Skip to comments.On 'Canon'
Posted on 06/18/2005 8:40:39 AM PDT by sionnsar
A while ago, a friend new to the church asked us to explain the word 'canon', which shows up often in matters Anglican. We started to explain that it was a complicated 'church word', with many meanings, secular and sacred and launched into them.
For example, the Reverend Canon Geoffrey Tomlinson was once vicar of the City of Lancaster. Here are the Canons of the Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Alabama. A scholar writing about William Wordsworth will often refer to his body of work as 'the Wordsworth canon'. And of course there is a world-famous brand of cameras and electronics named Canon, with a capital C. A piece of music that replicates the melody to achieve harmony is called a 'canon'; most everyone has heard of Pachelbel's Canon, and we all know how to sing 'Row, row, row your boat.'
The word shows up with other meanings in other parts of speech. The process of certifying someone to be a saint is called 'canonization', the verb 'to canonise' (or 'canonize'). Mathematicians use the term 'canonical form' to refer to the standard way of writing an equation or expression. Computer scientists describe as 'canonical' something that is the original, unmodified, or most-common version of something. If you put a tilde over the 'n', the word becomes 'cañon', which in English is usually spelled 'canyon': a big ravine carved by water. And, of course, if you spell it 'cannon', it's a different word, a military weapon.
The word 'canon' gets around, doesn't it? It all started with the Greek word kanon, meaning 'reed' or 'cane'. A dried reed was long and straight and lightweight, and (suitably marked) was used for measuring. In time, the kanon of something referred to its measure.
It's not a stretch to imagine how kanon evolved to have these multifarious meanings. From 'measure' to 'that against which things are measured', so that, for example 'the Wordsworth canon' is the collection of works by William Wordsworth that define him as a writer. If a poem were to be discovered that might have been written by Wordsworth, if it were found authentic by scholars, it would then be added to the Wordsworth canon. In a sense, canonised: if the collection of recognised saints is the canon of saints, then canonising a new saint means to add that person to that canon of saints. If a kanon measures, it is a rule. So the canons of a church are its rules. The term 'canon law' has come to mean 'church law', to distinguish it from secular law. There are canon courts and canon lawyers, though not canon juries.
It's an easy leap from 'rule' to 'people who live under a rule': the canons of a cathedral. In modern times the word has come to include people, lay and ordained, who serve a cathedral, even if they do not live under a rule.
Reeds are hollow (surely you've read of people hiding under water by breathing through a reed), and, as such, can be used as blowguns to shoot small objects with a puff of breath. 'Tis not at all a stretch of the imagination to go from a small blowgun kanon to a huge iron naval cannon.
The one meaning of canon that we can't easily trace back to reeds of the Old-Testament era is that of Pachelbel's Canon, the musical form. We can construct an argument around the word 'measure', but it seems strained.
After we were done with our explanation, we realised that, like so much about our church, this word is not so much complex as just venerable. It's retained its old meanings despite the inevitable evolution of language. To come to know the riches of our Church through its ocasionally quirky nouns, adjectives, and verbs is to be more conversant with our past.
Anda few folks are about to fire a broadside of "canons" at ECUSA..
Well, the word, "canon," is a literary definition of and about a body of literature. As in, "the literary canon" (a redundant expression), which means, the philosophy that is represented in literature at any one point in literature.
French Feminism, for instance, represented a revision, an actual change toward an opposite (to a degree, at least from where it had been prior to the appearance and recognition of Feminist literature) in the literary canon.
Or so I learned from an upper division course in Literary Theory.
Same term is applied to our Catholic literature, our written legacy about the faith. I suppose it would be "the religious canon" or thereabouts, from a literary perspective.
As well they should, what with all those loose canons there...
The following is an excerpt from James A. Wylie LL.D. (1808-1890) History of the Papacy Chapter IV CANON LAW (antique writing still gives a broad historical perspective and mindset of the day)
Entire work can be found on the web.
Chapter I Origin of the Papacy
Chapter II Rise and Progress of Ecclesiastical Supremacy
Chapter III Rise and Progress of Temporal Sovereignty
Chapter VI The Canon Law
The Canon Law.
