintain a straight face while suggesting that he is somehow more loyal to the teaching of Donum Veritatis than I am, I have no idea. But I would certainly think twice before playing poker against him.
Then there is Prof. Fastiggi’s assertion – and sheer assertion is all that it is – that Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on capital punishment was “much more than prudential.” Now, Joe Bessette and I devote over fifty pages of our book (pp. 144-196) to a careful analysis of the statements made on the subject of capital punishment by popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. We address in detail all the arguments made by theologians who claim that the teaching of these popes counts as either a reversal or development of doctrine, and we show that those arguments fail. We do so in a sober and scholarly manner, in no way heaping any abuse on those who disagree with us. We claim to establish that the teaching of these popes is indeed nothing more than a prudential judgment that is not binding on Catholics.
Not one of the critics of our book who appeals to Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching has addressed these arguments. Hart and Griffiths assert that we are wrong, but do absolutely nothing to back up this assertion other than to fling insults. Brugger and Fastiggi, to their credit, do not resort to insult, but they too simply make undefended assertions, without answering the arguments in the relevant section of By Man. Since they offer no actual criticisms of those arguments, they really give me nothing to respond to. Suffice it to say that their silence speaks volumes.
Let’s move on to some of Prof. Fastiggi’s other comments. In my Catholic World Report article I had also appealed to the teaching of Lumen Gentium 12, which says that the entire body of the faithful cannot err when they show universal agreement on a matter of faith and morals. Fastiggi responds:
Feser… fails, though, to mention that this universal agreement “is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God.” This last sentence underlines the role of the magisterium in determining whether a teaching is definitive and infallible or whether it isn’t.
End quote. The first thing to say in response to this is that I certainly agree that the universal agreement of the faithful would have to be in harmony with the judgment of the magisterium. Indeed, that follows trivially from the fact that the magisterial authorities are themselves included among the faithful. So, I obviously wasn’t talking about a case where the body of the faithful think one thing and the magisterium thinks another. Rather, the universal agreement that I was speaking of, and that Lumen Gentium is speaking of, has to do with a situation where the magisterium and the faithful at large are all in agreement on some matter of faith and morals. And what I noted was that the magisterium and the faithful as a whole were for centuries in agreement on the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment. Therefore, given the teaching of Lumen Gentium, that teaching cannot be erroneous.
But Fastiggi seems to think that even this centuries-long agreement is irrelevant if it ever turns out that magisterial authorities at some future date decide to reverse a teaching. The trouble with this, though, is that it completely evacuates the teaching of Lumen Gentium 12 of any substantive content. On Fastiggi’s interpretation, the universal agreement of the faithful cannot be wrong… except when it is wrong, because some future pope decides to declare it wrong! And that makes the universal agreement of the faithful of no ultimate significance whatsoever. For it is really the judgment of whoever happens currently to be pope that determines, retroactively as it were, when the centuries-long universal agreement of the faithful really counts. In that case, though, Lumen Gentium might as well not have bothered mentioning the universal agreement of the faithful at all. If, however, Lumen Gentium was intended to make a substantive claim about the authority of the universal agreement of the faithful (which it surely was), then Fastiggi’s position must be rejected.
Fastiggi also writes:
Trying to determine which teachings are infallible by virtue of the ordinary and universal magisterium, however, is not any easy task. In his article, it would have been good for Feser to cite Lumen Gentium, 25, which notes that the ordinary and universal magisterium is infallible when the Catholic bishops “maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.” This sets a very high standard, for it’s not so easy to verify whether the bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, have come to an agreement that one position (unam sententiam) on faith or morals must be definitively held.
End quote. The trouble with this, though, is that Fastiggi once again simply begs the question. In By Man, Joe Bessette and I point out (in response to Brugger, who makes the same mistake Fastiggi is making here) that Lumen Gentium 25 is in fact giving only sufficient conditions for the infallible exercise of the ordinary and universal magisterium, not necessary conditions. Yes, when the bishops teach in communion with the pope in precisely the manner Lumen Gentium specifies, they are teaching infallibly. But it doesn’t follow that that is the only way that the ordinary and universal magisterium can teach infallibly, and indeed, the texts I cite in my Catholic World Report article show that it is not the only way. Fastiggi simply assumes, without argument, the contrary view.
The most serious problem with Fastiggi’s position, however, is enshrined in remarks like the following:
The magisterium itself is usually the best source for determining which teachings of the ordinary and universal magisterium are infallible and which are not. When subsequent popes show they are not bound by judgments of their predecessors, that’s a good indication that those judgments were not definitive…
If the magisterium in the future declares capital punishment – even under certain conditions – to be intrinsically evil, I’ll abide by the magisterium’s judgment. This would be an indication that there was no prior definitive magisterial teaching on the subject.
Similarly, in a later comment he writes:
The fact that Pope Francis and the overwhelming majority of bishops now reject capital punishment is a sign that there never was a definitive magisterial tradition on the matter.
End quote. The trouble with this, like the trouble with Fastiggi’s remarks about Lumen Gentium 12, is that it appears to imply a voluntarist or Orwellian conception of the papal magisterium. No matter what scripture, tradition, and previous popes all have said, for Fastiggi none of it has any binding authority if the current pope decides that it has no binding authority, and every previous scriptural and magisterial statement means whatever the current pope decides it means.
Now, one problem with this is that it is simply incompatible with what the Church herself teaches about the authority of popes. In By Man and elsewhere, I have cited many texts (from Vatican I, Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI, etc.) showing that popes have no authority to introduce novel doctrines, to contradict scripture, to reject the unanimous scriptural interpretations of the Fathers, to assign novel meanings to dogmas, etc. As in the case of Lumen Gentium 12, Fastiggi’s position essentially evacuates these texts of any substantive content. For Fastiggi, the pope cannot contradict scripture, tradition, or the consensus of his predecessors… but only because he can simply stipulate that whatever he wants to teach is, appearances notwithstanding, really in harmony with what scripture, tradition, and previous popes were teaching all along. He’s like the Party in 1984 (“We are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia”). Obviously, this is not what texts like the ones I have cited are saying. Their point is precisely that “the Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law” (as Pope Benedict XVI taught).
Not only is Fastiggi’s apparent position contrary to the Catholic conception of papal authority, it also commits what logicians call the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. No matter what text from scripture, the Fathers, or previous popes you appeal to, Fastiggi will wave it off by saying that if Pope Francis or some future pope decides to contradict it, then the text in question must not really be binding after all, or must not really have meant what everyone has always taken it to mean. All possible counterevidence is simply redefined away.
A third and related problem is that this position completely destroys the credibility of papal authority by effectively conceding to its Protestant and atheist critics the caricature they typically present of it. Catholic apologists constantly have to explain to critics that the pope is not a dictator who can create doctrines by fiat, that he cannot contradict or reinterpret scripture at will, etc. Though I don’t think he intends this, Fastiggi’s position essentially entails that the critics are right and the apologists are wrong.
