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11/17/2017 4:39 pm  #1


Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

Has anyone read Hart's review of Feser and Bessette's death penalty book?

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/christians-death-penalty

If it is accurate then it is devastating. I'm not the best judge of this, though, and wait for Dr. Feser's response. I think Hart may overstate his case. It seems strange, to me, to say we remove justice from considerations of punishment. But that seems to follow from opposing Christian moral theology to a retributive idea of punishment.

 

11/18/2017 7:52 am  #2


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

I am very sympathetic to the theological aspect of Hart's criticism, but he really does need to do more to engage the specific NL reasoning behind Feser's arguments. He is right about the base appeals to indignation though.

On the subject of this volume I would disagree with both Feser and Oderberg about humans having a pre-philosophical tendency towards proportional justice. Depending on our mood at the time we may find ourselves momentarily wishing a man's entire family be boiled alive because he had the temerity front of us in line at the super-market or that an entire nation be put to the sword due to the rudeness of one of its representatives. It is because we have prior ethical standards that we quickly dismiss this impulses as being wrong (something, which presumably, many of the serial murderers in Ed's book lack).

 

11/18/2017 1:58 pm  #3


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

To simplify, Dr. Feser is a Catholic, whereas Dr. Hart is an Orthodox, if I have understood correctly. (True) Catholics are papists, concerned with asserting that the Pope has some holy right over emperors, kings and other secular rulers. Catholics think Christians can propose or even dictate legislation (a view they happen to share with Protestants). In this case, Dr. Feser is primarily concerned with the continuity of the Catholic teaching that the current Pope is undermining, but this does not change the essential Christian problem from Dr. Hart's point of view.

(Proper) Orthodox believers are caesaropapists, i.e. that the church and the whole body of believers are subject to and basically at the mercy of the secular power. There's more to caesaropapism, such as that "a good Christian ruler" can be viewed as an image of Christ and his rule a legitimate theocracy, but it's not relevant for now. Normally, spiritual and secular powers are seen as radically and categorically distinct, the church should never appoint rulers (only bless them), never conspire a coup, never lobby for legislation, etc.

For anyone who has read the Bible, it should be immediately evident which view is (more) scriptural. Feser and Bessette are not arguing for a Christian scriptural case for the capital punishment (such a case cannot be made as long as the scripture includes NT). Their book lays out the standard Catholic doctrine, serving to justify historical popes and to demonstrate where the authors stand in the current papal debacle.

Last edited by seigneur (11/18/2017 2:07 pm)

 

11/18/2017 7:59 pm  #4


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

I don't think that is an accurate reflection of Orthodox belief. The Orthodox believe in the ancient idea of the two swords. They don't believe the secular power should dictate to the Church - and Orthodox gives ample evidence of this - but neither do they believe the Church is to be entirely separate from or dictate to the secular power, at least over temporal power. In my opinion, the Orthodox position is a more faithful reflection of early Christian teaching and theology than the Roman one.

But I am not sure of the prime importance of this distinction. I don't think Hart is relying on Orthodox beliefs about the state. He seemed, despite what he said, to be ultimately offering a sentimentalist position. Indeed, it was ironic he mentioned the moral imagination, as that term (originating in the work of Edmund Burke) was populised by Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, implacable enemies of sentimentalism. I thought if you followed Hart's position, consistently worked out, implies a complete rejection of rigour, justice, and responsibility. In fact, reconsidering, the review doesn't look as formidable as it originally did to me. Absent the Scriptural and Patristic commentary, it seems far too one-sided in its emphasis on mercy and sympathy.

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11/19/2017 4:44 am  #5


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

I don't think that is an accurate reflection of Orthodox belief. The Orthodox believe in the ancient idea of the two swords. They don't believe the secular power should dictate to the Church

It's not a matter of should. It's a matter of fatalism: The Caesar dictates and the Church has no way to counteract it except by way of martyrdom. Definitely the church should not dictate things to the Caesar and not appoint and remove emperors and kings the way bishops of Rome have done.

