January 5, 2005

Bishop Howe’s Proposal

Bishop John Howe of Central Florida has written to the House of Bishops suggesting that a clear response to the Windsor Report be taken up at their next meeting. This includes the recommendation that the bishops “agree to a moratorium on same sex-blessings and the consecration of non-celibate homosexual persons until or unless a ‘new consensus’ emerges in the Communion that such actions are seen as legitimate in the light of Scripture and Christian tradition.”
The House of Bishops’ adoption of such a moratorium raises several issues. Most seriously, it concerns the abrogation of a fundamental right of dioceses and provinces to elect, approve, and consecrate leaders of their own choosing, in accordance with our form of church government. Aquinas held the right of people “to choose their rulers” to be a matter of Divine Law, and it is certainly deeply embedded in the American psyche. (see note below)
Since potential abrogation of rights is concerned in this case, it must come under the rubric of “What touches all must be approved by all.” (see the note on this below) Therefore a mere majority of the House of Bishops, or even an overwhelming one, would be insufficient to impose such a moratorium in a strict form of binding mandate. Moreover, since in our polity the election and consecration of Bishops is not in the hand of the House of Bishops, but actually in the hands of the bishops with jurisdiction and the Standing Committees or House of Deputies such a matter would only finally be decided by the General Convention in session.
That is, if we are talking of a legally binding moratorium or stay. Because it is true that a majority of the bishops with jursidction, acting on their own, could by their refusal to consent to such elections exercise the equivalent effective result of such a moratorium. So too could the various Standing Committees of the dioceses. Clearly they are free so to do — but this is a matter of the exercise of their personal individual judgment, not of the assembly as a whole.
I would suggest that Bishop Howe consider wording his motion as a recommendation towards collegial restraint rather than as an authoritative mandate from above, in order to prevent what might well appear to be a constitutional crisis.

Aquinas writes in Summa Theologica I.II.Q105.1 concerning the form of governance of the People of God designated for Israel under the Old Testament, which he presents as an ideal:
I answer that... all should take some share in the government: for this form of constitution ensures peace among the people, commends itself to all, and is most enduring, as stated in Polit. ii, 6... Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rulers are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers. Such was the form of government established by the Divine Law.

A further note on “What Touches All”

A full-fledged moratorium which would legally bind bishops not to approve of the consecration of Candidate Whoever requires a unanimous vote under the principle, “What touches all must be approved by all.” I’ve laid out the full legal background on the history of that law elsewhere in this blog. But “all” means “all” in this case, because a fundamental right (the voting franchise itself) is abrogated by an affirmative vote. It would be inappropriate for the House of Bishops, some of whom (as suffragans, for example) do not have the right or responsibility to consent to an episcopal election, to bind the bishops with jurisdiction to act in a way contrary to their informed judgement in some future case.
The original Justinian law had to do with water rights, which is a little obscure. Closer to home, imagine someone on the vestry proposes a resolution that says, “No one may vote Yes on any resolution to increase the Rector’s salary.” Such a resolution would have to be unanimous because it proactively takes the vote away from everyone concerned. It touches all because it affects a fundamental individual right possessed by all. If “all” agree, fine. But if only 9 out of 10 agree, they have effectively stolen someone’s vote. And what if it is only 6 out of 10? (This is not the same thing, by the way, as voting not to raise the Rector’s salary; that is, sadly, usually accomplished by a simple majority!)


Anonymous said...

I'm a bit bemused why you would use Aquinas' description of the best means of secular rule in an argument regarding ecclesial polity. Aquinas certainly wasn't proposing that the Catholic Church democratically elect its bishops (or Pope). This is a case, as is so common in this country, of attempting to superimpose secular governance on the Church.

Our civil, secular life is ruled by the government, which in our case is a "republican democracy"-- the people come together to elect their rulers. The Body of Christ is NOT primarily a means of governance-- we do not gather as the People of God to rule ourselves, but to worship Him who made us. In our secular life as a democracy, our individual desires are paramount, and we can change the 'rules' as often as we please, because they're ours. That's what it means to be a government "of the people". The Church, however, is not the 'Body of the people'-- it's "the Body of Christ", and are not its head, nor should we even be its focus. What we, as members of a miniscule individual diocese (think, 'New Hampshire')or a small national province want isn't particularly important, since our desires aren't paramount, as we would be in a democracy. Rather, we are a numerically tiny portion of the Body of Christ-- and not a separate body unto itself. We're the wealthiest part, certainly, and probably have both the highest percentage of people of education and the lowest percentage of people of color, but just being rich, educated and white doesn't mean that we can 'vote' to change what the Christian Church has always taught.

The idea that the two forms of governance, secular and ecclesial, should be the same wasn't believed by Aquinas, and in the Episcopal Church has far more to do with how we separated from England in the late 18th Century-- Americans don't like anyone telling them what to do, abd particularly not "outsiders". But our democratic predelictions don't make us right-- "democracy" was tried before, as described in Exodus 32:1. There it was a golden calf, now it's "the right to be/do/think as an individual"... and both are idolism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

In response to Fr2's comment about my use of Aquinas. The good Doctor is speaking here of the governance of the People of God, that is Israel, under the Old Law, which was a Theocracy with no division between church and state. He goes on to note from where I left off quoting: "For Moses and his successors governed the people in such a way that each of them was ruler over all; so that there was a kind of kingdom. Moreover, seventy-two men were chosen, who were elders in virtue: for it is written (Dt. 1:15): 'I took out of your tribes wise and honorable, and appointed them rulers': so that there was an element of aristocracy. But it was a democratical government in so far as the rulers were chosen from all the people; for it is written (Ex. 18:21): 'Provide out of all the people wise [Vulg.: 'able'] men,' etc.; and, again, in so far as they were chosen by the people; wherefore it is written (Dt. 1:13): 'Let me have from among you wise [Vulg.: 'able'] men,' etc. Consequently it is evident that the ordering of the rulers was well provided for by the Law."
I have noted elsewhere that the structure laid out by Aquinas is admirably adapted in our own Episcopal Church, perhaps better than in those provinces of the Anglican Communion such as Nigeria where the Bishops are elected only by the Episcopal Synod, or England, with its own peculiar process involving Church and State.

Anonymous said...

In reading your analyses, Father, I always feel incompetent say much more than "Amen!" The breadth of S,T & R at your command is breathtaking (and, I might add, *inSpired* too!)

As of today (the HoB's "Word to the Churches"), we can only wait, and pray, that usual firing squad fails to assemble. If they would but put their guns down, they could see that their target is just trying to *follow the Lord* (feeding others as we are fed).

J.C. Fisher
St. James, Albion MI