Belloc, “Characters of the Reformation”

In April, Ignatius Press will release a new paperback edition of Characters of the Reformation by Hilaire Belloc. The publisher’s description follows:

characters-of-the-reformationOne of the most fascinating books ever written by the great Catholic historian Belloc, he presents  in bold colors the 23 principal characters of the Protestant Reformation, focusing primarily on those figures concerned with the events in England, analyzing their strengths, mistakes, motives and deeds which changed the course of history.

Among the characters he examines are Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, St. Thomas More, Mary Tudor, Thomas Cromwell, William Cecil, Mary Stuart, Cardinal Richelieu and many more. Belloc illustrates how the motives of the Protestant leaders were rarely religious in nature, but usually political or economic. He underscores the fact that European Christendom was once a single united entity, under the authority of the Catholic Church, each country viewing itself as a single “province” of the whole.

Many of Europe’s Princes resented the power that the Bishop of Rome held in their own lands. The Reformation, aided by the rise of Nationalism, was a means for the nobles of Europe to shake off Papal authority and rule their territory independently. It also gave European monarchs control over the Church and all of its property in their realm, including the taxes that would normally be sent to Rome.

The nobles grew rich by confiscating the wealth of the Church, and resisted reconciliation if that meant returning the wealth to its rightful owner. In subsequent generations, the fear of this possibility gave the noble classes an incentive to remain in the Protestant camp. Belloc warns that this breakup of Christendom may still destroy our Christian civilization.

Even those who think they do not like history will be unable to put this book down as it brings history vividly to life. As usual, Belloc’s historical perspective offers timeless wisdom and insight rarely seen in modern times.

“The English Province of the Franciscans” (Robson, ed.)

In April, Brill Publishers will release The English Province of the Franciscans (1224-c. 1350) edited by Michael J. P. Robson (Cambridge University). The publisher’s description follows:

english-friars-provinceThis volume explores the rich diversity of the Franciscan contribution to the life of the order and its ministry throughout England between 1224 and c. 1350. The 21 contributions examine the friars’ impact across the different strata of English society, from the parish churches, the missions, the royal courts and the universities. Friars were ubiquitous in England throughout this period and they participated in various programmes of renewal.Contributors are (in order of appearance) Amanda Power, Philippa M. Hoskin, Jens Röhrkasten, Michael F. Custato, OFM, Michael W. Blastic, OFM, Jean-François Godet-Calogeras, Peter V. Loewen, Lesley Smith, Eleonora Lombardo, Nigel Morgan, Cecilia Panti, Hubert Philipp Weber, Timothy J. Johnson, Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ, Takashi Shogimen, Susan J. Ridyard, Michael J. Haren, Christian Steer, Anna Campbell, and Michael J. P. Robson.

Tuininga, “Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church”

In March, Cambridge University Press will release Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church: Christ’s Two Kingdoms by Matthew J. Tuininga (Calvin Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows:

Calvin's Political Theology.jpgIn Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church, Matthew J. Tuininga explores a little appreciated dimension of John Calvin’s political thought, his two kingdoms theology, as a model for constructive Christian participation in liberal society. Widely misunderstood as a proto-political culture warrior, due in part to his often misinterpreted role in controversies over predestination and the heretic Servetus, Calvin articulated a thoughtful approach to public life rooted in his understanding of the gospel and its teaching concerning the kingdom of God. He staked his ministry in Geneva on his commitment to keeping the church distinct from the state, abandoning simplistic approaches that placed one above the other, while rejecting the temptations of sectarianism or separatism. This revealing analysis of Calvin’s vision offers timely guidance for Christians seeking a mode of faithful, respectful public engagement in democratic, pluralistic communities today.

