Friday, May 31, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XVII

Henry III's shrine of Saint Edward the
Confessor in Westminster Abbey
Well, I am back.  I was having some computer issues.  And then there is the usual end of term craziness.  But I think we are back in business and on with our story about the history of the Church of England.  We left off with the story of King John—one of England’s worse monarchs—and his struggles with the Church.  John took on the Church and lost valuable ground—actually losing his kingdom to the Pope and receiving it back, not in his own right but as a papal fief.  While this surrender and regrant were more a symbolic gesture and a legal fiction than a practical loss of power, in an age where symbol carried far greater meaning than it does today, indeed where symbol carried far greater meaning than actual political clout, John’s failure was the apex of political power of the papacy in Britain.  But under John’s son, Henry III, the relationship of crown to Church deteriorated even more. 
Unlike his cynical and even agnostic father, Henry was an exceptionally pious man.  Henry was only a boy of nine when John died—some allege from a surfeit of peaches, though more likely from dysentery (which most unpleasant symptoms are not unlike a surfeit of peaches) and Henry inherited the throne.  As a minor, his authority was exercised by a regent, William Marshall, who was, according to Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton,  “the greatest knight who ever lived.”  William died however before Henry reached his majority and Hubert de Burgh, justicar of England and Ireland, took the regency into his own hands.  It was not as satisfactory an arrangement as might be hoped.  Henry found much of his reign a struggle with the barons of England who were trying to fend off the royal authority that was threatening their own customary feudal rights and privileges.  The issue at hand was the efforts for a central and national government (the King) to emerge from the feudal society based on regional powers exercised by local nobility.   The Church favored, not only in England but generally, the emergence of strong central monarchy and Henry depended on the structures both of the English Church and the papacy for his support. 
Henry’s ties to the papacy led him into a war in Sicily when Pope Innocent IV tried to name Henry’s son, Edmund, King of Sicily to replace Conrad IV Hohenstaufen as king there.  It was a fruitless effort.  Sicily was too far away for English victory and this war simply meant expense in money and life.  In fact, Henry was just a pawn of the pope who—like other thirteenth century popes—was determined to break the power of the Hohenstaufen dynasty in Italy.  The English barons revolted against the king’s policy and Simon de Montfort emerged as head of the baronial resistance.  de Montfort defeated and captured Henry at the battle of Lewes in 1264.  Henry was reduced to a figurehead and de Montfort, in the King’s name, summoned the Great Council of the Realm—an assembly of the nobility which had met from the time of the Norman invasion and which itself had been preceded in Anglo Saxon days by the Witenagemot, an assembly the leading men of the realm—to which de Montfort added representatives of the gentry from each shire and the burgesses from each town.  This effectively created the institution which today we know as Parliament.  Henry was freed from his captivity in 1265 and took savage retribution on his enemies among the barons. 
Henry was a complex character.  He was a passive man, lacking strength of character, but vicious in his retribution to his enemies once he had the upper hand.  He was pious to a fault and that political indecisiveness, even weakness, was probably related to being overly pious.  His hero was Edward the Confessor.  He rebuilt not only Edward’s tomb in Westminster Abbey but the Abbey itself at great expense, hiring the architects of the new Gothic styles from France.  Reading that Edward dressed simply and without ornaments, Henry did likewise. And he named his first son and heir Edward so that an Edward would once again sit on the throne of England.  By his reign one could say that the once autonomous Church of England was thoroughly absorbed into the Roman Communion, no longer a Church in communion with Rome but definitively “under” papal rule.   For all his efforts to overcome the barons and establish a strong crown, Henry, in  his piety,  missed the threat the Church presented to royal authority.   
Henry’s son, Edward, was as strong a king as his father had been weak.  Like his father, Edward was a prisoner of the barons from 1264 until his escape the following year.  He rallied the royalist party against the barons and defeated de Montfort at the battle of Evesham in 1265.  He was responsible for the mutilation of de Montfort’s corpse in retaliation for his father’s, King Henry, captivity.  Edward succeeded Henry in 1272.  Edward was off on Crusade at the time of Henry’s death, but his reputation cause sufficient fear among the baronage that there was no challenge to his authority during the time it took for him to return to England.  And in fact Edward had the confidence to take his time on the return, stopping off to oversee his French possessions.  Edward was a great king but like his father, who was a good man but a bad king, Edward was a great king but a bad man.  It very often goes that way.  Edward is often remembered for two things.  In 1295 he summoned “the model parliament.”  Following on the precedent set by de Montfort in the 1265 assembly, the peers were joined by two knights from each shire and two burgesses from each town.  Moreover, these “commons” (as opposed to the nobles) insisted that they should not merely assent to the decrees of their betters, but have a direct role in shaping the decisions.  (They did not meet separately as a “House of Commons” for almost another fifty years, but sat in council with the nobles.) 
Edward had a long history of anti-Semitism.   The Jews in England “belonged” to the Crown—just as the Jews of Rome belonged to the Pope.  The King was free to do with them as he liked.  Edward taxed them into poverty.  He exploited their unpopularity among the common folk—the Jews were the moneylenders since usury (the charging of interest) was forbidden to Christians—for the popularity of the monarchy.  In 1279 he had three hundred Jews executed for “coin clipping”—the practice of shaving the edge of coins to accumulate the small amounts of gold or silver such shaving might yield, but, at the same time, debasing the coinage.  In 1280, he forced the Jews to submit to listen to sermons preached by Dominican friars in efforts to convert them.  Finally in 1290 he confiscated their property and ordered all Jews expelled from the realm.  Jews were only allowed to return to England in 1656 by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth.   The seizure of Jewish property gave the crown great financial advantage and would be copied by Philip the Fair of France in 1306. 
Edward’s need for money made him turn against the Church as well as the Jews.  In 1279 and again in 1290 Edward enacted “statutes of mortmain.”  Mortmain, from the old French morte (dead) and main (hand) was the practice of leaving land to the Church.  If Lord Jones owns a field and leaves it to his son, his son pays an inheritance tax on it.  And when the son dies and the grandson inherits it, the grandson pays an inheritance tax on it.  And so to the great grandson and each future generation—they must pay the tax again and again.   The land would in each generation provide income to the Crown.  But when Lord Jones leaves that same land to the Church, the land passes into “the dead hand” of the Church, that is to say it no longer passes from one generation to the next but now is owned in perpetuity by an institution that never dies and thus never is subject to the inheritance tax.  That land passes out of the Crown’s income.  Modern folk don’t tend to leave land to the Church or to other institutions.  We may leave money, even trusts, but not land.  But in the Middle ages such bequests were not only common—they were all but universal.  More and more land was being left to parish churches, abbeys, hospitals, friaries, collegiate churches, bishoprics and other religious institutions.  The wealth of the Church was growing exponentially. Edward was determined to stop this but it was perceived to be an attack on the Church.  Nevertheless, ways around the statutes of mortmain were devised and the Church continued to benefit from the generosity of the faithful.  It would in the long term be fateful, however, as the wealth of the Church would prove to be too tempting a plum for King Henry VIII to resist. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

sorry about the hiatus here.  give me a few days and we will be back on track

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XVI

King John
Sorry, I sort of dropped the ball this past week as other responsibilities—and a little bit of sloth—closed in on me.  I had some other things planned to introduce reflecting on the blog regarding His Eminence of Chicago and his fears of inevitable martyrdom for his successors a la Becket.  But let’s just lay that aside for now and get back to our saga of the Church of England. 
As I have maintained in previous entries on this subject the identity of the Anglican Church is very complex and it is completely untrue to claim that it was established by Henry VIII.  Historically the Church of England has always had an unique identity and while it was historically “in communion” with the Bishop and Church of Rome from antiquity until Henry VIII fractured those bonds in the sixteenth century, it had its own traditions, liturgies, and canons which were quite independent of the continental and Roman practices. 
We had left off with the story of Thomas Becket and his murder by four knights of the court of King Henry II.  Becket was fighting to maintain the independence of the Church from the Crown which, in turn, was trying to establish its authority to deal with criminal behavior of the clergy and to limit (note, limit not eliminate) the Church’s right to appeal over royal authority to the Pope.  Becket did not die “for the faith” but “for the Church” and, in this particular case I am afraid for insupportable claims of the Church.  No one today would argue that the Church should have exclusive rights to try and punish the clergy for criminal activities.  Indeed the Catholic Church in the United States has lost valuable ground in the battle with an ever-more secularizing society precisely because some American bishops were trying to bloc justice’s pursuit of errant clergy.  If Cardinal George’s dire predictions are to come true we must blame several of his fellow members of the Sacred College for the seemingly irreparable damage done to the Church’s credibility and the squandering of what had been an illustrious record hard earned by the women of the American Church and their two centuries of service to the poor, the immigrant, the sick, and the victimized regardless of religion.  But let’s move on and go back to the English story.
Becket went to his grave in 1170 and Henry to his in 1189.  Henry’s son, Richard Coeur de Lion (Lion-heart for you mono-linguists [I love being a pompous ass—maybe there is a mitre in my future]) succeeded him and in turn died in 1199.  Richard spent very little time in England.  His great love were his French possessions—Normandy, Anjou, Maine, the Aquitaine, and who could blame him?  The English go to France on holiday; the French do not return the compliment—and there are reasons why, weather and cuisine not being the least of reasons.  Richard was a great defender of the Church.  He went off on the Third Crusade—as much for the love of a good war as for devotion to the Church.  He was, a man’s man who by the way, had a thing for manly men.  This is not to say he was gay, he was most likely bi-sexual, or perhaps better, omni-sexual.  His unanchored sexuality seems to be one of the reasons for a piety that was both deep and superficial.  I say deep as it could be quite extravagant; superficial in as that it never seemed to address the deeper levels of spirituality.  His almost continual absence from England for Crusade and French domains was combined with a psycho-spiritual ambivalence as he seems to have had no interest in pursuing his father’s attempt to establish clear constitutional authority over the Church and its clergy.   When Richard died, however, the throne went to his younger—and only surviving—brother, John.  Henry II had been one of the greatest kings to sit on the Lion Throne; Richard was one of the greatest men to do so; John was a failure in both departments.  And not only a failure, but an abysmal shadow of what a man, much less a king, is called to be. 
In 1205, Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, died. King John instructed the monks of Canterbury to elect the Bishop of Norwich, John de Gray, as Walter’s successor.  (Remember, at this time Bishops were elected by their cathedral chapters, not appointed by Rome, though both Rome and various kings or nobles instructed the cathedral chapters on whom they wished to have elected.)  The monks of Canterbury Cathedral, however, had their own candidate—their subprior, Reginald.  In defiance of the King they elected Reginald.  This shows how weak John was that a bunch of monks would defy him on a crucial issue such as who is to be the spiritual leader of the country.  Meanwhile the suffragen bishops of the Province of Canterbury got into the act claiming—without any precedence—that they had a right to elect the Archbishop.  They probably would have chosen the King’s candidate as they themselves owed their appointments to crown nomination.  The monks, sly as monks are, had secretly sent a delegation to Rome for papal confirmation of Reginald.  The bishops discovering this, sent their own delegation.  So the matter ended up before Pope Innocent III.  Innocent was as strong a pope as John was weak a king.  And to make a point of papal power, Innocent appointed his own candidate, Stephen Langton, an English cardinal living in Rome.   
John was furious.  He saw Langton as an agent of his enemy, Philip Augustus of France.  Langton had lived and taught at Paris before Innocent had brought him to Rome in 1203 and had ties to the French court.  John refused to let Langton to enter England.  Moreover, he seized the lands and revenue of the Archbishop of Canterbury for the royal treasury.  The Pope, after an attempt at reconciliation, lost patience and put England under interdict, forbidding any and all religious services except baptism of children and absolution of the dying. 
Now interdict was a serious matter in those days.  You want to get married?  Sorry, no can do.  Granma can’t have a funeral or even be buried in consecrated ground. Sunday Mass?—no.  Daily Mass? no.  Holy Communion? no.  confession? Only if you are dying.  This is for everyone, the whole country.  People begin to fear for their souls.  They were getting restless.  The clergy blamed the king.  The people didn’t like the king anyway.  He isn’t like his brother, Richard.  John is taxing them too much.  He is no warrior.  He’s a bully. 
John, for his part, turned against the clergy who were enforcing the interdict.  He put them in jail.  He confiscated the lands that support them. This wasn’t  helpful to his cause.  People may hate the Church but they usually like their priest.  They know him and he knows them.  When the priest grumbles about the King, it doesn’t help the King’s popularity.  In 1209 the Pope played his next higher card and excommunicated the King but it was not as effective a move as he had hoped. John had no worries for his immortal soul—he was never one to think far in advance. Moreover, he was no more worried about the salvation of his soul than he had worried about the interdicted souls of his subjects. From his blasphemous humor and casual disregard for the things of religion, it seems that John may have considered the whole God thing something for lesser intellects than his, not that there were many minds more obtuse but such is the conceit of minds to shallow to apprise the abstract passions that burn within the human heart. Both Pope and King dug in their heels.  But then Philip Augustus got into the act and began to plan an invasion of England to trounce the excommunicate King of England.  This did make John nervous.  Philip was a great warrior; John was not and had already lost Normandy and Anjou to the French King in 1204.  The last thing John needed was for Innocent to sanction a crusade against England.  So in 1213 John blinked first.  In making peace with Innocent, John had to cede his kingdom to the Pope and receive it back as a papal fief.   This meant that John recognized the Pope as his overlord not only in spiritual matters but temporal as well.  The Pope was sovereign in England and the King was but his governor, a papal viceroy.  While this was symbolic and had no practical effect on the day to day governing of the kingdom, in the medieval world symbol was everything and it gave the Papacy tremendous moral advantage over the English Crown.  Perhaps the most serious outfall of John’s surrender is that it showed the barons of England how weak John was.  They in turn challenged the Crown and confronted John in 1215 with a list of demands that severely limited royal authority, the Magna Carta.   Innocent, as overlord, annulled the charter but it stood and has stood for both English and Americans as a foothold of democracy against arbitrary and unilateral authority. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Contemporary Reflection on the Becket Controversy

