Today I received the following question via the contact form:
Hi, can you explain the difference between a canon and a church measure? Why does the C of E need both to have women bishops?
As I mentioned last week, there are two main types of legislation in the Church of England: Canons and Measures. Both of them are passed by the General Synod, but while Canons go directly to the Queen for Royal Assent, Measures must be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Once approved, measures receive Royal Assent alongside Acts of Parliament. The Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 (9 & 10 Geo. 5 c. 76) provides that Measures shall have the full force and effect of an Act of Parliament, and they may address any Church-related issue.
But while a Measure can do anything that an Act of Parliament can do, the effect of a Canon is much more limited. The Submission of the Clergy Act 1533 (25 Henry 8 c. 19) states that Canons cannot contravene the royal prerogative or the laws and customs of England. In order to avoid questions over the validity of a Canon, they are customarily made under the provisions of a Measure. For example, section 1(1) of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 (1993 No. 2) states that “[i]t shall be lawful for the General Synod to make provision by Canon for enabling a woman to be ordained to the office of priest if she otherwise satisfies the requirements of Canon Law as to the persons who may be ordained as priests.” The Canons were then amended by the addition of Canon 4B (“Of women priests”).
It should be noted, however, that not every measure authorizes a Canon. The modern Canons tend to be general rather than specific (cf. Section G of the Canons and the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 [2003 No. 3]), and they tend to focus on matters of ministry and doctrine. Measures, on the other hand, frequently focus on what one might call the temporal aspects of the Church (e.g. pensions, the maintenance of church buildings). Therefore, many aspects of the Church’s life are regulated solely by Measure.
Now, gentle reader, you might be wondering why the Church bothers with Canons when they basically rubber-stamp changes already made by Measures. That’s something that has puzzled me, too. I suspect it’s largely a matter of tradition, though I suppose it also serves as a reminder that the Church has the right to govern itself.