13 March 2015

The Meaning of "Other Sacred Bonds" in Canon 603

[[Dear Sister Laurel, What sort of "other sacred bonds" are there - other than vows - to express a "definitive dedication of self." I don't remember you ever using this phrase before, and I think others might also be interested in hearing you elaborate upon that.]]

LOL! A good reason I haven't said much about this sort of obscure part of canon 603 is that I haven't been able to find out much about it myself! I have only heard of one diocese using this option or at least inquiring about it from a canonist I know, and unfortunately, she didn't go into detail on that (we were discussing something else really). What I do understand it to mean, however, is that in some way one dedicates oneself definitively to live an eremitical life according to c 603, and thus to do so in a publicly (legally) responsible way ("in the name of the Church"), and this dedication is accepted in the name of the Church by the local ordinary. Once this occurs a bond exists, in fact, a sacred bond which is public in character --- just as when two persons consent to marriage during a marriage rite a bond is established then and there.

In the Catholic theology of marriage the existence of this bond does not depend upon the quality of the relationship; it is the result of the exchange of consent to marry (I take you, etc); it is an example of what is called "performative language where something, in this case a bond, comes to be in the very speaking of the words. Thus, in regard to c 603, it seems to me that one might promise to live one's Rule with fidelity and integrity, for instance, and to do so under the direction of legitimate superiors for the rest of one's life. If such a promise is made in the hands of a legitimate superior a sacred bond then exists. Some sort of oath ("I swear here before all. . . that I . . .") may be acceptable here too. (In the case of a c. 603 commitment to live a Rule with fidelity and integrity, the hermit and diocese would need to be very clear the constitutive elements of the canon were adequately understood and reflected in the text of the Rule itself. Thus, the evangelical counsels and what they call for in concrete terms would need to be clearly articulated.) In either of these cases, the person is not making vows of the evangelical counsels to God, but they are giving themselves entirely to God in the eremitical life in the name of the Church, and they are being initiated into the consecrated state of life --- which means this is a profession in the canonical sense.

This is part of the reason Sandra Schneiders, IHM, as you may well know, distinguishes between profession and vows per se.(cf., Schneiders, Selling All,  "Commitment and Profession" pp. 78-116). It is also one of the reasons I focus on the canonical relationships that obtain in profession. Profession of any sort creates new bonds and/or new relationships in law. It is also the reason I ordinarily distinguish between the meanings of "witnessing vows" and "receiving vows". The first creates no real bond between the one making the vows and the one witnessing them (assuming s/he is only witnessing); the second creates a true, and even sacred bond between these persons (say, a hermit and her Bishop/diocese and the larger Church, for instance) and those others the person receiving the vows represents (the Universal Church, the diocese, and the Bishop's successors in this case). When we speak of profession leading to initiation into a "stable state of life" we are speaking, at least partly, of these significant and enduring bonds and relationships and the structure and law that regulates, governs, and supports them.

As you also well know, in associateship with the IHM's or congregations like the Sisters of the Holy Family associate members promise or covenant certain things and the congregation receives and adds their own consent to this covenant. Vows are not made here, nor is there initiation into a new state of life (profession), but the bonds are undoubtedly sacred. In oblature with the Benedictines or Camaldolese, etc, there is an exchange of promises or consent. In this case these are not vows to God either, nor do they constitute profession in the canonical sense, but they are sacred bonds nonetheless. My own diocese  (Oakland) simply decided we would be using vows and I was honestly not prepared for --- nor would I have really desired --- using anything else. But given the fact that my Rule was given a Bishop's Declaration of Approval with the explicit hope that this would prove beneficial for the living of the eremitical life as part of all of this (this Rule became legally (i.e., canonically) as well as morally binding on me on the day of my profession), I can see now where I might instead have made my commitment in terms of "living this Rule" and dedicating my entire self to God in this way. In any case, perhaps any canonist reading here will contact me and correct any errors I have made in this but I think this is  the gist of what the authors of canon 603 were expressing when they referred to vows or "other sacred bonds."

By the way, thanks very much for the question. It has been exciting for me to put into words what I do understand in regard to all this. The paragraph on the distinction Sister Sandra draws in Selling All and the place of the establishment of enduring or stable bonds and relationships in a state of life may be a bit tangential to your question itself but it helped pull some old threads together for me in a new way. I might not have done this if you had not pushed me to reflect on the meaning of "other sacred bonds" in canon 603. Again, thanks for the question.

Postscript: I heard from a canon lawyer and permanent deacon who studied Canon Law at Catholic University with a canonist in my own diocese; he reads what I write on Canon 603. While he was not clear how the phrase "other sacred bonds" applies to hermits (something I found reassuring given how little I have found written on it), he did write the following: [[. . .Your commentaries on canonical issues are always good to read. . . . This language is used in the 83 code to describe what members of secular institutes or societies of apostolic life make in lieu of the vows taken in a religious institute. How it applies to a hermit I am clueless!]] He also suggested I check canons 711 and 731 which do use this language while noting the language [[was the subject of a number of research projects/dissertations at various canon law faculties over the years.  Gerry Quinn, JCL, St Louis, MO]] (Since I am emphatically NOT a canonist by either education or training, I am assuming (I hope accurately) that Deacon Quinn was not saying reading my blog on canonical issues [with c 603] was good for the comic relief it might sometimes provide him! In any case, I am really pleased he chose to add to this conversation and pleased as well to be able to consult him, et al. on other questions!)