When is a Catholic Doing Legal Theory Doing 'Catholic Legal Theory?'

18 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2010

See all articles by Robert K. Vischer

Robert K. Vischer

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law

Date Written: 2010


What does it mean for me to be a Catholic doing legal theory, even when I am not self-consciously trying to do “Catholic legal theory?” One simple response is methodological: I might be describing the Christian tradition, I might be proclaiming its truth, I might be speaking prophetically to power, or I might be speaking pragmatically about reasonably debatable methods by which to cultivate the common good. At different points, if I want to contribute to the full flowering of the Catholic legal theory project, I hope that I do all of these. At a deeper level, articulating what I do as a Catholic legal scholar must also account for what I do as a legal scholar. One concern is that the religious label, especially the Catholic label, will be an easy way to pigeon-hole me and more easily dismiss my opinions as pre-ordained conclusions dictated by my faith tradition, rendering them less authentic and even less human. In reality, though, my faith should be the impetus to delve even more deeply into the heart of what it means to be human, to grapple unflinchingly with the reality of our existence. When I use faith as an escape, when I toss off trite prayers to numb myself to the tragedy that unfolds around me, rather than praying to express and share in the depth of that grief, I am rightly dismissed by the grieving. Similarly, when I use faith in my scholarship as bludgeon to wield against those who reject my worldview, or when I dress up my unsupported assertions as self-evident simply because they come from my faith tradition, I am rightly dismissed by those legal scholars who are authentically struggling with the question of how imperfect people should govern themselves in an imperfect world. The Catholic legal theory project has much to contribute to legal scholarship, starting with the anthropological question of what it even means to be human. (This essay is based on a presentation at Seton Hall’s conference, “Religious Legal Theory: The State of the Field” in November 2009.)

Keywords: Catholic Legal Theory, Catholic Legal Thought, Law and Religion, Legal Education

Suggested Citation

Vischer, Robert K., When is a Catholic Doing Legal Theory Doing 'Catholic Legal Theory?' (2010). Seton Hall Law Review, Forthcoming, U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-06, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1548703

Robert K. Vischer (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4838 (Phone)

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