A New Translation of Ficino

This is more in Marc’s wheelhouse than mine, but here goes. Marsilio Ficino was a Renaissance humanist, director of the new iteration of Plato’s Academy that Cosimo de Medici tried to establish in Florence and tutor to Cosimo’s son, Lorenzo the Magnificent. The Florentine Renaissance was an attempt to meld pagan and Christian thought; like many such attempts, it was extraordinarily productive but quite unstable, as Savonarola, another Florentine, demonstrated. This new translation of Ficino’s work, On the Christian Religion, to be released by the University of Toronto Press later this year, looks very interesting. The translators are Dan Attrell and David Porecca, both of the University of Waterloo, and independent scholar Brett Bartlett. Here’s the publisher’s description:

This is the first translation into English of Marsilio Ficino’s De Christiana religione, a text first written in Latin in 1474, the year after its author’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. On the Christian Religion is this Florentine humanist’s attempt to lay out the history of the religion of Christ, the Logos (“Word” or “Reason”), in accordance with the doctrines of ancient philosophy. The work focuses on how Christ in his pre-incarnate form was revealed as much to certain ancient pagan sages and prophets as to those of the Old Testament, and how both groups played an equal role in foreshadowing the ultimate fulfillment of all the world’s religions in Christianity.

The first part elucidates the history of the prisca theologia – the ancient theology – a single natural religion shared by the likes of Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Aglaophemus, Pythagoras, and Plato, and how it was fulfilled by Christ’s incarnation and the spread of his Church through his apostles. The second part of the work, however, constitutes a series of attacks against the ways in which the Old Testament were variously interpreted by Islamic and, more importantly, Jewish sages who threatened Ficino’s own Christological interpretations of Scripture.

This new English translation includes an introduction that situates the text within the broader scope of Ficino’s intellectual activity and historical context. The book allows us to encounter a more nuanced image of Ficino, that of him as a theologian, historian, and anti-Jewish, anti-Islamic, anti-pagan polemicist.

Weinberger on Church Autonomy: A Matter of Jurisdiction?

Our friend Lael Weinberger, who has just finished an Olin-Searle-Smith Fellowship at Harvard Law School and begun a clerkship with Justice Neil Gorsuch, has posted a new draft, Is Church Autonomy Jurisdictional?, on SSRN. The draft, prepared for a symposium last spring at Loyola University Chicago Law School, carefully analyzes the use of the word “jurisdictional” in discussions of church autonomy and shows that the term conveys a number of different meanings, only some of which are apposite. Very much worth reading! Here’s the abstract:

The First Amendment’s religion clauses create what courts have called church autonomy doctrine, protecting the internal self-governance of religious institutions. But courts are divided as to whether this doctrine is simply an affirmative defense for religious institutions or a jurisdictional limitation on courts’ ability to adjudicate. Scholars meanwhile have long debated whether church autonomy is jurisdictional at a higher level of abstraction, speaking of jurisdiction as a concept of authority rather than a technical term for civil procedure. This paper engages this multilevel debate with an argument for unbundling. First, it urges unbundling conceptual jurisdiction from judicial jurisdiction. Jurisdiction in the conceptual sense can be a helpful a way of talking about institutional authority relevant to church autonomy. But church autonomy is not properly jurisdictional for purposes of civil procedure. Second, this paper proposes unbundling the array of procedural issues that could be resolved under the label of jurisdiction. This paper argues that it is a mistake to try to use the term jurisdiction to solve the interesting problems. It is better to disaggregate the issues that sometimes come under the label of jurisdiction and instead consider them one at a time. The paper concludes by looking to another quasi-jurisdictional body of law—sovereign immunity—for clues as to how to handle issues such as interlocutory appeals, waiver, and forfeiture in the church autonomy space.

