Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Catholic Legal Theory and Final Things (end times)

Since its inception, the Mirror of Justice has examined in varying degrees many legal issues through the lens of Catholic Legal Theory (CLT). If CLT were an ambiguous notion several years ago, MOJ postings have made strides in clarifying what it is, is not, and might be. Through the course of presentations and debates, nuanced examinations on questions involving corporate governance, law and economics, conscience, religious liberty, capital punishment, slavery, the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, and justice (to mention but a few topics addressed on this site) have been examined through the perspectives of contributors who, in one form or another, claim participation in the CLT project.

Today, as we approach the beginning of Holy Week, I would like to raise something that may have previously escaped our corporate and individual studies: the relation between CLT and end things or end times—eschatology to use the ecclesiastical and theological term. In the context of our preparation for Easter and the powerful reminder that Christ lived, died, and was resurrected in God’s plan for human salvation, does the law, does CLT have a role in all this? Well, I suppose for many lawyers, judges, law students, law makers, law enforcers, and the citizenry at large, my question may have little or no meaning. But for those who participate in CLT, should it not?

It would seem that any academic project having a foundation in the Catholic faith would at some point be concerned about human destiny, individual and communal. As the Eighth Psalm reminds us, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” From a Catholic theological perspective, this text from the Old Testament about human nature leads us to the view that each person’s destiny is tied to union with God forever as is emphasized by Saint John’s Gospel—“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” As I ponder the meaning of all this and the questions dealing with end things and times, I would like to suggest that human law and certainly human law as understood, studied, explained, and molded by CLT does have a role in God’s plan for human destiny.

I begin with a presupposition that CLT views the law not as an end in itself but as a means to promoting something else that deals with human nature and our relation to God and to one another. If this premise has merit, then should we not think that the telos of the law is more than just good governance by the authority of the rule of law that protects people and makes them more responsible to one another? I tentatively submit that the role of the law from a CLT perspective might have something to do with maximizing—in the context of human authority and contribution—God’s promise of salvation and union with Him insofar as human beings can make a contribution to God’s plan. Let me take by way of illustration the question of capital punishment. While we may agree that a convicted person has unquestionably committed such a grievous crime to which a death penalty may apply according to the civil law, does not or should not CLT argue that some other punishment (which still protects society from the further mischief of the convicted) not involving death is more appropriate so that the justly convicted may be given the maximum opportunity to offer contrition and seek God’s forgiveness before his or her end time is met? Would not legal regimes dealing with the “right to life” (abortion, health care, nutrition, etc.) as understood from a CLT perspective be inclined to ensure that everyone has the maximum opportunity to live and lead a productive life so that he or she again has the highest opportunity to meet God properly prepared when his or her end time approaches?

The degree to which consideration about the end times and end things enters the discussion of any legal issue will vary, I think. But Holy Week might just give us the opportunity to consider this matter that I have raised. In the meantime, may the contributors and readers of MOJ have a blessed Holy Week and celebrate a joyous Easter!   RJA sj


Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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