Project Canterbury

Tit for Tat or Just for Fun.

By Fr. Palmer, S.S.J.E.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: Society of St. John the Evangelist, 1960.

HARDLY any tract rack in a Roman Catholic Church in this country but carries one or more pamphlets denying the validity of Anglican Orders. Their argument is of course largely based on the condemnation of Anglican Orders by the papal bull “Apostolicae Curae” in 1896. Our orders are said to be null and void for lack of a true succession, for lack of a valid form of words in the services used to confer orders, and for lack of intention to make true Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, such as the Roman Church makes. The arguments of the Bull have been answered many times by Anglican scholars beginning with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 1897 in their Responsio addressed to “the whole body of Bishops of the Catholic Church.” It is not my purpose to repeat our arguments in reply to the Condemnation of our Orders, but to point out that, judged by the same standards by which our Orders were judged, Roman Orders are either invalid or of very doubtful validity. Our Orders for the most part stem from Archbishop Parker the first Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I. I say “for the most part” because of Anglican principles all the Bishops who take part in a consecration are co-consecrators and not merely witnesses. The Bishops of the Church of Ireland have their own succession from Archbishop Curwen of Dublin who was consecrated in the reign of Mary. Due to translations of Irish Bishops to England this succession entered into ours through co-consecrators. Since then two or three other ancient successions have entered in the same way. But Rome seems to teach that only the Chief Consecrator actually consecrates. This seems a very dangerous notion. What happens if the chief consecrator is not himself validly consecrated? His baptism, his confirmation, his ordinations, even his own consecration may through negligence or ignorance have provided a flaw. Anglicans have always held with the early Church that there must never be a consecration except with three Bishops at the least joining in the laying on of hands. If there is a flaw in the orders’ of one or even two the succession is still unbroken. According to Roman teaching a minister of a sacrament must intend to perform the rite. The assistant Bishops at a Roman Catholic consecration do not intend to convey the grace of holy Orders. Therefore according to Roman theory they cannot convey it. Only the chief consecrator conveys it. How shakey is such a system. Fr. Puller told me of a case related to him by his friend the Roman Catholic Abbé Portal. A French priest was consecrated a Bishop. He went to visit his old home. His old nurse said to him, “Just to think that the little baby I baptized is now a Bishop.” In those days the midwife usually baptized the child at birth. “How did you do it?” asked the Bishop. “As I have done dozens, I sprinkled water on you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and of the Virgin Mary”. The Bishop began to have doubts of the validity of such a Baptism in the Name of a quaternity which does not exist. It was finally decided that he had better be rebaptized, confirmed, and go through the various orders again and be consecrated. Suppose such a flaw had not been discovered. Suppose he had himself become chief consecrator or other Bishops. There is no case known of an Anglican Bishop being consecrated by fewer than three Bishops and all are considered to be consecrators and so intend to consecrate. Indeed when Archbishop Parker was consecrated the four Bishops who took part all said the words of consecration together although the Ordinal only requires the chief consecrator to say the words.

The Roman condemnation of our Orders based its decision on what it claimed was the lack of a clear distinction as to what order of the ministry was being conferred in the actual form used at the laying on of hands. It stated that the form used both for Priests and for Bishops was the same, that is “Receive the Holy Ghost”. Of course this was quite untrue. The form for priests in the original Ordinal, and that used in the time of Queen Elizabeth, is “Receive the Holy Ghost:, whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven: and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained: and be thou a faithful dispens6r of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments. In the Name of the Father etc.” The form for conferring the episcopate is “Take the Holy Ghost, and remember that thou stir up the grace of God, which is in thee, by imposition of hands: for God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and soberness.” The form for priest’s incorporates the words of our Lord; St. John 20:23, which was in those times taken as the proof text for priesthood. While the form for consecrating a Bishop incorporates the words of St. Paul to Timothy 2 Tim. 1; 6, 7 which was the proof text for the episcopate, and is so used in the decrees of the Council of Trent. Council of Trent. Session 23 Canon 1. states that the power of the priesthood is twofold, that of consecrating the Eucharist, and of forgiving and retaining sins. Council of Trent Session 23: Ch. 3 says that orders is “properly one of the seven sacraments”. For the Apostle says “I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee by the imposition of my hands. For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of sobriety.” An authoritative Roman work (Sacraments IV. Pohle-Preuss) says of this text “According to the context the grace conferred on Timothy by the imposition of hands was to qualify him for the worthy administration of the episcopal office.” “The Apostle speaks in that epistle of the ordination of Bishops. Consequently the ordination of Bishops is a true sacrament.” It would seem therefore that the Anglican form even on Roman principles adequately indicates the order of the ministry to which a man is being advanced. Beside which the service itself has constant references to the purpose of the rite to ordain a deacon to the priesthood, or the consecrate a priest to the episcopate. The pages are all headed “The Ordering of Priests” or “The Consecration of Bishops.”

