20 December 2021

Anglican Orders

  Since there have been some meetings in Rome in which a call has been made for 'Rome' to reconsider the matter of Anglican Orders, perhaps I might offer one or two remarks.

Firstly: I suspect the motives of those involved. Possibly, some of them hope to set aside the negative judgement of S John Paul about the 'ordination' of women. Because, believe me, if Rome were suddenly to say "OK; we accept male Anglican priests" the discrimination involved in this would cause a great wave of anti-Roman animus in Anglicanism which would trump even the anti-Romanism of the 1500s. 

So this iniative is probably an oblique move to subvert the Church's teaching on the impossibility of women validly receiving the Sacrament of Order.

Secondly: since Anglicans officially (see below) accept the equivalence of their ministries with those of the Protestant ecclesial bodies, it would be illogical for the Catholic Church to accept Anglican Orders while continuing to reject the ministries of Protestant ecclesial bodies.

So this initiative is probably an oblique way of subverting the entire teaching of the Catholic Tradition on the Sacrament of Holy Order.

Thirdly: We need to recall exactly where we currently are in regard to Anglican Orders.

(1) It was the view of pope Leo XIII that Anglican Orders were null and void, in the sense that they were not identical with the sacerdotal Orders which the Church considers herself to inherit from the Apostles. That is still the official juridical view of the Catholic Church.

(2) What is often not noticed is that this is also now the view of the Church of England.  Since the 1990s, the Church of England has entered into formal relationships with ecclesial bodies which undoubtedly lack Catholic Orders. The 'Porvoo' arrangement inserts her into the Porvoo Communion in which, even where there is a quasi-episcopal structure, that 'episcopate', in Norway and Denmark, can make no claim to Apostolic Succession (as Professor Tighe has demonstrated, the same is almost certainly true even of the Swedish Church, of which more optimistic judgements had previously been officially made by the Church of England). And ordinations in Scandinavia are not exclusively performed by Bishops (but sometimes by cathedral deans). (It is also worth looking at the published text of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant, in which, instead of even a perfunctory attempt to show that the Methodists believe the same as Anglicans about Holy Order, there is ... believe it or not!! ... a cheerful assurance for Methodists that Anglicans don't believe anything different from what Methodist legal documents teach in their careful repudiation of a sacerdotal priesthood!)

(3) Faced with a very similar threat in the 1940s (at that time, the threat was posed by the 'CSI', a proposed pan-Protestant body called the Church of South India), Dom Gregory Dix, a robust defender of the validity of Anglican Orders, wrote: "As regards the question of Orders, what these proposals amount to is an official Anglican admission that Pope Leo XIII was right after all in his fundamental contention in Apostolicae Curae. In spite of face-saving phrases about 'the Apostolic Ministry' and the future confining of the act of Ordaining to men styled 'Bishops' [in fact, the Porvoo Scandinavians did not even undertake this], we would be committed to a formal declaration that by 'Bishops, Priests, and Deacons' could be meant only the new sixteenth-century conception of the Ministry disguised under the old titles ... And, whether we like it or not, that would be to justify Leo XIII in the teeth of all our own past history. Thus, if these proposals were to be put into practice, the whole ground for believing in the the Church of England which I have outlined would have ceased to exist ... "

(4) The other major Anglican theologian who mounted a persuasive defence of Anglican Orders was Dr Eric Mascall. He wrote: "When the preface to the Anglican ordinal declared that its purpose was the continuation of the threefold ministry which had existed 'from the Apostles' time', it was pointing to a concrete recognisable entity ... there was a lot to be said for avoiding theoretical statements ... and for pointing instead to the concrete reality which it was intended to perpetuate ... To the question 'what does ordination effect?' the fundamental answer is given ... by pointing to priests. ... defining it by telling you where it is and inviting you to go and look at it."

Well, the Church of England has, since the 1990s, certainly made quite a business of pointing to concrete realities and defining her views on priesthood by telling us where it is and inviting us to go and look at it. And where her formal, synodical pointing finger points to is to Denmark and Norway and Sweden.

(5) But Scandinavia is a long, long, long way ... well, perhaps not so very far away. But Scotland is undoubtedly even closer. And the "Columba agreement" ...  We all know how "Columba" will end: another of these concordats the essential meaning of which will be that Anglican priests are identical to Protestant ministers; that an ecclesial body without an episcopal polity is no less "Church" than a body that thinks it has one. The Church of England has been saying this, ever more often, with greater force, and with regard to geographically closer or more significant bodies, ever since the poor little Jerusalem Bishopric so upset S John Henry Newman ... through South India in the 1950s ... and Scandinavia in the 1990s. How many times does the C of E have to say the same thing before those of its members who call themselves "Catholics" realise that it really does mean what it keeps on and on saying?


Porvoo, not the ordination of women, was the point at which I realised that the Church of England was not a body in which I could have a permanent home; after that, the practical question was simply how to get out, acting corporately rather than as an individual; a question so graciously answered by Benedict XVI.  

The Church of England officially agrees with the judgment that Leo XIII made, that its orders are no different from the orders of all the Protestant bodies. Those who retain a Catholic doctrine of Holy Order, and still remain in the Church of England, can only do so by saying that the Church of England, and Leo XIII, were both wrong; and that "I understand Catholic teaching about Sacramental validity better than did Leo XIII; and, although the C of E says that its ministry is equivalent to Protestant ministries, I know better."

Logically tenable ... but what a very uncomfortably ego contra mundum position to hold! I know, because I've been there!


Robert Brown STD said...

Leo XIII and Apostolicae Curae is not the foundation for the Roman decision on validity of Anglican Orders. From the beginning of their takeover in England,Anglicans didn't care what Rome's opinion was.

After Leo's decision to re-establish the Catholic Hierarchy, Anglicans "got religion" and suddenly became concerned about the Roman position. In light of that Leo decided to re-examine the Anglican question. The result was that from the composition Edwardine Ordinal in the mid 16th century no trace of the Catholic priesthood could be found. That was the Anglican theological position, and it was manifest in deficiency of Sacrament Form.

Thus, it was not merely deficiency of Sacramental Form but equally of Sacramental Intention (which manifests the theological positions of 16th cent England).

Gilfy said...

It was Bl. Pius IX who re-established the Catholic hierarchy in England.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Some have said the episcopate of Bp Bateson is invalid, since he had only Anglican "priesthood" before getting the episcopate from Igreija Católica Apostólica Brazileira, but this seems to presuppose that episcopate is a sacramental, which cannot be efficient other than on a previously existing ultimate sacrament of orders, namely priesthood - as was the opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas.

However, Eastern Churches as well as Pius XII have stated episcopate is a sacrament, indicating that it would be valid even if a previous orders were invalid.

What say you?

william arthurs said...

Dix's little book on the validity of Anglican orders, from the Second World War period, is well worth a read even if you disagree with it. It's argumentative in true Dix style, while also trying to be careful and precise ---- defining terms, drawing relevant distinctions. I have only ever seen a copy in the library. It was printed on war-time paper, not very good quality. Someone should scan (or typeset) and reissue it before original copies crumble. Dix's works fall out of copyright next May (he d. 12 May 1952) in any case.

William Tighe said...

"It was printed on war-time paper, not very good quality."

This was true also of the reprintings of 1945, 1946, and 1948, but the "revised edition" of 1956 and its reprinting of 1963 which were printed on good and enduring paper.

vetusta ecclesia said...

Does not “ the Dutch touch” add some spice to this mix?