Monday, July 28, 2008

John Rees on Common Principles of Canon Law

A document entitled The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Church of the Anglican Communion has been released as the Lambeth Conference comes to a close. There is no text available online, but a draft of the paper can be found at the Anglican Communion Legal Advisors Network. John Rees answered questions from the press after the release of the document, and has said that it is meant “to stimulate reflection on what it is to be a Communion of ordered churches seeking to live out the Anglican tradition in a world of intensely rapid communication.”

While the press seems skeptical and blogging commentators (see BabyBlue,
Matt Kennedy, etc.) have expressed some concern, I don't think there's anything out of the ordinary or surprising about this document. John Rees, as well as Norman Doe, have been talking about the idea of an Anglican common law for years, and I think that this document is simply one more in a long line of very fruitful studies. That it won't do what many people want it to do (or fear it will do) isn't the fault of the drafters.

Talk of a ius commune as a "fifth instrument" of unity in the Communion is worth consideration. I've already expressed my doubts about the venture, not because I see anything wrong with it per se, but rather because I don't see much constructive good in it. Any new structure that attempts to strengthen the bonds of unity within a communion would do better, in my opinion, to address why the bonds of unity already in place are seen as inadequate. Apart from this, I don't see the point in reinventing the wheel. Here's a snippet from my article, "Instruments of Faith and Unity in Canon Law", (The Ecclesiastical Law Journal 10 (2008), pp. 161-173, 169, emphasis added):

"The global order of a communion is not juridical, but rather a moral order. The moral interdependence of Anglican provinces has been described in terms of 'bonds of affection' or 'an implicit understanding of belonging together'. Unfortunately, the moral order of communion is often contrasted to provincial juridical structures in a way that renders it impotent. The moral order displays, 'a high level of generality' and is 'not binding' and 'unenforceable'. It is probably because of this perceived deficiency that a more coherent global structure of faith and order is being pursued, the two most prominent proposals of which are an Anglican ius commune and covenant.

Proposals for a global canonical order are understood to codify pre-existing provincial canons, or inter-provincial conventions. This being the case, however, the question is begged whether current communal structures are, in fact, inadequately suited to fulfil the needs of Anglican communion. Numerous difficulties arise when the 'bonds' of affection are described as 'non-binding', even if only a lack of legal obligation is intended, because this observation undercuts the non-legal foundation upon which communion is structured. While the instruments of unity are at most 'quasi-legal', communion ecclesiology has always retained this form and claimed its authority nonetheless."


  1. So one quick question - I was intrigued when you wrote that this document would be in the context of "a world of intensely rapid communication". I listened to the press conference and didn't hear too much more on that, and did a keyword search on the document (next best thing to reading?) and couldn't find anything relevant...

    do you know what they meant by that? How do they see rapid communications influencing what it means to be a Communion?

    I'm gonna look through those blogs you mentioned now to see if they bring it up.

  2. This was a quote from Rees, I assume from the press conference, that I pulled from another blog reporting on the document. I wouldn't read too much into it- this is a normal canon law study- the issue that he's talking about here, I think, could just as easily be summed up by mention of the globalization of the Anglican Communion, much like other structures of trade or governance are having to adjust to a more globalized situation.

    The document that was released is about twice as long as the draft I linked, and it's not online yet. I'll post it in the comments section or make a new post out of it when it does become available.