Monday, July 1, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XXIII The Ecumenical Impact of Crying Wolf

Before we continue our story on the development of the Anglican Church and in particular deal with its parting of the ways with the Roman Communion, we need to look at the topic of “validity of orders” so that when we get to the second phase of the English Reformation we will be able to put the decisions of papal authorities about the “validity” of Anglican Orders into an intelligible context.  The issue of “validity of orders” did not arise with the Reformers of the sixteenth century but is rooted in the struggles of the “Great Church” with various sects in Christian antiquity. 
So what do we mean by “The Great Church?”   Historians use the term “Great Church” to speak of mainline Christianity (as distinguished from the heretical sects that separated before the East/West schism of the eleventh century split it into what we today call Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In antiquity there were many groups which separated from mainline Christianity over doctrinal questions—the Novatianists, the Montantists, the Donatists—and the separations were bitter events, marked by polemics on both sides.
They say that history is written by the winners.  There is truth to that. In the same way, Orthodoxy is defined by the winners, or at least by the survivors.  Today we look on groups such as the Donatists or the Collyridians or the Ophites as “heretical,” but in their day they were viable communities of men and women fighting for what they believed to be true doctrine.  No one is a heretic in his own understanding.  Some groups we define today as heretical—the Arians come to mind—came very close to winning the battle to claim orthodoxy. Politics, History, and Economics—as well as personalities—play a major role in defining religious orthodoxy.   
One of the strategies used in these contests for the faith of the masses was to deny the legitimacy of one’s opponent’s access to the Divine.  “God does not hear their prayers…”  Claims and counter claims were made by all parties regarding the legitimacy of the baptism, of the Eucharist, and of the sacramental orders of their rival groups.  These arguments were not made over any substantial defects such as “form” or “matter” that would be used in later and more sophisticated arguments.  It was simply asserted that since the “faith” held by the opposing party was “wrong,” obviously the life of grace had no hold on them and their sacraments were void of any effective means of God’s grace. 
Such arguments commit a sort of lèse majesté against God—presuming that we have the ability to turn the faucet of grace off and on according to our whims, but then Jesus did say that we what bind on earth is bound in heaven.  Nonetheless, the historian must look differently on this than the theologian and see the crudeness of the ruse such allegations employ to win adherents  by undermining the credibility of the ranks of one’s opponents. 
We have looked at the rival claims to the papacy in the late ninth and early tenth centuries.  (cf January 15, January 24, June 6, June 8, June 18, August 5, December 7, 2011;  February 14, 2013).  Here too the issue of “valid orders” came into play as various popes declared the ordinations performed by their predecessors “invalid” or “validated” the ordinations of earlier predecessors—all depending on which political alliances they represented.  Such declarations that “orders” were “invalid” removed all of one’s predecessor’s allies from positions of power—annulling cardinals and bishops and archdeacons and permitting the new pope to replace potential enemies with his own allies.  These claims were often used in the various anti-pope crises of the twelfth century but the introduction of the scholastic method of theology in the twelfth and thirteenth century demanded an explanation that was both more explicit and more rational than simply polemic rantings. 
Scholastic Theology and in particular the work of Thomas Aquinas gave those who held power in the Church the tools they needed to disempower those with whom they disagreed.  Thomas’ work neatly defined sacraments in categories of “matter” and “form” and spoke of the “intention” of the minister.  All the ducks had to be lined up in a row. The exactly right matter had to be employed.  There had to be bread, for example, for the Eucharist and it had to be wheat bread.  And there had to be grape wine.  For baptism there had to be water—not beer, nor wine, nor even iced tea—but water, pure and simple.  Confirmation required chrism.  Penance required a sinner with sins to be forgiven.  Matrimony required one man and one woman, neither of whom had been properly married before.  Ordination required man eligible for ordination. (Among other requirements, he had to have two intact hands and [at least] two intact testicles.  I am not sure why the later was an essential requirement but it did prevent the ordination of eunuchs.) 
One had to have the right minister for the sacrament.  While a priest or deacon was ordinary for baptism, anyone could do in an emergency.  (There was, at times, argument over this with some insisting that only an ordained priest or bishop could baptize.)  After 1215, the Church taught that only a priest or bishop could absolve sins.  Only a Bishop or Priest could preside at the Eucharist or anoint the sick.  In the Western Church it came to be held that the husband and wife ministered the sacrament to each other; in the East it required a priest or bishop to minister the sacrament.  It would be debated up until the Council of Trent—and even afterwards as not all theologians have agreed—that only a bishop could ordain another bishop, a priest, or a deacon.  There also has been disagreement over whether a priest can confirm or whether it requires a bishop—contemporary Catholic thought permits it to the priest under certain circumstances but this was not always the case in the sixteenth century.  In the Eastern Churches the priest is the ordinary minister of “chrismation” as the sacrament is often called. 
We need to consider all this background and debate because at the time of the Reformation the Catholic Church will begin to claim that the various groups that break from it have “invalid orders.”  They will give a rationale for that claim—a lack of form or matter or intention.  But the historian always looks at it a bit skeptically, hearing the little boy who cried wolf.      

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