1. TyrannusRex

    TyrannusRex Active Member

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    Manslaughter and Christianity

    Discussion in 'Research' started by TyrannusRex, May 31, 2017.

    This is an idea that always stuck with me whenever I read stories set in Medieval Europe (or a similar environment) in which a priest or religious figure got swept along with the main characters.

    Let's take a hypothetical situation:
    Along with this group of knights/soldiers/etc. is a monk, priest, or other clergyman. He's got skills as a healer, and also blesses the party and helps them keep their faith. They gave him a small, simple weapon to defend himself (probably something wooden), but he avoids any conflict, saying he wishes not to harm anyone if possible, and certainly not to kill. Well, one night, their camp gets ambushed by the enemy, and in the course of defending his sleeping comrades while they wake and enter combat, he strikes an enemy lightly, intending minimal harm, but through some misfortune, accidentally kills him (or at least is led to believe he killed him).
    Naturally, being a man of the cloth and a devout Christian, this would deeply disturb him; he has sinned, he has killed, however unintentionally. How would one in his position go about repenting or otherwise making things right with God over this incident?

    (Postscript: I believe there is a prayer for soldiers, or something to protect those going into combat. Was there something like this in medieval times? I know that any killing done in the Crusades was excused as executing the Will of God, but was/is there some kind of prayer/blessing to protect and beg forgiveness for those who must otherwise take life?)
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think there's enough bloodshed in the Old Testament to "justify" a lot more killing than this.

    But assuming your cleric is more of a New Testament kind of guy... it's all about intentions, right? Was his action based on wrath and hatred, or on love (protecting those he cared about)? I'm not that religious, but my understanding is that sin can't really be unintentional, at least not in the New Testament. If he didn't have bad intentions, was it a sin? I think Jesus would say not.

    If you're getting into the Crusades nonsense, I think you need to go back to a more Old Testament interpretation of things...
     
  3. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    =========

    The commandment was thou shalt not MURDER. Killing in defense should not bother him.
    In many cases especially OT they were told to kill certain groups as well as certain law breakers.

    Not everybody who claims to be a Christian is actually one.
    Many say the bible says the true Church of God is small and scattered (see Revelation) and that the Whore of Babylon is the RCC and the harlot daughters are all the other protestant denominations. And don't pay no nevermind to cults and other oddball groups.
     
  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    The Crusades were not the best of things, and also one of the bloodiest points in
    Christian History. But you have to respect a guy that would forego violence.
    All soldiers hope to never have to take part in killing another wherever possible.
     
  5. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    I'll second the fact that the commandment is talking about murder, rather than killing in general. Killing in self-defense, in war, and in legal executions is all permitted in the OT, and pretty much all mainline Christian denominations in the medieval era didn't bat an eye at killing in those circumstances. It may bother the character personally, but doctrinally he wouldn't have been considered to have sinned.
     
  6. malaupp

    malaupp Active Member

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    While the others are correct and a lot of people of faith didn't see much issue with those types of killings, your man seems to be more of a missionary to me. While they were still misguided in their attempts to force people to change their culture, they often genuinely cared for the people. They wanted to see them converted, not killed. Despite the culture of the Crusades, it would still make total sense for him to feel guilt.

    In traditional Catholicism, he would confess the sin to another member of the church, who would then give him a task to complete in order to be made pure again. Then he would vow to sin no more (or at least make the attempt).

    As he's in a combat situation, I'm assuming he doesn't have much in the way of a confessor. In that case, if he truly did feel guilty, he would probably give himself something to do in an act of penance. If you want to go to the extreme, you could have him engage in self-flagellation (essentially whipping himself). In lighter cases, he might fast, dedicate an entire day to prayer, give money to someone in need, or otherwise engage in charitable acts. Catholicism is very steeped in the idea that good works can essentially redeem you from bad ones.

    There are Catholic prayers specifically for forgiveness. Whether there's one specific to that situation that would have been used in that time period, I can't say off the top of my head.
     
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  7. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    1/ This "group" sounds more like a party in an RPG, what with his healing skills and blessing skills.
    2/ Why would they give him a "small, simple weapon"? In Robin Hood, Friar Tuck is typically characterised as having a quarter-staff (long wooden pole) with which to defend himself. Not, I suspect, for the same reason that Bishop Odo used a mace at the battle of Hastings (it's a blunt instrument, therefore won't cut, so I - being a good churchman - won't be guilty of shedding blood) but because it was cheaper than a sword. Bear in mind that Little John uses one, too.
    3/ "Strikes an enemy lightly..." Don't be silly. It's self-defence, where "reasonable force" is acceptable. A guy just got acquitted of murdering his wife with a carving knife...she was coming at him with the knife in the first place.

    "Thou shalt not murder" is the King James translation, and not a reliable source for what a Latin-speaking cleric would have understood the commandment to say.

    Having said all that, even if your priest gets absolution - and he probably would - from a confessor he'd still be traumatized by it. Soldiers have to be trained to be killers, and even then are not immune to the horror of having killed somebody - though it's probably easier if it's a heat-of-the-moment life-or-death situation, or if it's at sufficient distance to pretend that it's not another human being you're killing.

