What Catholics Are Missing in the Death Penalty Debate
Before skimming this article to see if you like my conclusion on the death penalty, please realize that this blog post is a work on systematic theology, not moral theology. Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that attempts to formulate an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the Christian faith and beliefs. Where as moral theology is indeed, the question of by what authority must precede reactions to difficult issues that divide Catholics today like the death penalty or gay “marriage.” I’m going to give you (here in the first paragraph) the dogmatic conclusion of this blog post that will be proved below:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not infallible.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not infallible. I imagine this sentence will delight many liberal Catholics (who like to put moral relativism above the Catechism under the umbrella of “conscience.”)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not infallible. I imagine this sentence will worry many neo-conservative Catholics (who treat the Catechism released under John Paul II as their magic little book.)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not infallible. I imagine that sentence will delight many traditional Catholics (until they read my proof below that the Bible, not the Council of Trent, is the summit and source of Divine Revelation for Catholics.)
Let us take a look at a book called Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr. Ludwig Ott, Dr. Ludwig was a German systematic theologian who produced the book in the early 1950s. Like Denzinger, it is a conglomeration of all doctrines of the Catholic Church. Unlike Denzinger, it is a one volume book. Dr. Ludwig lists eight levels of theological certainty:
De Fide Definita-doctrine that is an essential part of Catholic faith.
Fides Ecclesiastica-Roman Catholic dogmas which are Church teachings.
Sententia Fidei Proxima-Teachings, which are generally accepted as divine revelation but not defined as such by the Magisterium.
Sententia Ad Fidem Pertinens-A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation.
Sententia Communis-Popular beliefs which are widely held, and generally accepted by theologians, but not dogmatically asserted.
Sententia Probabilis-refers to beliefs which are considered probable but not theologically proven.
Sententia Pia and Opinio Tolerata
As you can probably see, the first levels are infallible. Towards the end we see levels of certainty that even non-Latin scholars can see are “probable” (Sententia Probabilis) and at the very end a “tolerated opinion” (Opinio Tolerata) which is not bad, but, well, maybe just odd.
Here, we are only going to consider the first two levels of theological certainty that are considered to be infallible:
De Fide Definita has the highest degree of certainty relating to the immediately revealed truths…contained in Revelation…If Truths are defined by a solemn definition of the Pope or of a General Council, they are de fide definita.
One level down is Fides Ecclesiastica which are Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided, and are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church. Notice that these things come only from a solemn definition by the Pope or a General Council. Notice that in this list of infallible dogmas, we find neither personal opinions of Popes, nor do we even find the Catechism to be an infallible document.
There are several parts of the above infallible teachings:
General Dogmatic Councils.
Any time the Church Fathers agree on a dogma
Ex-Cathedra statements (like the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.)
Notice that in this list, we do not include any Catechisms. There are probably catechisms without error, but be aware that no catechism is by the nature of having the simple term “catechism” infallible by its nature of being “a catechism.”
Whereas the above five items bring doctrine into the infallible De Fide realms or at least infallible Fides Ecclesiastica realms, there is only one of those five that is absolutely and totally inspired by God. It is the Bible. I quote here one paragraph of Pope Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus, an 1893 encyclical on the Sacred Scriptures:
“For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican. These are the words of the last: ‘The Books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council (Trent) and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author.’”—Providentissimus Deus #20
In other words, notice that there is a difference between infallibility and inspiration. Only the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible) reach the level of both infallibility and inspiration. This might make some squeamish that the Bible is the highest, but just go re-read the above quote by Pope Leo XIII to notice the singularity of the term “inspiration” above and beyond the five parts of doctrine that are “infallible.” We can see this historically in the 16th century:
We all know that the Council of Trent in an infallible interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures. We know that the main “looking glass” if you will at the Council of Trent for looking at any passage of the Bible was St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Notice though, that even here St. Thomas Aquinas’ final say on anything was never himself. It was always Sacred Scripture. If there was an unclear passage, Aquinas always looked to the Church Fathers for interpretation of the Bible.
Regarding the unanimous “call” of the Church Fathers on any interpretation of Sacred Scripture, the Council of Trent states that “in things of faith and morals, belonging to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be considered the true sense of Holy Scripture which has been held and is held by our Holy Mother the Church, whose place it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; and therefore that it is permitted to no one to interpret Holy Scripture against such sense or also against the unanimous agreement of the Fathers.”—Council of Trent, Session 3, Chapter 2, On Revelation.
Notice that the unanimous agreement of the Church Fathers on any passage in Scripture is to be considered infallible to the point that “no one is to interpret Holy Scriptures” against them.
Do you notice any mention in the past four paragraphs of any catechisms? No. There is no mention of any new catechism or even ancient catechism in the above discussions of infallible dogma or inspired Scripture. In fact, there is very little in the above paragraphs even on the authority of the Pope when it comes down to De Fide topics. And here’s why: Divine Revelation was given from Jesus to the Apostles where no Pope is a creative artist of dogma, only the chief safe-guarder of dogma. Yes, these Popes and Church Fathers existed for a few hundred years before the Bible. Thus, the Church was One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic even before the 4th century when the canon of the Bible was agreed upon. For this reason, I carefully use the word “written” when I say that the Bible is the written gold-standard of infallible Catholic dogma. Again, it is the only part of doctrine that we as Catholics use the word “inspired” for. Don’t feel Protestant for that. That is why I just proved this to you from an old-school Pope and the Council of Trent and the Church Fathers.
So, what does the Bible say about the death penalty? Answer: It is commanded by God in the Old Testament in too many places to list here.
We will consider one passage from the New Testament (which, again, as proved below, is directly inspired by God the Holy Spirit):
Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God's minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. Romans 13:1-4
The phrase that “the prince”, that is the government “beareth not the sword in vain” for wrong-doers has been interpreted by all Church Fathers as the necessity for the death penalty. They are too many Fathers, Popes and Doctors to list here, so I include a link here if you want to read how the Church Fathers taught that God infallibly inspired the necessity of the death penalty in the Bible.
Now, I don’t like the term “traditional Catholic.” I am just a “Catholic” who has seen that the doctrine and liturgy of 20 centuries has sustained a rupture in the 20th century. I have found some errors in the new Catholic Catechism and I can prove just one such error:
“The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”—CCC #841
The notion found in the new Catechism that Muslims worship the same God as Christians is false, false, false.
In fact, the more I study Islam, the more I am convinced that the “angel” that appeared to Mohammed in that cave was not Gabriel, but a fallen angel, possibly Satan himself. I am very convinced that Islam is the most satanic religion on the planet, for it promotes murder and child-rape on the global level of the most organized religion of tiny-pockets of fanaticism. I write without scruple that Muslims are serving Satan (probably most of them without knowing it) so to say that they worship they same God as Christians is blasphemy. Every Pope from 700AD to 1950AD would agree with me. Their quotes are too numerous to write here, but the point is that I’m going to take the preponderance of evidence of scriptures, 200 Popes and all the Fathers of the Church, over the past few Popes of the Novus Ordo on this topic.
So, when it comes to the death penalty, I will first look to the Bible, not the Catechism. God says “Is it my will that a sinner should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should be converted from his ways, and live?”—Ezekiel 18:23. Yes, this seems to say God is against the death penalty. But the Bible is written by the Holy Spirit—every book—so He can’t contradict Himself. This means that when we combine Ezekiel 18 with Romans 13, the answer is simple: We need to aim for a just society where evil people convert (Ezekiel 18) but God prescribes the death penalty for a just society (Romans 13). There is nothing contradictory about that. As the Roman Catechism of Trent writes: “This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.”–Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566, Part III, 5, n. 4
Notice that I do not say the Roman Catechism of Trent is infallible either. Do I think it has errors like the new Catechism? Probably not, but even if it did, it wouldn’t make me panic. A catechism is not infallible. Neither is the personal opinion of a Pope on the death penalty or contraception or kissing the Koran. But back to the death penalty: A sure part of the deposit of the faith starting with the Old and New Testament is that the death penalty is licit and moral in the eyes of the Blessed Trinity, even if we may continue the debate as to its actual application in the 21st century. So, when someone says to you “Why do you believe in the death penalty?” you should’t feel like a backwater Baptist to answer: “Because the Bible tells me to believe in the death penalty.” If they ask where, you can say “Romans 13.” *
You see, if you take “certain people’s” bait on debating the death penalty on the grounds of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, then you will lose…and possibly lose your Faith in Christ and the Church. Do not meet your enemies on their ground. Bring them to the higher ground of the Bible and Dogmatic Councils like Trent. This is extremely serious: If you don’t learn that the Bible is the written summit and source of our Divine Revelation (even according to the Doctors and Popes of the Church) then you will begin to believe a Pope or a Catechism could overturn the prohibition of gay “marriage” or contraception…after the changes to the death penalty. People panicking about changes to an already-erroneous Catechism proves to me that many good Catholics do not know the basics of systematic theology. All Christians really need to learn the levels of infallibility outlined in the first half of this writing.
Again, why am I for the death penalty? Because the Bible is for it. It’s that simple. I don’t care if traditional Catholics call me a “Bible-based Protestant” or neo-conservatives call me “schismatic” or liberals call me a “fundamentalist.” I’ve proved from Scripture and tradition in this writing that such is timeless Divine Revelation. I am going to put the Bible and Church Fathers and dogmatic Councils before any Catechism. Why can I do this? Because I’m above the Church? No, precisely because I am below the Church, and under 250+ Popes who were for the death-penalty and 200+ Popes who believed Islam is evil. Folks, if you don’t get this systematic theology straight, you’re going to panic over more fake changes to doctrine or even worse swallow the false doctrines being taught and loose your faith.-(Excerpts from an article by Fr. David Nix and Edited for use on this web page)
*It has been pointed out to me that Pope Clement XIII actually declared in his Encyclical In Dominico Agro that the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent was free from error: “As our predecessors understood that that holy meeting of the universal Church was so prudent in judgment and so moderate that it abstained from condemning ideas which authorities among Church scholars supported, they wanted another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error. They printed and distributed this book under the title of The Roman Catechism. There are aspects of their action worthy of special praise. In it they compiled the teaching which is common to the whole Church and which is far removed from every danger of error, and they proposed to transmit it openly to the faithful in very eloquent words according to the precept of Christ the Lord who told the apostles to proclaim in the light what He had said in the dark and to proclaim from the rooftops what they heard in secret.”