Quoting Veritatis Splendor:

Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. (...) The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide, (...)"

Veritatis Splendor, 80

So I believe that we can say that according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, genocide can never be ordered to be carried out by God and committing it is always evil.

Still, in the Bible we have examples of GodMoses (see comments) ordering His believers to commit genocide:

But in the cities of those nations which the LORD, your God, is giving you as your heritage, you shall not leave a single soul alive. You must doom them all - the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites - as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, lest they teach you to make any such abominable offerings as they make to their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD, your God.

Deuteronomy 20, 16-18

This most obviously satisfies the definition of genocide, as stated by the United Nations:

Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; (...)"


There seems to be incongruity in Catholic teaching here. How does the Church explain the fact that while it declares it impossible for God to order genocide, such an order from God seems to be described in the Bible?

  • 2
    I need to note here that according to one priest I met the violent deeds of the Israelites against these nations was indeed an atrocious genocide, and God has never ordered it; instead, the Israelites wrote these passages in an attempt to justify their evils. The Bible is not to be read literally, and especially not the Old Testament, which instead is a story of how God was able to show some truths about Himself and about the morality among the evils of those times. – gaazkam Aug 31 '16 at 18:12
  • 1
    However, I am very unsure about this explanation - the Bible is supposed to be infallible according to Christianity, and such explanation is very short of accusing the Bible of containing intentional lies. – gaazkam Aug 31 '16 at 18:12
  • 2
    Know why "Genocide" isn't in the Bible? Because the term didn't exist then. You're applying newer definitions retroactively. It's like saying, "why does God say that we don't need to perform a blood sacrifice but they did it in the Old Testament" – The Freemason Sep 2 '16 at 12:55
  • 1
    Is the Bible is supposed to be infallible according to the Catholic Church? I think you're painting Christianity with a broad brush. – The Freemason Sep 2 '16 at 12:57
  • 2
    You're applying Veritatis Splendor, 80 retroactively and looking to debate. My peace be with you, good day. – The Freemason Sep 2 '16 at 13:11

God makes plenty of commands that are recorded in Holy Scripture. Why would Deut. 20:16-18 be an exception?

The original Douay-Rheims translation of Deut. 20 prefaces this chapter with

Lawful wars are to be undertaken with courage and confidence.

The war is lawful because it is defensive. It is to defend the people against the great spiritual threats of the idolaters, whom the Lord knows would tempt the people of God to violate the 1st Commandment.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you for your answer, but IMHO it is hard to hold such a point... 1) The Israelites were not native to these terrains, so they were actually invaders; 2) This is so close to the ideology of ISIL... if such wars are lawful, then the only thing wrong in jihad is that Mohammad was a false prophet, doing same things under the Holy Cross would be good? 3) Even if this war of Isrealites was lawful - your argument fails to acknowledge how, according to VatII and Veritatis Splendor genocide is inherently evil, therefore justifiable under no circumstances and "incapable of being ordered to God"... – gaazkam Sep 2 '16 at 9:27
  • 1
    @gaazkam I think you want a conversation or discussion and not an answer. Please consider using Chat. – The Freemason Sep 2 '16 at 12:58
  • 1
    @gaazkam Re: (1): v. 10: "If at any time thou come to win a city, thou shalt first offer peace." If they abide by that, they are not invaders. (2): Jihadists think they can force conversions. That's quite different from those who first offer peace. (3): Killing people just because they are a certain race is evil; that is genocide, racism. Killing in defense is not intrinsically evil; it is just. – Geremia Sep 2 '16 at 15:39
  • 1
    @gaazkam Also, was it race that made someone a Hethite, Amorrheite, Chananite, Pherezeite, and Jebusite? Or was it their (idolatrous) beliefs? If the latter, then killing them certainly would not be called genocide. – Geremia Sep 2 '16 at 15:41
  • 1
    @gaazkam Etymologically, genocide is the killing (-cide) of a race (geno-). The UN definition you quote is so broad that any act of war of one nation against another could be considered genocide. Where does a magisterial document from the Church define genocide so broad as this? – Geremia Sep 3 '16 at 21:28
  • Those peoples were opposed to God and as the divine Judge, He is just in sentencing their destruction.
  • The land belonged to Israel. God set it aside for them as part of His promise to Abraham. Their refusal to vacate the land without a fight justifies their destruction. Just as you would be justified in destroying an intruder to your house, even if they moved in while you were overseas for a year.
  • God decried their destruction because of their practices and behaviors. The few that were willing to change were not destroyed. The Gibeonites and Rahab for example.
  • Keep in mind also that these peoples were distant cousins, some 15 or so generations removed. Destruction of a branch of a family may not fit the full definition of genocide.

The behaviors described by Veritatis Splendor as human acts cannot be attributed to God, because His acts are divine. The peoples of the land of Canaan were wicked and opposed to God. Israel was His instrument of judgement on the peoples of the land of Canaan. Their actions were ordained by God to cleanse the land and to protect Israel.

If a judge sentences someone to be executed, the executioner is not committing murder. If the judge sentences a group of people to be executed, it is still not murder. The scale does not matter. With human judges, the motives may be questionable, but with God, the motives are always right.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.