Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

God s Justice and Ours [Scalia on the Death Penalty]
First Things via Arts and Letters Daily ^ | June 4, 2002 | Antonin Scalia

Posted on 06/04/2002 6:22:31 AM PDT by aculeus

Before proceeding to discuss the morality of capital punishment, I want to make clear that my views on the subject have nothing to do with how I vote in capital cases that come before the Supreme Court. That statement would not be true if I subscribed to the conventional fallacy that the Constitution is a “living document”—that is, a text that means from age to age whatever the society (or perhaps the Court) thinks it ought to mean.

In recent years, that philosophy has been particularly well enshrined in our Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, our case law dealing with the prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.” Several of our opinions have said that what falls within this prohibition is not static, but changes from generation to generation, to comport with “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Applying that principle, the Court came close, in 1972, to abolishing the death penalty entirely. It ultimately did not do so, but it has imposed, under color of the Constitution, procedural and substantive limitations that did not exist when the Eighth Amendment was adopted—and some of which had not even been adopted by a majority of the states at the time they were judicially decreed. For example, the Court has prohibited the death penalty for all crimes except murder, and indeed even for what might be called run–of–the–mill murders, as opposed to those that are somehow characterized by a high degree of brutality or depravity. It has prohibited the mandatory imposition of the death penalty for any crime, insisting that in all cases the jury be permitted to consider all mitigating factors and to impose, if it wishes, a lesser sentence. And it has imposed an age limit at the time of the offense (it is currently seventeen) that is well above what existed at common law.

If I subscribed to the proposition that I am authorized (indeed, I suppose compelled) to intuit and impose our “maturing” society’s “evolving standards of decency,” this essay would be a preview of my next vote in a death penalty case. As it is, however, the Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead—or, as I prefer to put it, enduring. It means today not what current society (much less the Court) thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted. For me, therefore, the constitutionality of the death penalty is not a difficult, soul–wrenching question. It was clearly permitted when the Eighth Amendment was adopted (not merely for murder, by the way, but for all felonies—including, for example, horse–thieving, as anyone can verify by watching a western movie). And so it is clearly permitted today. There is plenty of room within this system for “evolving standards of decency,” but the instrument of evolution (or, if you are more tolerant of the Court’s approach, the herald that evolution has occurred) is not the nine lawyers who sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, but the Congress of the United States and the legislatures of the fifty states, who may, within their own jurisdictions, restrict or abolish the death penalty as they wish.

But while my views on the morality of the death penalty have nothing to do with how I vote as a judge, they have a lot to do with whether I can or should be a judge at all. To put the point in the blunt terms employed by Justice Harold Blackmun towards the end of his career on the bench, when he announced that he would henceforth vote (as Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall had previously done) to overturn all death sentences, when I sit on a Court that reviews and affirms capital convictions, I am part of “the machinery of death.” My vote, when joined with at least four others, is, in most cases, the last step that permits an execution to proceed. I could not take part in that process if I believed what was being done to be immoral.

Capital cases are much different from the other life–and–death issues that my Court sometimes faces: abortion, for example, or legalized suicide. There it is not the state (of which I am in a sense the last instrument) that is decreeing death, but rather private individuals whom the state has decided not to restrain. One may argue (as many do) that the society has a moral obligation to restrain. That moral obligation may weigh heavily upon the voter, and upon the legislator who enacts the laws; but a judge, I think, bears no moral guilt for the laws society has failed to enact. Thus, my difficulty with Roe v. Wade is a legal rather than a moral one: I do not believe (and, for two hundred years, no one believed) that the Constitution contains a right to abortion. And if a state were to permit abortion on demand, I would—and could in good conscience—vote against an attempt to invalidate that law for the same reason that I vote against the invalidation of laws that forbid abortion on demand: because the Constitution gives the federal government (and hence me) no power over the matter.

With the death penalty, on the other hand, I am part of the criminal–law machinery that imposes death—which extends from the indictment, to the jury conviction, to rejection of the last appeal. I am aware of the ethical principle that one can give “material cooperation” to the immoral act of another when the evil that would attend failure to cooperate is even greater (for example, helping a burglar tie up a householder where the alternative is that the burglar would kill the householder). I doubt whether that doctrine is even applicable to the trial judges and jurors who must themselves determine that the death sentence will be imposed. It seems to me these individuals are not merely engaged in “material cooperation” with someone else’s action, but are themselves decreeing death on behalf of the state.

The same is true of appellate judges in those states where they are charged with “reweighing” the mitigating and aggravating factors and determining de novo whether the death penalty should be imposed: they are themselves decreeing death. Where (as is the case in the federal system) the appellate judge merely determines that the sentence pronounced by the trial court is in accordance with law, perhaps the principle of material cooperation could be applied. But as I have said, that principle demands that the good deriving from the cooperation exceed the evil which is assisted. I find it hard to see how any appellate judge could find this condition to be met, unless he believes retaining his seat on the bench (rather than resigning) is somehow essential to preservation of the society—which is of course absurd. (As Charles de Gaulle is reputed to have remarked when his aides told him he could not resign as President of France because he was the indispensable man: “Mon ami, the cemeteries are full of indispensable men.”)

