I began to write a comment under the recent article dealing with the objection by the Church of Wales against the use of its logo by the Friends of the Ordinariate website. It suddenly dawned on me that this little controversy hinged around something very simple (Occam’s Razor has a very sharp blade!). It is distinguishing between morality and legality.
In legal terms, the institutional organisation bearing the name is the owner of the logo.
In moral terms good Christian clergy and lay people in the Church of Wales have been marginalised by the liberal powers-that-be and it is understandable that the former object to the latter appropriating what should belong to all.
Now this little distinction brings me to a much bigger and important subject. We English can be very rigid in our interpretation of law. The law is what the words say. Were it so simple! We have to have lawyers and judges, not just to apply the law and make wrongdoers pay the price for their misdeeds – but also to interpret the law. As Roger Scruton said in his lecture (see my previous article), the role of the judge is to discover the law.
Now, we come to what I’m really on about. I read a definition by an intelligent young gentleman living in Pennsylvania and running a fascinating blog, defining the Anglican as “one whose Bishop is invited to the Lambeth Conference”. The notion is totally legal and in no way takes subjective factors into account. Legally, he is right. Continuing Anglicans like the TAC or the Anglican Province in America or the APCK are not Anglicans but distinct denominations. Legally, the parent Churches (TEC under the direction of Ms. Schori, the Church of England, etc.) have the right to accuse Continuing Anglicans of abusively using the name Anglican and sue them in consequence.
I have heard that German law forbids the use of the word Catholic by any group not in formal communion with the Episcopal Conference itself in communion with Rome. Of course, being in communion with the Bishops is being recognised by them as being in communion with them. This law does not take the orthodoxy or continuity of internal principles of the parent Church into consideration. Under the law, the Church is a legal entity and a moral person.
Of course, we can then find that a Church has deviated so far from orthodoxy that its activity as a human corporation no longer conforms to the definition and purpose given in the organisation’s constitution or statutes. That is another problem, one on which I am incompetent to judge.
There is another category, that of morality. Morality is not law, but a consideration of principles seen from a more complete perspective. It considers human acts in accordance not only to laws, but also in terms of the finality and the subjective dispositions of the person (physical or moral) concerned. I would strongly recommend reading the works of one of the greatest moral theologians of our times, Fr Servais Pinckaers OP, whom I was lucky and highly privileged to have had as my moral theology professor at Fribourg.
In moral terms, extra-mural Anglicans (and extra-mural Catholics) are those who are defined by their characteristics: doctrine, liturgical tradition, self-identity and others. Morally, extra-mural Anglicans are Anglicans. There are always problems when law becomes detached from morality, and becomes a means for the strong to exploit and oppress the weak. I am brought to think of that fascinating article from a few years ago by our own Bishop Robert Mercer on Extramural Anglicans. Fundamentally, if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. An Anglican is one who does Anglican things and identifies as an Anglican. This happens because a community is forced by motivation of conscience to leave the original Church for a serious reason (typically because the parent Church has introduced unacceptable changes and attempted to impose them on all, tolerating no diversity in the matter).
This happened in Anglicanism, and also happened in Catholicism. I think particularly of the Society of Saint Pius X in spite of their having received severe canonical sanctions from Rome, including excommunication of their bishops (the excommunication was lifted in January 2009, but the clergy concerned have no canonical mission for their ministry). They insist on being considered as Catholics. In spite of their legal separation from Rome (which separation is now blurred), they do Catholic things, believe in Catholic doctrine and have valid priests and bishops. There were other schisms in history, where the dissidents were the conservatives, the so-called Jansenist Old Catholics of Utrecht (1725) and the Petite Eglise (1801). There was also the schism of the Old Believers from the Russian Orthodox Church under Czar Peter the Great in the seventeenth century.
Where is the line drawn? Since about the end of the nineteenth century, there has been the phenomenon of men like Joseph René Vilatte and Arnold Harris Mathew, called episcopi vagantes by authors like Peter Anson and Henry Brandreth. This ecclesiastical subculture features hundreds of men claiming a valid Episcopate by virtue of a line of succession (which is no guarantee of validity in most cases). Episcopi vagantes tend to confuse people (or do they?) and draw discredit on the Church every time one of these bishops gets involved in fraud or sexual abuse, or worse. So, Churches get very nervous about who is the real thing and who are the impostors. This problem is more widespread in America, but there are a few in England and Continental Europe. Some of them build up communities that can be seen and visited, and prove to be devout and pious men – and so the question can be asked whether they are genuine “extra-mural” churches rather than frauds and quacks.
We do hope all these issues will become academic and moot as we move into official, formal and canonical communion with Rome. We will not only be praying una cum the Pope in the Canon of the Mass, but we will also have bits of paper signed by the Pope to say that he recognises us to be real Catholics! The years of wandering in the desert will be at an end, and legal and moral will be reunited in their happy marriage.
I hope, that once this happens, we will not be tempted to sneer upon others from our ivory towers of canonicity, but rather reach out to all Christians with compassion and understanding for why they are in that particular situation. The Pope could have sneered at the TAC, saying that we were vagante quacks. He did not, and has opened his arms to us in our poverty and the humility of our bishops being ready to lay their own necks on the block. Let us read the Parable of the Two Debtors – many times, and meditate upon it!
We have understood a vital distinction. Many others have not and continue to cause confusion and heartbreak to the simple. Let us get to work!
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