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.

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


It should be obvious that the project here, "Catholic legal theory," requires or depends upon, if it is to be (even) coherent, several reliable (if contestable) definitions. One of those defintions pertains to "law" and, derivatively, "legal."  The Catholic tradition isn't impoverished when it comes to the question of what it takes for something to stand as law or legal.  In the (correct) view of that holy tradition, what the civil legislature does that fails to serve the common good also fails, for that reason, to be law in the full or focal sense of "law" (and therefore can and, subject to the control of the virtue of prudence, must be disobeyed in circumstances in which disobedience would serve the common good).  Also in the view of that same holy tradition, law is not only, or in the first instance, the deliverance of the civil authority.  There is always and earlier the higher law, that of Christ the King.  Given Christ's kingship over all, His higher law (authoritatively interpreted by the Church) must serve as the governing norm if the civil polity is to seek the common goods, earthly and eternal.  Law, even Christ's, doesn't exhaust the field, however.  Mercy and forgiveness have their respective places in the divine economy, thank God, but they do so because the same God first (and thereafter His civil viceregents) ordered humanity to the common goods.  Mercy and forgiveness, in their true respective senses, depend upon an antecedent architecture in which the legisator has truly legislated (necessarily for the common goods).  It's high time certain discussants of the current predicament, including those souls dissecting, promoting, etc., the incessant (and oddly ultramontanist) soundbites issued from a guesthouse at Rome, recall that the human mind is in virtue of Creation itself a legally "measured measure."  Forgiveness, therefore, is (as it were) graciously parasitic on law.  Thank God for His forgiveness, but first for His law.   

December 10, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Sunday, December 7, 2014

America the Supranational

The recent edition of Modern Age includes a welcome symposium devoted to "American Foreign Policy."  The essay contributed by  James Lucier, "former staff director of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committe," stands out.  Lucier presses for the US Constitution on the ground that it recognizes that "man is a fallen creature and ... human nature will never change."  It's true, of course, that human nature will never change.  It's also true that we humans are all fallen creatures.  What Mr. Lucier refuses to acknowledge, because he is out to defend the Anglo-American legal indifference to salvation, is the power of the supernatural.  Lucier rages that under civil (as opposed to common) law, "[t]he right of the individual is subordinated to the order of the common good."  The priority of the common good should have been clear to Mr Lucier, but his preference for "the individual" (his term) triumphed.  

December 7, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Saturday, December 6, 2014


In a world in which whatever doesn't violate the harm principle goes, forgiveness is a mostly idle concept.  In the real world, however, where we sin in all kinds of ways and degrees that elude Mill's impoverished and arbitary norm, forgiveness is the gift of life.  Literally.  Forgiveness, often mistakenly analyzed as an optional piece of supererogation, is required by the very requirements of proper self-love itself, and it is therefore required without condition.  The refusal to forgive works an abominable self-annihilation.  The free and respectful granting of forgiveness liberates.  Forgiveness does not entail reconcilation --  forgiveness is sufficient unto itself, as all of us who have been forgiven by the Divine Judge should be quick to announce.  I argue the (controversial) case for UNconditional forgiveness here 

December 6, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Query this

When a monarch formally -- but not functionally -- vacates his palace only to occupy -- perhaps along with his considerable staff -- the rooms formerly reserved for guests in, say, the guesthouse, who benefits?  And why?  

August 3, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sub ubi?

One of the results of MOJ's recent move to the Law Professor Blogs Network is that now a picture of men's underwear for sale often impinges on the retained (and beautiful) image of Our Lady Mirror of Justice.  Perhaps this is the (unintended) application of the schoolboy's Latin pun "semper ubi sub ubi"?  

