Thursday, December 14, 2017

The latest on By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed


Last month, Joe Bessette and I participated in a panel discussion about our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment at the Fall Conference of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture.  The other participants were Gerard Bradley and John O’Callaghan, and the session was moderated by Matthew Franck.  The session can now be viewed at YouTube.

Recently I responded to David Bentley Hart and Paul Griffiths’ negative reviews of the book.  In his “While We’re At It” column in the January issue of First Things, Rusty Reno expresses his own disagreement with Hart and (to a lesser extent) Griffiths.  (You’ll need to scroll down to find the relevant section.)

The Claremont Review of Books has posted its annual Christmas Reading List with suggestions from a variety of writers and thinkers.  Two of them, The Witherspoon Institute’s Matthew Franck and C. J. Wolfe of North Lake College, refer to By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed.  Franck says, among other things, that “this is the book that must be refuted if further steps are to be taken by Church leaders to condemn the death penalty.”

21 comments:

  1. I've enjoyed Hart's writings in the past, but I think he really embarrassed himself with that review.

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    1. Sometimes he gets a little worked up. It's all right. All that leavened bread and standing.

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    2. The Latinist strikes again!

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  2. Someone should compile a list of "Christians who don't really understand their faith" according to Hart because of their support of the death penalty. It would be quite the list of ignorant Christians; from Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas to Cardinal Newman and more. Truly splendid.

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    1. He has said the same sort of thing about hell and universalism. He thinks the the doctrine of hell is a wicked and unchristian doctrine, and he acknowledges that it has been held by the vast majority of the great Christian saints.

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    2. To be fair, Hart is Orthodox, and those you mention are Catholics, except for Augustine, who the Orthodox aren't always overly enthusiastic about.

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    3. I'm pretty sure the standard belief among Orthodox churches historically has been the same as among Catholics and Protestants: Hell exists.

      From a North American Antiochian Orthodox website: "HELL, unpopular as it is among modern people, is real. The Orthodox Church understands hell as a place of eternal torment for those who willfully reject the grace of God."

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    4. I don't think historically Orthodox countries or thinkers have been particularly hesitant about the death penalty either. I mean- Russia?

      On top of that, even if the Orthodoxy was really always full of woo woo lefty universalist feel goodism, Hart knows perfectly well that characterizing Latin Christian doctrines as defacto "not understanding" is extremely tendentious. Perhaps reading the Desert Fathers always encourage men's passions to run away with them when ever they try to put the word to the page.

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    5. Hart is Orthodox, but he isn't narrowly sectarian. He from time to time expresses great respect for people like Augustine, Aquinas, Newman, the recent popes, etc.

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    6. @ In timore Dei,

      “I'm pretty sure the standard belief among Orthodox churches historically has been the same as among Catholics and Protestants: Hell exists.”

      Sure. But the Orthodox church is less centrally controlled and monolithically dogmatic than the Catholic church. In bishop Callistos Ware’s excellent “The Orthodox Way” I remember reading that Hell, the place of eternal separation from God, certainly exists, but that it is not for us to judge whether God will abandon souls in that state. And I say we can and certainly should pray for the salvation of all, since after all this is what God wishes.

      What is far more important though is not what has been the historic understanding of this or that tradition, but what is true. I hold that a deep belief of the Orthodox tradition is that spiritual truth is not something one knows be description but by acquaintance. In short the only way to know the truth is by meeting Christ. The Orthodox church tends to interpret Christ’s “I am the truth the way and the life” quite literally.

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    7. I mean that's the problem. I am very confident that I can check old orthodox theological volumes and you're going to find something very much akin to standard damnation accounts. The lack of central control simply makes any kind of softening of this easier to do publicly easier to disseminate and easier to point to as some sort of authoritative statement.

      In other words, if the Orthodox can change their minds they can write it down and without some sort of structure stopping them it's easier to act as if this is the position. position.

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    8. The main issue is not whether the Orthodox Church rules out DP or hell, or whether Hart believes in hell or if he thinks DP is intrinsically evil or not. The issue is moving beyond this and suggesting that no Christian who really understands his faith can be in favor of capital punishment. This is a ridiculous assertion, whether capital punishment is acceptable or not. It would label people such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and numerous other saints and traditional theologians -- some revered even in the Orthodox Church -- as "christians who don't really understand their faith". That's an absurd suggestion.

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    9. @iwpoe,

      The Orthodox tradition is an interesting mix. On the one hand it is very Christ-centric, on the other hand it has no central administration. On the one hand it is very traditional, on the other hand does not fear or worry about theological advancement since it trusts that Christ will continue to guide theological insight as He has done until now.

      It’s not like there aren’t in the Orthodox tradition those who would also characterize any change as “softening”; it’s just that these voices are peripheral and within the freedom of the Church’s life rather irrelevant.

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    10. @ Miguel,

      “The issue is moving beyond this and suggesting that no Christian who really understands his faith can be in favor of capital punishment.”