It would be bad enough that a system of the character we have described should exist in the world, and that there should be a numerous class of men all animated by its spirit, and sworn to carry into effect its principles. But this is not the worst of it. The system has been converted into a code. It exists, not as a body of maxims or principles, though in that shape its influence would have been great: it exists as a body of laws, by which every Romish ecclesiastic is bound to act, and which he is appointed to administer. This is termed CANON LAW. The canon law is the slow growth of a multitude of ages. It reminds us of those coral islands in the great Pacific, the terror of the mariner, which myriads and myriads of insects laboured to raise from the bottom to the surface of the ocean. One race of these little builders took up the work where another race had left it; and thus the mass grew unseen in the dark and sullen deep, whether calm or storm prevailed on the surface. In like fashion, monks and popes innumerable, working in the depth of the dark ages, with the ceaseless and noiseless diligence, though not quite so innocently as the little artificers to which we have referred, produced at last the hideous formation known as the canon law. This code, then, is not the product of one large mind, like the Code Justinian or the Code Napoleon, but of innumerable minds, all working intently and laboriously through successive ages on this one object. The canon law is made up of the constitutions or canons of councils, the decrees of popes, and the traditions which have at any time received the pontifical sanction. As questions arose they were adjudicated upon; new emergencies produced new decisions; at last it came to pass that there was scarce a point of possible occurrence on which infallibility had not pronounced. The machinery of the canon law, then, as may be easily imagined, has reached its highest possible perfection and its widest possible application. The statute-book of Rome, combining amazing flexibility with enormous power, like the most wonderful of all modern inventions, can regulate with equal ease the affairs of a kingdom and of a family. Like the elephant's trunk, it can crush an empire in its folds, or conduct the course of a petty intrigue,--fling a monarch from his throne, or plant the stake for the heretic. Like a net of steel forged by the Vulcan of the Vatican and his cunning artificers, the canon law encloses the whole of Catholic Christendom. A short discussion of this subject may not be without its interest at present, seeing Dr. Wiseman had the candour to tell us, that it is his intention to enclose Great Britain in this net, provided he meets with no obstruction, which he scarce thinks we will be so unreasonable as to offer. Seeing, then, it will not be Dr. Wiseman's fault if we have not a nearer acquaintance with canon law than we can boast at present, it may be worth while examining its structure, and endeavouring to ascertain our probable condition, once within this enclosure. Not that we intend to hold up to view all its monstrosities; the canon law is the entire Papacy viewed as a system of government: we can refer to but the more prominent points which bear upon the subject we are now discussing,--the supremacy; and these are precisely the points which have the closest connection with our own condition, should the agent of the pontiff in London be able to carry his intent into effect, and introduce the canon law, "the real and complete code of the Church," as he terms it. Here we shall do little more than quote the leading provisions of the code from the authorized books of Rome, leaving the canon law to commend itself to British notions of toleration and justice.
The false decretals of Isidore, already referred to, offered a worthy foundation for this fabric of unbearable tyranny. We pass, as not meriting particular notice, the earlier and minor compilations of Rheginon of Prum in the tenth century, Buchardus of Worms in the eleventh, and St. Ivo of Chartres in the twelfth. The first great collection of canons and decretals which the world was privileged to see was made by Gratian, a monk of Bologna, who about 1150 published his work entitled Decretum Gratiani. Pope Eugenius III. approved his work, which immediately became the highest authority in the western Church. The rapid growth of the papal tyranny soon superseded the Decretum Gratiani. Succeeding popes flung their decretals upon the world with a prodigality with which the diligence of compilers who gathered them up, and formed them into new codes, toiled to keep pace. Innocent III. and Honorius III. issued numerous rescripts and decrees, which Gregory IX. commissioned Raymond of Pennafort to collect and publish. This the Dominican did in 1234; and Gregory, in order to perfect this collection of infallible decisions, supplemented it with a goodly addition of his own. This is the more essential part of the canon law, and contains a copious system of jurisprudence, as well as rules for the government of the Church. But infallibility had not exhausted itself with these labours. Boniface VIII. in 1298 added a sixth part, which he named the Sext. A fresh batch of decretals was issued by Clement V. in 1313, under the title of Clementines. John XXII. in 1340 added the Extravagantes, so called because they extravagate, or straddle, outside the others. Succeeding pontiffs, down to Sixtus IV., added their extravagating articles, which came under the name of Extravagantes Communes. The government of the world was in some danger of being stopped by the very abundance of infallible law; and since the end of the fifteenth century nothing has been formally added to this already enormous code. We cannot say that this fabric of commingled assumption and fraud is finished even yet: it stands like the great Dom of Cologne, with the crane atop, ready to receive a new tier whenever infallibility shall begin again to build, or rather to arrange the materials it has been