Lawyer-Theologians

In my brief study of theologians throughout church history, I noticed a common denominator between many of them. Quite a number of theologians received formal legal training/education in their lifetime1. The following is a non-exhaustive list of lawyer-theologians, arranged chronologically:

2nd Century

Tertullian of Carthage

Background

“Son of a proconsular centurion, Tertullian studied law at Rome and as a young man converted to the Christian faith.”2

“There is an historical tradition, based on Eusebius and the Justinian Law Code, that Tertullian was a great legal expert. Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica mentioned that Tertullian knew ‘the Roman laws extremely accurately’. Justinian’s Digesta and Codex also quoted legal works by a jurist named Tertullian.”3

“Many word studies of Tertullian found legal terminology in his writings and declared his theology formed by the legal context. After Barnes, however, scholars began to reevaluate the presuppositions of these words, concluding with different results …

Claude Fredouille, and many now see Tertullian, not as a legal expert, but as a rhetorical genius capable of persuading with a whole range of imagery, including legal imagery.”4

Theological Contribution

Apologeticus
De testimonio animae
De Adversius Iudaeos
Adv. Marcionem
Adv. Praxeam
Adv. Hermogenem
De praesciptione hereticorum
Scorpiace

De monogamia
Ad uxorem
De virginibus velandis
De cultu feminarium
De patientia
De pudicitia
De oratione
AD martyras

3rd Century

Gregory Thaumaturgus

Background

“Gregory of Thaumaturgus had originally left Pontus to study Latin and Roman law at Beirut. While there, he might have been seduced from his legal studies not by biblical studies with the Christian teacher Origen, but by the delights of classic Greek culture.”5

“In the mid-third century, the Church Father, ‘Gregory the ‘wonderworker’ – later known as Gregory Thaumaturgus’ – studied rhetoric and Roman law with a private teacher in his hometown of Neo-Caesarea (the capital of Pontus, Asia Minor), before setting out with his brother and others for the law school at Beirut; they got as far as Caesarea in Palestine, where they continued their education with Origen …”6

“There is a passage from Gregory Thaumaturgus, who had studied law in his youth and became bishop of Nicocaesarea in Pontus about the middle of the third century …”7

Theological Contribution

Oratio Panengyrica
Epistola Canonica
Exposition of the Faith
Epistola ad Philagrium

4th Century

Basil of Caesarea 

Background

“[Basil of Caesarea] studied for five years in Athens, then came back home to begin a successful worldly career, teaching rhetoric and practicing law in Caeserea, the region’s capital.”8

“After years of private study, Basil enrolled in the University of Athens, the most prestigious university at that time. In due course, Basil returned to Cesaria, where he began his legal practice.”9

Theological Contribution

On the Holy Spirit
Refutation of the Apology of the Impious Eunomius

Amphilocius of Iconium

Background

“Amphilocius, later Bishop of Iconium, had abandoned his practice of law and was living in retirement at Ozizala, not far from Nazianzus, where Gregory, his uncle, was bishop.”10

“A number of key bishops in the Eastern Church who had received rhetorical education went on to practice as advocates before their episcopal appointments. From the Cappadocian Fathers we can name Basil the Great and his contemporaries Amphilocius of Iconium and Asterius of Amasea.”11

Theological Contribution

Against False Asceticism
Epistola Synodica
In Occursum Domini
Epistula lambica ad Seleucum

John Chyrsostom

Background

“After the completion of his studies, Chrysostom became a rhetorician, and began the profitable practice of law, which opened to him a brilliant political career.”12

“In due time, Chrysostom began to practice as a lawyer; and as the profession of the law was reckoned one of the surest avenues to political distinction for a man of talent, and the speeches of Chrysostom excited great admiration, a brilliant and prosperous career seemed to lie before him.”13

Theological Contribution

Hieratikon
Kata Ioudaion
Against Those Who Oppose the Monastic Life
On the Priesthood
Instructions to Catechumens
On the Imcomprehensibility of the Divine Nature

