Canon Law and The Law of God

As most of you know, Bishop Burbidge is sending me to study canon law, starting in August in order to help out the chancery of the Diocese in various ways, such as annulment petitions, sacramental and parish issues, dealings among the faithful and relations with organizations not affiliated with the Diocese.

It is a good occasion to describe what canon law is and how it fits into the realm of faith. We can begin with the principle that all laws enacted on this earth should flow from the eternal law of God. The eternal law is the ordering and unity of all things in heaven and on earth. We do not see that eternal law directly on this earth, but we see its effects, in the order of nature, in the moral law (both natural and supernatural) in the order of grace, based upon the salvation that Jesus Christ won and the Church and her sacraments that He handed on to us.

The 19th Psalm reflects this order of all things as the Psalmist begins by celebrating that “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim His handiwork” and that the sun “like a warrior runs its course with joy.” The psalm then transitions to the law God has given us as “reviving the soul,” “making wise the simple,” “enlightening the eyes,” and “sweeter also than honey.”

The Jews in fact refer to the first five books of the Bible as the Torah, the law of God, for it describes all together the order of creation, the essential goodness of humanity, the providence of God, and His instructions for our lives and our worship.

Every society is meant to reflect this harmony of creation and of God’s guidance, each in its own unique way. Doing so requires judgement and application of these eternal principles to the individual circumstances and personality of each specific community. For example, the basic principles of justice, including property, the keeping of promises, and the fair treatment of all people in an economy are permanent; but how these principles are enacted in defining property rights, contracts, and the economic structure will vary.

Likewise, the fundamental principles that the Church is founded upon, including the Scriptures, the sacraments, the moral laws, communion of saints, an ordained priesthood, and the universal call to holiness are permanent. But, in order to apply these principles to every time and place, and to maintain order, peace, and rightful freedom and initiative, the Church has a Code of Canon Law, and each diocese and religious order has specific legislation.

It is that field that I will be studying, and later applying, to help this diocese reflect the peace and harmony of the eternal realms here and now.