Archbishop Burke on Shari’a and Canon Law

Archbishop Raymond L. Burke

Archbishop Burke addressed the 11th Deutsch-Amerikanisches Kolloquium in Wilbad Kreuth, Bavaria. He made a very interesting comparison of the context for understanding canon law and Shari’a. I will provide a summary, in this blog, of his account of canon law; in the next blog of Shari’a.

Canon law presupposes a faith in the heavenly city with a view of this life as a journey. The temporal order is respected for having a certain integrity even if ultimately subordinated to the eternal life. A distinction is drawn between the things of God and the things of Caesar (Mt 22:21). The law of Caesar is respected but conscience may lead one to refuse to obey an unjust law. “The Church does not view any particular order as definitive or perfect, but she works tirelessly in every political order for that good which serves man’s freedom during this earthly pilgrimage.”Law is a “rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good.” (Catechism n 1951). There are many types of law — canon law is “the body of disciplinary norms which serve the good order of the Church so that she can fulfill her mission of the sanctification of man and of the world.” The teaching of the Faith, liturgy and holiness are obviously of more importance than canon law, but they require that the Church have a just and good order through canonical discipline.

Archbishop Burke cited some passages from Venerable Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution entitle Sacrae disciplinae leges (1983).

the writings of the New Testament enable us to understand still more the importance itself of discipline and make us see better how it is more closely connected with the saving character of the evangelical message itself.

This being so, it appears sufficiently clear that the Code is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace and the charisms in the life of the Church and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to faith, grace and the charisms, it at the same time renders easier their organic development in the life both of the ecclesial society and of the individual persons who belong to it. 

In actual fact the Code of Canon Law is extremely necessary for the Church. Since, indeed, it is organized as a social and visible structure, it must also have norms: in order that its hierarchical and organic structure be visible; in order that the exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to her, especially that of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, may be adequately organized; in order that the mutual relations of the faithful may be regulated according to justice based upon charity, with the rights of individuals guaranteed and well defined; in order, finally, that common initiatives, undertaken for a Christian life ever more perfect may be sustained, strengthened and fostered by canonical norms.

Bishop Burke concludes from these passages that “canon law is limited to the service of the right order of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. . . It does not pretend in anyway, to have application in matters  which are governed exclusively by civil legislation.” In fact, it even “accepts directly provisions of civil law as its own and obliges the observance of the same.”

The sources of canon law includes scripture and tradition. Collections of law have been gathered; and the law was codified by Benedict XV in 1917. Based upon the initiative of Blessed Pope John XXIII and the work of Pope Paul VI, in 1983 Pope John Paul II promulgated the revised code. The Roman Pontiff is the supreme Legislator in the Church. But judicial power is distinct from the legislative power. The judicial power has two purposes: “vindication of rights” or “declaration of judicial facts” and “the imposition or declaration of a penalty for delicts.” The ecclesiastical judge “applies the canonical legislation in force to particular questions which are brought before the Church’s tribunals.”

Archbishop Burke’s summary is as follows: “The ultimate source of Canon Law is Christ Himself. The Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him, together with their co-workers, the priests are sacramentally configured to Christ Head and Shepherd of the flock, so they may act in His person as Head and Shepherd in every time and every place of the Church. Even as Christ declared that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets” but “to fulfill them,” even so those who act in His person as Head and Shepherd have the duty to make laws by which the faithful may more readily do the will of the Father in all things, fulfilling or Lord’s command: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:17).

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