"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Monday 8 July 2013


Dom Gregory Dix replies to Archbishop Rowan on Papal Primacy


We received much refrigerium, in these upper levels of Purgatory, by being allowed news of your Roman lecture in which - among other things - you consider the Papal Primacy. I found myself in full agreement with your acknowledgement that, just as local ministry serves coherence and mutual openness within a congregation, so there is a powerful theological case for a ministry of universal focusing and gathering, cast in the same terms, for the sake of filial and communal holiness held in a universal pattern of mutual service. I am less willing to follow you in your doubts about the alliance of existing forms of primacy to juridical privilege' and your shyness about primacy seen as a centralised juridical office.'


Let me take the matter historically. The Papacy has exercised a subtle though no less powerful influence upon the internal life of the Church, comparable to that of a gland in the life of a body. But that influence has been exercised in very different ways at various periods; in the eleventh century, almost entirely in feudal conceptions; in the fourteenth and fifteenth, through channels of high diplomacy; from the seventeenth century, more and more in the form of prescriptions of canon law. And that conception has decisively marked the Vatican I definition. But underneath all these changes of mode it is unmistakably the same institution fulfilling the same function in the organic life of the Church.

There is a sense in which it must obviously be useless to seek to justify the Vatican I definition of Papal Primacy from the pre-Nicene Church. If you seek the conceptions of developed Western Canon Law in the second century, obviously you will not find them, any more than you will find the Swiss Guards. And yet I think to leave the matter thus is to make the same sort of mistake that the semi-Arians made about homoousios. They could plead that of the same substance was not found in Scripture. Yet Athanasius was still right in claiming that homoousios was truer to the substance of Scripture and Tradition than the superficially more archaic alternatives of the Semi-Arians.

Legitimate development

It was doubtless as inevitable that Vatican I should define the Papal Primacy in terms of developed Western Canon Law, as that the Council of Nicaea should define the Godhead in terms of Greek metaphysics.

They were in both cases the only terms practically available. The early Church did not act by properly juridical concepts, and the New Testament was not written by metaphysicians. But in both cases the Council succeeded in preserving the whole of the original truth, while putting it into different dress. No one would deny that there has been development in both cases. But it is a true development, as I see it, bringing out only what was implicit and in germ in the original conception, and guarding it from misunderstanding and error.

The nature of the Roman Primacy as defined by Vatican I is of 'a truly episcopal power in all Churches! Whatever is recognised as contained in the episcopal office in relation to the local Church, that Vatican I recognises as contained in the papal office in relation to the Universal Church - that and, so far as I can see, no more, as concerns the Primacy.

Now it is a recognisable fact of history that the mode under which episcopal authority was regarded in the second and third centuries did change very considerably in the fourth and fifth, from a consensual authority of leadership' to a juridical authority of jurisdiction! And pari passu there is a real change in the notion of papal authority, which is brought about by precisely the same historical causes and factors. We Anglicans, as Episcopalians, have no more right to go behind that change in the one case than in the other.

An Anglican example

Caro Monsignore, may I most lovingly tweak your own primatial tail? In 1847, Henry Phillpotts Bishop of Exeter refused to institute the Revd G.C. Gorham to Brampford Speke. Gorham was ultimately instituted byt he Archbishop as Primate. That was an act of jurisdiction in another man's diocese. It was an act of 'ordinary' jurisdiction, since the Archbishop had an indisputable right, in the circumstances, to do it. It was an act of 'immediate' jurisdiction, since he did not act as the bishop's delegate but against his protests.

It was an act of 'Episcopal' jurisdiction, since it conveyed cure of souls. The whole Vatican I definition of a primacy is latent here. It is, by definition, a 'reserve power' which presupposes an emergency in the local church. It is the minimum definition, in juridical terms, of a power of effectually representing the mind of the whole towards a part.

With the greatest affection and respect, I inform you that the Lowerarchy have reserved an only slightly-hot seat for you here, against the day when the Lord is willing to translate you to a less uncomfortable sedes than that of Canterbury.

In Domino


Thanks to Father John Hunwicke of the Anglican Ordinariate in the UK for this letter.   The proof that this is a genuine letter from the netherworld to Dr Rowan Williams who was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time is that all that is printed in yellow is known to be actually  the great liturgist's own words, written on another occasion.

Here follows my own small and undetailed commentary.   Firstly, I shall say something about Christ's own teaching on the exercise of authority in the Church.   Secondly, I shall try to expound something of the difference between law and the exercise of jurisdiction in the Catholic Church when compared with their exercise in the world, basing my understanding of the difference on the famous dictum of St Ignatius of Antioch that the Roman Church "presides in love."   I shall try to be both realistic and brief, leaving to others more wise the task of filling in the details.

