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IV. CHRISTIAN ETHICS AND SECULAR LAW

IV.1. God is perfection, therefore the world created by Him is perfect and harmonious. Life is observance of the divine laws, as God Himself is life endless and abundant. Through the original fall, evil and sin entered the world. At the same time, fallen man has retained the freedom to choose the right way with God’s help. In this effort, the observance of God-given commandments asserts life. But deviation from them leads inevitably to destruction and death, as it is nothing else but deviation from God, hence, from being and life, which can be only in Him: “See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command you this day to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes and His judgments, that you may live. .. But if your hearts turn away, so that you will not hear, but shall be drawn away... you shall surely perish, and you shall not prolong your days upon the land” (Deut. 30:15-18). In the earthly order of things, sin and retribution do not often follow each other immediately but many years and even generations may intervene: “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, and showing mercy unto thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deut. 5:9-10). This distance between crime and punishment keeps man free, on the one hand, and compels reasonable and pious people to study the divine commandments with special attention, on the other, in order to learn to distinguish between right and wrong, lawful and unlawful.

Among the oldest monuments of the written language are numerous collections of homilies and statutes. Undoubtedly, they go back to the even earlier, pre-alphabet existence of humanity, since “the work of the law” is written by God in human hearts (Rom. 2:15). Law has been there in human society from time immemorial. The first rules were given to man as far back as the time of paradise (Gen. 2:16-17). After the fall, which is the violation of divine law by man, law becomes a boundary, and trespassing against it threatens the destruction of both the human personality and human community.
 
IV.2. Law is called to manifest the one divine law of the universe in social and political realms. At the same time, any legal system developed by the human community, being as it is a fruit of historical development, carries a seal of limitation and imperfection. Law is a special realm, different from the related ethical realm, as it does not deal with the inner conditions of the human heart, since God alone is its Reader.

Yet it is human behavior and actions that is the subject of legal regulations, which is the essence of legislation. The law also provides for coercive measures for making people obey it. The legislative sanctions to restore the trampled law and order make law a reliable means of holding society together, unless, as it has often happened in history, the whole system of the enforced law collapses. However, as no human community can exist without law, a new legislative system always emerges in place of the destroyed law and order.

The law contains a certain minimum of moral standards compulsory for all members of society. Secular law has as its task not to turn the world lying in evil into the Kingdom of God, but to prevent it from turning it into hell. The fundamental principle of law is: “do not do to others what you would not want to be done to you.” If a person has committed a sinful action against another, the damage inflicted on the integrity of the divine law and order can be made up by the suffering of the offender, or pardon, whereby the moral consequences of a sinful action are assumed by the person (ruler, spiritual father, community, etc.) who issues pardon. Suffering heals the soul affected by sin, while the voluntary suffering of the innocent for the sins of a criminal represents the highest form of redemption, the ultimate of which is the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Who took upon Himself the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
 
IV.3. The understanding of where the “wounding edge” separating one person from another lies has been different in various societies and in various periods. The more religious a human community, the greater its awareness of the unity and integrity of the world. People in a religiously integrated society are viewed in two perspectives, both as unique personalities, who either stand or fall before God (Rom. 14:4) and who cannot be judged by other people, and as members of the one civil body, in which the illness of one member leads to the sickness and even death of the whole body. In the latter case, every person can and must be judged by the whole community, since the actions of one make an impact on many. The seeking of the spirit of peace by one righteous man, according to St. Seraphim of Sarov, leads to the salvation of thousands around him, while a sin committed by one culprit may entail the death of many.

This attitude to sinful and criminal manifestations is firmly grounded in Holy Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. “By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted; but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked” (Prov. 11:11). St. Basil the Great taught the people of Caesarea in Cappadocia: “Because of a few, disasters come upon a whole people, and because of the evil deeds of one, many have to taste their fruits. Ahab committed sacrilege, and all the chariots were defeated; already Zimri committed whoredom with a Midianite woman, and Israel was punished.” St. Cyprian of Moscow writes much the same thing: “Do you not know that people’s sin falls upon the prince, and the prince’s sin falls upon the people?”

That is why old statute books also regulated those aspects of life which are outside regulation by today’s law. For instance, by the legal provisions of the Pentateuch, adultery was punished by death (Lev. 20:10), whereas today it is not regarded as a legal offence in most countries. If the vision of the integrity of the world is lost, the field of legal regulation becomes reduced to cases of visible damage done, and the boundaries of the latter become more narrow with the erosion of public morality and secularization of consciousness. For instance, today’s law treats sorcery, which was a grave crime in ancient communities, as an imaginary action not to be punished. The fallen nature of man, who has distorted his awareness, does not allow him to accept the divine law in all its ftfliness. In various periods, people have been aware of only part of this law. This is evident from the Gospels’ accounts of the Savior’s discussion about divorce. Moses permitted divorce “because of the hardness of our hearts,” but it was not so “from the beginning,” because in marriage a man becomes “one flesh” with his wife, making marriage indissoluble (Mt. 19:3-5).

