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THE DEATH PENALTY


 

by:

 

Dom Basilio Magno




I. GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF LIFE AND DEATH

FACT.

Everyone seems to agree with this but no one really believes it. We find the majority of men exerting all efforts to prolong their lives and a few trying to shorten their own or other's lives.


DOCTRINE.

God alone decides on life and death. He decides when a life would be born because He alone can provide the soul, the source of life, for that being. Without God doing so, there can be no life.


God alone decides when one dies because He alone can call a soul to judgment. Without God doing so, no one dies.


And God had made His decisions on life and death from the foundation of the world, i.e. long before anyone is born or dies. God has no intention of changing His mind.


SOMETIMES, God executes His decision using human instrumentality. Ordinarily, he uses the marriage privilege as instrument for the creation of life. Though he does not do this always, as childless couples know too well. Once He disregarded the said common procedure and still created life, like in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the birth of Christ. Sometimes He uses science, such as in vitro fertilization, to initiate life, though it is a practice frowned upon by the Church. Because of this, man, the instrument, erroneously thinks that he is the author of life, like the hammer thinking it is sinking the nail. Though the hammer is wise enough not to think so, man with his fallen human nature often makes the mistake of thinking that he is the creator of life.


SOMETIMES, also, God executes His decision ending someone's life using human instruments. God used the Jewish people to end Christ's life. Now, no one really believes that any Jew can end the life of a God. God also used the crazed Herod to end the life of the Holy Innocents. It is God's way of summoning the Innocents to their early reward and eventually entering heaven, except God used the cruelty of a tyrant to do so. Because of this, man, the instrument, often erroneously thinks that it is he who decides when life should end. The Holy Innocents would have died of famine or pestilence if Herod was not cruel or if the king was St. Louis of France.



GOD EVEN DECIDES on the circumstances of one's birth or death. God is the one who decided that Christ would be born of Mary and no other woman. Or that St. Bernadette be born in France and not in England. Or that St. Augustine would be born in the 4th century and not in the 20th century.

God also decides on the circumstances of one's death. Whether one dies at birth, of an illness, in an accident, from an assassin's weapon, from a natural catastrophe or from a lethal injection whether of heroin, opium or potassium chloride is God's decision alone, which no man can change. After all God allowed evil and depraved men to use the death penalty as the means for Christ's death though He was innocent.

TAKE NOTE that while it is God's will that a person be born, the adultery or the fornication is not God's will (marriage, though, could be God's will). While it is God's will that a person dies, murder is not. Theologians want to call the former "God's direct will" while the latter "God's permissive will."

God's direct will is what God really wants; while His permissive will is what sinful man really wants, which is contrary to God's will but which God allows as an exercise of the free will He has given man.

An example would be, it was God's direct will that Adam and Eve should not eat the forbidden fruit; it was God's permissive will that allowed Adam and Eve to disobey God and eat of the forbidden tree. Obviously the disobedience was not God's will; but He allowed it as an exercise of the free will He had given them for which they were later punished.

God's direct will is the laws of love and forgiveness. God's permissive will is expressed in the laws of the state. It is God's will that we desire His direct will and NOT desire what He merely permits to happen as when a man commits murder.


It is God's way that He often extracts good from evil. So he allows man to do evil and then, get some good out of it. So from fornication or adultery, a saint could be born, or from an injustice a martyr could receive his great reward in heaven. But the good extracted does not remove the evil from an evil act.

 


DEATH PENALTY. Following the above doctrine, therefore, let me state this early that absolutely no one, neither head of state nor judge, nor executioner can really end any criminal's life; nor can any one through acts of protest or demonstration prolong anyone's life. If a criminal dies on a date set up by the court, it is because it coincided with God's will. If it is not God's will, the execution will surely not push through. And if it does not push through it is not because of any demonstration or prayer rally; it is because it is not God's will. So let no one attribute to himself the termination or prolongation of anyone's life.

 

2. THE OLD TESTAMENT CONCEPT OF JUSTICE. The Old Testament concept of justice is considered inferior to both the original concept God had in Paradise and the concept Christ would introduce in the New Testament.


