The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 1

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
Vladimir Soloviev (1853–1900)

PAUL VALLIERE

The systematic study of law, one of the central concerns of Western Christian civilization since the Middle Ages, has not enjoyed comparable centrality in the Christian East. The Byzantine legal tradition, described in the previous chapter, perished with the fall of the Byzantine Empire (1453). Since then, the catalyst for the development of legal thought in the Orthodox East has been contact with the West. The dynamic, often aggressive, projection of Western influence into the Orthodox world in modern times forced Eastern Christians to take an interest in Western civilization whether they wished to or not. Among the many subjects demanding attention, Western legalism—civil, political, and ecclesiastical—was particularly difficult for Orthodox people to appreciate because of the absence of analogous structures in their own living tradition.

Orthodox reflection on modern legalism began in Russia, not because the Russians were better prepared to think about law than the other Orthodox peoples, but because Russia was the first Orthodox country to attempt to remake itself into a state and society of the modern type. The reforms of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great in the eighteenth century stimulated profound reflection on the foundations of civil society. During the “Moscow Spring” of 1809–12, the statesman and jurist Mikhail Speransky—the son of an Orthodox village priest—convinced Tsar Alexander I to contemplate an extensive reform of the Russian Empire along legal lines. Napoleon's invasion in 1812 put an end to this project, but Russian legal science continued to develop. Speransky devoted the second half of his career to preparing the first systematic code of law in the history of Russia. The first edition of this massive work was published in 1832. Later in the century Timofei Granovsky (1813–55) and Boris Chicherin (1828–1903) laid the foundations of Russian legal philosophy. As part of the Great Reforms of the 1860s, a new judicial system was set up, jury trial was introduced, and a Russian bar was created. The rule of law appeared to have begun in Russia.

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