Morton, “Encountering Islam on the First Crusade”

In July, the Cambridge University Press will release “Encountering Islam on the First Crusade,” by Nicholas Morton (Nottingham Trent University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The First Crusade (1095–9) has often been characterised as a head-to-head confrontation between the forces of Christianity and Islam. For many, it is the 9781107156890campaign that created a lasting rupture between these two faiths. Nevertheless, is such a characterisation borne out by the sources? Engagingly written and supported by a wealth of evidence, Encountering Islam on the First Crusade offers a major reinterpretation of the crusaders’ attitudes towards the Arabic and Turkic peoples they encountered on their journey to Jerusalem. Nicholas Morton considers how they interpreted the new peoples, civilizations and landscapes they encountered; sights for which their former lives in Western Christendom had provided little preparation. Morton offers a varied picture of cross cultural relations, depicting the Near East as an arena in which multiple protagonists were pitted against each other. Some were fighting for supremacy, others for their religion, many simply for survival.

“Law and Religious Minorities in Medieval Societies” (Echevarria et al, eds.)

In June, Brepols Publishers will release “Law and Religious Minorities in Medieval Societies: Between Theory and Praxis,” edited by Ana Echevarria (UNED, Madrid) Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala (University of Cordoba), and John V. Tolan (Universit de Nantes). The publisher’s description follows: 

Muslim law developed a clear legal cadre for dhimmīs, inferior but protected non-Muslim communities (in particular Jews and Christians) and Roman Canon law brepols-publishers-logodecreed a similar status for Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe.  Yet the theoretical hierarchies between faithful and infidel were constantly brought into question in the daily interactions between men and women of different faiths in streets, markets, bath-houses, law courts, etc.  The twelve essays in this volume explore these tensions and attempts to resolve them.  These contributions show law was used to attempt to erect boundaries between communities in order to regulate or restrict interaction between faithful and non-faithful—at at the same time how these boundaries were repeatedly transgressed and negotiated.  These essays explore the possibilities and the limits of the use of legal sources for the social historian.

Dreisziger, “Church and Society in Hungary and in the Hungarian Diaspora”

In April, the University of Toronto Press will release “Church and Society in Hungary and in the Hungarian Diaspora,” by Nándor Dreisziger (Royal Military College of Canada).  The publisher’s description follows:

In Church and Society in Hungary and in the Hungarian Diaspora, Nándor Dreisziger tells the story of Christianity in Hungary and the Hungarian 9781442637405diaspora from its earliest years until the present. Beginning with the arrival of Christianity in the middle Danube basin, Dreisziger follows the fortunes of the Hungarians’ churches through the troubled times of the Middle Ages, the years of Ottoman and Habsburg domination, and the turmoil of the twentieth century: wars, revolutions, foreign occupations, and totalitarian rule.

Complementing this detailed history of religious life in Hungary, Dreisziger describes the fate of the churches of Hungarian minorities in countries that received territories from the old Kingdom of Hungary after the First World War. He also tells the story of the rise, halcyon days, and decline of organized religious life among Hungarian immigrants to Western Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere.

The definitive guide to the dramatic history of Hungary’s churches, Church and Society in Hungary and in the Hungarian Diaspora chronicles their proud past and speculates about their uncertain future.

Biblical Intratextualism

Those familiar with some of the schools of constitutional interpretation will know what is commonly called the intratextualist or structuralist method of divining meaning. The idea is to understand the meaning of a word or phrase by searching out and comparing like words or phrases in the same document in order to arrive at a unified meaning. There is a kind of horse-sense fundamental principle sitting somewhere beneath the method: words used at different points in the same document ought to mean the same thing throughout the document, and variations on word usage ought to be understood as signifying difference of meaning. The meaning of the words in the document should render the document a coherent whole. The several usages of “necessary” in the Constitution, for example, are useful in teaching the virtues and vices of intratextualism.

But intratextualism is not just for constitutions. It is a more general approach to extracting meaning from text. Here’s an interesting passage from Robert Louis Wilken’s The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity that describes early developments in Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. This is from the chapter on the great Origen of Alexandria (p.62):

Origen was to spend the rest of his life in Caesarea, and his most mature works were written there, including many of his biblical commentaries. He was the first Christian to write scholarly commentaries on books of the Old Testament, such as Genesis and Psalms, as well as on the New Testament, including the Gospel of John and the Epistles of Paul. Two features stand out in his commentaries: a deep respect, even reverence, for the words of the text, and the conviction that a spiritual meaning could be drawn from every passage of the Bible.

