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Churches of England and Scotland at home and abroad have been defined; and I venture to think that practically the whole of the law ecclesiastical is dealt with either in outline or detail, and that the book comprises all the Church Law a clergyman, layman, or practising lawyer is likely to require in ordinary cases. In addition, the sources have been indicated from which further and more detailed information may be obtained.
In order to save space I have, as a rule, refrained from giving lengthy extracts from the Articles, Canons, and other easily accessible authorities (a); and when there is a long list of decided cases on a particular point, as a general rule, the last case only has been cited.
The dictionary form I have adopted as being, with all its faults, the best for ready reference; and a list has been added of some important matters which have been dealt with in the book but to which separate articles have not been devoted.
9, STONE BUILDINGS, LINCOLN'S INN, W.C. April, 1892.
(a) The Articles are appended to every Prayer Book, and a copy of the Canons can be obtained for a few pence. There is (or should be) a copy of the Homilies in every church.
ABSOLUTION, or Remission of Sins. According to the form in the Morning and Evening Prayer, the Communion Service, and the Service for use at Sea, the minister declares or prays for a conditional absolution. In the Office for the Visitation of the Sick, the words are apparently absolute, “I absolve thee;" but it would probably be held (if the point were to arise) that this form is declaratory and conditional also, as the words preceding the absolution seem to show. The Church of Ireland (2. v.) in revising its Prayer Book has taken this view, and has substituted the precatory for the absolute form (a).
Therefore, although at his ordination the newly-made priest is told, both in Church of England and Ireland, "whose sins thou dost forgive they are forgiven, &c." (b), he must not be considered to have an absolute power, but only an authority to declare or pray for absolution on the occasions and on the terms mentioned in the Prayer Book.
In addition to the occasions above mentioned for which forms of absolution are given, it is provided by the "warning" for the communion that any would-be communicant who cannot quiet his own conscience may go to a "minister of God's Word:" "that by the ministry of God's Holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel, &c." This certainly seems to imply a power of absolution, but no form is given. (See CONFESSION.)
(a) Resolutions of the Synod (1873), 178. So also the American Church (q.v.).
(b) Founded on St. John, 20. 23.
There has been much difference of opinion among English theologians as to whether only a priest ought to be allowed. to pronounce the absolution (c); but it would seem that in the English Church the law has always authorized a deacon to do so (d). The only argument to the contrary is, that a deacon receives no express commission for the purpose at his ordination (e). But to this it may be objected-(1) that the reading of the absolution does not purport to be an exercise of the absolute priestly commission; (2) that a deacon receives no commission at his ordination to perform Divine Service alone, to marry, or to bury, yet he is bound by Acts of Parliament, as well as Church custom, to perform these functions if called upon.
The arguments in favour of a deacon reading the absolution are as follows; and it may be useful to consider them somewhat in detail here, as they apply also to other matters dealt with later on.
By the Act of Uniformity, the Morning and Evening Prayers are expressly ordered to be openly, publicly, and solemnly read in every church by some priest or deacon (ƒ), and no exception is therein made for the absolution. The question next arises, Does the rubric in the Prayer Book, which directs the absolution to be pronounced by the "priest alone," cut down the general enactment? The word "alone," it is generally admitted, simply means "by himself" (g); and there can be no doubt that the word "priest " here signifies any minister that officiates. That this is so is seen from the way in which the word is used in other parts of the Prayer Book, e.g., the versicles at Morning and Evening Prayer are directed to be said sometimes by the minister, and sometimes by the priest, a distinction which is never observed.
(c) Compare the works of Bennet and Wheatley on the Prayer Book. And see CONFESSION.
(d) Even in Popish times a deacon was allowed to give penance in cases of necessity: Lynd. 330; Gib. 402.
(e) See DEACON, Wheatley and Phil
limore, Ecc. Law. The Canon of 1640 might be referred to, but is of no legal value.
(f) 13 & 14 Car. 2, c. 4, ss. 22 and 2; and see also preface to Prayer Book.
(9) See Wheatley.