A Becket-in-the-making?
Cardinal Francis George
of  Chicago
Cardinal George’s dire forecast that his successors would die martyrs for the faith triggered me to write these reflections on the contemporary Church in the United States the martyrdom of Thomas Becket—who died not for the faith but to preserve the Church’s privilege of exemption from the Law.  Ironically I am  and have long been a devotee of Becket.  Given the understanding of the Church’s position in the 12th century, I realize that Becket acted on a principle he cherished as a matter of faith.  However in the 20th century none of us would hold to that same principle—well probably Cardinal Law would—that the Church is not answerable to any authority but its own when it comes to crimes by the clergy.  Of course Becket lived in a time when the Church was consolidating its power; today we are somewhat more suspicious about power and reluctant to see it go unchecked, even (and especially) in the Church. 
I have referred several times before to the insight offered by the late Cardinal Avery Dulles in his book, the Catholicity of the Church, that the first thousand years of the papacy were about witness; the second thousand about power; and the third thousand will be about service.  I agree with Dulles but I think the paradigm can be extended from the papacy to the Church itself and this would mean that Catholicism is at one of those great shifts in the theological tectonic plates as we move from the template of power to the template of service.  Little tremors have signaled the shifting ground ever since Bishop Emil de Smedt of Bruges declared in the opening session of Vatican II that the Church had to renounce the “clericalism, juridicism, and triumphalism” of the past and meet the modern world on its own terms.  Paul VI abolished the papal court, drastically simplified the costuming of prelates to be rid of the princely accoutrements.  Religious women, moving out of their large motherhouses, put aside their medieval garb and institutional ministries to undertake hands-on service of abused women, abandoned children, the homeless, the aged, the immigrant, and the mentally ill.  Jesuits and de la Salle Christian Brothers opened up inner city Christo Rey Schools to give the children of the poor an educational leg-up that would let them compete successfully for placement in the academies run by their orders.  Religious Orders of both men and women started NGO’s and Institutes and outreach centers that would interface them with the rank injustices that underlay our social structures on the local, national, and international levels.  New model bishops, noted for their simplicity of style and humble service, emerged in the Church in such figures as Dom Helder Camara of Recife Brazil, Remi de Roo of Victoria,  Bernard Topel of Spokane, Oscar Romero of San Salvador, and Thomas Gumbleton (auxiliary) of Detroit.   But it was an Albanian nun who most personified this new attitude, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and captured the attention of the world by her devoted care of the poorest of the poor.  But it has not been a highway without its detours, roadblocks, speed bumps and potholes. 
There has been a strong current among social conservatives pushing a restorationist agenda in the Church to preserve the privilege and power of past centuries.  Recognizing that the liturgical changes introduced under Paul VI in the 1970 missal have probably been the strongest factor in awakening the social consciousness of the Catholic faithful, some bishops, many priests, and about five percent of the active laity have pushed to restore the pre-conciliar rites along with the elaborate costuming of prelates abolished by Paul VI.  There has been a revival of neo-traditionalist art and architecture in many Catholic parishes that focuses on splendor and material display.  Restorationist prelates such as Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Bernard Law, and Archbishop William Lori pushed for measures to rein in the religious sisters who have devoted themselves to the service of the poor and disenfranchised in our society.  Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation have come in most places to a grinding halt as Pope Benedict XVI changed the ground-rules from a tone of mutual cordiality and respect to a high-handed arrogance combined with a disdain for any whose understanding of Truth differed from the Catholic norm. 
Most troubling is that, at least on the American scene, the institutional dimension of the Catholic Church ceased speaking up for the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters and began shrill denunciations of those in our society who disagreed with the Church on two issues, abortion and same-sex marriage.  Catholic voices—some bishops, many priests, and a bloc of laity have called for the civil law to enshrine Catholic moral doctrine on these issues regardless of the fact that the majority of Americans do not agree with the moral principles on which the Catholic Church builds her case.  Catholics in public life have been threatened with Church censures if they did not do their jobs according to the directions of the hierarchy.  Catholics who voted for politicians who would not cave in to hierarchic pressure were threatened with censure and punishment if they did not follow the directions of the clergy in casting their ballots.  The Church was seen as using its moral authority to enforce a political agenda and that is not playing according to American Constitutional tradition. 
Fifty three years ago, a Catholic running for President spoke to a group of Protestant clergy declaring