      Feser’s issue is clear enough: To prove that the teaching of the Catholic Church has always been that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, and that even though this has not been taught as infallible dogma it has been taught in a matter that renders changing it impossible or at least disorderly.

      But as far as I have understood the discussion Feser nowhere claims that the Catholic Church has ever been “in favor” of capital punishment. And indeed it strikes me as obvious that nobody who understands Christianity would think that our faith is ever “in favor” of killing people.

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    11. @iwpoe

      "I mean that's the problem. I am very confident that I can check old orthodox theological volumes and you're going to find something very much akin to standard damnation accounts."

      Indeed you're going to.
      But a Russian Orthodox could tell you that this is simply a sad effect of "Roman" (meaning "Catholic") or "German" (Lutheran) "captivity", that is, produced by the unfortunate domination of respective theologies among the Orthodox. People do that when confronted by, say, examples of Orthodox saints and esteemed doctors who had happened to believe in various - supposedly peculiarly Catholic - doctrines (like the Immaculate conception, for example). If you take issue with transubstantiation, refer to it as vain Catholic speculation (or something of the sort; to be fair, I think the hierarchy sanctioned some proponents of this); I also remember a priest with somewhat rare views on the agreement of the Fathers rule characterised it as a Catholic fetish. Exmaples of this, I believe, can be multiplied.

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    12. *believed
      **a priest who

      I'm not saying that this is very common, but then it is not that easy to determine precisely what is common and normative.

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  3. Death penalty reading for Christmas? Sounds like quality family time!

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  4. The people disagreeing with you on capital punishment are retarded heretics tbh.

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  5. I hold that a deep belief of the Orthodox tradition is that spiritual truth is not something one knows be description but by acquaintance. In short the only way to know the truth is by meeting Christ. The Orthodox church tends to interpret Christ’s “I am the truth the way and the life” quite literally.

    And therein is the main problem with the way you insert your opinions in these commboxes, Dianelos.

    Whenever your opinion or feelings disagree with something that is standard Catholic teaching, and has been standard Catholic teaching for 2000 years, you run to things like "truth is not what one knows by description but by acqauintance." But whenever you try to communicate your sentiments, you resort to propositions that you represent to be true.

    So, the problem is that we don't have direct access to your feelings, we can only know them indirectly through what you put down in words here. We cannot know by direct experience your own experience of being with Christ, we can only access your words on the topic.

    And this points to a basic reality of human nature. While propositional truths do not constitute the ENTIRETY of our knowledge, they do constitute an important subset of our knowledge. Especially, they constitute the clearest and most precise way of communicating to other persons, who cannot enter our minds and experience our experiences directly. And this facet of human nature is fundamental, not some accidental and irrelevant by-blow: propositional knowledge IS REAL KNOWLEDGE, even if it is not all knowledge.

    Indeed, the Word of God deigned to communicate Himself through specific human words and propositions in order to speak truth to us, and this we have the Bible. Nothing in that Word of God can possibly be in contradiction to the true experience of Christ directly and personally, for they are the same Word. Hence, what we know by direct acquaintance with Christ must not be in conflict with what we know of Him in propositional form through the scriptural word of God. And given the particularities of our human nature, the propositional form of knowing is clearer and less prone to error - hence it stands as the test and touchstone of the other way of knowing. When we experience faith, we must test it by examining it against the already spoken Word of God in Scripture - St. Paul tells us this. This is one reason why God gave us Scripture.

    You, on the other hand, seemingly would make the meaning of Scripture submit itself to your own personal experience of faith. But since it is impossible for you to directly share your own experience with others, you can only reduce your experience to propositional form to communicate to us, and then it stands to us as no better access to TRUTH than any other propositional truth - and a great deal less than Scripture.

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    1. Tony,

      I was not speaking against propositional knowledge. After all, all philosophical and theological knowledge is of that kind. But propositional knowledge goes only so far. One can know truths *about* God through propositions; but to know the truth that *is* God one must meet Christ. The ultimate profit of all philosophy and theology is to motivate us to turn to Christ.

      I am worried that people may think that “meeting Christ” is some kind of miraculous or at least mystical event, but that’s not my meaning at all. Christ is immanent in all of reality and can be met in the smile of stranger, in reading the gospels with an open mind, while admiring the beauty of nature or listening to music, in an act of charity, in liturgy, and of course in quiet prayer. God is great in the small things.

      Your point about using the Bible as a kind of beacon is well taken. The problem here is that the Bible is a big book and people tend to choose this or that bit to search for guidance. For example I focus on the Sermon on the Mount and the last chapters of John. I see that some people focus on single sentences in Paul’s epistles. Others on passages of the OT. No wonder we read the text differently.

      Incidentally I disagree with your suggestion that Christ and the Bible are the “same” Word. Perhaps you mean that they come together in some sense, but they are clearly not the same: Christ *is* the Word, the Bible is *about* the Word. The Bible when correctly interpreted gives us knowledge about God (as do many other propositional sources such as the creeds, the Fathers, the saints, the Church, etc), but Christ when met gives us knowledge of God.

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  6. I wonder if they're going to answer or remain in stubborn silence.

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