Our country lost a remarkable Supreme Court justice over the weekend. Justice Antonin Scalia, despite being considered a foe of many progressives, was still generally admired by all for his keen intelligence and thoughtful (if not downright entertaining) decisions. Justice Scalia saw the Constitution as the objective beacon that anchored the United States instead of a document that could be manipulated to conform to the fashions of the day (I’ll spare you the Catholic/protestant analogies here). While he issued opinions on many cases, many supporters consider his District of Columbia v. Heller to be a crowning achievement wherein he opined that our God-given right to self-preservation, and according to our Second Amendment, allowed Americans to bear arms on and in their property regardless of what state or boundaries they found themselves within (in this case, Washington DC).
“Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right.”
– Antonin Scalia’s Majority Decision in DC v Heller, 2008
But you can find plenty of other places to read about his opinions, I want to talk about his very public Catholic identity. Antonin Scalia’s career and jurisprudence was formed by classical Catholic thought. As a staunch intellectual and defender of moral law, he venerated Saint Thomas More, patron to politicians, statesmen, and lawyers. A portrait of the JPII-canonized saint hanged in his office and he even wore a replica of More’s famous hat to President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
Furthermore, Justice Scalia showed that the Catholic intellectual tradition provided a deep reservoir of insights into law, the role of judges, and even our own written Constitution. It’s no coincidence, for example, that Justice Scalia argued that originalism should accept some nonoriginalist precedent to protect the rule of law. The rule of law, fully articulated by the time of St. Thomas, is a central component of the common good, and originalism should protect it, where it can, for the sake of the common good.
–Lee Strang, Georgetown & Toledo College of Law
But he wasn’t just some shallow CINO (Catholic in name only). He wasn’t a ‘cultural Catholic’ politician that used his religious identity to his benefit. From all third-party accounts available, Justice Scalia walked the walk. Scalia was the father of nine children and a grandfather to 36! When asked in a 60 Minutes interview about his large family, he said he and his wife “didn’t set out to have nine children […] We’re just old-fashioned Catholics, playing what used to be known as ‘Vatican Roulette,’”
One of his sons actually is a priest. Fr. Paul Scalia served a number of dioceses before most recently being the pastor at Saint John the Beloved parish (which offers TLM) in the Arlington, VA diocese. In fact, Paul is apparently very active in the Latin Mass movement in Washington DC. Paul is known to preach about orthodoxy and the “errors of modernism”–indeed similar to his father’s philosophy of the Constitution.
Actually, Antonin Scalia was a “Latin Masser” himself. He was frequently spotted at the Solemn High Mass at St. Catherine of Siena in Great Falls, VA. Actually, he often went with his colleague, Justice Clarence Thomas. Pretty cool huh? For a biography (American Original) he was asked about his liturgical preferences, “We have always traveled long distances to go to a church that we thought had a really reverent Mass, the kind of church that when you go in, it is quiet — not that kind of church where it is like a community hall and everybody is talking,”
The justice proved obedient to the Faith that had done such a good job forming him. Many people expect a ‘traditionally-minded’ Catholic to openly criticize some of Pope Francis’ endeavors and quotes, but when asked by New York Magazine what he thought of Francis’ quote (which was interpreted by many secular sources to mean Catholics need to focus less on marriage and abortion), Scalia retorted, “He’s the Vicar of Christ. He’s the chief. I don’t run down the pope.”
Also in the New York Magazine interview, he was asked if he “believes in the Devil”, unable to wrap their head around the fact that an otherwise [very] intelligent person could possibly buy into such an antiquated concept of an immaterial presence seeking to do harm in the world. I mean, surely this successful, smart, and thoughtful man only calls himself a Catholic to keep up appearances and for a sense of childhood nostalgia. But the justice answered, “Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.”. The interview goes on:
NYM: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
Justice Scalia: If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.
Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
It’s because he’s smart.
So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
[…Y]ou’re saying the Devil is persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. […]
What happened to him?
He just got wilier.
He got wilier.
Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
I’m sorry to have offended you!
Have you read The Screwtape Letters?
Yes, I have.
So, there you are. That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.
Scalia will be remembered as a champion for legal and spiritual truth. He understood that the Constitution’s strength lay in its rock-hard objectiveness, rights adhering to the truth of God. It’s hard to imagine being such a staunch defender of this understanding had he not first understood that that this too is the strength of moral law as handed to us by the “pillar and foundation of Truth” (1 Tim 3:15), the holy Catholic Church.
We ask that the Heavenly Father look favorably upon Antonin Scalia that he might enter Heaven as he so looked forward to while here on earth. We ask for the prayers of Thomas More, his patron saint, that he be made worthy of eternal life beside Jesus.
May he rest in peace.
V. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.
R. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.