PRESENT SITUATION. Our concept of justice today is still that of the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament is not the "way it was in the beginning" as introduced in Paradise. The so-called Old Testament concept of justice is a condescension that God had to do because of the hard-heartedness of man.


GOD IN THE GARDEN OF PARADISE. It is narrated that in the beginning when God created Adam and Eve, He gave them a command and threatened them that if they disobeyed that command they would die the death. Now, that sounded like the first threat of death penalty. And like our present practices, if there is a disobedience there should be an execution of the threat. It is, however, narrated that after Adam and Eve disobeyed, in spite of the threat of death, God did not execute them but gave them many more chances. So, in effect, their sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, since God's threat really meant a spiritual death rather than mere physical death.

The woman caught in adultery, by all Old Testament standards, decreed death by stoning. Christ did not go against the law but gave a higher law, "He who has no sin, let him cast the first stone." And they all left. Commuting the sentence to life imprisonment is a higher and nobler law than imposing death penalty.

This should have been the setup in the Old Testament. But due to man's hard-heartedness God delayed this set-up until the New Testament so that there could be a continuous believable threat of death penalty; but all punishment should eventually be reduced to life imprisonment in the hope that man might eventually fear spiritual death rather than mere physical death.


OLD TESTAMENT JUSTICE. After Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise God had to give in to a more inferior sense of justice because of man's incapacity to understand and rise to higher levels of rational and spiritual life. So the law "An eye for an eye." This law is a condescension due to human perversity by allowing retaliation so men do not harm each other out of fear of suffering the same.

Eternal life in paradise and heaven is the superior motivation for man to love God and do good to neighbor. The "Eye for an eye" was the threat to deter man from doing evil. The fear of the death penalty is not enough to make man do good; it merely deters him from doing evil and, more often than not, this works only if there is a danger of being caught. Where there is no danger of being caught, like a state of anarchy, man indulges in evil.


GOD PLACES IT IN MAN'S NATURE TO love life. Man, in his natural state, loves physical life. God's will is that the love for physical life here on earth must eventually mature to love for eternal life in heaven. Those who love eternal life begin to disdain physical life here on earth.

To those who do good for love of eternal life, avoiding evil is inherent and, therefore, they do not need the threat of death to avoid evil. In fact, for such, like the martyrs, the threat of death means nothing. They are even eager to die in doing good deeds. But for those who have no love for eternal life, but merely have a love for physical life, to do good is not inherent; while doing evil, which makes up majority of the acts of man who love their physical life, increases. And so there is a need for such persons to have the external threat of death to deter them from pursuing their evil desires.

The love for physical life is insufficient to make someone do good and avoid evil. In fact, this makes him selfish, thus discouraging him from doing good to others and encouraging him to do evil. The sentence of death is the most potent deterrence for doing evil for those who "love their lives." Where this does not work, nothing else will and that society is doomed to anarchy.

The natural fear of physical death was instilled in us by God that we may all the more fear spiritual death or the death of the soul. After all, physical death is really nothing; it is spiritual death that is everything.


FEAR OF DEATH. God gave us fear of physical death that we might safeguard physical life. God, however, wants us to mature into fear of supernatural death that we might safeguard our eternal life. This is the message of the Old Testament and eventually perfected in the New Testament.

In the garden of Eden, God threatened Adam and Eve with death. And they were afraid of death. The reason they disobeyed God was not because they did not fear death but because they thought that the devil's offer of "Thou shalt not die" was a better offer.

After Cain killed his brother Abel, he begged God to protect him because he feared that others would kill him for his crime. Yet God protected him and did not allow that the rest of man could impose the natural retribution due to such crime, i.e. death penalty. So here we see man in his fallen nature instinctively applying the death penalty on those guilty of certain crimes but God constantly preserving life that they may repent.


LOVE OF LIFE MOTIVATES FEAR OF DEATH.
Man's love for life is clearly shown in that every effort or act of man is aimed at prolonging and preserving life. Obviously, anything that would threaten that would have a deterrent effect.