July 30, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I was just reading about how the cause for the canonization of Pope John Paul I is advancing in Rome.  This on the heels of the announced beatification of Pope Paul VI in October and the recent canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.  Only Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI among the pontiffs to reign during or after the Second Vatican Council are not either declared saints or current candidates for sainthood.  Meanwhile, Pope Francis has reminded us that the cause for Ven. Pope Pius XII, who lived and reigned before the aforementioned Council, is stalled, and it was only recently that the Vatican website actually acknowledged the fact that Pope Pius X, who also blessedly lived and reigned before the aforementioned Council, was declared by the Church to be a saint (in 1954).  My understanding is that Sarto became a  saint even while living in the Papal Apartment, the high cost of frugal living perhaps not appealing to the greatest Pope of the twentieth century.    

July 29, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Friday, July 25, 2014

"What is traditional Christianity anyway?"

Perhaps my principal difficulty in contributing to this blog "dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory" is the endless plasticity that now molests the denotation -- to say nothing of the connotation -- of the capital-C adjective "Catholic" in so many minds.  Most, though by *no* means all, of the disputes among contributors to this blog can -- and *should* --  be traced to their origins in different understandings of what it means to think as a Catholic.  

The Second Vatican Council changed no doctrine of the Faith, as it was exactly a "pastoral" Council. The oft-asserted spirit of "Vatican II,"  however, did, with the help of its enablers, introduce what Chris Ferrara has aptly termed "the regime of novelty" into the life of the Church (see Ferrara and Woods, The Great Facade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church (2002)).  Consider that, these days, the closing of countless parishes on account of the auto-demolition of the Church is couched in terms of "Making All Things New."  Hah!  Even Rex Mottram would see through the shams that have become the way of diocesan business in so much of the Church in the United States.  Here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the much-touted "new springtime" in the Church has resulted in a fire sale (to pick just one among countless possible examples: nursing homes sold ) that will spare precious little of what those who held the Faith built brick by brick in a spirit of sacrifice and appropriate Christian triumph of the Church Militant

The point is, nothing Catholic -- neither doctrine nor discipline -- prevents Catholics from faithfully holding and practicing the Faith as it was held and practiced before the Second Vatican Council.  If that Council contributed prudential solutions to today's problems, that prudence has yet to be demonstrated, in my judgment.  Rod Dreher asks with characteristic insight "what is traditional Christianity anyway?"  The term "Traditional Catholicism" is a piece of pleonasm made necessary by the regime of novelty, but Catholicism will outlive the partisans of novelty, as Cardinal Newman taught us.  The true Church is Christ-continued-in-the-world, and the faithful live by the promise made in Matthew 16:18 .     

July 25, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Genocide of Christians in Mosul -- and crickets

The Islamic terrorist group ISIS has recently rebranded itself (in Western fashion) as the Islamic State.  We mustn't let this self-promotion lull us into any illusions of legitimacy, however.  This terrorist organization has declared war on the Christians of Mosul.  The Christians in Mosual must convert to Islam, pay vast fines, or be killed -- or, in one last indignity, be robbed (of their crucifixes) as they flee for their lives.  The story is here

Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned this persecution, and the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has declared it a crime against humanity.  What the terrorists known as the Islamic State are accomplishing in Mosul is without a doubt genocide within the meaning of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was signed in 1948 and took effect in 1951.

Yet where is the White House in all of this?  Why has President Obama not condemned *this* genocide?  

President Obama needn't start by calling it what it is, that is, genocide.  He could start by, say, actually acting to enforce the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  Yes, yes, I recognize that "religious freedom" doesn't do conceptual justice to genocide, but "religious freedom" doesn't itself do justice to the essence of true religion, yet nearly everyone in the West seems to be on board with "religious freedom," at least nominally.  And so, when will that great champion of "religious freedom," the USCCB, bestir itself to condemn this epochal violation of religious freedom and perhaps even call the Catholics of the United States to prayer and penance in solidarity with their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ?

The Syrian Catholic Archeparchy in Mosul was burned to the ground the other day as a part of the ongoing purge.  What traces of ancient Christianity will be left in Iraq when U.S. (and other Western) foreign policy has run its course there?  I think the terrorists there know the answer, which no doubt emboldens them still further.    

July 23, 2014 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink