Hugo Grotius (15831645). The Rights of War and Peace. 1901.
Chapter XX: On Punishments
Definition and origin of punishmentIn what manner punishment relates to strict justiceThe right of punishing allowed by the law of nature, to none, except to those, who are innocent of the crimes and misdemeanours to be punishedDifference of motive between human and divine punishmentIn what sense revenge is naturally unlawfulThe advantages of punishment, threefoldThe law of nature allows any one to inflict punishment upon an offender, yet with a distinctionThe regard which the law of nations pays to the benefit of the injured party, in the infliction of punishmentGeneral utility of punishmentsWhat is determined by the law of the Gospel, in this respectAnswer to the objections founded upon the mercy of God, as displayed in the GospelCapital punishments objected to as cutting off all possibility of repentanceNot safe for private Christians to inflict punishments, even when allowed to do so, by the law of nationsProsecutions, for certain offences, to be carried on in the name of the public and not of individualsInternal acts not punishable by manOpen acts, when inevitable through human infirmity not punishableActions, neither directly nor indirectly injurious to society, not punishable by human lawsThe reasons of that exemptionThe opinion, that pardon can never be granted, refutedPardon shewn to be allowable before the establishment of penal lawBut not in all casesAllowable also subsequently to the establishment of penaltiesInternal and external reasonsOpinion, that there can be no just reason for dispensing with laws, except where such dispensation can be implied as authorised by the law, examined and refutedPunishment estimated by the desert of the offenderDifferent motives comparedMotives which ought to restrain men from sinScale of offences according to the precepts of the DecalogueCapacity of the offenderPunishment mitigated from motives of charity, except where there are stronger motives of an opposite kindFacility or familiarity of crimes aggravates their natureClemency, proper exercise ofViews of the Jews and Romans in inflicting punishmentWar considered as a punishmentWhether hostilities can justly be commenced for intended aggressionsWhether Kings and Nations are justified in making war to punish offences against the law of nature, not immediately affecting themselves or their subjectsThe opinion, that jurisdiction is naturally necessary to authorise punishment, refutedDistinction between the law of nature, and civil customs, and the divine voluntary lawThe question, whether war can be undertaken to punish acts of impietyconsideredThe being of God, whence knownRefusal to embrace the Christian religion not a sufficient cause of warCruel treatment of Christians, justifiable cause of warOpen defiance of religion punishable.
I. IIN the preceding part of this treatise, where the causes, for which war may be undertaken, were explained, it was considered in a two-fold light, either as a reparation for injuries, or as a punishment. The first of these points having been already cleared up, the latter, which relates to punishments, remains to be discussed, and it will require a more ample investigation; for the origin and nature of punishment, not being perfectly understood, has given rise to many errors.
Punishment taken in its most general meaning signifies the pain of suffering, which is inflicted for evil actions. For although labour may some times be imposed instead of punishment; still it is considered in that case, as a hardship and a grievous burden, and may therefore properly be classed with sufferings. But the inconveniences, which men are some times exposed to, by being excluded from the intercourse of society and the offices of life, owing to infectious disorders, or other similar causes, which was the case with the Jews on account of many legal impurities, these temporary privations are not to be strictly taken for punishments: though from their resemblance to each other, they are often, by an abuse of terms, confounded.
But among the dictates laid down by nature, as lawful and just, and which the ancient Philosophers call the law of Rhadamanthus, the following maxim may be placed, THAT IT IS RIGHT FOR EVERY ONE TO SUFFER EVIL PROPORTIONED TO THAT WHICH HE HAS DONE.
Which gave occasion to Plutarch, in his book on exile, to say that justice is an attribute of God, avenging all transgressions of the divine law; and we apply it as the rule and measure of our dealings with each other. For though separated by the arbitrary or geographical bounds of territory, the eye of nature looks upon all, as fellow subjects of one great empire. Hierocles gives a fine character of justice, calling it the healing remedy of all mischief. Lactantius in speaking of the divine wrath calls it no inconsiderable mistake in those, who degrade human or divine punishment with the name of cruelty or rigour, imagining that some degree of blame must always attach to the punishment of the guilty. What has been said of the inseparable connection of a penalty with every offense is similar to the remark of Augustin, that to make a punishment JUST, it must be inflicted for some crime. He applies the expression to explain the divine justice, where through human ignorance, the offence is often undiscoverable though the judgment may be seen.
II. There are diversities of opinion whether punishment comes under the rank of ATTRIBUTIVE or that of STRICT justice. Some refer it to justice of the attributive kind, because offences are punished more or less, in proportion to their consequences, and because the punishment is inflicted by the whole community, as it were, upon an individual.
It is undoubtedly one of the first principles of justice to establish an equality between the penalty and the offence. For it is the business of reason, says Horace, in one of his Satires, to apply a rule and measure, by which the penalty may be framed upon a scale with the offence, and in another place, he observes, that it would be contrary to all reason to punish with the rack a slave, who deserved nothing more than the whip. I. Sat. iii. v. 77, and 119. The divine law, as may be seen from the xxv. Chapter of Deuteronomy, rests upon the same principle.
There is one sense, in which all punishment may be said to be a matter of strict justice. Thus, when we say that punishment is due to any one, we mean nothing more than that it is right he should be punished. Nor can any one inflict this punishment, but the person, who has a right to do so. Now in the eye of the law, every penalty is considered, as a debt arising out of a crime, and which the offender is bound to pay to the aggrieved party. And in this there is something approaching to the nature of contracts. For as a seller, though no EXPRESS stipulation be made, is understood to have bound himself by all the USUAL, and NECESSARY conditions of a sale, so, punishment being a natural consequence of crime, every heinous offender appears to have VOLUNTARILY incurred the penalties of law. In this sense some of the Emperors pronounced sentence upon malefactors in the following manner, you have brought this punishment upon Yourselves. Indeed every wicked action done by design was considered as a voluntary contract to submit to punishment. For, as Michael the Ephesian observes on the fifth book of Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics, the ancients gave the name of contract, not only to the voluntary agreements which men made with each other, but to the obligations arising from the sentence of the law.
III. But to whom the right of punishing properly belongs, is a matter not determined by the law of NATURE. For though reason may point out the necessity of punishing the guilty, it does not specify the PERSON, to whom the execution of it is to be committed.
Natural reason indeed does so far point out the person, that it is deemed most SUITABLE for a SUPERIOR ONLY to be invested with the power of inflicting punishment. Yet this demonstration does not amount to an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY, unless the word superior be taken in a sense implying, that the commission of a crime makes the offender inferior to every one of his own species, by his having degraded himself from the rank of men to that of the brutes, which are in subjection to man; a doctrine, which some Theologists have maintained. Philosophers too agreed in this. For Democritus supposed that power naturally belonged to superior merit, and Aristotle was of opinion that both in the productions of nature and art the inferior were provided for the use of the superior parts.
In conformity to which, our Saviour, in the case of the woman taken in adultery, pronounced that whoever of the accusers was without sin, meaning sins of equal enormity, should cast the first stone. John viii. 7. He said so for this reason, because in that age the manners of the Jews were so corrupt, that, under a great parade of sanctity, the most enormous vices, and the most wicked dispositions were concealed. A character of the times which the Apostle has painted in the most glowing colours, and which he closes with a reproof similar to what his divine master had given, therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. Rom. ii. 1. Applicable to which there is a remark of Senecas, that no sentence, which is passed by a guilty person can have any weight. And in another place, the same writer observes, that if we look into ourselves and consider whether we have been guilty of the offences we are going to condemn, we shall be more moderate in our judgments.
IV. Another part of our inquiry respects the end proposed by punishment. For by what has hitherto been said, it was only meant to shew that in punishing the guilty no injury is done to them. Still the absolute necessity of punishment does not follow from thence. For the pardon of the guilty on many occasions has been considered as the most beauteous feature in the divine and human character. Plato is celebrated for his saying that justice does not inflict punishment for the evils that are done and cannot be retrieved; but to prevent the same from being done for the time to come. From Thucydides we find that Diodorus in addressing the Athenians on the conduct of the Mitylenaeans, advises them to forbear punishing their avowed injustice, unless it was probable that the punishment would be attended with some good effect.