Asterius of Amasea

Background

“Asterius the bishop was a lawyer by training and his sermons preserve a rhetorical flair.”14

“[Asterius] passed from the profession of rhetoric and law to the bishopric of Amasea in Pontus.”15

“Asterius was trained in Roman law, and his homilies might be a fruitful object of study for legal historians.”16

Theological Contribution

Oration 4: Adversus Kalendarum Festum

Ambrose of Milan

Background

“[Ambrose of Milan] born into a noble family, received a thorough education in rhetoric and law to prepare him for a career in government. He is said to have been working as a lawyer before he became bishop of Milan in AD 373.”17

“An important thinker by any standard, and particularly important because of his influence upon natural law thinking, was Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397). Like Tertullian, he was a lawyer with a lawyer’s sense of terminology.”18

“In Rome Ambrose studied Roman law and rhetoric and became a brilliant lawyer.”19

Theological Contribution

De fide ad Gratianum Augustum
De Officiis Ministrorum
De Spiritu Sanctum
De incarnationis Dominicae sacramento
De mysteriis
Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam

Augustine of Hippo

Background

“My studies which were deemed respectable had the objective of leading me to distinction as an advocate in the law courts, where one’s reputation is high in proportion to one’s success in deceiving people.”20

“Now about 18 years old, Augustine is studying to become a lawyer and living a life not so different from that of a modern college student.”21

Theological Contribution

De Doctrina Christiana
Confessions
De civitate Dei
De liberio arbitrio

Alypius of Thagaste

Background

“Alypius, Augustine’s friend and future bishop of Thagaste, had studied law.”22

“Augustine was helped by his old friend Alypius, bishop of Thagaste, who was a trained lawyer and was more expert in dealing with bureaucrats.”23

Theological Contribution

Written report on the Council of Milevi (Numidia)

Sulpicius Severus

Background

[Severus] was an accomplished man, as well as a distinguished orator; but as a lawyer, he was, in the opinion of Cicero, pre-eminent and unrivaled.”[footnote]The English Cyclopedia, Part 3, Vol. 5 (1867), p.825

“Furthermore, there is additional information in the Sacred History or Chronicle of the Worldi (II 29) by Sulpicius Severus (A.D. 363-420), a highly educated contemporary of Jerome and, in his own career, first of all a lawyer.”24

Theological Contribution

Chronica, Chronicorum Libri duo / Historia sacra

Paulinus of Nola

Background

“[Paulinus] was taught by the poet Ausonius until he was 15, then went to study Roman law, poetry, eloquence, science and Platonic philosophy at the University of Bordeaux. He became a prominent and successful lawyer, and when he was 25, Emperor Gratian nominated him to fill and unexpired term as a senator in Rome.”25

“Born at Bordeaux of a very wealthy family (his father was prefect of Gaul and owned lands in Italy, Spain, and Aquitaine), Paulinus was educated by the poet Ausonius, practiced as a lawyer and held public office probably in Campania, travelled extensively, and married a Spanish wife, Therasia.”26

Theological Contribution

Poema Primum
Poema II
Poematis UUU Fragmentum
Poema IV. Ad Deum Matutina Precatio
Poema V. Ad Deum Alia Precatio

Prudentius

Background

“According to the preface of [his oeuvre], Prudentius was 56 years old when he wrote it (praef. 1-3). He had worked as a lawyer (vv.13-5) and had governed two illustrius cities (vv.16-8).”27

“From Spain, we have Prudentius (348-413), lawyer and provincial governor, but also a poet, a Christian poet.”28

Theological Contribution

Liber Cathemerinon
Liver Peristephanon
Apotheosis
Psychomachia
Libria contra Symmachum
Dittochaeon