But what about the, forms used in the Roman Pontifical at the laying on of hands for the priesthood, and for the episcopate? The first of these two rites is headed not “the Ordination of Priests” but “the Ordination of Presbyters”. The candidates are presented to the Bishop with much the same form as in the Prayer Book. Then follows a long exhortation but no prayers. Then before any prayer has been said in the rite” the bishop standing before the faldstool with his mitre on, and without saying any prayer whatsoever lays both hands on the head of each.” “Nihil dicens” “Saying nothing.” It is not until another short exhortation has been said, and a Collect, and a lengthy Preface, that a couple of pages later we come to the words which are said to be the essential form of the rite. What are they? “Bestow the dignity of the presbyterate upon these thy servants, renew in them the spirit of holiness, that they may receive from thee, O God, this office next to ours in dignity, and that the example of their lives may be for others an incentive to virtue.” A very fine form with a good Anglican and evangelical ring to it similar to the prayers used in our rite, but very remote from the “matter” the laying on of hands with its “nihil dicens.” How could the Pope honestly condemn our form and misrepresent it as only “Receive the Holy Ghost” when his own rite had no form of words at the administration of the matter, but only “nihil dicens”? If the shoe had been on the other foot what sport Roman pamphleteers would have made of “nihil dicens” and “the presbyterate” instead of “priesthood” and “office next in dignity to ours” as a canon is next to an archdeacon. A good form, we might say, if it had accompanied the laying on of hands, but doubtfully the “form” when so far from the “matter”.

What is the form in the Roman Pontifical to accompany the laying on of hands for the episcopate? After the Litany in which there is prayer for the bishop-elect, but before any other prayer for him by the Consecrator, “the Consecrator and the assistant Bishops lay both hands upon the head of the one to be consecrated saying “Receive the Holy Ghost,” and nothing further at the laying on of hands. But this is the very form that the Roman authorities condemn us for using. They say it is inadequate, for it does not specify the order to which the man is being advanced. We have seen that our form does so specify, for it uses the proof text for the episcopate as well as “take the Holy Ghost.” In 1947 Pope Pius XII made a pronouncement on the form for conferring the priesthood, the one given above. He also pronounced the form for the Episcopate to be “Fill up in thy priest the perfection of thy ministry, and with the dew of thy heavenly ointment sanctify him clothed with the ornaments of all glory.” Again a form quite in keeping with Anglican teaching and devotion, but separated from the “matter” by more than a page of close print.

It will have been noticed that the Roman Pontifical uses “presbyter” as the name for that order of the ministry, “presbyterus,” rather than “sacerdos,” “Priest.” “Sacerdos” is used here and there in the rite. In our Anglican authorized version of the Scriptures and throughout the Prayer Book “presbyteros” the Greek, is always rendered “elder.” The word “priest” is reserved to translate “hiereus,” “sacerdos.” In the Latin Prayer Book issued in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I by authority both “sacerdos” and “presbyteros” is used of the second order of the ministry. See also the Latin version of the 39 Articles which has the same authority as the English.

