Saint Thomas Aquinas

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dr. Steven Long Addressing The Death Penalty and New Natural Law Theory


"The New Natural Law Theory is in a way ingenious, in that it is materially far more rich than pure Kantian deontology; while nonetheless, it refuses the speculative wisdom that is necessarily the font of all practical right judgment. New natural law theorists do not acknowledge the teaching of Aquinas in Summa theologiae I.79.11 that only the accident of the ordering of a known truth to the good of an operation distinguishes practical knowledge from speculative knowledge... All knowledge, as such, has a speculative root; but the accident of ordering some knowledge to the good of an operation renders knowledge to be “practical” by reason of its end. By contrast to this clear teaching of Aquinas, new natural law theorists — with far greater likeness to Kant or Hume than to Aquinas — take the “practical” to be in no way derivative from the speculative"


Dr. Steven A. Long.


Dr. Steven Long of Ave Maria University is one of the most prolific Thomistic scholars of our time. He has written several books, one which I wrote a book review on, 'The Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act' as well as many articles concerning the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. He has recently written a response to one of the New Natural Law theorists, Christopher Tollefsen, who has criticized Saint Thomas Aquinas' view of human dignity and the death penalty. Tollefsen writes of St. Thomas' view on human dignity "To begin with Aquinas’s view, it appears to border on incoherence..." Dr. Long responds in a charitable yet direct manner refuting the convoluted New Natural theorist, topping it off with, "To hear advocates of this erroneous theory accuse Aquinas of incoherence would be comic were the theory not harmful to the common good of civil society and with respect to the actual teaching of the Church." Dr. Long demonstrates very clearly that the New Natural Law theorists do not understand Aquinas. As you know I have referred to Dr. Long's prior work concerning the death penalty many times in the articles I have written on the subject. This is yet another great article to take to the bank. Those who are trying to change the Church's teaching on the death penalty are not going to get one over without a fight. I would love to see Dr. Long debate Helen Prejean publicly so that her erroneous, noxious nonsense would be put to a halt. Below is a small clip from the article. I recommend reading it over. No it is not light reading, but if you take the time to read and comprehend what Dr. Long is saying, you will see just how absurd this particular argument is.

Nowhere does the Church identify capital punishment as a malum in se, and all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church — with the exception of Tertullian, who died outside the Church — affirm its principled validity (Lactantius did not argue that it was morally invalid or unjust — he expressly affirms the contrary in On Anger — but merely that Christians realize the superiority of charity to the law of the state.). Simply for the benefit of those interested in the Church’s doctrinal teaching, it should be noted that Pius XII taught that the principled legitimacy of the death penalty is not subject to cultural variation — although of course its prudential reasonability would still be subject to social variability (cf. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 47 (1955): 81-82, recounting this teaching of Pope Pius XII). One notes also the high theological note characterizing the profession required of the Waldensians in 1210 in order to re-establish ecclesial communion. The Waldensians were required to acknowledge among other things the essential justice of the death penalty for grave crime (cf. Denzinger, 425: “Concerning secular power we declare that without mortal sin it is possible to exercise a judgment of blood as long as one proceeds to bring punishment not in hatred but in judgment, not incautiously but advisedly.”). Clearly to require this oath for the re-establishment of ecclesial communion at one moment, and then to require its opposite — where what is at stake is not prudential application but the principled possibility of just penalty of death — would constitute not a development of doctrine, but rather a mutation. Note, again, that the statement directly refers to the death penalty in principle and that it indicates that as such it cannot be a malum in se...

These last words are offered with the aim of making an objective judgment about the place of New Natural Law Theory in priestly formation. There is no wish to question the orthodox intention of the Catholic New Natural Law Theorists. Their sincere desire to serve the truth—and their sacrifices and good example in doing so, particularly with respect to Humanae vitae—should be evident to all. But on matters of decisive import for the truth and for the understanding of Catholic faith and morals, the dangers implicit in their account noted above need correction; and the genuine teaching of St. Thomas remains a superior basis for formation in moral theology and philosophy.
          Dr. Steven A. Long

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