“Laws are necessary and good, but Christ’s followers must constantly strive to view them according to their mind and heart.”
Oscar Lukefahr, in “We Believe…”, attempts to give a straightfoward and short introduction to Catholicism. Its main audience is intended to be those that are new to the faith, but it could probably be handy for tried and true Catholics as well (not being Catholic myself I’m only assuming). His text covers many parts of the faith and cross references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church making it very easy to reference back to the source of the official doctrine. It is an easy read and is very accessible to the average unitiated reader.
There are three different types of references to law that can be found in the book. The first is references to occurences of law within the Bible. The second is to Canon Law itself. Finally, there are references to the role of the Catholic Church in the political state.
His references to law in the Bible aren’t by any means a full treatment of the subject. Instead, they are incidental to the story that Lukefahr is telling. He begins with a brief history of the nation of Israel. He notes that in 63 BC the Romans conquered Jerusalem and made Palestine a vassal state. This event created, of course, conflicting regimes in the area: Roman Law versus Jewish Law. He states that throughout its long history “the Israelite nation had little political or military influence” (barring a brief period under David). He then goes on to discuss the formation of the Bible itself as the telling of this history, noting that among the different items collected into the document are laws, which is what the Jewish priests were trained in.
After his discussion of Jewish history he moves into the life of Christ (and the beginnings of Christian history). In describing the political climate, he relates the different sects of Jews that were active at the time. Of particular note are the Sadducees and the Pharisees both of whom strictly followed the written law that could be found in the Torah. Also, he mentions the Zealots, who believed the Messiah would be a military leader and a political leader.
Christ’s tensions with these groups came partly, according to Lukefahr, from his resistance to their observance of “thousands of detailed regulations.” The Sadducees feared that he would cause a “civil disturbance,” whereas the Pharisees accused him of breaking the law. This, of course, leads to one of the most monumental moments in history and an interesting bit of conflict of laws. The Pharisees tried Christ in a secret “unfair trial” and sentenced him to death. They then took him to Pontius Pilate in order that he might be condemned under Roman Law also. Lukefahr claims this is because they didn’t want to bear the blame and because they wanted Christ “to undergo the humiliation of a Roman crucifixion.” They accused him of treason, but Pilate found him innocent. As we all know, though, the Pharisees were persistent and eventually forced Pilate to sanction the execution.
After the death of Christ, the apostles go on telling his story. This is when Canon law begins to develop. One example that can be found in Lukefahr’s work is that many Christians of Jewish background were upset that Paul and Barnabas did not require new converts to follow Jewish Law. This view was rejected by a council in Jerusalem in 49 AD. This council reflects one of the early law making bodies in the church. Councils like this dealt with theological and rule making matters (and still do today). Lukefahr takes note that some people believe that “Christ never intended a Church with its leaders, rituals, laws, and potential for scandal and sin.” he makes the argument though that the Church was intended to have standards of membership and portrays Christ as a rule giver. He states that the church is a society and that “no society can exist without” rules and leaders.
As to specific rules of Canon law, his references are sparse. Propbaly the best place to find them are in his description of the sacrement of Marriage. He discusses specifically the capacity to be wed noting that a marriage can be invalidated by the Church if it violates either Church law or civil law. He also discusses the process for a annulments that are given by a diocesan tribunal. The anullment does not have civil effects and does not affect the status of children. He then discusses the Pauline Priviledge in which the Church amay disolve the marriage of unbaptized persons (and the similar Petrine Priviledge between an unbaptized and a baptized). Finally, he addresses divorce. The Catholic Church does not view civil divorce as ending a marriage, an annulment must be granted. Lukefahr does note though that the civil divorce does not exclude a Catholic from practice of the faith and that the civil divorce may be a necessity in order to protect people from abuse.
He also addresses the Ten Commandments. He argues that if the commandments are kept by all then we can truly be free. For example. if nobody steals then we are free from having to lock up out things, etc. It is an interesting argument, but not terribley well developed.
When it comes to the Church and its functions in the State, Lukefahr begins with the Decree of Milan issued by Constantine in 313 which granted religious toleration to Christians. While he notes that Constantine’s effots ended many problems, he is wary that this “opened a door to church-state entanglements that would create new problems for the Church.” This door is taken advantage of as the Roman Empire begins to collapse allowing the Church to “bec[o]me a civilizing force,” and again when Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800 and “renewed church-state ties, laying the groundwork for corruption and decay.” This corruption persisted until, he claims, the Council of Trent, after which there has been a steady movement “away from secular entanglements.” He even goes so far as to mention the US Constitution as a “new understanding” of the church state relationship.
This book functions as a handy introduction to the Catholic faith and includes both Theology and a little bit of law. While it is targeted more towards those actively trying to enter the faith, it could prove handy to someone needing an introduction to Catholic teachings.