Protagoras and the Purposes of Centers of Knowledge and Inquiry (Lectures by Leo Strauss)

A little bit at a distance from our normal fare, but still within range. The Protagoras is one of Plato’s dialogues, though perhaps not one of the best known. But it is one of my favorites and one that I will introduce into a new course I am teaching this year on “Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Inquiry.” It contains Plato’s views on the relationship between speech and knowledge. And, more broadly, one can read the dialogue as a set of reflections on the nature and function of centers of learning and knowledge (or, as we say in the modern period, universities)–in particular, what the relationship is between knowledge and virtue or human excellence. This new book, Leo Strauss on Plato’s Protagoras (University of Chicago Press, edited and with an introduction by Robert C. Bartlett), is about the well-known 20th century political philosopher’s lectures on Protagoras. It is sure to be full of insight about the Protagoras and its general themes–ones that are pressing and vital today.

This book offers a transcript of Strauss’s seminar on Plato’s Protagoras taught at the University of Chicago in the spring quarter of 1965, edited and introduced by renowned scholar Robert C. Bartlett. These lectures have several important features. Unlike his published writings, they are less dense and more conversational.  Additionally, while Strauss regarded himself as a Platonist and published some work on Plato, he published little on individual dialogues. In these lectures Strauss treats many of the great Platonic and Straussian themes: the difference between the Socratic political science or art and the Sophistic political science or art of Protagoras; the character and teachability of virtue, its relation to knowledge, and the relations among the virtues, courage, justice, moderation, and wisdom; the good and the pleasant; frankness and concealment; the role of myth; and the relation between freedom of thought and freedom of speech.
In these lectures, Strauss examines Protagoras and the sophists, providing a detailed discussion of Protagoras as it relates to Plato’s other dialogues and the work of modern thinkers. This book should be of special interest to students both of Plato and of Strauss.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In United States v. City of Lansing, Michigan, the Justice Department filed a Title VII lawsuit on behalf of a newly-hired Seventh Day Adventist detention officer. The complaint alleges that the city “failed to provide [the officer] with a reasonable accommodation or to show undue hardship and terminated her employment because she could not work from Friday sundown through Saturday sundown due to her religious observance of the Sabbath.” 
  • In Stewart v. City and County of San Francisco, California, a California federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of a San Francisco Park Code provision requiring a permit for any religious event held in a public park involving 50 or more persons. 
  • A former Southwest flight attendant has been awarded damages after being fired from the airline for publicly posting anti-abortion posts. The federal jury in Texas sided with the former flight attendant, stating that Southwest unlawfully discriminated against her because of her sincerely held religious beliefs. 
  • In In re Texas Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, a Texas state appellate court held that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine deprives the trial court of jurisdiction over a dispute between the Fort Worth Northwest Seventh-Day Adventist Church and the Conference, its hierarchical parent body. At issue was control over the Church’s funds and property. 
  • More than 100 churches are suing the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church to immediately disaffiliate from the denomination. The lawsuit comes amid a slow-moving schism in the United Methodist Church – largely over the ordination and marriage of its LGBTQ members. 
  • A 76-year-old English grandmother who was fined for praying near an abortion clinic has successfully overturned her financial penalty. The fine was issued during the country’s lockdown in February 2021 after a policeman questioned why she was outdoors. The Merseyside Police have now conceded that Plaintiff should not have been detained since she was firmly within her rights to silently pray while walking outside and that her actions were reasonable and acceptable under COVID-19 regulations. 

A Writeup on This Month’s Conference in Rome

Here’s a writeup (with photos!) on our conference this month in Rome, co-hosted with LUMSA University, on liberalism, religious exemptions, and hate speech regulations. We’ll post papers from the conference in due course. Meanwhile, thanks to the participants: keynoters Cesare Mirabile and Chantal Delsol, and Professors Stephanie Barclay (Notre Dame); Paolo Cavana (LUMSA); Gayane Davidyan (Lomonosov); Richard Ekins (Oxford); Monica Lugato (LUMSA); Adelaide Madera (Messina); Javier Martínez-Torrón (Complutense); Marco Olivetti (LUMSA); Andrea Pin (Padua); Jeffrey Pojanowski (Notre Dame); Angelo Rinella (LUMSA); Steven Smith (San Diego); and Kevin Walsh (Catholic University of America).

