12 March 2015

Private and Public vows, an Unofficial Terminology?

[[Dear Sister Laurel,  what you have said about private vows and public vows is clear to me. The first is a completely private commitment; the other refers to one where one takes on public rights and obligations in law. Is this your own personally coined terminology or is it official? I ask because one blogger said, [[To recapitulate, the distinguishing difference in the unofficially coined terms "private profession" and "public profession" of vows is as follows. The former profession of vows are not required by Church law to be professed in the hands of the hermit's local ordinary. . .while the latter profession of vows is thus required, and thus becomes a public record per church law.]]

Unofficially coined?? No, the usage is both longstanding and normative in the Roman Catholic Church;  the 1983 Code of Canon Law reads as follows: [[Can. 1192 §1. A vow is public if a legitimate superior accepts it in the name of the Church; otherwise, it is private.]] Please note: this normative usage has absolutely nothing to do with notoriety or lack of notoriety (i.e., anonymity). Legitimacy (whether something is binding in law or not) is the key here. In the 1917 Code of Canon Law both private and public vows were also possible. One source summarizes the matter as follows, [[ According to their juridical form, they [vows] may be private or made with the Church's recognition. . .]] The phrase "Church's recognition" refers to "recognition in law" and the extension of canonical (that is, public) rights and obligations in law through the Church's reception of such vows just as was the case in c 1192 of the 1983 revised Code.

I will say that the Church does not officially use the term "private profession" though, and that this is a bit more canonically obscure a matter than the simpler usage, "private vows" and "public vows". That is because the definition of profession is the making of a commitment which initiates one into a new and stable state of life. In other words, the public and canonical nature of the commitment is part of the very meaning of the term itself. In any case, since private vows do not initiate into the consecrated state of life, it is not really accurate to speak of a private profession (though I have also made this mistake, and did so until just a few years ago). By the way, profession is more global than the vows themselves; it is a definitive act of commitment or dedication of self which ordinarily uses vows as the "most solemn and binding way to express. such a [dedication]". (Schneiders, Selling All) Thus Canon 603 hermits may use other sacred bonds to express their definitive dedication of self.

Postscript: When canon 603 speaks of making vows (etc) "in the hands of" the local Bishop, this indicates that he is or will be from this moment forward her legitimate superior. The symbolic action "in the hands of" is historically based and reminds us of times when members of a society made an oath of fealty, for instance, in the hands of the Lord or King. Today public vows are made in the hands of legitimate superiors whether this occurs in religious institutes or with Canon 603. Both parties are bound in a covenant relationship though only the individual making the vows (sacred bonds) is bound by these specifically. The symbolism is one I find quite powerful, especially when stripped of feudal overtones and connotations to be replaced with those of mutual respect and even affection.