Lecture by Canon David Smith – CODE OF CANON LAW

HUMAN SOCIETY, especially religious human society, as it
deals with governance finds itself in an awkward place, caught between two
conflicting demands that defy an easy universal solution. There is the drive
for human freedom at the level of the individual, a drive which stands in
dramatic tension with the rational necessity of a unified and harmonious
world workable at a pragmatic level as opposed to a theoretically desirable
but unrealizable legal construct. This duality, the pull between concrete
individuality and universality, has dogged humanity and challenged the
process of person-hood since the time of the fall and the expulsion from the
Edenic paradise. Followers of Jesus Messiah have come to find their freedom
as sons of God within the one body and in the one Spirit evident in the
ecclesia of God, the new Israel. The strength of our person-hood, individual
and collective alike, is to be found in Christ expressed in loving and caring
community, a gathering strong in the one faith, sealed in the one baptism and
living within the one hope of our calling perfectly expressed for us in the
Most Holy Trinity, in Being as communion expressed in the practice of
selfless love and charity. The individual finds his constitutive element and his
perfect expression as the hypostasis of being that is linked effectively to and
folded into the one Body as they both fulfill the one Will under the guidance
of the one Spirit. All find their valuation here within the Fatherhood of God
Who loves us as His children, heirs, and as co-heirs with Christ the anointed
Son. This sense of freedom is perhaps the ultimate challenge of all created
being as it struggles to finesse the demands of authentic person-hood within
the family of God. It is here, within the dialectic of individual and universal,
of divine Will and human hubris, that the writing of this Code of Canon Law
finds its genesis. It is offered to the Anglocatholic Church spreading across
the face of the earth within the unfolding history of her institutional life as
she seeks to govern herself while at the same time being governed from
above within the glorious liberty of the children of God. Romans 8 . 21
The Church of God must always seek her roots and derive her 2
nourishment from the deep wellsprings of her history and the traditions
imparted by Christ Himself to the apostles, traditions which have continued
unbroken until this day. She possesses no authority of herself to violate this
beneficent divine gifting. She may attempt to clarify it and to interpret the
deposit of the faith and ecclesial practice and in so doing reveal anew their
unchanging relevance in the contemporary world. She can, in humility, as a
servant of the servants of God, seek to discern the authentic guidance of the
Spirit that leads into all truth, most especially in the deliberations of her
magisterium. However, she must always operate under the rubric of our
Lord’s prayerful approach to His heavenly Father Fiat voluntas tua sicut in
caelo et in terra. In dispensing justice, she must always remember that true
justice is restorative and driven by mercy expressed through a heart of love
and lips that speak no guile. Thus holy Church, her leaders and every
member in her must cooperate with the working of divine grace and seek to
minister of the love and wisdom of the Most Holy Trinity. Her exemplar finds
its perfect expression in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos.
In her humility, she cultivated in a natural way an openness which allowed
God to operate through her as God seeks to restore all of His creation through
a new birth from above within the long-suffering of faith nourished and
watered by hope.
Friends in Christ and co-workers in God’s service, 1 Corinthians 3 . 9 if
we indeed, alongside Paul, are ‘ prisoners in the Lord ‘ Ephesians 4 . 1 – 8, then it
follows that we also must ‘ walk worthy of the vocation in which we are
called, in all humbleness, mildness with patience, supporting one another in
charity, carefully maintaining the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace. ‘ The
maintenance of this catholic heritage through the practice of restorative
justice is our calling in the ministry of reconciliation. As Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger points out in E schatology Death and Eternal Life we cannot extract
the Ipsissima vox Jesu as a measuring tool for the church or indeed the New
Testament. The Lord’s message becomes intelligible to us through an ‘ echo
effect ‘ that it has created for us through the course of the unfolding of
history. Ratzinger’s teaching allows for a development that is true, provided
that our focus is always be fixed on the inner unity of the whole of God’s
saving message sensed through the inner movement of His word best
expressed in the lives of the faithful rather than in the learned musings of the
scholar in his carrel or in the judgements of those empowered to interpret the
legal code. This finds its locus in the unity of the believing subject, His
Church, the one body. Paul in Ephesians 4 meditates on the saving work of
God in Christ, a work that is exercised by filling all things with grace from
the depths of the lower world to the heights of the Father’s throne, seeking to
induct all into ‘ the measure of the stature of Christ ‘ Who came not to
condemn the world but that all the world through Him might be saved. John 3 .
17 . This divine saving intent must be the single goal both in the creation of
this legal code and its application. We do not judge although we act on behalf
of the only One Who judges. We act always mindful that every one of us
stands under the same sentence. Rather, and exclusively, we act after the
Father’s expressly stated goal as understood by Paul ‘ for the perfecting of the
saints ‘ as the work of ministry and ‘ for the edifying of the body of Christ. ‘
Ephesians 4 . 12 We act provisionally only until we all meet ‘ into the unity of
faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God ‘ that is ‘ a perfect man, ‘ that
which we seek to express in ourselves and attempt to draw from all who have
strayed from the path. Paul magnificently expresses this goal thus ‘ doing
truth in charity ‘ as we ‘ grow up in all things in our Head, Christ. ‘ If in this
Church, we can begin this process of real hearing and real ministering of the
Word of God and transfer that finely tuned hearing into active living after the
perfect model of Christ, I believe that we will find ourselves where Paul
found himself – as interpreters of the grace-driven spirit of the law rather
than the restrictive experience of the letter. This legal corpus must be read
and administered in this liberating way after the model of God who seeks not
the death of a sinner, but rather that he should return to Him Who made him
and live more fully.
