Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Different Roles for Government vs. Individuals?

August 4th, 2018, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Of all the paragraphs which Pope Francis chose to modify in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is fascinating that he chose one which Pope St. John Paul II modified himself after the first printing of the Catechism. The second edition paragraphs 2265, 2266 and 2267 read:

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All the changes between the first and second edition of the Catechism can be found here:  https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=220 and it was assembled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As one reads Pope John Paul II’s words, without denying the historical teaching of the Church, one wonders what was lacking that fomented a breach with prior teaching.

One can reasonably argue that in order to have made such a change, Pope St. John Paul II must have very carefully scrutinized the revision, along with the assistance of Cardinal Ratzinger (then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).  One might expect that neither of them missed an essential teaching in the revision, and that therefore what is written in the second edition is carefully and recently vetted to reflect 2000 years of Church Teaching, not to be changed at all, let alone ‘lightly’ or (seemingly) ‘urgently.’

In defense of the argument that Pope John Paul II clarified rather than changed Church Teaching on Capital Punishment, Edward Feser, co-author with Joseph Bessette of “By Man Shall His Blood be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment” the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse reports: “St. John Paul II Did Not Change Catholic Teaching on Capital Punishment: A Reply to E. Christian Brugger by  Edward Feser within PhilosophyReligion and the Public Square, November 20th, 2017”:

In order to doubt [the legitimacy of traditional teaching of the Church as infallible], you have to believe that the Church has for 2000 years both been systematically misinterpreting scripture and also teaching grave moral error. (If Brugger is right, the Church has for all that time essentially been endorsing a species of murder!). How Brugger would reconcile such a claim with the moral and theological credibility of the Church, I have no idea.”  Edward Feser

See http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2017/11/20501/ for a fuller discussion.

There are several scriptural quotations worth noting.

·         In Genesis 9:6, God gives the following COMMAND to Noah after the flood:  “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in His own image.”

·         Exodus 21:23b cites: “… you shall give life for life …”

·         In Leviticus 24: 21b it states: “… he who kills a man shall be put to death.”

The question of course then becomes how was this changed in the New Testament by Christ’s words in Matthew 5: 38-39?  Those verses read: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;….”

It would appear necessary to make a distinction between the powers given to government to regulate and protect a civil society, and encouraging the individual soul to take its pound of flesh in retaliation, rather than being individually consistent with God’s call to mercy, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  But the Matthian words seem addressed to individuals, as is so much of the Sermon on the Mount, rather than to reform of governments, or altering their charter and obligations to protect all its citizens.

The balance of civic rights and responsibilities would also seem to be reflected in the verbal exchange between Christ and

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri

      Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri

Pilate, just prior to that governor’s sentencing the Lord to capital punishment at the behest of the priests and elders, who are without mercy. In John 19:10, when Jesus does not answer the accusations against Him, “Pilate therefore said to Him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release You, and power to crucify You?”

Christ’s response is very telling about the source of Pilate’s power: “Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over Me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” Christ is reaffirming the power given from God for government to administer punishment for the ‘crime.’ I used to read that verse as meaning only that Pilate could not send Jesus to the cross unless the Father permitted it. While still part of the interpretation, since the Crucifixion was in accordance with the Father’s Will, I now also read it as “You will not be able to let Me go, unless that too is in the Father’s Will.”

Coming Next: Debunking the myth that prisons are escape-proof (and therefore does not constitute a sound argument against capital punishment.)

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