Proof-texting with canons

There’s been much discussion on the email list for the House of Bishops/Deputies about the San Joaquin situation. One person asked why it wasn’t OK to have parallel jurisdictions — that is, why the Southern Cone shouldn’t have congregations and dioceses in the USA. An answer came back: because it says so in the canons of the Council of Nicea.

Fair enough. That is what the canons say. But we seem to ignore most of the canons of Nicea. If we’re going to base current policy (and polity) on ancient canons, what else must we do? Well, for one thing, we need to remove Archbishop Rowan Wiliams. The very same canon that seems to forbid parallel jurisdictions is really about the translation of bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury was translated from another see, so he is not compliant with the ancient canons. What are things must change in our church, if we’re to be “Nicea compliant”?

Clergy mustn’t live with women to whom they’re unrelated (which presumes that priests & bishops are all men, by the way). Priests and deacons need to stay in their cities (see cities) of ordination. No Christians may accept usury. Deacons may not communicate bishops or priests, nor may they receive the Eucharist before priests. If fact, deacons may not even sit among priests. Finally, kneeling is forbidden on Sundays and during Eastertide.

How is it OK to cite the canons of Nicea and then not actually follow all of them? Why might some canons still carry the force of law and not others?

Right. There’s no sense to it. If we’re going to oppose parallel jurisdictions, let’s come up with solid reasons. Lambeth resolutions might be a good reason. Maybe there are others. If we progressives are going to accuse conservatives of selectively reading the Bible and canons, we should make sure we’re not doing the same thing.

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5 Responses

  1. Lambeth, the constitution and canons of San Joaquin, the canons of the Episcopal Church, all prohibit it. The reference to Nicaea is not to imply that the canon is binding (though I am one of those radicals who wonders why it–and perhaps the others–should not be). The point is to show how ancient the principle is.

    It has been a fundamental part of the catholic church’s organization, of which we are a part, that two churches do not have overlapping jurisdictions except under the terms of a clear condordat of agreement.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Well, sure, the principal is ancient. But we’re a divided church — which wasn’t forseen in the fourth century. We’re changing all sorts of other principals.

    What’s your take on parallel jurisdictions in Europe? On the CSI operating within ECUSA? For that matter, what about Anglican, Roman, and Greek jurisdictions overlapping?


  3. I apologize, for I ommitted a key word here. Lambeth, our constitution and canons, and Southern Cone’s (which I meant, not San Joaquin) say that two bishops in communion should not have overlapping jurisdictions except under the terms of a concordat of agreement.

    For this reason, there is a concordat between the four Anglican jurisdictions on the European continent; each bishop is fully authorized in all the communities, for example. We have a concordat and a monitoring group with the ELCA. And so forth. I don’t know the details about the CSI case.

    In other words, absent an agreement, overlapping jurisdiction is quite key in determining communion. It is for just that reason that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch have been having a tussle for the last ten years, over the jurisdiction of churches in Estonia and Rumania.

    I am not bothered by overlapping Roman, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox–or rather, I am bothered–such overlap is an indication that these groups are not in communion with each other.

  4. cassandra says:

    Scott, the point of citing Nicaea is the irony: that those who make the most noise about the tradition are trampling the tradition in order allegedly to uphold the tradition. The critical issue is, of course, not the overlapping but the lack of agreement between Christian jurisdictions.

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