(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, $24.95). Visit ignatius.com or call 1-800-651-1531.
Reviews and defense
1) Edward Peters, Professor of Canon Law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Canon Law, May 23, 2017,
" . . . all contributions to the capital punishment debate, especially as conducted by and among Catholics, must incorporate the work of Feser and Bessette or risk irrelevance."
"Feser and Bessette’s defense of capital punishment is a triumph of truth over platitude, of fact over fiction, of argument over emotion. In response to recent condemnations of the death penalty issued by various ecclesiastics, Feser and Bessette calmly and methodically set forth the philosophical, Scriptural, doctrinal, and sociological arguments grounding the Catholic Church’s hitherto unquestioned – and ultimately unquestionable – support for the death penalty when it is justly administered."
"Defenders of capital punishment will find in these pages persuasive arguments upholding the proper exercise of this momentous state power and opponents of the death penalty will see their challenges accurately depicted and soberly answered."
"This exactly is what Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette provide in their recent book, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, the most comprehensive case ever assembled. Yes, one can avoid becoming persuaded by not looking into that telescope. But if you do, you may see so clearly the unchanging nature of the question that you will quip, Eppur non si muove, “Nevertheless it does not move.”
2) Hot Air vs. Capital Punishment: A Reply to Paul Griffiths and David Bentley Hart, Dr. Edward Feser, The Catholic World Report, November 28, 2017,http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/11/28/hot-air-versus-capital-punishment-a-reply-to-paul-griffiths-and-david-bentley-hart/
"Griffiths’ review in First Things . . . is rich in condescension, high in dudgeon, and largely devoid of substantive engagement with the book’s arguments."
"Hart’s review in Commonweal is so rhetorically over-the-top and dishonest that the effect is more comical than offensive"
3) Yes, traditional Church teaching on capital punishment is definitive, Dr. Edward Feser,The Catholic World Report,11/21/2017,
"Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the popes for 2000 years have taught that capital punishment can be legitimate in principle . . . this teaching is irreformable."
"Given the “hermeneutic of continuity” emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI – and given especially the teaching of the First Vatican Council that popes have no authority to introduce new doctrines . . . "
4) Reply to Brugger and Tollefsen
Traditional Catholic Doctrine on Capital Punishment is Irreversible: A Reply to E. Christian Brugger, by Edward Feser, The Public Discourse, November 19th, 2017,
"The Catholic Church has always taught that capital punishment can be legitimate under certain circumstances. Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and every pope who has commented on the topic up to Benedict XVI have all clearly and repeatedly affirmed this teaching."
St. John Paul II Did Not Change Catholic Teaching on Capital Punishment: A Reply to E. Christian Bruggerby Edward Feser, The Public Discourse, November 20th, 2017,
"To change (the Church's 2000 year old teachings) would be to contradict the clear and consistent teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the popes, and no pope has the authority to do that. "
Capital Punishment, Catholicism, and Natural Law: A Reply to Christopher Tollefsen, by Edward Feser, 11/21/2017,
" . . . the reason a person can be deprived even of the highest good, God, is that a person can do something to deserve such a loss. The same thing is true of life. A person has a right not to be killed unless—by virtue of having committed a sufficiently heinous crime—he has, as Pope Pius XII put it, “deprived himself of the right to live.” Tollefsen’s argument against capital punishment simply ignores the fact that the right to the enjoyment of a good—any good—depends on whether or not one is guilty or innocent."
5) Capital Punishment: Eppur non si muove, Michael Pakaluk, The Catholic Thing, NOVEMBER 4, 2017,
"But in our day, when even the heavens apparently do move, we need a different sort of telescope for seeing the changelessness of the other – one that has the clear lens of reason, and the long extension of history, and which is situated in a calm and still observatory.
6) Reviews: By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Janet Smith, moral theologian, Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2017
" . . . the arguments are so strong, I timidly suggest, that perhaps the authors should have allowed readers to “draw their own conclusions” more often. But let me say, the book simply flattens its opponents."
"(Bessette) uses this data to refute claims made by the (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) that capital punishment has no deterrent power, that innocent persons are regularly executed, that the application of the death penalty has been unfairly applied to minorities and the poor."
