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Ethical Subject Perspective of Capital Punishment

No less significant than the appeal to civil authority was the moral appeal to heaven, even though theories of moral philosophy underwent dramatic change over the course of the development of Western thought.

One of the most important handbooks of civil and moral legislation of the late medieval period was the Malleus Maleficarum, first published 1485-1490. The importance of Malleus must be understood in relation to the interpenetration during the Middle Ages and the English Renaissance of competing religious practices, of religious and secular matters, and of religious and political matters. The text was published decades before the Reformation and Henry VIII's break with Rome. This was the period in which Church authority straddled religious, military, and secular jurisdictions and exercised power over life and death. Innocent VII's Bull Summis desiderantes, which appeared in 1484, served as preface to and imprimatur of Malleus, formally sanctioning the authority of the Inquisition to "proceed to the just correction, imprisonment, and punishment of any persons, without let or hindrance, in every way as if the provinces, townships, dioceses, districts, territories, yea, even the persons and their crimes in this kind were named and particularly designated in Our letters" (Malleus xliv). Further, all who threatened or endeavored "to hinder or harass the Inquisitors, all who oppose them, all rebels, of whatsoever rank" would be subject to excommunication "and yet more terrible penalties, censures, and punishment . . . and that without any right of appeal" (Malleus xliv-xlv).

The anticipated character of "yet more terrible penalties" may be deduced from the myriad executions for witchcraft that occurred over the next couple of hundred years. In a Western Europe that at that time retained its Roman orthodoxy, the Bull served as authorizing legislation for witch-hunters at large.

In Malleus, much attention is given to why perfidious w...

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Ethical Subject Perspective of Capital Punishment. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 04:49, September 21, 2017, from
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