producing during the past four centuries. While Rome exists, the canon law must continue to grow. Infallibility will always be speaking; and every new deliverance of the oracle is another statute added to canon law. The growth of all other bodies is regulated by great natural laws. The tower of Babel itself, had its builders been permitted to go on with it, must have stopped at the point where the attractive forces of earth and of the other planets balance each other; but where is the canon law to end? "This general supremacy," says Hallam, "effected by the Roman Church over mankind in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, derived material support from the promulgation of the canon law. The superiority of ecclesiastical to temporal power, or at least the absolute independence of the former, may be considered as a sort of key-note which regulates every passage in the canon law. It is expressly declared, that subjects owe no allegiance to an excommunicated lord, if after admonition he is not reconciled to the Church. And the rubric prefixed to the declaration of Frederick II.'s deposition in the Council of Lyons asserts that the Pope may dethrone the Emperor for lawful causes." "Legislation quailed," says Gavazzi, "before the new-born code of clerical command, which, in the slang of the dark ages, was called canon law. The principle which pollutes every page of this nefarious imposture is, that every human right, claim, property, franchise, or feeling, at variance with the predominance of the popedom, was ipso facto inimical to heaven and the God of eternal justice. In virtue of this preposterous prerogative, universal manhood became a priest's footstool; this planet a huge game-preserve for the Pope's individual shooting." We repeat, it is this law which Dr. Wiseman avows to be one main object of the papal aggression to introduce. Its establishment in Britain implies the utter prostration of all other authority. We have seen how it came into being. The next question is, What is it? Let us first hear the canon law on the subject of the spiritual and civil jurisdictions, and let us take note how it places the world under the dominion of one all-absorbing power,--a power which is not temporal certainly, neither is it purely spiritual, but which, for want of a better phrase, we may term pontifical.
"The constitutions of princes are not superior to ecclesiastical constitutions, but subordinate to them."
"The law of the emperors cannot dissolve the ecclesiastical law."
"Constitutions (civil, we presume) cannot contravene good manners and the decrees of the Roman prelates."
"Whatever belongs to priests cannot be usurped by kings."
"The tribunals of kings are subjected to the power of priests."
"All the ordinances of the apostolic seat are to be inviolably observed."
"The yoke which the holy chair imposes must be borne, although it may seem unbearable."
"The decretal epistles are to be ranked along with canonical scripture."
"The temporal power can neither loose nor bind the Pope."
"It does not belong to the Emperor to judge the actions of the Pope."
"The Emperor ought to obey, not command, the Pope."
Such is a specimen of the powers vested in the Pope by the canon law. It makes him the absolute master of kings, and places in his grasp all law and authority, so that he can annul and establish whatever he pleases. It is instructive also to observe, that this power he possesses through the spiritual supremacy; and, as confirmatory of what we have already stated respecting the direct and indirect temporal supremacy, that the two in their issues are identical, we may quote the following remarks of Reiffenstuel, in his textbook on the canon law, published at Rome in 1831:--"The supreme pontiff, or Pope, by virtue of the power immediately granted to him, can, in matters spiritual, and concerning the salvation of souls and the right government of the Church, make ecclesiastical constitutions for the whole Christian world. . . . . It must be confessed, notwithstanding, that the Pope, as vicar of Christ on earth, and universal pastor of his sheep, has indirectly (or in respect of the spiritual power granted to him by God, in order to the good government of the whole Church) a certain supreme power, for the good estate of the Church, if it be necessary, OF JUDGING AND DISPOSING OF ALL THE TEMPORAL GOODS OF ALL CHRISTIANS." But we pursue our quotations.
"We ordain that kings, and bishops, and nobles, who shall permit the decrees of the Bishop of Rome in anything to be violated, shall be accursed, and be for ever guilty before God as transgressors against the Catholic faith."
"The Bishop of Rome may excommunicate emperors and princes, depose them from their states, and assoil their subjects from their oath of obedience to them."
"The Bishop of Rome may be judged of none but of God only."
"If the Pope should become neglectful of his own salvation, and of that of other men, and so lost to all good that he draw down with himself innumerable people by heaps into hell, and plunge them with himself into eternal torments, yet no mortal man may presume to reprehend him, forasmuch as he is judge of all, and is judged of no one."
This surely is license enough; and should the pontiff complain that his limits are still too narrow, we should be glad to know how they could possibly be made larger. But let us hear the canon law on the power of the Pope to annul oaths, and release subjects from their allegiance.
"The Bishop of Rome has power to absolve from allegiance, obligation, bond of service, promise, and compact, the provinces, cities, and armies of kings that rebel against him, and also to loose their vassals and feudatories."
"The pontifical authority absolves some from their oath of allegiance."
"The bond of allegiance to an excommunicated man does not bind those who have come under it."
"An oath sworn against the good of the Church does not bind; because that is not an oath, but a perjury rather, which is taken against the Church's interests."
