Project Canterbury

A Roman Diary
And Other Documents relating to the Papal Inquiry into English Ordinations

By T.A. Lacey

New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1910.

IX. The Sources of the Bull Apostolicae Curae

i. Examination of the Bull

ii. The Gordon Decision

(From the Contemporary Review of December, 1896)

THE papal condemnation of the English ordinations has been received with a general murmur of complacency. Most men hastened to say that they had expected nothing else; some went further and declared, in a superior manner, that all who were looking for anything else had been living in a fool's paradise. Those who accepted the decision as final, and those who tossed it aside as of no account, vied with each other in asserting that it came as a matter of course, inevitable as the seasons; they differed only in attributing the result severally to the infallible accuracy or to the invincible obstinacy of the Roman Church. A small minority confessed their surprise or disappointment. They had looked for something else; not, perhaps, for a decision purely favourable, but at least for a modification of the practice hitherto prevailing, for an expression of doubt which would leave the question open for the future. Was this expectation the result merely of a sanguine temperament? Was it begotten of an overstrung wish?

In the early summer I was at Rome with Fr. Puller and M. Portal. As every one knows, the Pope had appointed a Commission of Inquiry to examine the question of English Orders. Two members of the Commission had expressly invited us to help them with our special knowledge of the facts. When the work of the Commission was finished we stayed in Rome for some weeks longer, in obedience to a suggestion from a very high quarter, to give further information where it was needed and desired. All this time there was undoubtedly in Rome a general expectation of something new. The Pope himself, by appointing the Commission of his own motion, had made the question acute and practical. The reunion of the separated Churches was known to be his dearest wish, and he was understood to be specially interested in England. But Englishmen urged, with singular unanimity, that a full recognition of their Orders was a condition without which they could not even think of reunion. It was natural to suppose that in ordering an inquiry the Pope was at least hoping to remove a hindrance. Two of the Commissioners had published opinions favourable to the recognition. A third was known to have written privately on the question at the Pope's request; his conclusions would probably have remained unknown had not Cardinal Vaughan, in a moment of indiscretion, revealed to a chance assembly at an English seminary the fact that he had pronounced emphatically for the validity. This was heard of at Rome, and all knew that Duchesne, Gasparri, and de Augustinis, the most distinguished historian, canonist, and theologian of the Commission, were in some sort united in defence of English Orders.

An entirely adverse decision seemed impossible. Men talked not so much about the difficulty of making a new departure, but rather about the difficulties which stood in the way of complete recognition. A very eminent ecclesiastic spoke to me of one such difficulty; it was hardly possible, he said, to recognize English Orders without denning the essentials of a valid ordination, and the Roman Church had always avoided such a definition. The practice of three hundred years, indeed, of itself cried out against a sudden reversal; yet a change of some sort seemed inevitable. "These are very extraordinary people," said a certain Cardinal, after reading an account of the English Church; "of course, we cannot acknowledge their Orders all at once, but something will have to be done." For three hundred years English clergymen submitting to the Roman Church had always been reordained. That fact alone threw a doubt upon their Orders, which would not easily be solved. But if our friends were doubtful, some of those who were at the opposite pole of friendship were equally harassed by uncertainty. One evening in May a well-known prelate of English birth was sitting in Cardinal Rampolla's antechamber, talking to a French Dominican lately returned from the East. "There is a big question here," he said, "about Anglican Orders. Very strange! The High Church claim to have valid Orders. Two French priests are supporting them-the Abbé Duchesne and the Abbé Portal. There has been a Commission of Inquiry and the matter is now going to the Holy Office. There will not be much change-I think." A bystander, who could not help overhearing the remarks, noted them down, being interested in the reserve.

An Italian priest of our acquaintance who had been intimately concerned in the question, had a farewell audience of the Pope. Speaking of English affairs he said, "These Anglicans are at the door." "And I will throw it wide open," exclaimed the Pope, with enthusiasm. Our friend left Rome convinced that, whatever was the outcome of the inquiry, Leo XIII would refuse to promulge an adverse decision. If the controversy could not be closed in a favourable sense it would at least be left open.

There were indeed other voices. A not unfriendly observer, who had the best of opportunities for knowing what would come, told us that he looked for an absolute condemnation. "It is impossible, utterly impossible," cried one of our friends impulsively. "C'est toujours l'impossible qui arrive," was the oracular reply. It was known that strenuous efforts were being made to procure such a result. During the month that followed the closing of the Commission various opinions were expressed about the next step. The Pope would send the matter to the Holy Office; he would appoint a special committee of Cardinals to consider it; he would deal with it himself in person. If it went to the Holy Office, we were told, there was nothing to hope for but at best a tacit continuation of the existing practice. Most of the Cardinals whom we saw professed entire ignorance of the Holy Father's intentions. A sharp struggle in the innermost councils of the Curia was anticipated. A very highly placed Cardinal, in bidding us farewell, said impressively, "Remember that you have some very strong friends in Rome."

