What Shall We Say About
“In ordination the priests believed that he [sic] received the power to carry out sacramental functions, principally the celebration of ‘the miracle of the mass’ by which Christ is made present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Yet the bishop who ordained him might have a quite different understanding of the ordination ceremony. Thorold, Bishop of Winchester, always declared in public before ordaining his candidates that he had no intention of making them sacrificing priests, but only ministers of the Gospel...The problem which this presented for the aspiring Catholic priest was how to explain satisfactorily the basis of his own belief. How could he be ordained as a sacrificing priest by a bishop who explicitly denied any intention of making him one?”
Francis Penhale, The Anglican Church Today: Catholics in Crisis, 73
“Evangelical Religion does not undervalue the Christian ministry. It is not true to say that we do. We regard it as an honourable office instituted by Christ Himself, and of general necessity for carrying on the work of the Gospel. We look on ministers as preachers of God's Word, God's ambassadors, God's messengers, God's servants, God's shepherds, God's stewards, God's overseers, and labourers in God's vineyard.
But we steadily refuse to admit that Christian ministers are in any sense sacrificing priests, mediators between God and man, lords of men's consciences, or private confessors...
Evangelical Religion does not undervalue Episcopacy. It is not true to say that we do. We give to our Bishops as much honour and respect as any section of the Church of England does, and in reality a great deal more. We thoroughly believe that Episcopal government, rightly administered, is the best form of Church government that can be had in this evil world.
But we steadily refuse to believe that Bishops are infallible, or that their words are to be believed when they are not in harmony with the Scriptures,—or that Episcopacy is the first test of a Church being a true Church,—or that Presbyterian orders are not valid orders, or that non-episcopal Christians are to be handed over to the uncovenanted mercies of God. We hold as firmly as any that ‘from the beginning there have been bishops, priests, and deacons.’ But we refuse to join in the bigoted cry, ‘No Bishop, no Church.’”
J. C. Ryle (Anglican Bishop of Liverpool), Knots Untied, 13-14
There is no subject more stridently debated between Anglican and Catholic apologists than the subject of Anglican Orders. Since the late sixteenth century, Catholic apologists have presented a barrage of arguments against the validity of Anglican Orders, and this barrage has been swiftly encountered by a barrage of counter-arguments upholding the validity of Anglican Orders. Most of the purely historical claims concerning the consecration of Matthew Parker (i.e. the Nag’s Head Fable) have been abandoned by Catholic apologists, who have instead come to focus upon questions related to the rite of ordination in the Edwardine Ordinal itself, which was the Ordinal approved for use in the Church of England under Edward VI in 1550.
As an Anglican priest, I devoted a great deal of time to the study of the question of Anglican Orders, and I expended a considerable amount of intellectual energy refining arguments in defense of Anglican Orders. My expertise in the intricacies of the requirements for the validity of Holy Orders was such that my bishop at the time, who is now a diocesan bishop in the Anglican Catholic Church, appointed me to the G4 Doctrine Commission on Holy Orders to investigate the Holy Orders of the Reformed Episcopal Church in September 2016. This Doctrine Commission consisted of two representatives each from the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Church in America, the Anglican Province of America, and the Diocese of the Holy Cross. At this time, I affirmed the validity of Anglican Orders almost implicitly.
When I became a Christian at the age of 21, I chose to receive baptism in the Anglican Church because I truly believed her to be “the fairest of them all.” As such, the present inquiry into Anglican Orders issues not from any disdain or antipathy, but is, on the contrary, an expression of my enduring love for the Anglican Church and a desire to see her embrace the fullness of Catholic truth.
