An Academic Autobiography, by way of Saint Thomas and Saint Ignatius

by George Anastaplo

 (  “Faculty Article,” in Loyola Law (Loyola University Chicago School of Law), Spring 2008, pp 24-27.]

            I have been privileged to teach, for decades, at Roman Catholic institutions of higher learning after having received my A.B., J.D., and Ph.D. degrees (as well as experience in conducting “Great Books” seminars) at a “Baptist” school (that is, the University of Chicago).  My principal Catholic institutions (after the Saint Louis where I was born) have been Dominican University and Loyola University Chicago (along with, off and on, the Cistercian-related University of Dallas).

            I served at Dominican University (known originally as Rosary College) as Professor of Political Science and of Philosophy (and, at times, as Chairman of the Political Science Department).  My Dominican appointment was due, in large part, to a decision by the then-President of the school, Sister Candida Lund, O.P., who had been a graduate student with me at the University of Chicago.  Indeed, she had even been at the United States Supreme Court, working on her doctoral research project, when I made my oral argument there in my Bar Admission case (in December 1960).  In short, she should have known what she was getting.

            Critical to the spirit of Dominican University can be said to be the influence of Saint Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest of the Dominicans.  Certainly, his Treatise on Law is a text that every student of the law should know.  It develops, in a useful manner, the definition that law “is nothing other than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated,” a definition somewhat at odds with the power-oriented doctrine in Erie Railroad Company v. Tompkins [1938]).

            Critical to the spirit of Loyola University has to be, of course, the influence of the founder of the Society of Jesus, Saint Ignatius of Loyola.  He, too, was concerned about the law, but in a way quite different from the eminently scholarly Thomas.  Ignatius was critical to laying down rules for the development and administration of an ambitious religious order.  The importance of discipline, or law, is evident in the order he fathered, an institution which very much depends on respect for recognized authority (anticipating thereby the Erie approach?).

            It is not generally known, however, how much, and how often, Ignatius himself and his earliest spiritual comrades were threatened by the Inquisition, and not only in their native Spain.  He and his successors seemed to some, in the sincere but vigorous simplicity of the message they promulgated, to appear too much like the old Waldensians, the emerging Lutherans, and other suspect sects developing all over Europe.  Ignatius himself could even be locked up, for weeks at a time, while the authorities debated what to make of an aristocrat who insisted on dressing and acting like a man of humble origins.  It can be considered a matter of chance, if not even the working of Divine Providence, that he was not done away with early in his tempestuous career.

            Ignatius’s mission was to develop an “army” that could be of service to the leader of the Church.  Thus there was, early on among the Jesuits, the understanding that they themselves should not personally aspire to the highest positions in the Church.  Thus, also, someone such as Rene Descartes could begin his influential speculations with the expectation of his Jesuit teachers that study would yield “a clear and certain knowledge of all that is useful to life.”

            That the Jesuits have made as much as they have of discipline and service may reflect the experiences Ignatius had himself had in his military career.  His transformation into a priest can even be considered a form of “reenlistment” after having been severely wounded in battle as a soldier.  The grounding of the Jesuit order in a military ethos makes even more significant a remarkable pronouncement by a Jesuit in our own time, an article published by Father John C. Ford during the Second World War:  “The Morality of Obliteration Bombing” (Theological Studies, 1944).

            This article was published while German cities were being systematically demolished by British and American bombers and before the two uses of nuclear bombs in Japan.  This was also before it became known worldwide both how fiendish the European concentration camps had been and how severe Japan’s atrocities in its occupied territories had been.  Such revelations made humane people generally less concerned than they might otherwise have been, for several years after the War, about the unprecedented devastation which Allied aerial bombardments had caused.

            But as people have had an opportunity to think about such war measures, Father Ford’s “conclusion” offers us a serious challenge:

Obliteration bombing [of cities], as defined, is an immoral attack on the rights of the innocent.  It includes a direct intent to do them injury.  Even if this were not true, it would still be immoral, because no proportionate cause could justify the evil done; and to make it legitimate would even lead the world to the immoral barbarity of total war.  The voice of the Pope and the fundamental laws of the charity of Christ confirm this condemnation.

      These 1944 sentiments should remind us that the case for international rules and natural law/natural right may be stronger than contemporary legal realists (in disregard for authorities such as Thomas Aquinas) may like to believe.  (I mention in passing that Father Raymond Baumhart remembers Father Ford as a vibrant personality.  And I, in turn, salute Father Baumhart as the sensible University President who ratified my appointment to the Loyola law faculty, for which I am profoundly grateful, especially as I recall the cool (if not even unfriendly) reception I had received for years at the hands of law school deans and university presidents at my alma mater.

            It has been noticed that religious sentiments and organizations tend to be more vigorous in this country than in Europe.  And, partly because of the circumstances of their establishments here, our religious organizations also tend to be fairly tolerant toward each other, contributing thereby to a healthy political life among us.  The determined openness which can be observed at Dominican and at Loyola can also be observed at, say, Lenoir-Rhyne College, a Lutheran school in North Carolina, where I have been privileged to help conduct Spring seminars for a quarter century now.

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