These maxims may be true with regard to human punishments: for one man being so nearly allied to another by blood, no degree of suffering should be inflicted, but for some consequent good. But the case is different with respect to God, to whom Plato injudiciously applies the above sentiments. For though the divine counsels will undoubtedly have the good of men in view, as the end of all punishment, yet the bare reformation of the offender cannot be the sole object. Since the divine justice, though tempered with mercy must adhere to the truth of the revealed word, which threatens the wicked with punishment or destruction.
V. A dramatic writer has said that the pain of an enemy is a healing remedy to a wounded spirit, in which he agrees with Cicero and Plutarch: in the opinion of the former pain is mitigated by the punishment of an adversary, and in that of the latter satisfaction is a sweet medicine to a troubled mind.
But a disposition like this, when stripped of all disguise and false colouring, will be found by no means suitable to the reasonable soul of man, whose office it is to regulate and controul the affections. Nor will that disposition receive any sanction from the law of nature, who in all her dictates, inclines to unite men in society by good will, rather than to separate them by cherishing animosity. For it is laid down by reason, as a leading axiom in her code of laws, that no man shall do any thing which may hurt another, unless it be for the purpose of some evident and essential good. But the pain of an enemy considered solely of such, is no benefit to us, but a false and imaginary one, like that derived from superfluous riches or things of the same kind.1
In this acceptation revenge is condemned both by Christian teachers and heathen philosophers. In this respect, the language of Seneca approaches very near to the perfection of Christian morals. He calls revenge, in its usual and proper acceptation, a term of inhumanity, differing from injury only in degree. For retaliation of pain can be considered as nothing better than excusable sin. Juvenal, after describing the different tempers, over which revenge exercises the most powerful dominion, and shewing the amiable characters over which it has no influence, concludes it to be the pleasure of a little and infirm mind.
VI. This seems the most proper place for reviewing those distinctions in the motives of punishment, which have been used by Plato in his Gorgias, and by Taurus the philosopher in a passage quoted by Gellius in the fourteenth chapter of his fifth book. These distinctions seem to result naturally from the end of all punishment. Plato indeed considers the amendment of the offender, and the example given to others, as the two principal motives: but Taurus has added a third, which he calls satisfaction, and which is defined by Clemens Alexandrinus, to be repayment of evil, contributing to the benefit of both the aggrieved and avenging party. Aristotle passing over example as a motive, confines the object of punishment to the amendment or correction of the offender. But Plutarch has not made the same omission: for he has said, that where immediate punishment follows the execution of a heinous crime, it both operates to deter others from committing the same crime, and administers some degree of consolation to the injured and suffering person. And this is what Aristotle calls commutative justice. But these matters require a more minute inquiry. We may observe therefore that there is nothing contrary either to human or divine law, in punishments, which have the good of the offender, or that of the injured party, or of any persons whatsoever in view.
The three proper ends are obtained by that kind of punishment, which some philosophers have called correction, some chastisement, and others admonition. Paulus the Lawyer, has given it the name of correction; Plato styles it a lesson of instruction, and Plutarch a medicine of the soul, reforming and healing the sufferer, while it operates as a painful remedy. For as all deliberate acts, by frequent repetition, produce a propensity, which ripens into habit, the best method of reforming vices in their earliest stage is to deprive them of their sweet savour by an infusion of subsequent pain. It is an opinion of the Platonists, repeated by Apuleius, that impunity and the delay of reproof are more severe and pernicious to an offender than any punishment whatsoever, and, in the words of Tacitus, violent disorders must be encountered with remedies proportionably strong.
VII. The power of inflicting the punishment, subservient to this end, is allowed by the law of nature to any one of competent judgement, and not implicated in similar or equal offences. This is evident as far as verbal reproof goes, from the maxim of Plautus, that to bestow merited reproof upon a friend is useful, upon certain occasions, though by no means a grateful office. But in all kinds of constraint and compulsion, the difference made between the persons, who are allowed, and who are not allowed to exercise it is no appointment of natural law, but one of the positive institutions of the civil law. For no such natural distinction could be made, any farther than that reason would intrust parents with the peculiar use of such an authority, in consideration of their affection. But laws, in order to avoid animosities, have, with respect to the authority of punishing, passed over the common kindred subsisting among mankind, and confined it to the nearest degrees of relation: as may be seen in many records, and particularly in the code of Justinian, under the title of the POWER OF RELATIVES TO CORRECT IN ORDER TO REFORM OFFENDERS. And Cyrus, in the v. book and viii. chapter of Xenophons history of the Expedition, addresses the soldiers to the following purport, If I punish any one for his good, I am willing to submit to justice; but would it not be equally reasonable that parents and masters should submit to justice, for having corrected children, or the Surgeon be responsible for having used the incision-knife, where the patients case required it?
But this kind of corrective punishment does not extend to death, which cannot be considered, as a benefit in itself, except INDIRECTLY and BY WAY OF REDUCTION, as it is called by Logicians, who, in order to confirm negatives, reduce them to things of an opposite kind. Thus, in Mark xiv. 21, when our Saviour says, that it were better for some, they had never been born, so, for incurable dispositions, it is better, that is would be a less evil, to die than to live; since it is certain that by living they will grow worse. Plutarch calls such men a pest to others, but the greatest pest to themselves. Galen says that capital punishments are inflicted to prevent men from doing harm by a longer course of iniquity, and to deter others by the fear of punishment, adding that it is better men should die, when they have souls so infected with evil, as to be incurable.
There are some, who think that these are the persons meant by the Apostle John, who describes them as sinning a sin unto death. But as their arguments are not satisfactory, charity requires that no one should be deemed incorrigible, except upon the clearest grounds. So that punishment with such an end in view can only be inflicted for important causes.
VIII. The benefit accruing to an injured person from the punishment of an offender consists in his being secured in future against a recurrence of the same injury from that offender, or from others. There are three ways of preventing this recurrenceby removing the offenderby depriving him of the power of doing harm, or lastly by compelling him to better habits of thought or action, which is the reformation produced by the punishment already spoken of. It is not every kind of punishment, which can produce such effects; it must be open and conspicuous, to operate as an example, that may deter others from the commission of the same crimes. A vindictive punishment, inflicted by an injured individual, or by any other person, when it is restrained by bounds and limitations of this kind, has nothing unlawful in it considering the law of nature by itself, apart from all human and divine institutions, and ever adventitious circumstance, that may create a deviation from the primitive dictates of nature. We have said that it may be inflicted by any other individual, as well as by the injured person: for it is comformable to nature, that one man should assist another. But as our judgment is apt to be biassed by our affections, in cases, where our interest is concerned; since the formation of families into states, judges have been appointed, and invested with the power of punishing the guilty, whereby the natural liberty of personal redress, originally allowed it is to individuals, was abolished, or at least abridged. And it is only in places, on the seas for instance, where no judicial remedy can be obtained, that this natural liberty continues in force. There is a circumstance related of Julius Caesar, applicable to this subject. While he was only in a private station, being taken prisoner by some pirates, after he had redeemed himself by a sum of money, he applied to the proconsul for redress. But his application being neglected, he fitted out a certain number of ships, attacked and defeated the pirates, and ordered them all to be crucified.