The debate over Anglican Orders focuses upon two alleged defects: the defect of form; and the defect of intention. Both of these defects go hand in hand because the form is a manifestation of the intention; that is to say, the prayer of ordination that one uses is a manifestation of the specific intent that one possesses. In his papal bull, Apostolicae Curae, Pope Leo XIII argues that the Edwardine Ordinal possessed both a defect of form and a defect of intention. According to Pope Leo, “the words which until recently were commonly held by Anglicans to constitute the proper form of priestly ordination namely, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost,’ certainly do not in the least definitely express the sacred Order of Priesthood (sacerdotium) or its grace and power, which is chiefly the power ‘of consecrating and of offering the true Body and Blood of the Lord’ (Council of Trent, Sess. XXIII, de Sacr. Ord., Canon 1) in that sacrifice which is no ‘bare commemoration of the sacrifice offered on the Cross’ (Ibid, Sess XXII., de Sacrif. Missae, Canon 3).”
Pope Leo notes that, in the Ordinal approved in 1662, the form was altered to “Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God.” Pope Leo concedes that this form itself could have been sufficient, but he then proceeds to present two counter-arguments against the conclusion that the use of this form would render Anglican Orders valid.
First, Pope Leo states that this new form was introduced over one hundred years after the initial introduction of the Edwardine Ordinal and therefore could not suffice to remedy the defects in the original form, since one cannot retroactively validate Orders: as he writes,
“it was introduced too late, as a century had already elapsed since the adoption of the Edwardine Ordinal, for, as the Hierarchy had become extinct, there remained no power of ordaining.” What that means is that, even if there were no longer a defect of intention or a defect of form, there would now be a defect of minister, since the minister of ordination (the “bishop”) would have been consecrated using a defective form which did not specify the order to which he was to be consecrated and so would not be a validly consecrated bishop.
Second, and more importantly, Pope Leo states that, even if the defect of form manifested in the prayer accompanying the laying on of hands had been technically remedied, there would remain the defect of intention manifesting itself throughout the rite which would invalidate the rite: as he writes, “in vain has help been recently sought for the plea of the validity of Anglican Orders from the other prayers of the same Ordinal. For, to put aside other reasons which show this to be insufficient for the purpose in the Anglican life, let this argument suffice for all. From them has been deliberately removed whatever sets forth the dignity and office of the priesthood in the Catholic rite. That ‘form’ consequently cannot be considered apt or sufficient for the Sacrament which omits what it ought essentially to signify…any words in the Anglican Ordinal, as it now is, which lend themselves to ambiguity, cannot be taken in the same sense as they possess in the Catholic rite. For once a new rite has been initiated in which, as we have seen, the Sacrament of Order is adulterated or denied, and from which all idea of consecration and sacrifice has been rejected, the formula, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost,’ no longer holds good, because the Spirit is infused into the soul with the grace of the Sacrament, and so the words ‘for the office and work of a priest or bishop,’ and the like no longer hold good, but remain as words without the reality which Christ instituted.”
What Pope Leo is saying here is this: even if the form accompanying the laying on of hands had included the statement “for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God” from the very beginning, it would not remedy the defect of intention present in the entirety of the rite, since the rite, considered as a whole, shows that the Anglican Church uses the words “real presence,” “priest,” and “sacrifice” differently than the Catholic Church does because the Anglican Church simply does not believe the same things about the nature of priesthood as the Catholic Church does, and so whatever it is doing, it is not ordaining to the Catholic priesthood.
Sufficiency of form
A common argument presented against Pope Leo’s claim is that the form used between 1550 and 1662, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” is in fact sufficient. This argument is presented by Bishop Grafton in his work Christian and Catholic. It is not necessary for us to engage with Bishop Grafton’s objection, however, since Pope Leo himself asserts that, even if there had been no defect of form in the Anglican ordinal, there would still have been an underlying defect of intention that would have invalidated the rite.
For Pope Leo, this defect of intention is the primary reason why Anglican Orders are not to be accounted as valid: “to put aside other reasons which show this to be insufficient
for the purpose in the Anglican life, let this argument suffice for all.” Therefore, let us occupy ourselves with the question of intention.
