26 June 2020

Footnote: an Irish polymath

It must have been a big shock to everybody when the Church of Ireland Bishop of Ferns and Leuighlin, Dr Thomas Elrington, fell down dead in Liverpool when on the way to his Parliamentary duties at Westminster.

Mind you, this was in 1835, when an independant Irish legislature was still both a living memory and a realistic political aspiration; and the bigots of the Six Counties had not yet grabbed their grubby little statelet. The "Southern Unionists" had not yet been deserted to wither on Mr deValera's branch. Anglican (and, in some places, Methodist) communities still patchily thrived in parts of Ireland. Dr Elrington was a big fish in what was still a respectably fair-sized pool.

(I wonder why, after less than two years as Bishop of Limerick and Ardfert and Aghadoe, he had been translated to Ferns. Could it be anything to do with a greater ease in accessing Dublin, and his See, and the ferries to England?)

Elrington was by background a don. He had held chairs or lectureships in Theology, Natural Science, and (principally) Mathematics. (I find it easy to be sentimental about a culture like this, before the invention of our modern fad for highly specialised and compartmentalised industrial scholarship.) From 1811 to 1820, he had been Provost of Trinity College Dublin. (He is buried in TCD Chapel; I have not been able to discover on the Internet the text of the Latin inscription over his grave.)

Among his very many writings, The Validity of English Orders Established in Answer to the the Revd P Gandolphy's sermon on John X:1, 1818, was his second foray into the question of the Validity or Invalidity of Anglican Orders. When Canon Estcourt wrote his own 1873 treatise on the same subject, he still, apparently, found it necessary to deal with Elrington's book. (I will add, for those still interested in this subject, that those were the days when attacks on Anglican Orders by English RC controversialists still attempted to impugn the physical succession of Bloody Bess's episcopate ... the days of the Nag's Head Fable; and of 'doubts' about 'Barlow's consecration'. Anglican apologists like Elrington were accordingly led to believe that their main task was to settle these purely historical allegations. Even after Apostolicae curae had substantially shifted the goal-posts, Eric Mascall was still in 1955 able to make wicked fun out of the fact that its English RC defenders had profoundly different views about what that document actually meant; and a Jesuit who had written a book on the subject withdrew it in 1961, with the words "whereas three years ago I felt confident that I had found the key to the theological question and incidentally to the argument of Apostolicae curae -- which, it must be remembered, has been very variously interpreted, I no longer feel that confidence".)

When Sir Harry Trelawny had his long discussions with Cardinal Odescalchi in 1830, which ended in his acceptance of Conditional Ordination, he took with him ... and shared with his Eminence ... a handwritten translation into Italian of the main parts of Elrington's work. Odescalchi found it impressive (or was he just being polite and pastoral?).

I wonder whether Sir Harry made that translation himself.

Rather more interestingly, I wonder whether, in any of the other Reformation ecclesial communities, there was ever as much interest as there was was among some academic Anglicans, for arguing in favour of the Validity of their Orders.

However intangibly, there was, I feel, a certain je ne sais quoi about Anglicanism which distinguished it from bog-standard proddery.


Unknown said...


William Tighe said...

"Rather more interestingly, I wonder whether, in any of the other Reformation ecclesial communities, there was ever as much interest as there was among some academic Anglicans, for arguing in favour of the Validity of their Orders."

To which I answer "no."  The only "Protestant possibilities" are "Moravian Orders" and "Swedish Orders." The idea that the Ubnitas Fratrum had some sort of apostolic succession has been thoroughly debunked. Rather, a group of Hussites withdrew from the schismatic "Utraquist Church" and in 1467, after rebaptizing one another, drew lots for leadership, and the one chosen "bishop" was "consecrated" by former Catholic priests among them, whom the newly-"consecrated" bishop then reordained. (See Anglican-Moravian Conversations: The Fetter Lane Common Statement with Essays in Moravian and Anglican History [General Synod, Council for Church Unity, Occasional Paper No. 5, 1996], pp. 46-48).

There has never been, unfortunately, a papal encyclical Curae Apostolicae on "Swedish Orders," the alleged retention of the apostolic succession by the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, but such a document would be a "slam-dunk" compared with the issue of Anglican Orders, despite the strange statement some decades ago by the American Lutheran scholar Arthur Carl Piepkorn that the case for Swedish Orders was, from a Catholic perspective, better than the one for Anglican Orders. I wrote a little essay on Swedish Orders, viewed historically, in 1603 for private circulation. In short, there is nothing (from a Catholic perspective) to them beyond an illusory appearance of continuity. I am rather amazed that the 1920 Lambeth Conference gave its recognition to "Swedish Orders."

