Summary Against Modern Thought: Capital Punishment Is Licit & Legal

Summary Against Modern Thought: Capital Punishment Is Licit & Legal

Previous post.

This chapter goes against the spirit of the age, which shrinks from punishment, because it does not acknowledge sin—except for the sin of acknowledging sin.


1 Since some people pay little attention to the punishments inflicted by God, because they are devoted to the objects of sense and care only for the things that are seen, it has been ordered accordingly by divine providence that there be men in various countries whose duty it is to compel these people, by means of sensible and present punishments, to respect justice. It is obvious that these men do not sin when they punish the wicked, for no one sins by working for justice. Now, it is just for the wicked to be punished, since by punishment the fault is restored to order, as is clear from our statements above. Therefore, judges do no wrong in punishing the wicked.

Notes Therefore it is not a good idea to eliminate “prisons”, which is to say worldly punishment, which need not always be confinement.

2 Again, in various countries, the men who are put in positions over other men are like executors of divine providence; indeed, God through the order of His providence directs lower beings by means of higher ones, as is evident from what we said before. But no one sins by the fact that he follows the order of divine providence. Now, this order of divine providence requires the good to be rewarded and the evil to be punished, as is shown by our earlier remarks. Therefore, men who are in authority over others do no wrong when they reward the good and punish the evil.

3 Besides, the good has no need of evil, but, rather, the converse. So, what is needed to preserve the good cannot be evil in itself. Now, for the preservation of concord among men it is necessary that punishments be inflicted on the wicked. Therefore, to punish the wicked is not in itself evil.

4 Moreover, the common good is better than the particular good of one person. So, the particular good should be removed in order to preserve the common good. But the life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good which is the concord of human society. Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men.

Notes I hope you enjoy as much as I do pestiferous.

5 Furthermore, just as a physician looks to health as the end in his work, and health consists in the orderly concord of humors, so, too, the ruler of a state intends peace in his work, and peace consists in “the ordered concord of citizens.” Now, the physician quite properly and beneficially cuts off a diseased organ if the corruption of the body is threatened because of it. Therefore, the ruler of a state executes pestiferous men justly and sinlessly in order that the peace of the state may not be disrupted

Notes Capital punishment is indeed allowed and justified. See also 7 below.

6 Hence, the Apostle says, in 1 Corinthians (5:6): “Know you not that a little leaven corrupts the whole lump?” And a little later he adds: “Put away the evil one from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). And in Romans (13:4) it is said of earthly power that “he does not carry the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him who does evil.” And in 1 Peter (2:13-14) it is said: “Be subject therefore to every human creature for God’s sake: whether it be to the king as excelling, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of the good.”

7 Now, by this we set aside the error of some who say that corporeal punishments are illicit to use. These people adduce as a basis for their error the text of Exodus (20:13): “You shall not kill,” which is mentioned again in Matthew (5:21). They also bring up what is said in Matthew (13:30), that the Lord replied to the stewards who wanted to gather up the cockle from amidst the wheat: “Let both grow until the harvest.” By the cockle we understand the children of the wicked one, whereas by the harvest we understand the end of the world, as is explained in the same place (Mat. 13:38-40). So, the wicked are not to be removed from among the good by killing them.

8 They also allege that so long as a man is existing in this world he can be changed for the better. So, he should not be removed from the world by execution, but kept for punishment.

9 Now, these arguments are frivolous. Indeed, in the law which says “You shall not kill” there is the later statement: “You shall not allow wrongdoers to live” (Exod. 22: 18). From this we are given to understand that the unjust execution of men is prohibited. This is also apparent from the Lord’s words in Matthew 5. For, after He said: “You have heard that it was said to them of old: You shall not kill” (Mat. 5:21), He added: “But I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother,” etc.

From this He makes us understand that the killing which results from anger is prohibited, but not that which stems from a zeal for justice. Moreover, how the Lord’s statement, “Let both grow until the harvest,” should be understood is apparent through what follows: “lest perhaps, gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it” (Mat. 13: 29). So, the execution of the wicked is forbidden wherever cannot be done without danger to the good.

Of course, this often happens when the wicked are not clearly distinguished from the good by their sins, or when the danger of the evil involving many good men in their ruin is feared.

10 Finally, the fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at the critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgment that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.


  1. Jeffrey Jorgensnen

    Most intelligent thing posted on the entire world wide web today – God bless Dr Briggs – St Thomas Aquinas – Ora Pro Nobis

  2. David Burns

    This weekend:

    A study was released that 90% of positive PCR tests are from viral loads described as “barely any virus”

    The CDC just released new numbers on comorbidities which indicate that ~6% of coronadoom deaths had no comorbidities.

    London and Berlin saw huge protests.

    It’s about to hit the fan, folks….

  3. John B()

    Aaaah – just heard a news item that Trump tweeted that only 6% died of Coronadoom

  4. C-Marie

    Think that Thou shalt not kill, is actually Thou shalt not murder.

    Pope Francis says the death penalty is not to be allowed.
    In 1952, Pope Pius XII said that execution was not a violation of the universal right to life.
    Pope John Paul II argued for imprisonment over execution as possible.
    Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, wrote that the death penalty could be permissible.
    Yet in the Crusades, the enemy was most often killed with the Pope’s blessing.

    For heinous crimes, the death penalty ought to be used. All circumstances concerning the heinous crime and victim and perpetrator would be deeply considered. The heinous crimes would include rape, sex trafficking of children, intentional murder, intentional severe disfigurment of another person…… A time after conviction and sentencing would be allowed for attempts to bring the convicted one to repentance, though the execution would go forward even so.

    There might well be less heinous crime if those considering them knew the punishment ahead of time.

    God bless, C-Marie

  5. Hans Erren

    Capital punishment is irreversible.

  6. BDavi52

    CORRECTION to my previous comment. The name is Maureen MULLARKEY.

  7. John Not Real Name

    The Death Penalty is a strange one. People come up with the innocents killed and there are I do not deny it but then you would have to take that argument to it’s fulfilment and prevent the State from exacting any Justice at all (radical libertarianism)(A Catholic Philosophy student actually made this argument and denied that they were a libertarian, however I suspect they do think in principle Capital Punishment is licit since they did not cite the Pope’s change or anything.). Another one is the sanctity of life argument where they claim how can you be okay with Capital Punishment and then not allow Euthenasia and abortion. The people who are Pro-abortion/euthenasia are usually anti-death penalty which makes you think. It also makes no sense that all of a sudden pretty much all the Popes of the last millenia were all immoral in their insistence of using the Death Penalty (Pope Pius V (A Saint.), Pope Sixtus V and Pope Pius IX (Blessed) come to mind.). How does an act go from being licit to ilicit to affirm modern secular humanism. I would doubt whether we have to actually agree with the Pope’s change (he cites his own speech) since it seems to be a Prudential application. ( )

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