Monday, December 11, 2006

Following Forms and Procedures

Is it those who defend the moral order who are legalists, or those who are rebelling against it. The common charge against the defenders of morality is that they are legalistic in their approach. While it is true that some can be drawn into the legalistic approach to morality, the origin of legalism is more closely related to those who want to deviate from the moral order.

In the Republic Socrates notes that if a group of men have let themselves be taken over by the desire to make money, there are no rules or laws of the marketplace that can stop them from acting on their desires. Rules or laws will simply be occassions for them to devote all of their energies to getting around those rules. They will, in turn, use the rules and laws as a way of protecting their money making desires.

The same is true of the supporters of the French Revolution, and perhaps the reformers of our own day who share the revolutionary mentality. As they were and are bent on attacking the Church, they will always claim to be using the proper proceedures or saving formalities. They will attempt to reduce the Church to a set of rules or proceedures and claim that so long as they preserve the forms, they can act on their desires to undo them.

This was followed by the revolutionaries. The following is a paragraph summarizing the response of the Constitutional Bishops to Pope Pius VI. Remember, the Constitutional Bishops had taken an oath of loyalty to the Civil Constiutiton of the Clergy, which, in effect, put the national legislature in charge of appointing Bishops, appointing priests to parishes, required priests to marry, abolished religious orders, confiscated Church land, and changed the music of the Church:

Whereas Pius VI spoke about the principles of faith, the history of the Church, and consoling the faithful, the schismatic Bishops emphasized rules, forms, and procedures. They claimed to be following “principles” that were “always open, they are the patrimony of all the Churches, and we are the depositories, the guardians, and the dispensers of them” (349). These principles guided them to ignore the briefs of the Pope (351). In doing so, they could preserve the legal formalities that the Church required as well as keep the Church alive in what was an impending violent crisis. The Bishops made three arguments to defend the actions of the revolutionaries, the confiscation of Church property, and the provisions of the new Civil Constitution of the Clergy. One, the new arrangements kept alive the legal procedures required by the Church. It let the French government dictate the terms of the Church’s political organization. Two, it respected the spiritual functions of the Church. Three, it enabled the Church to continue functioning in what had become dramatically violent circumstances.


Blogger Tortoise(notHare) said...

I think the moment you get past The 10 Commandments, The Beatitudes, and a few other key teachings from Our Lord then there is an inevitable human impulse (effect of Original Sin?) toward legalism. In some it is worse than in others. Our Lord calls us to "big" commands, general principles, and not tit for tat that is weighed out on an apothecaries scale. We are loved by God and we are called to love God, and this is all in infinite (in God's instance) generosity.
I am not well-versed in the FR but it most assuredly seems to me that responding to God's love with one's own generosity was not on their agenda. So they played games, and legalism is one of the sad and harmful and often murderous and ultimately self-destructive games that humans play as they delude themselves.
Those who wish to play legalistic games are best reminded to study how well the Pharasees and Sadducees did in responding directly to the Good News from Jesus Himself. Not a good template.

3:31 PM  

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