Many Lutherans do, of course, defend their Orders, even on "Catholic" grounds, but all of those defences are premissed on the medieval view (arguably attributable to St. Jerome) that bishops and presbyters constitute "one order" and that bishops are presbyters with full jurisdictional power - a view which has the corollary that presbyters have the same capacity for conferring Holy Orders as do bishops, but that it is not canonically licit for them to do so. One of the happier consequences of Vatican II is that the Church has repudiated that once-dominant notion, on which 15th-Century popes acted on a few occasions by allowing abbots in priests' orders only to ordain deacons and priests for service in their monasteries.

frjustin said...

William Tighe, who sometimes comments on Fr Hunwicke's blog, has a comment on another blog (https://sergesblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/conversation-on-lutherans-and-anglicans.html) about the Swedish Lutheran Church, which some Anglo-Catholics have regarded as having preserved the Apostolic Succession. The blog is maintained by one "Young fogey emeritus" who seems to be quoting a friend who claims that
"Until Swedish Lutherans started ordaining women, they had the Apostolic Succession, still had bishops, and were recognized by Rome as having valid orders."

William Tighe responds: Absolutely untrue; Rome has never recognized "Swedish Orders," and, in cases of convert clergymen, has always treated them as invalid.

Young fogey emeritus:"Somebody told me that non-episcopal Lutheran pastors could always serve in Sweden, and somebody else told me non-episcopal ministers have served a few times in the Church of England."

William Tighe: True as regards Sweden, right down to the present day. In England, any recognition of non-episcopal orders was ruled out in 1661 - but in the period c. 1570 - c. 1625 there are two absolutely documented cases of two men (one ordained in Leiden by the Dutch Reformed Church, and another in France by the Huguenots) being given benefices in the Church of England, not sinecures but having cura animarum; and there are about three more that seem probably (including that of the Flemish/Spanish Calvinist clergyman, Adrian Saravia [1532-1612], who ended up in England as an apologist for episcopacy!).

Young fogey emeritus: "Lutheran and Episcopal have always been more or less interchangeable even before the TEC/ELCA concordat (interchangeable clergy) and Porvoo - the Hanoverian kings were Lutheran at home and Anglican in England, no problem."

William Tighe: A bit of an exaggeration; if they were regarded as "interchangeable" it was off the record. Some Lutherans, even in the colonies, regarded Anglicans as dangerously Reformed; some Anglicans regarded Lutheran Orders as deficient. What happened fairly often, though, is that a Lutheran pastor ordained as such here in the colonies would travel to London to be ordained by the Bishop of London, so as to be able to minister to both Anglicans and Lutherans.

Young fogey emeritus:"Maybe they were really about creating a new liberal church, like Catholic liberals, and not about ecumenism all along."

William Tighe: Yup.

Pulex said...

Regarding orders of other protestants, Swedish Lutherans and at least part of them elsewhere in Northern Europe, too, think that they have preserved apostolic succession, at least "physically". During the protestant reformation, the king of Sweden changed the faith, but left in places the church institutional structures and external attributes. I know some Lutheran pastors who think they are priests and offer "private Masses".

frjustin said...

Even the desire to have Rome recognise the Validity of one's Orders demonstrates the insight of the Jewish comedian Lenny Bruce: 'The Catholic Church is the only THE Church'.

Chris Jones said...

Mr Bruce was of course entitled to his opinion (assuming it was an opinion, rather than a confession of faith), but there have always been other claimants to being "THE Church."

The principal other claimant has never worried about whether Rome recognizes their orders; and although Rome does, in fact, recognize them, they have not returned the favor.

When I was an Anglican, I thought "validity" of orders a very important thing and was highly offended by Apostolicae Curae. But it never made sense to regard Rome as the arbiter of "validity" while denying their supremacy in all else. Of course Rome denies the validity of the orders of my current (Lutheran) Church; they are entitled to their opinion, but I do not worry about it.

frjustin said...

For the record, Lenny Bruce remained a secular Jew all his life, and never even considered joining what he called "the only THE Church". The line comes from one of his comedy routines.