18 July 2009

When is Primate not a Primate?

My fellow seminarian Fr MarkElvins had a letter the other day in one of the Catholic newspapers, in which he accurately described the evolution of the Arms of the See of Westminster - I mean the see founded by Pio Nono, not the one founded by Henry VIII.

They began as an exact copy of the arms of Canterbury (a pallium superimposed upon a primatial cross). The only change made was that the field was red (for the English martyrs, I believe) instead of blue. Over the years, the primatial cross disappeared but, to ease the alteration, a little fleur de lys nestled in the angle of the pallium. More recently, that too has disappeared and the only charge on the red field is the pallium. Mark justly remarks that the coat should not have been messed around without the sanction of the granting authority - in this case, the Holy See (English heralds have always been cagey about granting corporate arms to the RC bishoprics in England).

My own suspicion is that the primatial cross was removed because someone realised that the Archbishop of Westminster had no right to it, because he is not a primate. A primate is not the same as an Archbishop or even a Metropolitan. Most archbishops are not primates. A primate is historically the occupant of an ancient and venerable see, who under earlier codes of canon law had considerable jurisdiction over the bishops in his area. Most primacies originated in the emergence of the Church from the disintegration of the Roman Empire into the light of the 'dark ages'. Gregory Dix somewhere observes that there are at least six prelates styled 'Primas Galliae', and of course England (like Ireland) has historically had two primates, one 'Primas totius Angliae' and the other 'Primas Angliae'. Incidentally, the Archbishop of Canterbury still possesses the sort of authority which, under earlier law, other primates had.

Pio Nono did not constitute his new Archbishop of Westminster 'Primate' of anywhere. So it is interesting that the arms granted showed a primatial cross. A mistake? I have noticed another mistake: when Cardinal Heenan signed the decrees of Vatican II, he signed as 'Primas Angliae'. Was this a mistake, arising from Heenan seeing that prelates above him had signed 'Primas of so-and-so' and failing to understand the technicalities involved, or was he attempting to establish 'by usage' a status for his see?

Does anybody know how Manning signed at Vatican I?

More on primates next Tuesday.


Jorge Sanchez said...

I think Catholic ecclesiastical arms are assumed; that is the holder can change them at whim. I assume the same goes for institutional arms like that of a See.

motuproprio said...

Cormac Murphy O'Connor did, I believe receive a grant of arms from the College of Arms. Until the arrival of the new archbishop the Diocese of Westminster habitually used the arms of the current archbishop (presumably not understanding the difference between personal and institutional arms).

johnf said...

If Cardinal Heenan made a mistake in signing, then perhaps V2 is invalid in England?

Just hoping...