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

Saving souls, or perhaps instead a round of "civil society" golf?

As so many generous contributors to MOJ have already recorded here, the Ninth Annual Scarpa Conference, held at Villanova Law last week, offered a welcome opportunity to ponder, probe, and pray about (and for) that for the sake of which those engaged in "Catholic legal theory" are laboring.  I remain overwhelmed by the gifts that true generosity of intellect and spirit delivered  one week ago.

MOJ has served for more than a decade now as a crucible for refining both questions and answers about what Catholics who care about the common good, and therefore about law, should be doing. My own sense, reached with sadness but openness, is that true care for the common good today cannot shrink from acknowledging that the Church labors in the throes of a crisis. We can (and must) debate and determine the sources and causes of the crisis, but crisis it is, and any refusal to acknowledge the crisis for what it is should be prepared to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, how (with a few exceptions) the unwinding of the institutional Church from shore to shore gives witness to that "new springtime" one hears about all the time. I comprehend that souls can be saved even as institutions collapse, but where, exactly, is the evidence of spring in the visible life of the Catholic Church in the United States?

My principal point at the recent conference at Villanova was that Catholic legal theory worth its salt must recognize and fathom, first, what the culture needs, for the salvation of souls, and, second, how the Church's ministers must  re-shoulder a burden that was sidelined by a bizarrely elitist preference (since 1965 or so) for "dialogue" instead of evangelization undertaken in the fullness of charity.  

Catholic legal theory must start from what the world needs, and my submission is that what the world needs from the Church is, first (and last), a Church who cares more visibly and effectively for the salvation of souls, rather than so much about (say) equal wages for equal work (no doubt a matter of great importance for the jurisdiction of the civil ruling authority). In my view, Catholic legal theory isn't worth the name Catholic unless it be about saving souls, and the salvation of souls begins, if at all, in this world and under its principalities.  



April 30, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

CLT: A discussion at Villanova

One last reminder that those interested in the "Catholic legal theory" project will have the opportunity to hear several MOJ contributors tackle the project's aspirations, hopes, and challenges this Friday, April 24, at Villanova Law School.  The program for the event is here:  Scarpa Conference.  The event is open to the public, and CLE credit (including one in Ethics) will be available to attorneys who register and attend.  

A good and rewarding time is sure to be had by all, as I expect that the unity in diversity that animates the project will be enveloping.  

April 22, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The wisdom of Cardinal George

The sad news of Card. George's death led me to read again some of his always wise words.  For example:

[I]n the Church today, there are voices on the left that resent the Church's teaching about many issues, particularly sexual morality, and therefore resent the bishops who uphold it.  There are voices on the right that say that they embrace the teaching but resent bishops who do not govern the the Church exactly as they say bishops should.  But the nature of episcopacy is to be free to act in Christ's name as pastors of the Church.  Bishops cannot be co-opted by state authority or political power, nor by pressure groups within the Church, lest the bishops fail in their office.

Francis Card. George, OMI, The Difference God Makes 205 (2009).

April 18, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Catholic Legal Theory: In Person

The Ninth Annual John F. Scarpa Conference on Law, Politics, and Culture will be held at Villanova Law on Friday, April 24, 2015.  The topic of this year's conference names the project that has for more than a decade animated this blog: Catholic legal theory.  The conference program is here.  We'll see what "the God of surprises" has in store!

I am exceedingly grateful that a number of the longtime contributors to this blog will be speaking at the conference, which is open to the public.  For the benefit of those who can't attend, conference speakers may later share their contributions here on MOJ. 

April 15, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Has anything (that matters, in the end) changed?

Given (as it must be) that the coercive power of law will be used, even as I write (and in future), to punish men, women, and perhaps even children because they have been convicted of crimes, I wonder how those who will read and popularize Pope Francis's "Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy" (here) will alter their own conduct and its authoritative effect.  I don't conflate or confuse divine law with human law.  The perpetrators of crimes matter, but so do the victims.  How should the higher law of "mercy" inform reasonable judgments concerning the operation of human law?  Should anyone think that God's mercy has recently been enlarged by the actions and/or words of a Pope?  I doubt it.  But, if I am incorrect, on what basis?  Is the divine law still authoritative?  Of course it is.  Nothing has changed, except the changeable.  The changeable is how the Church should minister to the modern world, but of course the Church's task has always been to serve the world she is given to save.  It's possible that the "Jubilee of Mercy" will turn out, sub specie etc., to have been the better or even best way to assist souls to get to Heaven.  Charity, however, requires that we never allow easy rhetoric in favor of "mercy" to occlude what makes it exigent in the first place, the divine judgment.  I simply don't understand the rhetorician who today claims that the Church "closes the door to mercy."  Two cheers for mercy, but mercy does, by all credible accounts, correct or complement what it presupposes.  

April 11, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


"The Catholic Church is convinced that every human being is created in the image of God" -- so pontificate the Bishops of the Church in Indiana: here.  "Convinced" by whom?  And who/what is the referent "Catholic Church" that has been "convinced?"  The metaphysics of the proposition is risible (and shameful).

A more promising intervention by the Bishops might begin as follows:  "The Holy Catholic Church teaches that . . . ."  And might then go on to observe that the salvation of souls depends on it . . . .

April 1, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Religious Constitution -- Christian, Jewish, Islamic?

