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Church and Dogma

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Canon Law as Doctrine

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

In my judgment, the most significant feature of the New Code of Canon Law is its clear, extensive and strong doctrinal content. Relative to consecrated life, the New Code leaves no doubt what a life consecrated by vows in the practice of the evangelical counsels is all about. The Code identifies this life unambiguously and builds the canons or laws firmly on this doctrinal foundation---in a way and to a degree that was never so plain in the history of the Catholic Church.

After this introduction, I should like to briefly address myself to three questions and very summarily answer two questions in sequence:

  1. What does this mean?

  2. Why is it important?

  3. Implications?


What does it mean to say the New Code of Canon Law gives us a strong doctrinal basis for a life consecrated to the practice of the evangelical counsels?

  1. It means that consecrated life whether in religious or secular institutes is founded on divine revelation.

  2. It means that a consecrated life is a life of faith, and not a mere construct of vision that somehow developed as an accident of the Church’s history.

  3. It means that, as a life of faith, it partakes of revealed mystery, and is to be lived accordingly.

  4. It means consecrated life is not only intelligible apart from faith, it is unlivable without supernatural grace and not only supernatural grace, but extraordinary grace corresponding to the extraordinary vocation to which Christ calls those who receive this grace.

  5. It finally means that this extraordinary grace must be sustained by extraordinary effort to use the sources of grace especially prayer, the Mass, and the sacraments.


Given the meaning of consecrated life, we are not surprised at the importance we should attach to this doctrinal foundation of consecrated life in the New Code.

Why is it so important?

  1. It is important because the Code places Consecrated Life where it belongs, within the framework of the Christian Revelation.

  2. By part of Revelation, Consecrated Life belongs to the substance of the Catholic Church.

  3. By part of the Church founded by Christ, Consecrated Life has the divine assurance of

    • Stability

    • Continuity

    • Permanence

  4. By part of the Church founded by Christ, Consecrated Life is therefore definite and specific. Those who want to live this life have clear norms and directions as to what this life should be, why it should be followed, and how this life is to be lived.

  5. Finally, because the New Code places Consecrated Life on the foundation of faith, there is proof that the Church is not in doubt as to consecrated life. The confusion in many circles since the II Vatican Council is subjective confusion in peoples’ minds; it is not confusion in the Church’s objective teachings.


What are some implications of what we have just said?

I would single out especially three, namely 1. Certainty, 2. Confidence, and 3. Cooperation


With the publication of the New Code, there should be no uncertainty of mind among religious as to what religious life is.

We can be sure with the certainty of our Catholic faith, what consecrated life is and within consecrated life, what religious life is. It is what the Church founded by Christ says it is. The only condition for accepting this teaching is the Catholic faith.


Because the mind has certitude, our wills should have complete confidence in the future of religious life.

There should be no worry, nor uncertainty, but only a beautiful hope in the perseverance and permanence, and progress of religious life into the 21st century, and beyond the year 2000, into all the centuries until the end of time.


The last implication I wish to stress is cooperation. By this I mean cooperation among those who share the same joyful vision about religious life because they share the same faith commitment to the Catholic Church whose visible head is with us in the Vision of Christ.

Our perseverance here today is a witness to this common faith vision, and it is the promise of our cooperative effort to work together, because we believe together that Jesus Christ is the first religious---and Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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