Writings and Blog

In Support of Capital Punishment

Teaching of Sacred Scripture 

Genesis 9:1,5-6 (D-R): AND God blessed Noe and his sons. And he said to them: …For I will require the blood of your lives at the hand of every beast, and at the hand of man, at the hand of every man, and of his brother, will I require the life of man. Whosoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God. 

Exodus 21:12–14, 22-25 (D-R): He that striketh a man with a will to kill him, shall be put to death. But he that did not lie in wait for him, but God delivered him into his hands: I will appoint thee a place to which he must flee. If a man kill his neighbour on set purpose, and by lying in wait for him: thou shalt take him away from my altar that he may die. If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman’s husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award. But if her death ensue thereupon, he shall render life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. 

Leviticus 24:17–20 (D-R): He that striketh and killeth a man: dying let him die. He that killeth a beast, shall make it good that is to say, shall give beast for beast. He that giveth a blemish to any of his neighbours: as he hath done, so shall it be done to him: Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, shall he restore. What blemish he gave, the like shall he be compelled to suffer. 

Deuteronomy 19:11–13 (D-R): But if any man hating his neighbour, lie in wait for his life, and rise and strike him, and he die, and he flee to one of the cities aforesaid, The ancients of his city shall send, and take him out of the place of refuge, and shall deliver him into the hand of the kinsman of him whose blood was shed, and he shall die. Thou shalt not pity him, and thou shalt take away the guilt of innocent blood out of Israel, that it may be well with thee. 

Numbers 35:33 (D-R): Defile not the land of your habitation, which is stained with the blood of the innocent: neither can it otherwise be expiated, but by his blood that hath shed the blood of another. 

Psalm 100:8 (D-R): 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. 

Luke 23:39–41 (D-R): And one of those robbers who were hanged blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing; thou art under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds. But this man hath done no evil. 

Acts 25:9–11 (D-R): Festus, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, answering Paul, said: Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem and there be judged of these things before me? Then Paul said: I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no injury, as thou very well knowest. For if I have injured them or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die. But if there be none of these things whereof they accuse me, no man may deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar. 

Romans 13:1–4 (D-R): LET every soul be subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God: and those that are ordained of God. Therefore, he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. 

Teachings of the Fathers 

St Augustine, Contra Faustum: Nor, again, is there any opposition between that which was said by them of old time, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” and what the Lord says…The old precept as well as the new is intended to check the vehemence of hatred, and to curb the impetuosity of angry passion…To put a restraint upon a revenge so unjust from its excess, the law established the principle of compensation, that the penalty should correspond to the injury inflicted. So the precept, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” instead of being a brand to kindle a fire that was quenched, was rather a covering to prevent the fire already kindled from spreading. For there is a just revenge due to the injured person from his assailant; so that when we pardon, we give up what we might justly claim…There is no injustice in asking back a debt, though there is kindness in forgiving it…Though there is no sin in wishing for revenge within the limits of justice, the man who wishes for no revenge at all is further from the sin of an unjust revenge. 

St Ambrose, Letter XXV (to Studius): Our ancestors thought it better to be indulgent towards Judges; that by the terror of their sword the madness of crime should be repressed, and no encouragement given to it. For if Communion were denied to Judges, it would seem like a retribution on their punishment of the wicked. Our ancestors wished then that their clemency should proceed from their own free-will and forbearance, rather than from any legal necessity. 

St Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles III, 146: As the physician in his operation aims at health, consisting in the ordered harmony of the humors, so the governor of a state in his operation aims at peace, which is the ordered harmony of the citizens. Now, the surgeon rightly and usefully cuts off the unhealthy member if it threatens the health of the body. Justly, therefore, and rightly the governor of the state slays pestilential subjects, lest the peace of the state be disturbed. (The entirety of this chapter is good stuff) 

Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata I: But when [the law] sees any one in such a condition as to appear incurable, posting to the last stage of wickedness, then in its solicitude for the rest, that they may not be destroyed by it (just as if amputating a part from the whole body), it condemns such an one to death, as the course most conducive to health…When one falls into any incurable evil – when taken possession of, for example, by wrong or covetousness – it will be for his good if he is put to death. 

Origen, Homilies on Leviticus: Death which is inflicted as the penalty of sin is a purification of the sin itself for which it was ordered to be inflicted. Therefore, sin is absolved through the penalty of death. 

St Augustine, City of God I: However, there are some exceptions made by the divine authority to its own law, that men may not be put to death…They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, “You shall not kill.” 

St Jerome, Commentary on Jeremiah: To punish murderers, the sacrilegious, and poisoners is not the shedding of blood, but the duties of the laws. 

Papal Teachings 

Pope Saint Innocent I: About these things we read nothing definitive from the forefathers. For they had remembered that these powers had been granted by God and that for the sake of punishing harm-doers the sword had been allowed; in this way a minister of God, an avenger, has been given. How therefore would they criticize something which they see to have been granted through the authority of God? About these matters therefore, we hold to what has been observed hitherto, lest we may seem either to overturn sound order or to go against the authority of the Lord. 

Pope Innocent III: We declare that the secular power can without mortal sin impose a judgment of blood provided the punishment is carried out not in hatred but with good judgment, not inconsiderately but after mature deliberation. 

The Roman Catechism, promulgated by Pope St Pius V: 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. 

Pius XII: Even when it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death, the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to live. It is reserved rather to the public authority to deprive the criminal of the benefit of life when already, by his crime, he has deprived himself of the right to live.