At length we heard that all the documents and arguments were to be sent to certain Cardinals on June 8, with a direction to study them carefully for a month at least. That was the very day we left Rome, and we were unable to find out whether the question was referred to the Holy Office or no. We learn from the Bull that such was the case. We do not learn, nor could we expect to learn, anything about the discussion which ensued. The disputes of the Sacred Congregation are not made public; we are never likely to know what part was played by the strong friends of whose support we were assured. What we do know is the result. The Cardinals of the Holy Office decided unanimously against the validity of English Orders.

How is the result to be accounted for? Why was the general expectation so completely falsified? It is an obvious thing to say that we see here the result of a candid and exhaustive investigation. The trend of opinion was in favour of the validity; the wishes of the Pope himself were supposed to look that way. But the truth prevailed; careful inquiry showed the falsity of the favourable opinion; the highest wishes and the hopes that gathered round them were inevitably swept aside. It is a clear and simple argument, very comforting to those who played an active part against us in the controversy. But a slight examination of the Bull will awaken some doubts about the conclusion.

In the first place, the Bull does not bear those marks of careful and exhaustive study which might be expected. The historical argument contains extraordinary blunders, surely out of place in the finished work of experts. Some of these, which have no important bearing on my present subject, were exposed as soon as the Bull appeared. Another I shall deal with below. The theological argument is very nebulous. Its defenders are not sure of its meaning. As every one knows, the English ordinations are declared invalid on account of defective form and intention. A French writer has shown that the defect of intention is inferred from the use of a defective form. [Revue Anglo-Romaine. Tom. iii. p. 598.] But English critics of the Bull have shown that what is lacking in our form is lacking also in other forms which are recognized as valid by the Roman Church; indeed, in the ancient Roman form itself. Father Bernard Vaughan replies hotly that the fault is attributed not to the form in itself, but to the employment of the form in a new and defective sense. [Tablet, Oct. 31, p. 706.] That is to say, the defect of form results from a defective intention. The two arguments combined will make an excellent circle. Read apart, they leave us wondering what the Bull does mean. [Father Brandi (Condanna delle Ord. Angl., p. 72) missed my point here, supposing me to have found this vicious circle in the Bull itself. It was in the interpreters of the Bull.] Is this the result of thorough and exhaustive study? Again, we read in the Bull some old and venerable arguments which have done duty in the controversy for generations. I do not complain of that; the use of old arguments is legitimate, as long as they are thought to retain any force against old positions. But the defence of the English Ordinal has lately proceeded on new lines. Mgr. Gasparri, following the lead of his colleague, M. Boudinhon, startled us a year ago by grounding the vadidity of our ordinations upon the use of certain prayers, the importance of which we had overlooked. To the P. de Augustinis rumour attributed an even more startling and original defence. In the argument of the Bull we might expect to see these new defences attacked and pulverized. We find one of them barely alluded to, the other entirely ignored. Is this the outcome of a laborious investigation?

But, in the second place, the Bull itself testifies to its own origin. The decision of the Cardinals is described in significant terms: "Ii ad unum consensere, propositam causam iam pridem ab Apostolica sede plene fuisse et cognitam et iudicatam: eius autem denuo instihita actaque quaestione,emersisse quanto illa iustitiae sapientiaeque pondere totam rem absolvisset." It was not a new decision at all; the Cardinals found that the Holy See had already long since decided the question; the new inquiry served only to illustrate the justice and wisdom then displayed. We learn also from the Bull what was the precedent here referred to. It was the decision of the year 1704, given by Clement XI in the Gordon case. This, we are told, has always been regarded by the Roman Court as a final settlement; nothing but ignorance of its true nature has enabled any Catholic writer to treat the question of English Orders as an open one. [Adeo ut, quoties deinceps in re simili decernendum fuit, toties idem dementis XI communicatum sit decretum. Quse cum ita sint, non videt nemo controversiam temporibus nostris exsuscitam, Apostolica Sedis iudicio definitam multo antea fuisse: documentisque Illis haud satis quam oportuerat cognitis, fortasse factum ut scriptor aliquis catholicus disputationem de ea libere habere non dubitarit.]

A natural question rises to the mind. If these circumstances were known to the authorities at Rome, why was any investigation ordered? If nothing but ignorance of these facts could render possible a free discussion of the subject, why should not that ignorance have been dispelled by simply publishing the truth? Why this apparatus of a Commission of Inquiry? Was it a farce? Respect for the personal character of Leo XIII forbids us to attribute to him so stupid a pleasantry. The appointment of the Commission must have had some serious object. What was it? It can hardly have been to inquire into the facts of the Gordon case. They were all on record. The Commissioners were assuredly not called to Rome to inform the Pope what his predecessor Clement XI had done. Were they invited to sit in judgment on his decision? That seems an impossible subversion of parts. Why, again, was there so general an expectation of a new departure? Was this confined to those who were ignorant of the Gordon case? We found it in the minds of some who could not possibly share this ignorance. What then? Did they expect a Papal decision to be overthrown?

Here is a budget of questions. I have not a string of answers ready to hand, but I will call attention to some circumstances which may possibly throw a little light upon the difficulty. I am very imperfectly informed, and yet, at the same time, I have to be on my guard against a breach of confidence. It will easily be understood that our opportunities of acquiring knowledge at Rome were strictly limited, and at the same time some things came in our way which we are not altogether free to disclose

Soon after the opening of the Commission we learnt that the chief rock ahead was the Gordon decision. We were not a little surprised. The existing practice was known to be grounded on that case, but small value was commonly attached to the precedent. What was known of it was due to Le Quieti, who, in his reply to Le Courayer, published certain documents in the case obtained from the Holy Office. From these it appeared that John Gordon, Bishop of Galloway, ordained according to the English rite, who had gone into exile with James II, petitioned the Holy See to declare his Orders invalid, in order that he might be reordained. In his petition he set out reasons for the invalidity, including a relation of the Nag's Head fable, a preposterous account of the English Forms of Ordination, and a very inadequate complaint against the intention of the English bishops. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, and the Orders which Gordon had received were declared invalid. The decree, as given by Le Quien, was apparently based upon the statements of the petition. It was therefore supposed to be infected by the vice of its origin. It had a certain validity, as ruling the practice; but theological or argumentative value it had none. The question could be reopened, as one upon which there had been no real adjudication.

Pressing these considerations, we were told that Le Quien's account was erroneous or defective. The Holy Office did not proceed merely upon the statements of Gordon's petition. The English rites were carefully examined. A Consultor named Genetti, a man of some mark in his time, was even sent to England to pursue inquiries. As a result of these investigations, the Sacred Congregation decided that Gordon was invalidly ordained. We tried to obtain further information. We asked if we might be allowed to examine the documents in the case. We were told that the archives of the Holy Office were absolutely inaccessible. We gathered a few hints of what was going on in the Commission. It was said that Cardinal Mazzella, who presided over the sittings, forbade any attempt to go behind the Gordon decision. The Commission, he said, was under the Holy Office, the commissioners were consultors of the Congregation, and could not revise the decree of their superiors. They might investigate the history of the controversy; they might analyse the constituents of the English rite; but they could not debate the validity of the form, which had already been judged invalid. This we pieced together from scattered hints. We caught a suggestion, also, that the form had been pronounced invalid because it did not consist in a prayer. This implied that in the year 1704 the Holy Office was so far penetrated by the teaching of Morinus as to rule, contrary to the then prevailing opinion of the schools, that the form of ordination must essentially be a prayer. This was hardly credible; and the less so as we knew that only a month later a body of consultors of the same Congregation, in their puzzling response on Abyssinian Orders, inclined to the view that Accipe Spiritum Sanctum was a sufficient form for priestly ordination. [This subject is discussed in De Hierarchia Anglicana, App. vi.]

What we heard of this matter justified the opinion freely expressed at Rome, that if our question went to the Holy Office it was useless to look for any change of the existing practice. The Cardinals individually might be well disposed, but acting in the Congregation they were bound by their own precedents; they might refuse to put out any fresh condemnation, but they would not innovate. We know from the Bull that the question did go to the Holy Office, and the result more than fulfils the prediction. The Gordon decision is quoted as conclusive. Our information about the ground of that decision is also verified in part. It was based exclusively upon a defect of form and intention. But we are not told in what the defect of form consisted. Is there a definition in the documents? If so, one could wish that it had been published. We are afforded some negative information. We are told that the condemnation of Gordon's Orders did not rest upon the omission from the English rite of the Tradition of the Instruments. But even this is not asserted directly, as might be expected. We are asked to infer it. If that had been the case, we are told, the Holy Office would, according to custom (de more), have required not an absolute but a conditional reordination. In this passage, if I am not mistaken, we have another example of extraordinary blundering in the conduct of the argument.

The classical authority for the custom referred to is a passage in that wonderful medley, the treatise De Synodo Dioecesana of Benedict XIV. The origin of the practice of conditional reordination in such a case is there referred to a certain resolution of the Sacred Congregation of the Council. The Tradition of the Instruments had been accidentally omitted in the ordination of a priest, and the Congregation was consulted as to what should be done. The prevailing opinion seems to have been that the omitted ceremony should be supplied. A decretal of Gregory IX was quoted in support of this, and also a passage from Natalis Alexander. In deference, however, to the opinion of certain theologians who held that the Tradition of the Instruments must not be treated separately, but should cohere with other parts of the rite, the Sacred Congregation, for greater caution, ordered the whole ordination to be conditionally repeated. [De Synoda Diocesana. Lib. viii. cap. x. §§ I, 12, and 13.] Such is the origin of the practice. And what is the date of this resolution? It was adopted, says Benedict XIV, "priusquam huic operi extremam manum admoveremus." There can be no doubt that by these words he indicates a date after his book was begun, and before it was finished. Now he tells us in the Preface that he began it after his promotion to the See of Bologna and finished it after his election as Pope. He was promoted to Bologna in 1731, and was raised to the apostolic throne in 1740. Between these dates, then, falls the resolution in question. But that being so, how can it be said that in 1704 custom would have required conditional reordination in case the Tradition of the Instruments were omitted? The custom was not yet established. [Father Brandi, in the Civiltà Cattolica of January 2nd following, and Father Ryder, in a long correspondence maintained in the columns of the Guardian during the next three months, made out a very good case for the probability that the Holy Office in 1704 would have acted in the way indicated; but I do not think they established the fact that there was at that time anything praescriptum de more, as asserted in the Bull.]

This explanation must have slipped into the Bull by an extraordinary oversight. Taken in connexion with other blunders, it shows, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, how incomplete was the preparation of the materials upon which the decision was based. But to return to the point, this inference failing us, we are thrown back into entire ignorance of the specific defect alleged in the Gordon case. Cannot this ignorance be dispelled? Is it too much to hope that even yet we may have the judgment of the Holy Office published in full by authority?

How important this may be I will now try to show. Why is the Gordon precedent regarded as binding? One can easily understand that a mere Committee of Consultors was forbidden to go behind it. The Sacred Congregation itself was naturally unwilling to reverse it. But was the Roman Pontiff himself bound? All the steps that he had taken indicated a real wish to reopen the question. He cannot have appointed the Commission merely to report on a foregone conclusion. He conveyed to his intimates the idea that he was bent on a new departure. If he had followed his bent, if there had been a real investigation, the result might perhaps have been a condemnation of English Orders; but the decision would have been conceived in a different form; it would assuredly not have dealt so loosely with the terms of the problem; it would not have ignored the newer conditions of the controversy. As it is, there is no pretence of a really new decision. The old one is confirmed, and is treated as in itself conclusive. The Pope has failed to reopen the question, as he desired. What was the hindrance?

The answer is obscurely indicated in the Bull. Readers of the authorized translation were puzzled by the careful dating of the decree given in the Gordon case, feria quinta. The date is significant. Matters of ordinary moment are dealt with by the Holy Office in their ordinary sessions; but graver matters are reserved for an extraordinary session, presided over by the Pope in person. This extraordinary session is always held on Thursday, feria quinta. A decree of the Sacred Congregation thus dated has therefore an additional solemnity. It is pronounced by the Pope in person, and none but the Pope can vary it. But can even the Pope vary it? A small but influential school of Roman theologians holds that he cannot. It is well known what diverse interpretations of the definition of infallibility are current in the Roman schools. There are extremists, and there are minimizers. By some of the former it is held that all decrees given by the Pope in the Holy Office, feria quinta, come under the definition. They are therefore, so far as they deal with faith and morals, irreformable. Not even the Pope himself may call in question the decrees of his predecessors thus pronounced. The Gordon decision would come under this rule.

Is this the way in which the Pope was bound? Is he constrained by the opinion of a small school of theologians? To the average Englishman such an idea may seem strange; he conceives the Pope as an absolute spiritual monarch, and wonders why he should not break through such trammels. But it is a fixed principle of the Roman Curia, and a principle founded in grave reasons, never to act in a manner that would directly contravene any theological opinion seriously maintained in the schools and tolerated by the Church. This tutiorism, as it is called-this principle of always following the safer course-finds its chief scope in regulating the practice of the Church with regard to the sacraments; but it is obviously applicable also to such delicate questions as those which turn upon the definition of infallibility. No decision of the Holy See can safely be impugned which, in the opinion of any serious theologians, is infallible and irreformable. The Pope himself could not revise it, unless he should first formally reprobate and extinguish the opinion which bars his way. But the formal reprobation of an opinion maintained by grave theologians is the most extreme exercise of the Papal authority; it is a thing to be done only under pressure of urgent necessity.