I pause here to emphasize the point that in my view the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted, constitutional laws and sabotaging death penalty cases. He has, after all, taken an oath to apply the laws and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own. Of course if he feels strongly enough he can go beyond mere resignation and lead a political campaign to abolish the death penalty—and if that fails, lead a revolution. But rewrite the laws he cannot do. This dilemma, of course, need not be confronted by a proponent of the “living Constitution,” who believes that it means what it ought to mean. If the death penalty is (in his view) immoral, then it is (hey, presto!) automatically unconstitutional, and he can continue to sit while nullifying a sanction that has been imposed, with no suggestion of its unconstitutionality, since the beginning of the Republic. (You can see why the “living Constitution” has such attraction for us judges.)

It is a matter of great consequence to me, therefore, whether the death penalty is morally acceptable. As a Roman Catholic—and being unable to jump out of my skin—I cannot discuss that issue without reference to Christian tradition and the Church’s Magisterium.

The death penalty is undoubtedly wrong unless one accords to the state a scope of moral action that goes beyond what is permitted to the individual. In my view, the major impetus behind modern aversion to the death penalty is the equation of private morality with governmental morality. This is a predictable (though I believe erroneous and regrettable) reaction to modern, democratic self–government.

Few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings. Or even in earlier times. St. Paul had this to say (I am quoting, as you might expect, the King James version):

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (Romans 13:1–5) This is not the Old Testament, I emphasize, but St. Paul. One can understand his words as referring only to lawfully constituted authority, or even only to lawfully constituted authority that rules justly. But the core of his message is that government—however you want to limit that concept—derives its moral authority from God. It is the “minister of God” with powers to “revenge,” to “execute wrath,” including even wrath by the sword (which is unmistakably a reference to the death penalty). Paul of course did not believe that the individual possessed any such powers. Only a few lines before this passage, he wrote, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” And in this world the Lord repaid—did justice—through His minister, the state.

These passages from Romans represent the consensus of Western thought until very recent times. Not just of Christian or religious thought, but of secular thought regarding the powers of the state. That consensus has been upset, I think, by the emergence of democracy. It is easy to see the hand of the Almighty behind rulers whose forebears, in the dim mists of history, were supposedly anointed by God, or who at least obtained their thrones in awful and unpredictable battles whose outcome was determined by the Lord of Hosts, that is, the Lord of Armies. It is much more difficult to see the hand of God—or any higher moral authority—behind the fools and rogues (as the losers would have it) whom we ourselves elect to do our own will. How can their power to avenge—to vindicate the “public order”—be any greater than our own?

So it is no accident, I think, that the modern view that the death penalty is immoral is centered in the West. That has little to do with the fact that the West has a Christian tradition, and everything to do with the fact that the West is the home of democracy. Indeed, it seems to me that the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post–Christian Europe, and has least support in the church–going United States. I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal: it is a grave sin, which causes one to lose his soul. But losing this life, in exchange for the next? The Christian attitude is reflected in the words Robert Bolt’s play has Thomas More saying to the headsman: “Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God.” And when Cranmer asks whether he is sure of that, More replies, “He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to Him.” For the nonbeliever, on the other hand, to deprive a man of his life is to end his existence. What a horrible act!

Besides being less likely to regard death as an utterly cataclysmic punishment, the Christian is also more likely to regard punishment in general as deserved. The doctrine of free will—the ability of man to resist temptations to evil, which God will not permit beyond man’s capacity to resist—is central to the Christian doctrine of salvation and damnation, heaven and hell. The post–Freudian secularist, on the other hand, is more inclined to think that people are what their history and circumstances have made them, and there is little sense in assigning blame.

Of course those who deny the authority of a government to exact vengeance are not entirely logical. Many crimes—for example, domestic murder in the heat of passion—are neither deterred by punishment meted out to others nor likely to be committed a second time by the same offender. Yet opponents of capital punishment do not object to sending such an offender to prison, perhaps for life. Because he deserves punishment. Because it is just.

The mistaken tendency to believe that a democratic government, being nothing more than the composite will of its individual citizens, has no more moral power or authority than they do as individuals has adverse effects in other areas as well. It fosters civil disobedience, for example, which proceeds on the assumption that what the individual citizen considers an unjust law—even if it does not compel him to act unjustly—need not be obeyed. St. Paul would not agree. “Ye must needs be subject,” he said, “not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” For conscience sake. The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible. We have done that in this country (and continental Europe has not) by preserving in our public life many visible reminders that—in the words of a Supreme Court opinion from the 1940s—“we are a religious people, whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” These reminders include: “In God we trust” on our coins, “one nation, under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance, the opening of sessions of our legislatures with a prayer, the opening of sessions of my Court with “God save the United States and this Honorable Court,” annual Thanksgiving proclamations issued by our President at the direction of Congress, and constant invocations of divine support in the speeches of our political leaders, which often conclude, “God bless America.” All this, as I say, is most un–European, and helps explain why our people are more inclined to understand, as St. Paul did, that government carries the sword as “the minister of God,” to “execute wrath” upon the evildoer.

