Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Moses and King David, Death Penalty

Now, a certain Mark Shea claims a Catholic these days should NOT support death penalty.

I saw the link to post 5 on his series, but went to post 4.

Why all the mercy for Scripture’s murderers? – Capital Punishment, Part 4
By Mark Shea May 16, 2017

He argues that if God were for death penalty, Moses and King David should have been executed.

Moses, for instance, is a murderer (Exodus 2:11-15) and yet is not only spared by God, but redeemed and given a massive role in the salvation of his people.

Moses is not a murderer, but acted in legitimate defense of a weaker person. His killing was an unfortunate but not unjust outcome of an act which was not sinful, but good. It is therefore an act Moses did not need any redemption from. And would not have been sentenced to death penalty in an Israelite court for either.

Moreover, forgiven his own sins, he offers himself to God in place of his people when God, after the sin of the Golden Calf, threatens to destroy Israel in mass capital punishment (Ex 32:9-14).

And proponents of death penalty, if Christian, tend to say that the mass capital punishments done by God at least through men are a thing of the past, OT time, up to when God's cavalry from heaven (angels? men who were raptured in order to do this?) shall do a further mass capital punishment on Antichrist's army (Apocalypse 19).

So too with David, we have as cold-blooded a killer as you could ask for, whose planned and premeditated homicide of Uriah was committed so that he could cover up his despicable act of adultery (2 Samuel 11).

Suppose he were guilty of murdering Urias. Murdering in the technical sense, which merits death penalty, not just murdering in the moral sense in which even desire for someone's death is an act of killing ... my mother when studying Hebrew was clearly for a not guilty on that charge, and so was the Calvinist judge in Nazi Germany who helped (along with Bishop von Galen) to stop Euthanasia ... but suppose he was guilty - should he have been stoned?

If President Trump goes after someone and personally kills him, he cannot be brought to justice, because he is the King, sorry, President. If Elisabeth II kills someone, she cannot be arrested for that either. The reason is, they are the very guys who are guarantees for justice (or guys and gals, if Queen - ?* - Elisabeth prefers).

Now, what has this to do with King David ?? Ah, yes, King David. There was no court in Israel in which he could have been sentenced.

And instead of killing him, God kills his first child with Urias' widow.

Accordingly, the Church begins with Jesus himself, in a much-explained-away passage taking us straight back to the lex talionis** and saying:

“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.”.(Mt 5:38–39).

The common approach to this passage by advocates of the death penalty is to say, “Jesus is only referring to individual behaviour, not to the action of the state. While individuals may be merciful, the state is obligated to execute capital criminals.” But there is no particular reason to accept that analysis. The lex talionis was, after all, a legal guideline from the Law of Moses which guided the courts of Israel, not a mere suggestion for personal conduct. So there is no particular reason to think that a state cannot obey Jesus’ counsels of mercy just as much as a person can.

Now, there is for Catholics such a thing as reading not just Genesis and Joshua, but also Matthew 5, with the Church Fathers.

One of them says, it is a great thing to not defend yourself against a crime done to you - but it is horrible not to defend when crimes are done to God or Neighbour. Or if it was "pardon" instead of "not defend". Another one says this does not oblige when a certain crime is no more endurable.

In other words, before a judge pardons a murderer, how about checking who has been murdered. If it was someone else than the judge, well, you guess it, the judge is not quite as free to pardon.

And also, there is a difference between pardoning a murderer with whom one may hope he will do no worse if free, and pardoning one who can be presumed to go on killing. Therefore, as St Thomas said, the supreme judge of each country has a power to pardon, but can only use it if this does not conflict with security of his peaceful subjects.

Note right here, the power of pardon and the limit of a sentence are two different things. I did a thing a bit like Moses (licit defense, in my case egoistically licit self defense), but fortunately, a wound 1 cm deep and 1 dm long in the hip is no mortal, so "my victim" / a culprit I defended myself against***, is still very much alive : I got freed in one court and sentenced in next, but I was only sentenced to 3 and a half years.

The reason this cannot be extended to lifetime if such and such a person (or company of persons) should think the public is not safe with me, is that God has posed lex talionis as a limit. Both for attempt of unpremeditated murder and for severe mishandling, the lex talionis in Sweden gives the judge a discretion between 3 and a half and six years. In my case, it was first time I had committed anything admitted or sentenced as a crime, I got a mild sentence. But even the harsh sentence, 6 years, is way lower than if someone would now perhaps want to say I should still be behind bars or under surveillance : after six years (1998+6=2004) I should be a free man again.

God posed the lex talionis as a limit, because He was displeased with the vindicta ultra talionem°. Even if kings could be avenged sevenfold (and God made Cain the first King at the moment), because a ruler precisely is not just worth his human person but also justice in general, it is absurd to avenge seventy times sevenfold, as Lamech did.

The great problem with abolitionism as to death penalty is that it can be doing away with the lex talionis** in the wrong direction.

When St Volodimir of Kiev was baptised, the death penalty was abolished under his rule, but I think this meant that grace of conversion was so overflowing that pardoning was safe. It does not mean he forced every culprit to enter a monastery.

But when death penalty is attacked now, it is often by people who, under the pretext of public safety, will still not simply pardon criminals, but instead hand them over to shrinks. And that can very easily become a vindicta ultra talionem

So, is Mark Shea saying every man on death row should be pardoned and given full freedom? Or is he saying every man on death row should be handed over to shrinks? In the latter case, I cannot see how Mark Shea is being merciful, let alone expounding the mercy of God!

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St Joan the wife of Chusa °°

* The ? mark due to my presuming the rightful monarch would be King Francis II ... ** Lex talionis = the law of sameness in retribution. *** Depending on where you stand at licitness of psychiatry kidnapping me through police that day. ° Revenge or retribution beyond the measure of sameness. °° Item beatae Joannae, uxoris Chusae, procuratoris Herodis, quam Lucas Evangelista commemorat.

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