Let’s turn to this set of remarks by Prof. Fastiggi:
Since when is it a “cheap shot” to appeal to the authority of the Roman Pontiff over that of a private scholar?… I think Feser’s arguments are convincing to those who already favor capital punishment. They are not convincing to me and many others… Feser could shout “error” all he wants, but his shouts could never match the authority of the Catholic magisterium.
End quote. The first problem with this is that Fastiggi simply misrepresents the nature of the dispute between us. It seems that Fastiggi is so enamored of arguments from authority that he has forgotten that there is any other kind. Hence he proposes that what is in question is whether the authority of a “private scholar” like me trumps that of the Roman Pontiff. But that is not what is in question. It has nothing at all to do with my “authority” or lack thereof. Rather, the question is a purely logical one, namely: Can a reversal of past teaching on capital punishment be reconciled with what the Church claims about her own infallibility? I have shown that such a reversal logically cannot be reconciled with those claims. And Fastiggi says absolutely nothing to show otherwise. He simply changes the subject by throwing out the “private scholar” red herring.
It is also quite absurd to pretend that it is only “those who already favor capital punishment” who would find my arguments convincing. For one thing, this is simply an ad hominem fallacy of poisoning the well which, if it had any force at all, could with equal plausibility be turned against Fastiggi himself by suggesting that only those who already disapprove of capital punishment would agree with his arguments.
For another thing, Fastiggi’s claim is, as a matter of empirical fact, easily shown to be false. In the very article to which Fastiggi is responding, I cited Archbishop Charles Chaput as an example of a churchman who is strongly opposed to capital punishment but who also agrees that the Church cannot teach that it is intrinsically immoral “without repudiating her own identity.” Cardinal Avery Dulles also held both that capital punishment should be abolished in practice and that traditional teaching cannot be reversed. Even Mark Shea, whose hostility to capital punishment and its defenders knows almost no bounds, has consistently admitted that the Church’s traditional teaching is irreversible.
But at the end of the day, this kind of stuff is a distraction from the main issue, which is this: If capital punishment were intrinsically evil, then the magisterium of the Church will have been teaching grave moral error and badly misunderstanding scripture for two millennia. And that would undermine the credibility of the Church. If she could be that wrong for that long about something that serious, why should we trust anything else she says?
I have repeatedly hammered on this point, and I find that my critics repeatedly avoid addressing it. They do not say either: “Yes, that’s true, but here’s why it’s not in fact a problem” or: “No, it’s not true, and here’s why.” They simply change the subject. For example, they accuse me of being bloodthirsty, or they quote from the catechism, or they bring up slavery or the slaughter of the Canaanites, or they bemoan the cold rationalism of Thomists, or they start ranting about Donald Trump and “Republican Rite Catholicism,” or in some other way they try to dodge the question of exactly how the Church could be trusted on any other subject if she had been teaching grave moral error and badly misunderstanding scripture for two millennia. I’d ask why they try to dodge it, but I think I already know the answer.
The closest Fastiggi comes to addressing the problem is in the following brief remarks:
I think the 2,000 year tradition is something of a myth. Before Pope Innocent I’s permission in 405 for public officials to use torture and capital punishment there was nothing handed down in prior tradition (as Innocent I himself states). Some of the patristic sources cited by Feser and Bessette do not really show support for capital punishment (not even in principle).
But it is no myth. First, though Fastiggi asserts that there is “nothing” in the tradition before Innocent I, nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, there are, of course, all the relevant scriptural passages, which no Catholic denied supported capital punishment at least in principle until very recently. For another thing, there are all the patristic texts Joe and I cite in our book and which I have cited in earlier responses to critics. Even if Fastiggi were correct that some of these do not really acknowledge that capital punishment is legitimate at least in principle – and he is not correct about that (and in any case he offers no argument for this claim) – there are other patristic texts that clearly do affirm this. So, again, the claim that there is “nothing” in the tradition before the year 405 is simply false.
Second, what Fastiggi would need in order to show that the 2000 year tradition I have been speaking of here is a “myth” is an example of a patristic writer who not only does not approve of capital punishment in practice (and I have never denied that some of the Fathers opposed it in practice) but who regards it as always and intrinsically evil even in principle. And there are no Fathers who hold that. Even Brugger admits that. Indeed, even Hart seems at the end of the day to admit that the Fathers do not regard the death penalty as contrary to natural law; his point is rather to emphasize that some of them regarded it as contrary to the higher demands of Christian morality, specifically.
Third, for the specific purposes of my argument about the ordinary magisterium in my Catholic World Report article, what matters is not what this or that writer held in his capacity as a private theologian, but rather what magisterial authorities have said when, precisely in their capacity as magisterial authorities, they explicitly address the question of what is legitimate in principle for Christians. And even if we started just with Pope Innocent I, we have an unbroken 1600 year tradition where no pope condemned capital punishment as intrinsically immoral and many popes explicitly affirmed that it is legitimate at least in principle, even by the standards of specifically Christian morality.
So, even by Fastiggi’s lights, that would be a 1600-year-long error, if capital punishment turned out to be intrinsically wrong. Again, why he thinks an error of even 23 years “seems very problematical,” but an error of 1600 years does not, I have no idea.
Do the critics not see that if the Church can be in error about this, it can be in error about everything it has ever taught and if that is true, the pope has no real authority beyond arbitrary voluntarism at all? It is the same with Amoris Latitia as well, if there can be such a violent contradiction of Doctrine supported by every possible source, no one has any reason to be Catholic. If I was not a Catholic and was trying to attack the faith, it would be easiest to do so on these grounds- salvation, death penalty, mortal sin and the right to spread heresy. And if the rehearsal had actually happened on any of these than we would know there was no such thing as divine authority in Catholicism.ReplyDelete
This reminds me of the Mormon conception of the prophet who can, pretty much at will, about face on previously taught doctrines, if the law of the land makes such about faces politically expedient. For example, the abandoned their teaching on polygamy and their racist teaching on the nature of black people.ReplyDelete
Well, for what it’s worth, Prof. Feser did indeed convince me that capital punishment is legitimate in principle.ReplyDelete
I’m still vehemently opposed to it in practice though. It’s just that now I do it on prudential grounds (and not based on modernist pseudo-rational propaganda and liberal emotivity). Just like Pope Saint John Paul II taught in the Cathechism.
(and not based on modernist pseudo-rational propaganda and liberal emotivity)Delete
Aren't the grounds of mercy, respect for life and leniency subsumed under emotivity though? Or is it the case that the liberal emotivity in question is something that goes beyond a mere desire for mercy or a personal attitude of leniency?
What I mean is that modernist/liberal speech has no principled way to justify the existence of objective goods and evils, since it abandoned natural law.Delete
As such, the only way for modernists/liberals to justify their opposition to capital punishment is either to beg the question or to resort to emotivity. Which is essentially the same tactic they use to justify secularism, abortion, same-sex “marriage”, etc.