A brief story about the aftermath of September 11 nicely illustrates how different things are in secularized Europe. I was at a conference of European and American lawyers and jurists in Rome when the planes struck the twin towers. All in attendance were transfixed by the horror of the event, and listened with rapt attention to the President’s ensuing address to the nation. When the speech had concluded, one of the European conferees—a religious man—confided in me how jealous he was that the leader of my nation could conclude his address with the words “God bless the United States.” Such invocation of the deity, he assured me, was absolutely unthinkable in his country, with its Napoleonic tradition of extirpating religion from public life.

It will come as no surprise from what I have said that I do not agree with the encyclical Evangelium Vitae and the new Catholic catechism (or the very latest version of the new Catholic catechism), according to which the death penalty can only be imposed to protect rather than avenge, and that since it is (in most modern societies) not necessary for the former purpose, it is wrong. That, by the way, is how I read those documents—and not, as Avery Cardinal Dulles would read them, simply as an affirmation of two millennia of Christian teaching that retribution is a proper purpose (indeed, the principal purpose) of criminal punishment, but merely adding the “prudential judgment” that in modern circumstances condign retribution “rarely if ever” justifies death. (See “Catholicism & Capital Punishment,” FT, April 2001.) I cannot square that interpretation with the following passage from the encyclical:

It is clear that, for these [permissible purposes of penal justice] to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent. (Emphases deleted and added.) It is true enough that the paragraph of the encyclical that precedes this passage acknowledges (in accord with traditional Catholic teaching) that “the primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is ‘to redress the disorder caused by the offense’” by “imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime.” But it seems to me quite impossible to interpret the later passage’s phrase “when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society” as including “defense” through the redress of disorder achieved by adequate punishment. Not only does the word “defense” not readily lend itself to that strange interpretation, but the immediately following explanation of why, in modern times, “defense” rarely if ever requires capital punishment has no bearing whatever upon the adequacy of retribution. In fact, one might say that it has an inverse bearing.

How in the world can modernity’s “steady improvements in the organization of the penal system” render the death penalty less condign for a particularly heinous crime? One might think that commitment to a really horrible penal system (Devil’s Island, for example) might be almost as bad as death. But nice clean cells with television sets, exercise rooms, meals designed by nutritionists, and conjugal visits? That would seem to render the death penalty more, rather than less, necessary. So also would the greatly increased capacity for evil—the greatly increased power to produce moral “disorder”—placed in individual hands by modern technology. Could St. Paul or St. Thomas even have envisioned a crime by an individual (as opposed to one by a ruler, such as Herod’s slaughter of the innocents) as enormous as that of Timothy McVeigh or of the men who destroyed three thousand innocents in the World Trade Center? If just retribution is a legitimate purpose (indeed, the principal legitimate purpose) of capital punishment, can one possibly say with a straight face that nowadays death would “rarely if ever” be appropriate?

So I take the encyclical and the latest, hot–off–the–presses version of the catechism (a supposed encapsulation of the “deposit” of faith and the Church’s teaching regarding a moral order that does not change) to mean that retribution is not a valid purpose of capital punishment. Unlike such other hard Catholic doctrines as the prohibition of birth control and of abortion, this is not a moral position that the Church has always—or indeed ever before—maintained. There have been Christian opponents of the death penalty, just as there have been Christian pacifists, but neither of those positions has ever been that of the Church. The current predominance of opposition to the death penalty is the legacy of Napoleon, Hegel, and Freud rather than St. Paul and St. Augustine. I mentioned earlier Thomas More, who has long been regarded in this country as the patron saint of lawyers, and who has recently been declared by the Vatican the patron saint of politicians (I am not sure that is a promotion). One of the charges leveled by that canonized saint’s detractors was that, as Lord Chancellor, he was too quick to impose the death penalty.

I am therefore happy to learn from the canonical experts I have consulted that the position set forth in Evangelium Vitae and in the latest version of the Catholic catechism does not purport to be binding teaching—that is, it need not be accepted by practicing Catholics, though they must give it thoughtful and respectful consideration. It would be remarkable to think otherwise—that a couple of paragraphs in an encyclical almost entirely devoted not to crime and punishment but to abortion and euthanasia was intended authoritatively to sweep aside (if one could) two thousand years of Christian teaching.

So I have given this new position thoughtful and careful consideration—and I disagree. That is not to say I favor the death penalty (I am judicially and judiciously neutral on that point); it is only to say that I do not find the death penalty immoral. I am happy to have reached that conclusion, because I like my job, and would rather not resign. And I am happy because I do not think it would be a good thing if American Catholics running for legislative office had to oppose the death penalty (most of them would not be elected); if American Catholics running for Governor had to promise commutation of all death sentences (most of them would never reach the Governor’s mansion); if American Catholics were ineligible to go on the bench in all jurisdictions imposing the death penalty; or if American Catholics were subject to recusal when called for jury duty in capital cases.

