Project Canterbury

The Faith of an English Catholic
by Darwell Stone, D.D.

London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1926.

Chapter XI. Holy Orders

THE need of the English Church in regard to the ministry, when the Tractarian Movement began, was not the restoration of something which had been lost but the due appreciation of what had been retained. For the Church of England had securely kept the three Orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons by a continuous succession, which the tumults and changes of the sixteenth century and the disasters of the seventeenth had not been able to break. But by the beginning of the nineteenth century there were few who had retained a Catholic belief as to what these three Orders meant. The impoverished ideas about the Holy Eucharist, the practical disuse of Confession, the forgetfulness of the sacramental principle in general, had combined to obscure a true conception of the ministry. So, when the first of the Tracts for the Times, dated September 9, 1833, appeared, there were phrases used which had a strange, and even a startling, sound. The description in the dedication of "the presbyters and deacons of the Church of Christ in England, ordained thereunto by the Holy Ghost and the imposition of hands," though it said no more than the Prayer Book itself, struck an unfamiliar note in the emphasis on Ordination being "by the Holy Ghost." In the Tract itself, the Church was described as "our Holy Mother," the bishops were "the successors of the apostles," "the real ground on which our authority is built" was "our apostolical descent," "the doctrine of the apostolical succession" expressed "a plain historical fact," there was an exhortation: "Exalt our Holy Fathers the bishops, as the representatives of the Apostles, and the Angels of the Churches; and magnify your office, as being ordained by them to take part in their Ministry." Such language showed the conception of the Ministry which was to mark the Tractarian Movement; and, when the first forty-six Tracts were collected into a volume about a year later, "the apostolic succession" and "the Holy Catholic Church" were mentioned in the prefixed "advertisement" as the "principles of action" which the writers of the Tracts desired to emphasize.

The doctrine of the apostolic succession was central in the Tractarian teaching about the Ministry. The bishops are the successors of the apostles because one bishop has succeeded another in occupying their sees, because a continuous commission has been received by one bishop after another, because the bishops perform the functions which in the earliest Christian Church were performed by the apostles, and because the grace of the episcopate has been permanently preserved by the transmission of the divine gifts through episcopal consecration from the time of the apostles to the present day.1 In the ancient Church a bishop was regarded as succeeding the apostles partly because he inherited the see which he occupied, and partly because he was consecrated to his office by another bishop. There was succession by office, and there was succession by consecration. It followed from the doctrine, as taught by the Tractarians, that a valid consecration of a bishop or a valid ordination of a priest depended on the consecrator or ordainer having received the grace of episcopacy through a succession from the apostles. They rightly understood the traditional teaching in the Church to require that a bishop must succeed to the apostles not only by holding an episcopal office but also by having received episcopal consecration.

Bishops and priests, then, in the eyes of the Tractarians, were not only holders of certain positions in the Church. They were also possessors of very awful spiritual powers, for the possession of which there was no guarantee outside the Catholic Church, by which a bishop could consecrate the holy mysteries, absolve, confirm, ordain, and by which a priest could absolve and consecrate. [It has been maintained, notably by the Bishop of Gloucester (Dr. A. C. Headlam), that the true idea of apostolic succession, which was held in the early Church, did not include this fourth point. See the Bishop's article entitled "Apostolic Succession" in The Prayer Book Dictionary (second edition, 1925), pp. 34-39, his Bampton Lectures on The Doctrine of the Church and Christian Reunion (1920), pp. 128, 172, 265, and his Charge entitled The Church of England (1924), pp. 121-124. For ancient evidence about the succession see the paper Who are members of the Church? (1921) by Father F. W. Puller and the present writer, Appendix III, pp. 64-72; and Father F. W. Puller, Essays and Letters on Orders and Jurisdiction (1925), pp. 1-57.]

In the Tractarian theology the bishop and the priest were regarded as acting in the name of Christ and as His representatives. To this was added by many who accepted the Tractarian teaching a further conception that the bishop or the priest acts on behalf of the Church and as the representative of the Church. The great action of the Holy Eucharist, for instance, is the work of the Church as a whole. The plural number used in the traditional rites of the Church in such phrases as "We offer to Thy glorious Majesty" is an illustration of this aspect of the act. A priest cannot be ordained without a bishop, and the Holy Eucharist cannot be consecrated without a priest, any more than a man can see without an eye, but the ordination and the consecration are the acts of the whole Church, as sight is the act of the whole man. These two aspects--that of the bishop and priest acting in the name of Christ, and that of their acting in the name of the Church--are not contradictory but supplementary. Inheriting the Tractarian teaching, many Anglo-Catholics have combined with it this further aspect. The chief stress is laid by some of them on the action being in the name of Christ, by others on the action being in the name of the Church. To some the first idea makes the strongest appeal, to others the second is more attractive. Each has its own points of contact with Catholic theology. Great divines have emphasized the one or the other. Anglo-Catholics may well be content to hold them in combination. [For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas insists that the words of consecration in the Mass are said by the priest in the person of Christ, though he says also that the priest when offering the prayers of the Mass speaks in the person of the Church (see e.g., summa theologica, III, i,xxvm, i, i,xxx, 12 ad 3, i,xxxii, i, 3, 4, 7 ad 3, Lxxxni, i ad 3); and it is an important part of the theology of Duns Scotus that the priest offers the sacrifice in the person of the whole Church (see e.g., quaestiones quodlibetales, xx).]

Since the time of the Tractarians there has been much progress in the study of early Church History. Few scholars would now deny that there are obscure and difficult problems in the first and second centuries. But, the more complete the study, the more it has made clear that all which is essential to the Tractarian theology about the ministry is well established. [See the volume entitled Essays on the early history of the Church and the Ministry (1918, second edition, 1921), edited by H. B. Swete and C. H. Turner.]

It is necessary to guard against two misconceptions. First, the assertion that divine gifts are transmitted by means of episcopal consecration and ordination does not imply any physical or material process. It does not imply that the consecrating or ordaining bishop is the source of grace. There is no idea of a physical or material thing which the bishop takes from himself and gives to another; and the source of grace is God. Secondly, the denial that there can be a valid ministry without an episcopal succession, or a valid Eucharist without an episcopally ordained priest, does not involve a denial that there are gifts of God to those who are without such a ministry and such sacraments. It may well be that God bestows gifts on those outside the Church who in good faith try to serve Him, or aim at what they see to be best. Much spiritual benefit may be received by the Wesleyan using what he believes to be true sacraments, or the member of the Society of Friends who rejects any sacrament, or the heathen to whom even the name of Christ is unknown. All these in their several ways may reach different degrees of righteous life and communion with God. One of the strictest of orthodox theologians used the phrase that the power of God "is not tied to the visible sacraments." [St. Thomas Aquinas, summa theologica, III, I.XVIII, 2.] The existence of a visible Church, within which there is covenanted grace and the guarantee of valid sacraments, does not necessitate the denial that sanctifying gifts may be bestowed on those outside it by the Author of all good.

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