Don’t Study the Constitution?

Richard Posner, the iconoclastic judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and one of the founders of the “Law & Economics” movement, says there is “no value” in studying the U.S. Constitution. People, naturally, are in an uproar over this — people who know nothing about Posner’s views, that is. Anyone who has paid even a shred of attention to what Posner has been writing about for the last 20 years should know by now that he takes an extremely low view of the sub-discipline known as constitutional law. In fact, Posner takes a fairly low view of jurisprudence generally and theories of morality specifically. At a certain level, I have a hard time disagreeing with him. Regardless of who is ultimately responsible, contemporary constitutional law — including the judicial behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) — is political, not legal. While there are some fundamental constitutional rules governing areas such as criminal procedure and speech which most law students should be familiar with upon graduation, the large bulk of extant constitutional law isn’t necessary to study. Supposedly time-honored canons of interpretation, along with various theories of construction, mean very little these days; they are artifacts which should interest historians more than lawyers. No, maybe this isn’t how things “ought to be,” but it is where matters lie in 2016 and we’d all be better off if we didn’t kid ourselves that it’s otherwise.

Speaking from my own experience, I am pretty confident that I learned next-to-nothing of lasting value from two semesters of constitutional law. My time would have been better served reviewing the topics tested on the bar exam and leaving it at that. (The irony here is that the law review comment I wrote during my 2L year was on…the Eighth Amendment.) Now, had I ambitions to become a constitutional-law scholar or political historian, there would of course have been great value in studying the constitution, its intellectual underpinnings, and all of the relevant case law which has stacked up over the centuries. But how many people are going to “ascend” to that level? And how many people do we even need in such roles? As Posner has pointed out before, the academic constitutional-law enterprise is pretty worthless, both practically and theoretically. Most forays into constitutional law concern the writer(s) masking their own pet moral views under the cloak of legality and claiming this is why SCOTUS was right/wrong in a particular case (or series of cases). Posner is right. Who cares? And beyond that, who has ever read a law review article praising/damning a particular case because of some abstract moral theory and been convinced to change their mind on the matter? (Ok, I am sure some impressionable law students have, but outside of keeping the lights on in law schools with their hard-earned debt, they don’t really count.)

Traditionalist Worker Party?

I have a confession to make: I get lost down Internet rabbit holes too often for my own good. As I skimmed Google News earlier, I came across a story from the L.A. Times detailing the violence which broke out today in Sacramento between members of the self-proclaimed Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) and anti-Nazi/white supremacist protesters. As I made my way to the end of the story, I couldn’t help but notice that TWP is headed up by one Matthew Heimbach, a young darling of sorts to white-nationalist types and an apparent Eastern Orthodox Christian. As some may recall, Heimback caused quite the stir back in 2014 when he was received into the Antiochian Othodox Church and then proceeded to beat up someone up during Bright Week while holding a large Byzantine cross. The priest who chrismated Heimbach quickly denounced the latter’s views and stated that Heimbach had to undergo a period of penance if he wanted back into the Orthodox fold. Though details are sketchy, he appears that Heimbach is still a practicing Orthodox Christian — in an Old-Calendarist jurisdiction. (Only in America folks…)

So, Eastern V2 Didn’t Happen

The “Holy and Great Council” of the Orthodox Church is over. You can read all of the conciliar documents, including the gathering’s encyclical, here. I am going to refrain from in-depth commentary for the time being since I am committed to writing about the Council and its fallout elsewhere. However, as even a cursory run through these documents make clear, the Council was anything but Orthodoxy’s “Vatican II moment.” Nothing substantial concerning canon law, the liturgy, moral theology, or ecclesiology was touched (though some peripheral matters were certainly clarified). The ostensible “ecumaniacal” document on relations between Orthodoxy and world Christianity is pretty flat, though it does include two paragraphs which ought to rile-up the Eastern fundamentalists.

22. The Orthodox Church considers all efforts to break the unity of the Church, undertaken by individuals or groups under the pretext of maintaining or allegedly defending true Orthodoxy, as being worthy of condemnation. As evidenced throughout the life of the Orthodox Church, the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is ensured only through the conciliar system, which has always represented the highest authority in the Church on matters of faith and canonical decrees. (Canon 6 2nd Ecumenical Council)

23. The Orthodox Church has a common awareness of the necessity for conducting inter-Christian theological dialogue. It therefore believes that this dialogue should always be accompanied by witness to the world through acts expressing mutual understanding and love, which express the “ineffable joy” of the Gospel (1 Pt 1:8), eschewing every act of proselytism, uniatism, or other provocative act of inter-confessional competition. In this spirit, the Orthodox Church deems it important for all Christians, inspired by common fundamental principles of the Gospel, to attempt to offer with eagerness and solidarity a response to the thorny problems of the contemporary world, based on the prototype of the new man in Christ.