I find it ironic that the Church’s new (albeit nonbinding) position on the death penalty—which, if accepted, would have these disastrous consequences—is said to rest upon “prudential considerations.” Is it prudent, when one is not certain enough about the point to proclaim it in a binding manner (and with good reason, given the long and consistent Christian tradition to the contrary), to effectively urge the retirement of Catholics from public life in a country where the federal government and thirty–eight of the states (comprising about 85 percent of the population) believe the death penalty is sometimes just and appropriate? Is it prudent to imperil acceptance of the Church’s hard but traditional teachings on birth control and abortion and euthanasia (teachings that have been proclaimed in a binding manner, a distinction that the average Catholic layman is unlikely to grasp) by packaging them—under the wrapper “respect for life”—with another uncongenial doctrine that everyone knows does not represent the traditional Christian view? Perhaps, one is invited to conclude, all four of them are recently made–up. We need some new staffers at the Congregation of Prudence in the Vatican. At least the new doctrine should have been urged only upon secular Europe, where it is at home.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Editorial; Government
KEYWORDS: deathpenalty; scalia
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-87 next last

1 posted on 06/04/2002 6:22:31 AM PDT by aculeus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: aculeus
Bookmarked. Scalia deserves to read carefully, when time does not press.
2 posted on 06/04/2002 6:30:38 AM PDT by Kevin Curry
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Kevin Curry
Dittos. I hope we get two or three more like him on the court.
3 posted on 06/04/2002 6:33:38 AM PDT by hchutch
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
Agree with Kevin. This deserves to be savored. Thanks for the post.
4 posted on 06/04/2002 6:39:37 AM PDT by Colonel_Flagg
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
It will come as no surprise from what I have said that I do not agree with the encyclical Evangelium Vitae and the new Catholic catechism (or the very latest version of the new Catholic catechism), according to which the death penalty can only be imposed to protect rather than avenge, and that since it is (in most modern societies) not necessary for the former purpose, it is wrong. That, by the way, is how I read those documents—and not, as Avery Cardinal Dulles would read them, simply as an affirmation of two millennia of Christian teaching that retribution is a proper purpose (indeed, the principal purpose) of criminal punishment, but merely adding the “prudential judgment” that in modern circumstances condign retribution “rarely if ever” justifies death. (See “Catholicism & Capital Punishment,” FT, April 2001.) I cannot square that interpretation with the following passage from the encyclical:

Sliding his tray down the line of Doctrine in the Catholic Cafeteria goes one of the brightest men in America. Unfortunately, he is in the same line with Frances Quisling, the SSPX, Richard McBrien and the rest of the Protestant-Catholics who engage in private judgement and seek out their own "canonical experts" to assure them that THEY are exempt from this or that Doctrine because, no matter what the Pope says, the "canonical experts" have the real authority in the Catholic Church.

Scalia locuta est, Causa finita est. I sure wish the Pope would start listening to the real authorities...

5 posted on 06/04/2002 6:43:34 AM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Catholicguy
It seems to me the "Real Authority" to trust would be the Word of God.

Last time I checked, that hadn't changed much in the last couple thousand years. It still supports the death penalty.

6 posted on 06/04/2002 6:48:56 AM PDT by RandomUserName
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
"The death penalty is undoubtedly wrong unless one accords to the state a scope of moral action that goes beyond what is permitted to the individual. In my view, the major impetus behind modern aversion to the death penalty is the equation of private morality with governmental morality. This is a predictable (though I believe erroneous and regrettable) reaction to modern, democratic self–government."

Georgia law says I can use lethal force if in fear of my life or the lives of others, so the anti- capitol punishment crowd can drop that argument.

Scalia bump!

7 posted on 06/04/2002 6:51:21 AM PDT by Vigilantcitizen
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
Very interesting article. You do have to read him carefully, though. Look here:in a country where the federal government and thirty–eight of the states (comprising about 85 percent of the population) believe the death penalty is sometimes just and appropriate?

If you don't read that carefully, it would seem as though he's asserting that 85% of the population favors the death penalty.

But in any case, am I correct in stating that the death penalty is justified not because it provides a deterrent, but because it is simply a just punishment in some cases? The proposition that the death penalty provides deterrence is one of the pillars that death penalty supporters use to justify it's continued usage.

8 posted on 06/04/2002 6:58:47 AM PDT by RonF
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Comment #9 Removed by Moderator

To: aculeus
It fosters civil disobedience, for example, which proceeds on the assumption that what the individual citizen considers an unjust law—even if it does not compel him to act unjustly—need not be obeyed.

What would he say about an unjust law that compels unjust behavior? Or about an unConstitutional law?

10 posted on 06/04/2002 7:29:59 AM PDT by cruiserman
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: RonF
Deterrent effect is extremely difficult to measure. Most studies I have seen referenced show some small, perhaps statistically insignificant, deterrent effect. Deterrence is a good thing, but is not the sine qua non of legal validation. Hence, the discussion of the common law and the other bases justifying the penalty.
11 posted on 06/04/2002 7:57:06 AM PDT by Faeroe
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
I pause here to emphasize the point that in my view the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted, constitutional laws and sabotaging death penalty cases. He has, after all, taken an oath to apply the laws and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own. Of course if he feels strongly enough he can go beyond mere resignation and lead a political campaign to abolish the death penalty—and if that fails, lead a revolution. But rewrite the laws he cannot do.

Kudos to Justice Scalia (the next Chief Justice).

12 posted on 06/04/2002 8:17:09 AM PDT by 4CJ
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: allend
...

