Tag Archives: law

22 June: The lawyer’s duty.

Samuel Johnson

Today is the feast of Saint Thomas More, a patron of lawyers, so here are two passages to get us thinking about the law and crime, sin and guilt. Christ came to bring the Law of the Old Testament to perfection while challenging those who lived their daily lives by minute rules but bound up burdens too heavy for other people.

On the other hand, the law of the land is there to protect the citizen from harm by the state or his fellows.What is the role of the lawyer? First we hear from Doctor Johnson among lawyers in Edinburgh, during his travels in Scotland on ‘the art and power of arranging evidence’; everyone has a right to a fair hearing. Then Andrew McCooey, a former judge, reflects on the role of faith and the wisdom a lawyer needs to bring to ethical dilemmas.

We talked of the practice of the law. William Forbes said, he thought an honest lawyer should never undertake a cause which he was satisfied was not a just one. ‘Sir,’ said Mr Johnson, ‘a lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge.

Consider, sir; what is the purpose of courts of justice? It is, that every man may have his cause fairly tried, by men appointed to try causes. A lawyer is not to tell what he knows to be a lie: he is not to produce what he knows to be a false deed; but he is not to usurp the province of the jury and of the judge, and determine what shall be the effect of evidence—what shall be the result of legal argument.

As it rarely happens that a man is fit to plead his own cause, lawyers are a class of the community, who, by study and experience, have acquired the art and power of arranging evidence, and of applying to the points of issue what the law has settled. A lawyer is to do for his client all that his client might fairly do for himself, if he could. If, by a superiority of attention, of knowledge, of skill, and a better method of communication, he has the advantage of his adversary, it is an advantage to which he is entitled. There must always be some advantage, on one side or other; and it is better that advantage should be had by talents, than by chance.

If lawyers were to undertake no causes till they were sure they were just, a man might be precluded altogether from a trial of his claim, though, were it judicially examined, it might be found a very just claim.’

The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell

The Christian lawyer should walk with the Lord, asking him to direct and bring to us the work he wishes us to undertake and to give us wisdom and discernment in advising our clients. Christ puts up no walls or barriers; no one is so great a sinner that he will not extend his hand to help when there is even a twitch of movement towards conversion. And he expects us also to have that approach.

… We must not do what is popular but what we judge to be right. And we must remember that every human being, including the vilest of criminals, is a child of God, and has the potential to be redeemed.

Andrew McCooey, Hate the sin, not the sinner, The Tablet, 26.2.22, p6.

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21 June: Lawful Authority

The Pharisees took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

Matthew 22:15-22.

This story takes place during Holy Week, the days of preparation for the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. Herod was around, as the Gospels tell us he took part in condemning Jesus. Here Herod is in an unlikely alliance with the Pharisees, collaborators lining up with the upholders of the Jewish Law; opposite views of the basis for civil society. Both groups are corrupt, both are tempted to confuse their own interests with those of God’s people, their authority is shaky and in both cases dependent on the Roman Occupation, for or against it, for their prestige. Does either group want a revolution?

Dr Johnson wrote:

The general story of mankind will evince that lawful and settled authority is very seldom resisted when it is well employed…. Men are easily kept obedient to those who have temporal dominion in their hands, till their veneration is dissipated by such wickedness and folly as can neither be defended nor concealed.

The Rambler, No. 50; in “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell.

Jesus sketches out the fine line we generally have to follow in respecting lawful authority. It requires grown up thinking, not Punch and Judy politics. But how best to resist indefensible wickedness and folly? It was a question of life and death for tomorrow’s saints, John Fisher and Thomas More.

For deeper and satisfying reflection on this passage, we suggest joining Sister Johanna as she eavesdrops on the discussion that Jesus so elegantly sidesteps, in this post from last May.

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10 May: What do you see in the mirror?

It used to be one of the standard questions in those short celebrity interviews: Who (or what) do you see in the mirror in the morning? Perhaps it’s been quietly dropped because interviewees came to expect it and had answers ready, answers to sell their new film, tv show or book.