"Feser systematically refutes the arguments of those who think the Church now teaches that capital punishment is intrinsically unjust. He helps readers to see how weak our attachment to justice has become and how little we allow tight reasoning about justice to govern our thinking…"
7) Review: By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Daniel Lendman, Reading Religion, a publication of the American Academy of Religion, June 29, 2017,
"Feser and Bessette… insist that the legitimacy of capital punishment is the ancient and long standing teaching of the Catholic Church. [They] go even farther, laying out a compelling case that denying that capital punishment can be legitimate in principle is proximate to heresy…"
"While the context of this argument is decidedly and purposefully Catholic, readers of different religions and belief systems can still find forceful natural law arguments supporting capital punishment in this book. The authors also offer arguments claiming the prudence of using capital punishment in the United States, . . . "
8) "Can the Church ever bless the death penalty?", by Dan Hitchens, deputy editor of the Catholic Herald, 25 May 2017,
"As Feser remarks . . . some theologians “have turned the notion of development into a euphemism or lawyer’s trick whereby outright reversals of past teaching are magically made orthodox by slapping the label ‘development’ on them. You might as well say that denying Christ’s divinity or the doctrine of original sin can be reconciled with past teaching as long as we call them ‘developments’ and get enough people to go along with this sleight of hand.”
“Punishment,” Feser and Bessette write, “is a matter of restoring the natural connection between pain and acting contrary to nature’s ends.”
"They quote Aquinas as saying that since an offender “has been too indulgent to his will”, he should suffer “either willingly or unwillingly, something contrary to what he would wish”, for the sake of the “restoration of the equality of justice”. The same idea is affirmed by the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offence.' ”
9) Capital Punishment Revisited, By CHRISTOPHER MANION, The Wanderer, 12/9/2017,
From the book: “ . . . no Catholic may condemn capital punishment as intrinsically unjust, though a Catholic may still oppose the use of the death penalty on prudential grounds. But we will also show that there are no good prudential grounds for opposing it and that there are powerful prudential grounds not only for maintaining it but for applying it with some regularity.”
" . . a highly recommended book that sheds the patient, clear light of reason on the issue
of capital punishment . . . beautifully researched and clearly written work will now become the standard Catholic work on capital punishment."
"Every U.S. bishop should read it." " . . . will it convince even one bishop? That prospect is a false hope and a distraction. In this and all efforts, the writer must have the goal not of persuading the hierarchy but of telling the truth, and letting the truth tell its own story. And the story told by this brilliant work is indeed worth telling."
" . . . leaders and bureaucrats at the USCCB routinely violate that magisterial teaching, and pretend that theirs is the only permissible “Catholic” position when they choose a particular agenda item to champion." " . . . this bad habit has put the faithful in a position of delicacy, patiently and charitably reminding the bishops that they are trespassing in the realm that is the property of the laity."
" . . . today it falls to the laity to explain the principles underlying the issues of crime and punishment, laying out the arguments to explain the principles in the light of the rich tradition of Catholic thought." " . . . the laity has a fundamental right to the truth, including when it comes to capital punishment . . . And the truth is exactly what Feser and Bessette offer in their impressive study. . . . . they take great care in presenting a clear and rational discussion to shed the patient, clear light of reason on the issue . . . from the point of view of the Natural Law, Church teaching, and theological and philosophical anthropology." “Unfortunately, churchmen have in recent years not been equally respectful of the authority and duty of public officials to exercise their prudential judgment in applying Catholic social teaching when it comes to the death penalty.”
F&B “many Catholics today glibly assert that capital punishment is incompatible with promoting a ‘culture of life’….It is simpleminded sloganeering, not serious thinking.”
"With this particular point the authors put their finger on a regrettable tendency that has become a bad habit of hierarchs when defending their opinionated agendas. The pro-life movement — led since its inception by the laity, not the hierarchy — has championed the powerful symbol of “pro-life” as an irrefutable tribute to the reality of the unborn child’s humanity. So it is distressing, but not surprising, that many peddlers of political palaver have tried to hijack the “pro-life” label and apply it to their personal political agenda, on particulars ranging from foreign aid and tax policy to immigration and “global warming.”
"That rhetorical dodge . . . smacks too much of an acquiescence to what Pope Benedict called the “Dictatorship of Relativism.” It serves only to dilute the Church’s adamant defense of life, as well as to delude the public regarding the honest use of words."