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Ecclesiological and Canonical Observations on The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion

  • Christopher Hill (a1) (a2)

In the Archbishop of Canterbury's Foreword to the findings of the Anglican Communion Legal Advisers' Network, Rowan Williams argues that law is a way of securing two things for the common good: equity and responsibility. Law is against arbitrariness and for knowing who is responsible for this or that. Law in the Church is also about equitable life in the communion of the Body of Christ and the mutual obligations of our interdependence. As Convenor of the Legal Advisers' Network, Canon John Rees observes that their work, which emerged as The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion, is not a quick fix to the contemporary problems of the Anglican Communion. Nor is it a covert device for the introduction of a universal canon law for the whole Anglican Communion with an aim to impose covenantal sanctions for churches which do not toe the line.

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2 Anglican Communion Legal Advisers' Network, The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion (London, 2008). For convenience, the study is shortened to Principles hereafter.

3 A notable exception, in which I was pleased to participate, was a residential symposium Canon Law in the Service of the Church held at the Anglican Centre in Rome in May 2010.

4 Where, in 1215, Canon 9 of Lateran IV made cultural provision for suffragan bishops for different language groups within a single diocese in response to the pastoral needs of emerging exiled refugee communities fleeing from the encroaches of Islam.

5 A conservative coalition of jurisdictions which have separated themselves from The Episcopal Church over issues such as the ordination of women and questions of human sexuality, or which, though claiming the name Anglican, had never been in communion with the See of Canterbury.

6 Kemp, Bishop Eric, in his Introduction to Canon Law in the Church of England (London, 1956), noted that the 1603 Canons Ecclesiastical contained canons which were not enforceable by penalty but which were exhortatory. He cited an eighteenth-century judgment by Sir George Lee to this effect: Lloyd v Owen and Williams (1753) 1 Lee 434 at 436.

7 One area that we did not look at (because of both time constraints and a lack of expertise) was a comparison with the Reformation Churches, which also have a distinct legal ethos.

8 See Adam, W, Legal Flexibility and the Mission of the Church: dispensation and economy in ecclesiastical law (Farnham, Surrey, 2011), ch 12.

9 See Ombres, R, ‘Canon law and the mystery of the Church’, (1996–19967) 62 Irish Theological Quarterly 201.

10 Archbishops' Commission on Canon Law, The Canon Law of the Church of England (London, 1947).

1 This paper is the product of a small working group of the Ecclesiastical Law Society which consisted of Chancellor Timothy Briden, Vicar General of the Province of Canterbury; Mr Stephen Slack, Chief Legal Adviser to the Archbishops' Council and the General Synod; Mr Paul Barber, Director of Education of the Archdiocese of Westminster; Mr David Harte formerly of the faculty of law at Newcastle University and myself as convenor. I take responsibility for the final form of these observations, which were first presented at an Ecclesiastical Law Society London Lecture in Lincoln s Inn on 16 November 2011 but I acknowledge my great debt to all those who gave up time for a fascinating discussion of the evolvement of Anglican canon law and ecclesiology. The views here expressed are, of course, our own and do not represent a ‘party-line’ as if such a thing could exist in Anglicanism. Essentially, I have acted as the Jackdaw in Aesop's Fable; a bird who has clothed himself with other birds' plumage.

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Ecclesiastical Law Journal
  • ISSN: 0956-618X
  • EISSN: 1751-8539
  • URL: /core/journals/ecclesiastical-law-journal
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