Antonin Scalia reflected deeply on matters of religion and shared his insights with many audiences over the course of his remarkable career. As a Supreme Court justice for three decades, he vigorously defended the American constitutional tradition of allowing religion a prominent place in the public square. As a man of faith, he recognized the special challenges of living a distinctively religious life in modern America, and he inspired other believers to meet those challenges.
This volume contains Justice Scalia's incisive thoughts on these matters, laced with his characteristic wit. It includes outstanding speeches featured in Scalia Speaks and also draws from his Supreme Court opinions and his articles. In addition to the introduction by Fr. Scalia, other highlights include Fr. Scalia's beautiful homily at his father's funeral Mass and reminiscences from various friends and law clerks whose lives were influenced by Antonin Scalia's faith.
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About the Author
CHRISTOPHER J. SCALIA, the eighth of Justice Scalia's nine children and a former professor of English, works at a public relations firm near Washington, DC. His book reviews and political commentary have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. He lives in Virginia with his wife and three children.
EDWARD WHELAN, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a former law clerk to Justice Scalia. He is a leading commentator on the Supreme Court and on issues of constitutional law. A father of four, he lives with his family in the DC area.
Mr. Scalia and Mr. Whelan previously co-edited Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived (Crown Forum, 2017), a New York Times bestselling collection of Justice Scalia's speeches.
Read an Excerpt
Not to the Wise—the Christian as Cretin
How can intelligent Christians exercise their faith in a skeptical world? How can they reconcile reason and faith? To address these questions, Justice Scalia considered the perspectives of two great men named Thomas. Perhaps surprisingly given Scalia’s admiration for the American founding, Thomas Jefferson served as a negative example, as he viewed belief in miracles as “vulgar ignorance.” Justice Scalia contrasted Jefferson with St. Thomas More, the lord high chancellor of England who was executed for respecting the Pope’s authority to refuse King Henry VIII’s divorce. Because he saw with the eyes of faith, this learned man of reason was regarded as a fool by his friends and even by his wife.
St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, was a hero to Justice Scalia, who delivered the following speech to religious audiences around the country.
The title of my talk today is “Not to the Wise—the Christian as Cretin.” The second half of that title, “The Christian as Cretin,” is meant, of course, to be a play on words. And it is a wordplay that has some etymological basis. The English word cretin, meaning “a person of deficient mental capacity,” in fact derives from the French word chrétien, meaning “Christian,” which was used in the Middle Ages to refer to the short, often grotesque, severely retarded people who were to be found in some remote valleys of the Alps—perhaps the result of excessive inbreeding. These people were called chrétiens—Christians—to make the point that they were human souls and not brutes.
It has often occurred to me, however, that for quite different reasons the equivalence of the words Christian and cretin makes a lot of sense. To be honest about it, that is the view of Christians—or at least of traditional Christians—taken by sophisticated society in modern times. One can be sophisticated and believe in God—heck, a First Mover is at least as easy to believe in as a Big Bang triggered by nothingness. One can even be sophisticated and believe in a personal God, a benevolent Being who loves mankind, so long as that Being does not intrude too ridiculously into the world—by working so-called miracles, for example, or by limiting human behavior in inconvenient ways. And one can even be sophisticated and believe in Jesus Christ, as having been in some sense a “son” of God (are we not all children of the Creator?) and as having in some sense triumphed over death (his message, after all, lives on). One can believe all that, I say, and still be considered sophisticated.
But to believe in what might be called “traditional” Christianity is something else. To believe, first and foremost, that Jesus Christ was God. (Why, the notion that the Creator should become a man is as unsophisticated as the notion that Zeus should become a bull.) Or to believe that he was born of a virgin. (Well, I mean, really!) That he actually, physically, rose from the grave. That he founded a church with power to bind and loose—to pronounce, authoritatively, the will of God for mankind. That, as he taught, hardship and suffering are not to be avoided at all costs but are to be embraced and indeed even sought after—as penance for sin, and as a means of sharing in the crucifixion of Christ. (How utterly ridiculous to forgo perfectly legitimate pleasures, and to seek discomfort! How absurd the vow of chastity and the hair shirt!) Or the belief in miracles, as at Lourdes or Fatima. Or, finally, the belief that those who love God and obey his commands will rise from the dead, in their bodies, and be happy with him forever in heaven; and that those who do not will burn eternally in hell.
Surely those who adhere to all or most of these traditional Christian beliefs are regarded, within the educated circles that you and I travel in, as—well, simpleminded. The attitude of the wise is well reflected in the statement that appeared in a news story (not an opinion piece) in the Washington Post some years ago, stating, matter-of-factly (as though anyone of intelligence knew and agreed with it), that Christian fundamentalists were “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” The same attitude applies, of course, to traditional Catholics—by which I mean those who do such positively peasant-like things as saying the rosary, kneeling in adoration before the Eucharist, going on pilgrimages to Lourdes or Fatima, and, worst of all, following indiscriminately (rather than in smorgasbord fashion) the teachings of the Church. Surely these people are “uneducated and easy to command.” Chrétien, cretin.
