Emil Brunner on Expiation and Capital Punishment

Emil Brunner and Karl Barth. Source: kbarth.org

It is hard to turn on the news lately without hearing cases involving killing in the name of the state, whether by means of war or capital punishment. When these matters weigh on my mind, I sometimes find myself digging through the pages of some of my favorite theologians for insight. Below are a couple paragraphs I found today from Emil Brunner.  As part of a brief section on “The Christian and the Penal Law” in The Divine Imperative, Brunner offers some helpful thoughts on expiation and capital punishment.  When a crime is committed, there must be expiation by the guilty, which is a generally thought to be a primary justification for capital punishment. This need for expiation must be affirmed and not denied.  But for Brunner, society must share the burden of expiation with the criminal…. because society too is guilty. Only in Pharisaical judgment do we see the ugliness of crime in the criminal but not also in ourselves. Brunner therefore proposes a two part expiation, 1) On the part of society, by seeking to undo its failures that contributed to the crime; 2) On the part of the criminal, by being subject to a process of “educative punishment”. In this process of expiation, there is no place for the death penalty. Continue reading Emil Brunner on Expiation and Capital Punishment