The practice of private individuals, exercising punishment, was the origin of single combats, so familiar to the Germans before the introduction of Christianity, and not yet sufficiently laid aside. We are informed by Velleius Paterculus, in his second book, that the Germans were surprised to see the forms of Roman jurisprudence, and those disputes, which they themselves decided by the sword, settled by law. By the Jewish law, the nearest in blood to the deceased were allowed to kill a murderer, if taken beyond the places of refuge. And the Jewish interpreters observe, that in GENERAL the infliction of punishment, as a retaliation for murder, it intrusted to no hand, but that of the judge: as it is difficult for an individual in his own case to moderate his resentment. The same custom of allowing individuals to avenge their own wrongs prevailed among the ancient Greeks, as we find from the words of Theoclymenes, in Homers Odyssey. But it prevailed most in countries, where public courts of justice were not established. From hence St. Augustin defines those wars to be just, which are intended to avenge injuries. And Plato, in his twelfth book ON A COMMONWEALTH, justifies the prolongation of hostilities, till the aggressor is reduced to submit to just, and equitable terms.
IX. GENERAL utility which was considered as the third end proposed by punishment, may be divided into the same number of parts, as the benefit accruing from thence to individuals. For these are the objects in view, either to prevent the individual, who has injured one person, from doing injury to others: an object which can be accomplished only by removing the offender, disarming him of the means of farther injury, or by reforming him: or it may be inflicted to deter others from being allured, by an example of impunity, to commit acts of molestation or enmity. And the infliction of punishment, for such reasons, is a RIGHT granted by the law of nature to every individual. Upon this principle, Plutarch observes in the life of Pelopidas, that good men are designed by nature for the office of perpetual magistracy, and superiority belongs to those, in whom the characters of truth and justice unite.
But as it requires a painful degree of patience to examine into facts, and no inconsiderable share of skill and equity to affix the extent of punishments; in order to prevent quarrels from arising through the presuming conceit, which every man entertains of his own wisdom, and to which others are averse to yield; in all well regulated communities, it has been usual to select for the tribunals of justice those, who were deemed worthy of such honour, or likely to become so, from their integrity and wisdom. Democritus has said, there would have been no occasion for laws to prevent every man from living according to his own humour, if one had not done injury to another. For envy was the origin of strife. But as we have just observed, that it happens, in the case of revenge, so in this kind of punishment, inflicted for the sake of example, there are traces and remains of ancient law, in those places, and among those persons, that are subject to no CIVIL jurisdiction; and in certain other cases besides. Thus any Hebrew, according to the customs of that people, if he should turn away from God, or from the Law of God, or should seduce others to false worship, might immediately be put to death by any one whatsoever. The Hebrews call that an act of ZEAL, which was first done by Phinehas, and which afterwards became a custom. Thus Mattathias slew a Jew, who was polluting himself with Grecian rites. In the same manner, in the book commonly called the third book of Maccabees, it is related that three hundred other Jews were put to death by their own countrymen. Nor could any other pretext be assigned for stoning Stephen, and conspiring against Paul. Philo, and Josephus abound in instances of this kind. There are many countries where we may trace the remains of primitive law, in the plenary power allowed to masters over their slaves, and to parents over their children, extending even to inflict the punishment of death. So the Ephori of Sparta might put a citizen to death without the formality of trial. From what has been said, it is easy to infer what punishment the law of nature authorises, and how far it has remained in force.
X. We come now to consider whether the law of the Gospel has confined that liberty within closer bounds. It has been observed in another part of this treatise, that it is not surprising that some things, which are allowed by natural and civil law, should be forbidden by the divine law, owing to its great perfection, and the superiority of its rewards over any thing that human nature can bestow. To the attainment of which it is not unreasonable that virtues should be required, far exceeding the simple precepts of nature. Those kinds of correction that leave neither any mark of infamy, nor any permanent injury, but are suited to the age, or other circumstances of the sufferer, if inflicted by those, who derive such a permission from human laws, for instance by parents, guardians, or masters, contain nothing repugnant to the precepts of the Gospel, as may be clearly understood from the nature of the thing itself. For they are remedies to the mind no less harmless than medicines ungrateful to the palate are to the body. But as to revenge the case is different. For the infliction of punishment, only to gratify resentment, so far from being conformable to the Gospel, has been shewn above to be repugnant even to the law of nature.
The Jewish law indeed not only forbids the cherishing of hatred against a neighbour, that is, one of the same country and people, but requires certain common acts of kindness to be bestowed even upon enemies of that description. The Gospel therefore, comprehending all men under the appellation of neighbour, not only forbids us to hurt our enemies, but commands us to do them good; a commandment clearly stated in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Yet the law permitted the Jews to seek revenge for injuries of a more grievous kind, not with their own hands, but by appealing to the judge. But Christ does not give us the same permission, as appears from that opposition which he makes between the permissions of former times, and those of his own law. You have heard that it was said an eye for an eyebut I say unto you, love your enemies, etc.
For although what follows relates peculiarly to the repelling of injury, and, in some measure, abridges this permission, yet it passes a much greater censure upon revenge, rejecting it as an indulgence suitable only to a more imperfect, and carnal state.
To inflict punishment by way of retaliation was disapproved of even by those of the Jews, who were distinguished for their worth and wisdom; because they regarded not only the LETTER, but the PURPOSE and SPIRIT of the law. This appears from Philo, in whose writings we find the Jews of Alexandria, upon the calamity of Flaccus, their persecutor, addressing themselves to God in the following language, We do not rejoice, O Lord, in the calamity or punishment of an enemy, being taught by thy holy laws to feel for the miseries of men. And in this case we may apply that general command given by Christ to forgive all who have offended or injured us, that is, neither to do, nor to wish them evil, through resentment of the evil they have done to us. But what can be said of revenge, not as regarding the past, but as providing security for the future? Here too Christ requires of his followers the same disposition to pardon injuries, particularly, if the offender shews any probable signs of repentance. Luke xvii. 3. Eph. iv. 32. Col. iii. 13. In those passages a full remission is intended, such a remission as restores the offender to his former situation of friendship or confidence: and consequently nothing can be required of him under the name of punishment. Besides, if there were no such marks of repentance, the reparation of a loss is not to be pursued with too much rigour; a doctrine inferred from the precept of Christ enjoining us to give up the garment along with the cloak.
But if it is likely that connivance at an offence will be attended with imminent inconvenience and even danger to ourselves, we should be contented with such securities as may be effectual, and at the same time operate with as little prejudice as possible to the offender. For even among the Jews, the law of retaliation was not in use, as we are informed by Josephus, and other writers of that nation. But in addition to the expence incurred, which the law treats of as a separate point, the injured party usually received a pecuniary fine instead of retaliation; the repayment of expences being considered simply as a restitution, and not a penalty.
It remains now to consider punishment, as providing for the PUBLIC and not INDIVIDUAL security, which is accomplished either by removing the guilty person out of the way or by restraining him from doing farther mischief, or by deterring others through the severity of example, none of which means it has been clearly proved were abolished by Christ; for in giving his precepts he affirmed that he destroyed no part of the law. The law of MOSES indeed, which in these respects was to remain in force as long as the Jewish Polity existed, strictly enjoined magistrates to punish murder and other similar crimes. But if the precepts of Christ could exist in conjunction with the law of Moses, as far as it imposed capital punishments, surely they may exist in conjunction with human laws, which in this respect are but an imitation of the divine laws.
XI. Some, in support of an opposite opinion, allege the supreme mercy of God, as it is displayed in the new covenant, and which is given as an example for men, and for magistrates, in particular, to follow, who, in the exercise of authority, execute the laws of the Deity. This opinion may in some measure be true, but not to that extent, which the authors of it intend. For the great mercy of God displayed in the new covenant has a peculiar reference to offences against the primitive law, or even against the law of Moses, before the time that men had received a knowledge of the Gospel. For offences committed after the promulgation of the Gospel, especially if they are accompanied with a hardened obstinacy, are treated with much severer judgments than any that were declared by Moses. For God punishes sins of that kind not only in a future state, but in the present life. But for sins of that kind, to obtain the act of mercy and indulgence, the offender must inflict punishment upon himself, not in a slight or trivial manner, but with a heartfelt sorrow, and resolution to sin no more.
