As long-time readers know, I had the privilege of being taught canon law by Dr. Edward Peters (in the spring of 2000), and in the years since I've had the pleasure of communicating with him many times on a professional and personal basis. To give you a sense of how much I admired Dr. Peters as a professor, I can honestly say that canon law was my least favorite subject, but that his canon law class was one of my favorite classes. (Quite the opposite of a class I took twenty years ago as an Evangelical, in which a topic that fascinated me—evangelization—was turned into a lifeless, disfigured pile of pulp. But I digress.)
Anyhow, that is simply a short, personal preface to a series of blog posts by Dr. Peters on his "Light of the Law" blog that are, I think, a nearly perfect combination of erudition, rhetorical brilliance, charity, and canonical clarity. They consist of Dr. Peters' responses to several folks, notably Sean Michael Winters and Fr. Thomas Reese, regarding his recent statements in a February 21st CNSNews article about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Since Dr. Peters' posts contain all pertinent links to his interlocutors, I'll simply list and link his posts, in order:
• My brief replies to Albany's brief response (Feb. 23, 2011)
• Michael Sean Winters' column “Peters v. Cuomo”: a reply (Feb. 25, 2011). This is an especially exceptional reply to an especially condescending progressive pundit who unwittingly, in his arrogance, brings a broken plastic knife to a gun fight. Here is the opening of Dr. Peters' response:
Well, how about with two preliminary observations: (1) even people of obvious intelligence can be of little expertise in an area in which they opine; (2) when unfounded and/or ill-formed opinions are expressed with rhetorical skill and disseminated through the media, they require an extraordinary amount of time and energy to untangle. But, let’s see what we might try.
Winters avoids the vulgarism of “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”, but he just as surely dismisses the role of law in the Church when he says that “Recourse to the canons of the Church are [sic] not just a last resort, they [sic] are an admission of failure.” If that really is Winters’ position, why does he bother asking a lawyer, canon or otherwise, to defend the role of law in society? Any answers that a lawyer might offer would be futile, per Winters: “There is not a brief in the world that can explain the role of briefs in the world.” So, although I believe that there are many errors in Winters’ essay, I’ve been forewarned that my answering them will be pointless.
How regrettable, for I might have something perhaps useful to say, like, for example, how Winters’ essay is a prime example of the lingering effects of the destructive antinomianism that swept through the West, including the Catholic Church, in the 1960s and 1970s.
Whence sprang that pervasive distrust of law that so blindsided my parents' generation and still haunts mine? Who really knows? My hunch is that several pernicious philosophical currents finally came crashing together in two human meat grinders called World Wars One and Two, leaving large segments of Euro-American society deeply disillusioned about the possibility that reason (a constitutive element of human law, per St. Thomas) could be relied on to save us from ourselves. So, naturally, substitutes needed to be sought—science became a major one in the world, and the “spirit” of Vatican II became a major one in the Church. Whatever strengths these substitutes possessed, and whatever weaknesses they suffered from, both were fundamentally immune to law (or at least to lawyers), and many found that a highly attractive trait. Civil authority and lawyers cannot tell chemicals how to react in test tubes, and Church authority and canonists cannot tell Catholics how to live their faith. From there…
But I forget myself. Winters has disqualified lawyers from explaining why we have law in society, and so I stop and suggest only that Winters direct his questions about the role of law in society to someone else. As a lawyer, I apparently could not know how to answer.
Read the entire post.
• A reply to Dan Collins at the Huffington Post (Feb. 26, 2011). Whereas Winters vainly employed a plastic utinsel, Collins drags out a wet paper towel. Typical of the Huff-and-Puff Post.
• Some brief reactions to Fr. Reese's characterizations of my position on Canon 915 (Feb. 27, 2011). Alas, one can all too often count on Fr. Reese, S.J., to defend Catholics from the teachings and requirements of the Catholic Church.
• Again re Winters and Canon 915 (Feb. 28, 2011).
Anyone who is interested in a good introduction to the purpose and nature of the Code and Canon Law should read Pope John Paul II's the apostolic constitution, Sacrae disciplinae leges, with commentary by Dr. Peters.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com pages:
• Excommunication! | An interview with canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters
• Question: Who Is Married? | Edward Peters
• Entering Marriage with Eyes Wide Open | Edward Peters