We may glance next at the doctrine of the canon law on the subject of clerical immunities.
"It is not lawful for laymen to impose taxes or subsidies upon the clergy. If laics encroach upon cleric immunities, they are, after admonition, to be excommunicated. But in times of great necessity, the clergy may grant assistance to the State, with permission of the Bishop of Rome."
"It is not lawful for a layman to sit in judgment upon a clergyman. Secular judges who dare, in the exercise of a damnable presumption, to compel priests to pay their debts, are to be restrained by spiritual censures."
"The man who takes the money of the Church is as guilty as he who commits homicide. He who seizes upon the lands of the Church is excommunicated, and must restore four-fold."
"The wealth of dioceses and abbacies must in nowise be alienated. It is not lawful for even the Pope himself to alienate the lands of the Church."
Should the Romish priesthood ever come to be a twentieth of the male population of Britain, as is well nigh the case in Italy and Spain, it is not difficult to imagine the comfortable state of society which must ensue with so numerous a body withdrawn from useful labour, exempt from public burdens, paying their debts only when they please, committing all sorts of wickedness uncontrolled by the ordinary tribunals, and plying vigorously the ghostly machinery of the confessional and purgatory to convey the nation's property into the treasury of their Church; and once there, there for ever. It is useless henceforth, unless to feed "holy men,"--the term by which Rome designates her consecrated bands of idle, ignorant, sorning monks, and vagabondising friars and priests. No wonder that Dr. Wiseman is so anxious to introduce the canon law, which brings with it so many sweets to the clergy.
There is but one other point on which we shall touch: What says the canon law respecting heresy? In the judgment of Rome we are heretics; and therefore it cannot but be interesting to enquire how we are likely to be dealt with should the canon law ever be established in Britain, and what means the agents of the Vatican would adopt to purge our realm from the taint of our heresy. There is no mistaking the means, whatever may be thought of them. The Church has two swords; and, in the case of heresy, the vigorous use of both, but especially the temporal, is strictly enjoined.
In the decretals of Gregory IX., a heretic is defined to be a man "who, in whatever way, or by whatever vain argument, is led away and dissents from the orthodox faith and Catholic religion which is professed by the Church of Rome." The circumstance of baptism and initiation into the Christian faith distinguishes the heretic from the infidel and the Jew. The fitting remedies for the cure of this evil are, according to the canon law, the following:--
It is commanded that archbishops and bishops, either personally, or by their archdeacons or other fit persons, go through and visit their dioceses once or twice every year, and inquire for heretics, and persons suspected of heresy. Princes, or other supreme power in the commonwealth, are to be admonished and required to purge their dominions from the filth of heresy.
This goodly work of purgation is to be conducted in the following manner:--
I. Excommunication. This sentence is to be pronounced not only on notorious heretics, and those suspected of heresy, but also on those who harbour, defend, or assist them, or who converse familiarly with them, or trade with them, or hold communion of any sort with them.
II. Proscription from all offices, ecclesiastical or civil,--from all public duties and private rights.
III. Confiscation of all their goods.
IV. The last punishment is DEATH; sometimes by the sword,--more commonly by fire.
Pope Honorius II., in his Decretals, speaks in a precisely similar style. Under the head De Hereticis we find him enumerating a variety of dissentients from Rome, and thus disposing of them:--"And all heretics, of both sexes and of every name, we damn to perpetual infamy; we declare hostility against them; we account them accursed, and their goods confiscated; nor can they ever enjoy their property, or their children succeed to their inheritance; inasmuch as they grievously offend against the Eternal as well as the temporal king." The decree goes on to declare, that as regards princes who have been required and admonished by the Church, and have neglected to purge their kingdoms from heretical pravity a year after admonition, their lands may be taken possession of by any Catholic power who shall undertake the labour of purging them from heresy.
We shall close these extracts from the code of Rome's jurisprudence with one tremendous canon.
"Temporal princes shall be reminded and exhorted, and, if need be, compelled by spiritual censures, to discharge every one of their functions; and that, as they would be accounted faithful, so, for the defence of the faith, they publicly make oath that they will endeavour, bona fide, with all their might, to extirpate from their territories all heretics marked by the Church; so that when any one is about to assume any authority, whether of a permanent kind or only temporary, he shall be held bound to confirm his title by this oath. And if a temporal prince, being required and admonished by the Church, shall neglect to purge his kingdom from this heretical pravity, the metropolitan and other provincial bishops shall bind him in the fetters of excommunication; and if he obstinately refuse to make satisfaction within the year, it shall be notified to the supreme pontiff, that then he may declare his subjects absolved from their allegiance, and bestow their lands upon good Catholics, who, the heretics being exterminated, may possess them unchallenged, and preserve them in the purity of the faith."