However, in the cases where the human law completely rejects the absolute divine norm, replacing it by an opposite one, it ceases to be law and becomes lawlessness, in whatever legal garments it may dress itself. For instance, the Decalogue clearly states: “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12). Any secular norm that contradicts this commandment, indicts not only its offender, but the legislator himself. In other words, human law has never contained divine law in its fullness, but in order to remain law it is obliged to conform to the God-established principles, rather than to erode them.
 
IV.4. Historically, both religious and secular laws have a common source, from which they originate. Moreover, for a long time they represented two sides of the one legal field. This idea of law is also characteristic of the Old Testament.

The Lord Jesus Christ, in calling those who are faithful to Him into the Kingdom that is not of this world, separated (Lk. 12:51-52) the Church as His body from the world lying in evil. In Christianity, the internal law of the Church is free from the spiritually-fallen state of the world and is even opposed to it (Mt. 5:21-47). This opposition, however, is not the violation, but the fulfillment of the law of the divine Truth in its fullness, which humanity repudiated in the fall. Comparing the Old Testament norms with that of the Gospel, in His Sermon on the Mount the Lord calls people to seek to fully identity ‘life’ with the absolute divine law, that is, to seek deification: “Be perfect therefore, even as your Father Who is in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).
 
IV.5. In the Church founded by the Lord Jesus, there is a special law based on Divine Revelation. It is canon law. While other religious statutes are given to a humanity that has fallen away from God and can thus essentially be part of civil law, Christian law is fundamentally supra-social. It cannot be part of civil law, though in Christian societies it can make a favorable influence on it as its moral foundation.

Previously, the Christian state usually used the modified law system of pagan times (for instance, Roman law was used in the Codex of Justinian), since it included the norms consonant with divine truth. However, any attempt to develop civil, criminal and public law based on the Gospel alone cannot be effective, for without the full ‘churching’ of life-that is, without complete victory over sin-the law of the Church cannot become the law of the world. This victory is possible, however, only in the eschatological perspective.

However, the experience of the Christianization of the legal system inherited from pagan Rome under Emperor Justinian proved to be quite successful. It was so, not in the least because the legislator, in developing the Codex, was fully aware of the dividing line between the order of this world-marked with the fall and sinful erosion, even in the Christian era-and the statutes of the grace-giving body of Christ, the Church, whose members, and the citizens of a Christian state, are the same people. The Codex of Justinian determined for centuries the Byzantine legal system and made a considerable impact on the development of law systems in Russia and in some Western European countries, both in the middle ages and in modem times.
 
IV.6. The idea of the inalienable rights of the individual has become one of the dominating principles in the contemporary sense of justice. The idea of these rights is based on the biblical teaching of man as made in the image and likeness of God, as an ontologically free creature. “Examine what is around you,” writes St. Anthony of Egypt, “and see that princes and masters have power only over your body, not over your soul, and always keep this in mind. This is why, for example, when they order you to kill or to do something else that is inappropriate, unrighteous and harmful for the soul, it is not proper to obey them, even though they torture your body. God has created the soul free and self-ruled, and it is free to do as it wills, good or bad.”

Christian social ethics demanded that a certain autonomous sphere should be reserved for man, in which his conscience might remain the “autocratic” master, for it is free-will choices that ultimately determine one’s path: salvation or death, the way to Christ or the way away from Christ. The right to believe, to live, to have a family is what protects the inherent foundations of human freedom from the arbitrary rule of outer forces. These internal rights are complemented and ensured by other, external ones, such as the right to free movement, information and property -- to its possession and disposition.

God keeps man free, never forcing His will on man. On the contrary, Satan seeks to possess the human will -- to enslave it. If a law conforms to the divine truth revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ, then it also stands guard over human freedom: “Where the Spirit is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore, such a law guards the inalienable rights of the personality. Those traditions, however, which do not know of the principle of the freedom of Christ, often seek to subject human consciousness to the external will of a ruler or a collective.
 
