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.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Seasonal Meditation on Catholic Legal Theory

 

After an absence from this site of two months, I return today with this brief seasonal meditation. For those who wonder where I have been, it can be said that issues of my health necessitating hospitalization for a time and then time-consuming follow-up have been largely responsible for my absence. But now, here I am. May it also be said that I come to do God’s will.

During my time in the hospital, I had the occasion to think and pray about many things, e.g., the meaning of human life and human endeavors—including my own. A subset of this topic intersects the raison d’être of our website, the Mirror of Justice, viz. the development of Catholic legal theory. Since my hospital discharge, I have reread the contributions of many of my friends who offer their thoughts concerning the essence of our common project on these pages in addition to some of my own. A resolution I adopted in the hospital was this: I must return to the matter of investigating what is Catholic legal theory.

But my resolution and current reflection are influenced by the present liturgical season we celebrate in Christendom, i.e., Advent and preparation for the coming of Christ, who came as God and man to save us from our sins. Does this Christian perspective on the state of humanity have something to do with law? I think it does.

While not all sins are something with which the law is or should be concerned (e.g., did someone snitch a Christmas cookie just as they came out of the oven knowing that the cookie chef has stipulated that no cookie is to be eaten until its proper time?), some are. By sin, I mean recognition by the human person that he or she ought to do something, but intentionally does not; in the alternative, the person should avoid something, but of his or her own volition, plunges into the thing’s execution. Surely the nature of some sins intersects the nature of grave crimes and civil offenses with which the law is concerned. In making this assertion I answer the question: does the law address matters of sin? It certainly can, but the manner in which it does is a subject that falls within the scope of legal theory including that which identifies itself as Catholic.

In addressing how the law should respond to these crimes and civil offenses, some legal theories take a pragmatic approach. Others may follow a utilitarian passage. Still others may be influenced by considering the consequences of what is done and what is avoided. But Catholic legal theory, if it is true to its moniker “Catholic,” must consider and explore the moral dimension—this is the natural moral law at work, an essential component of Catholic thinking. Authentic Catholic legal theory must also rely upon objective reasoning that takes the thinker beyond his or her comfort zones—the subjective, if you will. This type of reasoning relies on the intelligence of the human person to comprehend the world, society, and all their intelligible realities that must be objectively, not subjectively, understood.

But that is not all that there is to the motivating force underlying Catholic legal theory. Surely the consideration of the common good—the good of each in the context of the good of all, the suum cuique—is another vital consideration. All these factors are part of the assembly of the essence of Catholic legal theory. They are not the only considerations, but they are critical ones (others would include the concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity). When these components come together, they should necessarily lead to the avoidance of evil and the doing of that which is good, if I may borrow from the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas.

Much more needs to be said about what I have presented here, but this is a weblog post rather than a treatise. Perhaps one day, we may have a collection of essays that can be published in a volume that is entitled along the lines of: Perspectives on Catholic Legal Theory. But let me suggest one final thought for today, and that is this: these elements of Catholic legal theory which I have cursorily presented here in this post have much to offer society in general, particularly in avoiding the traps of the manifestations of totalitarian democracy—as foretold by people like Jacob Talmon and Christopher Dawson—which seem to be extant in the political and legal fabric of the present day. If one doubts this thesis, we need to re-read the recent contributions of many of my friends here at the Mirror of Justice. But these elements of Catholic legal theory also have something to do with Christ who came to save us from our sins, especially those sins that are also of concern to the law which is and must be a servant, not the master, of the human family and each of its members.

In short, Catholic legal theory has something to offer all persons and their societies that concern salvation in this world. But Catholic legal theory also has something to offer those persons who are equally concerned about the world that is to come.

 

RJA sj

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