The Origins of Canon Law
From its earliest days, the Church has been governed by Canon Law. The Council of Jerusalem (circa AD 50) provided the model for Church legislation in its legal and ethical pronouncements. Later the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, and of lesser authority, yet still important, decrees of patriarchs and popes, created an extensive legal framework through which the Church could be governed and its doctrine promulgated. In the West, compendiums such as the Decretum Gratiani codified and confirmed catholic belief and practice. In England these compendiums were given structure and practical application in commentaries such as William Lyndwood’s (c. 1375-1446) Provinciale.
In the wake of the sixteenth century reformation, the Church of England retained its Canon Law, albeit in a modified form. Later, as Anglicanism spread across the world with the British Empire, the various national churches that arose formulated their own legislation and statements of belief. Though these were often designed to fit the culture and circumstances of England’s “daughter churches,” they all originated within this ancient tradition of Canon Law.
Governance in the ACC
The Anglican Catholic Church is organized and governed according to the principles and terms laid out in its Constitution and Canons. In the Constitution, the Church receives its name and it ecclesiastical structure. The method for establishing dioceses and provinces is established, and various processes related to the election of bishops and calling synods are laid out.
Perhaps most importantly, the Constitution establishes the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, along with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (American) as the standards for liturgical use. Other historic books, such as the Anglican and English Missals, are designated as conforming to the standard and thus allowable for use in public worship. Since its adoption at the ACC’s first Synod in Dallas, TX in 1978, the Constitution has been subject to minimal emendation, with the last occurring as a result of legislation passed by the ACC’s Denver Synod of 2001.
The Canons, however, are rather more flexible. They represent an expansion of the principles laid out in the Constitution and provide a detailed legal framework for the governance of the Church. Because the Canons must allow for the Church to respond to new developments in her relations with other ecclesial bodies, as well as the secular world, they are subject to revision and review under the authority of the College of Bishops and Provincial Synod. This last of these revisions occurred in 2007 at the Seventeenth Provincial Synod (Denver, CO).