For man life is so sweet, though painful and short-lived, because man cannot manage not to die. He takes tremendous pains to avoid dying soon. He is wise enough to know that he cannot avoid death; yet he exerts all effort to avoid it. He finds life painful but would not want the pain stopped by death.

The thought of death is naturally abhorrent to nature. Man struggles hard not to die. He dies unwillingly because he had sinned willingly. Everyone tries to delay death, as if it could be postponed. Everyone watches, digs in, or bolts doors, or sails the seas, or plows the fields. People toil away not in order not to die but just in order to die a little later.

How many things people do to live a few more days. Man is eager to live and die a little while later. The things they do for the sake of those few days and yet see what they are doing for the sake of eternal life.

Even for a little longer life, people are willing to give up everything; they give up that by which they could live forever in heaven. They give up faith to live a few days longer.

The devil will never promise eternal life here on earth. He knows no one would believe him. But he promises to let you live longer, which in fact, he cannot do. And the price he asks for the non-delivery of his lie is a betrayal of Christ and His teachings. Only a fool would buy that.

We are prepared to be reduced to beggary to live a little longer, but not to give away our superfluities in order to reign forever with Christ.

From the human point of view, Jeremy Bentham in "Rationale of Punishment" (1831), said that death is regarded by most men as the greatest of all evil, specially among those who are attached to life by the ties of reputation, affection, enjoyment, hope and fear. It appears to be the more efficacious punishment than any other.

The SAINTS, following the teaching of Christ to hate one's own physical life, are the only ones who hate their present life, do not fear death, and are willing to lay down their life any time...and all because they have chosen to love ETERNAL LIFE.

For the SAINTS the thought of physical death and the possible consequence of eternal death are the greatest motivation to avoid evil and do good. Avoiding evil saves us from hell, while doing good brings us to heaven. So the thought of eternal death should really prevent all crimes, thus making this world a better place to live in. Sad to say, most of humankind is not smart enough to make this choice.

"Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul." Why is your concern on those who can kill the body and not the one who can kill the soul? You must know that you are to face Him who can kill you soul. And yet you clamor before him who can only kill the body. You are afraid of prison but not of hell, of the inquisitor's torture but not of hell's angels? Afraid of torment in time and not afraid of the pains of eternal fire? Afraid of dying for a moment, but not afraid of dying forever?


EFFECTIVENESS OF THREAT OF DEATH TODAY. Our times are more evil than before. Mankind has progressively gone lower than the beasts. And like beasts, they don't think of the inevitable, death. And so in countries that still have the death penalty, it is noticeable that it has lost some of its effectiveness in deterring other criminals from doing evil. Its effectiveness, however, is still undeniably exhibited in the conversion of the condemned criminal. This shows that given the right ambiance, like the death row or the ICU of a hospital or in an airplane 30,000 feet over the sea that has lost an engine, the thought of imminent death influences man to be good. Life imprisonment does not show the same salutary effect...though ordinarily speaking, it should.

And so like in the making of a saint, those in death row must be taught to "hate their present lives that they may save it." Then leave their fate in the hands of God.

In England it is said the King should win the love of the subject rather than make them fear the laws on the death penalty made with great legislative efforts. Showing that laws made for the preservation of peace are more effective than laws made to fear punishment. This reflects the teaching of the New Testament.



3. THE CATHOLIC VIEW.

In the New Testament, God, through Jesus Christ, imposed once more the original concept of justice, as He had taught it in Paradise. Christ said He came not to abolish the Old Law but to perfect it. Christ brought with Him the cure to man's tendencies towards evil. Suddenly there is no need for any external force to make man do good and avoid evil. The motivation would come from within man, himself.

But sadly, few would embrace this cure because it goes contrary to the natural, base instinct of man. Majority had rejected it; "Many are called but few are chosen." And because mankind had chosen to behave more like the beast that he has become, because of original sin, the threat of death effective for mostly irrational animals, has still become necessary to prevent man from committing crimes.

