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, April 30, 2015

"'Why Am I Here?' Protestantism and Catholic Legal Theory"

That's the title of my  short contribution to the wonderful Scarpa Conference that Patrick organized (many thanks, Patrick). Here's the opening:

I’m a Protestant, a mainline Protestant, an Episcopalian even.  But for ten years I have been the non-Catholic “participant-observer” at the Mirror of Justice.  The other bloggers have been very hospitable to me, even though they may not have fully understood why I’m here.  So that is my question for today, the one immortalized by Admiral James Stockdale in the 1992 vice presidential debate: “Who am I?  Why am I here?”  What does Protestantism have to contribute to the Catholic legal theory project, and why would a Protestant (or a Catholic legal theorist) care?

One of the theses is that Catholicism and Protestantism have different characteristic emphases that apply to the nature and purposes of law. Borrowing from David Tracy, Andrew Greeley, Mark Massa, and others, I describe these as "analogical" versus "dialectical." The former (characteristically Catholic) emphasizes how God is present in features and institutions of the world, including but not only the Church; the latter (characteristically Protestant) emphasizes the distance between God and human beings and worries about investing human institutions, including the institutional Church,  with too much reverence of importance. And:

Protestant and Catholic traditions must, and do, find ways to sound themes that are most explicit or central to the other tradition.  Instead of polemics about how the other side gets it wrong, we should recognize the other’s dominant themes in our own tradition and learn from how the other tradition articulates those themes.

More specifically, to justify a principle, practice, or institution, we need both analogical arguments and dialectical arguments.  We need to show both how it facilitates humans’ virtuous capabilities and how it protects against selfishness and pretension.

... With suggestions about how to apply this to religious freedom and some other areas of law.


Berg, Thomas | Permalink