Then Archbishop of Canterbury
Rowan Williams welcomes then
Pope Benedict XVI to Lambeth
Palace, September 2010.
Well, we have at least two validly consecrated Bishops among the four co-consecrators of Matthew Parker on that 19th day of December, 1559 in Lambeth Palace chapel. But that is only our first hurdle. There are more serious challenges awaiting us.
When Leo XIII declared that Anglican Orders were “absolutely null and utterly void” in the 1896 Bull Apostolicae Curae he did so not because there were no valid consecrators for the new Archbishop, but because there was defect in form and intention.
By “defect in form” the Pope meant that the words and ritual for the consecration of a bishop (or the ordination of a priest, for that matter) lacked in the essential content to validly convey the sacramental powers of a bishop (or, in the case of the ordination of a priest, to convey the sacramental powers of a priest).
I must admit that I get very nervous talking about “sacramental powers,” not because I don’t believe that there is a spiritual power conveyed in the Sacrament of Orders but because that “spiritual power” has too often been misappropriated to give the priest a psychological weight by which both the sacrament itself and the people committed to his care can too easily be abused. I think today there is a responsible reluctance to speak of “power,” but that cannot prevent us from looking objectively at the Sacrament of Orders and the fact that it conveys the rights, duties, and obligations to administer the Sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of the Forgiveness of Sins, the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick, and the Celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Saying that, however, over breakfast in the kitchen of Lambeth Palace that Saturday Morning, December 19, 1559 would probably have gotten an argument from the Archbishop-designate.
At the time of Parker’s consecration, the actual “form” or words prescribed by the Anglican Ordinal for the consecration of a bishop are as follows:
“TAKE the holy gost, and remember that thou stirre up the grace of god, whiche is in thee, by imposicion of handes: for god hath not geven us the spirite of feare, but of power, and love, and of sobernesse.”
Sixteenth-century spelling aside, there is, as Pope Leo pointed out, no mention of the office of bishop or the duties thereof in the prayer consecrating the new bishop and thus Pope Leo found the form to be deficient.
In the 20th century Dom Gregory Dix, OSB the great Anglican historian of the Western Liturgy, would argue against Pope Leo’s conclusion, pointing out that while the prayer of consecration may not mention that the Holy Spirit is being invoked upon the candidate to confer the Order of Bishop, throughout the entire service there is a multiple mention of the fact that this was the consecration of a bishop and an outlining of the duties and responsibilities of a bishop.
While we are at it, we should look at the ritual for ordaining a priest in the Anglican Ordinal. It is considerably more focused and mentions specifically the duties to forgive sins, preach the word, and administer the Sacraments. Leo judged it inadequate however because it does not specifically mention the Eucharist and in particular it does not speak of offering (the Eucharistic) “sacrifice.”
RECEIVE the holy goste, whose synnes thou doest forgeve, they are forgeven: and whose sinnes thou doest retaine, thei are retained: and be thou a faithful despensor of the word of god, and of his holy Sacramentes. In the name of the father, and of the sonne, and of the holy gost. Amen.
Dix argues here too, however, that since the rite retains the word “priest” and “priesthode” rather than “minister” or even “presbyter,” there should be sufficient context so as to understand the actual prayer of ordination as meaning to continue the ministry and office of priest in the Church as it had in times when the Church of England was in the Catholic Communion.
Dix’s argument that the broader rite provides the context in which the prayer of consecration/ordination should be understood is somewhat validated by the fact that Leo did not only judge the form deficient because of the wording of the prayers of consecration/ordination, but because the rite lacked the “transmission of instruments.” In the Catholic Rite, both before the Protestant Reformations and still at the time of Leo XIII, there was “the transmission” to the newly ordained of the “instruments” of his office. The new bishop was presented with his miter, his staff, and his ring. The new priest is presented with the chalice and paten with which he will celebrate the Eucharist. With some minor changes, this is still part of the Catholic ritual. (In addition in the Catholic Rite, the deacon is given the Book of the Gospels with a particularly impressive charge to believe, preach, and live the Gospel.) In the Ordinal used for the consecration of Archbishop Parker, the only “instrument” given the new bishop is the Bible. Leo saw the failure to transmit the instruments proper to the Office as part of the defect of form even though it was not part of the consecrating prayer, giving credence to Dix’s claim that the prayer must be viewed in context of the entire ritual. Pius XII in 1948, however, contradicted Leo’s argument saying that the transmission of instruments is not an essential part of the Sacrament and therefore not a requirement for validity.
Defect of Intention is the second point we need to look at. Leo argued that the authors of the Anglican Ordinals of 1549, 1550, 1552, and 1559 did not intend to convey the “power” to offer Sacrifice; that conferring a “sacrificing priesthood” was outside their intention. Leo has a point; if one reads Thomas Cranmer on the Eucharist he certainly does not accept the idea that the celebrant of the Eucharist is offering a Sacrifice. This idea that Christ is somehow sacrificed on every altar at every Mass was repugnant to all the Reformers from Luther to Zwingli who maintained, in accord with the Letter to the Hebrews, that Christ was sacrificed once for all.
Unfortunately the historical/critical method of scriptural interpretation was not available to either Catholics or Reformers in the sixteenth century, and much of the Patristic Tradition which had elaborated the relationship of the Eucharist to Calvary was also either unknown or ignored. One of the great tragedies with the rise of scholastic thought in the thirteenth and subsequent centuries was the supplanting of the rich heritage of the Church Fathers with a cold abstract Aristotelian logic that stripped our Catholic faith of its flesh like a predatory animal strips the flesh from the skeleton. (You can see that I am not a fan of scholasticism.) Consequently many Catholic theologians had an exaggerated (to the point of heresy) understanding of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and many Protestants totally rejected the idea of Eucharistic Sacrifice out of hand rather than carefully nuancing it in the light of scripture and patristics. At the end of the day Parker and his consecrators need to be given the benefit of the doubt for while they may have rejected the currently popular Catholic ideas of “The Sacrifice of the Mass” their intention was to do what Christ did and pass on to the future what the Apostles had passed on in their days and was passed on down to them. Thus you get the conflict between “explicit intention” and “implicit intention.” It is clear that the intention to do what Christ commands, while perhaps wrongly understood, is sufficient intention.
Thus at the end of the day, we have valid consecrators with valid intention conferring the Sacrament of Orders (to the Order of Bishop) on a valid (though illicit, since it was without papal approval) candidate according to a formula Pope Leo determined to be deficient. Thus the matter of continuity of the Apostolic Succession depends on the validity of the Ordinal of 1552 which was used in Parker’s consecratin. We will look more at this in a future posting.