The quest for holiness is the best and only solution to crime. Charity removes from an individual all tendencies towards crime and sin; and develops in man a preoccupation to do good to all men. It teaches that the time of one's death is solely God's decision. But the kind of death we die is in our hands. We could have a bad death or a good death. A virtuous life leads to a good and holy death, though not necessarily a non-violent death, as in the case of martyrs. And a good death will satisfy man's greatest longing of avoiding death with the reward of a happy eternal life in heaven. A bad death on the other hand will realize in man his greatest fear, eternal death in hell.

Everything is based on God's will in that if a man is alive, evidently it is God's will for him to be alive. And with no proof to the contrary we must cooperate with God's will by keeping that man alive. To do anything to the contrary is to go against God's will... which is more serious than going against man's laws. "God does not desire the death of a sinner but that he should be converted and live." "Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints."

What God allowed in the Old Testament, like the death penalty to deter crime, He superseded in the New Testament with the law of love. This is more perfect in that it always works, unlike the former that had limited deterrence. In the New Testament Christ is giving us a choice on how to stop evil between a very inferior instrument, the death penalty, and a perfect instrument.

The death penalty has definitely some deterrence but not as much as we would want. It benefits the criminal in some ways (as making him repentant) but this does not work all the time. Then the practice is open to great injustice in that an innocent person may be condemned. In which case, the judge, the accusers, the witnesses, the supposed victims, the lawyers, the guards and everyone concerned become guilty by association to the injustice. The victims of the crime themselves, because of their inability to forgive, shown by their suits and desire to pursue the death sentence are the greater losers (spiritually). The death penalty though in accordance to God's design of rendering the "sword" still goes against the perfect teachings of Christ in the New Testament. The "eye for an eye" of the Old Testament still goes against Christ's command to forgive "seventy times seven."

The Catholic solution, Christ's Good News, on the other hand, is an all winner. The evildoer is either prevented from being an evildoer or, if he is evil, he is taught to be a repentant sinner, which solves the problem of crime. The victim is forgiving, so there are no hatreds and suits. While the judges and lawyers work that the sinner be repentant, the victims become forgiving.

In the New Testament, Christ commands us to love. And killing is not exactly an act of love, though parents of saints would rather see their children dead rather than sin (but none is known to have killed their child). God, too, out of love would choose the death of a child if He foresees that the child would grow up a great sinner...sort of preventing the child from losing his soul.

In His command to love He forbids us, not only not to kill, and not even to get angry...but offering our other cheek if anyone strikes us on one cheek. We are admonished to forgive seventy times seven without any condition.

So in a Christian scenario, there ought not to be any evildoer, and no accuser.

Christ very strongly commanded us not to judge anyone with the threat that we will receive the same judgment with which we judge others. The way we use the word "judge" and the way Christ meant it are quite different. The mother who judges her child to be naughty and punishes him for it, the father who judges his eldest son to be committing adultery and disinherits him for it, both are judging but not in the manner with which Christ forbade. So a judge, considering the welfare of the majority may, without disobeying the command of Christ, judge and punish a malefactor. Just as parents are allowed to do that for the spiritual welfare of their children, a judge may do likewise for the welfare of the majority. And the Catholic Catechism (2266) confirms this right of the State precisely because it does not go against Christ's command not to judge.

Christ's command not to judge is for one to consider himself not spiritually superior to anyone else. In fact we must consider ourselves "worm and no man," the "scum of the earth," meaning to say spiritually the worst or at least inferior to others. Now, the forbidden judgment is like this...If anyone thinks that his neighbor deserves death while he does not, then he has wrongfully judged his neighbor. He has implied that he is spiritually superior to his neighbor. So everyone who thinks that a criminal is deserving of death while he himself is not, has sinned against God. And judges could easily fall into this. The advocates of the death penalty are obviously guilty of "rash judgment."



4. THE SAD STATE OF PRESENT AFFAIRS RAISES THE NEED FOR DEATH PENALTY.

Evidently mankind has rejected Christ's solution and has remained in the irrational level because of his fallen nature, though spiritual writers described man's state as even lower than the beasts in that man is capable of crimes, which does not exist in the animal kingdom.

This raises the need for the Old Testament deterrents, which, because times have become more evil, is becoming ineffective. But we know of no other way to deter crime. We seem to be stuck with the death penalty though it has become a panacea. The only minimal good we get from it is possible repentance of the condemned man only.


