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.

XI. The Interpretation of the English Ordinal

(A Paper written for the Church Historical Society in the year 1898.)

THERE is an old debate as to the meaning of the English Ordinal. It speaks of bishops and priests. But in what sense are these words to be accepted? It is urged, on the one hand, that they are familiar words in constant use for centuries, and must bear in the Ordinal the sense which they had acquired by ecclesiastical usage. It is contended, on the other hand, that a new departure was made by the reformers, who used the old words indeed, but in a sense of their own, either altogether novel, or at least foreign to the sense of the preceding age and looking back to the early days of Apostolic Christianity; priest is only a derivative by phonetic decay of presbyter, and this word means etymologically an elder, in which sense alone, and not in any sacerdotal sense, the reformers used it. This judgment is delivered in the most diverse quarters. Leo XIII, in his Bull on Anglican Orders, declares that the words bishop and priest in the Ordinal are nomina sine re; ardent Protestants agree enthusiastically that priesthood in the Roman sense is unknown to the English Ordinal and to the English Church.

In the Month of March, 1898, there is an article dealing with this question. The writer looks to the origin of the Ordinal, and asks what light is thrown upon its meaning by the circumstances of its introduction. Father Sydney Smith is a courteous antagonist, one who always tries to understand his adversary, and labours still more to avoid misrepresenting him. In the article to which I refer he has missed in one particular the point of an argument commonly advanced on our side; for the rest he fairly joins issue.

His contention is that "Cranmer and his adherents were the true authors of the Ordinal"; and that "the Ordinal received its meaning from the minds of its compilers." [Month, pp. 231, 235.] The conclusion apparently intended, though unexpressed, is that the purpose of the compilers was to exclude the idea of the true priesthood of the Church, and that consequently the forms of the Ordinal do not signify that priesthood, and cannot convey it. [This argument is explicitly developed by Brandi, Roma e Canterbury, p. 36.]

There is a twofold answer to this contention. In the first place, we do not know with certainty who were the authors or compilers of the Ordinal, and therefore we cannot draw any conclusions from their real or supposed opinions. Secondly, the compilers were incapable of imposing any meaning of their own upon the Ordinal; its true sense was determined by other and less personal forces.

It is true enough that in a sense Cranmer and his adherents were the authors of the Ordinal. It was at their instance that new rites of Ordination were introduced. But this is obviously a loose way of talking, and from a consideration of this kind we cannot draw any conclusion as to the sense of the new rites. In a period of reform or revolution those who bring about a change are not unfrequently disappointed with the result of their efforts. The promoters of the English Ordinal were possibly in this case. They may have had the most mischievous purpose in agitating for a new rite, and yet in obtaining it may have missed their aim. There is a further looseness of thought in speaking of "Cranmer and his adherents." The phrase suggests an organized party under a recognized leader, with a definite policy and avowed intentions. In 1550 there was no such thing. But further, among those who moved for the new Ordinal, there were some who were in no sense adherents of Cranmer. Father Sydney Smith enumerates the bishops who voted in the House of Lords for and against the proposal:-"Cranmer, Goodrich, Barlow, Ridley, Ferrar, Wharton, Sampson, Skyp, voted for the Bill; Tunstall, Heath, Day, Thirlby, Aldrich, voted against it. Of these, the first five who voted for the Bill were unmitigated Calvinists. Wharton and Sampson were Opportunists; Skyp was the only one on that side entitled to be called schismatic only, and not heretic as well." [Month, p. 232.]

