The Ascent of Christian Law by McGuckin

Saturday, February 11, 2012

This is tremendously exciting; The Ascent of Christian Law: Patristic and Byzantine Reformulations of Greco-Roman Attitudes in the Making of a Christian Civilization is a new publication that bridges the gap between Eastern Christian thought, Roman antiquity, and political science. Moreover the author is John McGuckin, probably unknown in poli sci circles, but well respected in the field of early Christianity and religious philosophy. Then why care? Then how is this relevant to political science?

Because one might notice that scholars from other fields seem to be making inroads into areas we would consider political science; that is, as historians, philosophers, Patristics scholars write within their fields, they explore the political implications of their respective areas of research. This is superb in my mind.

However one must ask the question; do we see the same kind of multidisciplinary interests on the part of political scientists? I am convinced that these other fields are valuable to political science but at the same time, someone from within the poli sci discipline could take such research even further.

Case in point: as I've read scholarly and pop-scholarly books on Christian origins, I frequently run across language that, I feel, is subtly political; language that in a historical context of the book itself would have little use, but when read by someone within our modern religious-political environment, would be persuasive. As polemical as Christian history and the new "skepticism" has become, this would be an area ripe for students of propaganda and public influence.

Natural law and social contract weren't ideas born out of a vacuum. Nor were their Thomist and monarchist antecedents. It behooves us to understand the wisdom and thought that came before. That is why McGuckin's book will no doubt open new areas of discussion regarding the common understanding of Christian influence on Western Civilization.

Emory University's Center for the Study of Law & Religion reviewed the book and has this to say:

This volume aims to fill a large gap in the historical materials available to students of early Christian and Byzantine Christian studies. To that extent, it will be designed as a wide-ranging historical survey that covers the varying attitudes among the major early Christian theorists of law and governance issues as the church moved in its condition from a minority of resistance to the imperial church. The field of early studies of Christian law is dominated by scholars of Western canon law (though often microscopically treated). Eastern canon law remains massively neglected, relegated to studies by Orthodox canonists who have been concerned largely with issues of ecclesiastical precedence and protocol, rather than with large questions of the role of law in culture-making.

This book intends to consider questions such as: "What difference did Christianity make as a builder of civilization?" To what extent did the church, in presenting to late Roman society a vision of a New Order, actually begin to articulate the structures that would form the polity of such an order? How far did the Church articulate a theory of law as "new-culture building" in advance of the Constantinian reordering of society by the promotion of bishops as magistrates? To what extent did the post-Constantinian, Justinianic, and later Byzantine theory and systems of evolving Christian legislation, simply extend Roman legal, political, and cultural aspirations, or to what extent did Christian theologians and jurists consciously rebuild? The book seeks to answer these questions by looking at main protagonists who consider the issues of law and theology from the early centuries through to the medieval Byzantine period. A second part offers a series of reflective reviews on certain "points in question," including slavery, freedom of the person, ownership, reconciliation, and governance theory.



Post a Comment

I teach them all the good I can, and recommend them to others from whom I think they will get some moral benefit. And the treasures that the wise men of old have left us in their writings I open and explore with my friends. If we come on any good thing, we extract it, and we set much store on being useful to one another. - Socrates, Memorabilia
What we maintain is that in none of the problems of life can men afford to lose sight of the storehouse bequeathed to them by the ancients. In the complexus of everything which differentiates man from the brute creation, the voice of antiquity must be heard...

-H. Browne, quoted in "Classics and Citizenship" The Classical Quarterly, 1920