Defect of intention
A common argument in defense of the Edwardine Ordinal is that there is no defect of intention; or rather, that any defect of intention does not suffice to invalidate or cast doubt upon the validity of the rite, because the general intention of the rite – that is to say, the intention to “do as the Church does” – is sufficient for validity. Anglican apologists, among whom I once counted myself, will respond to Pope Leo’s claims by referring to the Preface to the Ordinal that states that the Ordinal is mandated “to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in this Church.”
They will argue that this Preface means that the Anglican Church had the general intention to do as the Church does and that this intention was sufficient. This is Bishop Grafton’s argument in Christian and Catholic and Hall’s argument in Vol. IX of Dogmatic Theology.
However, in the adjudication of the validity of the Orders of Reformed Episcopal Church, one of the representatives of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission argued in a submission dated May 30th, 2017 that a positive contrary intention may in fact subvert a proper general intention. To put this in layman’s terms, the representative of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission presented substantially the same argument against Reformed Episcopalian Orders as Pope Leo presented against Anglican Orders; specifically, that because the Reformed Episcopalians have an understanding of ordination that differs from the Catholic understanding, there is an underlying defect of intention that means that their rite cannot be accredited as valid.
In this submission, the representative of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission stated:
“A specific and positive subjective intention that is contrary to a presumed general or implicit intention can (although perhaps it need not automatically) vitiate the latter. This principle is important for understanding what Bp Cummins did and did not do…yes, he had the general intent to “ordain”, but he also had the positive and expressly contrary intent in that immediate context to define and practise ordination as an action that is ineffectual except insofar as it is a useful nominal token for others. Thus I cannot justify treating his ‘objective intent’ as indubitably sufficient to counteract his positive contrary intent and deliberate, conscious mental restriction on his ministerial acts. That leaves me with sufficient doubt to prevent recognition of the certain validity of those original consecrations and whatever depended upon them.”
This representative of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission recognizes that this is an argument that has also been advanced against Anglican Orders in general, and so in this same submission to the Doctrine Commission, he seeks to demonstrate how this argument applies to Reformed Episcopal Orders but does not apply to Anglican Orders as a whole.
As he writes: “It is true that this is similar to the argument Fr Clark used to interpret and defend Apostolicae Curae, however, he accepted a general intention to ordain and then tried to prove a positive contrary intent at Parker’s consecration, not from any positive statement made there, but from the choice to use an Ordinal which merely omitted mention of sacrifice. So, despite the fact that nothing in the Anglican Ordinal either explicitly or implicitly denies the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the fact that some form of Eucharistic Sacrifice was in fact accepted by the Reformers anyway, and the fact that the Consecrators saw the Anglican Ordinal as previously ecclesially authorised and the old Latin ordination rite as having been illicitly re-imposed by force, Fr Clark imputed a deliberate and conscious will to the Consecrators to ‘not ordain’ sacerdotes rather than a mere absence of specifically sacerdotal intent, simply based on the choice to use the newer Ordinal. On the other hand, I am here inferring a positive contrary intention from a number of positive and contrary statements and acts by Cummins at the Consecration itself.”
When I served on the G4 Doctrine Commission, I responded to the representative of the Anglican Catholic Church by stating that this attempt to distinguish Anglican Orders and Reformed Episcopal Orders did not hold water. In my response, also dated May 30th, 2017, I stated:
“If we did not accept the basic principle that a specific contrary intention does not invalidate a proper general intention, then we could have no sacramental assurance whatsoever, since we would then have to question the Orders of every Low Church priest or bishop, as well as the Orders of every priest or bishop ordained or consecrated by a Low Church bishop. Truth be told, there have been so many Low Church bishops in the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church, that if a specific contrary intention brought the validity of Holy Orders into doubt, I could not even affirm the validity of ACC Orders or DHC Orders let alone the validity of REC Orders…I simply do not understand how one can question whether there was sufficient sacramental intention in this light [in the case of Reformed Episcopal Orders] without questioning our own Orders.”
In my submission to the G4 Doctrine Commission dated June 5th, 2017, I appealed to the other members of the Commission to consider the matter of positive contrary intent carefully, because of the ramifications of denying Reformed Episcopal Church Orders: “I urge you to consider our respective arguments carefully: if [name redacted]’s position re positive contrary intent is correct, then, as I have stated, I believe that there is also a major dubium about Anglican Orders.” And in my submission dated June 20th, 2017, I outlined my position on the ramifications of denying Reformed Episcopal Orders on this basis: “I do indeed believe that positive contrary intent does not invalidate orders. However, I should emphasize that I do not hold this position simply because Anglican orders would otherwise be dubious/invalid. I hold this position on positive contrary intent because I sincerely believe that a general intention to do what the Church does is all that is required in the matter of intention. If this Commission declines to recognize REC orders on the grounds of positive contrary intent, then I may have to reconsider my working assumption that Anglican orders are valid.”
The G4 Doctrine Commission declined to affirm the validity of the Holy Orders of the Reformed Episcopal Church, citing the scruples regarding “positive contrary intent” raised by the representatives of the Anglican Catholic Church. For that reason, out of respect for the work of the Doctrine Commission, I decided to reconsider the question of Anglican Orders and the ramifications of a “positive contrary intent” upon the validity of Anglican Orders.
The representative of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission argues that the defect of “positive contrary intent” could be deemed to apply to the Reformed Episcopal Church but not to the Anglican Church as a whole. Accordingly, in his submission to the G4 Doctrine Commission, the representative of the Anglican Catholic Church minimizes the significance of the departure of the Edwardine Ordinal from the Roman Pontifical, stating that it “merely omitted mention of sacrifice,” that “nothing in the Anglican Ordinal either explicitly or implicitly denies the Eucharistic Sacrifice,” and that “some form of Eucharistic Sacrifice was in fact accepted by the Reformers anyway.”
This attempt to mitigate the significance of the omission of the sacrificial nature of the priesthood from the Edwardine Ordinal simply does not bear scrutiny, and another member of the G4 Doctrine Commission stated as much in his contribution dated June 5th, 2017, in which he wrote: “Some of us do not see any essential difference between the English Reformers, Bishop Thorold, and Bishop Cummins. Which is not to speak well of any of them. They were all in grave error.”
Let us consider the claims made by the representative of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission. It is not the case that the Ordinal “merely omitted mention of sacrifice.” The compiler of the Ordinal specifically and intentionally removed any mention of sacrifice. One may certainly concede that the Ordinal does not specifically deny “the Eucharistic Sacrifice,” but this is because such a denial would be out of place in an Ordinal.
Such a denial would, however, be appropriate in a statement of theological position, such as we find in the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, which specifically denies the sacrifice of the Mass in Article XXXI:
“The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.”
If, as we read in Article XXXI, the “sacrifices of Masses, in the which…the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt” are merely “blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits,” it is evident that, whatever the Anglican “bishops” may be doing when they ordain men to the “priesthood” using the Anglican ordinal, those ordaining men to the “priesthood” are not under any circumstances ordaining them to perform “sacrifices of Masses” in which the priest offers “Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt.” They are ordaining these men to a ministry that, by virtue of the definition in Article XXXI, emphatically excludes the sacrifice of the Mass, and so they are not ordaining them to the Catholic priesthood.
One might argue, as Percival does in his commentary on the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, that Article XXXI is a misrepresentation of the Catholic doctrine of the Mass. But the Catholic bishops of England actually affirm that it is an accurate representation of the Catholic doctrine of the Mass in A Vindication of the Bull ‘Apostolicae Curae,’ stating that it is “a definition which every Catholic would accept.”
