Catholics are reminded that this is All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation. If you haven’t been to Mass yet, there is still time. You say it’s thirty miles away? Inconvenience does not negate but sweetens duty.
So here we go again. This time, however, it seems likely that the great questions at stake will be addressed in a straightforward way¯or at least as straightforwardly as the political showboating of what passes for senatorial deliberation allows. Those who know him well, and in whose judgment I have confidence, say that Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., of the third circuit is just the man to articulate the ways in which the courts have succumbed to the seductive allures of the judicial usurpation of politics. And to explain how principle, combined with a strong dose of judicial humility, might revive the credibility of the Supreme Court, and the courts that follow its lead, in this constitutional order. I pray his friends are right. Needless to say, I am further encouraged by the fact that Judge Alito is a careful reader of FIRST THINGS.
Subscribers are responding forcefully, in modes both positive and negative, to Justice Antonin Scalia’s reflections in the November issue of FIRST THINGS. I am glad to see the item has been picked up by the “Arts & Letters” website, where it will get even more attention. Scalia is responding to the probings of Steven Smith, a constitutional scholar at San Diego University, into what it is that makes human laws “the law.” In any society, few questions are more important than the moral legitimacy of law. Scalia in no way scorns these deep philosophical questions about the nature of law, but they are, he insists, the business of citizens and their representatives in the legislature. The more modest role of the judge is simply to decide whether the legislated laws in question pass constitutional muster when the Constitution is understood in its original meaning¯and he persuasively contends that that original meaning can be discerned.
Justice Scalia is often misunderstood on this score. Some accuse him of an amoral jurisprudence. That is not the case. Scalia is a committed Catholic and, I am confident, has no problem with the understanding of law set forth by, for instance, St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas distinguishes between eternal law, natural law, human (positive) law, and divinely revealed law. All too briefly, eternal law is one with the Being of God; natural law is the law written on the human heart; positive law is composed of the laws contrived by human beings; and divine law is known by God’s self-revelation in the history of Israel and its culmination in Christ and the Church. It is within that rich and comprehensive account of law that one understands the role of the judge, who is, qua judge, not a philosopher king, never mind a theologian, but a humble reader of the Constitution in relation to specific laws. Scalia’s is an important argument set forth with admirable lucidity, and you will want to read it for yourself.
In conversation with Jews, some Christians think it the generous thing to allow that there are two covenants, one for Jews and one for Christians, and they are of equal validity. It is a matter of dialogical politesse. The problem, says Avery Cardinal Dulles in the November issue, is that the two covenants theory cannot be squared with Christian truth claims. His article, “Jews & the Covenant,” is valuable for many reasons, and not least for putting the Jewish-Christian dialogue on a solid theological foundation that does not fudge the necessary tensions in rival truth claims.
An evangelical Protestant pastor writes in response that Dulles unnecessarily complexifies Jewish-Christian relations. Judaism is merely the prelude, he says, to the main act, which is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Now that we’re in the main act, the prelude is irrelevant. He likens Judaism to the husk that protects the unripened corn. When the corn reaches its ripeness in Christ, the husk is discarded.
This, regrettably, is a common view among Christians, and is usually called supersessionism. To supersede means to displace or nullify. The first and radical supersessionist was Marcion in the second century, and orthodox Christians agree that he was rightly condemned as a heretic. The Christ event can only be understood within the context of the messianic promises of what Christians call the Old Testament. Christians believe, and most Jews do not believe, that Jesus is the Christ (the anointed one) in whom those promises have been and are being fulfilled. Jews and Christians together await the cosmic vindication of those promises in the End Time, the final coming of the Kingdom of God, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2).
Cardinal Dulles’ “Jews & the Covenant” should be a standard reference in thinking about the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. It leaves us saying with St. Paul in Romans 11 (the first reading in the Mass yesterday), “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
I’ll be in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this Saturday speaking at a dinner in support of Our Lady of the Annunciation, a new Benedictine monastic foundation in nearby Clear Creek. I’m told they are expanding the space to accommodate the large response. Reservations are still being accepted. For information call the Diocese of Tulsa at (918) 294-1904.