by Roberto J. De La Noval | ру́сский
“There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma.” These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI, from a 2015 interview, on the sharp contrast between the teaching of the Council of Trent on the postmortem fate of the unbaptized and later Catholic teaching stemming from Vatican II. I was reminded of this comment when I read about Pope Francis’ 2018 change to the Catechism concerning the absolute inadmissibility of capital punishment—a move long anticipated in the theology of recent popes, especially Pope John Paul II. Speaking in February of this year to the 7th Global Congress Against the Death Penalty, Francis reiterated the point that the Catholic Church’s stance on the issue had “matured.” A profound evolution of dogma has indeed taken place in Catholicism on this question. But there are other reasons that this line from Benedict came to my mind, since there is a logical connection between Benedict’s admission and Francis’ emendation, precisely on the question of punishment and its purposes from a Christian viewpoint. In Pope Francis’ words, there is no ‘justice’ in a punishment that attacks the “inviolability and dignity of the person.” And this includes punishments both now and in the life to come.
Now, Francis’ teaching stems from Christian logic of God’s justice in Christ issuing in human mercy. But the correspondences between the 20th century shift on the possibility of salvation outside the Church and the movement towards a full proscription on the death penalty suggests that the same logic was propelling both: certain forms of punishment fundamentally violate the image of God in the human person. This Christian logic shone particularly brilliantly in 19th and 20th century Russian Orthodox thought, and its articulations there indicate subterranean points of connection between Eastern and Western theological development on the question of temporal and eternal punishment.
Continue reading →
by Jim Forest
It never ceases to amaze me that many of those who describe themselves as “pro-life” are, when it comes to capital punishment, passionate supporters of death as a method of improving the world. Most notably in America, not a few of those who wear a symbol of an earlier method of execution, the cross, would be more than willing to volunteer their services to end the lives of people now on Death Row whether by injection or hanging or the electric chair or firing squad — or, why not, crucifixion?
Many Catholics and other Christians were outraged when the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had authorized a modification of the Catholic Catechism. That basic text will now include the declaration that the death penalty is an attack “on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and can no longer be regarded as an appropriate means “of safeguarding the common good.” (Full text of the changes)
Christians of the Church’s first few centuries would be astonished at the number of pro-execution Christians they would find in a twenty-first century country crowded with churches. In the early Church even soldiers and judges entering the catechumenate couldn’t be baptized until they vowed not to take the lives of fellow human beings.
Take for example this third-century canonical text attributed to an earlier Bishop of Rome, St. Hippolytus (170–235 AD), who stressed that the renunciation of killing men, women and children was a precondition of baptism: Continue Reading…
by Kevin Beck | ελληνικά | ру́сский
For the better part of a decade, I lived in Mansfield, Ohio. As a rust belt city, Mansfield had to reinvent its economy following its deindustrialization. The town of old factories pinned its hopes of revitalization on tourism.
The crown jewel of Mansfield’s tourist economy is the old Ohio State Reformatory. The Reformatory housed prisoners from 1896-1990. Known for its haunting architecture and the violence suffered by the inmates, today the Reformatory hosts tours, welcomes ghost hunting expeditions, and serves as a set for films like The Shawshank Redemption. When the Reformatory closed, the new Richland Correctional Institution opened less than three miles away. The RCI housed Ohio’s male death row inmates until 2005. Living near facilities associated with the violence of killing led me to reflect on capital punishment in practice and in scripture, especially the execution of John the Baptist.
The facts of John’s case are familiar. John was arrested for criticizing the adulterous relationship of Tetrarch Herod Antipas and his sister-in-law Herodias. The Gospel according to Matthew says that Antipas had imprisoned John and wanted to kill him. Antipas, however, feared public opinion. This alone indicates the arbitrary nature of capital punishment. His fear of the crowds prevented him from taking John’s life. If Antipas had been bolder or if John had not been so popular, the tetrarch might have summarily executed the Baptist without a second thought. Instead, he jailed the Baptist. While John languished in the dungeon, Antipas threw a party. Continue Reading…