Amplifying upon this point, the Catholic bishops of England, in A Vindication of the Bull ‘Apostolicae Curae’ provide numerous references to the works of Cranmer and others demonstrating decisively that all of these theologians rejected the concept of priesthood, Eucharistic sacrifice, and Real Presence as the Catholic Church understood them, and instead understood these concepts in a completely different sense. As they write:
“The ‘Re-formers’ had no love for terms which, understood in their prima facie sense, affirmed the very doctrines they were rejecting. But they were in this dilemma. They were confronted by their opponents with the writings of the Fathers in which these terms constantly occur. They were constrained, therefore, to do one or other of two things: to confess that the Primitive Church no less than the Church of their own days was against them; or else to claim that the language of the Fathers suitably expressed the ’Reformed’ doctrine, and endeavour to make good the claim by retaining the old terms but altering their sense. As the former of these two courses would have been fatal to their position, Cranmer and his friends naturally preferred the latter, and their writings are full of illustrations of the dexterity with which they could quibble over the meaning of the well-known terms–Real Presence, Sacrifice, and Priesthood.”
In response to the claim that the Anglicans used the terms “real presence,” “sacrifice,” and “priesthood” to mean completely different things than the Catholic Church does, an Anglican apologist might claim that the Anglican formularies can be interpreted in both a Catholic and a Protestant sense. Newman and Percival, for example, in their respective works on the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, have attempted to demonstrate how a Catholic interpretation of the Articles is possible. Similarly, one might argue that the Ordinal and Prayer Book could be interpreted in a Catholic manner. There are two points to be made in response to this.
First, Bishop Gardiner tried this very same argument in his work on the Eucharist, and at the time, Cranmer wrote a treatise in response insisting that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist was emphatically not the doctrine of the Eucharist intended by the Anglican formularies, specifically the Communion Office, and that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist was superstitious folly to be condemned.
Second, the English Catholic bishops anticipate this objection in A Vindication of the Bull ‘Apostolicae Curae’ in which they write: “to claim that this Ordinal can be interpreted with equal justice and propriety as expressing the opinions of Cranmer on the nature of the ministry, and those of Gardiner, is nothing less than to allow that the rite, so far from being definite in its meaning, is indefinite and ambiguous, and that with an ambiguity extending so far as to cover both the assertion and the denial of the true Priesthood such as our Lord instituted. Clearly, then, to advance a plea like this is to acknowledge at once the justice of the Papal decision.”
In layman’s terms, this means that the appeal to the ambiguous nature of the Anglican formularies in general and the Ordinal in particular does not assist the case for Anglican Orders, precisely because it actually demonstrates decisively that “the rite, so far from being definite in its meaning, is indefinite and ambiguous.”
The example of Mormon baptism may assist us here. The Mormon sect uses the same Trinitarian form of baptism as the Church does: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” However, the Mormon sect denies the doctrine of the Trinity. For this reason, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated on June 5th, 2001 that Mormon baptism is invalid. In his explanation of this decision, Fr. Luis Ladaria specified the precise reason why Mormon baptism was invalid:
“the formula used by the Mormons might seem at first sight to be a Trinitarian formula. The text states: ‘Being commissioned by Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ (cf. D&C 20:73). The similarities with the formula used by the Catholic Church are at first sight obvious, but in reality they are only apparent. There is not in fact a fundamental doctrinal agreement. There is not a true invocation of the Trinity because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not the three persons in which subsists the one Godhead, but three gods who form one divinity…As is easily seen, to the similarity of titles there does not correspond in any way a doctrinal content which can lead to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The words Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have for the Mormons a meaning totally different from the Christian meaning.”
In application to the question of Anglican Orders, we can simply quote Fr. Ladaria’s statement:
“the similarities [in the Anglican Ordinal] with the formula used by the Catholic Church are at first sight obvious, but in reality they are only apparent. There is not in fact a fundamental doctrinal agreement…
As is easily seen, to the similarity of titles there does not correspond in any way a doctrinal content which can lead to the” Catholic doctrine of the priesthood.
And what this means is that, in our assessment of Anglican Orders, we can simply quote the Anglican Catholic Church’s representative to the G4 Doctrine Commission:
“That leaves me with sufficient doubt to prevent recognition of the certain validity of those original consecrations and whatever depended upon them.”