Saint James would have us look into a mirror, a looking glass. We like mirrors, here at Agnellus’, even when they make us look ridiculous.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.

But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.

James 1:22-25

The mirror to see ourselves in is the ‘perfect law of liberty’: how do we use the liberty we have been given, or would have been given if our hands had not been clenched, deep in our pockets? We will never reach the day’s end without refusing or abusing our liberty in some way, great or small, but we can look into the mirror of liberty, and with our God-given freedom, do better tomorrow.

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12 March: People in their Thousands: I

Welcome back, Sister Johanna! This is the first of a series of five linked reflections on the passage from Saint Luke 12. We were reminded how dangerous crowds can be by the tragedy at the African Football Cup of Nations just a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile the people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And he began to speak, first of all to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – their hypocrisy…. To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk.12: 1-2,4).

Part I.

As I read this passage I imagined the crowd of thousands – so many people that they were stepping on each other – and I felt a strange fear. I felt the desperation in that crowd, a crowd that symbolises, perhaps, all of humanity from the beginning of time until now; it is made of people so hurt and needy that in this case they are quickly becoming ruthless, bumping and pushing in their hunger for Jesus. But one thing at least is clear: they know that they need to reach him, that he is somehow their salvation. But they are stepping on each other.

How scary to be part of this crowd. It is not one I’d have wanted to be positioned in the middle of, with no easy exit-route if things had taken a nasty turn. And this already-desperate situation is the one in which Jesus chooses to issue a warning about yet another cause for desperation: that the seemingly venerable authority figures of the religious establishment are, essentially, phonies. This is deliberate on Jesus’ part, like everything he does. Clearly, in Jesus’ estimation, this message couldn’t wait for a smaller, calmer audience to gather at another time. Here is Jesus utilising his ‘social platform’ to the hilt in order to disseminate his message to as many people as possible. It is that important: the Pharisees are not to be trusted.

Let’s take this slowly. In saying this kind of thing so publicly, Jesus is actually saying more than one very important thing. The first is the obvious one: he is warning this crowd of people against the Pharisees. His warning has a sub-text, too. He is saying, ‘Although the Pharisees cannot be trusted to provide a religious understanding of the pain of your existence that you seek, I can; I am that meaning. Come to me. The Pharisees know the letter of the law, but I know its heart and spirit.’ In Matthew’s gospel Jesus will say even more compellingly, ‘Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest.’

Here, Jesus speaks first to his disciples, and they, in turn have told the crowd – not only the crowd present on that day, but also the crowd of the Church that has been present ever since the apostles began their ministry, fired by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

And now I turn to my own heart. How willing am I to come to Jesus? He is the meaning of my existence. He now uses the Church, in a direct line from the apostles, to disseminate his message. Do I trust that Jesus is, even now, teaching me, teaching the Church – this ‘crowd’ in their thousands – of which I am a member?

Let’s reflect on this for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we will continue.

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10 February: Nathaniel finds his heart, Part II.

Following Jesus in a wet Krakow.

Yesterday we were looking at the first meeting between Jesus and Nathaniel as recorded by the Gospel of John in chapter one, verse forty-three and following.  The two men seemed to be enjoying some friendly banter, initially.  But, as Nathaniel discovers, Jesus’ remarks were more penetrating than he was expecting.  Jesus – from Nazareth, of all places!  

After the ice is broken – and it breaks astonishingly quickly – Jesus drops the playful tone completely.  He comes out with a remark that is so profoundly mysterious that it found entry right into Nathaniel’s deepest centre – his heart.  Jesus says to Nathaniel, “Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  

I turn this over in my mind and undertake some research.  I find, unsurprisingly, that this remark has been the subject of deep reflection ever since the early centuries of the Church.  What could Jesus have meant by it?   Some of the fourth and fifth century Fathers of the Church offer the explanation that the fig tree represents the Law. Jesus is saying that he saw Nathaniel under the shadow of the Law, and that he, Jesus, is calling him into his own light.  Maybe this is true.  It is a beautiful thought, but I find myself more drawn to the interpretation St John Chrysostom, writing in the late fourth century, gives to Jesus’ words.  Chrysostom says that Nathaniel asks his question as a mere human being, but that Jesus gives his answer as God.  Chrysostom continues, saying that Jesus, by his words, is telling Nathaniel that he understands him deeply and beholds him as God beholds him – from above, as it were.  When Jesus says, ‘I saw you,’ he means, according to Chrysostom, ‘I understood you through and through, understood the character of your life and person’.  

