fish, their lives would not, in the rationalist’s view, he coveredrnby prohihitions against murder, while computers (if one acceptsrnthe fiction of artificial intelligence) might some day possessrna higher right to life than human beings of ordinary intelligence.rnBut for Christians, reason is significant only because it enablesrnpeople to make moral choices. Birds and beasts—one isrntempted lo throw in certain professors of philosophy—are notrnmoral creatures, even potentially; the fact of their low intelligencernis incidental, and if we are occasionally obliged to preserverntheir lives or protect them from suffering, it is an obligationrnwe owe not to them but to ourselves and to the God whorncreated birds and beasts and man. Up to a certain age (somewherernbetween 12 and 20) children, whether born or unborn,rnare not capable of moral reasoning. However, strangling a fifthgraderrnfor impudence or aborting an unborn baby on therngrounds of inconvenience are not moral options, because asrnhuman beings our children have the potential capacity forrnmaking moral choices. Computers, on the other hand, whateverrntheir analytical “skills,” are not moral beings; indeed, theyrnare not beings at all, and when science fiction writers endowrnthem with human qualifies, it is only to diminish our sense ofrnthe human.rnThere is no unqualified right to life, even to human life. Humanrnlife per se is precious and is to be preserved—within certainrnlimits. Bv committing sins we earn, once again, the wagesrnof sin riiat our original parents passed down to us, and whateverrna Christian might think about the inhumanit’ of the deathrnpenalh, no philanthropic illusion should blind him to what therncold-blooded murderer has deserved bv carr)’ing out his decisionrnto take an innocent life.rnI hae heard liberal Catholic priests and Protestant ministersrnwho sa} that there is something “unchristian” about the deathrnpenalt}’. ] have even heard those who say that the Church hasrnalv’ays been opposed to executions, but I challenge them to citernone passage of Scripture or one creed, one eoneiliar document,rnone enc’clical that unequivocally condemns capital punishment.rnFrom the first homicide, our human responsibilit’ has beenrnclear: to preserve the sanctity of life by killing those who havernabused it. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall hisrnblood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen.rn9:6), and the Old Law lists a great man’ crimes for which thernpenalti. is death: homicide, witchcraft, idolatry, incest. It isrneen permitted to kill a thief with impunit)’: “If a thief be foundrnbreaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood bernshed for him” (Ex. 22:2). And the Christ who came not tornchange one jot or tittle of the law did not overturn its foundations.rnThe Christian Church more than once declared executionsrnto be right and proper, and the current Catechism ofrnthe Catholic Church, while recommending merev in languagernwhose agiieness approaches equivocation, includes the concessionrnthat:rnthe tiaditional teaching of the Church has acknowledgedrnas well-founded the right and dut)’ of legitimate publicrnauthority to punish malefactors by means of penaltiesrncommensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding,rnin cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.rnWTiat does it mean, then, when Pope John Paul II asks forrnclemency for cold-blooded killers? These interventions, althoughrnthey seem (to many Catholics and Protestants alike) torndisplay a callous disregard both for law and for the protection ofrnthe innocent, be understood within the context of a longrnChristian tradition which forbids bishops and ministers to involvernthemselves in bloodshed. The Church has always spokenrnthe language of mercy, knowing full well that in most ages ofrnthe earth, that oice will be drowned out by the cries for blood.rnThe issue is captured perfectly in an interchange of lettersrnbetween St. Augustine and Macedonius, Vicar of Africa. As arnprovincial administrator and yet a Christian, Macedonius askedrnAugustine to justify his pleas for clemency. The bishop beganrnhis response b’ conceding that the state has been given thernpower to correct wickedness:rnSurely, it is not without purpose that we have the institutionrnof the power of kings, the death penalt’ of the judge,rnthe barbed hooks of the executioner, the weapons of thernsoldier, the right of punishment of the overlord, even thernseverify of the good father. . . . While these are feared, thernwicked are kept within bounds and the good live morernpeacefully among the wicked.rnThe Old Law, continued Augustine, did preach harsh justice,rnbut the New Testament urges us to pardon offenders eitherrnthat we may be pardoned or as a means of commending gentieness.rnAfter surxeying a number of arguments (not all of themrnconincing) for mercy, Augustine concludes that there is goodrnboth in die magistrate’s severity and in the bishop’s plea forrnmercy. “Do not be displeased at being petitioned by the good,rnbecause the good are not displeased that you are feared by thernwicked.”rnAugustine and Pope John Paul have simply repeated Christ’srnadmonition to be merciful; they did not repudiate the deathrnpenalfy’ itself or call for an unqualified defense of life for life’srnsake, unlike the modern theologians who, in attempting tornweave a seamless garment of life, are really swaddling unbornrnbabies in the uniform of the death-row convict. If all humanrnlife is equally precious, then none can be very valuable. Inrnmost eases, perhaps, the proponents of a seamless garment havernsimply failed to understand the consequences of their reasoning.rnBut in using the same language to defend the innocentrnunborn and the condemned murderer, they are equating innocencernwith guilt. Part of the explanation lies in moral cowardice.rnAs Christians, they have to incur unpopularity by opposingrnabortion, but if by opposing the death penalty they canrnprove that their support for life is based on no moral considerations,rnit is easier to maintain their respectability as leftists. On arndeeper level, though, they are deliberately confounding therncategories of good and evil, willfully perverting the teachingsrnof Christ and His Church to celebrate sin as sin, evil asrnevil.rnAuthentic Protestants will search their traditions in vain forrnarguments against the death penalty. In their renewed emphasisrnon the Law, reformers were sometimes even more severernthan their opponents, and good Lutherans have always basedrntheir view of government on the explicit testimony of Romansrn13, that the rulers do not hold the sword in vain. NeitherrnLuther nor Calvin displayed any hesitation when they neededrnto call upon secular power to execute heretics and scoff-laws.rnCatholics ha’e, if anything, even less excuse for their confu-rnAUGUST 1998/11rnrnrn