In the same manner it is maintained that if men are actuated by repentance, they are ENTITLED to impunity. We do not say that men are never actuated by sincere repentance; but it is not every kind of avowal or acknowledgment, by which God is moved to remit the WHOLE of a punishment, as appears from the case of David. As the supreme judge therefore might dispense with the full penalty of the law, inflicting death, and yet exercise no inconsiderable severity upon offenders, so now he may dispense with the sentence of eternal death, and yet exercise no inconsiderable severity upon offenders, so now he may dispense with the sentence of eternal death, at the same time leaving the sinner to find an early grave by the stroke of some calamity, or by the hand of human justice.
XII. and XIII. Another objection made against capital punishments is that such a kind of sentence and execution is cutting off a criminal from all possibility of repentance. But those, who make the objection, must know, that in cases of that kind, venerable and upright judges use the greatest precautions, and suffer no one to be hurried away to execution, without a reasonable time allowed for reflection and deep abhorrence of his crime: a repentance, which though prevented by the interposing hand of death from producing the fruits of righteousness, we have reason to suppose, from the case of the thief pardoned on the cross, may be accepted with God.
But if on the other hand it be said that longer life might have been of more avail to serious repentance, we may observe that, in some cases, the reply of Seneca may be made, that to men of that description death is often the greatest blessing which can be bestowed; for, in the words of Eusebius, their career of wickedness cannot otherwise be shortened, or reformed. These in addition to the preceding arguments in the former part of this treatise may be deemed a sufficient answer to those, who assert that all capital punishments, and even all punishments, without exception, are abolished by the precepts of our Saviour. The Apostle, consigning to the office of kings the use of the sword, as an exercise of his divine commission to avenge all wrongs, instructs us to pray for kings, that, as true Christians, in their royal capacity, they may be a protection to the innocent. An end, which even after the introduction of the gospel, could not easily be obtained, owing to the depravity of mankind, if the violence of some were not restrained by the exemplary punishment of others. Such authority is the more necessary, when even in the midst of so many examples and punishments, the lives of the innocent are scarcely secure. There have been indeed, it cannot be denied, happy instances where the sentence of death was changed for that of perpetual labour, a practice, as we are informed by Diodorus, followed by Sabacon, king of Egypt, a prince renowned for his piety. Balsamon observes that the penal laws of Rome, inflicting death, were most of them changed by the Christian emperors of later times, and other kinds of punishment were substituted, that the guilty might receive deeper impressions of repentance, and their punishment operate as a more durable example.
XIV. From what has been said, it may be inferred, how unsafe it is for a private Christian, whether from motives of personal interest, or from those of the public good, to take upon himself the punishment of an offender, and particularly to inflict death. Although, as it has been said before, it may, IN SOME CASES, be allowed by the law of nations. A permission, that has given rise to the laudable practice, prevailing in some countries of furnishing adventurers with public instructions and commissions to chase and capture pirates, wherever they may be found. But those adventurers may be considered as discharging a public duty rather than as acting upon their own authority.
XV. A custom not unlike to which prevails in many places, of not allowing individuals to bring criminal charges against others at their own pleasure: that office belonging to persons invested with public authority to undertake it. So that no one can contribute towards shedding the blood of another, but as an act of necessary duty. In reference to this custom, a canon of the council of Eliberis excluded from the communion any believer who had been instrumental in causing the proscription or death of another.
XVIII.2 It is proper now to consider whether all wicked acts are of that kind, which are punishable by human laws. In reply to which we may answer that they certainly are not.In the first place, mere acts of the mind, or criminal intentions, though by subsequent confession, or some other accident, they may come to the knowledge of others, are not punishable by human laws. Because, as it was proved in a former part of this treatise, it is not consonant to the law of nature, that INTENTIONS ONLY should give rise to any right, or obligation amongst men. And in this sense the maxim of the Roman law is to be taken, THAT NO ONE DESERVES PUNISHMENT FOR MERE THOUGHTS. Yet this does not prevent intentions, when they have an influence upon the conduct, from being considered as actual deeds, and equally deserving of punishment.
XIX. In the second place, even outward acts, cannot be punished by men where they arise through some inevitable infirmity of human nature. For although there can be no sin, except where there is a freedom of will, yet to be at all times free from all infirmity and sin, is more than can be expected from the condition of man. So that Sopater, Hierocles and Seneca among the Philosophers; Philo among the Jews; Thucydides among the historians; and innumerable writers among Christians have maintained that sin is interwoven with our very nature. Nay indeed, a doubt may be entertained whether such acts can rightly and properly be called sins. For though seeming to be voluntary actions, they will be found, when minutely considered, not to proceed from a free and deliberate exercise of the will. Laws, says Plutarch in the life of Solon, should be framed to suit possible cases, the legislator may obtain every beneficial end by punishing a few offenders, where the indiscriminate punishment of multitudes would be attended with no good effect.
There are some actions, which though not imputable to human nature itself, are inevitable consequences of the influence of bodily habits on the mind. Actions like these are punishable in human courts, owing to the criminality of voluntary contracting, or of not sufficiently guarding against, those habits.
XX. In the third place, human courts of justice cannot take cognizance of those offences, which neither directly nor indirectly, affect the public or individuals. For no reason can be assigned, why such offences should not be left to the judgments of God, whose all-seeing eye must know them, whose equity will weigh them, and whose power can punish them. It would be unnecessary therefore, and presumptuous in human tribunals to assume such decisions. However we must except from this rule those corrective kinds of punishment, designed for the reformation of offenders, even where their conduct is no way injurious to others.
XXI. The point, necessarily to be considered next, is the opinion, whether it is lawful some times to grant pardon. For the Stoics maintain it not to be lawful, as may be seen from a fragment in Stobaeus, under the title of MAGISTRACY, from Ciceros speech for Murena, and towards the conclusion of Senecas books on Clemency; but their arguments are fallacious, and unsubstantial. They say that pardon is the remission of a penalty, that OUGHT to be paid; but a wise man does every thing, which he OUGHT to do. Here the fallacy lies in the use of the word OUGHT. For if it means that an offender owes a penalty, that is, that he may be punished without injustice, it will not necessarily follow that the person who does not punish him, is doing what he ought not to do. But if the word be taken to imply that a good man, or a wise man, ought at all events, to exact the penalty, it may be observed in reply that THIS does not always happen, and therefore, in this sense, the penalty or punishment may be considered, not as a debt, but only a permission. And this will hold good, both before and after the establishment of penal laws.
XXII. Before the establishment of penal laws, punishment, beyond all doubt, might be inflicted; because by the law of nature, every offender made himself subject to punishment; but it is not a natural and inevitable consequence of its being lawful, that it should be enforced. For this depends upon the connection between the ends, for which punishments were established, and the punishments themselves. If the ends proposed therefore are not immediately necessary, in a moral point of view, or if other ends of a different kind, but not less wise and salutary should be devised, or that the ends originally designed may be obtained by some other means, in all these cases, the right of punishment may be saved, there being no immediate occasion to inflict it. Thus for instance, where an offence is known to very few, there can be no immediate occasion for a public punishment, by way of exemplary exposure, which in some cases might be even injurious to society rather than productive of advantage. Upon which Cicero in a letter to his brother makes a pertinent remark, respecting one Zeuxis, observing, that had he once been brought into court, he could not have been released, but there was not necessity that a search should be made for him, in order to bring him to trial.In the next place the right and end of punishment may be dispensed with, where a mans own services, or those of his family are sufficient to outweigh the consideration of his offences. For, in the words of Seneca, an act of kindness eclipses the fault of an injury.And in the last place, where reproof operates upon an offender, as a means of correction and amendment, or where the injured party is satisfied with an acknowledgment of the offence, the occasion for punishment is done away. It was this motive to clemency, which the son of David had in view, where he observes that it behoves the righteous to be merciful. For as all punishment, especially of the more severe cast, has in it some thing, which tho not repugnant to justice, is at variance, at least, with charity, reason easily suffers us to forbear inflicting it, unless that forbearance is opposed by some weightier, juster, and more undeniable motive of charity.