Bishop Vincent Gasser refuted this egregious misrepresentation at the Deputation de fide where he addressed the approach of emphasizing solemnity of form as the innovation that it is. He specifically told the Council fathers "most eminent and reverent Fathers this simply will NOT do because we are not dealing with anything new here. Already thousands and thousands of dogmatic judgments have gone forth from the Apostolic See and where was the form that was attached to these judgments???" Granted this was a bit of hyperbole being used by the bishop but it was to make a point that needs to be made: definitive papal judgments are not a new concept. They are not something that the Church just pulled from thin air but to some extent the range of this charism was not known from the very beginning. It was acted on in the early and later Medieval Church with an uncertainty as to how far it really went. There was seldom ever a time when the Pope used any formula that would be discernable to those who promote the ‘solemnity of form equals infallibility’ position. Therefore, the form or relative level of solemnity employed cannot be germane to the infallibility of a given judgment. Solemnity certainly has its place concerning outlining the types of truths being discussed but it has NOTHING to do with whether or not a given teaching is or is not infallible.

The linchpin of the entire decree of VC I is the key word ‘defines’. For infallibility to be a factor concerning teaching doctrine (excluding the areas of dogmatic facts and secondary truths of a universal scope,) the teaching must be addressed either explicitly or by implication to the Universal Church. This is what Vatican I meant about the Pope ‘exercising his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians’. Furthermore, the Pope must be intending to make the teaching definitive in a manner that makes this intention known. If this criterion is met then the teaching is infallibly rendered. What is the sense that the word "defines" was to specify (and in what sense did the Council Fathers vote on the decree)??? Here are the words of Bishop Gasser from the Deputation on the matter:

"Now I shall explain in a very few words how this word ‘defines’ is to be understood according to the deputation De Fide. Indeed, the deputation de fide IS NOT OF THE MIND THAT THIS WORD SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD IN A JURIDICAL SENSE (lat. In sensu forensi) so that it only signifies putting an end to controversy that has arisen in respect to heresy or doctrine which is properly speaking de fide. Rather, the word ‘defines’ signifies that the pope directly and conclusively pronounces his sentence about a doctrine which concerns matters of faith or morals and does so in such a way that each one of the faithful can be certain of the mind of the Apostolic See, of the mind of the Roman Pontiff; in such a way, indeed, that he or she knows for certain that such and such a doctrine is held to be heretical, proximate to heresy, certain or erroneous, etc., by the Roman Pontiff. Such is the meaning of the word ‘defines’." [77]

As Bishop Gasser noted earlier, this was by no means a new teaching and what is outlined in fact perfectly corresponds to the function of the Apostolic See historically with regards to conclusive judgments on doctrines concerning faith and morals. In fact, in the words set in bold print Bishop Gasser specifically refutes the common notion espoused by many Catholics (including many apologists and even some theologians) with regards to papal infallibility.

The pope in ‘defining’ a doctrine is not only declaring a doctrine as an article of faith (de fide). This was the second position rejected by the Council but by a strange twist of irony, most lay Catholics believe this is what the Council taught. Even the authors of the generally very-reliable Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 make this error in a few spots. The problem was addressed by Pope Pius XII in 1950 when (because of the Modernist movement’s influence) there were many people (particularly Modernist theologians) trying to dismiss the Ordinary Universal Magisterium and claim that only ‘ex cathedra’ teachings understood in the sense of solemn definitions were infallible or irreformable. This was coupled with the claim that a teaching that was not infallible could be dissented from in good conscience. As Bishop Gasser noted, the word ‘defines’ encompasses not only positive teachings but also doctrinal/theological condemnations involving secondary truths connected with Revelation.

However, infallibility also covers dogmatic facts — an area not addressed in the dogmatic decree. The decree itself addresses only what is to be believed de fide with regards to infallibility. It did NOT address other areas where the pope is infallible that are not divinely revealed but still areas where infallibility is necessary by implication if the Deposit of Faith is to be effectively safeguarded. In speaking of the degree of assent owed to the Magisterium of the Church, Pope Pius XII made the following clarifications on the matter:

"[It must not] be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: ‘He who hears you, hears me’; [Luke 10:16] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians." (My emphasis)[78]

Pope Pius XII noted that the Pope passing judgment on a previously disputed matter in his official documents (such as in an Encyclical) is enough to remove that issue from being one open to debate. This is infallibility in short: the Pope declaring a position to be either certain or in error (in varying degrees). The same principle by extension applies to a General Council ratified by the Pope. Much as with the Pope a General Council passing judgment on disputed issues in its official documents settles them definitively without resorting to the solemn language that generally accompanies a definition of dogma. It is not possible for a doctrinal error to one day be not in error or for a teaching that is ‘certain’ today to be in error tomorrow. Therefore, in Humani Generis 20, Pope Pius XII had to be referring to the Pope making a final decision that is not ex cathedra. The reason is that the context of the paragraph is the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium and the Pope passing judgment on a controverted point. Therefore, this cannot be a reference to the solemn (or Extraordinary) Magisterium but instead would be a reference to the Supreme Ordinary Magisterium – which is just as infallible but not as solemn or precise in form. The Supreme Ordinary Magisterium (also known as the Ordinary Universal Magisterium) is a theological convention used to emphasize truths of Catholic doctrine, which are definitive (infallible) but are not de fide. The degree of assent owed is the same but the canonical penalty for illful rejection differs between the two for they highlight different levels of truths. (Credenda in the case of dogma and tenenda in the case of doctrine.)

