With Catholic priests and scholars now openly calling for a retraction of Pope Francis’ heterodox edit to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, it seems that the timing of our catechism piece may have been providential.
It also seems that a new topical miniseries is in order!
“Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught”
(2 Thess 2:15)
This miniseries is devoted to cataloguing excerpts from various catechetical works of the past as they treat a particular point(s) of Catholic doctrine.
Because Christ committed to His Church a single, “defined body of doctrine, applicable to all times and all men,” one should expect to peruse not only decades, but centuries of Catholic catechisms and theological manuals and discover harmonious agreement and unbroken continuity on all matters of faith and morals.
And find it one can; for when Catholic bishops spread throughout the world and across time give unified voice to their teaching office in catechisms approved by them, this is an authentic expression of the universal ordinary magisterium, an organ of infallibility, and an effective antidote in our own time against the erroneous notion (long since condemned by the Church) that dogma can evolve.
Indeed, dozens of official catechisms (and catechetical works bearing episcopal approval) spanning the better part of a millennium remain standing as enduring monuments to the contrary. Happy reading!
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
Those Clarion Catechisms On:
The Death Penalty
|The Execution of Criminals – Some have held that the killing of man is prohibited altogether. They believe that judges in the civil courts are murderers, who condemn men to death according to the laws. Against this St. Augustine says that God by this Commandment does not take away from Himself the right to kill. Thus, we read: “I will kill and I will make to live.” It is, therefore, lawful for a judge to kill according to a mandate from God, since in this God operates, and every law is a command of God: “By Me kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things.” And again: “For if thou dost that which is evil, fear; for he beareth not the sword in vain. Because he is God’s minister.” To Moses also it was said: “Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live.” And thus that which is lawful to God is lawful for His ministers when they act by His mandate. It is evident that God who is the Author of laws, has every right to inflict death on account of sin. For “the wages of sin is death.” Neither does His minister sin in inflicting that punishment. The sense, therefore, of “Thou shalt not kill” is that one shall not kill by one’s own authority.
-St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catechetical Instructions (c. 1260)
|Execution of Criminals: Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.
-Pope St. Paul V’s Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566)
|What is the fifth Commandment of God? Thou shalt not kill. That is to be understood: thou shalt not without just authority kill or hurt any man in body or in soul. And therefore both the Judge in the commonwealth does lawfully put offenders to death, or otherwise punish them bodily, and the Bishop does lawfully excommunicate wicked or disobedient persons, for the preservation of peace and tranquility in the commonwealth, and in the Church.
-Fr. Laurence Vaux’s A Catechisme or Christian Doctrine (1567)
|In the fifth [Commandment], it is commanded that we kill nobody unjustly, nor do them other harm in their person: and I say unjustly, because Judges who condemn malefactors to death, and the ministries of justice, who put them to death, and also soldiers in just war, do not sin whilst they wound and kill.
-St. Robert Bellarmine’s A Christian Doctrine (1597)
|Is it not lawful to kill in any cause? A. Yes, in a just war, or when public justice requires it: “For the magistrate beareth not the sword without cause.” (Rom 13:4). As also in the blameless defence of our own, or our innocent neighbour’s life, against an unjust invader.
-Fr. Henry Tuberville’s An Abridgement of Christian Doctrine (1649)
|Is it ever lawful to destroy human life? Yes, it is lawful, 1. For the supreme authority to do so in the execution of criminals (Rom 13:4); and 2. For others, in defence of their country, or, when necessary, in protecting life from unjust attack.
-Fr. Joseph Deharbe’s A Complete Catechism of the Catholic Religion (1847)
|Q. Is it ever lawful to take away the life of another? A. Yes, it is lawful – 1. For the supreme civil authority to do so in the execution of criminals. (Rom 13:4) 2. For others, in a just war in defence of their country, or when necessary to defend a person’s own life, or another’s life, chastity, or property of great value, when unjustly attacked.
-Fr. Michael Müller’s Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine (1874)
|Human life may be lawfully taken (1) In self-defense, when we are unjustly attacked and have no other means of saving our own lives; (2) in a just war, when the safety or rights of the nation require it; (3) by the lawful execution of a criminal, fairly tried and found guilty of a crime punishable by death when the preservation of law and order and the good of the community require such execution.
-The United State’s Bishops’ Baltimore Catechism No. 3 (1885)
|It is not contrary to the Divine command for the State to punish and execute criminals for certain crimes. Just as Almighty God gives to each human individual the right to defend himself against an assailant even to the point of killing him, should this be necessary for adequate defence, so a moral individual, such as the commonwealth, may lawfully defend itself against the attacks of evil-doers by inflicting capital punishment. Men may differ as to the expediency of extreme penalties for the end in view; but the right cannot be questioned.
-Fr. Francis De Zulueta’s Letters on Christian Doctrine (1897)
|The officers of justice, in as far as they stand in the place of God, have the right to sentence evil-doers to capital punishment. St. Paul says the higher powers bear not the sword in vain, but as avengers to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil (Rom 13:4). The authority of the magistrate is God’s authority; when he condemns a criminal, it is not he who condemns him, but God, just as the sword is not answerable for the blow it strikes, but the hand is that wields the sword. Yet the judge must not act arbitrarily; he must only sentence the criminal to death when the welfare of society demands it. Human society is a body of which each individual is a member; and as a diseased limb has to be amputated in order to save the body, so criminals must be executed to save society.
-Fr. Francis Spirago’s The Catechism Explained (1899)
|Q. Are there cases in which it is lawful to kill? A. It is lawful to kill when fighting in a just war; when carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in punishment of a crime; and, finally, in cases of necessary and lawful defense of one’s own life against an unjust aggressor.
-Pope St. Pius X’s Compendium of Christian Doctrine (1908)
|Is it never permitted to take away a man’s life? It is never permitted to take away a man’s life, unless through some crime, he has merited death. When a man through crime merits to lose his life who alone has the right to deprive him of life? Only the public authority has the right to do this. Whence does the public authority derive this right? It derives this right from the duty incumbent upon it of guarding over the common good of the society (ibid). Does the common good of the society sometimes demand that a man be put to death? Yes, because there may be no other efficient way of putting a stop to the crimes committed within the society; or because the public feeling demands such satisfaction for the expiation of certain crimes that are hateful and revolting.
-Fr. Thomas Pègues Catechism of the Summa Theologica (1922)
|The fifth Commandment forbids all wilful murder, fighting, quarrelling, and injurious words; and also scandal and bad example. Wilful murder is one of the sins crying to heaven for vengeance. Suicide, which is self-murder, is forbidden by this Commandment. Also the direct deliberate killing of an unborn child. But it is not murder when the State executes a criminal; it has the right to do so. Nor is it murder when the State orders its armed forces to kill the enemy in a just war. And one may always kill in self-defence, when there is no alternative.
-Can. Henry Cafferata’s The Catechism, Simply Explained (1922)
Note: Some minor formatting changes have been made to facilitate easier reading. For even more references, greater context, and full bibliographical information, we recommend our catechism resource page.