Now, emotivity in itself is not the problem. Emotions can be good, after all. But they should have no place in rational argumentation; on the contrary, they are often detrimental to it.
(BTW, I was addressing this claim of Fastiggi’s: “I think Feser’s arguments are convincing to those who already favor capital punishment.”)Delete
Excluding capital punishment for a moment.ReplyDelete
According to Fastiggi, Bruger, many around Pope Francis, etc. it is a near certainty that the Church is currently a proponent of other mortal sins, which will be discovered 50, 100, or 1,000 years hence. In other words, the Church, currently unawares, is probably teaching as good what will in the future turn out to be mortal sin.
Similarly, the Church is also almost certainly forbidding what won't be 50, 100, or 1,000 years hence.
As someone who just fell in love with the Rock, this is nearly driving me to despair. How can I defend this?
Don't despair. Think. These arguments contradicting the Church's indefectibility are fallacious. God bless.Delete
ccording to Fastiggi, Bruger, many around Pope Francis, etc. it is a near certainty that the Church is currently a proponent of other mortal sins, which will be discovered 50, 100, or 1,000 years hence.Delete
Well, if you listen to some people around Francis, it's more likely that what people are now saying is sin will be found in 50 or 100 years to be no sin. Or, even more outlandishly, they say that what is sin for 2018 will not be sin for 2068.
But have faith: these are not "the Church". As Ed shows above, even popes and cardinals in the past got themselves into major problems. Even more telling: if we had a schism where a saint one one side was saying X was pope, and a saint on the other side was saying Y was pope - and yet BOTH were canonized, then it is possible to be right with God while not figuring out which way to jump.
Dear Prof. Feser,ReplyDelete
I've often wondered what the USCCB reaction would be / was to your book, given the rather lengthy treatment of them in your book. To your knowledge, have they made any informal or formal response? If not, do you expect them to?
This has helped my understanding of the doctrine of infallibility, in that it is only a confirmation of what is already in scripture and taught by (Jesus) the Fathers and Pope-Bishops-magisterium. Whereas times change the deep seated teachings do not change, otherwise contradiction would be constantly introduced such as what we have in the modern cultural morality. I thought Dr. Feser defense was good and airtight. Interesting read.ReplyDelete
So, even by Fastiggi’s lights, that would be a 1600-year-long error, if capital punishment turned out to be intrinsically wrong. Again, why he thinks an error of even 23 years “seems very problematical,” but an error of 1600 years does not, I have no idea.ReplyDelete
Me too, it's nutty.
However: Ed, as good as your book is (and it is VERY good), I feel that the part where you cover the Fathers might be the part that could use a little bit of extra attention. There have been several critiques claiming that you have not captured properly what the early Church, and the early Fathers, said about DP. While some of those critiques are clearly off base, some of them are...less so.
Can I suggest an alternate reading of the seemingly mixed attitude of the early Church to DP. Let's assume, for the moment, we're going through all of the evidence - every single bit - from the year 33 through Innocent at 405, and finding some things that seem to say DP is bad, and some that seem to say it isn't, or isn't necessarily. There's stuff on both sides. You have to use some kind of interpretive lens to make sense of all the bits, because on its own it SEEMS a bit contradictory. You can't just take it all at face value, or you're left with seeming contradiction. How to move forward?
Wait: I have just described EXACTLY the scenario that had also been true of how we understand the Trinity: on one side, Scripture and patristic evidence that there is only one God. On the other side, similar evidence that the Son and the Holy Spirit are God. What to do? The answer was: a development of doctrine in which the resolution of the apparent difficulty takes place.
And the same thing, also, happened with Christ: on the one hand, evidence from Scripture and the Apostles that He is God. And that He is man. What to say? Answer: doctrine develops to say that the one divine Person took on a second nature, human nature.
The critical feature of these developments is that there is an irreversible direction to how the Church handles them. You can't (NOW) go back to those Fathers who more firmly insisted on the divinity of Christ than His humanity, and create a "problem" with his seeming incompatibility with current teaching. You can't go back to a Father who failed to be clear in talking about God as 3 persons, and use that as support for there being, NOW, a "problem" doctrinally on whether God is 3 persons. Sure, there was at one time a problem, or at least a lack of clarity. But then there was a development of doctrine on the matter and the problem was solved.
The same can be said of the mixed, and somewhat muddled, handling of the DP before Innocent: it was less than clear what the Church should say, because 2 things seemed to be supported (from various writers) that were in tension. Then there was development: the DP is licit in respect of its own nature, but its proper application requires, let us say, more and better reason than the Romans were used to supplying. Hence it was often unjust and unworthy in the immediate circumstances of the early Church.
But this would mean that attempting to go back to the muddle of the early period to claim "it's still a problem" is a fraudulent argument tactic in the Catholic Church. To do so is to reject the whole model of the Church resolving doctrinal problems, which she has done since the first council and continued through the later councils and the papal decrees which address problem issues.
We had without question 1600 years of settled teaching: the DP is morally licit. Raising difficulties that arose from before Innocent as if they cast uncertainty on the question is a tactic not permitted to good Catholic argument.
This is a very good explanation. I would upvote this if I just could.Delete
Tony, you might want to email Dr. Feser directly to bring this again to his attention; I'm convinced that your contribution could be helpful to him.
I for myself take the the French noblemans remark to justify capital punishment: "Kill them all and let God sort it out". Love it! That's my capital punishment theology. Simple, quick, Commonsense.ReplyDelete
“Do the critics not see that if the Church can be in error about this, it can be in error about everything it has ever taught”ReplyDelete
No, I for one don’t see it. Such attitude only makes sense if one holds that the church is an ancient relic that must be preserved as carefully as possible. But the church is the body of Christ – she is alive and leading the flock through changing times and through the deepening of theistic understanding.
For example here’s Paul whom I love and who after all is probably the most influential person in Christianity after Christ Himself. But while crafting the foundations of the incipient church he realized that he should care not only for the spiritual health of the flock but literally for their physical wellbeing too. So he gave them some advice in relation to state power which today makes no longer sense. So what?
So quite on the contrary the Church is in error only when she fears the responsibility that comes with responding to the changing environment – theological and existential – of her flock.
As for Feser’s respective book with which I disagree as deeply as it gets I trust it will move the stagnant waters and in the end will result in good.
Yes, yes, the principle of non contradiction is overruled by emotivism, God serves man to make him more comfortable and Christian Doctrine is just a vessel for contemporary progressive politics.Delete
Can someone clarify a point for me? Dr. Fastiggi repeatedly makes use of a phrase that has me puzzled:ReplyDelete
Before Pope Innocent I’s permission in 405 for public officials to use torture and capital punishment there was nothing handed down in prior tradition (as Innocent I himself states).
When I examine the usual passage cited about Innocent I:
It must be remembered that power was granted by God [to the magistrates], and to avenge crime by the sword was permitted. He who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister (Rm 13:1-4). Why should we condemn a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? We uphold, therefore, what has been observed until now, in order not to alter the discipline and so that we may not appear to act contrary to God’s authority.