"Those are not to be accounted homicides who, fired with zeal for Mother Church, may have killed excommunicated persons."
We shall add to the above the episcopal oath of allegiance to the Pope. That oath contemplates the pontiff in both his characters of a temporal monarch and a spiritual sovereign; and, of consequence, the fealty to which the swearer binds himself is of the same complex character. It is taken not only by archbishops and bishops, but by all who receive any dignity of the Pope; in short, by the whole ruling hierarchy of the monarchy of Rome. It is "not only," says the learned annotator Catalani, "a profession of canonical obedience, but an oath of fealty, not unlike that which vassals took to their direct lord." We quote the oath only down to the famous clause enjoining the persecution of heretics:--
"I. N., elect of the church of N., from henceforward will be faithful and obedient to St. Peter the apostle, and to the holy Roman Church, and to our Lord the Lord N. Pope N., and to his successors, canonically coming in. I will neither advise, consent, or do anything that they may lose life or member, or that their persons may be seized, or hands anywise laid upon them, or any injuries offered to them, under any pretence whatsoever. The counsel which they shall intrust me withal, by themselves, their messengers, or letters, I will not knowingly reveal to any to their prejudice. I will help them to defend and keep the Roman Papacy, and the royalties of St. Peter, saving my order, against all men. The legate of the apostolic see, going and coming, I will honourably treat and help in his necessities. The rights, honours, privileges, and authority of the holy Roman Church, of our lord the Pope, and his foresaid successors, I will endeavour to preserve, defend, increase, and advance. I will not be in any council, action, or treaty, in which shall be plotted against our said lord, and the said Roman Church, anything to the hurt or prejudice of their persons, right, honour, state, or power; and if I shall know any such thing to be treated or agitated by any whatsoever, I will hinder it to my power; and, as soon as I can, will signify it to our said lord, or to some other, by whom it may come to his knowledge. The rules of the holy fathers, the apostolic decrees, ordinances, or disposals, reservations, provisions, and mandates, I will observe with all my might, and cause to be observed by others. Heretics, schismatics, and rebels to our said lord, or his foresaid successors, I will to my power persecute and oppose."
Such is a sample of Rome's infallible code. The canon law cannot cease to be venerated while hypocrisy and tyranny bear any value among men. It is by this law that Rome would govern the world, would the world let her; and it is by this law that she is desirous especially to govern Britain. This explains what Rome understands by a spiritual jurisdiction. She disclaims the temporal supremacy, and professes to reign only by direction; but we can now understand what a direction, acting according to canon law, and working through the machinery of the confessional, would speedily land us in. The moment the canon law is set up, the laws of Britain are overthrown, and the rights and liberties which they confer would henceforth be among the things that were. The government of the realm would become priestly, and the secular jurisdiction would be a mere appanage of the sacerdotal. Red hats and cowls would fill the offices of state and the halls of legislation, and would enact those marvels of political wisdom for which Spain and Italy are so justly renowned. A favoured class, combining the laziness of Turks with the rapacity of Algerines, would speedily spring up; and, to enable them to live in idleness, or in something worse, the "tale of bricks" would be doubled to the people. Malefactors of every class, instead of crossing the Atlantic, as now, would simply tie the Franciscan's rope round their middle, or throw the friar's cloak over their consecrated shoulders. The Bible would disappear as the most pestiferous of books, and the good old cause of ignorance would triumph. A purification of our island on a grand scale, from three centuries of heresy, would straightway be undertaken. As Protestants (the worst of all heretics) our lives would be of equal value with those of the wolf or the tiger; and it would be not less a virtue to destroy us, only the mode of despatch might not be so quick and merciful. The wolf would be shot down at once; the Protestant would be permitted to edify the Catholic by the prolongation of his dying agonies. Our Queen would have a twelvemonth's notice to make her peace with Rome, or abide the consequences. Should she disdain becoming a vassal of the Roman see, a crusade would be preached against her dominions, and every soldier in the army of the Holy League would be recompensed with the promise of paradise, and of as much of the wealth of heretical Albion as he could appropriate. These consequences would follow the introduction of the canon law, as certainly as darkness follows the setting of the sun.
My eyes... *\;-)
Sorry sion thats the way it came. The man never broke it up in paragraphs. You could do 1 of 2 things, copy and paste it in word or Google James Wylie and get the whole thing its worth the read
I will revisit it. Almost packed for a trip and that's got most of my attention this evening. (I hate 6 AM flights... but that's life on the Left Coast.)
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