Scalia’s Timeless Wisdom

Thinking a lot about Justice Scalia today…who at the very least was a great character and charmed the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who was his best friend) and Elena Kagan (who really liked him in their short time together on the court). The world needs more “brilliant characters.”

His philosophy that we should always look at the constitution as the founders intended seems short-sighted to me but not without merit. There is many a Bishop who looks at Canon Law and the Catechism in much the same way, not a living documents, but ones frozen in time, to which allegiance must adhere. His honoring of the founders, in this way, to me, meant that he found all the wisdom necessary in those great men. Again, perhaps short-sighted but a philosophy nonetheless.

I respected his dedication to this philosophy and could predict his reactions often to the cases that would come before the court and there was some comfort in that and it brought it’s own sense of wisdom to balance out those who would bring damage to the constitution by amending without legislation.

His thoughts that we should not “amend” the constitution as the wind blows is also laudable. It should take a lot to overturn the “wisdom of the ages”, no less than an entire legislature considering this, a law changed or a constitutional amendment passed. He often found genius in our system, leaving certain matters to states, federal legislation and even local authority. Needless to say, Justice Scalia thought the Supreme Court should be a last resort for cases, not a political test case for ideas already offered by great thinkers whose thoughts are reflected in present laws and followed by our local courts all over the country.

For those of us who believe the constitution to be an evolving document, as I do, we would well to listen to Justice Scalia’s hesitant nature about paying attention to the limits of the federal constitution and interpret for the present where possible, but also require nothing less than amendment where needed today. We must not merely to change the law to suit our needs, but rather to also uphold the wisdom we have come to know with certainty, wisdom not yet, available to the founders in their day. This may have been Scalia’s one downfall in not honoring future wisdom, but staying trapped in the past of the founders’ wisdom alone.

The truth is that we need both, the wisdom of the past and the wisdom of the present age. Honoring wisdom and putting that into words and laws that we can direct others towards is not only a way to seek truth, but also a way to love wisdom, not merely the nostalgic past that Scalia loved a bit too much and that too often we love not quite enough.

Not merely our lawmakers in congress, nor just those on the present courts should heed this love of wisdom, but so should those in church governance. While God alone is the source of all wisdom, the writers of scripture, though inspired by God, are also limited by their time. So too, the writers of Canon Law. But we also need careful balance to these matters. Ones who seek both the wisdom of the past, the wisdom of the present and the wisdom to uphold, well…a merged wisdom, honoring both past and present. We too need to rely on the church, that is the people of God to raise the issues of the day, and not merely to say “who cares about the past” but to say what in our past still honors our present and what in our present is capable of adding to, not subtracting from, our ageless wisdom.