Innocent uses the phrase "a practice that all hold to be permitted by God" and "what has been observed until now" and "in order not to alter the discipline".
These are not consistent with "there was nothing handed down". So I ask: Is there MORE to what Innocent said that bears on the "state of the question" that is outside of the usual citation? Does anyone know of a link to an English translation of the whole letter? Or at least a larger portion of it?
A similar discrepancy arises with Dr. Fastiggi saying that Innocent "grants permission" not only for the death penalty but for torture. Maybe he does - in some further part of the work. Again, does anyone have it?
The best I could do was check Migne over at DCO, so maybe there's some critical edition work that could better clarify.Delete
The epistle of the citation fields a series of questions, one paragraph after another. It's not a formal treatise, so what you see here is all there is to it (the question immediately before concerns what to do about death-bed conversions, the one immediately after about men consorting with adulterous women).
Innocent I, Epistle 6
Quaesitum etiam est super his, qui post baptismum administraverunt, et aut tormenta sola exercuerunt, aut etiam capitalem protulere sententiam.
De his nihil legimus a majoribus definitum. Meminerant enim a Deo potestates has fuisse concessas, et propter vindictam noxiorum, gladium fuisse permissum, et Dei esse ministrum vindicem in huiusmodi datum (Romans 13:1,4). Quemadmodum igitur reprehenderent factum, quod auctore Deo viderent esse concessum? De his ergo ita, ut hactenus servatum est, sic habemus, ne aut disciplinam evertere, aut contra auctoritatem Domini venire videamur. Ipsis autem in ratione reddenda gesta sua omnia servabuntur.
It is asked also about those who, after they have administered baptism, executed either torments alone or also carried out the capital sentence.
Concerning these we read nothing defined by the fathers. For they recalled that these powers have been granted by God, and on account of vengeance of harms the sword has been permitted, and that he is God’s minister given as avenger in such matters (semi-citing Romans 13:1, 4 with a rough grammar). In what way therefore would they withdraw what has been made since they would see it to be granted by God the authority? Concerning these we therefore so hold just as so far has been preserved, lest we seem either to overturn discipline or to go against the authority of the Lord. Now all their decisions owed to to them in reason shall be preserved.
Obviously anyone can and should improve on my Latin, and please forgive any typos. It was a fast job. I would need to sit down and think for a bit about that last sentence some more; it's a weird one.
Thanks. There is, right off the bat, a clear discrepancy between what Innocent actually said and what Dr. Fastiggi remarked: That there was "nothing defined" (definitum). Whereas, he called it "nothing handed down". Clearly, the latter is less precise and MAY not be appropriate, though admittedly the difference is rather fine. If the Fathers handed down opinions but did not define (i.e. make definitive) those positions, it would be true that nothing was defined but untrue that they handed nothing down.Delete
This would obtain, for example, if they had spoken out against the DP as often practiced but not in principle, there would be no definitive position taken against DP by the patristic tradition, and Innocent was unwilling to condemn the practice if tradition had not condemned it. This would not be a ringing endorsement of DP as such, but it WOULD be an important witness to the "state of the question" as from the Fathers: they did not condemn it in toto.
When one looks at what was actually said by the Fathers, it is actually hard to construct some other sense of Innocent's point, isn't it?
If I recall my Latin properly, "Meminerant" is the perfect or pluperfect tense of the THIRD person plural, so either "They recalled" or "they had recalled", unlike 3 or 4 translations I have seen that make it "I recall" or "It must be recalled". Clearly Innocent is saying "they", meaning the fathers, recalled the principle cited in Paul's Romans 13. At least according to Innocent, then, whatever doubt was to be had among the fathers did not extend to the principle that the DP is licit, for "they" attributed it to God's grant of authority to the state.
How could "nothing be handed down" if "they" had gone so far as to "recall" Romans and had seen it (DP) granted by God?
I appreciate the care Prof. Feser has given to my remarks in the comments sections of Catholic World Report. Unfortunately, I am behind in a number of other projects so I cannot respond in detail right now. I think there are a number of mistakes in Prof. Feser's analysis, but it would take a long article to explain them. For now, I'll simply mention this point. Prof. Feser seems to think that as long as the magisterium has not declared capital punishment to be intrinsically evil, then any judgment about its possible use or non-use is merely prudential. This, though, is a non-sequitur. To make prudential judgments, there must be moral principles. The Church does not teach that war or the use of military force is intrinsically evil, but she lays out strict conditions for justifying the possible use of military force (e.g. CCC 2309). A Catholic, therefore, cannot justify war for any reason whatsoever. In the same way, St. John Paul II in EV, 56 and the CCC, 2267 lay out very strict conditions for any possible use of the death penalty. Pope Francis has added other reasons (derived from the Gospel) for why it would be wrong intentionally to kill someone for past crimes who no longer poses a threat to public safety. This is what the Catholic Church now teaches about capital punishment, and Prof. Feser seems to think it is a "mistake." Here, though, he's not merely challenging a matter of prudence but a teaching of the ordinary magisterium that involves moral principles. If I am correct (and I believe I am) that the magisterium never set forth any moral principles about the possible exercise of the death penalty in a definitive, infallible way, then we ought to abide by the moral principles that the magisterium now sets forth regarding the death penalty. This position is hardly "Orwellian." It is an accurate assessment of what the magisterium now teaches about capital punishment. So even if one were to concede that capital punishment was not intrinsically wrong in the past, that still does not justify rejecting contemporary magisterial teaching about it now. I'm simply trying to follow what Lumen gentium, 25 and the CCC, 892 teach about adhering to ordinary teachings of the papal magisterium with religious assent. This is really not complicated at all--unless you're trying to justify dissent from the ordinary papal magisterium on capital punishment (which is precisely what Prof. Feser is trying to do).ReplyDelete
Prof. Feser seems to think that as long as the magisterium has not declared capital punishment to be intrinsically evil, then any judgment about its possible use or non-use is merely prudential.Delete
"Seems to think"? I've read just about everything Ed has written on the death penalty, and I don't see that he has anywhere committed himself to this claim, and his argument seems to me to work differently. You'll have to do more work to show that the argument stands or falls with this claim, because I think it's a straw man.
Thanks for your comment. Some responses:
First, once again you are simply begging the question, and indeed begging one of the same questions you have been begging for months now. For whether Pope St. John Paul II’s statements about the threat posed by an offender, etc. really count as a modification of the relevant binding doctrinal principles governing the use of capital punishment is precisely part of what is at issue between us. Moreover, the thesis that JPII did not in fact alter the relevant binding doctrinal principles is by no means mine alone. It is a thesis also defended by prominent theologians like Cardinal Avery Dulles and Steven Long. And all of us have backed up the thesis with arguments. Surely you are aware of all this.