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

At the time that man spoke, the Catholic voice stood behind him. It would be our first—and to date only—opportunity to have one of our own in the White House.  But today, many voices in our Church think that prelates should tell politicians how to act; Catholic pastors have no difficulty in telling their parishioners for whom to vote.  Today we see a religious body seeking to impose its will upon the general populace and the public acts of our elected officials. 
I don’t believe this means that Catholics need to be silent about abortion or about same-sex marriage—or about gun control, capital punishment, universal health-care, immigration, or the host of other hot-button political items that have religious implications.  I do believe, however, that our role is to educate and convince the electorate of the truth of our position, not to unilaterally impose our values on the larger society.  We can, as can any citizen or group of citizens, use the political system to further our convictions but we have no right to hijack it, even for the good ends we desire. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Contemporary Reflection on the Becket Controversy, continued

Statue of Becket in
Canterbury Cathedral
The first generations of Christians did not have a comfortable relationship with the culture in which they lived.  They were persecuted and despised by the government.  They certainly were in no position to write the laws by which the empire was governed, nor did those laws reflect their values and beliefs.  Nevertheless they were admonished by their scriptures to be good and obedient citizens.  The author of First Peter (most probably not Peter himself and probably written during the persecution of the Church under the Emperor Domitian) instructed his readers:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  [Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

Called to responsible citizenship in the Empire and obedient to its laws, Christians were guided in their moral choices by a superior law—the Law of Christ and his Gospel.  In a culture that saw no problem with adultery, fornication, homosexuality, pederasty, and any number of other sexual variations they strove to honor marriage and family life by their own committed example.  In a society that knew and used abortifacient drugs and various forms of contraception they recognized that the killing of the unborn was evil and did not practice it.  Nor did they endorse contraception.  (at the time, their understanding of contraception saw it as a form of destroying human life as they believed that the entirety of the human person was contained in the male semen and to block the semen from the womb, where they thought the seed matured into a fetus, was to cause the death of that human person.)  They lived in a society where unwanted children were left exposed to die. They, of course, did not practice infanticide.  They lived in a world where the head of the household had life and death power over not only his slaves but his children—yet they did not take lives.  There were other “liberties” granted under law in which they did not engage. Nor did they did serve in the military or undertake duties in which they might have to take a human life.  They did not go to the theatre.  In a culture that was fairly “wide open” they lived life by the narrow path that Jesus had prescribed. 
In 312 things changed drastically for the Christian population.  The newly victorious Emperor, Constantine, not only legalized their religion but gave them a religious preeminence over the other cults common in that society.  Constantine did not close the pagan temples or the theatres with their gladiator shows and sometimes somewhat pornographic entertainments.  Christians still refrained from going to the theatres or worshipping at the temples.  Eventually Christians became not only the established religion but for all practical purposes the sole religion of the Empire.  In the fifth century the temples and theatres were closed.  Laws were written to proscribe sexual practices that were contrary to the Judeo-Christian revelation.  Those laws were not always enforced but the mentality gradually shifted that the State should base its legal system on the religious moral code.   This was not only a Christian moral principle.  With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Islamic states also determined their civil and criminal law according to the revelation proper to their religion.  In Christian Europe, Judaism and Christianity more or less shared a moral code, especially in regard to sexuality, marriage, and family life.  The one difference that comes to mind was the permission in Judaism for divorce and the law codes of the developing European societies did not attempt to restrict that privilege among the Jewish community.  In fact, a blind eye was often turned towards divorce and concubinage and sometimes homosexuality in the Christian community as well.  In fact, while laws governing moral behavior were often “on the books” they were just as often not enforced.  Nevertheless the standard remained that the law should reflect Christian moral principles. 
With the Protestant Reformations of the sixteenth century cracks appeared in the relationship of Church and Law.  Some Protestant States began to look differently on some issues, most notably divorce, than Catholic tradition.  (Ironically, at least at first, England was not one of those States.)  In fact, among some of the radical reformers such as the Anabaptists of Münster, traditional marriage gave way to a sexual libertarianism.  Of course, even here, the laws permitting this were written in accord with the religious doctrines governing the state. 
More to the core of the issue, the religious diversity created by the Reformations of the sixteenth (and seventeenth) century were responsible for the creation of a secular mentality.   The conflicting religious claims of the various Churches and sects led the philosophes of the Enlightenment to look for a morality grounded not in religious doctrine but in human reason.  This was the outlook of the majority of the founders of our Republic—Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Madison and others.  Even Catholic thinkers at the time did not disagree as Catholic doctrine, always more positivist than Lutheran and Calvinist, held that the moral Truth of revelation was attainable through human reason—the so-called Natural Law.      
While the Catholic Church in America supported the idea that Church and State should be separate, Rome did not.  And even though Catholic thinkers said that Natural Law was apparent by reason as well as by revelation, the Church insisted that the State should draft its laws to preserve and protect the Church and its teaching.  In countries where the Catholic Church was established by law or accorded a special constitutional place—Italy, Ireland, Spain, among others—divorce was illegal, contraception unavailable, abortion a criminal offense. 
This relationship of Church and State became shaky in the twentieth century and after Dignitatis Humanae of Vatican II assured that the sovereignty of each conscience should be respected cracks appeared in those legal systems that had formally incorporated Catholic teaching in the legal codes. 
This brings us to our current dilemma.  There are many in the Catholic community, including many Catholic bishops, who want the laws that govern our society to be written to incorporate Catholic moral principles.  Yet it is clear to many others of us that the laws in democratic society must reflect not the teachings of one specific religious group but the moral consensus of the entire society.  This does not mean that we have to abdicate our moral principles in favor of a least-common-denominator morality much less yield to an amoral social code.  We have every right to persuade others in our society that our moral principles have a validity that transcend our doctrinal stance.  The key word here is persuade.  We have no right to impose our moral code but we have every right to offer persuasive evidence to help our fellow citizens to form their own moral conscience without our imposing our beliefs on them.
A particular urgency in this matter concerns our need to protect the unborn.  Every day hundreds of unborn children are deprived of the lives for which they were created.  It is tempting to try to force a unilateral solution to this tragedy by attempting to use politics to impose laws that protect the unborn.  The problem is that a significant number of our fellow citizens either do not accept the premise that the unborn are human lives or they prefer to close their eyes and ignore the moral quandary of conflicting interests between the unborn and the women who carry them.
I remember reading Cider House Rules by John Irving.  I probably read it twenty years ago.  It is an exceptionally well-written novel.  Inj the context of the story between the director of an orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch and his young protégé, Homer Wells, Irving manages to give clear and unbiased statement to both sides of the abortion issue.  While the pro-life case is well presented, it does lose out in the story to the pro-choice argument. This is not surprising as Irving had been commissioned to write a novel to win the audience to the pro-choice view.  Indeed he is to be commended in stating the pro-life views as fairly as he did.  At the time I read the book, I could not but help think that it was tragic that American Catholics had not employed a novelist of Irving’s stature to make the emotional and intellectual appeal to win public opinion to the cause of the unborn.  But this is the failed strategy.  We have tried to force laws on people rather than win their intellects and their hearts to our cause.  Jesus never gave his Church a commission to change laws.  The Apostles never undertook a political agenda in the Roman Empire.  Our commission is to preach a Gospel that changes hearts.  We will, no doubt, make enemies if we change hearts for the good but not nearly as many enemies as we are making now by trying to force a political solution that does not have the support of the vast majority of the population. Moreover, while we will make some foes if we are successful in evangelizing with a Gospel of Life we will have the moral high ground and be faithful to our mission.  Our attempts to coerce rather than to convert are not only doomed to failure; they betray the mission we have been given as a Church.      

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Contemporary Reflection on the Becket Controversy

