Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sola Scriptura and Constitutionalism

I am just beginning to understand the connection between Luther's doctrine of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and the modern faith in written constitutions: both regard it as conceivable that one could once and for all set out in writing everything of any importance about how to proceed in some domain, and then somehow, despite all changes in circumstances and changes in knowledge and understanding, go on interpreting that founding document in an "original" fashion.

To be explored further: Lutheranism as "rationalism in religion," akin to the "rationalism in politics" critiqued by Oakeshott.


  1. The only problem with that explanation is that the Scriptures don't really have an Article V, which seems like quite a difference.

    I don't know. Scripture is meant to be revelatory. The Constitution is just a tool for limiting the state. Nobody gets angry because Constitutions are slightly different. When we balk at constitutional conventions it's because of the unpredictability of the result, not because some significance (aside simply from its track record) is attached to the old constitution.

    1. "The only problem with that explanation..."

      This was an analogy. I do not think I purported to be explaining anything.

      "The Constitution is just a tool for limiting the state."

      To you, perhaps.

      "not because some significance (aside simply from its track record) is attached to the old constitution."

      For you, perhaps. Historically this is demonstrably false. See Sanford Levinson, _Constitutional Faith_, for extensive documentation of the treatment of the US Constitution as sacred scripture.

  2. As a historical matter you may be right. As a theoretical matter I think the differences are too great to make the analogy an useful one. If you want to explore the idea further, though, I would recommend Jaroslav Pelikan's Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution.


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