    Practical example of repentance (albeit not a cleric): In 1050 Sweyn Godwinsson killed his cousin Beorn (because Beorn had been awarded Sweyn's lands when Sweyn had been exiled for a previous misdemeanour, and refused to give them back when Sweyn was pardoned) and was exiled, whereupon he undertook a pilgrimage (no details about it, except that his repentance appears to have impressed the Bishop of Worcester whilst returning from it.). He subsequently (he sinned yet again!) undertook a barefoot pilgrimage from England to Jerusalem.
     
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  8. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    'Will no one rid me of this damn priest?'

    Words as resonant now as spaken anno 1154. And priests in fiction wherever possible should be the bad guys because they are bad guys. I see your vicar clutches his bronze-age folk stories to his hip under his cassock. And his weapon whilst incredibly tiny is a solution of the most poisonous vampire bat venom distributed on-line from the Vatican for the despatch of Cathars, heretics, aethiests, foreigners and Baptists. Yes, he subdues the knights of his order until confronted by the rational thought of young Aethium, the prince of soil, possibly my Mary-John, he is very handsome. Okay, rolling the dice, and your call.
     
  9. Walking Dog

    Walking Dog Active Member

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    The Prayer of Contrition is what you are looking for. Google it.

    Your hypothetical individual is a complex character. Rational thinking should abate the feeling of guilt in such a scenario, despite one's belief in a god, or one's compassion for others. If the character killed out of rage or fright, I can see remorse or shame regarding the loss of emotional control. Your character will either own the act - accept what he's done and make effort to not be this way again - or be destroyed with madness. Do you want this character to be unaffected by such an act? I don't think a prayer is a permanent fix. The character has to own it.
     
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  10. TyrannusRex

    TyrannusRex Active Member

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    I didn't mean to use the Crusades as a setting, but as an example of pardoned wholesale slaughter killing. (I guess the word "otherwise" didn't make that clear enough, I apologize.)
    This would probably be a clash between lords within Europe itself, so chances are he killed a fellow Christian.
    It sounds as though it would be more of a personal strife than a sin, you've got to admit that taking a life would be hard on just about anyone, especially someone like him who never expected he would, never intended to, and only fought to protect those who couldn't.
    The first image that comes to mind when I think of clergy drawn into conflict is that of Pete Postlethwaite's Brother Gilbert from Dragonheart. He doesn't want to fight, but is made to, turns out to be scarily accurate with a bow, and helps out in battle by shooting cavalry soldiers in the rear to knock them off their horses. ("Turn the other cheek, brother!") :rofl:
     
  11. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    If you're talking an action between two neighbouring nobles and their retainers, the group of "knights/soldiers, etc." is called an army. If there's a surprise attack at night, you'd expect the commander to have posted sentries who should have sounded the alarm and formed the first line of defence, rather than relying upon the martial skills of their priest to keep them all safe while they roll out of their sleepy beds.

    And I do hope you're not taking Dragonheart as being remotely historically accurate?
     
  12. TyrannusRex

    TyrannusRex Active Member

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    :nosleep:Gee, thanks, chief, I'd have never known...
    Also, this is all hypothetical. Accuracy isn't the main focus, the priest's actions were. And the small group I'd envisioned was indeed more of a party of adventurers/mercenaries, thank you very much. Who's to say you can't set fantasy in this plane of existence...
     
  13. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    When you were quite specific that you wanted a clash between lords, I assumed that you're NOT talking about a party of adventurers. When you were quite specific about Europe, and Christians, I assumed you talking about a reasonably realistic depiction of that place and those times.

    If you're writing fantasy, why not take the Buddhist warrior monks of Heian Japan as your inspiration; they would quite happily raid the nearest city without a thought for their immortal souls.
     
  14. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    As a practicing Catholic, historian etc. I think I can offer some ideas here. First off, with some exceptions, Catholic clerics then and now are wholly non-violent, willing to die in the example of Christ rather than inflict harm on another. While self-defense has always been accepted for others (see Thomas Aquinas of that era, both on self defense and just wars) this probably would not matter much to a cleric. As @Shadowfax said, soldiers have to be trained to kill, especially up close and personal with a sword, and the first time is usually traumatic anyway. For someone not expecting, or even allowing himself the possibility, of killing another, it will be much more than just traumatic.

    Obviously, he would seek absolution (from a another priest, not just another Catholic) and if one were not available, he would have the double trauma of having killed, and being unable to obtain forgiveness. Thus, not only he has the trauma of killing but the fear of imminent hellfire if he should die before being forgiven... as a priest, he cannot forgive himself. And even after having obtained absolution, he will face serious doubts about whether he REALLY has been forgiven, which would put the very roots of his faith in doubt. @TyrannusRex, you have the kernel of a good story around this: how does he forgive himself, or does he? I would suggest "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett which has good examples of how people viewed forgiveness in those days, and the good and the very bad clergy of the era. A long read, but good research for you.
     
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  15. rktho

    rktho Contributor Contributor

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    I think he would pray about it and mourn until he felt forgiven.
     

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