22 April 2009


A friend has sent me a fascinating article on the problems faced by Anglican Catholics in the 1530, during the 'Gestapo' regime of Henry VIII. Faced with an oath repugnant to conscience, a man might use words which bore a double meaning - or even involved homophones - so that what the recipient of the oath understood to be said, and what the oath-taker himself intended by the words, might be radically opposed. A famous text-book example is: the householder asked by a murderer if his intended victim were within could reply "non est hic", where 'est' might mean 'is'; but might come from the verb 'edo' and mean 'is eating'. Apparently, the Master of Queen Catherine's Household is said to have sworn " that the King se ha hecho [has made himself] head of the Church", where the words are identical in sound to sea hecho [may be made].

Nothing much changes. This all reminded me of the occasion in the 1960s when, as one of a group of seminarians on retreat just before Ordination, I had to read the words of an oath to use the liturgical forms in the Prayer Book "and none other". While Evangelical and Liberal ordinands cheerfully uttered the oath as a meaningless formality and intending to ignore it, we Catholics, with better formed consciences, said "and one other"; refering, of course to the good old English Missal. Another and very public example of equivocation was the abortive 1960s scheme for Anglican-Methodist unity. I, rather doubtfully, voted for it after the distinguished canonist Eric Kemp, one of the authors of the Rite of Unification and later to be Bishop of Chichester, explained that it had been constructed on the principle of Equivocation, so that what the Methodist Ministers thought was just a rite to confer the sort of extra graces they would need in a united Church, would in fact be a fully formed and watertight Conditional Ordination.

Then there is Mental Reservation. Let's do him the day after tomorrow.

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