Not infrequently, do we hear that the death penalty did not have Christian support until after Constantine's conversion in 313.
It is, simply, untrue.
Does one, simply, presume, that for 1700 years, scholars, including Popes, Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, countless church leaders, ministers, biblical scholars and theologians did not take into consideration the Constantine effect with their pro death penalty interpretations, that somehow it was unknown or unrevealed to them, but that some much smaller group of lesser scholars, over the last 100 years, found that it was only Constantine that allowed a pro death penalty Christian interpretation, even though it existed prior to Constantine, with some serious scholars, inclusive of Jesus, God and the Holy Ghost and for the next 2000 years (1)?
1) Clement of Rome (Saint & Father of the Church), Bishop of Rome, 90-100 C.E.
First Epistle to the Corinthians (Ch 41) 96-98
Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order, living in all good conscience, with becoming gravity, and not going beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him. Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin- offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned.
Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death.
Clement argued that God alone rules all things, that He lays down the law, punishing rebels and rewarding the obedient, and that His authority is delegated to Church leaders. Clement went as far as to say that whoever disobeys these divinely ordained authorities has disobeyed God Himself and should receive the death penalty.
2) Clement of Alexandria (153 - 217) Saint & Father of the Church
a) The Instructor - Bk I, Ch VIII (Against Those Who Think That What is Just is Not Good)
Furthermore, the general of an army, by inflicting fines and corporeal punishments with chains and the extremest disgrace on offenders, and sometimes even by punishing individuals with death, aims at good, doing so for the admonition of the officers under him.
And God does not inflict punishment from wrath, but for the ends of justice; since it is not expedient that justice should be neglected on our account. Each one of us, who sins, with his own free-will chooses punishment, and the blame lies with him who chooses.
b) The Stromata
i. (Bk I, Ch 27) The Law, even in correcting and punishing, aims at the good of men. But when it sees any one in such a condition as to appear incurable, posting to the last stage of wickedness, then in its solicitude for the rest, that they may not be destroyed by it (just as if amputating a part from the whole body), it condemns such an one to death, as the course most conducive to health. "Being judged by the Lord," says the apostle, "we are chastened, that we may not be condemned with the world." For the prophet had said before, "Chastening, the Lord hath chastised me, but hath not given me over unto death." "For in order to teach thee His righteousness," it is said, "He chastised thee and tried thee, and made thee to hunger and thirst in the desert land; that all His statutes and His judgments may be known in thy heart, as I command thee this day; and that thou mayest know in thine heart, that just as if a man were chastising his son, so the Lord our God shall chastise thee."
And to prove that example corrects, he says directly to the purpose: "A clever man, when he seeth the wicked punished, will himself be severely chastised, for the fear of the Lord is the source of wisdom."
But it is the highest and most perfect good, when one is able to lead back any one from the practice of evil to virtue and well-doing, which is the very function of the law. So that, when one fails into any incurable evil, -- when taken possession of, for example, by wrong or covetousness, -- it will be for his good if he is put to death. For the law is beneficent, being able to make some righteous from unrighteous, if they will only give ear to it, and by releasing others from present evils; for those who have chosen to live temperately and justly, it conducts to immortality.
ii. (Bk II, Ch 23) On Marriage
In order to check the impetuosity of the passions, it commands the adulteress to be put to death, on being convicted of this; and if of priestly family, to be committed to the flames. And the adulterer also is stoned to death, but not in the same place, that not even their death may be in common. And the law is not at variance with the Gospel, but agrees with it. How should it be otherwise, one Lord being the author of both? She who has committed fornication liveth in sin, and is dead to the commandments; but she who has repented, being as it were born again by the change in her life, has a regeneration of life; the old harlot being dead, and she who has been regenerated by repentance having come back again to life. The Spirit testifies to what has been said by Ezekiel, declaring, "I desire not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn." Now they are stoned to death; as through hardness of heart dead to the law which they believed not. But in the case of a priestess the punishment is increased, because "to whom much is given, from him shall more be required."
3) It is impossible to say that the teachings of God/Jesus/Holy Ghost are not pre Constantine. Here are some New Testament references, for them and others.
Jesus, the Holy Ghost and the Death Penalty
4) St. Athanasius (c 296 - 373) Archbishop of Alexandria, Father of the Church
a) Two Books Against the Heathen - Bk I
# 12. Other shameful actions ascribed to heathen deities. All prove that they are but men at former times, and not even good men. For, to mention a few instances out of many to avoid prolixity, who that saw his lawless and corrupt conduct toward Semele, Leda, Alcmene, Artemis, Leto, Maia, Europe, Danae, and Antiope, or that saw what he ventured to take in hand with regard to his own sister, in having the same woman as wife and sister, would not scorn him and pronounce him worthy of death?
b) Ad Afros Epistola Synodica - 369
What then do such men deserve, but to be called Arians, and to share the punishment of the Arians? For they were not afraid of God, who says, 'Remove not the eternal boundaries which thy fathers placed,' and 'He that speaketh against father or mother, let him die the death:'
c) Defense of his flight - 357
But for as much as they pretend to charge me with cowardice, it is necessary that I should write somewhat concerning this, whereby it shall be proved that they are men of wicked minds, who have not read the sacred Scriptures: or if they have read them, that they do not believe the divine inspiration of the oracles they contain. For had they believed this, they would not dare to act contrary to them, nor imitate the malice of the Jews who slew the Lord. For God having given them a commandment, 'Honour thy father and thy mother,' and, 'He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death;' that people established a contrary law, changing the honour into dishonour, and alienating to other uses the money which was due from the children to their parents.
Although one must consider St. Athanasius a post Constantine source, it is most likelythat he was influenced by both Clements (above), as I think it even better shown by his reliance upon scripture to support his position. I am unaware of any acknowledgement or evidence of a Constantine influence on him.
1) New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming