This chapter goes against the spirit of the age, which shrinks from punishment, because it does not acknowledge sin—except for the sin of acknowledging sin.
1 Since some people pay little attention to the punishments inflicted by God, because they are devoted to the objects of sense and care only for the things that are seen, it has been ordered accordingly by divine providence that there be men in various countries whose duty it is to compel these people, by means of sensible and present punishments, to respect justice. It is obvious that these men do not sin when they punish the wicked, for no one sins by working for justice. Now, it is just for the wicked to be punished, since by punishment the fault is restored to order, as is clear from our statements above. Therefore, judges do no wrong in punishing the wicked.
Notes Therefore it is not a good idea to eliminate “prisons”, which is to say worldly punishment, which need not always be confinement.
2 Again, in various countries, the men who are put in positions over other men are like executors of divine providence; indeed, God through the order of His providence directs lower beings by means of higher ones, as is evident from what we said before. But no one sins by the fact that he follows the order of divine providence. Now, this order of divine providence requires the good to be rewarded and the evil to be punished, as is shown by our earlier remarks. Therefore, men who are in authority over others do no wrong when they reward the good and punish the evil.
3 Besides, the good has no need of evil, but, rather, the converse. So, what is needed to preserve the good cannot be evil in itself. Now, for the preservation of concord among men it is necessary that punishments be inflicted on the wicked. Therefore, to punish the wicked is not in itself evil.
4 Moreover, the common good is better than the particular good of one person. So, the particular good should be removed in order to preserve the common good. But the life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good which is the concord of human society. Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men.
Notes I hope you enjoy as much as I do pestiferous.
5 Furthermore, just as a physician looks to health as the end in his work, and health consists in the orderly concord of humors, so, too, the ruler of a state intends peace in his work, and peace consists in “the ordered concord of citizens.” Now, the physician quite properly and beneficially cuts off a diseased organ if the corruption of the body is threatened because of it. Therefore, the ruler of a state executes pestiferous men justly and sinlessly in order that the peace of the state may not be disrupted
Notes Capital punishment is indeed allowed and justified. See also 7 below.
6 Hence, the Apostle says, in 1 Corinthians (5:6): “Know you not that a little leaven corrupts the whole lump?” And a little later he adds: “Put away the evil one from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). And in Romans (13:4) it is said of earthly power that “he does not carry the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him who does evil.” And in 1 Peter (2:13-14) it is said: “Be subject therefore to every human creature for God’s sake: whether it be to the king as excelling, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of the good.”
7 Now, by this we set aside the error of some who say that corporeal punishments are illicit to use. These people adduce as a basis for their error the text of Exodus (20:13): “You shall not kill,” which is mentioned again in Matthew (5:21). They also bring up what is said in Matthew (13:30), that the Lord replied to the stewards who wanted to gather up the cockle from amidst the wheat: “Let both grow until the harvest.” By the cockle we understand the children of the wicked one, whereas by the harvest we understand the end of the world, as is explained in the same place (Mat. 13:38-40). So, the wicked are not to be removed from among the good by killing them.
8 They also allege that so long as a man is existing in this world he can be changed for the better. So, he should not be removed from the world by execution, but kept for punishment.
9 Now, these arguments are frivolous. Indeed, in the law which says “You shall not kill” there is the later statement: “You shall not allow wrongdoers to live” (Exod. 22: 18). From this we are given to understand that the unjust execution of men is prohibited. This is also apparent from the Lord’s words in Matthew 5. For, after He said: “You have heard that it was said to them of old: You shall not kill” (Mat. 5:21), He added: “But I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother,” etc.
From this He makes us understand that the killing which results from anger is prohibited, but not that which stems from a zeal for justice. Moreover, how the Lord’s statement, “Let both grow until the harvest,” should be understood is apparent through what follows: “lest perhaps, gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it” (Mat. 13: 29). So, the execution of the wicked is forbidden wherever cannot be done without danger to the good.
Of course, this often happens when the wicked are not clearly distinguished from the good by their sins, or when the danger of the evil involving many good men in their ruin is feared.
10 Finally, the fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at the critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgment that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.