Now we come to the most disturbing feature of the Roman Pontifical. Anglicans have become so used to saying along with the primitive Church, and the great Eastern Orthodox Church, that the three holy Orders of the Ministry are Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, that we have taken for granted that, the great Roman Communion said the same. Far from it. Listen to the Roman Catholic Canons Codex Juris Canonici, 949. “In the canons which follow, by the name of major or holy orders is meant the presbyterate, the diaconate, and the sub-diaconate, by the name of minor orders the offices of acolyte, exorcist, reader, and usher.” There are your seven orders, and the episcopate is not mentioned. St. Thomas Aquinas and the Schoolmen taught that the presbyterate and the episcopate are one order. The Pontifical now in use bears this out. You find first services for giving the four minor orders one after the other. Then a new section for giving holy orders; Ordination of Sub-deacons, Ordination of Deacons, and Ordination of Presbyters. Then comes another; section of the Pontifical given up to Consecrations and Benedictions; Consecration of an Elect Bishop, Benediction of an Abbot, an Abbess, Consecration of a Virgin, Consecration of a Church. It would seem that the Pontifical accepts the teaching of the Schoolmen and makes the Bishop a higher grade of Presbyter but not of another Order. Was it the prevalence of this teaching about the time of the Reformation which led some of the Churches of Germany to suppose that it was not a matter of importance to use the Bishops who accepted the Reformation to consecrate the Bishops who came after? Was it this teaching which started Calvin and the Reformed Churches on their theory of parity of the ministry? If a consecrating Bishop holds the view that he is not raising a presbyter to a higher order but only to a higher grade in the same order, does he intend to make a true Bishop such as those before the Council of Trent, and Pius V’s Pontifical? It is on such grounds that the Anglican Communion has refused to accept the orders of the Reformed Episcopal Church although that Church has a tactual succession from its first Bishop who was consecrated in our Communion. We find that the Reformed Episcopal Church holds the Schoolmen’s view that the presbyterate and the episcopate are one order. We say therefore that they do not intend to make Bishops in the” ancient sense. But the same is true of the Roman Church. Perhaps we are inconsistant in accepting Roman clergy in their Orders.  And here is  a final shock.  Canon 951   of  Codex Juris Canonici reads, “The ordinary minister of holy Order is a consecrated Bishop; the extraordinary minister one who although he may lack the episcopal character, has received by law, or by special license of the Apostolic See power to confer some orders.” That leaves the door wide open. At any time the Pope can give license to a presbyter to ordain to one of the orders. Has it ever been done? Yes, Abbots have ordained their own subjects to orders up to the diaconate, and the Abbot of St. Osyth had for a time license to ordain to the presbyterate. Whether he ever used it we do not know. We know too that priests administer confirmation under some special circumstances in the Roman Communion. Presbyters also are allowed to take the place of assistant Bishops at Consecrations to the episcopate. When Bishop Carroll of Baltimore, the first R. C. Bishop in the United States was consecrated, it was done in a private chapel by one Bishop assisted by two priests. Anglicans head their service of Consecration “The Form of Ordaining or Consecrating of an Archbishop or Bishop.” This makes clear that the episcopate is a separate order. There has never been an ordination in” the Anglican Communion by anyone except by a Bishop, rior a consecration except by three Bishops. Must I say then that Roman Orders are utterly null and void, as they say of ours? Or must I say that they are invalid, insecure? Or must I say they are gravely irregular? Well I am not tied down by the niceties of Roman theory so I can be a bit more big hearted and also I can ‘have greater trust in God. I still accept Roman Orders, but hope for the day when their teaching will be more sound. I think that when a minister of the Church intends to do what the Church intends, or what our Lord intended for His Church, that he has a sufficient intention even if his ideas on the episcopate or priesthood may be very far from correct. God takes care that the rites He administers are effectual. I hope someday that the view of the episcopate in the Roman Communion will once more be the true one, that it is a separate order above the presbyterate, and that a Bishop is therefore more than a super-presbyter and also more than,«a suffragan Bishop to the Bishop of Rome. Precedent always plays an important part in decisions such as Rome’s condemnation of our Orders. For many years anyone in Anglican Orders joining the Roman Communion was treated as a layman. Such precedents always go back to some notable case in the past. In this case they go back to Bishop John Gordon of Galloway in Scotland who in 1704 applied to the Roman Congregation of the Holy Office to have his Orders declared null so that he might receive Roman minor orders and so qualify for a sinecure, the Abbacy of St. Clement, a defunct Abbey with a small endowment. He described his Ordination to the Roman authorities and they declared his orders null. It has been taken for granted that these were Anglican Orders. They were nothing of the sort. He was a Scotsman from Aberdeenshire. A member and probably a minister of the reformed Church of Scotland. His description of his Ordination shows that it was not according to the English Prayer Book. The Church of Scotland was a presbyterian body as to organization, with a Calvinist Confession of Faith, and without any settled liturgy or ordinal. It had attached to it and working fairly harmoniously with it an episcopate. These Bishops had a tactical succession from the English Bishops. They ordained candidates along with the presbytery to an undifferentiated ministry called neither diaconate or presbyterate. There was no liturgy. Services were extempoir. This Church was certainly not an Anglican body, although it had friendly relations with the Church of England and some of its Bishops hoped that through changes in Scotland they might bring the two churches together. Bishop Gordon had been consecrated a Bishop in this Church by the Archbishop of Glasgow, but by such rite and form as that Archbishop was pleased to use, and almost certainly not by any Anglican Prayer Book. Roman condemnation of our Orders therefore rests on a false precedent, the condemnation of the orders of a non-Anglican.

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