Thomism and the death penalty

Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette's new book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of the Death Penalty and the Pope's recent remarks on the death penalty have revived the Catholic debate on the topic.

The death penalty has been discussed in several posts here at Thomistica over the years: here, here, here, here, and here. Most of these posts were authored by Steve Long.

On Friday Catholic World Report published an essay of mine entitled "Is opposition to the death penalty Thomistic?" In it I compare Pope Francis's remarks with St. Thomas's teaching. I think the Holy Father's defense of Amoris laetitia as Thomistic encourages this sort of exercise. I also assume that my discussion may be of interest to some of our readers.

A Franciscan and Pope Francis

Last week Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap., made public a letter that he had written Pope Francis at the end of July. In the letter Weinandy expresses his concerns over various aspects of Francis’s pontificate. Here’s how Weinandy sums up his concerns toward the beginning of the letter:

Your Holiness, a chronic confusion seems to mark your pontificate.  The light of faith, hope, and love is not absent, but too often it is obscured by the ambiguity of your words and actions.  This fosters within the faithful a growing unease.  It compromises their capacity for love, joy and peace.

Weinandy then goes on to offer some examples of the words and actions of Francis that have troubled him. You can find the complete letter here together with Weinandy’s explanation of his motivations.

Weinandy has written a number of books on theological topics. Does God Suffer? and Does God Change? The Word's Becoming in the Incarnation, both published in 2000, are perhaps his best known. He has taught at a number of Catholic academic institutions in the US and from 1991 to 2005 taught at the University of Oxford. From 2005 to 2013 he was the Executive Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the USCCB. In 2013 Pope Francis awarded him the Pro Pontifice et Ecclesiae medal. Weinandy is also a member of the International Theological Commission.

After he made his letter to the Pope public, the USCCB asked Weinandy to resign from his position as a consultant to the Committee on Doctrine. (The USCCB statements on the matter are here and here.) I think that this was an unfortunate move. Weinandy is obviously an accomplished theologian and a true vir ecclesiasticus. I hope that the bishops will reconsider.

Is the Correctio Correct?: NEW

Change: I was looking at a summary and not at the seven articles that they mention are heretical.  I posted too quickly.  The seven articles are on pp. 8-9.  The references to Church documents of varying weight are on pp. 17ff. Note that footnote 8 is divided into several parts.  It seems to me hard to fault the document after my more careful reading, but am still unsure.  Has anyone seen any doctrinal criticisms of this document that seem reasonable?   The seven articles seem obviously heretical or very close to heresy.  I suppose you might criticize it for uncharitably saying that the Pope is propagating them.  I don't know.



Descartes vs. Aquinas (and other scholastics) on the senses, the imagination, God, and the soul

In Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 75, a. 1, Aquinas writes:

[A]d inquirendum de natura animae, oportet praesupponere quod anima dicitur esse primum principium vitae in his quae apud nos vivunt animata enim viventia dicimus, res vero inanimatas vita carentes. Vita autem maxime manifestatur duplici opere, scilicet cognitionis et motus. Horum autem principium antiqui philosophi, imaginationem transcendere non valentes, aliquod corpus ponebant; sola corpora res esse dicentes, et quod non est corpus, nihil esse. Et secundum hoc, animam aliquod corpus esse dicebant.

In Discours de la méthode, AT, 37, Descartes writes:

Mais ce qui fait qu'il y en a plusieurs qui se persuadent qu'il y a de la difficulté à le connaître [i.e., God], et même aussi à connaître ce que c'est que leur âme, c'est qu'ils n'élèvent jamais leur esprit au delà des choses sensibles, et qu'ils sont tellement accoutumés à ne rien considérer qu'en l'imaginant, qui est une façon de penser particulière pour les choses matérielles, que tout ce qui n’est pas imaginable leur semble n'être pas intelligible.

But then, after seeming to express the same insight as Aquinas, Descartes goes on to suggest that people who accept the dictum according to which “n'y a rien dans l'entendement qui n'ait premièrement été dans le sens” (“nihil est in intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu”) have the same problem. Indeed, the dictum itself is an indicator of that problem!

Ce qui est assez manifeste de ce que même les philosophes tiennent pour maxime, dans les écoles, qu'il n'y a rien dans l'entendement qui n'ait premièrement été dans le sens, où toutefois il est certain que les idées de Dieu et de l'âme n'ont jamais été. Et il me semble que ceux qui veulent user de leur imagination, pour les comprendre, font tout de même que si, pour ouïr les sons, ou sentir les odeurs, ils se voulaient servir de leurs yeux : sinon qu'il y a encore cette différence, que le sens de la vue ne nous assure pas moins de la vérité de ses objets, que font ceux de l'odorat ou de l'ouïe; au lieu que ni notre imagination ni nos sens ne nous sauraient jamais assurer d'aucune chose, si notre entendement n'y intervient.

Descartes is either unaware of the scholastic explanation of the dictum (cf. e.g., De veritate, q. 2, a. 3, ad 19) or doesn’t accept it. My hunch is that it’s the latter. But not being an expert on Descartes, I would be glad for help on this.