If, then, I am not misinformed, the Pope found himself practically debarred from reopening any question touching faith and morals decided in the Gordon case. There may have been a debate, a struggle, over the value to be assigned to the opinion which stood in the way. There may have been argument about the scope of the Gordon decision itself, and its relation to faith or morals. It must have had some relation to facts as well. To ask what constitutes the essential form in the English rite is to raise a question of fact. And hence arises the importance of knowing accurately the terms of the decision. It pronounced the form of the English rite invalid. But what was regarded as the form? The majority of theologians would say that some one prayer or other formula must constitute the essential form. Others would find it in a combination of the various elements which the rite contains. Taking the former view, theologians of acknowledged eminence have pointed out several prayers in the Ordinal which, in their judgment, are sufficient. But others, again, have fastened upon some element of the rite as the essential form which could not be defended as adequate. There is, for example, a sort of blessing, which follows the examination of the candidates. This was regarded by Billuart as the form, and he pronounced it insufficient; a judgment in which every theologian would probably concur. Whence did he derive his idea? Is it possible that this was the form which the Holy Office declared defective? If so, the decision, so far as it concerns the faith, was one with which no English theologian will quarrel. We should reply that there was an error with regard to the facts. But in that case the decision is not, in the view of any theologian, irreformable. The most extreme interpretation of the Vatican definition will not make the Pope infallible in matters of fact. In the recent Bull we find a similar inaccuracy. Here, again, the Pope has taken as the essential form of the English rite a phrase which, at all events apart from its context, no English divine acknowledges to be such. This he declares insufficient. We have no quarrel with him on that account. Some of us may contend that the words, "Receive the Holy Ghost," taken by themselves, would be a sufficient form; but the contention is purely academic, and has no bearing on the validity of English Orders. We have other objections, and graver, to the reasons on which the declaration is grounded; but whether they be good or bad, their application to the question at issue is vitiated by the error in matter of fact. It is not impossible that in the Gordon case, if all the documents were published, a like state of things would be disclosed. A theological proposition, which we should not be able or should not care to dispute, may have been erroneously applied to the facts of the English ordinations.

On these grounds I urge the importance of a disclosure of all that can be known about the Gordon case. I hope that my motives in pressing this will not be misconstrued. They are the same as those which stirred all with whom I was acting in our visit to Rome, and in the movement which led to that visit. With a single eye to a future, and perhaps far distant, reunion of Christendom, we laboured to find a course by which the Church of Rome might retreat from a false position with the least possible loss of dignity, with the least possible dislocation of traditional policy. We have reason to believe that our labours were looked upon with no disfavour by the highest authorities. In spite of that, we have met with a grievous disappointment. "I do not know that I shall ever recover from this blow," writes one of our friends over sea. But, in recovering from the first sense of defeat, our plain duty is thoroughly to search out the causes of the disappointment. I make this essay in that direction. If it be true that we stumbled upon a decision of the Holy See which, on the tutiorist principle, is covered by the definition of infallibility, our difficulty is narrowed down to a clear issue. If the Gordon decision stands in the way because of a theological opinion regarding it as irreformable, then the question of English Orders can be effectively reopened only on one of three conditions: Either the definition of infallibility must be abandoned, or the restraining opinion must be reprobated, or the decision itself must be shown faulty in matter of fact. The first alternative would, no doubt, commend itself to most Englishmen, but it is not for present discussion; the second also raises difficulties which we are not yet called upon to face; the third is dependent upon evidence that may possibly be forthcoming.

The recent Bull itself adds little or nothing, I believe, to the difficulty. It stands or falls with the Gordon decision. The reasoned argument which it contains can easily be set aside. I note one point, the importance of which I am unable to gauge. The Pope tells us that he summoned the Cardinals of the Holy Office before him, feria quinta, and they gave their judgment. But he did not there and then confirm it. [Verumtamen optimum factu duximus supersedere sententise, quo et melius perpenderemus conveniretne expediretque eandem rem auctoritate nostra rursus declarari, et uberiorem divini luminis copiam supplices imploraremus.] He took time to consider, and eventually gave his decision in the form of a Bull. Has he thus avoided a pronouncement which, in the opinion of some theologians, would be irreformable? Those who would fain share the hopes which some of us entertain, need not be discouraged by the air of finality, the atmosphere as of the Medes and Persians, which is cast about the decision by the use of the curial language. Minds that are unfamiliar with that remarkable dialect may be awestruck by the solemn condemnation of all who shall challenge the Bull as obreptitious or subreptitious. But these are, of course, only the common forms of the Chancery. It is pretty safe to assume that in the Bull itself there is nothing to prevent a reopening of the question.

It is manifest that without such reopening the reunion of Christendom remains impossible. The Church of England has not a shadow of doubt concerning her own Orders, and cannot tolerate the expression of doubt by others. Until they are fully acknowledged there can be no union. But the Church of England is not a negligible quantity in Christendom. She is not like the separate Churches of the East, venerable for their antiquity, more venerable for their stedfastness through centuries of repression and persecution, but insignificant in numbers, stationary or retrograde in point of influence. It was said to me by a Roman friend who is deeply versed in the problem, that Rome, England, and Russia are the three great factors in the reunion of Christendom, and that a union of any two of these, excluding the third, would only aggravate the evil of disunion. Therefore, every one who would labour for union must labour also for the favourable solution of the question of the ordinations.