It is not hard to prove that, for Jesus, the relationship between Christians ought to be radically different from relationships in the world, because all relationships between Christians are also relationships with Christ.   This is also true of relationships between those witrh authority and those who depend on that authority.   

Basically, there is only one authority in the Church, that of Christ himself.   Jesus says, " you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers.  And don't call anyone on earth 'Father,' for you have only one Father, the one in heaven.  Nor are you to be called 'Teachers,' for you have only one teacher, the Christ!  The person who is greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt. 23, 8) Only those who are humble enough to allow God the Father exercise his Fatherhood through them, and allow Christ to exercise his roles as Servant and Teacher through them, can adequately exercise authority in the Church: and all this demands a radically humble obedience to the will of God.   Anyone else, however good an organiser he may be, is ineffectual in things that matter in the Kingdom of God, because, in that kingdom, it is God in Christ who does the ruling.

In fact, all authority is in Christ's hands. He says, " ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)   Church authority is basically sacramental, is at the service of the Gospel, and is dependent on Christ's active presence.  Deprived of that presence, it is no longer Christian authority.   It is in this context that we must understand, "He that hears you, hears me."  "That which you bind on earth is bound in heaven."  Thus, those who are in authority should not give themselves airs, but should model themselves on Christ.   "You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them and their superiors act like tyrants over them.  That's not the way it should be among you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.  That's the way it is with the Son of Man. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people." (Matt. 20. 25 - 27)

Sacrosanctum Concilium also bears witness to the fundamentally sacramental nature of Christian authority when it says of the Eucharist that

10. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.
All the Church's power is liturgical in origin, especially flowing out of the Eucharist.   Dom Jeremy Driscoll OSB, by comparing the Anaphora of St    Hyppolitus with the teaching of St Irenaeus, draws out the strong connection between the teaching authority of the Church and the epiclesis or invocation to the Father to send the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine and on the Church.   St Paul tells us that the Church is the body of Christ because all partake of the same bread and the cup.   He also says that all functions in the Church are the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Church is what it is because of the Eucharist, and all its functions are basically sacramental: this includes the exercise of authority.

We are now able to look at the similarities and differences between civil law and church law.   Since the loss of real temporal power by the Pope, one difference has become obvious, though it was not obvious before and the two were often confused.   Temporal power, however benign it may be, is backed by physical force.   Church law has no such force behind it.   There is no debate about the use of the death penalty by the Vatican; though this could have happened in the 19th century.   Confusion between temporal power and Church power belongs to the Constantinian period of the Church History which ceased to be a reality in the last century, and was brought to an end in Church thinking by Vatican II.  As the young Father Joseph Ratzinger, when a tourist asked him to identify a statue in Rome during the Council, said, "That is the Emperor Constantine.   We have just buried him!"

While Canon Law looks like any other legal system in the Roman tradition, it has its basis in a sacramental system which it protects and which gives it justification.   The Church is held together as body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit whose presence in the Church is made manifest by ecclesial charity working in communion.  Ecclesial love is not a warm feeling or a sentimental attachment: it is the Holy Spirit working in the Church, firstly God's love for us, and then our "Amen", our response to God.  It is where God's power and human obedience meet.  There is nothing stronger or less sentimental.   This love results in a common sharing in the mind of Christ: we become one heart and one mind.   Once the Church became a certain size, it needed to have an agreed way to function as body of Christ in an ordinary day-to-day way: it needed a system of law.  However, in order to be able to work, this law could not become a substitute for ecclesial love, but its intrument: it allows ecclesial love to operate at all kinds of human levels. Without it, there would be chaos because sacramental unity needs law to function at a human, every day level.  To be itself, Church Law, at the levels of law making, of law interpretation and enforcement, and at the level of obeying the law, must never be separated from ecclesial love which gives it its authenticity and strength.  

 As Pope Benedict has said, the Eucharist is the Church's constitution - not the Eucharist as existing in abstract definition, but the Eucharist as the celebration of the Church from the time of the Apostles to the present moment.  In it the Holy Spirit brings about the complete unity of the Church with Christ as one body.   Hence it is, in Pope Pius XI's words, the highest expression of the Church's ordinary magisterium.  In doing justice to the Eucharist, the Church discovers the limits and inter-relationships between Pope, bishops and faithful in every age; and it is the duty of the canonists to follow this lead.  As historical circumstances differ, so do the relationships; but in every age, it is the function of Canon Law to bring about the conditions "that all may be one" at the level of human behaviour, as is demanded by the Eucharist.

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