Legal Spirits Episode 038: Law & Religion in “The Merchant of Venice”

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, one of his “problem plays,” has long fascinated lawyers. Yet the legal arguments in the case are preposterous. In this episode, we discuss how Shakespeare uses an absurd legal dispute to illustrate deeper religious and political conflicts and speculate about the implications of the play for America today. Perhaps the reason Merchant so fascinates lawyers is that it demonstrates uncomfortable truths about the limits of law. Listen in!

Webinar: “Churches: An Existence of their Own or Creatures of the Sovereign?”

Tomorrow, the James Wilson Institute and First Liberty Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy will host a webinar analyzing the practical applications of moral reasoning in our legal system.

The event will be moderated by Hadley Arkes, Founder and Director of the James Wilson Institute and Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College. The event will feature Adam MacLeod, Professor of Law at Faulkner University, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and Research Fellow at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy and Robert Miller, Professor of Law at the University of Iowa, Affiliated Scholar of the James Wilson Institute, and a Fellow and Program Affiliated Scholar at the Classical Liberal Institute at New York University Law School.

The webinar will take place on October 14, 2021, from 2:00-4:00 pm EST. To register visit this link.

Legal Spirits Episode 033: Augustine and Our Common Loves

In this episode, we discuss Augustine’s City of God and its meaning for American politics today. What does Augustine’s famous metaphor of the two cities–the City of God and the City of Man–suggest about Christians’ place in 21st Century America? And what about his definition of a people as a group united by common loves? Is it correct, as President Biden argued in his inaugural address, that Americans fit this definition of a people? What common loves unite Americans today? Listen in!

Around the Web

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Center Hosts Conversation on Church and State at SCOTUS

L-R: Marc DeGirolami, Kyle Duncan, Richard Sullivan, Mark Movsesian

Last week, the Center hosted a conversation on church-and-state issues before the US Supreme Court with federal appeals court judges Kyle Duncan (5th Circuit) and Richard Sullivan (2nd Circuit). The two newly-appointed judges discussed legislative prayer; public religious displays; the conflict between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom; and state aid to religious schools. Here’s a write-up of the event from the Law School webpage.

Around the Web

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

An Orthodox Reading of Romans

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” These words open the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, one of the earliest Christian reflections on the proper relation of church and state. Last fall, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press released a new commentary on Romans, Romans: An Orthodox Commentary, by Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor at Touchstone Magazine and an Orthodox priest. Here’s the publisher’s description:

God seems to have chosen the Apostle Paul to demonstrate—arguably more than in any other person in Christian history—how the life “in Christ” arrives at insight through experience. If this is the case of Paul more than any other person in Christian history, the reason may be simply that Paul’s words are the Word of God. His epistles stand forever as the divinely chosen model of how the Christian arrives at truth through experience. Unlike so many theologians of later times, Paul did not inherit a Christian worldview. His vocation, rather, was to create such a thing from his own experience. For this reason, Paul’s thought ever remains the Church’s cutting blade, the biting edge of her apologetics and evangelism.

To affirm, as everyone does, that Romans is unique in the Pauline corpus should serve to indicate the necessity of caution in using it as a guide to the other epistles. But in recent centuries the Christological and ecclesiological core of Paul’s thought has been displaced by a preoccupation with religious and moral psychology; all the epistles were interpreted through a Romans lens. This is a false turn, which runs the risk of reducing salvation itself to a sub-division of religious anthropology. To misinterpret Paul is to misunderstand the Gospel itself. Fr Patrick Henry Reardon guards against this error and offers a fuller and more balanced picture of the Letter to the Romans, reading it in the context of the entire Pauline corpus and relying upon the best ancient sources, the Apostle’s earliest disciples and defenders, those Christians in the churches that Paul had a hand in founding. These churches, closely associated with the composition and copying of the epistles rightly enjoyed a recognized authority in the determination of early Christian doctrine.

Flying Bishops

9780520300378Being a bishop has not always been a safe job. In late antiquity, in fact, it could be positively dangerous–as it remains in some parts of the world today. Not surprisingly, bishops sometimes survived Roman persecution by fleeing (or worse–see the Donatist Controversy), which occasioned considerable consternation among the members of the flock who stayed behind. A book out today from the University of California Press, Bishops in Flight: Exile and Displacement in Late Antiquity, addresses the sad history. The author is religion scholar Jennifer Barry (University of Mary Washington) Here’s the publisher’s description:

Flight during times of persecution has a long and fraught history in early Christianity. In the third century, bishops who fled were considered cowards or, worse yet, heretics. On the face, flight meant denial of Christ and thus betrayal of faith and community. But by the fourth century, the terms of persecution changed as Christianity became the favored cult of the Roman Empire. Prominent Christians who fled and survived became founders and influencers of Christianity over time.

Bishops in Flight examines the various ways these episcopal leaders both appealed to and altered the discourse of Christian flight to defend their status as purveyors of Christian truth, even when their exiles appeared to condemn them. Their stories illuminate how profoundly Christian authors deployed theological discourse and the rhetoric of heresy to respond to the phenomenal political instability of the fourth and fifth centuries.

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

A New Book on Eusebius

9781108474078Lately, law-and-religion scholars have been turning their attention to the Patristic period, during which Christians first began to think in earnest about the relation between church and state. To give just two examples, there’s Steve Smith’s new book on pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, and Robert Louis Wilken’s forthcoming book on early Christian concepts of religious liberty, which he presented at our Center’s colloquium this past fall. And so it might be a good time for us to reconsider Eusebius, that chronicler of Christianity in its formative centuries. A forthcoming book from Cambridge, Eusebius and Empire: Constructing Church and Rome in the Ecclesiastical History, does just that. The author is historian James Corke-Webster (King’s College London). Cambridge presents the book as a “radical” new treatment, which makes a traditionalist like me a little skeptical, but readers will be able to judge for themselves. Here’s the description from Cambridge’s website:

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, written in the early fourth century, continues to serve as our primary gateway to a crucial three hundred year period: the rise of early Christianity under the Roman Empire. In this volume, James Corke-Webster undertakes the first systematic study considering the History in the light of its fourth-century circumstances as well as its author’s personal history, intellectual commitments, and literary abilities. He argues that the Ecclesiastical History is not simply an attempt to record the past history of Christianity, but a sophisticated mission statement that uses events and individuals from that past to mould a new vision of Christianity tailored to Eusebius’ fourth-century context. He presents elite Graeco-Roman Christians with a picture of their faith that smooths off its rough edges and misrepresents its size, extent, nature, and relationship to Rome. Ultimately, Eusebius suggests that Christianity was – and always had been – the Empire’s natural heir.