Taking only fifty seven minutes, Joseph Wood was executed by law for the committing of two murders in 1989. On the 23rd of July 2014, he became one of the many criminals to be punished by the Death penalty in Arizona, USA. In the Middle East, women are seen as inferior to men and women are still being stoned to death by their male counterparts for being disloyal. In last year alone, 778 people were put to death in 22 countries and that’s excluding China; which is estimated to have executed more people than all other countries that have the death penalty combined, according to Amnesty international.
Firstly, What is Capital Punishment and how is it brought about?
Capital punishment is ‘the killing of an individual as a form of punishment for one’s crimes and is authorised legally’, paraphrasing the Oxford dictionary. The Death penalty is debated heavily on whether if the law has a right to punish those by death for one’s crimes. However, many see this form of punishment as unethical, uncivilised and something of the past. In case one is curious, this form of punishment can be performed via an injection of a lethal drug able to kill; a firing squad to kill entire groups; an electric chair that can fry one’s internal organs; by hanging which can strangle the criminal to death or by guillotine which could decapitate someone’s head clean off just to name a few.
Does anyone deserve this?
Who is said to deserve the Death Penalty?
A criminal who has committed a heinous crime whether in the murdering of others or inflicted mass atrocities is said to deserve such a punishment however the Death Penalty varies in different countries depending on the law, religion or society’s specific worldview in a specific time period. Capital Punishment has been performed countless times throughout history to bring about the law and justice. For example, Jesus Christ was punished by the Romans for being considered to stir up trouble hence Jesus suffered crucifixion; the normal punishment of the time period .
What does the Catholic Church say about punishment via death?
The Catholic church has had a history of mixed views on the issue of sentencing one to death. Presently, the Church is leaning towards an abolition of the death penalty for the dignity of the human person as stated by the Catholic Catechism in section 1700 of section 1. Being created in the God’s image and likeness does not gives us a reason to kill others regardless of what they have done. Scripture backs this up through Genesis 1:27. The fifth commandment of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:13 says ‘Thou shalt not kill’ implying that any form of killing, even by the law, is seen by God as still killing a human being. Clement of Rome and Justin Martyr both forbid killing as a means to enforce the law.
“When God forbids us to kill, he not only prohibits the violence that is condemned by public laws, but he also forbids the violence that is deemed lawful by men. Thus it is not lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself. Nor is it [lawful] to accuse anyone of a capital offense. It makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or by the sword. It is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, regarding this precept of God there should be no exception at all. Rather it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred creature.”
–Lactantius of 260 to 330 AD wrote this in his book ‘The Divine Institutes’ of book 6, chapter 20.
To discuss this issue, we must discuss the core Christian concept of why we commit crimes. Simply we have inherited sin; the church preaches that all have sinned, all have fallen short of the God’s standard. This is stated by Saint Paul in Romans 3:23. Thereby, even if one doesn’t commit a crime, he has sinned in his heart and in his thoughts. If one has hatred towards another, one has already murdered in his heart. It is evident that the reason why Jesus came into this world was to forgive all sins including atrocious acts for God understands that we are sinners. We justs needs us to admit to them. The best verse summarising our sins was John 3:16.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
-what Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-45 calling upon us to love our enemies, forgive them and hope for the best for them.
An interesting point seemingly placed to make one feel intrigued by why we are to kill to bring justice.
Those punished for witchcraft were sentenced to death and hanged.
On the contrary, the Church has at some point in time allowed Capital punishment.
There is a whole history in the Medieval age of gruesome contraption designed to punish and kill. Contraptions for drowning; stakes for burning*; poisons for poisoning*; ropes for hanging* and axes for decapitating* just to keep order in the realms of the past. People like Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine had a stance on Capital Punishment to deter the wicked and look after the innocent.
This is apparent in St. Augustine’s book The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 21; “ The same divine authority that forbids the killing of a human being establishes certain exceptions, as when God authorises killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time.”
The Catechism also states in section 2265, a reason behind Capital Punishment as a grave duty for defence for the lives of others.
2265 Legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defence of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.
If you don’t understand Section 2265, watch the video for more on what the Catholic Church says on the Death Penalty. Please consider watching the video above and think about the matter and on the Catholic Church’s perspective.
Hence, where does this place the Catholic Church?
The Church just like secular society is mixed on the view of the Death Penalty. One side supports that every human has dignity and that it isn’t our calling to end one’s life. However, those who agree with the Death Penalty points out that Capital punishment is an effective way to deter people from doing wicked crimes. What has to be made known is that the church like culture, human understanding and human morality is changing and is continuing to change as time progresses. Leaning more away from the Death Penalty, Pope Francis insists that the death penalty compromises human dignity and St. Pope John Paul II states offenders should be always offered life over death; to be given other punishment rather than death.
My Opinion on the Death Penalty and the ever evolving daughter that is the Church…
I am seeing that since Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, all sins are forgiven if one asks for forgiveness. The Catholic Church should be seen as a changing entity, not a fixed element. Just as a daughter is ever changing in the eyes of the father, the church however great or however bold in it’s thinking, is the Father’s daughter and sometimes the daughter thinks of one thing or another like whether she likes something or something else different. This metaphor describes the ever-changing church as a growing daughter who tries to expand in her worldview and learning in the steps of the father, not the narrow-mindedness of an establishment.
For more statistics on Capital punishment by Amnesty international, click here.
For more on an article regarding world statistics on the Death penalty, click here.
For more on the story of Joseph Wood and other criminals who were executed, click here.
For more on the death penalty in China, click here.
For more on who Justin Martyr is, how he’d became the first Martyr and how one can learn from the church fathers, click this link.
For more on the Early Church’s view on the death penalty, click here.
For more on the Christian’s view of Capital Punishment by the BBC, click here.
For more on the Secular view of the death penalty, click here.
For more on the dignity of the human person and what the Catechism has to say, click here.
For more on the respect of the human dignity and issues raised in the Catechism, click on the link.
For more on modern methods to execute, click here.
For more on St. Pope John Paul II take on the death penalty, click here.
An article on Pope Francis’ meeting with Sudanese Woman who was sentenced to death and then freed.
*No links added for death penalty in Medieval ages. If you want to know how the people in the Medieval age execute, google it yourself.