Now, you have, of course, a right to challenge those arguments. The problem is that you do not challenge them. That is to say, you never offer any actual response to the arguments, but rather simply ignore them and just keep asserting, without support, the very claims that the arguments purport to refute. As I keep saying, Joe Bessette and I devote many pages (at pp. 144-96) to analyzing the statements of recent popes and showing that they do not in fact teach what you say they do. Why won’t you just answer those arguments already?
Second, for this reason, it is needlessly inflammatory, unjust, and once again question-begging for you to accuse us of “trying to justify dissent from the ordinary papal magisterium.” For part of our point is precisely that, since (we argue) JPII did not alter the relevant binding doctrinal principles in any way, disagreeing with him about whether capital punishment should be “very rare, if not practically non-existent” does not constitute dissent from any binding teaching. Indeed, we argue that this is precisely what Cardinal Ratzinger confirmed when he said that “there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about… applying the death penalty.”
Third, you write:
Prof. Feser seems to think that as long as the magisterium has not declared capital punishment to be intrinsically evil, then any judgment about its possible use or non-use is merely prudential. This, though, is a non-sequitur.
I have never said such a thing, and anyone who has the read the book (or indeed, my responses to critics) should know that that is not my argument. You have (at least by implication) been commenting on the book quite a lot, but have you actually read it? I’m starting to doubt that.
Fourth, you write:
So even if one were to concede that capital punishment was not intrinsically wrong in the past…
As I wrote in my response to Brugger’s critique of the book, this kind of talk makes no sense. If something is intrinsically wrong, then it is intrinsically wrong full stop, always and everywhere, not merely intrinsically wrong “in the present.” Hence if in the past it was not wrong, then it is not now, and was not then, intrinsically wrong. All of this just follows from what “intrinsically” means.
(continued from above)Delete
Fifth, you write:
If I am correct (and I believe I am) that the magisterium never set forth any moral principles about the possible exercise of the death penalty in a definitive, infallible way, then we ought to abide by the moral principles that the magisterium now sets forth regarding the death penalty. This position is hardly "Orwellian." It is an accurate assessment of what the magisterium now teaches about capital punishment.
It would not be Orwellian IF you had some criterion of whether past teaching was definitive that was independent of what is currently being said. But the trouble is that you do not seem to have such a criterion. No matter what was said in the past, it seems that you will refuse to count it as definitive if some current pope contradicts it. Current popes get to decide, retroactively, whether some teaching really was after all ever definitive and infallible. That is what makes your position appear Orwellian.
You do not seem to see the dangerous implications of this. For example, if a pope decided to teach that Christ was not really fully divine, or that he was not sinless, or that he was not resurrected in a bodily way, your position would seem to imply that we must in that case conclude that we have been misunderstanding all those decrees of the past that seemed to say otherwise. What Catholicism is and has always been ends up being whatever the current pope wants to make it, just as the Party in 1984 gets to redefine truth and historical fact at will.
I hope you would reject this implication, but if so, you owe us an explanation of how you can avoid it consistent with the things you have been saying.
Anyway, I would ask you to keep in mind that, as I have said in the past, for me the issue is not, and never has been, primarily about capital punishment per se. It has rather been about the radical wider doctrinal implications of an outright reversal of teaching on this subject. It is precisely because the traditional doctrine is unpopular and politically incorrect that it has become easy for certain faithful Catholics, such as yourself, to fail to see how grave is the danger of an outright reversal of teaching. It’s the thin end of the wedge, and the extremely reckless arguments Brugger and others are using to try to justify a reversal would have a ripple effect across the entire range of Catholic doctrine. Theological liberals know this well, and people like Brugger and you are inadvertently giving them ammunition.
For this reason I do rather resent the accusation that I am “trying to justify dissent” from the magisterium, when in fact my whole aim is precisely to uphold the credibility of the magisterium. That, rather than some special interest in capital punishment per se, is why I have persistently responded at length to critics of the book. The stakes are too high not to do so. If you want to argue against my views, that’s fine, but at least do me the courtesy of trying properly to understand my position and its motivation.
If I am correct (and I believe I am) that the magisterium never set forth any moral principles about the possible exercise of the death penalty in a definitive, infallible way, then we ought to abide by the moral principles that the magisterium now sets forth regarding the death penalty.Delete
Hi Prof. Fastiggi,
What about this passage in Donum Veritatis?
30. If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian's part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments.
Doesn't this passage give Prof. Feser the right to question this development of doctrine, whether the development date from Pope John Paul II or Pope Francis?
Re: For this reason I do rather resent the accusation that I am “trying to justify dissent” from the magisterium, when in fact my whole aim is precisely to uphold the credibility of the magisterium. That, rather than some special interest in capital punishment per se, is why I have persistently responded at length to critics of the book. The stakes are too high not to do so. If you want to argue against my views, that’s fine, but at least do me the courtesy of trying properly to understand my position and its motivation.
I think your aims are important and courageous. Dr. Fastiggi's labeling you a "dissenter" is probably the first of many of those accusations which are coming your way (if they haven't already).
Let the critics refute your arguments (if they can), but if they merely shout "dissent" and try to scare people away from you, they disrespect the truth.
I very much respect you as a scholar, even if I happen to agree with Dr. Feser in this dispute. However, I feel that a major part of this dispute could have been over already.
Do you believe the Pope or any future council can declare capital punishment intrinsically wrong and that such pronouncement could be true? If YES, then the major part of this dispute continues. If NO, then a major part of this dispute should be over.
I raise this question because I have a feeling you might believe NO, yet in an attempt to defend JPII and Pope Francis you have been ambiguous regarding the answer to that question.
“....who no longer poses a threat to public safety.” This is the rub though. On whose opinion does this rest? And are we limited to only consider the perpetrators ability to cause us direct physical harm? That is never 0%. Morever, can we not, as the Church has always done, make wider considerations than the probability of direct physical harm?ReplyDelete
“This is really not complicated at all--unless you're trying to justify dissent from the ordinary papal magisterium on capital punishment.”ReplyDelete
If Feser is dissenting, so did Ratzinger. Ratzinger told us a mere 14 years ago that we could, in good conscience, disagree with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment. Was he wrong?
It seems strange to me that the Church has not addressed for 2,000 years the right conditions for capital punishment - and that we moderns now understand that condition to be the very precisel “no longer a threat to public safety” - combined with our super duper technology that means, effectively, a we can render a prisoner harmless - which of course is not true.ReplyDelete
Metal, concrete, bars and locks are not new. And the public has always had the ability to throw a prisoner in jail, or in a cave, or cast away on an island, and rendered him highly in likely to do no further harm. That instead this public resorted to capital punishment and that the Church did not address that wrong application of capital punishment for 2,000 seems strong evidence that the application is debatable.
I’ll humbly subordinate my personal opinion when the Magisterium comes out and makes a dogmantic declaration on this. Since they have not, it is a prudential opinion of the last couple Popes and sole Bishop conferences.