LET US SEE THE PROS AND CONS OF THE DEATH PENALTY IN THE PRESENT DISPENSATION.


Indeed, Romans 13 recognizes the authority of the state to administer capital punishment. St. Paul describes it as the "sword" that God gives the ruler to execute God's wrath, not man's wrath. The Catholic Church has always recognized the right of the state to administer capital punishment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats this recognition; the Holy Father mentions it in Evangelium Vitae adding that the criminal is indeed guilty and his death is the only way of protecting others...conditions which are difficult to ascertain. But on Dec. 26, 1998, the Holy Father expressed the New Testament teaching of Christ, stating that capital punishment is not really reflective of Christ's teachings, which we have shown earlier.

Undoubtedly, the Church has a great respect for this right of the state because she is not known to have objected to capital punishment. Though when Church and state were united, the state did not practice capital punishment. In some cases, the Church is known to have administered capital punishment in her estates whenever banditry thrived. Heretics were burnt at the stake.

The Vatican estate had provision for capital punishment up to just a few years. Pope Paul VI had it removed.

In the development of Christian doctrine, however, the emphasis is on mercy, "It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice." In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ instructed his disciples to seek no revenge for wrongdoing and also to love one's enemies.

Romans 13 affirms the sovereign power of the state to act on behalf of the common good of society. The state must take appropriate measure to defend the lives of innocent citizens even if it has to execute the lawless. Capital punishment is an endorsement of justice where the criminal must forfeit his life commensurate to the gravity of his crime.

The death penalty is an exercise of judgment and not of hatred. Pope Innocent III declares: "We assert concerning the power of the state that it is able to exercise a judgment of blood without mortal sin provided it proceeds to inflict the punishment not in hate, but in judgment, not incautiously but after consideration."

Christ preached to aim at eternal life even at the expense of our temporal lives. This removed the fear of death. Aiming at eternal life is not so much desiring to die, but to go to a place where there is no death. Of course, we would rather go there without dying bodily but this is not possible. "It is appointed for all men to die; then comes judgment."

The Marquis Beccaria in his work "Crime and Punishment" Chapter 28, gives a sensible limitation to capital punishment. He states: "The death of a citizen can be necessary in one case only; when, though deprived of his liberty, he has such power and connections as may endanger the security of the nation, when his existence may produce a dangerous revolution in the established form of government. But even in this case, it can only be necessary when a nation is on the verge of recovering or losing its liberty, or times of absolute anarchy when the disorders themselves hold the place of law. But in a reign of tranquility, in a form of government approved by the united wishes of the nation, in a state fortified from enemies without, and supported by strength within...where all power is lodged in the hands of the true sovereign...there can be no necessity for taking away the life of a subject."

The Marquis suggested servitude for life as the ordinary means of deterrent. His suggestion came because of the good results of the abolition of capital punishment in Russia under Empress Elizabeth and Catherine III.

The Marquis continues: "Capital punishment is a law which is intended to moderate the ferocity of man; because of this it should not increase man's ferocity by an example of barbarity especially if it is accompanied with pageantry. To prevent murder, we should not commit murder."

Add to this the fact that in the secret corners of man's mind there is a sentiment that tells him that his life is not lawfully in the power of anyone.

Our evil times plus the inability of the men of the Church to convince Catholic heads of state to spare life, to convince judges not to judge unjustly, lawyers not to lie, victims to forgive seventy times seven, the masses not to cry out for blood...cries for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

 

JUDGES. Let us analyze our New Testament era where there arises a need to impose the death penalty.

The right of the state to administer the death penalty is vested on judges, since they are in the best position to impose the law. And they are exhorted to render their judgments cautiously and justly. Unfortunately this is difficult because we cannot prevent lawyers from lying, witnesses from testifying falsely, influential people from pressuring, and the press from voicing its journalistic opinions...and the fact that judges, also, have a fallen nature, the same fallen nature that had driven the accused to commit the crime. Nevertheless, he is the better judge being trained, at least, for the job. Let no one else arrogate this right.