Here is more loose writing. It is an anachronism to speak of "Calvinists" at all at so early a date. But let us interpret the term generously, and take it to mean such as sympathized with the Helvetic reformers. Is the assertion then accurate? Barlow is a puzzling person. He was Lutheran in early life. He afterwards wrote fiercely against both Lutherans and Oecolampadians. He then became bishop and pursued a wavering course. Hooper claimed him as a Sacramentarian, on the ground of some private conversation. [Original Letters, I. p. 76.] He was charged with heresy after Mary's accession, but he made his peace, resigned his bishopric, and republished his book against the Reformers. He afterwards went abroad, and was concerned in the disputes of the exiles at Frankfort; but here he seems to have been connected rather with Lutherans than with the Reformed. [See his curious Dialoge, published in 1531 and again in 1553, and in particular the Preface of 1553. It has been reprinted with an introduction by the Rev. J. R. Lunn, 1897. In 1559 Melanchthon commended him to Elizabeth, and the Markgraf of Brandenburg described him as "attached to the Confession of Augsburg." State Papers, For. Elizabeth, 1558-9, pp. 109, 154.] It is rash to call him an "unmitigated Calvinist." Goodrich also was claimed by Hooper, but Mary left him undisturbed, and his Register at Ely shows him vigorous in prosecuting heretics. If he was in any sense a Calvinist, it was of a mitigated type. The title of Opportunist, which Father Sydney Smith fixes on Wharton and Sampson, would suit Goodrich and Barlow quite as well. But even Cranmer and Ridley, though they eventually went very far in agreement with the Helvetic reformers, were only beginning that phase of their development in the early months of 1550. To call them at this period "unmitigated Calvinists" is to fly in the face of history. [Two years later, Martin Micronius was complaining to Bullinger of Ridley's "worldly policy" and opposition to reform. Orig. Lett. II, p. 580.] Of Ferrar's opinions very little is known. Such were the men whom Father Sydney Smith speaks of as "Cranmer's solid phalanx of five." On the same side were three others, of whom it is allowed that one at least was no heretic. But why are Wharton and Sampson suspect? Both retained their sees unchallenged under Mary; Wharton was at once promoted to Hereford. Of the eight bishops who voted for the new Ordinal, four were orthodox enough for Mary and her advisers. If these are rightly to be called the authors of the rite, what is meant by attributing the authorship exclusively to Cranmer and his adherents?

But Father Sydney Smith slips from the word "authors" to the word "compilers." The vote in Parliament merely determined in general that there should be a new Ordinal. The drafting of the rite was committed to six prelates and six other learned men. These are the compilers from whose minds the Ordinal, he says, received its meaning. Who then were they? We are met with the difficulty that little is known about them. Internal evidence, as well as the overwhelming balance of probability, makes it practically certain that Cranmer was one of them. We know that Heath was another. Who the other ten were is unknown. How then can we infer from their unknown minds the true meaning of the Ordinal? Conjecture has been busy, which, however, is nothing more than conjecture. It has been suggested-and Father Sydney Smith leans to the suggestion-that the same men were appointed who fifteen months before had deliberated on the Book of Common Prayer. But these were thirteen in number, not twelve, and Heath was not among them. The conjecture is, therefore, a doubtful one. [It is supported by Canon Dixon, who supposes Heath to have been substituted for Day, and Cranmer to be added, as president, to the twelve, Hist., vol. ii. p. 493, and vol. iii. p. 195.] But if the actual persons are unknown, can we safely conjecture anything as to the composition of the committee in general? A study of the practice of the time leaves no room for doubt that all parties were represented. "But in any case," says Father Sydney Smith, "as they were appointed by the Council in which Somerset's and Cranmer's opinions ruled, they must have been predominantly Calvinist in their sentiments." [Month, p. 233.] Looseness of statement dogs him on this occasion, for Somerset had fallen from power three months previously, and certainly had no voice in the appointment. That the majority of the committee belonged to the reforming party is likely enough, but we know that care was taken, on all such occasions, to include a fair number of the more conservative bishops. [The "Windsor Commission," which drew up the Order of Communion and the Book of Common Prayer, included seven bishops, of whom Cranmer, Ridley and Holbeach were of the reforming party, Thirlby, Skyp and Day were conservative, while Goodrich may, perhaps, be called indifferent. In April, 1549, a commission to inquire against heretics was appointed on exactly the same lines. The bishops were Cranmer, Ridley and Holbeach, Thirlby, Heath and Day, with Goodrich. Rymer, xv. 181.] To the twelve men thus appointed the text of the new Ordinal was submitted, and within a week eleven of them subscribed it as approved. Among these, we have reason to believe, were men of unquestioned orthodoxy. If then "the Ordinal received its meaning from the minds of its compilers," we have to reckon with these orthodox members of the committee. We need not suppose that they had their own way in all things, but at least the Ordinal does not stand for anything to which they could not subscribe. [On Heath's refusal to subscribe, see below, p. 324.] It cannot, then, be taken as excluding the idea of the Catholic priesthood. Whatever Cranmer's own proclivities were, he had his colleagues to consider In this connexion Father Sydney Smith makes a bold assertion. "The text," he says, "to which they assented is hardly more than an English translation of an ordination rite composed by Bucer." [Month, p. 233. Bucer's proposed rite of ordination is included in his treatise De ordinatione legitima ministrorum revocanda, which is printed in his Scripta Anglicana, pp. 238-259. Basel, 1577.] But of what does Bucer's rite consist? It begins with the hymn Veni Sancte Spiritus. Then follow three psalms, and two lessons from the New Testament. The "principal Ordainer" then reads an exhortation to the ordinands, and a prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon them, and proceeds to the imposition of hands with a benediction resembling nothing that was ever used in the Church. There is no Veni Creator, no Litany; there is no use of what were then regarded as the crucial words, Accipe Spiritum Sanctum. There is only a single rite; three orders of ministers are nominally recognized, but all alike are called presbyters, and the form of ordination is the same for all. A curiously distorted imagination is needed to see in the English Ordinal "hardly more than a translation" of this. [The elements common to Bucer's rite and the Ordinal are as follows: His three Psalms, 40, 132, 135, are those appointed in the Ordinal for the "Introit to the Communion." His lessons appear among those appointed in the Ordinal for Epistle and Gospel. His exhortation is practically the same as that in our ordination of priests. His prayer before the imposition of hands is a longer, and in some respects a superior recension of the prayer Almighty God and Heavenly Father in the same rite. On the other hand his formula for use at the imposition of hands runs thus: "Manus Dei omnipotentis, Patris, et Filli, et Spiritus Sancii, sit super vos, protegat et gubernet vos, ut eatis, et fructum vestro ministerio quam plurimum afferatis, isque maneat in vitam aeternam."] It may be that something was borrowed from Bucer by the compilers of the Ordinal; but if so, their divergence from him is the more significant. Either Cranmer himself and his adherents did not agree with him, or else, agreeing with him in theory, they found it necessary to conciliate their colleagues by differing widely from him in practice. The more we suppose Cranmer to have agreed with Bucer, the greater weight we must assign to the influence of his orthodox colleagues, and the more we must take their opinions into account as determining the sense of the Ordinal.

