6 November 2009


Few theologians shaped Anglo-Catholicism in the twentieth century more than Dom Gregory Dix. In 1938 he published a scintillating succession of articles contextualising papal power. Near his conclusion came the following:

The language of the Vatican [I] decrees on the Roman Pontiff is admittedly formidable at a first reading. ..."A primacy of jurisdiction, ordinary, immediate and episcopal" in every diocese in Christendom ... It is so unlike the powers we Anglicans concede to a Primacy. But is it? [Dix next refers to the episode when the Bishop of Exeter refused to institute a clergyman, Mr Gorham, to a benefice and excommunicated latae sententiae anybody who should do so; the institution was done by a Commission from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He goes on:] That was an act of jurisdiction in another man's diocese. It was an act of "ordinary" jurisdiction, since the Archbishop had an indisputable right, in the circumstances, to do it. It was an act of "immediate" jurisdiction, since he did not act as the bishop's delegate but against his protests. It was an act of "episcopal" jurisdiction, since it conveyed cure of souls ... the whole Vatican definition of a primacy ... !

In our own time, when the Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, refused to ordain or license women, these acts were performed within the Chichester Diocese by Commission from Archbishop Carey, thereby providing another example of Dix's point. Carey as a reincarnation of Blessed Pio nono ... there's a thought.

The gist of Dix's arguments is that the early popes indeed did not exercise jurisdiction over the whole Church, but this was a period when Bishops didn't exercise jurisdiction either ... because the whole concept of canonical jurisdiction only came later and so is anachronistic. The sort of authority which popes did exercise in the universal church was exactly the same sort of authority that bishops exercised in their local church. When Vatican I defined the Petrine Ministry, it did so in the juridical/canonical language of its own period; just as the first four Ecumenical Councils framed their Christology in the terms of the Greek metaphysics of their own time (although, as Dix puts it, the Gospel writers had not been Greek metaphysicians). Swallow episcopal jurisdiction, you can't avoid swallowing papal jurisdiction. Swallow the anachronisms of Nicea, you can't avoid swallowing those of Vatican I.

No catholic-minded Anglicans need have problems with "the Papacy". Unless they want to have problems ... as an ignorant alibi for a disunity which for some reason they desire to perpetuate.


Albert said...

I think you may have said this already, but where are these Dix articles?

My impression is that one of the reasons Anglicans worry about the Papacy is because they thing it is somehow bigger or different from how it really is. This is certainly the feeling I have reading the Mascall chapters someone mentioned earlier.

William Tighe said...

They were published in book form in 1975 by the Church Literature Association as *Jurisdiction in the Early Church: Episcopal and Papal.* One can occasionally find copies online at Amazon or Abebooks.

They appeared originally as a series of 5 or 6 articles in successive issues of the Nashdom Benedictine quarterly from late 1937 to early 1939.

Albert said...

Thanks William!

Joshua said...

The first comment above is very true: when I hear Anglicans or Orthodox or others speak about the Pope as if he were some domineering tyrant, I always feel like saying "If only!" - for in fact the Chinese proverb instead applies: Heaven is very high and the Emperor is far, far away. I would be all for a great deal more of Benedict exercising immediate ordinary episcopal jurisdiction in my own diocese, for a start...

Which is probably how these forthcoming Ordinariates will work - since they will immediately depend on the Apostolic See. I'm no canonist, but I imagine them as rather like arms of the Pope: not to tyrannize, but to empower.

barchester said...

Thanks Fr Hunwicke for your comments on this, and to Dr Tighe for referencing it.

Steve said...

Actually, neither the Gorham business nor the Kemp business were as papal as this.

When the Bishop of Exeter (Harry Philpotts) refused to institute Mr Gorham, the patron of the parish took Philpotts to court and won. Philpotts, however, decided not to obey the order of the court, and it was only against that background (not on his own authority) that the ABC stepped into the breach and instituted Gorham.

Bishop Eric Kemp had the option in the WO legislation to refuse to allow any woman priest to be ordained or licensed in his diocese for so long as he was its bishop (though this option, if taken, would not have been available to his successor). He chose not to do so. He allowed the women priests in, but declined to put his hand or hands to any act or document carrying this into effect, and more or less invited the ABC to do it for him by commissary. (David Hope in London took the same route.)

In both these situations the ABC acted on a specific authority (from the court and the diocesan respectively) that was not his alone. Would a Pope have required such an authority to act?

William Tighe said...

(To the last question:)

Of course not, for the pope does not fetch his authority from some civil court or monarch, not is the Catholic Church such an Erastian structure as are the northern European State Churches which receive their animation from such external sources.