God had still given the state this right even in the New Testament so it can accomplish its primary rule of maintaining peace and order, which even the Church of Christ needs so much to function well.

St. Augustine says: "Not everybody has the right to put evildoers to death. There are judges to deal with them; there are the authorities to deal with them. The state is well ordered, for the authorities that exist have been ordained by God (Rom 13:1). So do not wish to strike one who hasn’t been tried, to wish to strike who hasn’t been judged, to want to strike a bad man without receiving any authority to do so. We are not defending bad men, or saying bad men aren’t bad. Judges who judge take on a heavy responsibility in that God will judge them the way they judge others. So why do you want to carry this difficult burden on yourself and render an account to God?”

So in the early Church, when a judge became a Christian, he was allowed to remain as a judge but advised to be most careful in dispensing his judgments. But those who were not judges were discouraged from being judges.

Judges had not been preserved to make unjust judgments. But sometimes God uses the unjust verdict of a corrupt judge to coincide with God’s will in that most of the early Christian martyrs died at the date their unjust judges had declared. 

 

THE AUDIENCE.

For lack of knowledge of the case, everyone else outside the judge should be silent. St. Augustine states: “It is not lawful to rage against bad people. By venting your rage on them, you are adding yourself to their number. Does the bad person displease you? Then don’t let there be two of them. You are objecting to him yet you are adding yourself to him. Do you want to overcome the bad with bad, to overcome evil with evil?” “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21). Maybe he is worse than you, but that still makes two bad persons.

 

THE CHURCH.

The Church must teach the kerygma, the solution to all of man’s problems especially the problem of evil in him. It is definitely the better answer to capital punishment. The kerygma could have prevented the faithful from being criminals, or if they are the victims, to encourage the faithful to be forgiving of their enemies. In such a situation capital punishment would not be a necessity.

But in a situation where the men of the Church had failed to teach man to eradicate their vices and passions and live as angels (the goal of the Evangelical life), and similarly had failed to teach forgiveness, then capital punishment becomes the unwanted alternative. And though the Church must continue to teach the doctrines of Christ, she must be humbled by her failure to do so thus raising the need for the death penalty.

The Church should preach that to incarcerate for life is a more humane alternative because the death penalty is dehumanizing as a strategy to deal with human wrongdoing. Besides, it does not reflect the Christian values of forgiveness, hope and redemption.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops, in Nov. 1980, citing St. Thomas, stated: “In this life, however, penalties are not sought for their own sake, because this is not the era of retribution (retribution is either in heaven or in hell), rather, they are meant to be corrective by being conducive either to the reform of the sinner or to the good of society, which becomes more peaceful through the punishment of sinners. The need for lifetime incarceration for incorrigible dangers to society is advised.” Majority of American Catholics, though, favors capital punishment.

This attitude towards the death penalty is in consonance with other Church teachings on abortion, euthanasia and the defense of innocent lives. Capital punishment erodes respect for the sanctity of human life. Christ wants us to respect life; He didn’t say whose life.

The abolition of the death penalty is based on the most basic Catholic truth that God alone is the author of life and death. It is, therefore, a recognition of God’s sovereignty over life. One dies, only with God’s permission. It also confesses the limitation of human power over life.

 Instead of exerting efforts towards the abolition of capital punishment, the Church should exert effort in sanctifying her faithful. Without Christian living, everyone is a candidate for the death penalty.

The Church, because Christ had given her a superior means to stop crime, must use this means and, in all circumstances, preach this means. History shows that the practice of Christ’s teaching had not only stopped crime but also produced the greatest doers of good, the saints here on earth. To all the Church must preach love, forgiveness and the preservation of life.

Christians cannot preach against abortion and euthanasia and then advance the death penalty. It would be inconsistent. Love and forgiveness is the law of God; the death penalty is the law of the state.

All Christians, therefore should forgive without condition and seek no revenge by demanding the death penalty. While the criminal may be forgiven and saved because of the great possibility of repentance, the victim who is unable to forgive could be condemned to hell for his inability to forgive others, the condition for one’s own sin to be forgiven. Dimas, the criminal, went to heaven; Judas the apostle went to hell.

