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History of the Catholic Church on the Death Penalty - Research Paper Example

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[Author’s Name] Outline Introduction From the beginning there has been a battle within the Catholic Church on whether the Church should support the use of capital punishment or not Point 1: Many in the early church had a problem with the use of the death penalty, even though it was church doctrine that it could be used…
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History of the Catholic Church on the Death Penalty
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History of the Catholic Church on the Death Penalty

It is obvious that many within the Catholic church are against the death penalty. But the church as of today has not taken any official stance. History of the Catholic Church on the death penalty Introduction From the beginning there has been a battle within the Catholic Church on whether the Church should support the use of capital punishment or not. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it seems clear that the church's response should be to support the use of capital punishment, as long as it is done justly and all efforts are made to guarantee that an innocent man or woman is not put to death. Recently, popes and some of the bishops in the United States, have started to campaign against the use of the death penalty. It seems clear that these individuals are not denying the compatibility of capital punishment with Catholic teaching, but instead have just begun to argue against its use for a variety of personal reasons. This paper looks at the history of the Catholic Church on the death penalty and notes how it has changed over time. Early History The first real testimony against the use of the death penalty can be found in the Montanist works of Tertullian. Tertullian writing sometime between 197 and 207 composed ‘De Idololatria’. In this, Tertullian states in chapter seventeen that even if the servant of God appeals to the power of the state, he should not pronounce capital sentences. Following up on Tertullian, Lactantius writing about 305 to 323, wrote Divinae Institutiones. In this Lactantius states that when God prohibited murder, this also refers to the men who administer the death penalty (Bockle & Pohier 46). Lantantius's position was clear: a man could not even charge or be charged with a capital offense. After Tertullian and Lantantius others began to write on the subject. Felix in his work ‘Octavius V’, written around 225, states that it is wrong for the church to assist in the killing of man, or even to listen to an account of it. In the Canons of Hippolytus II, 16, Hippolytus in a more ancient Egyptian tradition states that whoever holds the power of the sword, and the judge who proceeds over capital cases, should renounce their office or be excluded from the catechism (Bockle & Pohier 47). In the same vein, The Council of Elvira in 305 ordered that all the duumvirate magistrates should not enter a church during their years of office, even though they were not required to pronounce capital sentences (Bockle & Pohier 47). The church had a problem here as to how it could support the right of the state to execute the hardened criminal, but deny to those who enforce the law the rights and privileges of the church. Ambrose, a former imperial officer, saw this and in or about the year 385 wrote to the Magistrate Studius about just this issue. In this letter Ambrose stated that ‘Romans 13’ recognizes the state's power to take life, but he also goes on to say that we should imitate Christ in his forgiveness of the adulteress. In Ambrose's mind he could not find a solution to the church's dilemma. Augustine was to follow Ambrose in his writings in his ‘De Libero Arbitrio’. In this Augustine stated that the death penalty is a commandment of God. However Augustine was to go on to say in the ‘ ... Read More
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