Consider his interpretation of the following passage from the book of Deuteronomy, for example: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-17). Origen begins by putting questions to the text. If “rain” is given as a reward for those who keep the commandments, how does one explain that this same rain is given to those who do not keep the commandments, and “the whole world profits from the common rains given by God”? This leads him to propose that the term “rain” can have another sense than water from the heavens, because in this passage it seems to refer to something that is given only to those who walk in God’s statutes and observe the divine law. It signifies something given “only to the saints.”

With the puzzling use of the term “rain” in the passage as a starting point, Origen proceeds to examine the term “rain” elsewhere in the Scriptures and discovers that it is sometimes used in a metaphorical sense. Moses, for example, said, “May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew” (Deuteronomy 32:1-2). In this passage rain is a metaphor for Moses’s words, and hence of the word of God. That is to say, in the Scriptures “rain” can have another meaning than the plain sense.

Christianity and the Rise of “the Problem of Church and State”

I have begun reading the British legal historian Theodore F.T. Plucknett’s massive work, A Concise History of the Common Law, a wonderful treatment of the subject written in the mid-twentieth century. Here’s something from early in the book:

While imperial Rome was slowly declining, Christianity was entering on a period of remarkable growth. At first it was hardly noticed among the numerous new cults which were fashionable importations from the Near East, some of which were extremely popular. After being ignored, it was later persecuted, then under the great Constantine it was at last tolerated (324). So far, the established “Hellenistic” religion had been considered as an official department, and its priests as civil servants. Attempts had been made to incorporate with it the religions of Isis, Mithras, Christ, and others, on a similar footing, combining all the known gods in one vast polytheism, whose cult was to be maintained and controlled by the State. It was soon evident, however, that Christianity would not accept this inferior position. Although some things were Caesar’s, others were God’s, and from this fundamental conflict arose the problem of Church and State, which has lasted from Constantine’s day to our own. The controversy took a variety of forms in the course of the succeeding sixteen centuries. Stated in its broadest and most general terms, it means that many earnest thinkers find it impossible to accept the State as the highest form of human society, and that they recognize some situations in which they would feel bound to obey some other duty than that imposed by the State. On the continent it lay at the root of the long conflict between the Empire and the papacy; in England it took such varied forms as the conflict with Thomas Becket, the discussion in Bracton as to the real position of the King (who is subject, he says, to God “and the law”), the Puritan revolution–and may even be traced in the American constitutions, for the modern attempts to curb the power of the State by means of constitutional limitations are the result of the same distrust of the State as was expressed in former days in the conflict between religion and the secular power.

It was also during the reign of Constantine that the great Council of Nicaea was held (325), attended by almost three hundred bishops from all parts of the world. Besides settling many fundamental matters of doctrine, this council gave an imposing demonstration of the world-wide organisation of the Church, and from this point onwards that organisation grew increasingly effective, and the Church became more and more a world power. As a result, the Empire had to admit the presence first of a potent ally, and soon of a vigorous rival.

The Nicene canons are the earliest code that can be called canon law of the whole Church, and at least in the West they enjoyed something like the same finality in the realm of discipline that the Nicene Creed enjoyed in the realm of doctrine. [citing C.H. Turner, Cambridge Mediaeval History]

Indeed, while the organization of the Empire was slowly breaking down, that of the Church was steadily growing, with the result that the Church soon offered a career comparable to, if not better than, that afforded by the State to men of ability who felt called to public life. Some specialised in the study of theology; others took up the work of creating the great body of canon law which for a long time was to perpetuate the old Roman ideal of universal law. With all this, the growth of the episcopate, and particularly of the papacy, was to give a new aspect to the ancient city of Rome, and slowly, but certainly, the Empire ruled from Rome was being replaced for many purposes by Christendom ruled by the papacy. [4-5]

Horwitz, “Freedom of the Church Without Romance”

For those interested in the exploding work on the freedom of the church (and you should all be!), do see Paul Horwitz’s new tour de force draft article, Freedom of the Church Without Romance, a typically graduated and thoughtful piece by a defender of ecclesial liberty.