But all this is in the region of pure conjecture, or of doubtful inference. We can find here no stable ground on which to build an argument. I think I have proved my first point. Cranmer and his adherents were in no sense the sole authors of the Ordinal; as for its compilers, since we do not know who they were, we cannot infer its meaning from their real or supposed opinions.

I contend, further, that the compilers, whoever they may have been, were incapable of imposing their own meaning upon the Ordinal. They were not, in the strict sense, authors. They were not composing a theological treatise originating with themselves. Their action was purely ministerial, and if the words which they wrote need any external interpretation, it must be sought not from them, but from those for whom they were acting. We cannot determine the sense of the Ordinal by investigating the opinions of its compilers. A judge, when called upon to interpret an Act of Parliament, might as well summon the draftsman and interrogate him as to his opinions on the subject-matter of the Act. We may carry the analogy further. The private opinions of the Members of Parliament who vote for a Bill, or even of the ministers in charge of it, will not affect the interpretation of the resulting Act. Mr. Balfour is known to be in favour of female suffrage, but that would not affect the interpretation of a doubtful passage in a Registration Act carried through Parliament under his leadership. Father Sydney Smith seems to rely on a criterion of this kind. He complains that we wish the language of the Ordinal to be interpreted by the views of those who opposed it in Parliament, "rather than by those of Cranmer's solid phalanx of five who were on the victorious side." He has an elaborate sneer at this:-"Some day, perhaps, our judges may rule that Acts of Parliament, though carried by the votes of the Government in the teeth of fierce opposition, should be interpreted always in a sense consistent with the views of the Opposition; but until this new ruling is made, it is surely more according to established precedents that we should interpret the Edwardian Ordinal by the opinions of Cranmer than by those of Heath and Tunstall." [Month, p. 233.]

He could hardly have chosen a more unfortunate illustration. The sense of a Statute is not determined in this fashion. It may very well happen that an Act, when interpreted by the judges, will disappoint the intention of its promoters and will serve the ends of those who were in opposition. For an instance, we have only to look at the Education Act of 1870. It was warmly supported by Churchmen: it was fiercely opposed by Dissenters. According to Father Sydney Smith it ought always to be interpreted in a sense favourable to Churchmen. We may wish he were right in this instance; but the instance only shows how egregiously he is wrong. It illustrates the hollowness of his contention that we are bound to interpret the Ordinal by the opinions or the intention of Cranmer.

But further, it is here that Father Sydney Smith, as I have said, misses the point of an argument advanced on our side. No one has ever suggested anything so absurd as that the Ordinal should be interpreted by the opinions of Heath and Tunstall or of the rest who voted with them in the minority. The argument is that account should be taken, not only of those who voted for a new rite, still less of those only who went all lengths with Cranmer, but of the English episcopate as a whole. The fact has been continually pressed that although there was some opposition when the change was first mooted, yet the new Ordinal was at once adopted and brought into use by the English episcopate. [The final adoption of the Ordinal dates from 1559, for which see above, p. 124. But here we are considering its meaning as a ritual composition, and for that we must go back to its origin.] Father Sydney Smith demurs to the use of any such phrase. "It seems to mean," he says, "that Convocation passed the measure; and yet it is morally certain that Convocation never had any say at all in the Ordinal of 1550." [Month, p. 231.] But surely Father Sydney Smith is aware that bishops can act otherwise than synodically. When, indeed, had they ever acted synodically in dealing with such matters? In the whole history of Ecclesiastical Councils down to the year 1662 there cannot be found a single synodical act regulating the rites and ceremonies of Ordination. All those employed in various parts of the Church were grounded on usage; theoretically they were based on the authority of the bishops using them. Certain English bishops, exercising the same authority, adopted the new Ordinal. We must not indeed forget that it was enjoined by an Act of Parliament; we must allow that in all probability most of them disliked the new rite exceedingly, adopting it only under pressure from without; we know that they got rid of it with alacrity, as soon as the external pressure was withdrawn; but we are concerned with their public action, not with their motives, and as a matter of fact they did adopt the Ordinal and bring it into use. It was they who gave to the Ordinal its ecclesiastical sanction.

Who were the men who did this? We stand at the beginning of the year 1550. There were at that time twenty-four bishops in actual possession of their sees; for Gloucester and Norwich had just become vacant, while Gardiner of Winchester and Bonner of London were in prison. Of these twenty-four, six have been accused, rightly or wrongly, of heresy about the Sacraments. [Cranmer, Ridley, Ferrar, Barlow, Holbeach, and Goodrich. But of these six, Holbeach and Goodrich were not accused during their lifetime, and Barlow, though accused, was acquitted.] Of the remaining eighteen it may suit Father Sydney Smith to call some "Opportunists," but they were never accused of heresy, and five of them he himself describes as "notable for their firm adherence to the Catholic doctrine." [Month, p. 232.] Such was the episcopate which accepted the Ordinal and brought it into use. It is not known how many of these bishops actually used the new rite. Many of the records have perished, and Mr. Frere has shown that ordinations were in a great measure confined to some few convenient centres. [The Marian Reaction, pp. 101-3.] But we know that some of them used it, and among these were King of Oxford, whose orthodoxy has never been impeached, and Thirlby and Aldrich, who are among those "notable for their firm adherence to the Catholic doctrine." [For King and Thirlby, see Frere, ibid. pp. 95, 105, 193. Aldrich was one of the consecrators of Harley in May, 1553. Stubbs, Reg. Sacr. Angl. p. 81 (first edition).] Of more importance it is to observe that the Ordinal was brought into general use without protest and without question. Doubtless it was unwelcome; yet the opponents of the reform could only muster five bishops to vote against it in the House of Lords. Once it was carried, all opposition ceased. The majority of the bishops must have adopted the Ordinal in a Catholic sense.

Did they do this only as individuals? Did the sense vary with the user? Did the Ordinal bear an orthodox sense when Aldrich used it in the diocese of Carlisle, an heretical sense when Ridley ordained in London? The suggestion is not, perhaps, entirely absurd: let us consider it.

The Church of England is not of course a single corporate body, but it has a certain unity and homogeneity. To the Church of England as a whole the Ordinal was propounded, and by the Church of England as a whole it was adopted. It was a public document of the Church of England. Now it is a fixed rule for the interpretation of public documents that they are to be understood, not in any esoteric sense which the words may bear, but in the sense in which the words are generally used by the community.

I have said that the sense of the Ordinal must be sought not from the compilers, but from those for whom they acted ministerially. For whom did they act? They acted for the Church of England as a whole. The sense of the Ordinal, then, is the general sense of the Church of England as then existing. Those who introduced it necessarily put upon it that general sense, not any private esoteric meaning of their own. The Ordinal contained familiar words, and they were taken in the familiar sense. When a bishop ordained a priest in the autumn of 1549, and again ordained a priest in the spring of 1550, using on the second occasion a new rite introduced with the express intent that the order of priesthood "should be continued, and reverently used, and esteemed, in this Church of England," we are bound to suppose that these two acts were taken in the same sense by the bishop, by the subject of the ordination, and by the Church at large. [Preface to the Ordinal of 1550.] We should require overwhelming evidence to prove the contrary, and evidence there is none. Nay, there is evidence on our side. The Venetian Daniele Barbaro, who was in England as Envoy of the Republic, wrote of the new rite for conferring holy orders, "Nor do they differ from those of the Roman Catholic religion save that in England they take oath to renounce the doctrine and authority of the Pope." [Rawdon Brown, Venetian State Papers, vol. v. p. 349. Daniele Barbaro became Patriarch of Aquileia in 1550.] It is strange to observe with what persistent silence those who attack the Ordinal pass over this testimony of Barbaro.

But we shall be reminded that Heath refused to sign the Ordinal. He was one of the twelve commissioners appointed to issue it, and he refused to put his name to the book. Here then is at least one bishop who protested. Father Sydney Smith makes the most of his witness:- "He absolutely refused to subscribe it on grounds of conscience, and preferred rather to be imprisoned and eventually deprived of his see. One would have thought that by such action he showed sufficiently his dissent from the doctrine of the new rite, and yet, just because he was weak enough to promise his passive obedience, which as a matter of fact he was never in a position to render, he is claimed, as we have seen, as one of the compilers whose opinions, even in preference to those of Cranmer, the rite he refused to sign must be held to express." [Month, p. 233. The details of Heath's case will be found in Pocock's Burnet, vol. iii. pp. 339-40, and Dasent's Acts of the Privy Council, vol. iii. p. 360. Also in Estcourt, App. x. pp. xxix-xxxi. See also Dixon, vol. iii. pp. 196, 322.]

This is skilful advocacy, which it is not difficult, however, to knock to pieces. In the first place, there is nothing whatever in the record about "grounds of conscience" for Heath's original refusal to subscribe, nor is there any evidence of "dissent from the doctrine of the new rite." On the contrary, it is recorded in the minutes of the Privy Council that on February 28 he was ordered to sign the book, "specially for that he cannot deny but all that is contained in the book is good and godly." That throws no light on his private opinion, but it shows that he had not based his refusal on the grounds supposed. On March 4 he was committed to the Fleet for refusing to subscribe. Eighteen months afterwards he was brought again before the Council and ordered to sign the book on pain of deprivation of his bishopric; and like a man of spirit, "hearing that commandment, he resolutely answered he could not find in his conscience to do it." In the second place, it was not merely on this account that he faced his deprivation. During his eighteen months' imprisonment events had marched apace, and he knew well that if he yielded this point there were others that he could not yield. "There be many other things," he said, "whereunto he would not consent, if he were demanded, as to take down altars and set up tables." In the third place, it was not only "passive obedience" that he promised. By promising obedience he meant that he would use the book. "He would obey it, but not subscribe it." Why should this be put down to weakness, when he was so sturdy on the less important point of subscribing? We cannot suppose that Heath, who was ready to suffer for his principles, would have consented to "obey" the book, if he had dissented from its doctrine. He disliked it, perhaps, intensely, but the evidence shows that he received it in a Catholic sense. We claim this witness for our side.

One other argument may be glanced at, which Father Sydney Smith is too good a theologian to use, though others may. The same bishops who adopted the Ordinal afterwards rejected it, and in some cases reordained the men whom they had themselves promoted with its rites. [See Frere, The Marian Reaction, pp. 118-121.] How then could they believe in it? The answer is not far to seek. There is no evidence to show why these men were reordained. Various grounds for such a course are familiar to theologians. One out of many is the invalidity of the rite used in the first ordination. The bishops who reordained men in 1554 may conceivably have thought the rite which they had formerly used an invalid one; but there is no evidence to show that such was their opinion. Nor, if there were evidence, would it concern the present issue. We are not considering here the validity of the rite; we are considering the meaning of its terms. When King of Oxford in 1554 reordained men whom he had ordained by the English rite in 1552, he may possibly have come to the conclusion that he had been using an invalid rite, but we are perfectly certain that he meant precisely the same thing on both occasions.

Our claim, then, is that in the interpretation of the Ordinal we are bound to follow the general sense of the Church of England, as it was in 1550. We are not concerned with the sense of the English Church, or the consent of English theologians, in 1580 or in 1850. We are concerned with the year of origin. It is worse than useless to bring into evidence, either on the one side or on the other, opinions that have been current since or are current now. They cannot affect the meaning of a document which was propounded to the Church and accepted by the Church at that specific time. The words of the Ordinal mean what they meant in 1550; and in 1550 they bore the meaning which was attached to them by the general sense of the English Church. What was that meaning? Can there be any doubt? The Church of England was then using a service book which spoke of "Mass" and "Altar." [In March, 1550, Hooper wrote to Bullinger about the Prayer-book: "I am so much offended with that book, and that not without abundant reason, that if it be not corrected, I neither will nor can communicate with the Church in the administration of the Supper." Orig. Lett. I, p. 79. He overcame his scruples afterwards, but things were then moving rapidly towards the correction that he desired.] Every member of the Church had been brought up in the old doctrines of the priesthood and the sacrifice. Helvetic and Lutheran opinions had been within four years ruthlessly persecuted by all in authority. Persecution had ceased, but the old doctrinal standards were as yet untouched. Some few men of mark in the Church were venturing to question the received belief, but they did so, in public at least, with caution. [The testimony of the witnesses at Gardiner's trial in 1551, as to what was then the authorized and current teaching of the Church and realm of England, is of great interest. It may be seen condensed in Dixon, Hist., Vol. III. pp. no, 268. The general effect is that none of the old teaching was even impugned until Peter Martyr began his lectures at Oxford in the year 1549. The Necessary Doctrine or "King's Book" of 1543 was still the legal standard of teaching. Hooper wrote in the above quoted letter that he feared Ridley's promotion to London might cause some change in his conduct. "I can scarcely express to you," he says, "under what difficulties and dangers we are labouring and struggling that the idol of the mass may be thrown out." He had been lecturing on St. John's Gospel, and says, "I incurred great odium, and not less danger, from the sixth chapter." Of the new Ordinal in particular he wrote: "I have sent it to Master Butler, that you may know their fraud and artifices, by which they promote the kingdom of antichrist, especially in the form of the oath." In the following June he writes that Cranmer "is not so decided as I could wish, and dares not, I fear, assert his opinion in all respects." Orig. Lett. I, pp. 79, 80, 81, 89.] In the Church at large, among clergy and laity alike, innovation was hardly begun. To such a public as this was propounded a rite for the ordination of "Bishops" and "Priests." There was only one sense in which it could be received.

In Cardinal Vaughan's Vindication of the Papal Bull concerning Anglican Orders there is an admirable sentence which I quote with great pleasure in this connexion. It has often been pointed out in controversy that the older Roman rite of ordination does not contain any reference to the sacrifice, nor even the specific term sacerdos. It has only the ambiguous presbyter. The Cardinal replies to this: "Words take their meaning from the communities in which they are used. Now in the Catholic Church the terms 'priest' and 'bishop' have always had a sacrificial meaning."1 [Vindication, p. 47.]Precisely so; words take their meaning from the communities in which they are used, and at the time when the Ordinal was introduced, whatever may have been the case at other times, in this community of the Church of England the words "bishop" and "priest" bore the specific meaning which they had borne for ages in the Catholic Church.

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