The swipe at “uniatism” in paragraph 23 is, more likely than not, directed at the Moscow Patriarch, which for centuries has attempted to forcibly bring Greek Catholics into its fold. (It should be noted that the Romanian Patriarch signed-off on these provisions, thus signaling a retreat from its own history of force-converting Greek Catholics.) All in all, however, the Council did little to advance the work of reunifying Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church and, arguably, spent too much time worrying about its relationship with the World Council of Churches.

As for the rest of the documents, they’re a mixed bag. The document on marriage, for instance, contains some noticeable tensions, such as affirming the indissolubility of marriage while sidestepping the sad truth that the Orthodox dissolve sacramental marriages all of the time. Moreover, the document speaks forcefully on the crisis surrounding marriage and the family in the modern world and yet says nothing direct about contraception.

Clearly the biggest point of interest now is seeing how the local churches which opted not to attend the Council (e.g., Moscow, Antioch, and Bulgaria) “receive” (or not) the conciliar documents. Needless to say, the “Holy and Great Council” came up short in broadcasting an image of Orthodox unity to the world.

Personal Comments on Fr. Hunwicke on “Blogging”

Back in April 2014 Fr. John Hunwicke wrote a customarily pithy piece on blogging. This section struck me in particular when I first read it two years ago.

2. Anonymity/Pseudonymity. I don’t like it. I think people should put their (real) names to what they do. Especially if they wish to express themselves strongly; even more so if they wish to attack vigorously, even for plausible reasons, another named person. I accept that there can be exceptions justifying anonymity; a scholar may wish to float an idea without being held to it in foro academico ... I have been told that some Catholic priests and seminarians are afraid of their bishops or seminary rectors reading their views … I don’t think this says much for the health of the culture concerned, but, well, there you go …Anyway; I have decided that attacks on other living people will not be accepted on this blog, even when thoroughly justified, if the comment is anonymous.

A Few Comments on “Life in the Orthodox Church”

V., the anonymous writer who runs the Perceptio web-log, has finally followed through on the time-honored tradition of Orthodox converts writing about . . . their conversion. In a post entitled “Lessons Learned from Rocky One to Rocky Three (Life in the Orthodox Church),” V. provides his own spiritual-psychological account of why other people enter Orthodoxy before briefly touching on his own reasons (theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and so on and so forth). It’s not particularly persuasive, at least not when it comes to accounting for the myriad of reasons people leave some form of Protestantism (and occasionally Catholicism) for the Eastern Orthodox Church. With respect to ex-Catholics, while it is true that some are looking for a safe haven from the turmoils of contemporary Catholicism (heck, even Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, is rumored to have entertained becoming Greek Orthodox following the Second Vatican Council), a good number of ex-Catholic Orthodox I have met over the years either married into Orthodoxy or weren’t strong churchgoers prior to finding the Christian East. Of course some certainly made their choice for concrete intellectual and/or aesthetic reasons, but they were not “traditionalists” in any strong sense of the word. Most traditional Catholics, for better or worse, take a fairly low view of the Orthodox, regarding them as “schismatics” or “heretics”; they are not inclined to convert, no matter how rotten things get in Rome. The few exceptions I have known to this rule (all priests and monks) did wind up in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), but less out of a desire for “exclusivism” and more because ROCOR, when compared to some other Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, is relatively “safe” in its conservatism. (Also, if you happen to appreciate the Byzantine-Slavic liturgy done well, there’s no better place to go than a ROCOR parish.)

Fr. Patrick Reardon on Contraception

One of the most fraught questions confronting contemporary Orthodox moral theology is the issue of contraception. As I have detailed in both The Angelus magazine (“No Light from the Orthodox East on Christian Marriage“) and on this blog, the Eastern Orthodox Church steadily shifted away from prohibiting contraception absolutely to allowing it “under certain circumstances” during the course of the last century. Today, a majority of Orthodox prelates and priests (at least in the West) take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the matter, leaving it to married couples to decide for themselves whether or not to use contraception. (It should be noted, however, that chemical contraception, such as “the pill,” is still tacitly condemned by several Orthodox jurisdictions, including the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church.) Speaking from personal experience, I can attest that one can go to any number of priests in a single city and get wildly divergent answers on what Orthodoxy’s “official stance” is regarding contraception, the ends of Christian marriage, the role of children in marriage, natural family planning, and so on and so forth.

Now comes Orthodox cleric Fr. Patrick Reardon (a man whose views on marriage and contraception I am very familiar with) to try and set the record straight on just Orthodoxy’s traditional stance on the matter, but all Christian confessions. A video of Fr. Reardon’s remarks is attached to this article on Lifesite News.