XXIII. Cases may occur where it is absolutely necessary to inflict punishment, as upon notorious, and atrocious criminals, or where it is for the public good, to dispense with that severity, or where the judicial authorities may use their own discretion in mitigating or enforcing the sentence of the law. Upon which Seneca pertinently remarks, that the exercise of lenity should always be an act of free deliberation. As to the disputes of the Stoics on these points, they are, in the opinion of Cicero and others, debates upon words rather than things: consequently they are less worthy of philosophical contemplation.
XXIV. There seems to be a greater difficulty in deciding what is to be done, subsequently to the establishment of penal laws; because a legislator is bound, in some measure, by his own laws. But this, as it was proved in a former part of this treatise, is only true with respect to the legislator, in his individual capacity, as a private member of the state, but not in his public character, in which he represents the whole Majesty and Authority of the state itself. As such, he can entirely repeal the law: for it is the nature of all human laws, to depend upon the will of the maker, not only for their origin, but also for their duration. Yet a lawgiver ought not, upon trivial grounds, to repeal a statute, for, in so doing he would be acting against the rules of sovereign justice. But as the legislator has power to repeal the whole of a law, so in the case of some particular person, or individual action, he may relax its rigour, allowing it to remain in other respects, as it stood before. As an example of this, the actions of the Deity may be cited, who, according to the testimony of Lactantius, in enacting his laws, did not deprive himself of the exercise of his mercy, to grant pardons. The Emperor, says Augustin, may recall his sentence, pardon and release a criminal; because, as he further explains it, the person who has power to make laws, is not INVARIABLY bound to observe them. Yet this privilege of departing from the letter must never be used but for the most important reasons. Although such reasons cannot be precisely defined, yet it is certain that, since the establishment of civil law, more weighty ones are required to authorise such pardons, than before that period. Because punishments have derived an additional sanction from the authority of the law, which ought to be respected and observed.
XXVI. An external reason is one arising from some favourable circumstance in the character of the offender, or some fair hopes that may be entertained of his future conduct. And these reasons will have the most weight in cases, where the particular motives for making the law cease to operate. For although a general reason, unopposed by any other of a weightier kind, may sufficiently authorise the enaction of a law; yet where the peculiar reason, for which that law was made, has ceased to exist, the relaxation of it, or even a total dispensation will be attended with less danger to the universal authority of law in general.
Such a dispensation indeed is most allowable, where an offence has been committed through ignorance, though the party so committing it is not entirely free from blame, or through some invincible infirmity of mind, in all which cases, a Christian ruler will have an eye to the example of God, who, under the old convenant, appointed many such offences to be atoned for by certain expiatory offerings: Levit. iv. and v.: and, in the New Testament, he has expressly declared his intention to pardon such offences, upon due repentance. Luke xxiii. 34.; Heb. iv. 15. and v. 2.; 1 Tim. i. 13. And Chrysostom observes, that Theodosius, impressed with those words of our Saviour, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, was led to grant a pardon to the people of Antioch.
XXVII. And hence it is evident, how mistaken Ferdinand Vasquez is in his judgment, when he maintains that there can be no just reason for dispensing with a law, that is, for releasing any one from its obligations, except where the lawgiver, upon being consulted, expressly declares that he never intended it should be observed to its full extent. For he does not make the proper distinction between an equitable interpretation, and the entire relaxation of a law. For which reason, in another place, he reproves Thomas, and Sotus, because they say that a law is binding although the particular reason of its being made may have ceased, as if they supposed that the mere letter of the law was the source of its obligation, an opinion which they never did entertain. So far from every relaxation coming under the idea of equity, properly so called; those relaxations may be freely granted or refused, which could not be done in matters of equity, to which even acts of charity of those of reasonable policy do not strictly belong. For there is a great difference between the repeal of a law upon fair or urgent grounds, and a legislators declaring that at the time of passing the law he had not the particular offence or case in contemplation.
XXVIII. From what has been said above, it appears that in punishments, two things are to be regarded, the offence, and the object for which they are inflicted. It is consonant to justice that no one should receive greater punishment than he deserves; upon which Cicero, in one of his letters, observes, that, the same moderation, which is commended in all other things, ought to be observed in punishments. Papinian therefore calls punishment an estimation of demerit; but this equality established between crime and punishment, says Demosthenes in his Letter in behalf of the children of Lycurgus, is not the only thing to be considered: the object and intention also of the delinquent must be weighed and taken into the account. But, if care be taken to inflict no more punishment than is due for an offence; it may be greater or less, in proportion to the utility to be derived from thence.
XXIX. In examining the different degrees of guilt, we ought to take into the account the motives which impelled the offender to commit the actthe motives, which ought to have restrained him therefrom, and how far he was capable of yielding to either. Scarce any one does a wicked action without some motive, or so far strips himself of the nature of man, as to delight in such acts from pure malignity. Most men are led away by the indulgence of their appetites, which engender sin. Under the name of appetite also may be comprehended the strong desire of avoiding evil, which is the most consonant to nature, and therefore to be reckoned amongst the most laudable of all desires. So that offences committed for the sake of avoiding death, imprisonment, pain, or extreme want are generally deemed the most excusable.
Which gave occasion to Demosthenes to say, that we are justly more exasperated against those, who, abounding in riches, commit evil actions, than against those, who are impelled by want to do the same. Humane judges are always ready to make allowance for necessity: but where wealth is united with injustice, no pretext can be pleaded in excuse. On this score, Polybius excuses the Acarnanians, for having neglected, when threatened with impending danger themselves, to fulfil the terms of a defensive treaty made with the Greeks against the Aetolians.
Besides the desire of avoiding evil there are other desires tending to some good, either real or imaginary. Real advantages, considered apart from virtues, and those actions, which have a virtuous tendency, are either such as give delight themselves, or, like abundance of riches, can procure those things, which administer to pleasure. Among advantages purely imaginary, we may reckon that of desiring to excel others, from a spirit of rivalry, rather than from any laudable intention, or the power of gratifying resentments, which the farther they deviate from natural justice the more shocking they are to natural feeling. These appetites the Apostle has described in terms of marked censure, calling them, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life. Here the first member of the sentence expresses the love of pleasure, the second implies the insatiable love of riches, and the third comprehends the pursuit of vain glory, and the desire of revenge.
XXX. The very injustice of all offences ought to be a GENERAL motive with men, to restrain them from the commission of them. For at present we are not considering sins of any kind, but those, which extend their consequences beyond the offender himself, and affect others. And injustice is the more heinous and criminal in proportion to the greatness of the injury, which it inflicts.
In the highest rank of crimes and misdemeanours therefore, we may place those, which are carried into complete execution: and lower in the scale we find those criminal designs, which have proceeded some degrees, but not to the last stage of completion. For the aggravation of a criminal intent is measured by the length to which it goes. In either class that kind of injustice is most notorious, which tends to disturb the common peace of society, and therefore is injurious to greater numbers. Private wrongs follow in the next degree. The greatest of which are those affecting life, and very great, though somewhat inferior in the degrees of enormity, are those, that disturb the peace of families, which is founded on the marriage-contract. And the last description of wrongs are those affecting the property of individuals, either by taking it with open violence, or obtaining or injuring it by fraudulent means.
Some are of opinion that a more accurate order of division might have been used; but that which is here followed is the same used by God himself in the delivery of his commandments. For under the name of parents are included not only those, who are naturally such, but sovereign princes, magistrates, and rulers of every description, whose authority is the key-stone of the fabric of society. Next follows the prohibition of murder; the prohibition of adultery, as a violation of the marriage bond; the prohibition of theft, and false evidence: and the catalogue of offences concludes with the prohibition of criminal desires. Among the immediate causes to restrain the commission of a crime, not only the cruelty of the act itself, but all the remote and possible consequences should be taken into the account. If a fire is begun, or the barriers, that keep out the waves, are broken down, the perpetrator brings upon his own head the blood of thousands, and all the guilt of that ruin by which they perish.
