Here’s a curious incident that telegraphs a lot.

Frank Weathers reposted a fun little squib he wrote a while back about praying for Dracula. Not the fictional vampire, the real guy: Vlad Tsepes. His point was simply that part of the good news of being Catholic is that just because somebody’s dead or has a reputation for horrendous evil doesn’t mean we are helpless or have to despair for their soul. We can still pray for them. A perfectly Catholic sentiment and something I heartily endorse now as I did when he first wrote it.

Yet, oddly, one of his readers (a past defender of torture in my comboxes) wrote:

“If Mark Shea reads this, his head would explode!”

As near as I can tell, the reader thinks my head would explode because Frank proposes to pray for somebody who was not merely a torturer, but one of history’s most famous torturers (“Vlad the Impaler” is how he is remembered to history, when he is not being remembered via the completely fictional Bela Lugosi/Christopher Lee/Frank Langella overlay that obliterates his memory entirely).

Why my reader thinks headasplodiness is inevitable in praying for a grave sinner is mysterious–unless, of course, he does not in fact believe the gospel. If you believe in a) the sinfulness of torture and b) the forgiveness of sins, then it follows from the logic of the gospel that you would pray for the forgiveness and redemption of a torturer, just as you would pray for the forgiveness and redemption of those who tortured Jesus to death. In fact, we find that’s exactly what Jesus did when he prayed “Forgive them” for his torturers and murderers. It’s what the Church also believes whenever we pray “for those most in need of thy mercy.”

But if you do not believe the gospel then you may not be able to bring yourself to to acknowledge that torture is evil (at least when the Home Team wants to do it, as torture defenders in my comboxes illustrated for years). You will, in your faithlessness that God means to honor acts of virtue, talk as though you are on your own and urge that gravely and intrinsically evil acts be done in order to save your skin in time of war, whatever Christ teaches through his Church.

Correspondingly, when somebody points out that you are advocating gravely and intrinsically evil acts, you will imagine that they do so in the hope that you be condemned forever to the everlasting fires of hell, not in the hope that you repent and are saved from such a fate. Why? Because lack of faith in the gospel mean lack of faith in forgiveness of sin. So you will imagine that people who warn that torture is gravely and intrinsically immoral would never consider praying for those who advocate, defend, or do it.

In short, when you lack the faith to trust what God says about sin, you will tend to lack the faith to believe he wishes to forgive sin. You wind up in a universe where you make excuses for evil even to the point of absurdity, but when that point is passed, you believe in absolutely no mercy or forgiveness.

Good News flash: forgiveness is for sin–real, nasty, willed, inexcusable sin. It is not for boo boos, mistakes, excusable faults, and well-meaning goofs. Vlad Tsepes committed real sins. We can pray that he repented those sins and asked for the mercy of God. We cannot pretend that his sins were not sins (as faithless defenders of both torture and abortion routinely do), but neither must we believe that his sins were the last word about him. We can pray in hope and commend him to God through Christ who died to forgive his sins.

Such faithlessness on the part of torture defenders (and other defenders of intrinisic evil) can, of course, be repented–and forgiven.

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  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Just what I needed to read right before getting on the truck.


  • Will

    You have to bear in mind that doctrinaire unbelievers find the very idea of “deathbed repentance” offensive — when it involves sins they themselves find abhorrent, anyway. “You mean that if somebody says ‘I’m sorry’ while he’s dying, he gets out of jail free? How disgusting!… etc.” Commonly this leads to the reductio ad Hitlerum.

    • Mark Shea

      Yes. However, the person who was prattling about my exploding head is not, so far as I can tell, somebody who would describe himself as a doctrinaire unbeliever.

      • Will

        And who does describe himself as doctrinaire or an unbeliever?

  • Manwe

    Saying a prayer for Vlad Tsepes? I’m in! While he certainly was a torturer, he did more than just that. Like spending alot of his time defending his homeland (and Christendom as a whole) from invading Muslim Turks, who, you know, were actively trying to conquer and destroy Christendom. That has to get the guy at least SOME brownie points. In fact I think his people still to this day consider him a hero. If you asked them, they would probably say he was already in Heaven.

    • Kirt Higdon

      Actually, I’ve heard that some of the eastern Orthodox churches consider him a saint.

      • Manwe

        Yes, that too!
        Thanks for mentioning that, I had forgotten!