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, January 29, 2015

Some thoughts from a reader on Prof. Robert Rodes, liberation theology, and law

A few weeks ago, I posted about the death (and life, and work) of my friend, colleague, and teacher, Robert Rodes.   In response, a regular MOJ reader sent in the following.  I really appreciated this reader's thoughts and, with permission, I share them below:
1) On November 20, I attended (at my undergraduate alma mater Loyola-Chicago) first a memorial Mass in honor of the "Salvadoran Martyrs" (six Jesuits at the University of Central America and two lay women executed by the Salvadorn military in 1989) wherein Jesuit Fr. Jon Sobrino was a concelebrant and later in the evening an address by Fr. Sobrino after the conferral of an honorary degree by the University.  Both the homily at Mass (by another Jesuit of my acquaintance who accomplished great things in Peru) and the address by Father Sobrino invoked, as one might expect, principles of liberation theology which exerted a not insignificant influence upon me in my youth.  The day inevitably led to some wistful reflection - very lightly tinged with mild regret(?) - about how my professional life as a lawyer has measured up to youthful ideals, boxed away sometime during my first year of law school with my
dog-eared copy of Fr. GutiĆ©rrez' A Theology of Liberation.
2) On November 28, I saw your post on MOJ concerning the death of your colleague at Notre Dame, Professor Robert Rodes, Jr.  The linked article by Professor Shaffer "The Christian Jurisprudence of Robert E. Rodes, Jr." led me to read all the articles by Professor Rodes available at SSRN or otherwise on the Internet (as well as your article about Rodes' notion of Church-State nexus and Professor Uelman's piece).  In particular, "On Professors and Poor People - A Jurisprudential Memoir" (2007) led me to acquire Pilgrim Law - I was hooked as he acknowledged the impact of William Stringfellow, Jacques Ellul and Father GutiĆ©rrez on his work in "On Professors and Poor People,"  each of whom gobsmacked me in my youth. The notion of "liberation jurisprudence" I found bracing and concluded/hoped that, often without intent or understanding, I had occasionally stumbled into applying his reading of the "preferential option for the poor" at least during the last 12 years of my legal career.  Eschatology from a "radical Catholic" lawyer is by now for me easier to digest than taking it straight from radical theologians like Fr. Sobrino.  So, thank you for the introduction to Professor Rodes.    

3)  My Internet search also led me to a remarkable "non-legal" article by Professor Rodes from 2002 in the now defunct American Benedictine Review "On the Vocation of a Benedictine Oblate" available at:
Since 2000, I have sporadically attended Mass at the Benedictine Monastery of the Holy Cross in the Bridgeport neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago and have participated in a sort of book club sponsored by the monks since about 2001-2002.  Originally, I was exploring the notion of becoming a Benedictine oblate, but quickly decided it was not really for me - in part because my wife finds the monastic "thing" quite alien.  If my math is accurate, Professor Rodes and his wife had been oblates at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island for 50 years before he wrote the article.  I don't know how one spouse could properly be an oblate without the other, and certainly I could not.  As someone hovering occasionally around the edges of Benedictine community, his insights here were at least as impressive (for me) as his eschatological, liberation jurisprudence.
4) While I had already read the excellent exchange in the February 2015 First Things when I saw your post on "Hanby, Weigel, and Dreher on 'The Civic Project of American Christianity'," further discussion there concerning the "Benedict option" led me back to Professor Rodes reflection on the vocation of the Benedictine oblate.  Hanby, Weigel and Dreher differ on several points but share a basically pessimistic view about the general prospects for Christians in America, let alone the "Civic Project of American Christianity."  Hanby and Dreher again discuss the "Benedict option." I tend to share a pessimistic view of most things, whether as a matter of personality or experience. 
However, for some reason I have been particularly taken by the last paragraph of Professor Rodes' article, mentioning the picture of the "old" St. Benedict beside a tree stump with a small leaf growing out of the side.  "Underneath was the motto SUCCISA VIRESCIT, when cut down, it grows green."  Some translations of the motto substitute "pruned" for "cut down" and "flourishes" for "grows green."  Professor Rodes' translation was spot on and very Benedictine. Succisa virescit is originally the motto of St. Benedict's own Abbey of Montecassino and developed at some time after the abbey was destroyed by the Lombards around 585 and by the Saracens in 884, but before the subsequent destruction by Normans in 1046, by earthquake in 1349, and by the American Army Air Corps in 1944. 
Ultimately, it seems the "Benedict option" is now what it always has been - pray and work wherever you find yourself, trusting always in the Lord.  If it gets cut down, it will grow green.  


Garnett, Rick | Permalink