In addition to the general characters of injustice above described, we may annex the crime of being undutiful to parents, unkind to relatives, or ungrateful to benefactors, which are each of them a violation of natural, and in some respects of civil law. The repetition of these offences too aggravates their enormity: because wicked habits are sometimes worse than wicked actions. Hence we may comprehend the natural justice of that rule, which the Persians followed, comparing the past life of an offender with his present transgression. And this ought to have some weight in cases where a crime does not originate from habit, but from a momentary occasion. But not so, where a course of former rectitude has been changed into an unvaried course of wickedness. For in such cases, God himself has declared by the mouth of his prophet Ezekiel, that he has no regard to the former life. Even profane writers have the same clear views upon the subjects; for Thucydides observes, that degeneracy from a righteous to a wicked course incurs double punishment: for offences are least pardonable in those, who know the difference between right and wrong. In this respect all praise and admiration are due to the wisdom of the primitive Christians, who, in estimating the magnitude of offences, weighed the preceding and the subsequent conduct of a transgressor against the action, for which he was to be punished, as may be seen from the council of Ancyra, and other councils. It heightens the enormity of an offence, where it is committed in violation of an express prohibition of the law. For, in the language of Tacitus, the fear of prohibition may sometimes operate as a restraint, but where men once act in defiance of that, fear and shame have lost all their force.
XXXI. The capacity of the person too, with respect to judgment, disposition, age, education, and every other circumstance must be taken into consideration, when we look for resistance, of submission to the suggestions of wicked inclinations. The thought of immediate danger augments fear, and recent, unallayed pain inflames anger; so that in either case the calm dictates of reason cannot be heard. Offences therefore springing from the influence of such impressions, are of a less odious complexion than those arising from the love of pleasure, or the indulgence of hatred. Because there is less excuse for actions of the latter kind, the delay, or total forbearance of which could occasion no serious inconvenience. For it must always be kept in mind, that where there are more powerful impediments to the exercise of judgment, and more urgent persuasives to natural feelings, the criminality of an offence is proportionably softened. And these are the rules for measuring the degrees of pardon or punishment.
XXXII. The Pythagoreans maintain that justice lies in proportioning the punishment to the offence: a rule which cannot be admitted to the full extent of requiring an aggressor to suffer nothing more than a bare requital of the injury he has occasioned. For this is at variance with the most perfect laws, which in cases of theft sometimes require fourfold, and sometimes fivefold restitution to be made. And the Athenian law, besides compelling a thief to pay double the value of what he had taken sentenced him to many days imprisonment. Among the Indians, as we are informed by Strabo, the person, who had maimed another, was condemned, in addition to the penalty of retaliation, to lose his hand. Nor is it right, as Philo, in explaining the punishment of murder, justly observes, for the suffering of an innocent and guilty person to be exactly the same. And hence it is easy to see why certain crimes not carried into actual execution, and therefore less injurious than those, which are so, are punished only proportionably to the design.In this manner false witnesses were treated by the Jewish law; and by the Roman law, those who walked ready armed to commit murder. Consequently a greater degree of punishment is due, where the criminal intention is completed. But as death is the severest punishment that can be inflicted, and one that can never be repeated; the sentence of all human law rests there: though by the custom of some countries death is accompanied with torture, in cases of extreme atrocity.
XXXIII. In many instances, the magnitude of a punishment can only be measured by the situation of the person on whom it is to be inflicted. Thus a fine imposed upon the poor would be a heavy sentence, though it would scarcely affect the rich; and a man of high rank would feel the weight of a disgrace, that would but lightly touch an ignoble person. Such distinctions are frequently used by the Roman law, often degenerating into acts of partiality; a fault from which the law of Moses is entirely free. And the above rules may be considered as the scale for estimating the different degrees of punishment.
XXXIV. Though punishment does not exceed the bounds of justice, yet in certain cases it may be mitigated in favour of a criminal, from motives of mercy, except where such lenity to the guilty is deemed cruelty to the innocent, whose safety is thereby endangered. For the escape of a criminal is often an encouragement to his own perseverance in iniquity, and to that of others, who are encouraged, by the example. Necessity indeed requires the sharpest remedies for the suppression of crimes; especially, where the incentives of habit and a facility to commit them prevail.
XXXV. The divine law given to the Hebrews punished the stealing of cattle from a pasture with more severity than breaking into a house, on account of the ease with which the former of those crimes might be committed. Exod. xxii. 19. Justin in speaking of the Scythians, describes them as punishing theft with more severity than any other crime; for as they have no covered habitations to protect their flocks, and herds from depredations, what could be safe, if thieving were allowed? Though the FAMILIARITY of certain crimes may prevent us from being surprised at their perpetration, it by no means diminishes their atrocity, or demands a mitigation of punishment. But, as Saturninus says, the giant-strides of crimes must be impeded with the strongest bands. In trials for offences, clemency may be indulged, but in the passing of laws severity should be regarded: For the GENERAL nature of law requires that offences should be pursued with rigour: but in trials, in which individuals are the objects concerned, there may be circumstances to aggravate or diminish the offence: which leaves room for the discretionary exercise of rigour or lenity.
XXXVI. and XXXVII. The inclination to mitigate penalties, where the urgent motives to enforce them no longer exist, is a point of compassion perfectly distinct from the abolition of punishment altogether.
Nor has any thing been omitted, that might tend to clear up this difficult and delicate question. But every point, we trust, has been examined in its proper place, either respecting the magnitude of crimes, as measured by the injury done, the habitual commission of such offences, or the influence of the motives, sufficient to encourage or restrain them. Indeed the character of the offender affords the most conclusive means for judging of his capacity to commit the crime; and that of the sufferer often contributes something towards enabling us to estimate the due proportion of the penalty. The circumstances of the time, whenthe place, whereor the facility, with which a crime is perpetrated, tend to aggravate, or lessen its enormity. The length of time intervening between a criminal design and its execution gives us some opportunity to examine how far the perpetrator was actuated by a malicious purpose. But the true complexion of a crime is to be discovered, partly from the nature of those appetites, to which it owes its birth; and partly, on the other hand, from the nature of the motives which ought to have restrained them. By this class of appetites the magnitude of a crime may be judged of; and the consequences are the motives which should operate to restrain them.
XXXVIII. It has been shewn before, and it is a truth founded upon historical fact, that wars are undertaken, as acts of punishment, and this motive, added to that of redress for injuries, is the source, from which the duties of nations, relating to war, take their rise. But it is not every injury, that can be construed into a just ground of war. For laws, whose vengeance is meant to protect the innocent, and to fall upon the guilty, do not regard every case, as a sufficient warrant for their exertion. So that there is much truth in the opinion of Sopater, who says that there are trivial and common offences, which it is better to pass over unnoticed, than to punish.
XXXIX. The maxim laid down by Cato, in his speech in defence of the Rhodians, that it is not right any one should be punished upon the bare suspicion of his having intended to commit aggression or injury, was well applied in that place; because no positive decree of the people of Rhodes could be alleged against them, nor was there any other proof beyond the CONJECTURE of their wavering in their policy. But this maxim is not universally true.
For where intention has proceeded to any outward and visible signs of insatiable ambition and injustice, it is deemed a proper object of jealousy, and even of punishment. Upon this principle, the Romans, as may be seen from Livys account in the xlii. book and xxx. chapter of his history, thought themselves justified in declaring war against Perseus, King of Macedon, unless he gave satisfactory proof, that he had no hostile intentions against them, in the naval and military armaments, which he was preparing. And we are informed by the same historians, that the Rhodians urged it as a rule established by the laws and customs of all civilized states; that if any one wished the destruction of an enemy, he could not punish him with death, unless he had actually done something to deserve it.
