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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fr. Aidan Nichols, Quas Primas, the Social Kingship of Christ, etc.

"[P]ublicly recognising divine revelation is an entailment of the Kingship of Christ on which, despite its difficulties in a post-Enlightenment society, we must not renege."  Thus writes Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP.  I agree with Fr. Nichols's judgment, of course, but I have to wonder whether any other contributor to this blog also agrees.  Enthusiasts of the First Amendment's agnosticism will have a hard time on this one.   

The context of Fr. Nichols's statement is here, an exchange titled "Did Vatican II Usher In Our Secular Age?"  It's worth a very careful read.  I admire the authors' efforts to liberate Dignitatis Humanae from the Murray-inspired misreading that dominates the scene and attempts to distort doctrine.  

Christ's Kingship isn't *just* "in the end" (Cf. here): it is NOW.  "[W]e must not renege," as Fr. Nichols reminds us.  I agree with Rick Garnett (here), the culture wars must continue.  Charity and justice require that the Church be militant -- charitably and justly -- to adjust the culture and shape its direction for the common good, including public recognition and worship of Christ.  

Fr. Nichols's interlocutor, Moyra Doorly, has some trenchant things to say about the regnant hatred of the Church.  Christophobia is the diagnosis that comes to mind.


November 26, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Catholic Scholar

Over the past couple of years, I've had the privilege of getting to know Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (Berkeley).  As I spent time in Fr. Michael's presence and company, I soon discovered that what he has to say -- whether in his writings, homilies, or extended conversations -- is always worthy of careful attention.  He is a wise, inspiring, and provocative intellect, not to mention a wonderfully true vir Ecclesiae.

I'd venture to say that it's sometimes easy to get lost a little about what our point here at MOJ -- developing  "Catholic legal theory" -- amounts to.  I commend, therefore, Fr. Michael's essay "The Vocation of a Catholic Scholar" (here), as a challenging yet comforting beacon and guide.  What Fr. Michael has to say is rich with implications for law and legal theory.  The role of the Catholic scholar is, Fr. Michael contends, "redemptive."  And, one might go on to ask, if it's not, what's the point of it?

Fr. Michael's insights are, in part, a reflection on the important book by Fr. Sertillanges, OP, The Intellectual Life: Its Spririt, Conditions, and Method, which every Catholic scholar should study.  

November 6, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The catacomb is on the other foot, George

Why does George Weigel have it in for Catholics or -- as they're sometimes called in a display of pleonasm -- traditional Catholics?  Over at National Review, Weigel writes that "the challenge also won’t be met by Catholic traditionalists retreating into auto-constructed catacombs."  You can read Weigel's essay to see what he thinks "the challenge" is, but I'll just tip my hand and suggest that he's got it wrong.

My only purpose here is to note that it's not "Catholic traditionalists" who are constructing catacombs. Weigel has things exactly backwards.  As I've pointed out many times (including in this recent paper), it's self-describing neo-con and self-describing liberal Catholics -- not Catholics simpliciter -- who are content to seek legal accommodations that leave the immoral status quo otherwise intact.  They're the ones taking up residence in legally sculpted catacombs.  It's the Catholics who haven't drunk the Kool-Aid of liberalism who labor in love to correct and transform the culture.  They are the ones who refuse to retreat into the catacombs of legal accommodation.  

Weigel needs to stop scapegoating the few Catholics who are actually refusing the catacomb strategy that is the current darling of the American bishops.  The souls Weigel villifies as "Catholic traditionalists" are among those who care enough to "direct[] Christian service to human society to bring about the kingdom of God" (Bernard Longergan, Method in Theology, 362).  I'm not the only one who is weary of Weigel's distortions, inversions, and ingratitude.  See here

October 27, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The scandal of libertas Ecclesiae

I have an additional, new paper on the liberty of the Church.  Here is the abstract:


This article was presented at a conference, and is part of a symposium, on "The Freedom of the Church in the Modern Era." The article argues that the liberty of the Church, libertas Ecclesiae, is not a mere metaphor, pace the views of some other contributions to the conference and symposium and of the mentality mostly prevailing over the last five hundred years. The argument is that the Church and her directly God-given rights are ontologically irreducible in a way that the rights of, say, the state of California or even of the United States are not. Based on a careful reading of, among other sources, the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae (1965), the article articulates and defends the Church's self-understanding as a divine institution possessed of supernatural authority that has rightful consequences for the ordering of society and polity. Catholic doctrine upholds a rich concept of individual freedom of conscience and defends a regime of broad toleration, but it does so respectful of the demands of the common goods, natural and supernatural, both of which the Church serves in the exercise of her liberty. The Church anticipates that her claims on her own behalf will be a scandal to the world. 

This article complements and, to a limited extent, overlaps the analysis in my recent article "Resisting the Grand Coalition in Favor of the Status Quo By Giving Full Scope to the Libertas Ecclesiae."

