Thursday, September 10, 2009

Capital Punishment, Final

Is it legitimate to understand the death penalty as punishment and "just retribution"? What do the Church Fathers say about eternal punishment, retribution and hell for the evildoer in light of "God is love"? All this and more HERE.


Ostensive Lyme said...

Christ is in our midst!

Dear "Steve the Builder" :)
I noticed your link to this post when I commented on Fr Gregory's blog, under your comment. It's late for me and I only had time to quickly read over your final post here.
From this, it seems a very fine presentation of the careful case for capital punishment, and deserves a careful and respectful response. I'd like to offer one if I can find the time.
In brief now, I would like to make a couple observations.
1) I agree it is within the "Governing Authority's" *capacity* to bear the sword. I agree that God will use this Authority. However I have never understood how this is taken to justify any such use by a governing authority-- whether pagan or christian, good or evil.
For more on this please see my comments on Fr Jonathan's post re. torture here:

2) I think there is still the problem of who does the killing. If a Christian is striving for perfection, how can it be beneficial for his union with Christ to be the hand that executes?
While the blood on Orthodox hands from countless wars may seem some sort of argument for some to justify killing, nevertheless what our Holy Tradition has still delivered is the need for penance when killing even as an 'arm of State' makes a Christian's hands "unclean" (St Basil).
Theosis is the goal; why look for ways to *allow* Christians to kill when it clearly divides them from the Eucharist?

3) I find myself quite unsympathetic to efforts made my Americans to justify killing. Please forgive me-- this is not meant as a national slander (being Canadian, I am really American myself as a kindred, and a member of the OCA). I only mean that the level of state violence in the form of a punitive (not restorative) justice system that harms rather than heals criminals, and phenomenal military budge, seem to suggest we'd do better to *discourage* the shedding of blood far more than look for ways to legitimize it.

4) Related to the last point I think it's worth reflecting on how our ancestors the Hebrew people came to have a king in the first place. It was a concession to our hard-hearted demand to be like other nations. Why did God not want this? I think there are deeper questions of 'State Violence' that our Scriptures uncover and speak to.
--The paradigmatic "Holy War" for Christians predates its material king, when the Lord fights for his people delivering them from Egypt. Could we not trust our God to defend us today, rather than putting so much trust in princes and chariots?
--King David could not build the temple for his own hands were stained with blood from warfare; his son, "Shalom-man" was to build it.
--Christ himself is the victim of state-sanctioned violence, and unveils a much more interesting reading of Rom. Ch. 13 (basically, state violence kills itself! The righteous cannot be touched by it, as Christ was not. Here is how it does the will of God).

anyway I am straying from my promise to offer brief points, and teeter on the edge of offending with the vagueness of my comment.
I think your post is very well made and needs a proper, careful response.
I'll end only asking if you've ever encountered the writings of the Roman Catholic 'academic theologian/theorist' Rene Girard?
He has made some fascinating observations about violence, culture, and religion. A friend moved from the thought of Rene to that of Dostoyevsky, to a discovery of St Isaac the Syrian and found consistency-- only a deepening as he moved toward the insights of St Isaac on desire and violence.

Anyway forgive me for an incomplete comment. :)

Please pray for me, and may the Mother of God protect us.

-Mark Basil

s-p said...

Hi Mark Basil, Thanks for visiting my blog. Fr. Gregory and I are good friends and his post was probably generated from one of my previous podcasts on capital punishment where I refer to the document he mentions. Anyway, I'd encourage you to go to my "Steve the Builder" podcast and listen to all 8 podcasts in order (about 15 minutes each) where I deal with most of your comments (and there are transcripts of each one too). There is some overlap in the role of civil authority regarding war and capital punishment. It is a tough subject, I appreciate your time and thoughts presented here. I'll head over to Koinonia and check out your comments there.

Rick Lannoye said...

Whatever the early Church fathers thought, I think the main point is that Jesus was against punishment as a means to get "justice," which he saw as no different than getting revenge, whether it was to kill someone or to torture them in Hell. His answer was for people to admit their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness, and in turn, forgive others. For the bazillion times the "Lord's Prayers" has been repeated, so few get its meaning.

I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell," (for anyone interested, you can get a free Ecopy of my book at my website:, but if I may, let me share one of the many points I make in it.

If one is willing to look, there's substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

True, there are a few statements that made their way into the gospels which place Hell on Jesus lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

s-p said...

Hi Rick, There are a couple categorical leaps you make based on how you define your terms when you say Jesus was against punishment as a way to get justice which He saw as "revenge". I deal with that and the nature of Christ's earthly ministry and His Trinitarian relationship with God the Father's actions in the Old Testament (and the rest of the NT) in a previous podcast (#4 I think). While I appreciate the offer of the book, for the most part your premise will fall on deaf ears for most of the readers of this blog. You'll have to argue the case FROM Scripture and the Fathers, not argue the scriptures you don't like away. The entire series is an attempt to come to an understanding of some tough concepts in the Scriptures and not ignore or sweep away ones that don't fit a preconcieved position. Marcion tried that in the second century and many others since in various ways. May God bless your struggles to see His face clearly.

Anonymous said...

I like your could be because they are could be because they make me think...or it could be because I agree with you....who knows???

Virgil Petrisor said...

I realize I'm coming to this discussion rather late and I admit to having read the transcripts rather quickly. That being said, the one thing that Mark Basil asked and that I didn't quite find answered from the transcripts is his second question. Would it be possible to expand your discussion of "flipping the switch" a bit more to include the Church's ministry to the person who is in the position to, ultimately, terminate life on this earth?

Thank you,
+Fr. Peter

s-p said...

Hi Father Peter, Thanks for the visit, and I'll try to answer your question. Part of the issue is Mark Basil's question kind of bleeds over into the question of "war" but has application to a Christian participating in civil authority like the police force, prison guards and perhaps even being part of the team that actually administers the death penalty. In one sense the canon of St. Basil is really only one small piece of the entire mind of the Church on the topic. The reality is that the Church has canonized both the pacifist martyrs and the warrior who gives his life to protect the weak and innocent. The principles I refer to in my podcasts regarding how God has dealt with the fallen order through civil authorities (and directly Himself) that resulted in the deaths of evildoers and sinners shows us that death and consequences and restraint of evildoers through force is not inherently evil. It may not be what God would wish for His creatures, but to say it is "evil" or even a "necessary evil" is to say God is evil or does evil. I believe there is a pastoral role the Church needs to have with those who are in such roles, not to demean them as second class citizens of the kingdom, but with extreme care for their souls because they are performing a God ordained ministry to the world and risking their souls in order to do that on our behalf. I hope that helps a little bit.