John Chrysostom’s insight explains Nathaniel’s complete change of heart – to my mind, anyway.  Nathaniel was sceptical about Jesus at first, then he jokes a bit with him, but now he’s caught off-guard by something in Jesus that has moved him.  I ponder Jesus’ words and realise that when one is deeply understood by another human being it is a life-changing experience.  What’s more, Nathaniel has suddenly seen Jesus’ own character and spiritual power, even as he himself has been seen by Jesus.  His defensiveness, hesitation and jocularity all drop away.  With a seriousness as profound as Jesus’ own gravity, Nathaniel now says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.”  He is in a totally different place from the one he had been in just moments earlier.  This is Nathaniel’s turning point – and it takes place not only because of what Jesus has said, but because of Jesus himself, because of the spiritual power of his person and presence, and because Nathaniel has been deeply ‘seen’ by this extremely unusual man – from Nazareth. 

Perhaps you who are reading this reflection already know the joyful truth that Jesus is the centre of existence, the centre of reality itself.  He is the Beloved of everything that has being, the loving heart of every molecule, every world, every galaxy, every bug and blade of grass and mote of dust.  Maybe you already know that every person is formed for Jesus and that Jesus alone is rest for our restless hearts.  Nathaniel, despite his initial scepticism, comes to understand this wonderful thing, too – as we see it happen in these words from John’s gospel.  For someone like Nathaniel, Jesus does not need to work miracles or do any sensational things.  All Jesus needs to do is show up.  And all Nathaniel needed to do was to be himself with Jesus, to engage with him honestly.  It didn’t take Jesus long to reach Nathaniel at his deepest level.  A short encounter is all Jesus needs.  

“Catena aurea: commentary on the four Gospels, collected out of the works of the Fathers: Volume 6, St. John. Oxford: Parker, 1874. Thomas Aquinas”

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30 May: Hospitality towards Barn Owls.

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At Trotton Place lived Arthur Edward Knox, whose Ornithological Rambles in Sussex, published in 1849, is one of the few books worthy to stand beside White’s Natural History of Selborne.+ In Sussex, as elsewhere, the fowler* has prevailed, and although rare birds are still occasionally to be seen, they now visit the country only by accident, and leave it as soon as may be, thankful to have a whole skin.

Guns were active enough in Knox’s time, but to read his book to-day is to be translated to a new land:

“I have the satisfaction of exercising the rites of hospitality towards a pair of barn owls, which have for some time taken up their quarters in one of the attic roofs of the ancient, ivy-covered house in which I reside. I delight in listening to the prolonged snoring of the young when I ascend the old oak stairs to the neighbourhood of their nursery, and in hearing the shriek of the parent birds on the calm summer nights as they pass to and fro near my window; for it assures me that they are still safe; and as I know that at least a qualified protection is afforded them elsewhere, and that even their arch-enemy the gamekeeper is beginning reluctantly, but gradually, to acquiesce in the general belief of their innocence and utility, I cannot help indulging the hope that this bird will eventually meet with that general encouragement and protection to which its eminent services so richly entitle it.”

There is a benevolently naive verbosity about some writers of Edwardian times, as we British count the XX Century before the Great War. This passage is from “Highways and Byways in Sussex” by E. V. Lucas, 1904, but of course the story from Knox is older still. I hope both men would appreciate today’s general good will and legal protection towards birds and the scientific study of them, but they both could tell us something of what has been lost in the years since then; although most birds are now legally protected, we should be less complacent; where are the cuckoos, martins and swallows we expected to see and hear thirty, even twenty years ago?

+ See White on Worms, 20 May, and search elsewhere in the blog.

* Fowler: someone who hunts and shoots birds (even rare ones).