October 22, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The liberty of the Church

I have a new paper here on the libertas Ecclesiae.  The aim of the paper is to challenge Catholics (and others) not to settle for the incessant cant about "religious freedom."  My argument is that, in light of the Catholic doctrine that "creation was for the sake of the Church" (CCC 760), questions of "religious freedom" must be subordinated to the rights of the Church.  The contingent constitution of the state must be conformed to the given constitution of the Church, not the other way around.

October 17, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Honoring Judge John T. Noonan, Jr.

Details will soon be available on the Villanova website about:


The Eighth-Annual John F. Scarpa Conference on Law, Politics, and Culture:

Exploring and Celebrating the Legacy of John T. Noonan, Jr.


Friday, November 15, 20013

Villanova University School of Law


The Honorable John T. Noonan, Jr., has served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit since 1986, following a distinguished career in practice and teaching.  In a scholarly career spanning more than half a century, Noonan has written major works, some of them now classics, on a stunningly broad range of topics including usury, bribery, contraception, religious freedom, federalism, professional ethics, marriage and annulment, abortion, and jurisprudence.  The conference will explore aspects of many of the topics Noonan has studied and illuminated, emphasizing the thread that unites all of Noonan’s work: the development of doctrine.



Keynote Speaker


The Honorable John T. Noonan, Jr.

United States Circuit Judge

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit




William Cardinal Levada

Prefect Emeritus, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Holy See


Patrick McKinley Brennan

John F. Scarpa Chair in Catholic Legal Studies and Professor of Law

Villanova University School of Law


Richard Painter

S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law

University of Minnesota Law School


Kenneth Pennington

Kelly-Quinn Professor of Ecclesiastical and Legal History

Columbus School of Law and School of Canon Law

The Catholic University of America


Reverend Michael Sweeney, O.P


Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (Berkeley)


Joseph Vining

Harry Burns Hutchins Collegiate Professor of Law Emeritus

University of Michigan School of Law







October 3, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

And now, what practically everyone has been waiting for: "the world enlightens the Church"

George Neumayr nails much of what's wrong in what is unfolding in this pontificate.  

This Pope's private and erroneous opinions (e.g., that conscience is autonomous), shared with the whole world in the chosen format of magazines and newspapers, cannot but do great damage to souls.  This could easily be cause for despair, but since we have it on our Lord's own authority that the Church, His own mystical body continued in the world, will survive until the eschaton, we should cheerfully and respectfully correct the Pope when he deviates from the Faith and pray fervently and hopefully for his greater fidelity.        

October 3, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Pope is not a media puppy

Predictably, my agreement here on MOJ with Germain Grisez's trenchant criticism of Pope Francis's already-hallowed interview has generated some spirited, often misguided, and sometimes even angry correspondence.  That goes with the territory, although the anger really isn't becoming or intelligent.

What should not go unnoticed, though, is this.  Many of my correspondents are quick to find fault with me (and others) for criticizing a journalistic INTERVIEW given by the Pope.   These same correspondents and their ilk, however, are frequent self-styled "dissenters" from magisterial teachings taught authoritatively in official Church documents.  The interview is "sacred," but the actually sacred and officials teachings of the magisterium remain always ripe for "dissent."  The sophistry and inconsistency are patent.  

This is a good opportunity to share something I heard John Haldane (the first Catholic Professor of Philosophy in the University of St. Andrew's since the Reformation) say the other night in a fine and moving talk about being a Catholic intellectual today.  According to Haldane, the time is overdue to stop dividing the Church along lines borrowed from politics.  We shouldn't talk about "liberal Catholics," "conservative Catholics," or the like.  This is a view I've long held.  As Haldane stressed, what matters are othodoxy and orthopraxy.  And these come by living the whole Tradition, not by any other means.  Politicizing the internal life of the Church only blocks the all-importance of being united in Christ in all essential matters.    

Those who seek to live the whole Tradition will be eager to be docile in the face of authoritative teaching and governing by Pope Francis, and they will devoutly hope to be sanctified by his example and ministry in order to become more docile and obedient in matters of orthodoxy.  They will be prepared to be "surprised" by his evangelical example and to be vivified by it.  They will, however, be intelligent if they deny that an "interview" is beyond criticism, and they will resist the suggestion that criticizing the interview represents a refusal to be "challenged" by the new Pope.  For the reasons given by Grisez, we Christians cannot responsibly build our lives around ambiguities of the sort Pope Francis irresponsibly throws around in the medium of a journalistic interview.  There are clearly inspiring and sound points in the interview, but they do not elevate the piece as a whole to a text from which one could, if one were so inclined, "dissent."  One can intelligently disagree with an interivew, no matter which mortal gives it.  

Pope Francis can do better, I hope.   

