As To The Right Treatment Of The Development Of Prevailing Ideas Criminals -- By: William Allen Knight

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 057:226 (Apr 1900)
Article: As To The Right Treatment Of The Development Of Prevailing Ideas Criminals
Author: William Allen Knight


As To The Right Treatment Of The Development Of Prevailing Ideas Criminals

Rev. William Allen Knight

The bearings of this theme are thoroughly practical, being sociological and theological. The first is obvious; the second is clear when one reflects that men’s conceptions of divine government are ever shaped by their perceptions of the nature and functions of human government. “On this ground it is impossible,” as Principal Fairbairn argues with fine discernment, “to reach any clear or coherent conception of God’s rule over men.”1 Yet the fact that it is evermore a factor in shaping men’s conceptions of God’s government remains, emphasizing the theological bearing of our ideas about the treatment of criminals or delinquents, and calling on the theologian to keep abreast of the vanguard of penological experts. With profound deference be it said that the Oxford Principal himself, standing in the flood of theological light which his own soul has shed, is an eminent example. For he says: “The relations of the sovereign are all legal … his instruments most perfect when least personal… . The legal authority does not chastise, only punishes; all its sanctions are penalties, and they are enforced not to reform or restore the criminal, but to compel respect and conformity to law.”2

Is this a correct statement of the spirit prevailing in modern penology? The following pages are meant to make a presentation of developments which show that it would have been correct in times past, but is not now.

MacKenzie, in his “Social Philosophy,”3 says: “To describe the genesis of a thing, especially when it is a living thing, is often the best method of defining it.” This is the method here adopted.

“Criminal law,” in the language of Frederick H. Wines, “has been slowly and painfully evolved from human consciousness, in response to the various historical exigencies of the race.” 4 Professor Henderson generalizes the facts thus: “The modes of punishment correspond to the social purpose. Presented in historical order … the penalties are distinctly marked as vengeance, social protection, and reformation.”5 Dr. Wines outlines four stages in the evolution of criminal law: “The first was the era of vengeance or retribution; the second, that of repression [Henderson’s social protection]; the third, that of attempted reformation and rehabilitation; the fourt...

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