The shrine in Canterbury
Cathedral that marks the
place of Becket's martyrdom
 The posting on Becket raises a contemporary question that perhaps should give us some thought.  Catholic University School of Theology and Religious Education Professor of Moral Theology and Ethics, Dr. John Grabowski, concluded his class on Christian Marriage this past week with a thought attributed to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.  Cardinal George reportedly said that he expects to die in his bed but he expects his successor to die in prison and his successor to die a martyr.   Professor Grabowski’s point is, of course, that the Catholic Church and American society are on a collision course which will require Catholics of twenty to thirty years hence to face a choice between martyrdom and apostasy.  Dr. Grabowski is not the only Catholic voice—nor is Cardinal George—to raise this possibility.  And while I find the prophecy glum, even morbid, I do not think it is an impossibility.  My only objection is that if we are to die for our faith, let us make sure that it is the Truth of Jesus Christ and his Gospel that is the price of our blood.
Becket died a martyr—but for what principle?  He did not die for the Gospel nor for faith in Jesus Christ.  He did not die in defense of the Trinity or the Real Presence.  He did not die protecting his virginity or defending the poor.  Becket died defending the “right” of the Church to shelter its clergy from due process of the King’s justice.  He died to preserve clerical privilege.  At the time this was thought to be a legitimate reason for his canonization.  At the time many agreed with Becket that the Church should protect its clergy from the King’s Law.  Today, of course, no one believes that.  Only an eccentric of institutionalization quality would claim that a priest or religious who had broken the criminal law should not be tried in a criminal court and punished in the same manner as a member of the laity guilty of the same crime.  We can only judge Becket’s integrity by the standards of his day, but at the same time we cannot judge him to have been right in attempting the shield the clergy from due process of law. 
So what will be the reason that the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago of 2055 will be required to shed his blood?  Will it be his defense of the Eucharist?  Will it be his defense of the Trinity?  Will it be his refusal to deny the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Christ?  Most likely not.   It may be his attempts in some way to interfere physically with the continued slaughter of the unborn, a trespass perhaps on an abortion facility or an attempt to physically bar a woman from entering a clinic.  That would probably bring an imprisonment.  Perhaps he will shoot an abortion provider or bomb a clinic.  That would conceivably bring a death penalty.  It may be his refusal to accord the rights bestowed by the civil law to people of same-sex orientation or his attempts to block the rites of the civil law to the same.  Perhaps he will incite hate crimes against LGBT people from his cathedral pulpit.  That would bring imprisonment.  Perhaps he will engage in some act of mortal violence against the LGBT community—that could bring a death penalty.  Perhaps it will be an act of treason to overturn our Constitution and the rights it grants our citizens in favor of a set of rights limited to Catholic moral principles.  I think all this is highly unlikely.  It is not impossible, of course, but it is unlikely.  What is likely and seemingly more and more so with each new wave of seminary graduates—the people that Professor Grabowski is teaching by the way—is that we will have a clergy (and eventually a hierarchy) that is determined to force praxis based on Catholic doctrine on the larger population.  Shrill voices in the Catholic community are demanding that the laws of our land be written to reflect Catholic moral teaching regardless of the fact that these principles are not shared by the majority of the population.  And so if the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago in 2055 is put to death for our “faith” the question historians in the future will ask is—should he have been attempting to force Catholic doctrine on society or has he exceeded the mandate Christ has given to his Church?    
This has, I believe, been our mistake for the past forty years or more.  We want the law to reflect and enforce our religious beliefs.  Christ never gave us a mission to change laws.  He has given us a mission to change hearts.  And in our misguided zeal to force the law to conform to our values, we have in fact alienated hearts from the truth. 
Twenty years ago Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago called for “common ground.”  We need, he said, to sit down with those with whom we disagree and discover on what we agree before polarizing over those points of disagreement.  I believe that conversation with those who defend a woman’s “right to choose” would have opened our ears and hearts to the plight of women who find themselves “trapped” in an “inconvenient” pregnancy.  That does not mean that we would end up embracing abortion policies—it means that we would have to wrestle with how do we effectively help women not to be held back from realizing their potential and striving for their happiness when they find themselves in a problematic pregnancy.  Would there be anything wrong with looking for strategies that would help women?  Frankly we need to hear the stories of women who do not know where to turn.  At the same time such a conversation would have permitted us raise the perspective of the unborn child and his or her future.  My own experience of conversations about abortion is that while I am talking about a child, my interlocutor is speaking about a woman.  In other words, we are not even on the same topic.  Conversations open the path to changing hearts.  It is not done overnight but we would certainly have made more progress in preserving the lives of the unborn than we have with our posters of aborted babies and our rant-chants in front of abortion mills.  Of course Cardinal Law of Boston—you remember the fellow who wanted to protect his priests from criminal law though no Becket he—and Cardinal Hickey of Washington beat the drums of hysteria to make sure that no dialogue ever happened. 
I think we are facing the same question and challenges about same-sex unions.  Frankly we need to sit down and have honest conversations with men and women whose sexual orientation leads them to become emotionally bonded with members of their own sex.  I think we have serious questions and even challenges for their positions.  But I also think we have much to learn in order that some of our preconceptions can evolve from reflecting bias to being based in experience.  Experienced confessors and spiritual directors are discovering that the issues of sin and grace are not as black and white as some think.  As we discover the physiological elements of same-sex bonding our moral theology is faced with new questions we had not asked before.    
If we continue to claim the privilege of writing the laws to reflect our religious beliefs we will turn our society against us—and rightfully so.  I say “rightfully so” because we are not being faithful to Christ and to his mission.  Any use of power by the Church over those who do not freely subscribe to its doctrines is an abuse of power. And it is not martyrdom when you bring down the roof on your own head.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church, XV