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22 May: Delight in Creation.

 
Pied Beauty 
 
Glory be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim:
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And àll tràdes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                  Praise him.”
 
Gerard Manley Hopkins

A strange choice of picture, perhaps, in Maytime, but Hopkins counted fallen chestnuts among the glorious dappled creation of God. Not a bad meditation to prepare for Pentecost. Or we could listen to Wisdom, describing her part in Creation – Wisdom being an attribute of the Holy Spirit, the first Gift of the Holy Spirit. It is wise to be humble and delight in creation and to play before God at all times. Even in a city centre we can appreciate skies of coupled colour!

The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men.

Proverbs 8:24-31

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24 April: To make his Father known

Christ the King in Holy Week and Easter, Strasbourg Cathedral.

The events of Holy Week are shown with the Crucified at the centre, full of vigour as he stares death out. Above, the Risen Lord leads his first parents into Paradise, above that again the Ascension.

We have received the link to this Easter reflection by our old friend, Brother Austin, a link we gladly share.


Jesus understood his mission to be, to make his Father known; not by talking about him, but by being himself with other people, his Father’s Son – and that still remains the mission of the Church – go out and spread the Good News – what it means to be beloved of Abba, share your experience, not your knowledge, of who Jesus, the beloved of Abba, is for you.

At this time there were no defined doctrines, creeds or codes – so what were they expected to do when they were told to go out and spread the Good News? Was it to teach and preach? It was something much simpler and much more profound – they were asked to go and share what it was like to live with Jesus, after the Resurrection – share their experiences of being with him.

The Resurrection brought new insights – something Jesus had before his Passion and death; when he told them you do not understand now but you will… He spoke of God in an entirely new way, one which proved threatening to the Guardians of the Law, to Temple worship, Sabbath observances and ritual prescriptions. The last straw was calling God his father. The disciples after Good Friday, must have thought, maybe the authorities were right after all, that Jesus was not from God. Death was final, and put an end to dissent.

Two of them were walking to Emmaus with hopes shattered [we had hoped]. His death seemed to vindicate that Jesus must have been a sinner for this to happen –he who hangs on a tree is cursed – Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13. But when he rose from the dead and appeared to them the whole system leading to his death is called into question. Jesus had been right; God is the way Jesus spoke of God; nothing like the description of his accusers. The reasons for getting rid of him were part of the sinful mechanism of getting rid of troublesome people – with nothing whatever to do with God. This leads to questioning the Law as not reflecting the true God. The Resurrection did not simply reveal Jesus’ innocence, not only was he right about God; it exposed the mechanism by which innocent victims are created by those who believe that in doing so they are doing God’s will.


It is true that the Law was given by God – but the interpretations of it are of human origin; and so, for example, keeping the Sabbath holy, came to mean observing all the restrictions imposed – not by God. The point of Sabbath is so as to enjoy the wonderful things God is doing through creation.


We can now imagine the innocence of the victim and see the complicity in violence of the perpetrators. If we see things as the disciples first did, feeling uncomfortable that Jesus may not have been up to what he promised – and then see him back, how would we talk about it? Our stories have beginnings and endings, and, so they had thought, did Jesus’ story – but now: how do we tell a story that has no ending? They tried telling this story which had no room for death – death happens to everyone – and they didn’t know how to do it.

Resurrection has now burst into our storytelling. They couldn’t tell the story in the old way, the new way they were inspired with we call the New Testament. It was not a question of eliminating death, but showing how death has its part in the story, but not as the ending. Jesus did not appear as someone who had been dead and is now better – like Lazarus. The risen Jesus is simultaneously dead and alive – as the five wounds testify – death as lost its power. He is at once dead and alive. His whole life, including death is present in its fullness. He has conquered death, not just for himself, but for all who share common humanity with him; death and its whole system by which all were held in fear, is not necessary. Whatever death is, and it happens to all of us, it is not what dictates or shapes the pattern of life. It is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. We will die, but death cannot separate us from the source of the fullness of life.

Because each one of us is unique [God doesn’t create copies], every sharing will reflect what is ours only, and wouldn’t happen without us – differences [not division] unity without uniformity – which we are able to do by sharing in his Spirit freely given in our Baptism.

