August 25, 2012
Onward Christian Professors!
Over the past couple of weeks since I posted my last contribution on The Examination of Conscience and the Examen, a number of my friends here at the Mirror of Justice have commented on various dimensions of the educational and other institutions with which we are associated. A common question that these comments raise emerges from the issue of what it means to be Catholic or to have a Catholic nature. I shall address a simpler matter today that has some bearing on this question which we tackle here quite often, namely, Catholic legal theory: what is it and how do we teach it? Or, what is it all about? But first I must note something about the challenges of the present age that interfere with the projects that bear the moniker “Catholic.”
As some of my friends here at the Mirror of Justice have recently noted, both the Church and law schools face great pressures today. Albeit of different origins, these pressures are nonetheless manifested in strains and tensions that interfere with the projects of Christian discipleship that include teaching law in the classroom and in submitting publications which somehow reflect this same discipleship. In the context of the academic enterprise of teaching law that is in accord with Catholic teachings and Christian principles, we also face the problems of those whom we instruct. One major problem is the increasing expenses our students face in pursuing their legal education; another concern confronting the schools with which we are associated is the declining interest amongst the eligible population of becoming a lawyer, which leads to the increased competition amongst law schools to demonstrate while the declining number of applicants should attend a particular institution rather than some other school. The forecasts about the declining student populations indicate that this downtrend is not cyclical but permanent.
But rather than focus on declining student populations and increasing costs (both of which are of vital concern to educators and their students), I would suggest that another challenge to the Catholic law professor is how to serve as a catalyst for those students whom we do encounter to be models and practitioners of virtuous persons who have a solid sense of what the law is about and what it is not about. While not as dramatic an issue as whether we will have students to teach and what we are asking them to pay, it is still a central issue that ought not to be avoided. What is the basis of my assertion?
Within the Catholic contribution to the development of legal institutions, the natural moral law and the development of the virtuous lawyer have always played a central role. Yet these topics are typically absent from legal education today and discussions or debates about what legal education should be about and include. If one doubts my contention, you need only attend a faculty meeting that addresses the crises that law schools are presently facing and take stock of the solutions that are being proposed and determine for yourself if virtue and the natural moral law are discussed by colleagues.
Again, I don’t have any profound insights to offer that are novel or innovative about this. What I do propose for consideration as these weighty matters are encountered is a rather simple set of thoughts that should intersect the daily life and prayer of any Catholic or Christian. These thoughts might be considered in the context of simple questions asked if not throughout the day then at least throughout the week. The first is: what is it all about? Well, for the Catholic and I think most Christians, it is about salvation and preparing for union with God. I realize that the Catholic and Christian law professor cannot specifically include this precise formulation in his or her work of teaching or lecturing or publishing, but on the other hand, our work does not automatically preclude the asking of this question “what is it all about” as we prepare our classes and draft our lectures, articles, essays, and books. While this is not an especially innovative thought as I have said, it is important and relevant to the work of the Christian law professor who is preparing people to enter a noble profession and to be citizens of the two cities that each person will inhabit—the cities of God and of Man.
While he was not a particularly religious individual, Dr. Ben Franklin purportedly said something that is beneficial to the point of this entry I am posting today. At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Franklin was asked by a Mrs. Powel whether the Framers had given the people of the United States a republic or a monarch. As Max Farrand’s collection of the Records of the Federal Convention memorializes Franklin’s response, Farrand reported in this manner: “A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.” When we are asked by colleagues, prospective students, or, for that matter, anyone else who might inquire “what have we given to society and to education,” might we reply by saying that it has something to do with our discipleship and presenting the Church’s wisdom on the meaning of human existence? And quickly following this is another matter: can we keep this understanding of human nature and human enterprise alive not just for the present moment but for posterity? It will take effort, but effort is always a close companion of discipleship.
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