Augustine and Contemporary Social Issues

Readers of the Forum know that we have a special interest in Augustine. We’ve noted a number of books about him, and covered City of God last year in our Reading Society. This month, Routledge publishes a collection of essays applying Augustine to present-day debates, Augustine and Contemporary Social Issues, edited by theologian Paul L. Allen (Corpus Cristi College–Vancouver). Looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

This book focuses on applying the thought of Saint Augustine to address a number of persistent 21st-century socio-political issues. Drawing together Augustinian ideas such as concupiscence, virtue, vice, habit, and sin through social and textual analysis, it provides fresh Augustinian perspectives on new—yet somehow familiar—quandaries. The volume addresses the themes of fallenness, politics, race, and desire. It includes contributions from theology, philosophy, and political science. Each chapter examines Augustine’s perspective for deepening our understanding of human nature and demonstrates the contemporary relevance of his thought.

A History of Modern Catholicism

From the important historian of religion, John T. McGreevy, comes this new treatment of the history of Catholicism in the modern period: Catholicism: A Global History From the French Revolution to Pope Francis (Norton, forthcoming). I’ve relied on Professor McGreevy’s excellent history, Catholicism and American Freedom, before, and I am looking forward to this comprehensive study.

A magisterial history of the centuries-long conflict between “progress” and “tradition” in the world’s largest international institution.

The story of Roman Catholicism has never followed a singular path. In no time period has this been more true than over the last two centuries. Beginning with the French Revolution, extending to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and concluding with present-day crises, John T. McGreevy chronicles the dramatic upheavals and internal divisions shaping the most multicultural, multilingual, and global institution in the world.

Through powerful individual stories and sweeping birds-eye views, Catholicism provides a mesmerizing assessment of the Church’s complex role in modern history: both shaper and follower of the politics of nation states, both conservator of hierarchies and evangelizer of egalitarianism. McGreevy documents the hopes and ambitions of European missionaries building churches and schools in all corners of the world, African Catholics fighting for political (and religious) independence, Latin American Catholics attracted to a theology of liberation, and Polish and South Korean Catholics demanding democratic governments. He includes a vast cast of riveting characters, known and unknown, including the Mexican revolutionary Fr. Servando Teresa de Mier; Daniel O’Connell, hero of Irish emancipation; Sr. Josephine Bakhita, a formerly enslaved Sudanese nun; Chinese statesman Ma Xiaobang; French philosopher and reformer Jacques Maritain; German Jewish philosopher and convert, Edith Stein; John Paul II, Polish pope and opponent of communism; Gustavo Gutiérrez, Peruvian founder of liberation theology; and French American patron of modern art, Dominique de Menil.

Throughout this essential volume, McGreevy details currents of reform within the Church as well as movements protective of traditional customs and beliefs. Conflicts with political leaders and a devotional revival in the nineteenth century, the experiences of decolonization after World War II and the Second Vatican Council in the twentieth century, and the trauma of clerical sexual abuse in the twenty-first all demonstrate how religion shapes our modern world. Finally, McGreevy addresses the challenges faced by Pope Francis as he struggles to unite the over one billion members of the world’s largest religious community.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Tucker v. Gaddis, the Fifth Circuit held that a suit by Texas prison inmates seeking to hold religious gatherings for adherents of Nation of Gods and Earths is not moot. The court stated that any such requests remain subject to “time, space, and safety concerns,” and to date, Texas has never permitted the Nation’s adherents to congregate.
  • In Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland v. Town of Clarkstown, a New York federal district court dismissed for lack of standing a suit under RLUIPA and federal civil rights laws brought by an Orthodox Jewish school against a New York town and citizens group. The suit alleged that the defendants, motivated by discrimination against Orthodox Jews, prevented the school from closing the purchase of a building owned by a Baptist Church.
  • In Ferguson v. Owen, a D.C. federal district court dismissed, with leave to amend, a suit for damages against the head of the National Park Service Division of Permits Management for refusing Plaintiff a permit for a 4-month long demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial. Plaintiff, a street musician, wanted to convey a religious/political message; however, the court rejected Plaintiff’s RFRA claim, finding that the denial had not imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise.
  • In Doster v. Kendall, an Ohio federal district court certified a national class action on behalf of all active duty and active reserve members of the Air Force and Space Force who have submitted a request for a religious accommodation from the military’s COVID vaccine requirement.
  • In Amin v. Subway Restaurants, Inc., a California federal district court refused to dismiss a suit alleging that Subway’s tuna sandwiches contain non-tuna products after DNA analyses indicated the tuna contains other fish species, chicken, pork, and cattle. The case is particularly important for those whose religious beliefs prohibit the consumption of meat or pork products. 

