Author Archives: Marc O. DeGirolami

Moreland on Jansenist Catholicism…and Summer Fridays With Pascal

My friend Michael Moreland has a very interesting post, Irish Catholicism and the Long Tail of Jansenism, whose core speculation is that those European quarters most influenced by Jansenism are also among those most likely to see a decline in Catholic influence. A bit from Mike’s post:

Indeed, while the Church’s influence across Europe has fallen, the collapse in those parts of Europe (or places missionized by Europeans) arguably influenced by Jansenism has been ferocious: the Low Countries (we think of Jansenism as primarily a French movement, but Cornelius Jansen himself was Dutch and Bishop of Ypres), France, Quebec, and Ireland. The place of the Church in the culture of those parts of European Catholicism less tinged by Jansenism has fared a bit better: Poland, Austria, Bavaria, Italy, and, most especially, Spain and Portugal and their former colonies in Latin America and the Philippines….

If there is something to this, though, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jansenism—with its hyper-Augustinianism, insistence on human depravity, confused doctrine of freedom and grace, other-worldliness, and moral rigorism—was theologically pernicious (condemned in Cum occasione by Pope Innocent X in 1653 and in Unigenitus dei filius by Pope Clement VI in 1713). A Catholic culture shaped by it distorts our understanding of the human person and society, and bad theological doctrines about God, human nature, and sin can wreak havoc even if the institutional forms of the Church endure for a time. Jansenism produced a towering genius in Blaise Pascal and a minor genius in Antoine Arnauld, but it was an unfortunate development in early modern Catholicism.

The post is typically erudite and penetrating. Yet it evoked more than a bit of sorrow and regret in this devotee of Pascal, a major figure in the development and defense of the religious society of Port-Royal (as Mike observes), morally a Puritan movement within the Church. For the definitive account of the destruction of the society, one must read Sainte-Beueve. As T.S. Eliot once said of him: “Pascal was not a theologian, and on dogmatic theology had recourse to his spiritual advisers. Nor was he indeed a systematic philosopher. He was a man with an immense genius for science, and at the same time a natural psychologist and moralist.”

And so I have resolved to institute a little summer series–Summer Fridays With Pascal. Enjoy over a good glass of Bordeaux.

Here is something from Pensées–appropriately enough, on “Thought”:

All the dignity of man consists in thought. Thought is therefore by its nature a wonderful and incomparable thing. It must have strange defects to be contemptible. Yet it has such, so that nothing is more ridiculous. How great it is in its nature! How vile it is in its defects!

Macklem, “Law and Life in Common”

Several years ago, I stumbled on the philosopher Timothy Macklem’s book, Law and Life in CommonIndependence of Mind, one of whose chapters concerned the distinction between trust and faith in explaining the good of religious belief. Macklem drew a sharp division between the two: the former is subject to the constraint of “reason” while the latter, in Macklem’s view, is totally separated from “reason”–faith for Macklem is belief without any good reason for belief, or even without the possibility of any good reason for belief.

One can see the development of related themes in Professor Macklem’s (King’s College) new book, Law and Life in Common, just released by Oxford University Press. What is contained in the publisher’s description (below) are fairly ambitious claims about and desires for the persuasive force of law. And I wonder about the willingness of at least certain sorts of “arational” systems of persuasion to form the kind of partnership with law that he suggests are necessary for its capacity to build a common life.

We live in a moral world in which reasons come in different kinds, so that very often the claims of one reason upon us are no greater than the claims of some other reason. Yet the law, in its self-presentation and in theoretical accounts of it, proceeds as if its rational pull was conclusive, as if there were no sensible alternative to compliance with its terms. In itself that should not be surprising: each one of us very often acts as if the reasons that animate us were morally determinative, and indeed our actions may subsequently make that the case. Why should law operate in any other way? Yet we know that in truth reasons are usually not determinative of action, and while pretence to the contrary may not much matter in individual settings, it matters very much in the setting of the law.

The ability of the law to build a life in common, of whatever kind, is dependent on its ability to function as if its claims were pre-eminent rather than undefeated at best. If law is to succeed in its basic project of binding people to its aims, as it must, it is bound to convince us of the substance of its pretence by buttressing its necessarily limited rational claims with the pull of arational considerations. It needs partners, not only in the familiar prudential considerations that force gives rise to, but also in the beguilement that shared imaginings make possible. This book is an exploration of those partnerships, in principle and in their most important details. It seeks to describe the ways in which such practical workings of law are part of its nature.

“Radicals and Reactionaries in Twentieth-Century International Thought” (Hall, ed.)

Here is an interesting looking volume of essays that explores some of the Radicals and Reactionariesideological fringes in international political and legal thought, Radicals and Reactionaries in Twentieth-Century International Thought, edited by Ian Hall (Griffith University, Australia) and published by Palgrave Macmillan this month. The publisher’s description follows.

The history of international thought is a burgeoning field in International Relations, but so far it has mainly concentrated on the work of American and British “realists” and “idealists.” This book breaks new ground, moving beyond Anglophone thinkers and the mainstream traditions to examine the work of radicals and reactionaries from across the world. It includes original chapters on German conservatives and Italian socialists, Labour Party radicals and French fascists, as well as Italian and Japanese imperialists and Indian anti-colonialists. It explores the transnational transmission of theories and traditions of international thought, as well as their reception, adaptation, and rejection by thinkers across Europe and Asia during the course of the twentieth century.

Gribble, “Navy Priest”

The figure of the military chaplain is perhaps not as celebrated today as it once Navy Priestwas; like many traditions, it, too, is challenged by the imperatives of change. Here is an interesting study of a successful chaplain who served both his country and his faith honorably: Catholic University Press’s recently released Navy Priest: The Life of Captain Jake Laboon, SJ, by Richard Gribble, CSC. The publisher’s description follows.

Navy Priest is a compelling biography of the Jesuit priest and Navy chaplain John Francis (Jake) Laboon. Father Jake made a significant contribution to the United States Navy, both as a World War II submarine officer and, most prominently, during a 22-year career as a chaplain. Laboon served as the first chaplain for the Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Program, but also served as chaplain at his alma mater the United States Naval Academy, undertook a tour of duty with the US Marines in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Legion of Merit, and later served as Fleet Chaplain of the United States Atlantic Fleet.

Father Jake Laboon was born on April 11, 1921 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The third of nine children, he was raised in a faith-filled family. He attended Catholic schools until his matriculation to the United States Naval Academy in June 1940. A tight end for the USNA football team and an All American in lacrosse, Laboon graduated with his classmates in June 1943. He served with distinction in the Pacific submarine force, winning the Silver Star for gallantry aboard USS Peto (SS 265).

Laboon left the Navy in 1946 and immediately entered formation for the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). He was ordained a priest in 1956. Two years later he reentered the Navy as a chaplain, where he stayed until 1980. He then joined the pastoral staff serving at Manresa Retreat Center, in Annapolis, and was for four years the pastor of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Parish in Woodstock, Maryland. In 1995 the destroyer USS Laboon was commissioned in his honor. Loved by all with whom he had contact, Father Jake was a model of Christian fidelity, faith and complete dedication to God and country.

Romano, “Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy, c. 1100 to c. 1440″

Apropos of recent posts by Mark and our guest, Professor Nathan Oman, here isRomano an interesting book by Professor Dennis Romano (Syracuse) on the cultural and moral importance of the market and the marketplace in the high medieval and early renaissance period, Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy, c. 1100 to c. 1440, published by Yale University Press last month. The publisher’s description follows.

Cathedrals and civic palaces stand to this day as symbols of the dynamism and creativity of the city-states that flourished in Italy during the Middle Ages. Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy argues that the bustling yet impermanent sites of markets played an equally significant role, not only in the economic life of the Italian communes, but in their political, social, and cultural life as well. Drawing on a range of evidence from cities and towns across northern and central Italy, Dennis Romano explores the significance of the marketplace as the symbolic embodiment of the common good; its regulation and organization; the ethics of economic exchange; and how governments and guilds sought to promote market values. With a special focus on the spatial, architectural, and artistic elements of the marketplace, Romano adds new dimensions to our understanding of the evolution of the market economy and the origins of commercial capitalism and Renaissance individualism.

Conference Honoring Kent Greenawalt

I was very pleased to take part in a conference yesterday at Columbia Law School honoring my old master, Kent Greenawalt, and 50 years of his teaching and writing. Together with Paul Horwitz and Andy Koppelman, I was on a panel involving church and state. Subsequent panels followed on free speech and legal interpretation (chiefly statutory interpretation, which has been Kent’s primary focus historically). I took the liberty of saying something about criminal law as well, yet another area in which Kent has made major contributions, including as one of Hebert Wechsler’s colleagues in revising the Commentaries to the general part of the Model Penal Code. Paul has a nice post on the event.

Here’s a quote of Kent’s I found in a piece written about a decade ago: “Criminal law scholars are much more divided about desirable approaches than they were in the 1950s, and even among centrist scholars, no one person now has the distinctive stature that Herbert Wechsler enjoyed.” Some of my comments considered and adapted that general thought in the context of law and religion scholarship today, where it is also apt for various reasons.

Just three additional notes from the panels. First, on the speech panel, there was some interesting discussion about the plausibility of the Austinian idea of performative utterances (a concept used and applied by Kent in this book)–whether the distinction between performative and non-performative speech holds up, or whether all utterances are in some way performative and so we need instead to focus on the quality of the performative speech at issue (threats of violence are different for regulatory purposes than a comment at an academic conference, though there may not be a big difference for performance purposes). Second, on the legal interpretation panel, Fred Schauer criticized the notion that “public meaning” cannot be ascertained without recourse to someone’s intentions (I believe Larry Alexander among others holds something like the opposite view), though of course one need not subscribe to original public meaning in order to believe that public meaning is coherent. Third, I had never quite realized (though I guess I should have) just how much sympathy Jeremy Waldron has for textualism. Jeremy talked about a seminar in statutory interpretation that he and Kent ran in the late 1990s and it was clear how much they differed in their respective approaches (and how much they enjoyed the debate). Jeremy’s talk included 12 ways in which legislation is qualitatively different from other group expression. One of the 12 was that legislation is “dangerous,” which I thought was an interesting thing to say.

Smith, “Sir Edward Coke and the Reformation of the Laws”

Here’s a new book, Sir Edward Coke and the Reformation of the Laws: Religion, Politics and Jurisprudence, 1578-1616, by David Chan Smith (Wilfred Chan SmithLaurier University, Ontario), published late last year by Cambridge University Press on Coke’s legal thought and the role of religion in the development of his views of church-state relations. The publisher’s description follows.

Throughout his early career, Sir Edward Coke joined many of his contemporaries in his concern about the uncertainty of the common law. Coke attributed this uncertainty to the ignorance and entrepreneurship of practitioners, litigants, and other users of legal power whose actions eroded confidence in the law. Working to limit their behaviours, Coke also simultaneously sought to strengthen royal authority and the Reformation settlement. Yet the tensions in his thought led him into conflict with James I, who had accepted many of the criticisms of the common law. Sir Edward Coke and the Reformation of the Laws reframes the origins of Coke’s legal thought within the context of law reform and provides a new interpretation of his early career, the development of his legal thought, and the path from royalism to opposition in the turbulent decades leading up to the English civil wars.

Harrison, “The Territories of Science and Religion”

The distinguished cultural historian Professor Peter Harrison’s (Oxford) 2011 HarrisonGifford Lectures concerned the relationship of religion and science. Now comes his new book, The Territories of Science and Religion, (this was the title of his first Gifford Lecture) just published by the University of Chicago Press. The first Gifford Lecture concerned the basic concepts of religion and science and their history, the changes that the concepts have undergone, and the utility (and disutility) of the concepts. The publisher’s description follows.