I haven’t yet read the entire piece, but what I have read is rich and very interesting. I touch on ideas of liberty of the church in my chapter on free exercise applications of the tragic-historic method in The Tragedy of Religious Freedom–in Chapter 9 where I discuss the Hosanna-Tabor case. But because (I think!) my view of freedom of the church is perhaps not quite as potent in certain ways as is Paul’s (it is subject to perhaps greater particularistic assessment by courts and is less committed to the general superstructure of Horwitzian First Amendment institutionalism, even as qualified in this piece), I wonder whether, for me, the suggestion of embracing a “strong non-establishment regime” follows as powerfully as it does for Paul (if one understands a “strong” disestablishmentarian regime in the way that I suspect Paul does). Some of Paul’s questions toward the end of the piece about arguments involving church freedom alongside others concerning equal access of religious entities in the provision of services do not seem to me to give churches “a competitive advantage” that is troubling for Establishment Clause purposes (one can believe this, I think, and also agree with Paul about the importance of the economics of religion quite apart from the issue of its constitutional weight), though I understand the point that Paul is making. At any rate, the piece is well worth a good, long read. The abstract follows.

This Article is part of a symposium issue titled “Freedom of the Church in the Modern Era.” Freedom of the church, roughly, connotes the independent nature or sovereignty of the church. The most dramatic moment in its development was the eleventh century Investiture Controversy, with its confrontation between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV at Canossa, but it has a long prior and subsequent history. Recently, with the renewed scholarly interest in the institutional rights of churches and religious organizations and the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the “ministerial exception” doctrine in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC,the idea of “freedom of the church” has taken on new champions–and critics.

This Article, from an author who has written supportively about freedom of the church and/or religious institutionalism in prior work, takes a deliberately unromantic look at freedom of the church. It evaluates it through two useful disciplinary lenses: history, and the economics of religion.

Both historical and economic analysis of the concept of”freedom of the church” suggest the following conclusions: (1) The concept should be treated carefully and with a full awareness of its mixed history, without undue romanticism on the part of its champions–or a confident conclusion on the part of its critics that it is no longer necessary. (2) Whatever the concept of “freedom of the church” means today, the present version is decidedly diminished and chastened, a shadow of the medieval version. Supporters of freedom of the church should welcome that fact. Freedom of the church persists, and may have continuing value, precisely because it has become so domesticated. (3) There are solid historical and economic grounds for some form of freedom of the church or religious institutional autonomy. In particular, religion’s status as a credence good, whose value and reliability is certified by religious agents such as ministers, strongly suggests that state interference with religious employment relations can be dangerous to a church’s well-being and long-term survival. (4) The history and economics of religion also teach us something about the optimal conditions for freedom of the church–the conditions under which it is likely to do the most good and the least harm. In particular, they suggest that champions of freedom of the church ought to welcome religious pluralism and a strong non-establishment regime.

The Article closes with some speculation about why there has been a recent revival of interest in freedom of the church, including the possibility that its resurgence, even if it is fully justified, also involves an element of rent-seeking by religious institutions.

There are two broader underlying suggestions as well. First, there are good reasons to support some version of freedom of the church, but it deserves a more critical and nuanced examination by friends and adversaries alike. Second, legal scholars writing on church-state issues have paid far too little attention to the literature on the economics of religion.

Skotnicki, “The Last Judgment: Christian Ethics in a Legal Culture”

last-judgment-christian-ethics-in-a-legal-cultureIn March, Ashgate published The Last Judgment: Christian Ethics in a Legal Culture by Andrew Skotnicki (Manhattan College). The publisher’s description follows.

In a culture obsessed with law, judgment, and violence, this book challenges Christians to remember that Jesus urged his followers to judge no one, bring harm upon no one, and follow no law save the law of altruistic love. It traces Christian history first to show that Christians of an earlier age took very seriously the gospel injunctions against punitive legal judgment and then how the advent of formal legal codes and philosophical dualism undermined that perspective to create a division between a private Christian spirituality and a public morality of order and legally sanctioned violence. This historical approach is accompanied by an argument that the recovery of a Christian ethic based upon unconditional love and forgiveness cannot be accomplished without the renewal of a Christian spirituality that mirrors the contemplative spirituality of Jesus.

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