Those interested in the lively issues presented by religious constitutionalism might want to check out the Clark Lecture to be held at the Rutgers School of Law (Camden)  this Thursday, March 26th (corrected from March 24th), at 4pm.  Details are here.   I will be addressing the question I was assigned:  "What would a Christian constitution, in a predominantly Christian nation, look like?"  

March 23, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Friday, February 27, 2015

"mailed irregularly"

Readers will recall Cardinal Kasper's rank racism on display at the Synod last fall.  The Cardinal outright denied that he'd engaged in racial stereotyping of the Church in Africa, but the recording of his vicious words gave the lie to His Eminence's denial.  Are we enlightened moderns comfortable with Cardinals who lie in public, especially about matters of great moral magnitude?   

Be that as it may, things just keep getting richer at Rome.  Now, it seems, Cardinal Baldiserri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, ordered the theft of books sent to participants in the Synod last fall.  The story is here. The Cardinal actually admits that the books were seized, and he attempts to justify their seizure on the ground that they were "mailed irregularly."  Pleading in the alternative, His Eminence also avers that the books' reaching the hands of their intended recipients would have "interfere[d] with the Synod," which is just what one would fear from a book titled Remaining in the Truth of Christ.  On the issue of truth, keep in mind that Synod's mid-term relatio was apparently drafted in advance of the "open" debates it was alleged to relate.  That's just how Pope Francis's "God of surprises" works.

Who will continue to defend the illusion of a climate of "openness" in the Church bequeathed to us by the Second Vatican Council and the clergy and hierarchy shaped by its "spirit"?


February 27, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Friday, February 20, 2015

"A mortgage on the Church"

If one were asked to guess who or what in recent history has placed "a mortgage on the Church," one might be expected to answer: the child-raping priests, the chancery staffs that turned a blind eye to raping priests, the bishops who oversaw (sic) such chanceries and thus facilitated such abuse, etc.  Well, one would be wrong, however.  According to Pope Francis, it is the ordaining of traditionalists to the ministerial priesthood that places "a mortgage on the Church."  Who knew?!  The indictment by the Pope is here.  

Pope Benedict's humble successor Francis also indicts as "mistaken" those who in undoubted "good faith" pursue a "reform of the reform."  Readers will no doubt recall that a signal accomplishment of the too-short pontificate of Benedict XVI was a clarification of the concept of the reform of the reform and a resolve to implement one.  I had my doubts at the time that a reform of the reform was sufficient for what was ailing the Church, and history has vindicated my doubt, alas.  A reform of the reform that can be swept away, indeed ridiculed, as "mistaken" even before its tenth birthday offers about as much ecclesial medicine as a so-called Happy Meal offers nutritional value.  

I leave aside for now consideration of Francis's words, in the same address to the Roman clergy, on the Ars Celebrandi.  Those words of the Pope would need to be squared his own practice of starting to glance at his watch when liturgies last longer than, say, forty-five minutes, a task up to which I do not feel on the First Friday of this Lent.  

February 20, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sin, forgiveness, and the Post Office -- not a love affair

Among the peculiarities of our constitutional arrangement is its indifference to love.  A traditional Christian polity would be structured around the common obligation to worship God, a sacrificial act of love, and from that would follow many other obligations to be particularlized by the polity.   Our Constitution, however, rooted and limited in the project of power-checking-power -- whatever the respective faiths of the men who framed it -- designedly sidelines love, particularly in the form of public worship.  No public worship here, that's for sure.  With love goes forgiveness, however.  Again, with love goes forgiveness.  I confess, therefore, uncertainty about how modern states can do anything involving forgiveness.  The suggestion that the Post Office can forgive is risible; it commits a category mistake.  But it's not unthinkable, is it, that the governing authority could, one day yet, announce, introduce, and advance the ends of love, including in the form of forgiveness.  The sorry, ongoing celebration of pluralism per se could yet yield to a collective life rooted in the truth of love and the forgiveness it alone grounds.  Love has become a Hallmark term that almost preempts the field, and so the manifestation of love in the form of forgiveness merits special reconstruction, here in the words of Remi Brague:

A mistake that, perhaps, is even more freighted with consequences [than the mistakes of confusing sin with pleasure or misunderstanding the way in which sin "offends" God] is the one that consists in separating the two terms, "remission" and "sin," which are united in the Christian confession of faith.  Once they are separated, the two ideas are placed in a certain order, according to which the idea of sin occupies the first place.  A certain Christian apologetics has succumbed to this temptation.  It proceeds by attempting to convince man (and above all, "modern man," who is deemed more difficult to convince . . .) that he is a sinner and that he therefore has need of redemption (which, then, would be proposed to him, in second place).  [] In this optic, one can lament the purported "loss of the sense of sin," as if it complicated the matter, even made it impossible, because depribiving sin of its foundation.  

In doing so, one allows oneself to be misled by an analogy.  Most often, of course, the evil precedes the remedy, and it is necessary to become aware of the evil in order to experience the need for the remedy.  Thus, because I see that my teeth are crooked, I know that I need to go to the dentist.  However, the Creed confesses faith in "the remission of sins," not in sin.  What is an article of faith is not sin, but rather its remission.  


R. Brague, On the God of the Christians (and on one or two others) (St. Augustine's Press, 2013), 144-45.


December 19, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink