Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition

September 28, 2011

What is the Catholic Church’s position on the death penalty? How and why has it changed through the ages? In his engrossing and meticulously researched book, Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition, E. Christian Brugger traces the history of this thorny moral issue.

Part 1 of the book offers a detailed exegesis of the Church’s account of the morality of the death penalty as formulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Brugger argues that while the Catechism does not explicitly state that the death penalty is wrong, it lays down premises that logically imply this conclusion. Brugger argues that the fundamental moral reasoning found in the papal encyclicals “Evangelium Vitae” and “Veritatis Splendor” favor this same conclusion.

Part 2 provides an in-depth exploration of the treatment of the death penalty in the doctrine, traditional teachings, and texts of the Catholic Church. From the Old Testament and patristic writers to medieval and modern Catholic thinkers, Brugger mines this rich moral and theological tradition for arguments pertaining to capital punishment. He extracts from these teachings a “cumulative consensus” that capital punishment is morally legitimate and juxtaposes this traditional view with current church teaching.

Brugger’s historical and systematic analysis of contemporary and traditional Catholic teachings on the morality of the death penalty leads him to conclude that a philosophically consistent, doctrinally sound framework and vocabulary can and should be developed for rejecting the death penalty in principle.

Brugger, E. Christian. Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003.

ISBN 026802359X

Purchase on Amazon.com.

This resource originally was posted on the Catholics Against Capital Punishment (CACP) website, which was turned over to CMN in 2012. For more information on CACP’s history and other resources, click here.