The conflict between science and religion seems indelible, even eternal. Surely two such divergent views of the universe have always been in fierce opposition? Actually, that’s not the case, says Peter Harrison: our very concepts of science and religion are relatively recent, emerging only in the past three hundred years, and it is those very categories, rather than their underlying concepts, that constrain our understanding of how the formal study of nature relates to the religious life.

In The Territories of Science and Religion, Harrison dismantles what we think we know about the two categories, then puts it all back together again in a provocative, productive new way. By tracing the history of these concepts for the first time in parallel, he illuminates alternative boundaries and little-known relations between them—thereby making it possible for us to learn from their true history, and see other possible ways that scientific study and the religious life might relate to, influence, and mutually enrich each other.

A tour de force by a distinguished scholar working at the height of his powers, The Territories of Science and Religion promises to forever alter the way we think about these fundamental pillars of human life and experience.

Raponi, “Religion and Politics in the Risorgimento”

I’m a bit late in noting this book, but the subject is so interesting that an Raponiexception was needed. Danilo Raponi’s (Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main) still new Religion and Politics in the Risorgimento: Britain and the New Italy, 1861-1875, was published by Palgrave Mamillan last fall and looks to be a wonderful resource on an insufficiently studied topic. The publisher’s description follows.

This book examines Anglo-Italian political and cultural relations in the years of the ‘Roman Question’, and it analyses the impact and importance of religion in the construction of a British ‘Orientalist’ perception of Italy. It focuses on the British and Foreign Bible Society’s attempts to turn Italy into a Protestant nation, showing how perceived shortcomings in the national character of the Italians convinced the British that such ‘Protestantisation’ was necessary if Italy was ever to achieve nationhood. Their efforts encountered, however, strong popular and intellectual resistance from both the Italian people and the Catholic clergy, who called on Catholic Ireland to intervene in their defence. By looking at the interplay between religion and foreign policy, this book breaks through the boundaries between high politics and culture in a way that has not been attempted so far in the study of modern Italy, and puts religion at the centre of a harsh political and cultural war, one that was fought primarily on a transnational level.

Sobecki, “Unwritten Verities”

This March, Notre Dame University Press released the fascinating lookingSobecki volume, Unwritten Verities: The Making of England’s Vernacular Legal Culture, 1463-1549, by Sebastian Sobecki (University of Groningen). The publisher’s description follows.

In Unwritten Verities: The Making of England’s Vernacular Legal Culture, 1463-1549, Sebastian Sobecki argues that the commitment by English common law to an unwritten tradition, along with its association with Lancastrian political ideas of consensual government, generated a vernacular legal culture on the eve of the Reformation that challenged the centralizing ambitions of Tudor monarchs, the scriptural literalism of ardent Protestants, and the Latinity of English humanists.

Sobecki identifies the widespread dissemination of legal books and William Caxton’s printing of the Statutes of Henry VII as crucial events in the creation of a vernacular legal culture. He reveals the impact of medieval concepts of language, governance, and unwritten authority on such sixteenth-century humanists, reformers, playwrights, and legal writers as John Rastell, Thomas Elyot, Christopher St. German, Edmund Dudley, John Heywood, and Thomas Starkey. Unwritten Verities argues that three significant developments contributed to the emergence of a vernacular legal culture in fifteenth-century England: medieval literary theories of translation, a Lancastrian legacy of conciliar government, and an adherence to unwritten tradition. This vernacular legal culture, in turn, challenged the textual practices of English humanism and the early Reformation in the following century. Ultimately, the spread of vernacular law books found a response in the popular rebellions of 1549, at the helm of which often stood petitioners trained in legal writing. Informed by new developments in medieval literature and early modern social history, Unwritten Verities sheds new light on law printing, John Fortescue’s constitutional thought, ideas of the commonwealth, and the role of French in medieval and Tudor England.