Triphyllius of Ledri

Background

“Triphyllius, the bishop of Ledri, had previously practiced law in Berytus.”29

“Spyridon was present, as likewise Triphylius, bishop of Ledri, a man otherwise eloquent, who on account of practicing the law, had lived alone while at Berytus.”30

Theological Contribution

“a Commentarie upon the Canticles”[ Nathaniel Lardner, The Credibility of the Gospel History, Vol. 11 (1753), p.6]

Petilianus of Cirta

Background

“Petilianus, the Donatist bishop of Cirta … were also former lawyers.”31

“Petilianus, the Donatist bishop of Cirta (and a former lawyer), was particularly adept in his handling of Roman law …”32

Theological Contribution

Encyclical Letter to the Donatists

Marculus

Background

“… Marculus the Donatist bishop and marty, were also former lawyers.”33

“Like Augustine, Marculus was a highly trained rhetor and expert in the law, but one who had turned his back on “the false honors of worldly knowledge.””34

Theological Contribution

“[After the edict of unity, he led a delegation of bishops] to meet with personal representatives of the emperor, the imperial notaries Paul and Macarius, at Vegesela.”35

5th Century

Eusebius of Dorylaeum

Background

“He was an ardent advocate of theological orthodoxy. In 429, at that time a lawyer of Constantinople, he made a public protest against the teaching of Nestorius in a ‘Constentatio’ … addressed to the clergy of Constantinople.”36

“Opposition [to Nestorius] had formed quickly. The first volley was fired by a certain lawyer … called Eusebius who was later ordained the bishop of Dorylaeum.”37

Theological Contribution

Contestatio

Sozomen

Background

“In general, the lawyer Sozomen, unlike any other of the ecclesiastical historians, demonstrates a familiarity with Theodosius’ laws which survive for us in the compilation of the Theodosian Code (Errington 1997).”38

“Wherever [Sozomen’s] professional training was acquired, he settled in Constantinople, probably about the beginning of the fifth century, to commence his career as a lawyer.”39

Theological Contribution

Ecclesiastical History

Germanus of Auxerre

Background

“Germanus, born in about 378, was a member of an aristocratic family of the Auxerrois who received good education in Gaul and at Rome, married suitably, practiced successfully as a lawyer and achieved high public office as governor of Armorica, the north-western region of Gaul.”40

“Pope Celestine I sent over Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, a versatile cleric who is said to have practiced as a lawyer and served as governor and commander in Armorica.”41

Theological Contribution

“At the request of the British, the episcopacy of Gaul sent Germanus and Lupus of Troyes to Britain in about 430 to combat the Pelagian heresy. Their efforts to fight Pelagianism were successful, but Germanus made a second trip about seventeen years later (in 447) when the heresy returned.”42

6th Century

Severus of Antioch

Background

“After his studies in grammar and philosophy at Alexandria [Severus] moved to Beirut where he spent several years studying law …

He finished his studies and was prepared to become a lawyer and returned to Sozopolis, but instead he longed to attain spiritual perfection and so entered the monastic life.”43

“Severus had been a very committed student of Law in Beirut during the years 487 to 492. After his conversion, not only did he keep in touch with some of the former students from Beirut, but he became himself the most important authority in all matters concerning canon law. As a lawyer, he had to learn how to deal with a huge number of legal texts, laws, edicts, and rescripts, with all of these being a source of law but having different degrees of authority and often contradicting each other.”44

Theological Contribution

Letter to Julian, Bishop of Halicarnassus
Treatise Against Julian, Bishop of Halicarnassus
To the Eastern Monks

Gregory the Great

Background

“Born into one of the old, noble, and wealthy families of Rome, Gregory was given legal education to fit him for government service …

His legal training, tact, and common sense made him one of the ablest administrators of the Roman Church during the Middle Ages.”45

Theological Contribution

Regulae pastoralis liber
Dialogo de sam Gregorio
Morals on the book of Job

Zacharias Rhetor

“Zacharias Rhetor (d. after 536), a lawyer in Constantinople who later became bishop of Mitylene, wrote (ca. 492) a history, part of which has been preserved as Books 3-6 of the Syriac Chronicle.”46