Vatican II (VC II) reaffirmed the dogma of papal infallibility and properly nuanced it. However there was still the problem of the 1917 Code of Canon Law being in place the wording of which was probably a major reason for the mistaken notion that infallibility was contingent on solemnity. It also did not help that there were a slew of theology sources such as the following one written for parents and teachers (and an otherwise excellent little booklet) making errors such as the following one:

"The pope must fulfill exacting conditions in order to make an infallible pronouncement. He must speak on a matter which, of its very nature, vitally affects the life and faith of the Church. He must address his statement to all members of the Church. Finally, he must openly declare that he is teaching infallibly. These conditions must all be taken seriously. Unless all are met the pope is not teaching infallibly. In the past hundred years there were but two instances where infallibly was exercised." [79]

As has already been noted in detail, most of this statement is nowhere near accurate as the word ‘defines’ encompasses not only positive teachings but also doctrinal/theological condemnations involving secondary truths connected with Revelation. It is true that the Pope must speak on a matter of faith and morals but the matter does not have to affect the ‘vital life of the Church’. (After all, how does the Assumption qualify as vital???) It is true that the Pope must be addressing the whole Church but he need not explicitly state this. However, it must be implied in some manner either by the formulation of the words used or another means — such as in a document addressed to the whole Church — where this intention is manifested. The condemnation of a doctrinal, or theological error as heretical, proximate to heresy, or erroneous applies to the entire Church by implication. When teaching a given doctrine as ‘certain’, the intention to bind the faithful must be more explicitly stated. However, if the pope has to openly declare that he is teaching infallibly then there are almost no examples which would qualify historically. Therefore unless VC I was proposing a new concept, this commonly espoused interpretation of the decree is clearly in error and the words of Bishop Gasser to the Council Fathers before they voted on the decree specifically refuted this erroneous conception. VC II in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium reaffirmed the dogma of VC I properly nuancing it (in the manner as espoused earlier by Bishop Gasser and Pope Pius XII) as well as relaying the full scope of infallibility as it is properly understood:

"This infallibility, however, with which the divine redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining doctrine pertaining to faith and morals, is co-extensive with the deposit of revelation, which must be religiously guarded and loyally and courageously expounded. The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful--who confirms his brethren in the faith (cf. Lk. 22:32)--he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals." [80]

No mention of the word ‘defines’ here but instead the words ‘proclaims in an absolute decision’ which is precisely what Pope Pius XII and Bishop Gasser noted on the matter (as did Bro. Alexis Bugnolo earlier). Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (paragraph 25) in emphasizing the extent of the deposit of revelation as the criteria of infallibility settled the question with regards to dogmatic facts and secondary truths which are not de fide but still requiring of the same degree of full assent as they are areas of ecclesiastical faith (fides ecclesiastica or faith in God’s protection of the Church). The degree of assent owed in these areas is equal to that of a solemn definition differing only in the type of truth outlined. Solemn definitions (or properly called dogmas) fall under the censure of heresy for disbelief (as being divinely revealed). Truths of doctrine (definitive non-solemn teachings) or secondary truths do not incur the censure of heresy for dissent but instead they vary in their theological qualification from erroneous to proximate to heresy depending on how close of a connection they have with Divine Revelation.

As Fr. Brian W. Harrison has noted on this issue: "The Vatican I definition has to do only with ‘doctrine concerning faith and morals’, whether this doctrine be promulgated by the Pope alone or by the Church as a whole. IN OTHER WORDS, THE TRADITIONAL TEACHING THAT THE POPE ALSO SPEAKS INFALLIBLY IN CANONIZING SAINTS, APPROVING RELIGIOUS ORDERS, AND IN DEFINING DOGMATIC FACTS, IS SIMPLY LEFT UNTOUCHED BY THE 1870 DECREE…Before Vatican I the great majority of Catholic bishops and theologians who already believed that the Pope is infallible in defining ‘doctrine’ seem to have believed that he is infallible in these other areas as well…[All Catholics] were obliged by [the definition] to believe that the Pope is infallible in defining not only dogmas of faith, but also the secondary truths, denial of which would be ‘proximate to heresy’ or ‘erroneous, etc.,’ as Bishop Gasser explained." [81]

The Pope, in both the Encyclical E.V. and The Catholic Catechism has defined the nature of Capital Punishment. I don't see where Scalia, or Frances Quisling, or the SSPX, or McBrien, or anyone else, gets the authority to oppose Divinely-constituted authority.

Does the Pope have to appear before Scalia to argue his case? Just who the hell has the authority?

13 posted on 06/04/2002 8:30:09 AM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

Comment #14 Removed by Moderator

To: Catholicguy
Ask Galileo.
15 posted on 06/04/2002 10:09:48 AM PDT by Apogee
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: allend
Grab your tray and get in line...We are all Protestants now ('cept me). We can either accept or reject Catholic Doctrine dependent upon our own judgement. Forget what Pope Pius XII says about Encyclicals, forget about the Catechism - let's just admit it - we ARE protestants and we will believe what we want to believe dependent upon our own judgement. Justice Scalia's personal theological musings, supported by "canonical experts" supercede the authority of Papal Encyclicals and Catechism Doctrine.