IV.7. As secularism developed, the lofty principles of inalienable human rights turned into a notion of the rights of the individual outside his relationship with God. In this process, the freedom of the personality was transformed into the protection of self-will (as long as it is not detrimental to individuals), and into the demand that the state should guarantee a certain material living standard for the individual and family. In the contemporary systematic understanding of human civil rights, man is treated not as the image of God, but as a self-sufficient and self-sufficing subject. Outside God, however, there is only fallen man, who is rather far from being the ideal of perfection aspired to by Christians and revealed in Christ (“Ecce homo!”). For the Christian sense of justice, the idea of human freedom and rights is bound up with the idea of service. The Christian needs rights, so that in exercising them he may first of all fulfill in the best possible way his lofty call to be in “the likeness of God,” and secondly, so that he may fulfill his duty before God and the Church, and before other people, family, state, nation and other human communities.

As a result of the secularization of modem times, the theory of natural law prevailed, which, in its construction, did not take into account the fallen state of humanity. This theory, however, did not lose links with Christian tradition, for it proceeded from the conviction that the notions of good and evil were inherent in humanity. Therefore, law grew up from life itself, based on conscience (“the categorical moral imperative”). This theory was dominant in European society up to the 19th century. Its practical consequences included, first, the principle of the historical continuity of the legal domain (law cannot be abolished, just as conscience cannot be abolished; it can only be improved and adjusted-also legally-to new situations and cases). Second, it gave rise to the principle of precedent (in conformity with conscience and the legal tradition, the court can pass a right sentence, that is a sentence consonant with Divine Truth).

In the contemporary understanding of law, views apologetic towards the positive law in force have prevailed. Law is viewed as a human invention, a construction that is built by society to benefit itself and to fulfill tasks defined by itself. Hence, any changes to the law, if approved by society, are considered valid. The written law has no absolute legal basis whatsoever. This view gives validity to a revolution that rejects the laws of “the old world,” and to the full rejection of the moral norm if this rejection is approved by society. Thus, if in contemporary society abortion is not believed to be murder, it is not such legally either. Apologists for positive law believe that society can introduce very diverse standards, on the one hand, and consider any law in force to be legitimate by virtue of its very existence, on the other.
 
IV.8. The law and order of a particular country is a special version of the common world-view law, characteristic of a given nation. The national law expresses the fundamental principles of relations between persons, between power and society and between institutions, in accordance with the peculiarities of a given nation moving in history. The national law is imperfect, for imperfect and sinful is any nation. However, it establishes a framework for the people’s life if it translates God’s absolute truths and adjusts them to the concrete historical and national existence.

Thus, law and order in Russia gradually developed and grew ever more complex for a millennium as society itself developed and grew in its complexity. The conventional Slavic law, which had preserved the ancient common Aryan forms until the 10th century, due to Christianization, incorporated some elements of Byzantine legislation. It did it through the Codex of Justinian, which traces back to classical Roman law and church canon law, which at that time was fused with civil law. From the 17th century, Russian law drew extensively on the standards and legal logic of Western European law, doing it in a fairly organic way, since the Roman legal tradition, basic for Europe, was borrowed by Russia from Constantinople together with Christianity as far back as the 10th–11th centuries. The Old Russian Russkaya Pravda (Russian Truth), princes’ statutes and charters, legal documents and books, the Council of the Hundred Chapters and the 1649 Conciliar Code, Petrine articles and decrees, legal actions by Catherine the Great and Alexander 1, reforms of Alexander II and the 1906 Basic Law-all represented one legal fabric of the people’s creative body. Some standards became out of date, while other came to replace them. Some legal innovations failed as being inconsistent with the order of people’s life and ceased to be applied. The flow of the river of Russian national law, whose sources were lost in distant history, was stopped in the year1917. On November 22 of that year, the Council of People’s Commissars, in conformity with the spirit of positive law, repealed the whole body of Russian legislation. After the collapse of the Soviet state in the early 1990’s, the legal system of the CIS and Baltic countries is still in the making. At its foundation are the ideas that are prevalent in the contemporary secularized sense of justice.
 
IV.9. The Church of Christ, preserving her own autonomous law based on holy canons and keeping within church life proper, can exist in the framework of very diverse legal systems, which she treats with respect. The Church invariably calls upon her flock to be law-abiding citizens of their earthly homeland. At the same time, she has always underlined the unshakeable limits to which her faithful should obey the law.

In everything that concerns the exclusively earthly order of things, the Orthodox Christian is obliged to obey the law, regardless of how imperfect and unfortunate it is. However, when compliance with legal requirements threatens his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of another doubtless sin before God and his neighbor, the Christian is called to perform the feat of confession for the sake of God’s truth and the salvation of his soul for eternal life. He must speak out lawfully against an indisputable violation committed by society or state against the statutes and commandments of God. If this lawful action is impossible or ineffective, he must take up the position of civil disobedience (see, 111. 5).
 
 
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