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

- and Orthodox gives ample evidence of this - but neither do they believe the Church is to be entirely separate from or dictate to the secular power, at least over temporal power.

Depends of course which Orthodox you have in mind. I have in mind Russians. Greeks are a bit more complicated, but not too different. You?

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

Absent the Scriptural and Patristic commentary, it seems far too one-sided in its emphasis on mercy and sympathy.

Mercy and sympathy, as informed by the Sermon on the Mount, is exactly the common Christian position that should not raise objections. Any presumption that capital punishment is somehow permissible for Christians and that the church has the right to practise it is false.

One can reasonably sustain natural-law reasoning why the secular state can rightfully employ the capital punishment, but this would be a natural-law thing, not a Christian thing. Popes have assumed straightforwardly secular roles, far beyond and above what is permitted to Christians in the Bible.

All this said, Hart's review is not much of a review, it is more like a denunciation. Hart denounces this book because the book does not represent a Christian scriptural position about the capital punishment. The review would be rather different if 'A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment' had no pretence to be a Christian defense of capital punishment, but most of the audience (and very likely the authors themselves) pretty much equate Catholicism and Christianity.

Last edited by seigneur (11/19/2017 5:14 am)

 

11/19/2017 3:43 pm  #6


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

seigneur wrote:

It's not a matter of should. It's a matter of fatalism: The Caesar dictates and the Church has no way to counteract it except by way of martyrdom. Definitely the church should not dictate things to the Caesar and not appoint and remove emperors and kings the way bishops of Rome have done.


Depends of course which Orthodox you have in mind. I have in mind Russians. Greeks are a bit more complicated, but not too different. You?

Primarily the Greeks, but it is the same for both. The Orthodox hold to the doctrine of the two swords. This is not Caesaropapism, as for example practiced by Henry VIII. Both the Russian and the Greek Orthodox have always maintained in theory, and reasonably often in practice, the distinction of the secular and spiritual power. I suggest reading Philip Sherrard's Greek East and Latin West.


Mercy and sympathy, as informed by the Sermon on the Mount, is exactly the common Christian position that should not raise objections. Any presumption that capital punishment is somehow permissible for Christians and that the church has the right to practise it is false.

One can reasonably sustain natural-law reasoning why the secular state can rightfully employ the capital punishment, but this would be a natural-law thing, not a Christian thing. Popes have assumed straightforwardly secular roles, far beyond and above what is permitted to Christians in the Bible.

All this said, Hart's review is not much of a review, it is more like a denunciation. Hart denounces this book because the book does not represent a Christian scriptural position about the capital punishment. The review would be rather different if 'A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment' had no pretence to be a Christian defense of capital punishment, but most of the audience (and very likely the authors themselves) pretty much equate Catholicism and Christianity.

​I don't think anyone is suggesting the Church itself should be practising the death penalty itself. And presumably Dr Feser, would dispute it is obvious that the death penalty is somehow anti-Christian. My understanding of the Christian tradition is it isn't obvious the state has to do away with all rigour, justice, and punishment. That seems a far-fetched and one-sided interpretation.  As someone put it at Feser's blog, logically, that would seem to imply it get rid of all police, courts, prisons, etc. As far as I can see, a position like that is modern sentimentalism, not Christian charity. The only important point Hart seems to bring up is the Scriptural and Patristic interpretations.  

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11/20/2017 1:36 am  #7


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

Primarily the Greeks, but it is the same for both. The Orthodox hold to the doctrine of the two swords. This is not Caesaropapism, as for example practiced by Henry VIII.

How about as practised by Emperor Constantine the Great and thenceforth?

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

Both the Russian and the Greek Orthodox have always maintained in theory, and reasonably often in practice, the distinction of the secular and spiritual power. I suggest reading Philip Sherrard's Greek East and Latin West.

I suggest at looking at the actual history of the Greek Church under Ottomans and the Russian Church. In the Byzantian part of the world, two swords may be theoretically the doctrine, but Caesaropapism is the reality.


