Thursday, August 30, 2007
Prof. Steve Bainbridge has raised some interesting and important points about ecclesial governance within the Episcopal Church and the future meeting with the Episcopal bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Steve presents a most important question about whether the polity of the Catholic Church would insulate it from the fragmentation that appears to threaten the Episcopal Church..
First of all, the Episcopal Church is a product of division. A layman, specifically Henry the eighth of that name, decided that he would not owe allegiance to the successor of Peter nor would he be obedient to the Petrine Office. Once Henry disavowed obedience and allegiance, he had to control the structure that his schism produced. It appears that neither he nor his successors nor clerical partners could do this.
But, the Catholic Church remained separate, distinct, and foundationally undisturbed. With Peter, we are Catholic. Without him, we become something else.
I am mindful that there are those who consider themselves members of the Catholic Church but still challenge Peter while at the same time proclaiming their individual fidelity to the Church. But this perspective is not without its problems. The fact of the matter is that Christ Himself appointed Peter to be the Rock of the Church that He founded. Whether anyone elects to bear allegiance to Peter is up to himself or herself. Should this person decide to depart from this loyalty, he or she leaves the Church notwithstanding personal protestations to the contrary.
The governance of the Catholic Church is quite straightforward. For contemporary skeptics of my posting, I would recommend that they consult Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. As mentioned previously, Steve has raised an exceptional point, and I suggest that our discussion on his critical posting about why the Catholic Church is substantively different from the Episcopal communion must concentrate on the ecclesial structure of the Catholic Church as defined by Lumen Gentium. RJA sj