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Engaging Robert Rodes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2015


I am a lawyer turned theologian turned goat and hog farmer who finds himself attempting to make sense of a path from social ascent to intentional social descent. An economics major who studied just enough philosophy at a Christian college to think he wanted to continue that work while in law school, I found my life captured by the life and work of Stanley Hauerwas. It has all been all downhill from there. As a good friend of mine from law school days who has followed a similar descending path recently suggested, “Stanley Hauerwas ruined my legal career.” Add in required readings by John Howard Yoder and Wendell Berry during graduate school, and you find yourself on a path toward political and economic radicalism, farming, and just maybe, a church for which it is worth living and dying.

But, of course, the voices of Hauerwas and Yoder were not crystallized in isolation. They were forged in the midst of conversation with good colleagues. In this collection of essays we celebrate the life and work of Robert Rodes, a colleague of both Yoder and Hauerwas at Notre Dame in the 1980s. I have learned a tremendous amount from Rodes's historical work on the shape of English law during the period of the Reformation. But in engaging Rodes here, I focus on his constructive work on the role of the law in liberation. What I offer is a set of questions and potential alternatives in response to that work, largely learned from Hauerwas and Yoder.

Robert E. Rodes, Jr. Tribute
Copyright © Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University 2007

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1. Hauerwas, Stanley, Hauerwas Uses His Imagination: 10 Questions with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, 2 Jottings 10 (Fall 2005/Winter 2006)Google Scholar. With this said, I have never quite left the law and still believe there are at least places and work within which Christians can be lawyers faithfully. Whether I have found those places I am much less sure, but that at least at certain times in a certain manner one can be a Christian and lawyer I assume is true.

2. See Hauerwas, Stanley, Why the “Sectarian Temptation” Is a Misrepresentation: A Response to James Gustafson (1988), in The Hauerwas Reader 90, 100 (Berkman, John & Cartwright, Michael eds., Duke U. Press 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3. See Yoder, John Howard, “Anabaptist and the Sword” Revisited: Systematic Historiography and Undogmatic Monresistance, 85 Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 126 (1974)Google Scholar.

4. See generally MacIntyre, Alasdair, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 349388 (U. Notre Dame Press 1988)Google Scholar.

5. Rodes, Robert E. Jr., On Law and Virtue, in Virtue: Public and Private 30 (Neuhaus, Richard John ed., Eerdmans Publg. Co. 1986) [hereinafter Rodes, On Law and Virtue]Google Scholar.

6. See generally, Rodes, Robert E., Law and Liberation (U. Notre Dame Press 1986) [hereinafter Rodes, Law and Liberation]Google Scholar; Rodes, Robert E., Pilgrim Law (U. Notre Dame Press 1998) [hereinafter Rodes, Pilgrim Law]Google Scholar.

7. See Rodes, Law and Liberation, supra n. 6, at 74.

8. See e.g. Augustine, , Confessions, Bk. III, pt. 3; Bk. V, pt. 10 (Pine-Coffin, R.S. trans., Penguin Books 1961)Google Scholar.

9. See Rodes, Law and Liberation, supra n. 6, at 74-77.

10. See e.g. Exod 7:16, 8:1, 8:20, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3 (all Biblical citations are taken from NRSV).

11. See Barth, Karl, The Gift of Freedom, Foundation of Evangelical Ethics, in The Humanity of God 69, 72 (Thomas, John Newton & Wieser, Thomas trans., Westminster John Knox Press 1960)Google Scholar.

12. See Augustine, Confessions, Bk. X, pt. 29, 233; Bk. X, pt. 31, 236.

13. Augustine, , Concerning The City of God against the Pagans Bk. XIX, ch. 12, at 869 (Bettenson, Henry trans., Penguin Books 1984)Google Scholar.

14. The early Martin Luther's rejection of the third use of the law, in which Phillip Melanchthon and John Calvin did not follow him, names, as I understand him, a similar rejection of the civil government as a training ground for virtue. The civil government is ordained by God, but serves God's purposes largely in a negative manner, doing its work of sustaining peace largely through its self-seeking and non-peaceful pursuits.

15. See generally Aquinas, Thomas, On Kingship, in St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics: A New Translation, Backgrounds, Interpretations 14 (Sigmund, Paul ed. & trans., W.W. Norton & Co. 1988)Google Scholar. I take it the reason that many Protestants in America at least resonate with Aquinas on this point is exactly because the late Luther, Melanchton, and Calvin each affirmed the third use of the law.

16. Rodes, Law and Liberation, supra n. 6, at ix.

17. Rodes, On Law and Virtue, supra n. 5, at 40.

18. See Yoder, John Howard, Armaments and Eschatology, 1 Stud. Christian Ethics 43, 58 (1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19. See Hauerwas, Stanley, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church's Witness and Natural Theology (Brazos Press 2001)Google Scholar.

20. See e.g. Rodes, Pilgrim Law, supra n. 6, at 11:

What our eschatology envisions is a radical change in our original condition, yet one in which our original condition is respected and affirmed. It follows that natural law is a part, but only a part, of an account of the values to be realized in law, and that the rest of the account is radically unknowable.

21. While Christ's lordship must mean that God is consistently working in the world, I would deny that we can reliably locate among all the things happening in the world, which is of God, absent revelation as a guide.

22. See Cavanaugh, William, Theopolitical Imagination 910 (T. & T. Clark Publishers, Ltd. 2003)Google Scholar.

23. See id. at 9-52 (“The Myth of the State as Savior”).

24. See id.

25. See id. at 53-96 (“The Myth of Civil Society as Free Space”).

26. See Cavanaugh, William, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Blackwell Publg., Inc. 1998)Google Scholar.

27. See Brueggemann, Walter, The Prophetic Imagination xx (2d ed., Fortress Press 2001)Google Scholar.