But it is not every unjust design, though indicated by some outward act, which can authorize and direct hostilities. For if the actual commission of crimes and aggressions is, in some cases, proper to be overlooked, much more will it be a mark of deliberate caution to use the same forbearance, where nothing further than the pure design of aggression appears. A forbearance which Cicero justifies upon the possibility that the enemy may have repented of his design, before the execution of it. No conclusive inference can be drawn from the severity of Mosaic Law against all intended acts of impiety and murder. For, in comparing human laws with the divine counsels, whose depths we cannot sound, we are liable to run into error; and the impulse of anger, where it is attended with no fatal consequence, is a case in which the infirmity of human nature calls for pardon. For altho the precepts of the decalogue are designed to lay a restraint upon unlawful desires as well as upon unlawful actions, yet in addition to the spiritual sense, that which is called the carnal, or external commandment applies to those dispositions that are manifested by some open act. This interpretation may be deduced from a passage in the gospel of St. Mark, c. x. 19, where the prohibition to defraud is immediately preceded by the injunction not to steal. So that intended aggressions are not to be punished by force of arms, except in cases of atrocity, where the very design threatens consequences of the greatest danger. All punishment therefore must have in view either security against future aggressions, reparation for the injury done to national or private honour, or it must be used as an example of awful severity.
XL. It is proper also to observe that kings and those who are possessed of sovereign power have a right to exact punishment not only for injuries affecting immediately themselves or their own subjects, but for gross violations of the law of nature and of nations, done to other states and subjects. For the liberty of inflicting punishment for the peace and welfare of society, which belonged to individuals in the early ages of the world, was converted into the judicial authority of sovereign states and princes; a right devolving upon them not only as rulers of others, but as subject to the controul of no earthly power. For that is a right, which can belong to no subject. It is never safe to leave the entire assertion of a mans own rights, or the punishment of his wrongs, to his own judgment; for he cannot be entirely disinterested in his own cause. Partiality will make him fall short of, or prejudice will make him exceed the bounds of justice. It was the theme of praise bestowed upon the heroes of antiquity, that in their most arduous undertakings they avenged the wrongs of others rather than their own. Upon this principle there can be no hesitation in pronouncing all wars to be just that are made upon pirates, general robbers, and enemies of the human race. So far this opinion agrees with that of Innocentius and others, who maintain all war to be lawful against those who have renounced the ties and law of nature. An opinion directly the reverse is held by Victoria, Vasquez, Azorius, Molina, and others, who deem an aggression done to a prince, his government, or his subjects, or civil jurisdiction over the aggressor, the only justifiable warrant for inflicting punishment, particularly the punishment of hostilities. For they suppose punishment to be an effect purely arising from the authority of civil law, whereas, according to the proofs established in the beginning of this treatise, it was shewn to be a right resulting entirely from the law of nature.
If the opinion of those, from whom we differ, be admitted, no enemy will have a right to punish another, by the prosecution of a just war; a right, which notwithstanding is allowed and confirmed by the practice of all nations, not only after the defeat of an enemy, but during the continuance of a war; and that too, not from any civil jurisdiction, but from a natural right, which prevailed long before the foundation of states, and which still exists in all its force, in places, where the community consists of families distinct, and united as the subjects of one sovereign.
XLI., XLII., XLIII. But certain precautions are necessary to prevent us from being carried away by an opinion that civil customs, though founded upon just reasons, and received among many nations, are to be reckoned as a part of the law of nature. And in the next place, it is necessary to guard against enumerating as prohibitions of natural law, things which are not proved to be so, as certain kinds of marriages the taking of interest for the use of money, and other positive injunctions of the divine, or Mosaic law. The third rule is, to make an accurate distinction between general principles, such as the duty of living according to the dictates of reason, and those of a more particular though not less obvious meaning; as the duty of forbearing to take what belongs to another. To which many truths may be added though not quite so easy of apprehension: among which may be named the cruelty of that kind of punishment, which consists in revenge, delighting in the pain of another. This is a method of proof similar to that which occurs in mathematics, the process of which rises from self-evident truths to demonstrations, the latter of which, though not intelligible to all alike, upon due examination obtain assent.
As then in matters of civil law, ignorance is deemed an excuse, so with respect to the law of nature, wherever infirmity of understanding forms an invincible obstruction to the knowledge of its rules, such infirmity may be alleged as a vindication. For as, in cases of unavoidable ignorance a great degree of the guilt of sin is removed; so it is in some measure softened wherever this ignorance subsists, though it may be owing to former negligence. And for this reason, Aristotle compares barbarians, in their rude, unformed state, to persons, whose appetites are rendered sickly by disease. Plutarch also observes that there are certain infirmities and disorders, which naturally infect the soul. Once for all, by way of conclusion we may add that wars undertaken to inflict punishment may be suspected of injustice, except there be manifest and enormous aggressions, with other conspiring causes, to vindicate nations for having recourse to arms.
Admitting the affirmative part of the question, we may observe that as in ecclesiastical affairs Bishops are intrusted with a Catholic, or general power; so kings, besides the care of their own immediate states and subjects, may be regarded as protectors of the human race. The best argument, on the negative side of the question, against the justice of such wars, is the sufficiency of the divine omnipotence to avenge its own wrongs. Yet the same may be said of other offences. For the Deity possesses sufficient power to punish them, although he leaves them to the sentence of human tribunals. Some will urge and maintain that other kinds of offences are punished only in cases, where others are uninjured or endangered by the commission of them. On the other hand, it may be said that men punish not only offences, which directly hurt others, but even those, which affect them indirectly, as suicide and other similar crimes.
Although religion is a concern between the soul of man and his Maker alone, its influence on human morals is of no inconsiderable importance. So that Plato had reason to call it the bulwark of authority and law, and the bond of every thing venerable in social order and discipline. Every false opinion in divine things, says Plutarch, is pernicious, betraying itself in the disorders of the imagination, wherever it takes root, and springs up into action. So that Aristotle reckons the care and support of religion the first of public concerns. This is a truth applying not to any particular state, but to all governments, and to human society in every shape. An avowal which Xenophon makes the characteristic of a great and wise prince, attributing to Cyrus a declaration of his firm persuasion that the more his subjects feared God, the more obedient he should find them to his laws, and the more attached to his person. But once remove the motives of religion, says Tully, and you destroy faith, the intercourse between man and man, and justice the most excellent of all virtues.
The opinions of Epicurus afford a sufficient proof of this: for in banishing the providence of God from his system, he made justice nothing but an empty name, springing from human conventions, founded on self-interest, and restraining men from the commission of crimes by no other principle but that of fear.
But there is a wider sphere, than the internal welfare of independent states, on which religion operates. In the separate society, which every kingdom, state, or country forms within itself, the place of religion may occasionally be supplied by the influence and execution of municipal laws. But in all the transactions of the great community at large, where civil laws are silent, and tribunals give way to the decision of the sword, the law of nature and of nations, founded upon the fear of God, and obedience to his will, is the standard of right to which Kings and Sovereign states appeal; a violation of which is regarded as a violation of the divine law.
XLV. But to take a closer view of the subject, we must observe that true religion, which is the same at all periods of time, rests upon four evident and universally acknowledged truths. The first of which is the being and unity of God,the second, that God is not any of the things, that can be seen, but of a nature too sublime to be the object of human conception, or of human sight,the third is, that with the eye of his providence he regards the events of this world, and regulates them with the most equitable and unerring judgments,the fourth is, that he is the creator of all things, except himself. And these four truths are unfolded and laid down in an equal number of commandments, the first of which plainly declares the unity of Godthe second forbids any representation, by painting or image, to be made of that being, who is invisible to mortal eye. Tacitus bears testimony to the spiritual nature of the Jewish religion: for he says, that the Jews have nothing but a mental conception of one God, and they look upon every attempt to represent him under the appearance of human form, as a profanation of his heavenly nature.From the third commandment we deduce his knowledge of all human transactions, even of our very thoughts; an omniscience upon which the obligation and sanctity of oaths is founded. For God is a witness even of the secret designs of the heart, so that every solemn oath is an appeal to his justice and his power, for the vindication of truth, and the punishment of falsehood.The fourth commandment presents us with an account of the creation of the world, to commemorate which God appointed the sabbath, commanding it to be observed with a degree of reverence above every other sacred institution. For the violation of any other rites, such as those respecting forbidden meats, was left to the discretionary punishment of the law: but offences against the sabbath were capital; because, considering the nature and design of its origin, such contempt implied a disbelief, that the world was created by God. Now the creation of the world by God affords a tacit proof of his goodness, wisdom, eternity and power: and the effect of this contemplative knowledge is the offering of honour, love, worship and obedience to God. So that Aristotle says that the man, who denies that God ought to be honoured, or parents loved, should be taught to renounce his error, not by reasoning, but by punishment. And, in another place, he observes that some actions are proper on certain occasions, but reverence for the majesty of God is requisite at all times, and in all places.