Perhaps now is the perfect time to consider the Greek word kanon. The
word admits a certain flexibility in translation with potential meanings
stretching from rule to practical directions including both written laws that
have been promulgated officially and unwritten customs that have been
enshrined in institutional practice. These arise both from a basis in oral
tradition crystallized into words and from the practical necessity of
judgments arising from specific circumstances that lead to the establishment
of principles. A good example of this is Paul’s approach to marriage and
celibacy. The ultimate source is understood to be God Who manifests His
will for creation in both Natural Divine Law that enjoys a universal
recognition and in Revelation preserved in the Church in scripture, in
tradition and in individual communication under the guidance of the Spirit.
Jesus endowed His church with the right of judgment, both of binding and of
freeing. In sight is always the common welfare of the community and all its
members. The gift of judgment needs to be understood as a solemn privilege
that carries with it a solemn warning against the misuse of this power
especially when shepherds refuse to search for the lost, to seek them out and
return them to the safety of the divine sheep fold. Ezekiel 34 Those vested with
the power of judgment need to exercise their power in relation to the real
office of the body of Christ – prophetic, priestly and kingly, offices gifted to
the Church where ministry is a function and direct outgrowth of the loving
unity that Jesus so desired for His family of faith. Thus, the magisterium or
their representatives must act in organic union with the priesthood of all
believers, those in orders and those who are lay alike, mindful that we are all
fallible and under the influence of sin at one and the same time as we seek to
conform ourselves to the Image of the One Who calls us out of darkness into
His pure light. 1 Peter 2 . 9 Thus, in the fellowship of the one Body, we are
called to remember and to turn without recourse to coercive jurisdiction as
we practice restorative justice under the banner of good works. We are called
to seek out the good seed of God sown in every heart, Luke 8 called to allow it
to grow, nay called to foster its growth to optimal maturity wherever the hand
of the Lord God has sown it, that place where it awaits the harvest by the
heavenly angels, always hoping to receive the end of faith, even the salvation
of our souls. 1 Peter 1 . 9 . Thus our ministry in the new Covenant of Love
must be persuasive and driven by love of all after the new Law of Love. It
must arise from the depths of the heart and be readily evident externally in
action in the world. We are here in the Lord’s Name to persuade with
sincerity, to exhort to repentance and especially to welcome back to the fold
with open arms the prodigal who has lost his way, Luke 15 . 11 – 32 called not to
be as the unmerciful servant. Matthew 18 . 23, 24 Thus, this legal corpus must
act as did the ancient concept of the diabolus as recorded in the tale of
Baalam and his ass – as an adversary seeking to prevent future disaster. It
must be a compendium of corrective benchmarks rather than a cause for
expulsion from the restorative love of God. It is to be a tool of healing, a
medicine of the spirit pointing all toward the promise of the gift which is yet
to come to us in all its fullness. Augustine Homily 176 of the Season For in this
power gifted us by the Lord Christ their lurks a potential danger. As judges,
we fall easy prey to the the issue that Paul so strongly exposes with regard to
the Jewish boasting with regard to the Covenant, a boasting that led them to a
false pride as the chosen people of the Almighty and to a false sense that the
keeping of the Law overrode the living of its spirit.
The adoption of the Code should lead us to ever greater humility, to an
increased awareness of our own brokenness and thus to an outpouring of
charity for those who are challenged in keeping within the one Body and
even more so for those who are without the Body and have yet to discover its
transformative salvific value. It should lead us to discover that for each and
every Christian the demands of God are greater than that which any mortal
man can hope to realize. Thus we are all totally dependent on the wellspring
of Grace and must take up with a cheerful heart Matthew Arnold’s poetic
description of our Christian ministry recorded in his poem Dover Beach
‘ the waters priest-like task of ablution round earth’s shores.’.
as we eschew the Queen of Hearts preferred method of justice when she in a
dark voice cries ‘ Off with their heads. ‘
When we allow sacred scripture be our teacher, God will enlighten us
with the wisdom that He gave to Solomon of old as He aids us in rendering
justice on His behalf. He will make us capable of rendering loving
restoration. Like David in his great confession preserved in the text of Psalm
51, each person called to judge must say ‘ I know my transgressions and my
sin is ever before me. ‘ When we all come to this point we begin to recognize
that sin, the condition of the whole body of believers, not a particular act of
an individual, is not cleared by condemnation, punishment and ostracization
but by helping individuals to come to that state which allows the love of God
to create our hearts anew as He puts within us a new and right spirit. This is a
process of return not of exile, of making acceptable not rendering as an
outcast. Each of us is the Prodigal Son seeking return to the bosom of God’s
family. Each of us desires to seek and live His wisdom as truth in the inward
being, in the secret heart. Thus, as ministers of reconciliation, we must be
urged on by the love of Christ, must become ambassadors for Christ,
2 Corinthians 5 . 11ff must proclaim the acceptable time of the Lord, the day of
salvation lest perchance by putting obstacles in the way of others, fault may
be found with our ministry.
Father David Smith
Cathedral of Our Lady and Saint Basil, Toronto, Ontario Canada
July 2017