In Henry Chadwick's translation of the Confessions, I find him making a surprising claim:
Like most of the Church Fathers, Augustine was against capital punishment. (page 21)
The context is Augustine's critique of the orator who uses his skill of persuasion without regard for the outcome:
A man enjoying a reputation for eloquence takes his positions before a human judge with a crowd of men standing round and attacks his opponent with ferocious animosity. He is extremely vigilant in precautions against some error in language, but is indifferent to the possibility that the emotional force of his mind may bring about a man's execution.
I see nothing there indicating that Augustine is opposed to capital punishment. And the City of God, Book 1, Chapter 21, suggests the opposite position:
The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice. [emphasis added]
Henry Chadwick has forgotten more about Augustine than I will ever know, so surely there is some basis for his claim that Augustine was against capital punishment. So:
- Do other writings of Augustine indicate an opposition to capital punishment?
- Did his views change over the course of his life?
- Did he accept capital punishment in theory, but oppose it in practice?