Dominican Bishop Robert Mc kENNA PASSED AWAY YESTERDAY, dECEMBER 16TH. i AM POSTING THIS ARTICLE FROM THE ANGELUS SO THAT READERS MAY BECOME AQUAINTED WITH HIM. HE WAS ORDAINED A DOMINICAN IN 1958, BEFORE THE COUNCIL. REQUIEM AETERNAM DONA EI DOMINE, ET LUX PERPETUA LUCEAT EI. REQUIESCAT IN PACE.
CANON LAW AND COMMON SENSE
Fr. Robert McKenna, OP
The people, whether clergymen or learned laymen, who today accuse traditional Catholics of disobedience and breaking the laws of the Church are like the lawyers and Pharisees in the Gospel. We read that they were "watching" Christ to see if He would break the law by curing the sick man on the Sabbath day. When, to test them, He asked them if it was lawful to cure on the Sabbath, they kept a stony silence, prepared to condemn Him if He dared to do so. Our Lord proceeded to work the miraculous cure of the man with dropsy and then forced His enemies to remain silent by showing them up for the hypocrites they were: "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fall into a pit, and will not immediately draw him up on the Sabbath?"
The law of God—the Third Commandment—forbids work on the Lord's Day. But Christ worked miracles on the Lord's Day, as on other days. Therefore He was guilty of violating the law. This was the reasoning of the Scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers and, mind you, they were among the recognized leaders of the Church or religious establishment in those days. So, by their reasoning the Son of God was guilty of disobedience to God!
Absurd, was it not? And so today almost equally absurd, if not equally hypocritical, are those prelates, priests, and laymen of the entrenched establishment who sanctimoniously point the accusing finger of disobedience at us traditional priests.
What, then, is the "catch"? Where is the flaw in the reasoning of the enemies of Christ and their counterparts today? It's the old and repeated fallacy of failing to make distinctions. In the case at hand, we must distinguish between the words of the law and the purpose of the law, or, if you will, between the "letter" of the law and the "spirit" of the law—the spirit being the mind or intention of the lawgiver.
Laws are made for the common good. This is their end and purpose. But, because laws by their nature are general and cannot provide for every possible circumstance and happening, it sometimes happens (rarely but nevertheless sometimes) that to observe and obey the letter of the law would defeat the very purpose of the law. (This is more apt to happen in the case of human laws than in the case of divine law.)
Saint Thomas Aquinas, explaining this problem, cites the example of a man asking his friend to return the weapon which he left with him for safekeeping. Now simple justice and the natural law require that whatever belongs to someone be given to him. This law is for the common good of society, and if it did not exist everybody could have everybody else's property, and consequently there would be no such thing as property.
But suppose, says St. Thomas, the man comes and asks for his weapon in a rage, obviously intending to kill someone. Is one still held by the law? Well, certainly not, under the circumstances! In fact, if the letter of the law were obeyed in this case, and the man kills his wife or neighbor, his friend would be an accomplice to the crime. Common sense tells us that the law in question does not apply in such a situation, and that to keep the law in this case would defeat the very purpose of the law by going against the common good of society.
In theological language this is called epeikeia, a Greek word best known as "equity" in English. It amounts to not observing the letter of a law when it would obviously violate thespirit of the law. And note carefully that we say obviously, lest anyone presume to interpret laws to suit himself. Unless common sense tells us that a law does not bind in a particular case, then we are still held to it.
So, for the Jews to so blindly follow the letter of the Sabbath law as to think it would forbid even someone from curing a sick person on the Sabbath was harsh justice, to say the least—and a sin against common sense, to say the truth. Yet such were the grounds upon which they continually sought to condemn Christ, and for which they succeeded in killing Him. He broke the letter of the law—and His own law at that.
So it is today with us Catholics in the remnant of the Church. We are faced with the necessity—the clear, manifest, and common-sense necessity—of breaking the letter of Church law (Canon Law) in order to preserve, if you will, Canon Law itself and the common good which is the Catholic Church itself. What we would not dream of doing in ordinary circumstances—opening chapels, hearing confessions, performing marriages, etc.—without proper authorization and jurisdiction, we need have no qualms of doing in today's most extraordinary and extenuating circumstances.
And what circumstances are those? The unprecedented circumstances of the enemy from within having seized control of the Church and working feverishly to destroy its worship and traditions. If it were the intention of Holy Mother Church in framing Canon Law to bind her priests and faithful to its every single prescription even in such circumstances as these, then the Church's law would turn out to be her own worst enemy. Not being able to have chapels and public Masses and the administration of the Sacraments, we would have to stand by and see the Catholic Church destroyed. As it is, far from being bound by all the particular prescriptions of Canon Law today, all true Catholic priests and laymen have a solemn duty before God to preserve our Faith and worship intact—and not merely personally and privately but publicly and in an organized way. For the true Church of God is by its very nature a visible, organized society, and the Catholic remnant must strive to keep it such.
Supposing there were, for some period of time, no bishops? Supposing they had all been suddenly wiped out and no hierarchy were left to the Church? Are we seriously to think that in such an event traditional priests would have to stop their work, or be prevented from expanding it, simply because there was no bishop to legally authorize them? Ridiculous! Well, if the hierarchy has not been physically wiped out, spiritually speaking and for all practical purposes it has been. Practically all bishops who are not definitely heretics are at least gravely suspect of heresy by reason of the sacrilegious outrages they have tolerated in their dioceses. As a consequence, they have either lost their jurisdiction or possess a very doubtful jurisdiction, and Canon Law itself expressly supplies priests jurisdiction in such cases.
Let us note too, in this matter of obeying Church law, that our apparent violation of some particular laws is made necessary in order that we may continue to observe Canon Law as a whole, while the enemies within the Church are, for their part, using that same law to destroy it altogether. A so-called new Code of Canon Law has been in preparation for several years now since Vatican Council II and, you may be sure, if and when it sees the light of day, that the laws it contains will be made to order for the "new Church."
Our Lord, in defending the spirit of God's Commandments against a misconstrued "letter" of the law, said to the Scribes and Pharisees: "Man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man." To the new breed of Scribes and Pharisees today who carp Canon Law at us, we say: "The Church was not made for Canon Law, but Canon Law for the Church. "
taken from the Angelus
taken from the Angelus
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