The argument for Anglican Orders from the presence of Old Catholic consecrators
Many Anglican commentators argue that, even if the claims of Apostolicae Curae were initially correct, these claims have been overtaken by subsequent events, specifically the presence of Old Catholic consecrators at Anglican consecrations. It would be most propitious if we could affirm that the presence of Old Catholic consecrators had served to “validate” Anglican Orders. Unfortunately, however, any such Orders would be so radically irregular that it would be necessary to treat them as dubious, and in practice, as invalid.
Although under the aegis of the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church has mollified its attitude towards certain elements of Catholic doctrine, it remains the case that the Thirty Nine Articles continue to be printed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and that even most traditional “Anglo-Catholic” jurisdictions continue to profess adherence to the same Thirty Nine Articles which vociferously condemn the Catholic doctrine of the priesthood in Article XXXI as “blasphemous fable” and “dangerous deceit.”
For example, the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas, formed in 2006, consists of churches which, according to Article II of its Articles, “adhere to the 39 Articles of Religion.” As of January 2023, these churches consist of the Anglican Church in America, the Anglican Province of America, the Anglican Mission in America,
the Diocese of the Holy Cross (a Diocese of the Anglican Catholic Church), the Episcopal Missionary Church, and the Reformed Episcopal Church.
All of these jurisdictions maintain, by virtue of their membership of the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas, adherence to a doctrinal formulary that denies the Catholic doctrine of the priesthood. Indeed, it merits mention in this context that the Anglican Province of America, in its Solemn Declaration adopted on July 22nd 1998 as the Preamble to its Constitution and Canons, specifically affirms the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which presumably includes the condemnation of the Catholic doctrine of the priesthood expressed therein. This same Solemn Declaration also appears as the Preamble to the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church in America. Finally, the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Church in America, and the Anglican Province of America all publish their own editions of the Book of Common Prayer, all of which continue to incorporate the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.
What all of this means when it comes to the matter of the potential “infusion” of Old Catholic Orders into the Anglican episcopal “succession” is that the Anglican “bishops” are consecrated in a broader ecclesial context in which, on paper at least, the Catholic doctrine of the priesthood and sacrifice is denied. One can attempt to minimize the normative significance of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion if one wishes, but when the Continuing Anglican Churches ordain men using an Ordinal published in a version of the
Book of Common Prayer that continues to contain these same Articles, one has the duty to question the purported catholicity of their intentions.
Catholics are required to follow the safest reasonable course when it comes to the sacraments. It is not possible to affirm without any reasonable doubt the validity of the Orders of an Anglican bishop, even if an Old Catholic consecrator happened to be present at the consecration of a particular bishop in the 1930s, precisely because that particular bishop continued to ordain men in an ecclesial context in which, formally at least, the Catholic doctrine of priesthood and sacrifice was denied on account of its formal adherence to the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion. One may endeavor to identify “loopholes” which could theoretically generate a horizon for affirming the presence of a minimal “technical” validity in the case, for example, of bishops consecrated in the context of a Continuing jurisdiction which did not affirm the Thirty Nine Articles, but one would then render oneself vulnerable to the criticism that even those jurisdictions which do not explicitly affirm the Thirty Nine Articles in their formularies or ecumenical agreements (e.g. Anglican Catholic Church, although one of its Dioceses does) remain in full, unimpaired communion with those which do affirm the Thirty Nine Articles (e.g. Diocese of the Holy Cross, Anglican Church in America, Anglican Province of America, United Episcopal Church of North America), thus calling into question the strength of their adherence to the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist and priesthood. Ultimately, however, when we descend to such a lamentable state of desperation where we are frantically grasping for “technicalities” upon which to base our claims of sacramental validity, we need to be honest with ourselves, recognize that “the jig is up,” recognize that there is an intractable prudent doubt about Anglican Orders, and find a source of indisputably valid Orders so that we can resolve the problem of Anglican Orders and go forward to minister the sacraments of the Church to the people of God with confidence.
