Monday, October 1, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 27, “The Law”

Dear friend, *

How many of our classmates became lawyers? Many, including several close friends of ours.

I can see the source of this interest in the law in the events of the late 1960s—we wanted to change the world and we wanted to change it now. I can see the results too—we didn’t change it, in fact it got worse. A few of our old friends used the law to further their ideals: free speech, for example. Others followed the law to the biggest firms and paychecks.

The law is a delicate thing, as we can see from our generation and from the history of the Jewish people. In this chapter, Romano Guardini traces what Catholics refer to as salvation history—from the faith of Abraham, to the legalism that eventually resulted from Mosaic law, to the hypocrisy and cant of the Pharisees.

Guardini brings this deterioration to its horrible conclusion: “What terrible perversion of the divine has taken place—how terrible, is perhaps most apparent in the Pharisees’ reply to the supreme authority of the Roman law when he instinctively observes that he finds no fault in the accused [Jesus]. ‘We have a Law, and according to that Law he must die, becaue he has made himself Son of God’ (John 19:6–7). So infernally perverted has the law of God become, that his own Son must die by it!”

When the law brings us closer to God, all well and good. But, RG notes, “As soon as a religious consciousness that preaches ‘pure doctrine’ comes into being, and with it an authority ready to spring to its defense, the danger of orthodoxy becomes acute. For what is orthodoxy but that attitude which considers obedience to the Law already salvation, and which would preserve the purity of the Law at all costs—even at the price of violence to the conscience?”

We started out as rebels against the law. Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience, originally published as “Resistance to Civil Government,” was an inspiration to our martyr-heroes Gandhi and King, and it became a canonical text for our generation. But how soon we settled into our own orthodoxy and cant!

For one example, formal religion, on which most of us were raised, is now largely outlawed by the right-thinking, left-leaning legalists of our generation. It’s OK to be “spiritual,” but God forgive you if you try to “impose” your religious views on anyone! If God exists at all anymore. Today’s law forces us to embrace an absolute, anything-goes-freedom, under which the law is that there be no law.

All in forty years.

Best wishes to you and your family,

This series of posts continues here with chapter 28.

* This post continues a series of open letters to a very real friend from my boarding school days, each based on a chapter in Romano Guardini’s book about Jesus, The Lord.

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