Let me turn now to the first part of my title: “Not to the Wise.” I mean that as an allusion to the Gospel passage that you and I have heard read at Mass frequently. As recorded by St. Matthew and St. Luke, Christ said: “I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and prudent, and didst reveal them to little ones.” The same thought appears many other times in the New Testament. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that “the natural man [i.e., the man of the world] does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him and he cannot understand.” And he advises them: “Let no one deceive himself. If any one of you thinks himself wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may come to be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” In other words, St. Paul quite entirely expected—he assumed—that the wise of the world would regard Christians as fools. And from the beginning until now that expectation has not been disappointed.
It is interesting to read of St. Paul’s experience in that ancient center of wisdom and intellectuality, Athens. The Acts of the Apostles record some great successes in Paul’s preaching; Athens was not one of them. He goes to the Areopagus—where, as the Acts contemptuously describe it, “all the Athenians and the visitors there from abroad used to spend all their leisure telling or listening to something new.” Sort of an open-air Donahue Show, though perhaps a bit more intellectually elevated. Anyway, Paul goes up there, and he has this really clever speech laid out, in which he says that he knows the people of Athens are very religious, and he has noticed that one of their altars is inscribed “To the Unknown God.” It is that God he has come to tell them about. This is a brilliant intro, and Paul gets rolling along pretty well, until he says that this God he has been talking about “will judge the world with justice by a Man whom he has appointed, and whom he has guaranteed to all by raising him from the dead.” Well, that breaks it. The wise men of Athens, circa a.d. 50, know just as well as the wise men of America, a.d. 2010, that people don’t rise from the dead. As the Acts record it: “Now when they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We will hear thee again on this matter.’ ” Paul did not think the prospects of their hearing him again good enough to be worth his time. The next line of the Acts is “So Paul went forth from among them.”
Now let me propel you forward in time, from a.d. 50 to a.d. 1804—just yesterday, by comparison—to the study of another wise man, a worthy successor of those of Athens and one of our nation’s greatest political figures, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is creating the work that he would call The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, known more familiarly as the Jefferson Bible. As one historian [Jaroslav Pelikan] describes the scene:
There has certainly never been a shortage of boldness in the history of biblical scholarship during the past two centuries, but for sheer audacity Thomas Jefferson’s two redactions of the Gospels stand out even in that company. It is still a bit overwhelming to contemplate the sangfroid exhibited by the third president of the United States as, razor in hand, he sat editing the Gospels during February 1804, on (as he himself says) “2. or 3. nights only at Washington, after getting thro’ the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day.” He was apparently quite sure that he could tell what was genuine and what was not in the transmitted text of the New Testament.
Table of Contents
Editors' Note ix
Foreword Justice Clarence Thomas xi
Introduction Rev. Paul D. Scalia 1
I Personal Lessons For Christians
Not to the Wise-the Christian as Cretin 13
A Prayer St. Thomas More 27
On Being Different-the Christian as Pilgrim 29
Moral Formation-the Character of Catholic Higher Education 38
St. Ignatius's Suscipe 53
Away from the Noise-Making Retreats 54
The Indispensability of Courage-Military Service and the Christian 59
Faith and Work-How Belief Affects Vocation 75
"Really Present" Patrick J. Schiltz 85
"Confessing the Faith" A. Gregory Grimsal 88
"Lessons of Faith" A. J. Bellia 92
II Political Lessons For Believers
The Two Kingdoms-Christians and State Authority 99
Politics and the Public Good-the False Allure of Socialism 114
The Authority of Government-Catholics and the Death Penalty 127
Conscience and the Constitution-from Employment Division v. Smith 140
Absolute Standards of Conduct-Lessons from the Holocaust 149
"The Talmudic Justice" Rabbi Meir Soloveichik 154
"'O tempora! O mores!'" kristin A. Linsley 158
"Latin and Greek" Father Robert Connor 161
III Public Lessons For Americans
A Nation Under God-Public Expressions of Faith 167
Publicly Honoring the Ten Commandments-from McCreary County v. ACLU 179
The Right to Public Prayer-from Lee v. Weisman 188
Equal Treatment for Religious Citizens-from Locke v. Davey 200
"The Scalia Family" Taylor Meehan 206
"My Godfather Nino" Martin L. C. Feldman 209
"God's Mercy" Mary Clare Scalia Murray 211
Homily at the Funeral Mass for Justice Scalia Rev. Paul D. Scalia 215
Letter to Dr. James C. Goodloe IV 221