Jeremy Taylor wrote:

​I don't think anyone is suggesting the Church itself should be practising the death penalty itself.

Doesn't Dr. Feser cite (favorably) in the book the CV of the most prolific official executioner of Vatican? How does this square with that the Church itself should not be practising the death penalty?

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

And presumably Dr Feser, would dispute it is obvious that the death penalty is somehow anti-Christian.

I presume so too. But the question is how correct it is to dispute that.

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

My understanding of the Christian tradition is it isn't obvious the state has to do away with all rigour, justice, and punishment. That seems a far-fetched and one-sided interpretation. As someone put it at Feser's blog, logically, that would seem to imply it get rid of all police, courts, prisons, etc.

The state may do it all with rigour or without rigour, the point is that all these (police, courts, prisons, etc.) are secular things to do. Is there a Christian way of policing and imprisoning people?

Just a moment ago you said that Church should not be practising the death penalty and I agree. The Christian point of view is that those functions belong exclusively to the secular powers. There is a *right* and *wrong* way of exercising those powers, in terms of natural law theory, but natural law does not equal Christianity, even though for a Thomistic Catholic like Dr. Feser it may seem that natural law = Catholicism = Christianity, so popes are good as long as they obey natural law (and Catholics are primarily concerned with inventing apologies for popes). For the rest of the world, Aristotle and Plato were pagans, the philosophy derivable from them is distinct from Christian doctrines, and papacy is a stray sect - the biggest one, but still a sect.

The secular authorities may apply the death penalty rightly or wrongly - a natural law philosopher may instruct them about the right way, but a Christian does not, because applying the death penalty is a strictly non-Christian thing, against both the letter and spirit of NT.

Last edited by seigneur (11/20/2017 2:08 am)

 

11/20/2017 2:12 am  #8


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

I would say that it is the ideal that matters more than practice, but I am not sure that the Byzantine or Russian history supports your case. The Emperor may sometimes try to dictate Church teaching but the Church never accorded him any official right to do. The doctrine of the two swords is not a separation of Church and State. The two are to be intertwined. The Church blesses the state and provides Christian guidance, whilst the Emperor defends the Church and rules as a Christian prince. However, neither is supposed to dictate to others in their own domain.

I'm not sure the distinction between acting as a Christian and and as a natural lawyer is valid. This rather prejudged the issue. Feser would, quite sensibly to my mind, presumably say that the Christian duty to charity is not supposed to usurp the authority of the state to punish and restrain. Nor is there ultimately two competing moralities or standards of morality. Whether the death penalty is anti-Christian is what is in dispute. I'd be interested if those taking it to be can state their position in such a way that it didn't lead to consequences extreme and absurd, like undermining all coercion and punishment as anti-Christian.

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11/20/2017 3:01 am  #9


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

I would say that it is the ideal that matters more than practice, but I am not sure that the Byzantine or Russian history supports your case. The Emperor may sometimes try to dictate Church teaching but the Church never accorded him any official right to do.

You misconstrue what the case here is. The case is not whether the Emperor can dictate Church teaching. The case is who dictates how to perform death penalty and whether to perform it at all.

As long as you are talking from the premise that the Emperor may dictate Church teaching, you are missing the point.

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

Whether the death penalty is anti-Christian is what is in dispute. I'd be interested if those taking it to be can state their position in such a way that it didn't lead to consequences extreme and absurd, like undermining all coercion and punishment as anti-Christian.

The maximum Christian penalty is excommunication. How can you sustain anything beyond this, if NT is your authority?

The distinction of natural law and Christianity is valid insofar as one recognizes that Aristotle and Plato are a different authority than NT. If they are the same for you, so be it.

 

11/20/2017 4:00 am  #10


Re: Hart's review of Feser's death penalty book

You seemed to be making a much broader comment on the Orthodox understanding of Church and state.

But this distinction you are drawing between Christianity and natural law  is controversial and unexplained, as  are your claims about what Christianity says regarding the death penalty.

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