“The two Lives of Severus were originally written in Greek but have survived only in Syriac translation. See Vita Severi (Zacharias Rhetor), “Vie de Severe, Patriache d’Antioche 512-518 par Zacharie le scholastique,” ed. and trans. M.-A. Kugener, PO 2 (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1907), pp. 7-115 … [It] was a work for a lawyer and friend of Severus …”47

Theological Contribution

Ecclesiastical History

Evagrius Scholasticus

Background

“Evagrius, an ecclesiastical historian, who wrote six books, embracing a period of 163 years, from the council of Ephesus a.d. 431 to the 12th year of the emperor Mauricius Tiberius, a.d. 594. He was born at Epiphania in Coelesyria a.d. 536 or 537, but accompanied his parents to Apamea for his education, and from Apamea seems to have gone to Antioch, the capital of Syria, and entered the profession of the law. He received the surname of Scholasticus, a term then applied to lawyers (Du Cange, Glossarium, s.v.), gained great favour with Gregory bp. of Antioch, and was chosen by him to assist in his judgments.“48

“Evargrius Scholasticus … a lawyer by profession, preserved valuable sources in his Ecclesiastical History, covering the period from the Council of Ephesus in 431 to 593.”49

Theological Contribution

Praktikos
Uber die acht Gedanken

16th Century

Martin Luther

Background

“… his father, Hans Luther, who thus far had been in charge of planning Martin’s career, had destined him for the law instead. Hence when the summer term of the Erfurt law school opened in May, Martin dutifully enrolled in the program of studies that would prepare him to become a lawyer.”50

“… it is possible that Luther may have encountered [several medieval texts indicating that aequitas and aequalitas are practically synonymous] during his brief period spent training as a lawyer at Erfurt.”51

Theological Contribution

On the Bondage of the Will
Ninety-five Theses
The Freedom of a Christian
To the Christian Nobility
The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

Thomas More

Background

“The proceedings in chancery, lately recovered from oblivion, show the system to have been in regular activity about a century and a half before the chancellorship of sir Thomas More, the first common lawyer who held the great seal since the chancellor had laid any foundations (known to us) of his equitable jurisdiction.”52

“More was also a lawyer, and a good one whose excellence was recognised by his peers in the profession, although he continually complained how onerous his profession was to him.”53

Theological Contribution

Dialogue Concerning Heresies
A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation
The Sadness of Christ: And Final Prayers and Instructions
Responsio ad Lutherum

John Calvin

Background

“In 1528 or 1529, when John Calvin was nineteen or twenty, his father ordered him to withdraw from his philosophical studies in Paris and enroll in the law faculty at the University of Orleans …

Calvin received his law degree about three years later, shortly after his father’s death.”54

“When I was yet a very little boy my father had destined me for the study of theology. But afterwards, when he considered the legal profession commonly raised those who followed it to wealth, the prospect induced him suddenly to change his purpose. Thus it came to pass that I was withdrawn from the study of of philosophy, and was put to the study of law.”55

Theological Contribution

Institutes of the Christian Religion
A Treatise on Relics
Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God
Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life

Hugo Grotius

Background

“Although a lawyer, Grotius experienced not only the ravages of war in his homeland, but also sufferings as a prisoner.”56

“What I do wish to impress upon my readers is that Grotius was the first great Dutch lawyer who systematised the confused mass of law which obtained in his day, and who by his Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Holland enabled subsequent legislators and jurists to build upon a solid foundation.”57

Theological Contribution

De Pietate Ordinum Hollandie
De Imperio summarum postestatum circa sacra
De veritate religionis Christianae

17th Century

William Prynne

Background

“After attending grammar school in Bath, [William Prynne] studied at Oriel College, Oxford, from 1618 to 1621. Upon graduating, he enrolled in Lincoln’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court, or law schools, and became a practicing lawyer in 1628. A militant puritan, Prynne combined his legal training with theological study. He published his first book, a theological treatise, in 1627, and his second – an attack on contemporary mores, with an emphasis on the danger of effeminacy of long hair in men – in 1628.”58

“Pyrnne, of course, was a lawyer. He described himself, proudly, on the title pages of his works as first ‘utter [sc. Junior]’ barrister, and later bencher and reader (of Lincoln’s Inn).”59

Theological Contribution

Hidden workes of darkenes brought to publike light
Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Background

“[Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz] continued his study of philosophy and pursued the standard degree program in law as well …

In October of that same year, 1663, at the age of 17, Leibniz completed the requirements for the first degree (the Bachelor’s degree) in law.”60

“Faced with the dilemma whether to complete his studies in philosophy or move on to one of the higher faculties, [Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz] decided to do both, simultaneously enrolling in the law faculty of his native Leipzig, where he began his legal apprenticeship under professors Quirinius Schacher and Bartholomaeus Schwendendorffer.”61

Theological Contribution

Monandology
Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays
Theodicee

18th Century

Charles G. Finney

Background

“From Finney’s early years the biography progresses via his legal training and practice, to his scanty theological education and ordination as a Presbyterian minister, and thence to evangelism in New York State, notably at Rome.”62

“Having spent his young adulthood completing the equivalent of a high school education, working on the farms of family members, teaching school, and for the last three years apprenticing as a lawyer, Finney knew that this spiritual crisis was also a vocational a turning point.”63

Theological Contribution

Religious Revivals
Systematic Theology
Lectures on Revivals of Religion

19th Century

Emilio Betti

“Emilio Betti … earned Doctoral degrees in both law and philosophy. He was Professor of Civil Law, Roman Law, Civil Trial Law, International Law, Agrarian Law, and the History of Law at universities in Camerino, Maserata, Messina, Parma, Florence, and Milan. In 1917 he was appointed to the faculty of the University of Frankfurt in Germany. While teaching in Germany, he studied the interpretative theories of Wilhelm Dilthey, and those theories became central to his approach. It was also while in Germany that he published a number of articles that established his reputation as a rigorous thinker in the field of hermeneutics.”64

“[Emilio Betti] is undoubtedly one of the most eminent Italian lawyers of the twentieth century. Strongly attracted by the study of history and philosophy, he nevertheless graduated in Law (Roman Law) in Parma in 1912 (in 1913 he also took a degree in Literature, in Bologna).”65

Theological Contribution

Teoria generale dell’interpretazione

Jean-Baptiste Henri-Dominique Lacordaire

Background

“[Jean-Baptiste Henri-Dominique Lacordaire] was brought up a Catholic, and his mother provided that he receive legal training at Dijon …

Lacodaire had lost his faith early in life, but then he had a conversion experience and regained it. He asked to be a seminarian in Paris and was ordained in 1827.”66

Theological Contribution

Conferences de Notre Dame de Paris
Eloges funebres
Considerations sur le systeme philosophique de M. de Lamennais

20th Century

John Warwick Montgomery

Background

“John Warwick Montgomery (Ph.D., Chicago, D.Théol., Strasbourg, LL.D., Cardiff, Dr. [h.c.], Institute for Religion and Law, Moscow) is Emeritus Professor of Law and Humanities, University of Bedfordshire, England, Distinguished Research Professor of Apologetics and Christian Thought, Patrick Henry College, Virginia, U.S.A., and Director, International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism & Human Rights, Strasbourg, France …

He is an ordained Lutheran clergyman, an English barrister, and is admitted to practice as a lawyer before the Supreme Court of the United States and inscrit au Barreau de Paris, France.”67

Theological Contribution

Tractatus Logico-Theologicus
The Suicide of Christian Theology
Christ as Centre and Circumference
Crisis in Lutheran Theology
Role of the Church in the 20th Century

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