Monday, April 30, 2018

"a sort of lawless law agreed upon by all"

". . . Christian culture has always been haunted by a certain, seemingly irresoluble dilemma:  the mystery of an impossible mediation between the kingdom's charitable lawlessness (which is a higher law) and the practical necessities of social life within fallen time.  Historically, the only communities that have attempted to form societies obedient to the apocalyptic consciousness of God's 'anarchic' love have been monastic.  Their ideal, at least, has always been to live not according to a lex, but according to a regula, a sort of lawless law agreed upon by all, enforced only by gestures of love, shared service, statutes of penance and reconciliation, and the absolute rule of forgiveness.  And only a precious few of these communities have succeeded to any appreciable degree, for any respectable length of time.  For those, moreover, who cannot and should not retreat from the world where positive law must operate—society, the family, all the commanding heights and sheltered valleys of culture—the mediation of the law is of its nature something always imperfectly defined, always something of a hermeneutical and creative struggle, and always somewhat alien.  That a truly Christian society can exist, guided by the law of love, is more or less an article of faith—otherwise the historical venture of the church would be pointless—but its political and legal configurations are anything but obvious, and are subject to constant revision, not only in response to extrinsic material developments, but also on account of a certain spiritual dynamism intrinsic [(i.e. unique)] to the gospel."

     David Bentley Hart, "Christianity, modernity, and freedom" (2013), as reprinted as chap. 17 in The hidden and the manifest:  essays in theology and metaphysics (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2017), 319-320 (312-323).
     I arrived at this passage having just been grappling with Emmanuel Faure, "La miséricorde selon Dorothée de Gaza," Nouvelle revue théologique 138 (2016):  241-246, and found it illuminating.  Though Dorotheos would undoubtedly have extended a more or less identical mercy to the lawless outside of (and even threatening) his community, there is a sense in which he was functioning under the aegis of "a sort of lawless law agreed upon by all".