I do not pretend that this is the only or the greatest difficulty. There remain great questions, going down to the roots of Christian practice, if not of Christian belief, the solution of which would overtax any mere human wisdom. No man can hope for reunion who does not believe in the divine origin and the divine ordering of the Church. But to them who believe in this there is no word impossible. They watch for opportunities. They welcome every expression of hope, coming from whatever side. On the morning of the day we left Rome we were waiting in Cardinal Rampolla's antechamber, when there came out from the inner room a number of Cardinals, who had been attending a congregation. One of them spied us, came up, and seizing a hand of each, cried aloud: "Vous partez donc aujourd'hui; trop tôt, trop tôt! Mais nous nous reverrons; nous arrangerons nos différends; nous nous reverrons." It was done so publicly that I need not reserve his name. I do not expect to see Cardinal Segna again; but as long as I live I shall remember his kindness, and I have an unshaken faith in the fulfilment of the rest of his prophecy.


THE GORDON DECISION (From the Guardian of December 9, 1896)

In an article written for the current number of the Contemporary Review I discussed the relations of the Bull Apostolicae Curae to the Gordon decision of 1704, and expressed a hope that some at least of the documents in this case might be published. My wish was anticipated. The article was hardly through the press when I received the Civiltà Cattolica of November 11th, containing the text of the decree. It is as follows:--

"Feria v diei 17 Aprilis, 1704, in solita congregatione S.R. et universalis Inquisitionis habita in Palatio S. Petri Coram SStno. Dno. Nro. Clemente Papa xi.

"Delata instantia Joannis dementis Gordon Episcopi Anglicani, ad Catholicam fidem conversi, et quibusdam scripturis seu iuribus alias collectis pro simili casu, quamvis olim non fuerit decisus, vel saltem hac de re nihil fuisset decretum, cum voto DD. consultorum, qua petebat, ut non obstante consecratione episcopali obtenta ab episcopis sectae Anglicanae, et ritu solito illius pseudo-episcoporum, sibi concederetur facultas transeundi ad ordinem Presbyteratus ritu catholico suscipiendum, cum sua consecratio ad Episcopatum nulla sit, tum propter deficientiam successionis episcoporum in Anglia et Scotia, qui ilium consecraverunt, turn propter alia motiva, quibus nulla redditur dicta illius consecratio.

"SSmus., auditis votis emorum Cardinalium, decrevit quod Joannes Clemens Gordon ex integro et absolute ordinetur ad omnes ordines et praecipue Presbyteratus, et quatenus non fuerit confirmatus, prius Sacramentum Confirmationis suscipiat."

Such is the text of the decree, extracted by the writer in the Civiltà Cattolica from the archives of the Holy Office. It differs considerably from that given by Gasparri in his pamphlet, De la valeur des Ordinations Anglicanes, p. 16, who also prefixes the petition presented by Gordon, as if it formed an integral part of the decree itself. In the text as now published the arguments and statements of the petition are briefly summarized. A more important, though far less extensive, variation is the addition of the words "et quibusdam scripturis . . . consultorum," which are curiously interjected in the sentence "Delata instantia . . . qua petebat." There is nothing corresponding to this in the text given by Gasparri, which merely has "Lecto supradicto memoriali [i.e., Gordon's petition] Sanctissimus D.N. Papa praedictus auditis votis, etc." The decree, as so read, implied that the decision was based solely on the statements made by Gordon himself, which included the most fanciful rendering of the Nag's Head Fable, and an extraordinary statement that the essential form in the English rite was: "Accipe potestatem praedicandi verbum Dei, et administrandi sancta eius sacramenta." This being so, the value of the decree itself was naturally put no higher than that of the reasons on which it was based. But, as I have explained elsewhere, we had already learnt that the decision was not based exclusively, or even mainly, on Gordon's petition; there was an independent inquiry. This statement was confirmed by what we read in the recent Bull. It is confirmed afresh by the newly published text of the decree. There were brought into the case quaedam scripturae sen iura alias collecta pro simili casu.

The information, however, which I had gathered from various sources, and which I have published in the Contemporary, appears to be inexact in one particular. There is no trace of any independent inquiry at the time when the Gordon case actually came on. [Replying to me in the second edition of his Condanna delle Ord. Agl. (p. 40), Fr. Brandi, the writer of the article in the Civiltà, corrected this by a reference to the words "duobus vel tribus novis votis," quoted below. But I do not gather that any fresh information was forthcoming; the new vota were perhaps opinions newly passed upon the old materials.] The new elements alias collecta had been already gathered for use in dealing with a previous case, when, however, no formal decision had been given. This was the case, alluded to in the recent Bull, which came before the Holy Office in 1684. As described by the writer in the Civiltà, this case concerned "a young Calvinist heretic, who, passing from France into England, was there ordained to the diaconate and then to the presbyterate, by the pseudo-bishop of London, according to the use of that sect. The young man, returning to France and embracing the Catholic religion, wished to marry. He accordingly asked whether the orders he had received were valid, and so constituted an impediment to his marriage." The consultors of the Holy Office resolved as follows:--"Feria II. die 13 Augusti 1685 DD. CC. mature discusso dubio unanimi voto responderunt pro invaliditate praedictae ordinationis. An autem expediat ad hanc declarationem in praesenti casu devenire E E. PP., oraculo reliquerunt." The Cardinals of the Congregation judged it inopportune to pronounce on the case at that juncture, and so the decision was Dilata.

The vota and the Acts of this case, our informant says, were the scripturae et iura imported into the Gordon case. It was not in 1704, but in 1684, that investigations were made by Genetti and others, the results of which were brought to bear upon Gordon's petition. I gather from the Civiltà that no fresh materials of any kind, except the petition itself, were brought into the case in 1704; but, as the Pope says in the recent Bull, "Eadem acta repetita et ponderata sunt." Of these Acta the writer gives us some glimpses, provokingly brief and incomplete. He tells us that the stories about Parker's consecration are positively excluded from among the reasons of the decision, because it is repeatedly asserted that "in so grave a matter a resolution of such consequence could not be grounded on a fact disputed between Catholics and Protestants," and the "definite (adeguata) decision ought to be connected not with the facts of Parker's case, which depended upon a very confused (assai imbrogliata) story . . . but upon the defect of intention, and of the words used by the Anglican heretics in priestly ordination." This, however, is a very different thing from saying that the fables in question had no influence upon the judgment of the Consultors or of the Congregation. Such language is perfectly consistent with a personal belief in the truth of the stories. Still quoting, as I gather, from a report of the proceedings of 1684, presented to the commission of 1704, the writer adds that "the principal subject of discussion was the examination of the Edwardine form, which was in use for more than a hundred years, and of the same form, as changed under Charles II in 1662," and that in the course of this examination the forms employed by the Easterns, whether Catholic or heretic, were brought into comparison. In 1704, he continues, quoting now in Latin:--

"Duobus vel tribus no vis votis fuit denuo demonstrata nullitas istarum ordinationum, potissimum ex insufficientia formae."

This sort of information is interesting, but all is very vague and unsatisfying. If we are told so much, why are we not told more? What was actually regarded as the essential form, the insufficiency of which was fatal to the English ordinations? The writer keeps to the same studied vagueness when he approaches the question of the Tradition of the Instruments. The documents which he has before him prove, he says, that "if the question was touched"--a curiously conditional sort of statement--"this was done, not to prove an essential defect in itself, but only to show that, along with the lack of this, there lacked entirely all determination of the words employed in the form, and all designation of the power which it was intended to confer." When a statement of this kind is made we are compelled, in the absence of fuller information, to read between the lines. We may err in doing so, but if we err we may be corrected by the production of further evidence.

What, then, does the information before us amount to? That can be very simply summarized. The Ordinal was examined; the essential form was found to be indeterminate, and insufficient.

The crucial question remains unanswered. What was taken to be the essential form? Until this question is answered it remains impossible to estimate the value of the decision. Is there anything in the information given from which we may infer an answer? Something issues from a close and careful study.

I note in the first place that Gordon himself in his petition made a certain identification of the form. "Nulla enim materia utuntur, nisi forte traditione Bibliorum, nulla forma legitima; imo formam Catholicorum abiecere et commutavere in hanc: Accipe potestatem praedicandi verbum Dei, et administrandi sancta eius sacramenta: quae essentialiter differì a formis orthodoxis."

It is clear, then, what Gordon took to be the essential form. He says nothing about the prayers or the Accipe Spiritum Sanctum. There can be no question, either, what he took to be the form of presbyteral ordination according to the Roman rite. It was Accipe potestatem offerre sacrificium, etc., which alone could by any stretch of language be said to have been changed into Accipe potestatem praedicandi, etc. It is also noticeable that he makes no allusion to the imposition of hands as the matter. But does this represent merely the personal opinion of Gordon? Estcourt has well remarked that a petition such as his would not be drawn up by the party himself. It was a formal document, and would certainly be drafted by an official familiar with the practice of the Roman Court. The motivum, even if it included some matter supplied by the petitioner, would follow the opinions dominant at Rome. It is, then, at least probable that the opinion about the English form, set forth in the petition, was prevalent in the official world of Rome. But a full investigation of the English Ordinal had taken place twenty years earlier. Was this opinion the outcome of that investigation? It seems highly probable. One expression used in the petition adds to the probability. The English form, thus understood, differs, it is said, a formis orthodoxis. It is contrasted, not with the Roman form alone, but with all others recognized in the Church. But in 1684, as we have seen, the English Ordinal was brought into comparison with the Eastern rites: an opinion which describes the English form specifically as differing essentially from all orthodox forms, obviously suggests a reference to that investigation.

Again, the insufficiency of the form seems, according to our information, to have been somehow connected with the lack of the Tradition of the Instruments. This indicates obscurely, but not doubtfully, that the form under consideration was one corresponding to the Accipe potestatem, etc., of the Roman rite; and this, as I have said, could be none other but that put forward by Gordon: "Take thou authority to preach the Word of God, and to minister the holy sacraments in the congregation, where thou shalt be lawfully appointed thereunto." If this was the form before the investigators there is no wonder that they found it lacking in determination, and in the proper designation of the power of the priesthood which it was intended to confer.

Reading thus between the lines of the information given us, I seem to find that the Holy Office in 1684 and 1704 took as the essential form in the English rite neither any one of the prayers, nor the formula Receive the Holy Ghost, etc., nor the blessing Almighty God Who hath given you this will, etc. (which was taken as the form by Billuart), but the formula Take thou authority to preach, etc. If this be the form which was judged insufficient, we have the great advantage of being in perfect accord with the Sacred Congregation, and we may simply set aside the consequent condemnation of the English ordinations as based on an error of fact. [Father Brandi (pp. cit. p. 47) replied expressly under this head by referring to "la forma esaminata al tempo di Paolo IV," i.e. the form set out in the Description of the Ordinal reproduced above, pp. 181-4. The same rite, he adds, with the modifications made in 1662, was examined afresh in 1684-5. No doubt; but the sixteenth century Description sets out Accipe auctoritatem praedicandi, etc., side by side with Accipe Spiritum Sanctum, etc., and does not in any way indicate which of them is to be regarded as the "forma essentialis." So too are set out the two forms used in the consecration of a bishop, Accipe Spiritum Sanctum, etc., and Attende lectioni, etc. There is nothing here to show which was considered the essential form in 1684-5, and so my question remains unanswered. "Abbiamo voluto ciò notare," says Father Brandi, "affine di soddisfare al dubbio proposto dal Signor Lacey nel Guardian." He must credit me with a rare simplicity. For the opinion of Duchesne and others who had access to the documents, see above pp. 48, 100, 128, and 135. Their judgment that the Congregation regarded Accipe Spiritum Sanctum as the essential form is not lightly to be set aside, but was it anything more than a probable inference from doubtful evidence? I myself had the privilege of perusing the materials collected by Canon Moyes from the dossier of the case; but I did not fully realise their importance, and made no notes of them. It seems probable that Father Brandi has produced all that is relevant, and this leaves the conclusion doubtful.]

The inference is not intrinsically improbable. The opinion was still dominant in the Roman schools that the essential matter of presbyteral ordination was the Tradition of the Instruments, with or without the imposition of hands, and the essential form the words Accipe potestatem offerre, etc. Such was the opinion of de Lugo, who was reckoned the greatest of modern theologians; it reigned almost without dispute in the Sorbonne; the Thomists were pledged to it. Morinus, it is true, had shown conclusively that all Eastern ordinations, and all the more ancient ordinations of the West, had been validly conferred by prayer and imposition of hands; but the immediate result of his work was only to strengthen the opinion of those who held that the form and matter were different for the East and for the West. Some years after the Gordon case was decided, Hardouin still held this opinion as almost axiomatic, while disfiguring it in his own fashion with a fantastic theory of a double divine appointment. Benedict XIV was, I believe, the first theologian who seriously shook its credit; and even he did this while actually recording a decision of the Congregation of the Council which required its recognition, in the specific form put forward by de Lugo, as at least probable. Even if the Congregation of the Holy Office in 1684-1704 was enlightened beyond the measure of the time--a very unlikely supposition--and put aside the Tradition of the Instruments as not essential, it remains probable in the highest degree that they regarded Accipe potestatem offerre as the essential form of presbyteral ordination in the Latin rite, and finding a formula Accipe potestatem etc. in the English rite, took that as a matter of course to be the essential form.

The inference, then, is not intrinsically improbable, and it seems to follow from the information which is given us. If it be erroneous, let the error be shown. The archives of the Holy Office either contain the necessary evidence or they do not. If it is there, let us have it. The Roman authorities presumably wish to convince us. Evidence alone will have that effect. If nothing more is produced we shall be disposed to assume either that the archives contain nothing to the purpose, or that what they contain would rather confirm us in our opinion than convince us of error. [The purport of the concluding sentence may not be very clear. Its form was certainly affected by the habit of thought then dominating me, which is described above in the Introduction; but even at the time the possible "error" of which I was thinking was nothing else but a mistake about the actual details of the decision in Gordon's case.

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