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Edward Feser and Joseph M. Bessette, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017. Paperback, $18.79. 420 pp. ISBN: 978-1621641261.

By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed Feser BessetteIn their new book on capital punishment, philosopher Edward Feser and political scientist and ethicist Joseph M. Bessette, set out to defend the idea that the death penalty is permissible in principle. They tackle this topic starting from a Thomistic natural law perspective, before moving onto biblical exegesis and Catholic church doctrine. They expound on the concept of punishment and its appropriateness for lawful societies, up to and including the death penalty for capital crimes. They show that capital punishment is not only not inconsistent with Scriptural revelation, but that its normativity is explicitly taught and can be embraced by the faithful without a calloused or stricken conscience. The book also covers social-scientific issues, such as whether the innocent are routinely executed and the role of race and poverty in capital punishment. The authors do an admirable job of addressing and debunking numerous objections to the death penalty. Here’s the beginning of my review:

From time immemorial, capital punishment as the final and most severe judicial sentence meted out by governments has been practiced without remorse by societies around the world. However, in recent centuries, the death penalty has come under repeated attack. While abolitionist movements originated in secular circles, Christians can be easily lured into joining their ranks by decrying capital punishment as inhumane or contrary to the teachings of scripture. The Catholic Church has slowly nudged in this direction since the twentieth-century, but with the election of Pope Francis in 2013, the Church under his leadership has called for the abolition of the death penalty on multiple occasions. Not all Catholics agreed with such a drastic break from the Church’s longstanding support of the death penalty, and Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette set out to show why in their new book, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment…

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