Check out the Journal of Episcopal Church Canon Law, edited by Bob Prichard, here. Despite the format, which is identical to that of printed journals, it appears to be available on-line only. At least, I couldn’t find any way to subscribe to a print edition.

One of the articles in this first issue addresses the recently adopted practice in the diocese of South Carolina, where ordinands are not asked to sign the declaration of conformity until a statement has been read to the congregation explaining what the diocese understands by that declaration. The statement includes a reference to the Thirty Nine Articles, which the diocese understands to be part of the ‘doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church’ to which ordinands swear to conform.

In saying ‘swear’, I suppose I’m taking issue with the writer of the article, Jonathan Gray. As part of the background to the current situation, he describes the difference between oaths, vows, promises and declarations, at least insofar as they were understood at the time of the emergence of the Church of England. Gray argues that the Oath of Conformity is not an oath. An oath, he says, is ‘a statement or promise made before God to men’, and because there is no explicit statement in the declaration citing God as witness, it cannot be called an oath. This would be a merely academic point, were it not f0r the fact that he implies that this lessens its binding nature: ‘to  our  sixteenth-century predecessors,  the  form  of  our  modern  profession  of  conformity would  seem  less  solemn,  and  therefore  less  binding  and  more flexible than a formal oath.’

I suspect that very few people who made the declaration at the time of their ordination would agree with this. The fact that God is not cited as a witness at the time the words are said seems irrelevant, given the fact that the words are said during a worship service at which we are promised the Lord’s presence in Matthew 18.20. It would have never crossed my mind when I took it that I was not taking it in the presence of God, and that He was not a witness. I can’t imagine anything more binding and less flexible; it’s on an exact par with my marriage vow (which for the same reason is an oath as well as a vow).

This has no bearing on the main thrust of Gray’s paper, which concludes that ‘the  current practice of  the Diocese  of  South Carolina  is  valid’. But I couldn’t let it go without saying.

Advertisements