A helpful resource on Canon Law
A review of The Development of the Church of England’s Canons from 1969 to 2020, edited by Gerald Bray
I am no expert when it comes to cars. But when ours started to make a disconcerting rattling noise a few months ago, I was grateful that the mechanic at the local garage was. Sometimes we need specialists. I had a similar feeling on reading Gerald Bray’s latest book on the Church of England’s canons (meaning her laws, not her cathedral clergy).
I don’t know anyone who is involved in gospel ministry so that they can read canon law. Rightly, our concern is for the ministry of prayer and the word, for tending the flock and reaching the lost. But if we are ministering within the Church of England, whether we like it or not, the context in which we do those things is underpinned by a legal framework of the canons. Everyone licensed or ordained within the Church of England will have sworn, perhaps on multiple occasions, to bear true and canonical obedience to their bishop, and declared that they will use only the forms of service authorised or allowed by canon. At the heart of the current debates around Living in Love and Faith is the Church of England’s definition of heterosexual marriage found in Canon B30.
All Church of England ministers, therefore, need to know something about canon law. But we also need specialists who can help the rest of us understand our responsibilities and who can engage with and propose legislative amendments in General Synod. For those specialists, and therefore to the rest of us, Gerald Bray has performed a useful service with his latest book.
In the introduction, Dr Bray gives a brief synopsis of the revision of the canons from the Reformation to the present day. (The English Reformation, of course, was sparked by Henry VIII’s objections to the canon law of the day.) The present set of canons came into force in the 1960s and it is their development over the past 50 years that Dr Bray seeks to unfold in the remainder of the book. The book’s substance (over 200 pages of it) is a copy of the 1969 canons, with every subsequent addition, deletion and amendment indicated by a combination of italic and bold type, along with explanatory footnotes. This is all material that is available elsewhere, as Dr Bray himself notes, but he has made it significantly more accessible to others in this format.
This is certainly not a book for everyone. By its nature, it is far longer than a simple copy of the canons in force today. But for those studying how the Church of England has changed over recent decades, or who legislate in General Synod, Dr Bray has provided a valuable tool. I am no expert on canon law, but I’m glad someone is.