If the Church fails in preaching Christ’s teaching in all its completeness to her subjects, thus raising criminals among her subjects, then she must be resigned to the fact that the state practice its right to terminate life to maintain law and order. If the Church failed to teach a person how to be holy, and, as a consequence, a crime is committed whose penalty is death, then the Church, in all humility, must admit her failure by quietly allowing another entity, though inferior, to administer the only medicine it knows, the death penalty.



PRESENT STATE OF AFFAIRS.

It is perplexing to see that in these times when man seems to have reached the peak of knowledge, he still has to recourse to antiquity when it comes to his sense of justice; “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” is still the rule. And I do not refer to those who give in to anger and revenge and, therefore, have no sense of justice at all. I refer to those who adhere to the law, the upholders and defenders of the law, the enforcers of the law and clerics of the Church…the ones who think they are the defenders of justice and have not overstepped this.

Many have shown their zeal for justice though their zeal is unenlightened. “Unaware of God’s justice and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the justice of God. Christ is the end of the law. Through Him, justice comes to everyone who believes.” (Rom 10:3-4)

Christian justice is this: “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 anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”

“You have heard that it was said. ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father Who is in Heaven…for if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt 5:38-46)

How do Catholics practice the old underdeveloped concept of justice? They condemn oppression by the powerful but incite rebellion among the oppressed because they neglect to encourage him who is oppressed to forgiveness, forbearance and to endure patiently. In seeking to correct the unrighteousness of those in power, he makes the oppressed unrighteous by arousing them to discontent, resulting in a presumption of rights to rebel in any way with impunity, not only against men, but against God, himself.

Parents still teach their children ‘an eye for an eye.’ If another child takes your child’s candy you fly behind the shield of justice, which tells you to correct the crook. The whole concept of human rights is ‘fight for your rights.’ Why don’t you bid your child to a more Christian attitude of patiently bearing up with the wrong done and forgiving the offender…which in fact is the nobler thing to do in the eyes of God.

Even among the Church leaders this out-moded sense of justice is found. They courageously raise their voices on wrongs done by corrupt officials to the people but fail to exhort the people to an evangelical attitude of forbearance, unwittingly making them feel sinless if they do something even contrary to Christ’s commands.

What are the consequences of such actions? To neglect to condemn the evil deeds of men to men may yet easily merit forgiveness, if one does not neglect to encourage the oppressed to that Christian attitude of forbearance. But to neglect the latter even while sincerely rebuking the oppressor is the same as that sin of scandal which the Lord condemns saying: “It would be better for him to tie a millstone around his neck and to be thrown into the sea.” Why? Because he incites more rebellious feelings, which lead to more sin, contrary to what the Divine precepts exhorts, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor 6:7-8)

This underdeveloped sense of justice is caused primarily by one’s consummate adherence to Old Testament justice that outwardly seems to establish the rights of people. And secondly, ignorance of the true meaning of justice in the New Testament. Why does the Church embrace the Old Testament sense of justice while rejecting the death penalty, which is an integral part of the Old Testament? They fail to understand that in the New Testament, the more important point is to encourage the oppressed to practice forbearance. It is not a very popular stand, we understand.

At first glance, Christ’s justice may seem to be passive, weak and an ineffective way of correcting evil. But in reality, it is a more effective way of dealing out justice because while it does not imply silence on the part of those in authority to correct, it seeks to put right both the offender and the one offended.

Yes, those of you in authority, “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him…” (Luke 17:3) “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph 5:11) But exhort the offended: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matt 5:44) for “…if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6:14)

The human race and even the men of the Church have found it impossible to change drastically from the practice of old justice to Christ’s justice. But there remains only one solution to enable us to this change: “Without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

In the end, for a system of justice to become Christian, it has to reflect not only God’s severity to the wayward by the threat of death, for even God has continually raised the threat of eternal death for sins lighter than murder. But it must, also, reflect His mercy by commuting the penalty of death to life sentence. For God, the Judge of us all, has declared His Will, “I do not wish the death of a sinner but that he may be converted and live.”

 

 

 

 

(updated 01-04-02)

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                                                                                        - Teresa of Avila

 


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