The truth of those contemplative opinions may undoubtedly be proved from the nature of things; the clearest of which proofs is the evidence of sense, shewing the existence of things, which naturally leads us to consider the time, when they had no being.
But as all are not able to understand these arguments and others of the same kind, it is sufficient to observe that in all ages and all countries of the world, with very few exceptions, these opinions have found a general reception with those who were too plain in their dealings, and ingenuous in their designs, to impose upon others, and with many, who had too much sagacity to be deceived themselves. But when amid such variety of laws, customs, and opinions, there is so general an agreement upon one point; that agreement may be adduced as a proof, that such a belief owes its origin to the primitive ages of the world, from whence it has been derived to us: when we consider too that it has never been clearly refuted, it is a sufficient reason to establish our faith.
XLVI. There is no excuse therefore for the rejection of those opinions, even in cases, where there is no intuitive sagacity to discover new proofs, or to comprehend old ones: as there are so many guides both in nature and reason to lead men to the knowledge of those truths, and as no solid arguments have ever been produced to establish a contrary belief. But as human punishments form the subject of our present inquiry, it is right to make a distinction between opinions themselves, and the manner of deviating from them. The belief in a supreme being, and in the controul of his providence over human affairs, is one of those universal tenets to be found in all religions, whether true or false. And in reality to deny the being of a God, and to deny the interposal of his providence in human affairs, amounts in its moral consequences to the same thing. And it is for this reason these two opinions have been inseparably united in all ages, and among every civilized people. Consequently we find, that in all well governed states, wholesome laws have been enacted to restrain those, who disturb those opinions, which have always been regarded as the chief support of social order; and all contempt, shewn to those opinions, has always been considered as contempt shewn to society itself, and which it consequently has a right to punish.
XLVII. There are other truths not equally self-evident, such as these, that there are not more Gods than one; that no visible thing, neither the world, nor the heavens, nor the sun, nor the air is God; that the world, and the matter of which it is formed, have not existed from all eternity, but were made by God. So that we see the knowledge of these truths disfigured, and almost entirely obliterated among many nations by the lapse of time. And this might the more easily happen, as there were no legal provisions made to preserve the purity of these truths, which were not considered as essential to the very existence of all religion. The law indeed given to that people, who were instructed in the clear knowledge of these truths, by the mouths of the prophets, by miracles seen with their own eyes, or brought to their ears by the reports of the most undoubted testimony, that law, though it expresses the greatest abhorrence of the worship of false gods, does not inflict the punishment of death upon all convicted of that crime, but only in particular instances, where they have seduced others into idolatry,or where a state has introduced the worship of unknown Gods,or where the true worship of God, and obedience to his laws have been forsaken for the worship of the stars, which St. Paul calls serving the creature above the creator, an offence, which was, for some time, punished among the descendants of Esau. Those too who offered their children to Moloch, that is, to Saturn, were punished with death. Yet the Canaanites, and the neighbouring nations, who had long been sunk into the most depraved superstitions, were not consigned by God to immediate punishment, but were left to fill up the measure of their crimes. And there were other nations, where, in the language of Scripture, God winked at the times of this ignorance. Where men have had no means of arriving at the knowledge of a true God, as their superstitions and errors are excusable, so where, in despite of knowledge, they have deified Daemons, and vices, which they knew to be such, their superstitions are not to be called errors, but impieties. And no less impious is the supposed homage, that is paid to God with the blood of innocent human victims, and Darius king of the Persians, and Gelo king of Syracuse, are commended for abstaining from such practices. Plutarch informs us of some barbarians, who would have been punished by the Romans for offering human victims to the deity, had they not pleaded the antiquity of the custom, which was admitted as an excuse, though they were strictly enjoined not to follow the same custom in future.
XLVIII. From the kind of evidence on which Christianity rests, it is plain that no force should be used with nations to promote its acceptance. It is not merely by natural arguments it can gain assent; for it has made an addition of many things to natural religion. Its evidence rests upon the history of Christs resurrection, and upon the miracles performed by himself and his Apostles. So that it is a matter of fact proved by the most undeniable evidence, and of great antiquity. Therefore a doctrine of this kind cannot be thoroughly received upon the first hearing of it, without the secret assistance of God: an assistance not given as a reward for the merit of works; so that wherever it is withheld or less copiously bestowed; it is done for reasons, which though just, are generally unknown to us, and therefore not punishable by human judgments. For it is the custom in the sacred writings to assign the divine pleasure as the cause of things unknown to us.
There is another reason of no less weight, which is that Christ being the author of a new law, will have no one brought to embrace his doctrine by the fear of human punishments. Nor is the reason at all weakened by the objection drawn from the parable of the marriage-supper, where it is said the messengers are commanded to compel the guests to come in. For the term, COMPEL, here signifies nothing more than an earnest entreaty, a sense, in which it is used in other parts of the New Testament, implying an earnest request made to any one.
XLIX. But to obstruct the teachers of Christianity by pains and penalties is undoubtedly contrary to natural law and reason: for the doctrine of Christ, apart from all the corruptions added by the inventions of men, contains nothing hurtful, but every thing beneficial to society. The thing speaks for itself, and even those who were strangers to the doctrine itself were obliged to acknowledge the truth of this. Pliny says that the Christians bound themselves by an oath to commit neither theft, nor robbery, nor to violate their word. It was a common saying Caius Seius is a good man, but he is a Christian.
Nor indeed can any danger be apprehended from the spreading of doctrines, calculated to inspire greater sanctity of manners, and the purest principles of obedience to lawful sovereigns. Philo has recorded a beautiful saying of Augustus, who observed that the assemblies of the Jews were not Bacchanalian revels, or meetings to disturb the public peace, but schools of virtue.
L. It seems unjust to persecute with punishments those who receive the law of Christ as true, but entertain doubts or errors on some external points, taking them in an ambiguous meaning or different from the ancient Christians in their explanation of them. A point which is proved by what has been said above, and by the ancient example of the Jews. For, possessing a law, which allowed them to inflict temporal punishments, they never exercised that authority upon the Sadducees, who denied the doctrine of a resurrection: a doctrine of the greatest truth, though but faintly delivered in that law, and under a typical application of words and circumstances.
But if there should be any weighty error, that discerning judges could easily refute by an appeal to sacred authority, or to the opinions of antiquity; here too it would be necessary to make allowance for ingrafted opinions, that have grown up to form an inseparable part of the human mind, and for the zealous attachment of every one to his own tenets; an evil which Galen says is more difficult to be eradicated than any constitutional disease.
Note 1. Nothing forms a more striking contrast between ancient and modern war, than the personal animosities, which seemed to operate upon the combatants in the former, and the public and national objects, WITHOUT ANY PERSONAL CONCERN, upon which the latter are undertaken. Peruse any ancient historian, or the battles in Homer and Virgil, WHICH THOUGH FICTIONS, DESCRIBE THE MANNERS OF THE AGE, and you see combatants engaged, on whom the laws of nature and of nations seem to have lost their force. Read the accounts of modern warfare and you find hostilities commenced, not from private animosity, but from some great and national object, in the prosecution of which the feelings of the individuals appointed to conduct them are not the only springs of action. [back]
Note 2. Sections XVI and XVII of the original, relating only to the refutation of certain abstruse opinions, are omitted in the translation.(Translator.) [back]