The stone in the pavement of Canterbury
Cathedral that marks the site of the
martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket
The issue of papal authority in England became more acute in the reign of Henry II and in particular with his conflict with Thomas Becket, his onetime chancellor and then, as Archbishop of Canterbury, the fierce opponent of royal authority over the Church. 
Medieval canon law, recognized by the King and his law as governing the Church, exempted members of the clergy from royal justice and mandated they be tried in Church courts.  In other words, there were two parallel legal systems.  If a layman stole a cow or killed his brother-in-law he was tried in the King’s Court and punished by the King’s court.  If a member of the clergy stole a cow or murdered his brother-in-law he was tried and punished by Church courts.  As Church courts were limited in their ability to punish grave crimes—they could only impose sentences of fines, flogging, loss of clerical state and office, and excommunication—the King was not convinced they could adequately punish—or deter—grave crimes.  Moreover, clerical privilege applied not only to bishops. Priests, and deacons but to any man who had been tonsured as well as monks, nuns, friars, hermits (both monastic and lay), pilgrims and anyone who lived “under the protection of the Church.”  There were many men who had been tonsured—subdeacons, acolytes, lectors, sacristans, clerks in minor orders, as well as most university professors and even students. Probably 15% or more of the adult population qualified for Church protection.  Many of these men—the majority in fact—had no intention of ever advancing to higher orders or Church ministry.  In addition to the problem of clerical exemption for the King’s justice, there were other issues where royal authority was coming into conflict with the Church or papal authority.  Some of these matters concerned appointment to certain church posts, what happened to church revenues during the vacancy of an ecclesiastical post, the right of a bishop to appeal over and against the King to the Pope and various other issues.  In 1164 King Henry issued a charter of 16 provisions called the Constitutions of Clarendon.  They were meant to regulate the conflicting authorities of the Crown and the Church.  Needless to say, they regulated them in favor of the Crown but to the modern ear, even the Catholic ear, they do not sound unreasonable.  They did not sound unreasonable to the Bishops and Abbots of England who, with one exception, approved them.  They did, however, sound unreasonable to Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of England.  Becket refused to accept the royal decree and for that was tried for contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in his office as Lord Chancellor.  Becket fled to France before he could be apprehended.  Louis VII of France, an enemy of Henry, was only too happy to give refuge to the exiled Archbishop.  Becket spent six years in exile before Pope Alexander III was able to negotiate a compromise between King and Archbishop that allowed Becket to return to his see.
Henry was a proud man and demanded a humiliation of Becket in return for his having had to accept the Archbishop back on more or less Becket’s own terms.  Henry arranged that his eldest son should be crowned king in June 1170.  This was not unusual in the central Middle Ages—the crowning of the “young king” while the old one was still alive and well.  In fact, Henry the Father would outlive Henry the Son by six years.  The point of a coronation, somewhat strangely, is not the crowning but the anointing.  The anointing with sacred chrism confers a special character on the monarch with the scriptural admonition: “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” (1 Chronicles 16:22).  While a second coronation would often be held when old king had died, having the heir in place, crowned, and anointed was seen to provide for a smooth transition.  So Henry the Father arranged for Henry the Son to be crowned with all due pomp at Westminster Abbey.  Henry invited the Archbishop of York, assisted by the bishops of London and Salisbury, to do the honors.  But the honor of crowning the monarch belonged by right to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket.  Becket—for his revenge—excommunicated Roger de Pont l’Évȇque of York, Gilbert Foliot of London, and Josceline de Bohon of Salisbury for usurping his, Becket’s, right to crown the king.  The bishops, all political enemies of Becket, fled to Henry who was at the time in Normandy. Becket was on a roll and went on to excommunicate several of the King’s nobles who had committed offenses against the Church, including one who had, in violation of the Church’s right to administer justice to its own, arrested a priest, tried him for murder (outside a Church Court) and hung him.  These excommunications were seen as challenges to Henry and his authority.  Shortly after Christmas 1170, Henry, probably under the influence of too much wine, exasperated “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their Lord the King be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”  Four knights, overzealous to win the royal favor, immediately set out, crossed the channel, and arrived at Canterbury on December 29, 1170. They were Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard de Brito.  They forced their way into the cathedral where they confronted Becket on his way to vespers and in the ensuing scuffle killed the Archbishop.
The murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury was not initially to the political advantage of the Crown.  Henry treated the matter lightly, advising the knights to flee to Scotland where Henry could not reach them so that he would not have to punish them.  Their property escheated to the Crown but Henry seems to have allowed them to continue to receive their incomes from their lands.  Pope Alexander III excommunicated them several months later, however, and the King was unable to protect them from the papal sanctions.  All four were ordered to go on Crusade to the Holy Land.  None seem to have returned.  Henry, though not personally excommunicated (though his lands were for a while placed under interdict), was sentenced by the Pope to go on Crusade.  Henry agreed but never, in fact, went.   By the Compromise of Avranches Henry permitted the English Church to appeal over royal authority to the Pope—thus expanding papal power in England.  He also annulled the Constitutions of Clarendon and restored the authority of Church courts to punish members of the clergy.  In other words, Henry lost the battle with Becket, but he still managed to win the war.   Henry managed to “spin” the cult of the martyred Archbishop to his own benefit and by his accepting his penances and then building shrines to the Becket and furthering the cult of the martyred Archbishop, actually became the hero of the story in the popular imagination rather than the villain.  Henry was far more cynical than he was pious but his strategy worked.  The conflict with Becket was a political misstep and Henry was unable to push back on the expansion of papal power in England, but he emerged all the stronger nonetheless.  His son, King John, would squander that heritage and lose even more power to Rome.   


Friday, May 3, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XIV

The High Altar of Salisbury
We can see that in the two centuries after the Norman conquest papal authority expanded dramatically in the Church of England.  From ancient times the English Church had been autonomous but like other Churches that accepted the seven ecumenical councils was in communion with the Church of Rome.  When I say that the Church of England—or the Church in England—was autonomous I mean it elected its own bishops without Roman appointment, it followed its own liturgical rites (Sarum, York, Hereford, and Lincoln), determined its own disciplines at English synods such as Whitby in 664 and Winchester (1071).   When I say it was in communion with Rome I mean that named the Bishop of Rome in its diptychs and commemorated him in its prayers; it voluntarily sent tribute in the Peter’s Pence, and its archbishops appealed to Rome for their pallia and received it from the Pope as a sign of their communion.  But in the centuries following the Norman conquest, Rome became more and more involved in decision making in the English Church.  Bishops were still elected in England by their cathedral chapters but both kings and popes made it known to the electors whom they wished elected or, at least, whom they would not confirm if elected.  Upon their elections, bishops sent to Rome—along with monetary gifts—petitions requesting papal confirmation of their election before they could be consecrated.  Popes began sending legates to preside over English Church synods or councils.  (Sometimes one or the other English Archbishops would be named legate; sometimes a foreign legate would be sent.  These legates outranked the Archbishops even after they had been named as primates, reminding the English Church that it no longer had ultimate authority in its decision over its own internal affairs as it had in Anglo-Saxon days.)   Sometimes, with permission of the king, foreign prelates were named as absentee bishops of English Sees such as Giovanni de Gigli, Silvestro de Gigli, Guilio di Guiliano Medici, and Girolamo Ghinucci who successively held the See of Worcester from 1497 until 1535.  (One of these, Giulio di Giuliano deMedici would become Clement VII, the pope who refused Henry VIII his annulment from Catherine of Aragon—but that is getting ahead of our story.)    Naming officials of the Roman Curia to English posts—bishoprics, cathedral deaneries and canonries, abbacies etc. permitted Curial officials to draw an English salary with the understanding that they would grease the skids for English interests in the Roman Curia.  Cardinal Adriano Castellesi is another example of a Curial official holding English Sees.  Castellesi held the Sees of Hereford and then Bath and Wells between 1502 and1518. 
The squabbles between Canterbury and York with their frequent appeals to Rome for support to their rival claims and their taking appointment as papal legates to enhance their positions one against the other, all contributed to the Roman Curia getting more direct control over the English Church.  There were various instances when kings—Stephen, Henry II, Richard—forbad appeal to Rome in an attempt to keep papal power from expanding but there were enough appeals that got through to change the relationship of the English Church to the papacy with the papacy getting the upper hand.  However, the battle would continue on, as we shall see with the fallout from the murder of Becket to Magna Carta to the statutes of Praemunire.   

