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Bible Encyclopedias
Murder, Christian Laws Concerning.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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Murdock, David, D.D.
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In civil law murder is termed the killing of a human being of malice aforethought, and the crime thus committed is in most countries punishable by death. In the United States there are several states in favor of life imprisonment, and in Sweden capital punishment is no longer meted out. Murder is defined by Coke thus: "When a person of sound memory and discretion unlawfully killeth any reasonable creature in being, and under the king's peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied." Almost every word in this definition has been the subject of discussion in the numerous cases that have occurred in the law-courts. The murderer must be of sound memory or discretion; i.e., he must be at least fourteen years of age, and not a lunatic or idiot. The act must be done unlawfully, i.e., it must not be in self-defence, or from other justifiable cause. The person killed must be a reasonable creature, and hence killing a child in the womb is not murder, but is punishable in another way. (See INFANTICIDE).

The essential thing in murder is that it be done maliciously and deliberately; and hence in cases of hot blood and scuffling the offence is generally manslaughter only. Killing by duelling is thus murder, for it is deliberate. It is not necessary, in order to constitute murder, that the murderer kill the man he intended, provided he had a deliberate design to murder some one. Thus if one shoots at A and misses him, but kills B, this is murder, because of the previous felonious intent, which the law transfers from one to the other. So if one lays poison for A, and B, against whom the poisoner had no felonious intent, takes it and is killed, this is murder. The murderer is here regarded as hostis humani generis. "Anciently," Blackstone says, "the name of murder, as a crime, was applied only to the secret killing of another, which the word moerda signifies in the Teutonic language." Among the ancient Goths in Sweden and Denmark the whole villa or neighborhood was punished for the crime, if the murderer was not discovered. The Roman Catholic Church stands accused of encouraging murder in various instances. Though no doubt the Church has frequently been held responsible where the individual acted of his own will and accord, it is yet apparent, from various ecclesiastical actions, that the Church of Rome has taken a peculiar view of this subject. Thus the clergy (q.v.) were at times exempted from severe punishment for this crime. In England the statute for the "Benefit of Clergy" was only abolished by George IV (7 and 8, c. 28). The murder of heretics has frequently been encouraged in the Romish Church, as witness the slaughter of St. Bartholomew (q.v.). Pope Urban II stands accused beyond dispute of having encouraged murder; and in the 15th century, when those of the Romanists who desired reform urged the Council of Florence and of Constance in vain to condemn the monstrous teachings of Jean Petet (see Monstrelet, The Eight Principles of J. Petet, 51, c. 39), who in ambiguous writing had vindicated as just and lawful most foul and treacherous murder, and in this vindication laid down "principles utterly subversive of human society; principles which would let loose mankind upon each other, like wild beasts; principles in direct violation of one of the commandments of God, and in plain, bold opposition to every principle, and to the whole religion of Christ" the council not only did not condemn these monstrous tenets, but declared them simply "moral and philosophical opinions, not of faith," and therefore out of the province of the Church and of the council (Milman, Hist. of Latin Christianity, 7:508). In the 16th century indulgences were freely granted the clergy for murder committed, and the price fixed at $20 to the dean, and $55 to a bishop or abbot (see Barnum, Romanism, page 566). Statisticians have prepared comparative lists of the crime of murder committed in Roman Catholic and Protestant countries. We insert here one of these, as these statistics exhibit plainly the moral results of the Romish and Protestant systems. The Reverend M. Hobart Seymour gives in his Evenings with the Romanists an introductory chapter on "the moral results of the Romish system," which embodies various statistics respecting crime drawn directly from official returns in the several countries named.

There were in the Papal States in 1867, according to official (French) returns, 186 murders to each million of the population. Mr. Seymour furnishes also various statistics showing the immorality of Roman Catholic cities and countries in Europe to be decidedly greater than that of similar Protestant cities and countries, and often twice, thrice, etc., as great, and says: "Name any Protestant country or city in Europe, and let its depths of vice and immorality be measured and named, and I will name a Roman Catholic country or city whose depths of vice and immorality are lower still." Mr. Seymour's statistics, though widely published, have stood for years unimpeached. In April 1869, it is true, The Catholic World attempted to break the force of his argument by citing the case of Protestant Stockholm, which it alleged that Mr. Seymour wilfully suppressed, and where, according to it, the rate of illegitimate births to the whole number of births "is over fifty to the hundred-quite equal to that of Vienna." To this the New Englander of January 1870, replies: "It seems to us sufficient to say, first, that the statement of the Catholic World is untrue. At the time of Mr. Seymour's statement the official return of illegitimacy in Stockholm was twenty-nine percent, which is considerably less than 'over fifty to the hundred.' Secondly, that the following eleven Roman Catholic cities were worse than the notoriously worst of all Protestant cities: Paris, 33 percent; Brussels, 35; Munich, 48; Vienna, 51; Laibach, 38; Brunn, 42; Lintz, 46; Prague, 47; Lemberg, 47; Klagenfort,56; Gratz,65." The official statistics of Germany, as given in the New-Englander for January 1870, show an average of 117 illegitimate births in every 1000 births in the Protestant provinces, and of 186 in 1000 in the Roman Catholic provinces; those of Austria gave for the Roman Catholic provinces in 1866 an average of 215 illegitimate births in every 1000 births, and in the mixed provinces (containing 9 up to 83 per cent. of Roman Catholics, the remainder Protestants, Greeks, etc.) an average of 60 in every 1000. The average number of illegitimate births in every 1000 births for the various nations of Europe is as follows:


Denmark ................ 110 Baden .................. 162

England, Scotland, and Bavaria ................225

Wales ................. 6 Belgium ........ ... 72

Holland (35 per c. R. C.) 40 France .............. 75

Prussia, with Saxony and German Austria .........181

Hanover............... 83 Italy [defective] ......... 51

Sweden, with Norway ... 96 Spain [defective] ........ 55

Switzerland (41 perc.R.C.) 55
Wurtemberg (between R. Average ........ 117

C. Baden and Bavaria). 164 or, rejecting Italy and

Average............. 88 Spain.................143

Taking the average birth-rate in Europe 1 a year for every 28 of the population the returns in Italy show that more than one fourth of the births fail to be registered; and the official returns for Spain are notoriously untrustworthy. It has been said that the official returns for Ireland gave only 3.8 percent of illegitimate births, and most of this in the Protestant counties; but the registrar-general complains that many births and deaths are not registered; and the comparison of 1 birth only for every 42 of the population as returned, with the average European birth-rate of 1 in 28, would imply that nearly one third of the births in Ireland are unregistered. The percentage of illegitimate births in Italy, Spain, and Ireland may therefore be much larger than the imperfect official returns indicate, and is of course untrustworthy. Other statistics of immorality are also given in the New-Englander, but we have not room to quote here further, and refer our readers interested in a comparative statement of the moral influences of Protestantism and Romanism to the periodicals cited.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Murder, Christian Laws Concerning.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​m/murder-christian-laws-concerning.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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