The corpus of two millinia of Church tradition says the application of capital punishment can be moral. It doesn’t limit us to vague ideas about when it can be just.ReplyDelete
Pope John Paul a few short years ago narrowed the conditions when it could be moral, much language of which was a novelty.
The Church, via Ratzinger, while Pope John Paul was alive and after his novel language made its way to the Cathechism, again, consistent with traditional teaching, taught that the application was debatable among Catholics. This despite his personal call for its abolition during his pontificate. The explanation by Ratzinger I thought was a clarification of sorts over previous confusing language and he never repudiated it.
Now Pope Francis and his cohort.
In the future we will have a traditional Pope who again asserts the practice is moral in principle and points us to Trent or previous popes on the matter.
We need one of those anathema sits to shut us all up.
This is now my fourth iteration as a follow up to a previous post; the rest having been lost in cyber space.ReplyDelete
Although I am not familiar with all of Fastiggi's work on the subject, his response above seems to acknowledge that capital punishment is not an intrinsic wrong. As he demonstrates above, and what is really not in question, is that current magisterial thought is that the practice should be very limited. By definition then, it is debatable as to ones private opinion on the ramifications to public safety.
Fastiggi does not believe capital punishment is intrinsically evil, just to be clear.Delete
Amerio in Iota Unum is also concise and clear on how we got to this new "irreligious" development. Rather than a lengthy excerpt, here is a site that includes the whole of his treatment on capital punishment:ReplyDelete
A couple points he makes:
"The growing tendency to mitigate punishments of all sorts is in part the product of the Gospel spirit of clemency and mercy, which has always been at odds down the centuries with savage judicial customs. With a certain degree of confusion that we need not go into here, the Church has always drawn back from blood. It should be remembered that canon law traditionally decreed the “irregularity,” that is the banning from holy orders, not only of executioners, but of judges who condemned people to death in the ordinary course of law, and even of advocates and witnesses in trials that led to someone being put to death."
"The controversy does not turn on society’s right to defend itself; that is the undeniable premise of any penal code, but rather on the genuineness of the need to remove the offender altogether in order to effect that defense, which is the minor premise involved."
"...Although often thought of as religiously inspired, this second type of reason for rejecting capital punishment is in fact irreligious. It overlooks the fact that from a Christian point of view earthly life is not an end in itself, but a means to life’s moral goal, a goal that transcends the whole order of subordinate worldly goods. Therefore to take away a man’s life is by no means to take away the transcendent end for which he was born and which guarantees his true dignity."
"To go on to assert that a life should not be ended because that would remove the possibility of making expiation, is to ignore the great truth that capital punishment is itself expiatory. In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened. In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life."
"The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods."
"In the new theology of punishment, justice is not considered, and the whole matter is made to turn on the usefulness of the penalty and its aptitude for bringing the guilty person back into society, as the saying goes. On this point, as on others, the new fangled view coincides with the utilitarianism preached by the Jacobins. The individual is held to be essentially independent; the state defends itself against a miscreant, but cannot punish him for breaking a moral law, that is, for being morally guilty. This guiltlessness of the guilty goes on to manifest itself in a reduced consideration for the victim and even in giving preference to the guilty over the innocent. In Sweden people who have been imprisoned are given preferential treatment in examinations for public employment, as compared with other, unconvicted, members of the public. Consideration for the victim is eclipsed by mercy for the wrongdoer. Mounting the steps to the guillotine, the borderer Buffet shouted his hope that he would “be the last man guillotined in France.” He should have shouted he hoped he would be the last murderer. The penalty for the offense seems more objectionable than the crime, and the victim is forgotten. The restoration of a moral order that has been violated by wrongdoing is rejected as if it were an act of vendetta."
St. John Paul II in EV, 56 and the CCC, 2267 lay out very strict conditions for any possible use of the death penalty.ReplyDelete
I have twice pointed this out (in other places), but I am going to offer it a third time: When JPII said
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor
one can logically break that into distinct assertions in the following manner:
(1) The traditional teaching of the Church does not preclude recourse to DP; and
(2) The traditional teaching of the Church only permits the DP when it is the only means of effectively keeping people's lives safe from that aggressor.
Each of (1) and (2) are at the primary level claims about a historical reality, not about the theology: “traditional teaching of the Church” is something that can be verified by historical determination, mainly by survey (but informed by root Catholic principles). What did the Church say via tradition? There is clear historical justification for saying (1).
There is NOT a clear historical justification for saying (2). At least, I have looked around for it, and I cannot find such a justification. In fact, I believe that if by "traditional teaching" one includes all of the statements of the teaching Church over the last 2000 years, that statement would be strongly misleading if not historically false. The traditional teaching DOES NOT clearly say it, and to the extent that there were in the teaching Church various sources that said it, there were other sources that said otherwise. Of seemingly at least equal authority, if not more.
Can someone show me how it is that "the traditional teaching of the Church" says (2)?
For, if it cannot be historically substantiated, then we would have to insist that the preliminary characterizing phrase "the traditional teaching of the Church" actually only applies to (1), it does not apply to (2). Then (2) would have to be a bare statement
(2A) The DP is licit ONLY if it is the only means of effectively keeping people's lives safe from that aggressor. [Without a claim about coming from tradition.]
Yes, matters whether in JPII's document whether he was asserting (2) or (2A). So let's get it right. You can't prove it from the passage in EV or the CCC, you have to actually base it on the body of traditional teaching.
This is a powerful point and deserves attention. However, I suspect those who are on the other side of Feser in this debate will adduce quotes from the fathers who argue against the DP in practice.
John Paul II's statement does not logically imply (2). If the death penalty may be administered to (let us just put it this way for the sake of simplicity) whoever deserves it, then it can also be administered to those who deserve it and whose identity and responsibility have been fully determined and whose punishment is the only effective way of protecting society. The sentence you quote is strictly weaker than the traditional teaching; the traditional teaching implies it.Delete
It's true that much of the traditional teaching is omitted, and that other parts of EV and the Catechism at least seem to be aiming at the claim which does not have precedent in the tradition, but that JPII quotation is a literal truth.
If the death penalty may be administered to (let us just put it this way for the sake of simplicity) whoever deserves it, then it can also be administered to those who deserve it and whose identity and responsibility have been fully determined and whose punishment is the only effective way of protecting society.Delete
Greg, I have that in mind, but Dr, Fastiggi has an explicit response to that approach: the Latin phrasing is actually more precise than the English rendition. In using "nisi", the Latin means the more restrictive "only if". He says "neque licere ... nisi absoluta instante necessitate" means "not licit ... except in cases of absolute necessity", rather than the looser "if this is the only possible means of effectively defending..."
So, according to him, your point is valid with respect to the English translation, but not for the authoritative Latin.
However, I suspect those who are on the other side of Feser in this debate will adduce quotes from the fathers who argue against the DP in practice.Delete
JoeD, I suspect you are right. But that's not adequate. In fact, its bad arguing.
