Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXI – Murder Often Sanctioned

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonAll injury done to another in order to repair an insult is criminal, and if said injury result in death, it is murder.

Here we consider an insult as an attack on one’s reputation or character, a charge or accusation, a slurring remark, etc., without reference to the truth or falsity thereof. It may be objected that whereas reputation, like chastity and considerable possessions, is often valued as high as life itself, the same right exists to defend it even at the cost of another’s life. But it must be remembered that the loss of character sustained in consequence of an insult of this kind is something very ephemeral and unsubstantial; and only to a mind abnormally sensitive can any proportion be perceived between the loss and the remedy. This is especially true when the attack is in words and goes no farther than words: for “sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you,” as we used to say when we were boys. Then, words are such fleeting things that the harm is done, whatever harm there is, before any remedy can be brought to bear upon it; which fact leaves no room for self-defense.

In such a case, the only redress that can be had is from the courts of justice, established to undo wrongs as far as the thing can be done. The power to do this belongs to the State alone, and is vested in no private individual. To assume the prerogative of privately doing oneself justice, when recourse can be had to the tribunals of justice, is to sin, and every act committed in this pursuit of justice is unlawful and criminal.

This applies likewise to all the other cases of self-defense wherein life, virtue and wealth are concerned, if the harm is already done, or if legal measures can prevent the evil, or undo it. It may be that the justice dealt out by the tribunal, in case of injury being done to us, prove inferior to that which we might have obtained ourselves by private methods. But this is not a reason for one to take the law into one’s own hands. Such loss is accidental and must be ascribed to the inevitable course of human things.

Duelling is a form of murder and suicide combined, for which there can possibly be no justification. The code of honor that requires the reparation of an insult at the point of the sword or the muzzle of a pistol has no existence outside the befogged intelligence of godless men. The duel repairs nothing and aggravates the evil it seeks to remedy. The justice it appeals to is a creature dependent on skill and luck; such justice is not only blind, but crazy as well.

That is why the Church anathematizes duelling. The duel she condemns is a hand-to-hand combat prearranged as to weapons, time and place, and it is immaterial whether it be to the death or only to the letting of first blood. She fulminates her major excommunication against duellists, even in the event of their failing to keep their agreement. Her sentence affects seconds and all those who advise or favor or abet, and even those whose simple presence is an incentive and encouragement. She refuses Christian burial to the one who falls, unless before dying he shows certain dispositions of repentance.

Prize fighting, however brutal and degrading, must not be put in the category of duelling. Its object is not to wipe out an insult, but to furnish sport and to reap the incidental profits. In normal conditions there is no danger to life or limb. Sharkey might stop with the point of his chin a blow that would send many another into kingdom come; but so long as Sharkey does the stopping the danger remains non-existent. If, however, hate instead of lucre bring the men together, that motive would be sufficient to make the game one of blood if not of death.

Lynching, is another kind of murder, and a cowardly, brutal kind, at that. No crime, no abomination on the part of the victim, however great, can justify such an inhuman proceeding. It brands with the crime of willful murder every man or woman who has a hand in it. To defend the theory of lynching is as bad as to carry it out in practice. And it is greatly to be feared that the Almighty will one day call this land to account for the outrageous performances of unbridled license and heartless cruelty that occur so frequently in our midst.

The only plea on which to ground an excuse for such exhibitions of brutality and disrespect for order and justice would be the inability of established government to mete out justice to the guilty; but this is not even the case, for government is defied and lawful authority capable and willing to punish is spurned; the culprit is taken from the hands of the law and delivered over to the vengeance of a mob. However popular the doctrine of Judge Lynch may be in certain sections of the land, it is nevertheless reprobated by the law of God and stands condemned at the bar of His justice.