The Shadow of God

It’s not a new insight that many contemporary secular movements substitute for God. Communism, nationalism, left-liberalism, and other encompassing causes offer a kind of transcendence for individuals, who can find meaning in commitments to moral progress in the world. But what happens when progress doesn’t occur? The failure of secular movements to deliver can lead to great frustration and bitterness, without the consolations of ultimate justice in the world to come. That, suggests Harvard philosopher Michael Rosen in a new book from Harvard University Press, The Shadow of God, is our current predicament. Here is the publisher’s description:

Once in the West, our lives were bounded by religion. Then we were guided out of the darkness of faith, we are often told, by the cold light of science and reason. To be modern was to reject the religious for the secular and rational. In a bold retelling of philosophical history, Michael Rosen explains the limits of this story, showing that many modern and apparently secular ways of seeing the world were in fact profoundly shaped by religion.

The key thinkers, Rosen argues, were the German Idealists, as they sought to reconcile reason and religion. It was central to Kant’s philosophy that, if God is both just and assigns us to heaven or hell for eternity, we must know what is required of us and be able to choose freely. In trying to live moral lives, Kant argued, we are engaged in a collective enterprise as members of a “Church invisible” working together to achieve justice in history. As later Idealists moved away from Kant’s ideas about personal immortality, this idea of “historical immortality” took center stage. Through social projects that outlive us we maintain a kind of presence after death. Conceptions of historical immortality moved not just into the universalistic ideologies of liberalism and revolutionary socialism but into nationalist and racist doctrines that opposed them. But how, after global wars and genocide, can we retain faith in any conception of shared moral progress and, if not, what is to become of the idea of historical immortality? That is our present predicament.

A seamless blend of philosophy and intellectual history, The Shadow of God is a profound exploration of secular modernity’s theistic inheritance.

Interview on Radio Vaticana on “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech”

Our conference, “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech,” which we co-sponsored with LUMSA last week in Rome, was a great success. We will publish some of the conference proceedings after giving the participants time to revise their contributions. In the meanwhile, here is an interesting interview conducted by Radio Vaticana with Professors Cesare Mirabelli (President Emeritus of Italy’s Constitutional Court and one of our keynote speakers) and our colleague, friend, and conference co-organizer, Professor Monica Lugato, about the conference and our broader projects.

The interview is in Italian, but I’m taking the liberty of translating loosely a portion of what Professor Lugato said to give our English-speaking readers a sense of the proceedings: “This conference was in a line of academic projects undertaken jointly by our universities dating from 2014 [and as early as 2012] with the idea of discussing some central and complex themes concerning the problem of living together–of how to live together in societies marked today by substantial pluralism. The objects of this general theme have been conferences concerning aspects of religious freedom as well as the legal and political implications of the concept of tradition. Within this general line of inquiry, it was natural to confront the problems of the limits of liberalism, and in particular liberalism’s tendency to render absolute certain individual liberties. Some of the questions asked at the conference might be grouped into two categories: on the one hand, questions about whether liberalism, at least in its classical sense, has exhausted itself; and on the other hand, questions about whether liberal political and legal systems demand certain limits on individual liberties just in order to survive as liberal systems, and what those limits might be.”