First: the "traditional teaching" consists of more than what The Fathers said. You have to encompass ALL of the sources of traditional teaching throughout the entire period that qualifies as forming the traditional teaching. I.E., most of 2000 years up to 1992 will qualify, though later years less so than earlier. (Technically, the most recent years, say from 1975 forward, probably cannot be included in "traditional" except if it is merely re-stating what was said earlier.)
Second, this goes back to my OTHER point above: if the Church developed the doctrine, you are not allowed to go backwards to before the development to pick up confusion and pretend it still applies. Development is a strictly one way street.
Before 405, there were statements in the Church that indicated a pretty strong rejection of DP. Though (as the Prof shows) even those were usually not unambiguously against the DP: they can generally be squared with "the DP is morally licit in principle." (There may be a few, very few, that seem to reject it in principle. Some say there are, anyway, but it is very few.)
Feser does not say this in the book, but I think it is just as true that those patristic passages ALSO cannot be read to unambiguously and definitively limit the DP to "except when human lives cannot be protected from this aggressor." This is just not how they talked. In general, you will find that when they cautioned officials away from using DP except when "necessary", but all those authors seemed to be OK with the ends of upholding public order and deterrence as part of "necessary". It is such a common theme that it would be OUTLANDISH to claim it was not there in tradition.
After 405, you no longer find approved authors who even SEEM to reject DP in principle, and even more is there consensus that DP may be used "when necessary" in the more expansive sense. Indeed, as far as I can recall (my shaky memory, though), only heretical authors after that rejected the use of DP for the support of public order and deterrence.
Until the 20th century. And even there: you don't find the rejection of DP for anything other than the "strictest necessity" of saving lives from that specific aggressor until roughly post-1975.
If anything, one can legitimately toss out sources post 1975 as too recent to qualify as "traditional", and we are left with this: the first 250 years or so where there was ambiguity and disagreement in Catholic circles on whether DP was OK, with a some fathers indicating that it was not permitted to Christians but various on how far that extended. By 350 there was a pretty solid consensus that DP was licit AND permitted to Christians, (though not to clerics). As of 405 we have Innocent's confirmation that the tradition DOES NOT forbid its use. From that time forward, the entire body of traditional teaching consistently teaches that it is licit, and that the licit purposes include the retributive end, the vindication of justice, the support of peace, law and order, and deterrence as well as reformation of the criminal. As far as I can see, there is no significant body of teaching since 405 that suggests it MUST be constrained within the strictest limitations "for safety...".
The attempt to grab the fathers pre-350 who were ambiguous, and the few who were completely opposed to DP, as if the intervening 1600 years did not MEAN anything about the state of the question, is not an appropriate Catholic argument. Although the Patristic period is critical to the authoritative teachings, tradition did not stop at 350 (as the term "post-Nicene Fathers" clearly indicates).
Ah, I see. Then I await his reply with bated breath.Delete
I found this text by Fastiggi to be both crucially relevant in the current discussion and eminently reasonable:ReplyDelete
“We should, of course, respect tradition, but there are traditions that can be changed or developed and others that cannot. Just as the tradition accepting torture has now been superseded (cf. GS, 27, and the CCC, 2297) so now the tradition accepting capital punishment is being superseded.
Actually it is crucially relevant for the very future of the church: Which parts of the tradition are bedrock and which should evolve in response to a changing world, theologically and existentially? Christians today do not live under the Roman empire but in a culturally, politically, and epistemically very different world. Today’s challenges the Pope has to deal with are very different to Peter’s.
As far as I am concerned the only *bedrock* is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed of 381. On all other matters we should put our trust in the wisdom of the church and its guidance by the Spirit. And I am not here referring only to the Catholic Church but to all great Churches of the Christian faith.
Don't you ever get tired of churning this stuff out?Delete
Forgive me for bringing this up - I am surprised at myself - but on the question of capital punishment for heretics...ReplyDelete
The question, to my mind, is primarily about religious liberty and only secondarily about the use of capital punishment. Recently, the controversial case of Edgardo Mortara has been vociferously discussed among some Catholic intellectuals, and I find that the arguments justifying this extraordinary case can be used to justify the capital punishment of heretics in a State that recognizes Catholicism as the one true religion.
In my understanding, the arguments that justify Pius IX's actions begin with acknowledging that the rights of parents are qualified. They are not absolute. When the natural good of a child is in jeopardy, it is just for the State to intervene in that child's life if the parents cannot see to the child's welfare. In a society and State that recognizes not only the natural good, but also the supernatural good, of individuals, the same logic applies. Of course, this is difficult for modern individuals in liberal, secular societies to sympathize with, but that is to be expected - they neither believe in any supernatural good nor in the right of the State to figure such a good in its considerations of public welfare.
More about the case and the traditionalist rationale for it can be found in the comments to this article:
Now, it does not take too much logical flexing to apply the same argument to the punishment of heretics. But Feser, an earlier comment in a previous post, said that he does not believe heretics should be punished. Is there a discontinuity between Feser and the orthodox view?
Religious tolerance can be given a prudential endorsement(I:E to avoid rebellion and destruction of the catholic state altogether).Delete
If however he condemns executing heretics as such there is a discontinuity.
Claiming that executing heretics is intrinsically wrong is not the same as not wanting to execute them. The whole point was to argue that the death penalty was not intrinsically immoral, rather than wanting to expand it in practice.Delete
But Feser, an earlier comment in a previous post, said that he does not believe heretics should be punished.Delete
In addition to what Samuel said, Feser in no way said heretics should not be punished. He said they should not be executed.
The good Prof. can speak for himself, but from what he has said so far, he has indicated clear agreement with Dignitatis Humanae and other recent Church teachings that heretics should not be executed. But as Samuel implies, that teaching can EASILY be read to mean "for prudential purposes, heretics should not be executed in these current conditions of pluralistic and non-Christian states", without saying anything one way or the other about the PRINCIPLE of the matter or how it applies to other conditions that don't exist now.
Pretty creepy to see people thinking that possibility of capital punishment for heretics qua heretics is some sort of revealed truth.Delete
Anyway, there is no discontinuity. Vatican II, through Dignitatis Humanae, taught that all persons have a right to religious liberty based on their inherent human dignity. The right to religious liberty is a right to not be coerced on matters of religious conscience, within due limits of course. Therefore heretics *must* be tolerated, because of their human dignity. It is not merely a prudential matter anymore, although it also invokes the same idea of tolerance; heretics must be tolerated. There are just limits however, for example when the social order is threatened, public morality is gravely affected, etc., but as a rule of thumb we should tolerate heretics as much as possible.
Of course, to anyone attentive and well-versed in philosophy, there is no contradiction whatsoever between "religious liberty" as defended in DH and "religious liberty" as condemned in the syllabus. As Maritain remarked many decades ago, opponents of religious liberty often conflate the object and the subject; even if there is no positive moral right for error and heresy, this does not mean the human person is not to be respected and tolerated to act within its powers and under the authority of its conscience.