September 30, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Germain Grisez on Pope Francis's Interview

A friend sent me something important that the distinguished moral theologian Germain Grisez, thoroughly a man of the Second Vatican Council, has written about Pope Francis's much-discussed interview and the thinking and attitude that it reveals.  I'll preface Grisez's devastating criticism with the considered observation that the "dialogue" between the Church and the world so much pressed by some Catholics today, including Pope Francis himself, is a literally hopeless novelty.  The term dialogue appears some 28 times in the documents of the Council, but, to my knowledge, the term had never appeared -- not once -- in earlier Church documents.  There was transcendent reason to prefer the Church Militant to "dialogue."  What happens in such "dialogue" is not that the world is converted, but that the world finds some of its *own* reasons for agreeing with *some* of what the Church teaches.  But that sort of worldly-sculpted agreement elides the one necessary moment for which the Church must be working with respect to every available soul, viz., conversion.  I would suggest that when the New York Times applauds its favorite, humble Pope, it's not because the Times or some poor soul has been converted.  It's because the Times sees an image of its not-humble self in what the Pope has said.  Grisez's critique should put a welcome end to certain myths about the value of the Pope's interview.  The relationship between the Church and the world cannot be like that among "friends after a good dinner and plenty of wine" (Cf. John 16).

Here is what Grisez wrote:



Dear Dr. Moynihan,
Insofar as I understand what Pope Francis had to say, I can agree with him, but he said some things that I do not understand, and that have already been made bad use of by the secular media. Take the following passage:
"The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow."
The teachings of the Church certainly are not all equivalent. There is a hierarchy.
But what is the point of saying that the Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a "disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently"? Making this assertion suggests, unfortunately, a caricature of the teachings of recent pontificates. I assume Pope Francis would reject that reading. But where, then, is the state of affairs that needs to be overcome?
Proclamation in a missionary style does focus on essentials. But the new evangelization cannot proceed as if the Gospel has not been already preached, and either understood or not, but in either case, rejected. Still, I agree that what is central needs to be presented more clearly and forcefully than has generally been the case. Unless people believe that Christ has risen and will come again and gather into his kingdom all who are ready to enter, and unless they hope to be among those ready to enter, there is no use trying to instruct them about what they need to do in order to be ready to enter.
But what is meant by “moral edifice of the Church”? Many people mistakenly think that the moral truth the Church teaches is a code she has constructed and could change. If that were so, it could collapse like a house of cards. Perhaps Pope Francis means that the moral teachings, though they are truths that pertain to revelation, will collapse for the individual who lacks hope in the kingdom to come. But who knows what he means? The phrase is impressive. It reverberates in one’s depths. But if it was suggested by a spirit, it was not the Holy Spirit, for it is bound to confuse and mislead. [emphasis added]
I’m afraid that Pope Francis has failed to consider carefully enough the likely consequences of letting loose with his thoughts in a world that will applaud being provided with such help in subverting the truth it is his job to guard as inviolable and proclaim with fidelity. For a long time he has been thinking these things. Now he can say them to the whole world — and he is self-indulgent enough to take advantage of the opportunity with as little care as he might unburden himself with friends after a good dinner and plenty of wine.
Germain Grisez

September 30, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Monday, September 16, 2013

Comfortable self-preservation rather than mere self-preservation

Thanks to Rick for calling our attention to Mike Baxter's characteristically trenchant essay "Murray's Mistake".  Baxter's thesis reminded me of how Boston College's Fred Lawrence made a parallel and overlapping point in criticism of Murray:  "Murray never acknowledged that Locke did not basically disagree with Hobbes's 'artificial law of nature.' He did not recover virtue instead of power as the publicly relevant chief concern of political theory.  Intsead he moderated Hobbes's bottom line of self-preservation into comfortable self-preservation."  The result, as Lawrence goes on to explain, is that "[t]he common good and values not able to be 'costed out' get eliminated from the sphere of political discourse and public opinion.  This de facto privatization of Christian values may just be left obscured, albeit unintentionally, by Murray's famous distinction between public order as the domain of legitimately exercised political power and the common good as the domain of public consensus and of social concern beyond the limits of public order."

I'm not clear on why Lawrence thinks that what Murray obscured he obscured "unintentionally."  Be that as it may, Baxter is surely right that Catholics today are not capable of doing what Murray supposed that they would do.  The solution to the current problem requires that the Church do what Murray refused her constitutional room to do.  I'll commend again in this connection Chris Ferrara's magisterial book Liberty, The God That Failed.  In my view and in Ferrara's, the *problem* is the separation of the state from the Church.  The Church-less state that is remitted, on a good day, to mere natural law cannot think adequately, and, on the bad day that is our era, the state gives up thinking altogether and righteously does whatever the majority happens to covet.   


September 16, 2013 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink