12 November 2009


People have been, not unnaturally, surprised at the provision in Anglicanorum coetibus that former Anglican bishops who, being married will not have been promoted to episcopacy by sacramental reconsecration, can be allowed to wear episcopal insignia. As many have commented, this is not without Catholic precedent in the persons of Abbots, archpriests, and certain ranks of monsignori; but I doubt whether one Anglican layperson in ten thousand has ever seen a mitre on top of someone who isn't called 'bishop'.

From time to time, people raise the question of Anglican Orders in correspondence with this blog. I have dealt with this quite recently, and I'm not going to re-re-iterate the hermeneutic I've been advancing since the early 1990s. If newer readers (Hi! welcome!) want to know what I have said, I'm sure that a search will enable them to find it. I will, however, iterate the curiosity I feel about the fact that, for a certain sort of RC, the Invalidity of Anglican Orders seems to be one of the central data of their Faith. I've always wondered why (no no no please don't tell me).

It does occur to me that if Benedict XVI had shared this preoccupation, he ought to have been on the look-out to avoid anything that gave the slightest impression that Anglican Orders might be valid. "Gracious", he should have mumurred, flexing his still slightly stiff wrist, "if I let these chaps continue to wear pontificalia, a lot of their laity will assume that good old 'bishop' so-and-so really was and is a bishop. I'd better legislate to ensure that they never absent-mindedly slip their rings on ... let alone anything else. We must make them promise to burn all their zucchetti. Their daughters will have to donate their coats to the Munich or Regensberg branches of Oxfam".

Mitraferous married Ordinaries will be able to do pretty well everything that 'real' bishops do except Ordination and, I presume, Chrism Masses. They will confirm; and this is perhaps more significant than anything else, given the anally retentive way that Anglican bishops, unlike any others in Christendom, have clung to the exclusive right to confirm. So when a congregation is visited by a prelate who, last time he came, was a PEV (flying bishop), and he's wearing the same mitre and ring and cross that he was wearing then with the same dalmatic under his chasuble, and carrying the same crosier, and he administers Confirmation as he did then, it is the continuities that will strike them rather more than some little technical discontinuities of which they may have been informed.

Benedict seems totally unworried by this. Some of my more ferocious readers must be a trifle disconcerted by his irresponsible levity.

Quite possibly, the poor old gentleman is enough of a Christian not to like rubbing peoples' noses in humiliation. More important, it demonstrates the great advantage of having a Pope who is, to his fingertips, a dogmatic theologian and an erudite one too. It makes him able to distinguish between what matters and what doesn't. And to be flexible where dogma is unthreatened.


  1. Will they not simply follow the ( excellent ) example of Mgr Leonard?

  2. Dalmatic under the chasuble?

    Come on Father, you can do better than that! What about the tunicle? The gloves? And, very emphatically, the buskins and sandals.

    The buskins seem to have been ditched by Archbishop Cranmer in 1549 and by Archbishop Bugninni in 1968 but they were the gift of the Emperor Constantine to Pope St. Sylvester I. Will the Personal Ordinaries then cast them aside?

  3. "... for a certain sort of RC, the Invalidity of Anglican Orders seems to be one of the central data of their Faith."
    Exactly right. See the comments at Damian Thompson's blog passim. They are for ever telling Anglicans the answer to the question they are not asking.

  4. The old Catholic Encylopedia agrees that priests can be delegated by the Holy See to consecrate Chrism. I have a feeling that current non-episcopal Ordinaries can consecrate Chrism but I am away from my sources just now to check.

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  6. The Ordinary Minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Rite is a Bishop and as this is certainly also part of the Anglican Tradition surely it is something which will be treasured?

  7. Little Black Sambo - the question of orders may not matter for you and some other Anglo-Catholics but it certainly is an important consideration. Playing with the sacraments is like playing with fire. To say that the issue of Anglican orders is the central data of faith of some Catholics, is to conveniently avoid the matter at hand. One can only wonder why...

  8. I expect you know, but I will tell you anyway, that a certain Vicar of Beaulieu in Hampshire, in the last century, wore the mitre and carried a crozier, claiming to be the spiritual descendant of the last Abbot of Beaulieu. I think it perturbed the Bishop of Winchester to have such a man in his diocese.... it is possible that the present holder of that office is also sometimes discountenanced when a PEV holds a Chrism mass in Winchester Cathedral with a larger congregation than the diocese itself can muster.

  9. I may be reading too much into things, but it almost seems as though the Vatican is giving a bit of a wink to Anglicans by allowing the retention of Episcopal Regalia.

    That is, is it suggesting merely that Anglican orders are invalid, in the sense that they do not equal Roman Catholic orders? Does such an interpretation going too far? I wonder, though, if you pushed Benedict hard enough, if he would say a) there is no grace conferred in Anglican sacraments, b) there is grace conferred, but it isn't the same as Roman Catholic sacraments, or c) there may be grace conferred, but we don't really know, and so we are covering our posteriors by ordaining converts in Roman Orders.

    He certainly seems willing to acknowledge that the authority (do I dare say auctoritas?) of Anglican Orders is real enough, given that the Apostolic Constitution allows for the episcopal seal's continued use. It seems, as I say, almost a sort of a wink. Does this reading push the text too hard?

  10. Shaughn,

    I think you probably are reading too much into the text. There has been a long (if in recent decades neglected or in some cases suppressed) tradition of mitred abbots, archpriests, archmandrites, protoprebyters and protonotary apostolics who were/are entitled to wear pontificals.

    Allowing married former Anglican bishops this honour is an act of charity and respect for their sheparding of their flocks. And it ties in completely with church tradition with respect to the highest ranks of non-episcopal clergy.

  11. If anything, Benedict's concession of Pontificals is another step in his attempts to correct Vatican II in whose aftermath bishops became aggrendised and priests were stripped of pontificals.

  12. Ottaviani, I did not say that Holy Order does not matter - of course it matters that our Orders should be those of the Catholic Church, and that we should not only be convinced ourselves that they are, but must do whatever it takes to supply what might be lacking - merely that the correspondents in another place go on and on about our not having any priests or sacraments. For polemical purposes, let alone pastoral ones, that is a complete waste of time.