In light of the principle - espoused by the representative of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission - that a positive contrary intent may subvert or at the very least vitiate a proper general intention, it is just as difficult for us to affirm that Anglican Orders are unquestionably valid as it was for the representative of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission to affirm that Reformed Episcopal Orders are unquestionably valid.
In both cases, there was a positive contrary intent that rendered the Orders conferred dubious at the very least: as the representative of the Anglican Catholic Church to the G4 Doctrine Commission writes, “that leaves me with sufficient doubt to prevent recognition of the certain validity of those original consecrations and whatever depended upon them.”
In light of the Catholic Church’s statement concerning the invalidity of Mormon baptism on the basis that the defective intention nullifies the use of the proper form, it is difficult for us to affirm that Anglican Orders are unquestionably valid.
Both in the case of Mormon baptism and in the case of Anglican Orders, these rites were performed in an ecclesial context in which the relevant terms (“Father, Son, Holy Ghost” and “priesthood,” “sacrifice,” and “real presence”) were used in completely different senses than in the Catholic sense recognized by the Church. Therefore, the Catholic Church rejects Anglican Orders for the same reason it rejects Mormon baptism.
It is neither necessary nor prudent for us to endeavor to demonstrate the absolute invalidity of Anglican Orders. Certainly, it remains our hope that, despite everything, Anglican Orders are valid, but it is evident that there is scope for reasonable doubt which is why the Roman Church and the Eastern Churches continue to (re-)ordain former Anglican clergy who are received into their ranks and have shown no indication of any intention to change their current praxis.
When it comes to the sacraments, we are required to follow the safest reasonable course. If there is a reasonable doubt about the certain validity of Anglican Orders, as appears to be the case, then following the safest reasonable course, Anglican Orders must be considered as dubious.
The tu quoque argument presented in Saepius Officio has not been addressed thus far, precisely because it simply does not bear scrutiny. It may indeed be the case that certain elements contained in the Pontifical were not present in earlier Pontificals. However, in the case of the Edwardine Ordinal, we are dealing with an Ordinal which was specifically designed to remove all elements related to a sacrificing priesthood in a Church whose principal doctrinal statement denounced the sacrifices of Masses as “blasphemous fables” and “dangerous deceits.” These two contexts do not bear comparison, since there was obviously no positive contrary intent in the case of the earlier Pontificals.
It must be added that Pope Leo was not motivated by any animus towards the Anglican Church when he issued his papal bull on Anglican Orders. T. A. Lacey was in Rome at the time when the Commission appointed by Pope Leo was studying the question of Anglican Orders, serving as an advisor to members of the Commission. So far from desiring vindictively to deny Anglican Orders, Pope Leo’s hope was that this Commission would enable a way forward for the Anglican Church to be reconciled.
As Lacey writes in A Roman Diary: “all the steps that he had taken indicated a real wish to reopen the question. He cannot have appointed the Commission merely to report on a foregone conclusion. He conveyed to his intimates the idea that he was bent on a new departure.” That Pope Leo was animated by a desire to chart a new course when it came to the adjudication of Anglican orders can be seen from Lacey’s letter dated April 25th, 1896, in which he describes Pope Leo’s attitude towards the investigation of Anglican Orders in the following terms:
“The Pope seems to be wonderfully eager. Gasparri saw him yesterday and told him how useful we were being. He added some not very well chosen words about ‘Anglicans’ being ‘all but Catholics,’ and ‘at the very door.’ ‘Je vais l'ouvrir à deux battants,’ cried the Pope with vivacity.”
“Je vais l'ouvrir à deux battants.” “I will throw the door wide open [to the Anglicans].” These were the words of Pope Leo. These words hardly reflect a hostility towards the Anglicans. On the contrary, they reflect a loving desire to promote reconciliation.