Since this is a Vatican II teaching, and Catholics are bound to respect what an Ecumenical Council of thr Church teaches in unity with the bishops, the pope (and all subsequent popes, including even canonized ones), the teaching should also be interpreted in a hermeneutic of continuity. Therefore one should seek to harmonize past cases which seemed to contradict a teaching the Church now clearly defends through Vatican II. "Radical traditionalism" is a terribly problematic and imprudent position that presumes in favor of discontinuity and error on the council's part, while trusting personal, individual exegesis of "tradition" against Vatican II and all subsequent popes.
Not to mention religious liberty as defended in Vatican II is also necessitated by natural law, when correctly analysed. This is what Maritain saw. In a sense, every person has a right to be tolerated when it comes to the dictates of his or her own conscience. This is also what most clearly follows from Aquinas's argument that while a parent doesn't have a positive right to teach error, a jewish parent has the right to be tolerated to teach its religion to its own child -- by virtue of the fact that it is the child's parent. Of course, such a right has just limits -- as Vatican II reminds us.
Again, sorry, for drudging this up, but I am genuinely curious about the answer. Thank you to our kind host!ReplyDelete
I know this has got nothing to do with death penalty. But would you mind to give your position on Grace, Free Will, and Predestination? Do you hold on to the same position as Msgr. Garrigou-Lagrange? Are you a molinist or congruist? Do you have a unique view on the subject?
I'll take the opportunity to link this:Delete
Not to be taken as a general recommendation of his writings (certainly not on politics).
Fr. William Most wrote a most excellent book on the topic: Grace, Predestination, and the Salvific Will of God. See hereDelete
I just realized that Ed slipped. We got nothing on the 28th. Homerus dormitat.ReplyDelete
Thanks to everyone for the responses. To Feser:ReplyDelete
Now that you know Bishop Barron, maybe you can talk to him about this recent discussion of the Mortara case. I think it is very important, I think its causing ripples that will be picked up once Spielberg's film is out. I think this has to be handled very delicately. If, in the rush to express empathy for the Jewish community, we rebuke the Church of Pius IX, I think we risk making the fault line of religious liberty bigger. And that's another thing we just don't need in the Church right now.
I really understand the precarious situation that Church leaders are in, but I also think that maybe they don't know how important the case is to this very fault line I am talking about.
"So, according to Fastiggi, it “seems very problematical” to suppose that the magisterium could have gotten a prudential judgment wrong for 23 years, but not problematical to suppose that the magisterium could have gotten a matter of basic moral principle and scriptural interpretation wrong for two millennia. What can one say about such a manifestly absurd position ..."ReplyDelete
Yeah, well as Justice Scalia observed stare decisis becomes a valid principle the moment the progressive institutes the changes they like.
I appreciate all these comments, but I honestly do not have time to respond to all of them right now. I hope in the future to do a review of the "By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed" in another venue in which I will explain my points more thoroughly. I really think, though, that Feser and Bessette are confused about how prudential judgments must be guided by principles. The Church does not need to declare capital punishment intrinsically immoral in order to restrict its possible use to cases of absolute necessity "when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society" (EV, 56). There are a number of principles that inform restricting the possible use of use of capital punishment to these very rare (if not practically non-existent) cases. Feser and Bessette, however, characterize the teaching of St. John Paul II as a prudential judgment (p. 197) just as they seem to understand the teaching of Pope St. Nicholas I--who, in 866,ReplyDelete
urged the Bulgarians to spare the lives of even the guilty--as a prudential judgment. (cf. p. 123). Feser and Bessette also ignore the canons of the 382 A.D. Roman Synod for the Bishops of Gaul held under Pope Damasus I, which taught that state officials who handed down death penalties, given unjust penalties and administered legal torture cannot be regarded as free from sin (PL 13, 1190). So we have a number of popes, viz. Damasus I, Nicholas I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis who have urged that the death penalty NOT be used. Have these popes only been motivated by prudential concerns for arguing against the use of the death penalty? Before writing my review I will re-read the Feser-Bessette book to make sure there is nothing I missed. I don't deny that there are arguments in the text worthy of consideration. I believe, though, there are a number of deficiencies, and the failure to grasp the moral principles guiding various papal judgments against capital punishment strikes me as a major deficiency. I understand that that the current teaching of the Church on the death penalty is relatively new, but it's not without precedent in Church tradition. God willing, I'll try to explain these matters more clearly in the future.
Feser and Bessette also ignore the canons of the 382 A.D. Roman Synod for the Bishops of Gaul held under Pope Damasus I, which taught that state officials who handed down death penalties, given unjust penalties and administered legal torture cannot be regarded as free from sin (PL 13, 1190).ReplyDelete
Hi Prof. Fastiggi,
Can you tell me where I can find the text of the 382 A.D. Roman Synod for the Bishops of Gaul? I've scoured the next, Jurgens, and other books at home, but can't find anything.
Thanks, and God bless!
Or better yet, supply the whole passage. Because if there is reproving of a person who went about executing, giving unjust penalties, and torturing, (all three), then there's no problem. Since giving out unjust penalties is wrong.Delete
The canons of the Council of Elvira (ca. 303) can be found here: The canons of the Council of Elvira.docxDelete
Canon 56 forbids a magistrate from being in the Church for the year of his service as a “duumvir,” which was the name for a joint magistrate who might need to carry out death sentences.
The relevant passage from the 382 Roman Synod to the Bishops of Gaul under Pope St. Damasus I is found in chapter 5, no. 13 and published in J.P. Migne ed. Patrologiae Curus Completus, Series Latina (1844ff) Vol. 13, 1190. The Synod here states “that state officials who ‘have handed down death penalties, given unjust judgments and administered legal torture’ cannot be regarded as free from sin.” (See Francisco Compagnoni, “Capital Punishment and Torture in the Roman Catholic Tradition” in The Death Penalty and Torture [Concilium 120] (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), 41.
Here is a better link to the Canons of the Council of Elvira: http://www.awrsipe.com/patrick_wall/selected_documents/309%20Council%20of%20Elvira.pdfDelete
@ Ed Feser,ReplyDelete
You are killing me dude.
When I first noticed it I was hoping it would pass by un-noticed but it has been noticed.
Your wrote"Since one of his more oversensitive admirers has falsely accused me of gratuitous attacks on Prof. Fastiggi,"
Was this necessary? You already got your licks in against Armstrong do you have to fan the flames?
Jesus man! It's not like he is Jerry Coyne!!!
He is one of ours!
>The Church does not need to declare capital punishment intrinsically immoral in order to restrict its possible use to cases of absolute necessity "when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society" (EV, 56).ReplyDelete
That might be true. If the Church can "ban" support for heliocentrism (which turned out to be "true" after a fashion). Then why can't She use her prudent disciplinary power to do the same with Capital Punishment?
The Church has not yet done this and I don't think she should.
But she can.