AMC

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9 February: Injustice can be brought about by law.

There has been much complaint about ‘one law for us, another for them’ during the course of the pandemic. Nothing new about that, of course. Blaise Pascal identified the problem a century before Doctor Johnson. It’s easy to see how similar assertions about being born in the wrong place at the wrong time could be used to justify slavery.

In the letter of the law injustice can come in. The pleasantries of the elders who have everything: my friend, since you were born on this side of the mountain, it’s right that your elder brother should have everything.

Pensees, 9.

But as Johnson said, you cannot argue with avarice – or unregulated capitalism. We just have to learn to live life simply, without unnecessary stuff, as to an extent we have had to these last months. As we come out of the infection and the danger of covid19, we could think more carefully about what we are buying, in particular about the costs of production in terms of human and environmental justice and peace.

Pope Gregory’s answer was not to argue with the slavers but to send Augustine to convert the English, including, no doubt, those men prepared to kidnap children and sell them on as slaves. But today we all need to convert ourselves from destroying our sisters and brothers, and destroying our common home, through what we buy. It’s not a task we’ll succeed in when life revolves around mobile phones that depend on exploited labour to extract the ores to produce the precious metals that power them. But we can do something if we reflect upon it.

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6 February: No man is by nature the property of another

Portrait believed to be of Francis Barber, Dr Johnson’s servant.

More from Lichfield’s Doctor Johnson who was against slavery all his life, when it was a matter for debate, as we shall see tomorrow. Johnson had great regard for his servant, Francis Barber, born into slavery in Jamaica. ‘Frank’ was his heir, and the descendants of his marriage to a white Lichfield woman are proud of their ancestor. Here Johnson is setting forth an argument, based upon natural law, to support another slave who was claiming freedom in the Scottish courts.

It must be agreed that in most ages many countries have had part of their inhabitants in a state of slavery; yet it may be doubted whether slavery can ever be supposed the natural condition of man. It is impossible not to conceive that men in their original state were equal; and very difficult to imagine how one would be subjected to another but by violent compulsion. An individual may, indeed, forfeit his liberty by a crime; but he cannot by that crime forfeit the liberty of his children.

What is true of a criminal seems true likewise of a captive. A man may accept life from a conquering enemy on condition of perpetual servitude; but it is very doubtful whether he can entail that servitude on his descendants; for no man can stipulate without commission for another. The condition which he himself accepts, his son or grandson perhaps would have rejected.

If we should admit, what perhaps may with more reason be denied, that there are certain relations between man and man which may make slavery necessary and just, yet it can never be proved that he who is now suing for his freedom ever stood in any of those relations. He is certainly subject by no law, but that of violence, to his present master; who pretends no claim to his obedience, but that he bought him from a merchant of slaves, whose right to sell him never was examined. It is said that, according to the constitutions of Jamaica, he was legally enslaved; these constitutions are merely positive; and apparently injurious to the rights of mankind, because whoever is exposed to sale is condemned to slavery without appeal; by whatever fraud or violence he might have been originally brought into the merchant’s power.

In our own time Princes have been sold, by wretches to whose care they were entrusted, that they might have an European education; but when once they were brought to a market in the plantations, little would avail either their dignity or their wrongs. The laws of Jamaica afford a Negro no redress. His colour is considered as a sufficient testimony against him.

It is to be lamented that moral right should ever give way to political convenience. But if temptations of interest are sometimes too strong for human virtue, let us at least retain a virtue where there is no temptation to quit it. In the present case there is apparent right on one side, and no convenience on the other. Inhabitants of this island can neither gain riches nor power by taking away the liberty of any part of the human species.

The sum of the argument is this:—No man is by nature the property of another: The defendant is, therefore, by nature free: The rights of nature must be some way forfeited before they can be justly taken away: That the defendant has by any act forfeited the rights of nature we require to be proved; and if no proof of such forfeiture can be given, we doubt not but the justice of the court will declare him free.

from “Life of Johnson by James Boswell.

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