In his 1895 Apostolic Letter Amantissimae Voluntatis, written to the people of England, Pope Leo expresses his fervent desire for reconciliation of the Anglican church to the Catholic Church: “We on Our part, watching the signs of the times, exhorting and taking thought for the future, urged thereto by the example of Christ and the duty of Our apostolic office, have not ceased to pray, and still humbly pray, for the return of Christian nations now divided from Us to the unity of former days. We have more than once of late years given expression to this object of Our desires, and have devoted sedulous care to its realization. The time cannot be far distant when We must appear to render an account of Our stewardship to the Prince of pastors, and how happy, how blessed should We be if We could bring to Him some fruit, some realization of these Our wishes which He has inspired and sustained.”
In light of this statement, it becomes clear that the Commission evaluating Anglican Orders appointed by Pope Leo was not intended from the outset to declare Anglican Orders null and void. On the contrary, it was intended to bring to fruition the aspirations expressed in his Apostolic Letter Amantissimae Voluntatis for the reconciliation of the Anglican Church to the Catholic Church. Lacey claims that the Commission did not succeed in this effort because it was bound by the Gordon decision issued by the Holy Office in 1704 requiring absolute ordination for former Anglican clergy. It may be the case that the work of the Commission was constrained by its commitment to the precedent set by the Gordon decision. However, it is also the case that the positive contrary intent identifiable in the Anglican formularies and in the works of the compilers of the Ordinal requires us to question the validity of Anglican Orders. It is also the case that the doubts regarding Anglican Orders cannot be resolved by reference to the later presence of Old Catholic consecrators.
The Order of Corporate Reunion was founded in 1874 by clergymen of the Church of England who were seeking indisputably valid Orders in order to promote the reconciliation of the Church of England to the Catholic Church.
In 1877, Pope Pius IX approved their request to receive indisputably valid episcopal Orders in order that they might provide indisputably valid ordination to Anglican clergy.
The Order of Corporate Reunion has continued its work for almost one hundred and fifty years, and in its time, hundreds of Anglican clergy have received conditional ordination from its bishops. One such clergyman is Percy Dearmer, author of The Parson’s Handbook and The Story of the Prayer Book, who received episcopal consecration from the bishops of the Order of Corporate Reunion on August 15th 1894.
In the context of the Anglican Continuum, it merits mention that many in the Anglican Continuum refer to themselves as the Churches of the “Chambers Succession.” Strictly speaking, however, these groups belong to the “Chambers-Pagtakhan succession,” since the bishops consecrated at the Denver consecrations in 1978 were consecrated by two bishops, Albert Chambers and Francisco Pagtakhan.
This point is significant, since Francisco Pagtakhan later joined the Order of Corporate Reunion in 1988, receiving conditional consecration from its bishops, and Bishop Pagtakhan also consecrated one of the bishops of the Order of Corporate Reunion, Bertil Persson, to serve as a missionary bishop for the Philippine Independent Church in Scandinavia. As such, even prominent figures identified with the Anglican Continuum and the Denver consecrations of 1978 have recognized and participated in the work of the Order of Corporate Reunion.
Today, the Order of Corporate Reunion continues its work by providing conditional ordination to Anglican clergy who are desirous of indisputably valid Orders. The Order continues to have members who serve parishes in the various Anglican jurisdictions, including the Anglican Catholic Church and the Anglican Church in America. There are also bishops publicly serving in the Anglican Continuum who have received consecration from bishops of the Order of Corporate Reunion. Since our foundation, we have always offered Anglican clergy receiving Orders from our bishops the assurance of complete confidentiality in these matters.
The Order of Corporate Reunion remains willing to provide indisputably valid Orders to Anglican clergy, asking for only prayers and goodwill in return.
There is a path for Anglican clergy to receive indisputably valid Orders and to go forth and minister the sacraments of the Church to the people of God with confidence. That path forward has been embraced by many Anglican clergy over the past century and a half, including one of the chief founding bishops of the Anglican Continuum, Francisco Pagtakhan. That path is the one undertaken by the Order of Corporate Reunion.