Magisterium- Schmagisterium

16 posted on 06/04/2002 10:48:28 AM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

Comment #17 Removed by Moderator

Comment #18 Removed by Moderator

To: allend
One is a Catholic if one is in Unity in Worship, Doctrine and Authority. At Mass, we profess that belief in the Creed "..One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic...." That trinity of realities encapsulated by "One" illuminates and defines what it means to be Catholic.

Is it Catholic or is it Protestant to oppose the authority of the Pope and is it Catholic or Protestant to reject Papal Encyclicals and Doctrines listed in a Universal Catechism the Pope promulgates and attests is a safe and sure sign of Christian Doctrine?

In your own words Okay, which is it?

19 posted on 06/04/2002 12:37:35 PM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

Comment #20 Removed by Moderator

Comment #21 Removed by Moderator

Comment #22 Removed by Moderator

To: allend; Catholicguy
There is just no way that the Pope's assessment of the efficacy of anyone's penal system in controlling criminals can be considered a matter of faith or morals.

Absolutely right.

It was precisely this "development of doctrine" that was condemned after Humanae Vitae was issued. Were we not told, in 1968, that, because the teaching had been consistent from the beginning, that that was the main reason to continue believing in the evils of contraception?

Now, after a constant teaching on the morality of capital punishment, millenia of consistency are tossed over the side, based on circumstances. Did the Church, as one wag put it, "Move from one certainty to another?"

CG, your argument "from authority" doesn't work, no matter how hard you try to make it. It didn't work for Paul VI, and it won't work here.

23 posted on 06/04/2002 1:12:20 PM PDT by sinkspur
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

Comment #24 Removed by Moderator

Comment #25 Removed by Moderator

To: ex con
Actually I saw that, and was a little worried about a Supreme Court justice depending on John Wayne for information on American Legal History.
26 posted on 06/04/2002 1:52:10 PM PDT by RonF
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

Comment #27 Removed by Moderator

To: allend
You desire to seperate out an argue the specifics within an Encyclical and I am arguing Principle. One cannot be Catholic and oppose the authority of the Pope nor can one oppose an Encyclical. You and Scalia and Sinkspur can oppose Encyclicals and The Catechism, but look at who you are sididng with vs. the constant understanding of the Magisterium as taught by Pope Leo 13th (cited in an earlier post)and this current Pope

Catechism #892 "Divine assistance is also given...when...they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium (surely Encyclcials and the Universal Catechism apply here) a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" whoch, though distince from the assent of faith, is nonetheless as extension of it."

28 posted on 06/04/2002 2:58:12 PM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: sinkspur
It was precisely this "development of doctrine" that was condemned after Humanae Vitae was issued. Were we not told, in 1968, that, because the teaching had been consistent from the beginning, that that was the main reason to continue believing in the evils of contraception?

Now, after a constant teaching on the morality of capital punishment, millenia of consistency are tossed over the side, based on circumstances. Did the Church, as one wag put it, "Move from one certainty to another?"

CG, your argument "from authority" doesn't work, no matter how hard you try to make it. It didn't work for Paul VI, and it won't work here

Sinkspur, you are doomed to head for your grave whining over the Pope not blessing contraception. Deal with it

29 posted on 06/04/2002 3:01:32 PM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: Kevin Curry
Ditto the Bookmark
30 posted on 06/04/2002 3:02:43 PM PDT by AndrewC
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: allend
Well, I was not thinking of the disciplinary aspect so much as the dogma aspect. The poster to whom I was replying seemed to say that church dogma was infallible, as well as certain writings of the pope, whether ex cathedra or not (if I have misinterpretted this, I am happy to recant).
In the case of the church dogma that the sun revolved around the earth - an Aristotelian notion brought down by Aquinas and incorporated into church teaching - the dogma was clearly wrong.
31 posted on 06/04/2002 3:05:57 PM PDT by Apogee
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 25 | View Replies]

Comment #32 Removed by Moderator

To: Catholicguy
Sinkspur, you are doomed to head for your grave whining over the Pope not blessing contraception. Deal with it

Can't address the discrepancy, huh?

Figures.

I'd be really interested in knowing how you resolve this change in death penalty "teaching," based on changed circumstances.

Was the Church wrong before and is suddenly right now?

33 posted on 06/04/2002 3:10:32 PM PDT by sinkspur
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 29 | View Replies]

To: one_particular_harbour
I see you boiled your brain in astringent again before blessing us with your incomparable wisdom.
34 posted on 06/04/2002 3:21:51 PM PDT by Kevin Curry
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

Comment #35 Removed by Moderator

Comment #36 Removed by Moderator

To: allend
According to Church Doctrine, unless he (the Pope) is speaking "ex cathedra" it is not infallible, or unless it has been pronounced as a decree of a Church Council.....
37 posted on 06/04/2002 3:34:50 PM PDT by TexConfederate1861
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

Comment #38 Removed by Moderator

To: allend
I like OPH; he afflicts the comfortable.

Most around here take his remarks way too personally.