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XIII

The murder of Archbishop
Thomas Becket
The dispute between Canterbury and York over Canterbury’s claim to a primatial jurisdiction over York and the northern dioceses flared up briefly in the reign of King Stephen but there were far more important issues facing England with the Crown being disputed between Stephen and the Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I.  This was a time of civil war as Stephen’s having grabbed the throne after the death of his uncle, Henry I, displaced the rightful heir, Henry’s daughter Matilida.  The Barons of England, and the Church as well, were divided in their allegiance.  The issue was, of course, whether a woman could inherit the throne but in this case Stephen’s claim was shaky for while he was  male, his claim to the throne was through his mother, the daughter of William the Conqueror. If a woman could not inherit the throne, her son had no right to it. Moreover, if one were to acknowledge a grandson’s claim through his mother, Matilda herself had a son whose claim would be stronger than Stephen’s—and who, in fact, did eventually succeed to the throne as Henry II.  But we are not only getting ahead of ourselves, we are wandering away from our main point—the contested claims of Canterbury and York and their involvement of the papacy in the dispute.  If faithless to the oath that he swore to Henry I to support his daughter Matilda as Queen, Stephen was otherwise a pious man, especially so when it came to the rights of the Church.  William of Corbeil, Archbishop  of Canterbury, had also ignored the oath he had sworn to Henry to support Matilda, and crowned Stephen in Westminster Abbey on the day after Christmas, 1135.  Archbishop Thurstan of York also supported Stephen’s claim against Matilda. When William of Corbeil died in 1137, Canterbury remained empty for two years until Stephen appointed Abbot Theobald of Bec the new Archbishop.  Despite this appointment, Theobald and Stephen were not to have a good relationship as the Archbishop found himself in conflict with the King’s brother, Henry, who was Bishop of Winchester. Winchester was supposedly suffragen to Canterbury, but Bishop Henry played on being the King’s brother and ignored his Metropolitan Archbishop. The King was caught between his brother and his Archbishop. Stephen also had difficulties with the See of York as King and Pope could not agree on a candidate to serve as Archbishop and candidates proposed by each were refused by the other.  Nevertheless, the issue of primacy remained on a backburner during this time until the realm was more settled with Stephen’s death and the accession of Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou as Henry II.
During the reign of Henry II the issue of Canterbury’s claim to primacy was inextricably tied to Archbishop Thomas Becket whose turbulent relationship with the King made things way more complicated than they needed to be.  In 1163 both Becket and Roger de Pont l’Evȇque, the Archbishop of York, attended a papally convened council at Tours and argued over who was to be seated senior to whom.  After three wasted days of arguing, Pope Alexander III placed them in places of equal dignity which was a loss to Canterbury’s claim of primacy.  To add insult to injury, the following year Alexander named Roger a papal legate though he exempted Becket’s archdiocese from Roger’s legatine authority.  When Alexander did declare Canterbury to be Primate in 1166, Roger—as papal legate—still held senior honors.  Three weeks later Becket also was named a papal legate, but his authority did not extend over Roger’s Archdiocese.  This left matters somewhat at a draw as far as Roger and Becket personally were concerned, but in fact gave Becket’s Archdiocese a leg up with a recognized primacy.  Roger’s legateship would expire on his death, as would Becket’s, but the primacy did not expire but passed down to the succeeding archbishops. 
Roger infuriated Becket four years after Canterbury was named a primatial see when he, Roger, crowned Henry’s son, Henry, King.  This was in the midst of Becket’s dispute with King Henry and although it was not an unusual practice at the time to crown the successor while the king still lived, King Henry had explicitly designed the coronation of the prince by the Archbishop of York to be a slap at Becket as it was Canterbury’s prerogative to crown the monarch. 
Roger for his part aggravated Becket further by having his (Roger’s) archepiscopal cross carried before him wherever he was in England.  This practice has been discontinued only recently in the Vatican II reforms, but historically a bishop had a second processional cross carried immediately before him in a procession in his own diocese.  An Archbishop would have the cross, in this case specially designed with two crossbars, carried before him throughout his province—that is, in the dioceses suffragen to  him. By having his archepiscopal cross carried before him not only in his own Province of York but also in the Canterbury Province, Roger was claiming a jurisdiction in Becket’s territory.  Finally Pope Alexander had to intervene and demand that Roger stop this provocation.
The battle of the crosses continued, however, under the successors of Roger and Becket, Geoffrey of York and Hubert Walter of Canterbury. Each had his cross carried before him in the other’s province as well as his own and each appealed to King Richard, Henry’s son and heir, for the authority to do so.  Richard declined and referred the matter to Rome.  It was only in the fourteenth century when the Avignon Pope, Innocent VI (1352-62) confirmed the right of each prelate to have the cross carried before him throughout England and gave York the title: Primate of England while giving Canterbury the slightly higher title: Primate of All England.  After the schism under Henry VIII, Parliament enacted a bill giving Canterbury the higher position.  And so it still stands.  The chief winner in this dispute between Canterbury and York was the papacy to which both appealed and which used those appeals to further establish papal power over matters in the English Church.