Benjamin Guyer on Canon Law—A Measuring Rod

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Any Anglican theology of law is bound to use both pre- and post-Reformation authors such as Gratian, Aquinas, and Hooker. At the beginning of his Decretum, Gratian offers two important definitions: “What is put in writing is called enactment or law, while what is not collected in writing is called by the general term ‘custom.’” Aquinas used this distinction to posit a difference between divine law and natural law, both of which are unchanging, and human or positive law, which can be revised. Following Aquinas, Hooker maintained the same. Canon law is human law and insofar as it achieves a good end, the law itself is good. Should canon law fail in this, it must be revised. It is precisely here in a discussion of the good that canon law invokes other canons, namely, the canon of Scripture. If Scripture contains “all things necessary to salvation,” then canon law should be written to aid the Church in attaining these same divinely revealed ends.

Canon law is thus evangelical through and through. A church’s witness to the wider society begins with its own, internal witness. In this way, canon law is constructive, even in its punitive functions. The purpose of ecclesiastical discipline is never to punish but always to restore. The violation of canon law is a matter of no small importance in the Church, just as the violation of civil law is a matter of importance in the State. Only the arbitrary use of authority allows law to be violated in an ad hoc fashion. In the State this is called tyranny; in the Church it is called abuse. A church that cares nothing for canonical infractions also cares nothing for restoration. A church without confession is a church without repentance, and such a church is also without forgiveness, for it stands in need of lawful and righteous judgment. How can there be justice if there is no law?

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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: CommentaryEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Polity & Canons

Posted June 6, 2012 at 6:00 am

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1. steveatmi5 wrote:

Clearly the canons are not respected when they fly in the face of the theology TEC leaders want—Communion of the unbaptized is exhibit A.

June 6, 9:12 am | [comment link]
2. c.r.seitz wrote:

Nice work from Guyer. Maybe the next generation will face into the mess being made and learn again the lessons of history. Guyer is a resource for that.

June 6, 11:40 am | [comment link]

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