14 July 2008

Particular churches: a question for canonists

Modern Catholic ecclesiology (for example, in the CDF documents Communionis notio and Dominus Iesus issued when Joseph Ratzinger was Cardinal Prefect) considers a 'Church' to be a local body consisting of Bishop, Presbyterium, deacons , and people [er .. what about Abbacies nullius? But we'll let that pass]. Such a body ought to be in communion with the Holy See, but, if it isn't, it's still a true 'particular church', although 'wounded' by its lack of communion with Rome.

It is, of course, possible for a particular church to have elements of disorder within it. Few Christian ages or places have been entirely free of disorder. But how much disorder disqualifies an ecclesial body from being a 'particular church'? In the Anglican diocese of Barchester, for example, half the 'presbyters' are women purporting to be in holy orders. Obviously such a very large degree of corruption means that the diocese of Barchester cannot be in any real sense a 'particular church' and thus a local manifestation of the Church Catholic. So, the Bishop of Barchester, although a legal office-holder in the quaint old Tudoresque legal establishment, is not the Bishop of a 'particular church', and does not have canonical jurisdiction. Barchester Catholics will in fact be sedevacantists. This means, of course, that 'oaths of canonical obedience' are sworn to a vacuum.

But just how dysfunctionally corrupt does a 'church' have to be to lose its status? How structurally decadent does a 'diocese' have to be before it is reasonable to deem the episcopal tenure of its 'diocesan' a nullity?

1 comment:

The young fogey said...

There is the question of Apostolicæ Curæ.

Which brings one to Rome's criteria for validity: credal orthodoxy so basic the Assyrians (Nestorians) pass muster, a claim to unbroken apostolic succession and historically continuous orthodox teaching about the Eucharist.

Rome says Anglicans have all but the last.

So although the nearly ubiquitous Anglican claims to the Dutch touch would allow the sometime Bishop of Barchester today to be conditionally ordained a Roman Catholic priest, because these orders might still be Anglican, not Old Catholic, Rome still assumes he's not a priest.

The Orthodox are different: since the 1930s they've said if the whole Anglican Communion unprotestantised and joined their church the clergy would be be received in their orders. There's no real recognition of orders outside that church.

Neither side believes in a branch theory of churches out of communion with each other.

An Anglican bishop is one who's invited to Lambeth (with a few exceptions: +New Hampshire wasn't but is still a sitting Anglican bishop) whether one is as Catholic as the Pope, is as Protestant as Billy Graham, is as sceptical as Richard Dawkins or is a woman.