Torturing the Ordinary Magisterium

December 2, 2007 § 6 Comments

In a combox at CAEI, a commenter asks:

Why wouldn’t the Church’s centuries-old approval of torture and execution of heretics constitute an infallible act of the ordinary Magisterium?

Here are the criteria in Lumen Gentium for an infallible teaching of the ordinary Magisterium:

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.

As far as I can tell, local or even universal juridical practices in medieval times have pretty much nothing to do with these criteria. The idea that juridical practice constitutes “authentically teaching matters of faith and morals” is just obvious self-serving nonsense, and the notion that all bishops were at any given time in agreement on the position “torture of heretics is morally licit” as a definitively held authentic teaching on faith and morals is risable.

Kevin Miller’s response to Fr. Harrison is worth quoting again in full here:

Considering that much of Harrison’s conclusion is logically dependant – not only on his history – but also on the assertion that it’s something like ecclesiologically impossible for the Church to have approved of something that turns out to be intrinsically evil (in effect, then, that when the Church, in what would otherwise be a non-infallible act, approves of action X, then this amounts to an infallible teaching that X is not intrinsically evil) – I’m not sure why a detailed response is necessary. “What is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously denied.”

Or, to quote apologist Jimmy Akin on a different subject:

It cannot be clearly established that the bishops have even entertained in their authoritative teaching the question of whether [torture of heretics can be morally licit], much less that they have determined that the [acceptance] of this proposition is definitively to be held by all the faithful. [Editor’s note: redacted, see linked post for the original]

One might as well argue that the fact that Popes have historically paid unjust wages implies that paying unjust wages cannot be morally wrong, even though the Catechism says that it is:

2409 Even if it does not contradict the provisions of civil law, any form of unjustly taking and keeping the property of others is against the seventh commandment: thus, deliberate retention of goods lent or of objects lost; business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another.

People really need to stop appealing to silence, ignorance, and history – and most of all to their own tortured self-serving pseudo-reasoning – to justify their favored moral atrocities.

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§ 6 Responses to Torturing the Ordinary Magisterium

  • William Luse says:

    Is there some encyclical or Council document to which they refer us for this “infallible” teaching? Or are they just making the case that since some Popes and bishops tolerated it that it has therefore been “taught”?

  • zippy says:

    Mostly the latter. The closest anyone has come to an argument from actual teaching (that I have seen) is by invoking the < HREF="http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo10/l10exdom.htm" REL="nofollow">condemnation of Martin Luther’s theology<> by Leo X (see condemned proposition 33). There is some plausibility to the notion that this document rules out the proposition that execution of heretics is intrinsically immoral. (Personally I think execution of heretics is probably <>not<> intrinsically immoral, though it is probably <>actually<> immoral in most or possibly even all <>actual<> cases which have <>actually<> arisen).Among other things, this tack requires the conflation of execution and torture in order to work. As far as I can tell, viewed objectively, it is a complete non-starter.

  • William Luse says:

    No, such executions are not intrinsically immoral. The only way they’d be able to connect execution and torture is by making the case that torture is justifiable as <>punishment<>. How that would be done, I have no idea. It was once permitted in American prisons to whip inmates for certain offenses (as punishment, not to extract information). I was wondering if that could be justified.

  • zippy says:

    “When is putative punishment actually torture” does seem to be the most difficult area for the casuistry of torture, generally speaking. But it is also a red herring as a matter of current events, since the reason people want to keep the option open to mistreat prisoners in interrogation is to get them to cough up useful life-saving information, not to try them and pass sentence on them with the waterboarding (or whatever) as punishment.

  • Anti-Heretic says:

    Zippy, why do you think that most or all executions of heretics were in fact immoral? I expect that many were – if for no other reason than that many executions of “heretics” was by Protestants upon Catholics. What I have in mind is this: in most (or virtually all, most probably) cases where someone (previously Catholic) started teaching heresy, he was both being immoral himself in his duty to submit to the Church, and also he was being uncharitable in spreading errors as if they were what the Church taught. Further, he was also wrong in doing so in a way unsuited to the spread of truth – often because he was using argumentation fit for the schools and the professionals on unlettered peasants. If such a person refused to stop speaking error, even to his jailors, he needed to be silenced. Maybe there were other ways to battle his error, but (a) he deserved death, and (b) death was suitable as a means to stop the damage to the people. Even Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism admit that when the criminal continues to cause grave danger to the public, death is appropriate to end the danger.

  • zippy says:

    <>Zippy, why do you think that most or all executions of heretics were in fact immoral?<>Unexamined prejudice, I suppose.

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