How does the Neverending Story thread differ from those dreadful Calvinist threads? I wouldn't condemn anybody to that outpost. As long as threads like this one remain in "News," they're fair game for anybody.

39 posted on 06/04/2002 3:40:05 PM PDT by sinkspur
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 36 | View Replies]

Comment #40 Removed by Moderator

Comment #41 Removed by Moderator

Comment #42 Removed by Moderator

To: sinkspur
I have addressed it before -as have others- as has the Papacy, the Magisterium, The Deposit of Faith etc etc. You just reject it and desire approval of contraception. Breathes there a Freeper Catholic that doesn' know this. The Magisterium says one thing and Sink says another...Who am I to follow?
43 posted on 06/04/2002 5:27:47 PM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 33 | View Replies]

To: allend
Again, you are begging the question by assuming the statement, "Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent," falls into the category of faith or morals. Surely this matter must have been discussed by the theologians by now. I have asked you to come up with an orthodox theologian who agrees with you on the matter, but so far, you have not.

That is an instance of repitition on your part, not "question begging." I am addressing the matter of whether or not a Catholic can reject an Encyclical and Doctrine.

It appears to me you think he can if he has good reasons. Scalia rejects both the Encyclical E. V. and Catechism #2267. I say that is the act of a protestant (cafeteria Catholic) that is no different, in principle, than what Frances Quisling, the SSPX, Sinkspur (I didn't want to slight you sink) and McBrien do.

Avery Dulles holds with the papacy and the Magisterium that is development of Doctrine. I can add the names Fr Brian Harrison and Cardinal Ratzinger etc etc.

Papal Encyclicals are not intended to be disected by layman to see which parts can safely be opposed and argued about. Encyclicals are meant to be about TEACHING from the Pope not Propositions to be debated by laity and theologians who have NO Teaching authority

44 posted on 06/04/2002 5:37:29 PM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 35 | View Replies]

To: Catholicguy
I have addressed it before -as have others- as has the Papacy, the Magisterium, The Deposit of Faith etc etc.

You cannot explain the pope's sudden and, you say, authoritative, stance on capital punishment except to invoke "authority," which is no explanation at all.

The only theologians you're going to be able to find to back your point of view are going to be lefties like Rosemary Reuther and Daniel McGuire.

45 posted on 06/04/2002 5:42:37 PM PDT by sinkspur
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 43 | View Replies]

To: Catholicguy
Is a Catholic guilty of objective sin by voting for a candidate (like a governor) who supports the death penalty?

If the death penalty cannot be justified under present circumstances, then should we advocate excommunication of Catholic politicians (like Frank Keating) who refuse to commute death sentences?

46 posted on 06/04/2002 5:49:26 PM PDT by sinkspur
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 43 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
I have a problem with this though: "I do not believe (and, for two hundred years, no one believed) that the Constitution contains a right to abortion. And if a state were to permit abortion on demand, I would—and could in good conscience—vote against an attempt to invalidate that law for the same reason that I vote against the invalidation of laws that forbid abortion on demand: because the Constitution gives the federal government (and hence me) no power over the matter."

If an innocent helpless baby does not have the RIGHT to the pursuit of happiness,..and being treated equally, which is afforded by our Constitution, then WHO does?

Otherwise, I agree with the rest of his essay.

Any thoughts or debate on this matter? Thanks in advance.. as this area of individual rights really concerns me. These children cannot defend themselves.. I would hope our Constitution would defend them. But I read him saying it does not. How can that be??

47 posted on 06/04/2002 6:03:46 PM PDT by Vets_Husband_and_Wife
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ex con
Bumped for a.m. review! Thanks!
48 posted on 06/04/2002 7:38:18 PM PDT by MeekOneGOP
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: Vets_Husband_and_Wife
If an innocent helpless baby does not have the RIGHT to the pursuit of happiness,..and being treated equally, which is afforded by our Constitution, then WHO does?

Tenth amendment: any right not specifically enumerated in the Constitution is reserved to the states.

There is nothing in the Constitution about murder, or robbery. Those are reserved to the states. Abortion should also be a matter for the states.

49 posted on 06/04/2002 7:43:54 PM PDT by sinkspur
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 47 | View Replies]

To: sinkspur
You cannot explain the pope's sudden and, you say, authoritative, stance on capital punishment except to invoke "authority," which is no explanation at all. The only theologians you're going to be able to find to back your point of view are going to be lefties like Rosemary Reuther and Daniel McGuire

I have already cited The Pope himself, Card Ratzinger, Avery Dulles and I could compile a list of all living Catholic theroogians in union with the Pope; and I STILL don't think that would unseat you from your pro-contraceptive Hobby Horse.

The Pope explained his theological reasoning in Evangelium Vitae but, as you do not accept his authority OR his Theological explanation (and why should you; you are so much MORE qualified to speak of theology than is this brilliant and Holy Pope)but rely upon your own luminous intellect, a list of faithful theologians (who have NO teaching authority)is not going to sway you from thinking this Pope doesn't understand Development of Doctrine.

I guess Pope Sinkspur stands, like Luther, outside the Church, correct?

50 posted on 06/04/2002 7:52:43 PM PDT by Catholicguy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 45 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-87 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson