Viewpoint XXIII

The Church teaches by recalling the commandment, “You shall not kill,”our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral. Anger is a desire for revenge. “To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit,” but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution “to correct vices and maintain justice.” If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. The Lord says, “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” Matt 5:22

This is without a doubt one of the most intriguing and interesting topics of the gospel for the Christian to contemplate while living a christian life. Matt. 5:38 says:’You have heard how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer no resistance to the wicked. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if someone wishes to go to law with you to get your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone requires you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks you, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.

How many of us who call themselves Christians would conform to these instructions from the Son of God; indeed, from God himself. These teachings would appear to emphasize the weakness of Christianity rather than its strength, a default position of surrender to evil. Mark 3:27 says: “But no one can make his way into a strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he has first tied up the strong man. Only then can he plunder his house.” Offering no resistance to the wicked, or in this case the “Plunderer;” one may deserve to be tied up and plundered. In this case Jesus seems to be implying a defense; the “Strong Man” having a perfect right to his safety and property before being incapacitated by overpowering odds, inferring a natural right to resist.

By the time the “wicked” get to know how wrong they are, or have been, without resistance the world would be in chaos as terror reigns.

It is possible the power of evil may very well be a result of Christian weakness. Christian martyrs of the infant church and even more recent violence has shown us that prospect. One rarely sees “the wicked” reconciled, although we have St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus as a scriptural example of that possibility. From wicked-persecutor to avid love of God in Jesus Christ in a flash of light. Called upon, it is believed, by the Lord himself.

It would be very difficult to deny the clarity of Matt. 5:38, the meaning is clear. The Lord would have us “offer no resistance to the wicked.” However, we have other scriptural references that appear to mitigate non-resistance. When Jesus was tempted he resisted “the evil one” three times: Matt. 4:1. In The Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5:9, peacemakers are recognized as the children of God. Now one can make peace in many different ways without force, but one ought not exclude the police, Marines or the Coast Guard who may be called on to serve the peace in more robust ways. Christian life itself is continuous resistance against built in sin and potential violence in many of us. Jesus resisted the money-changers in the Temple with knotted chords for making his Father’s house a den of thieves. The best-known of Christian resistance were the Crusades fought against the Muslims of the eastern Mediterranean for the Holy Land between 1096 and 1271, called on by the Popes; a very bloody business. The Muslims were stopped before the gates of Western Europe preserving Western Culture. Perhaps a “providential” outcome.

In Luke 12:51 Jesus says: “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on, a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; father opposed to son, son to father, mother to daughter, daughter to mother, mother-in-law to daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law to mother-in-law.” 

Here, division is exemplified, Some would would see the wicked forcefully resisted– others submitting to the wicked as Jesus himself had done after his “trial” falsely accused of blasphemy and sedition, forgave his killers. 

We must allow the Catechism of the Catholic Church to help answer this enigmatic question.

Legitimate defense: (CCC 2263-2267) with notes.

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. The one is intended, the other is not.”65

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.66

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68


65 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,64,7, corp. art.
66 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,64,7, corp. art.
67 Cf. Lk 23:40-43.
68 St.John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.
It must be noted that many of the post reformation churches hold to conscientious objector status such as the Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, etc. They are known as the “Peace Churches.” Mainline Protestant churches, generally do not.

Does the Catholic Church have the right to form these options?. The answer is  yes!

“The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.” (St. John Paul II) One must honestly add it was not always thus.

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