Those of us who know the truth about what happened at Vatican II with Lumen Gentium and its "subsistence in" and "elements of Grace and Sanctification outside the Vatican's confines" will realize that God has once again preserved His Church. Just because "King" Herod was merely a Roman puppet (and an Idumean at that), Israel was not left without a King. As Israel had its true King in Jesus Christ who was both legally (through His foster father Joseph, a direct male-line heir of King David) and biologically (through His Immaculately conceived and ever sinless mother Mary) the "Son of David," so we too today traditional Catholics have our faithful, valid, lawful, and Apostolically sent bishops and priests who alone can truly point to who sent them all the way back to Jesus Christ at the Great Commission.
So, what does that mean canonically for these bishops and priests who are the Church hierarchical and yet who are not part of today's Vatican institution. The Church is not an institution without laws, even today, though the laws applicable have been also reduced by this situation. However we have more than mere "emergency status" as a canonical basis for our functioning. That would have been enough, were the Vatican institution still to be identified with the Church and therefore bound to recover - but in that case it would have done so long ago. However if it never re-identifies with the Church, then the remaining faithful clergy will need more than such an emergency status anyway, and they do have that more.
The laws that bind the action of the Church have two basic sources, namely those rooted in Divine Law (in which I will, for this discussion include all the various categories of Divine Positive Law, Natural Law, and so forth), and those rooted in the men of the Church, namely Ecclesiastical Law. Crudely put, the Ten Commands from Mt. Sinai would be a prime example of Divine Law, whereas the Six Commandments of the Church would be a prime example of Ecclesiastical Law.
By the early 1900's, the many laws of the Church had grown so numerous and complex, consisting mostly of precedents for any and all sorts of cases and situations. A study of Law had become almost prohibitively complex, with no clear place to even start. With good and just reason did His Holiness Pope Saint Pius X seek to have all of that unorganized morass of principles, precedents, customs, practices, local and individual legislations and so forth organized into a single unified whole known as the Code of Canon Law, which was finally promulgated under the auspices of his successor, Pope Benedict XV in 1917.
This new Code of Canon Law was a summary, a summation, and a distillation of all of what had crudely served (but with far more complexity and detail) in the place of Canon Law before it. In effect, it replaced the former ecclesiastical laws with the laws as written in this document itself. Without a doubt, much detail was necessarily lost, and the finest Canon Lawyers in those days after the promulgation of the 1917 Code nevertheless often had recourse to that previous body of data in interpreting that Code in cases where either it was unclear (not many), patently unjust (even rarer), or where it provides options or a range of solutions, for example, of penalties to apply for certain crimes, leaving it up to jurisprudence to interpret and apply. The intent of the Law is best understood from all of that preceding body of data.
Canon Law, as expressed in the 1917 Code, reflects the totality of all laws, including both Divine and Ecclesiastical laws. The Divine laws provide the skeleton, fixed, hard, and eternally unchangeable, which could never be changed or compromised in any way no matter what, and the rest provide the flesh, changeable, adjustable, at need.
No matter what else happens, Divine laws always apply, that is obvious. But what about the ecclesiastical portion? This portion would be most simply (if somewhat crudely) described as being an attempt to apply common sense to the application of the Divine laws. By common sense, one therefore attempts to maintain a delicate balance between being overly scrupulous on the one hand, and overly licentious on the other. Where such laws cannot be directly applied, common sense would again require that equivalent applications should be abided by. Allow me to illustrate with the "rules of the road."
First and foremost it would have to be necessary that one must not drive into buildings, lampposts, other cars, or people, nor engage in obviously risky maneuvers (such as excessive speed) that might seriously the risks of such events occurring. That would have to be considered the equivalent to the Divine law portion, since that is always and intrinsically necessary and immutable. Second however would be a nation's (and state's) laws creating specific mandates, such as driving on the right-had side of the road, signaling before turning, stopping at stop signs and lights, and yielding the right-of-way.
These specific mandates are quite replaceable with equivalents (not simply waived away), such as driving on the left side of the road (as it is in some countries) or using roundabouts (with their particular laws as to use) instead of stoplights and signs and yield signs. The purpose is the same, and that is found in the unalterable parts. The Code of Canon Law is similarly meant to serve as a kind of spiritual "rules of the road" to salvation. Do its detail (ecclesiastical) provisions apply or not, and if not then what equivalents? I will answer that in my concluding column on this series next week.