The Validity of Anglican Orders

By the Reverend William J. Alberts

IT is a not unusual experience for an Anglican, entering a Roman Catholic Church, to find, prominently displayed in a tract case, some pamphlet attacking the validity of Anglican Orders. In fact, this is one of the favorite topics of Roman authors.
Controversy is frequently unpleasant and always a possible source of that vicious lack of charity which every Christian ought to try to avoid. Nevertheless, necessity is laid upon us to try to present our answer to the charges which Roman Catholics make against the validity of our Orders, and consequently against the Catholic heritage of our beloved Church and the validity of our Sacraments.

Let it be stated at once that this article will not be exhaustive, nor will it be able within its brief compass to give detailed references. All it will attempt is a statement of the main Roman Catholic objections to the validity of our orders and to indicate a brief reply to them.

According to generally accepted Catholic practice no sacraments are valid in which there is a defect of matter, form, or intention. By 'matter' is meant some external thing which is used in conjunction with the administration of a particular sacrament. An example of such matter would be the water used in Holy Baptism. By 'form' is meant the words which give signification to the use to which the matter is being put. An example of 'form' would be the words 'John, I baptize thee, in the Name, etc.,' at Baptism. By 'intention' is meant that in conferring a sacrament the minister must have at least a virtual intention of doing what the Church does. Any supposed sacramental rite which was deficient in one or more of these three requisites would be invalid and would lack the assurance which Catholic Sacraments give: that they are the very means by which God bestows upon His children the particular grace for which the Sacrament was instituted.

The guarantor of sacramental grace is, humanly speaking, the Episcopate: no Bishop, no Church, no Sacraments, no divinely assured salvation. It is therefore of utmost importance that we be assured that our orders of ministers are valid, that is to say, that they are the same which our Lord gave to the Apostles and which the Apostles transmitted to other fit men to be the means of continuing in union with the divine Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Nobody questions that the Church in England was a valid Catholic Church up to the reign of our supposed founder, Henry VIII. This king was a staunch Catholic. His vigorous attack against the errors of Luther earned for him the title 'Defender of the Faith' bestowed upon him by a grateful pope. This title is still the proud possession of every monarch in England.

Henry got into matrimonial difficulties, the ramifications of which we cannot now discuss. Suffice it to say that he wanted a papal annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon which had yielded no living male issue. Since no woman had ever successfully inherited the English throne, and since Henry's own father's title had been none too secure, he was anxious for a male heir.

The Roman Catholic, and even some secular, history books make it out to appear that Henry's desire to get rid of Catherine was his lust for Anne Boleyn. Without attempting to defend Henry's doubtless none too pure intentions, let it be said, for the sake of justice, that the first time the question of an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon arose the much maligned Anne Boleyn was a child seven years old.

Political considerations — and not the high ideals of Papacy — made such an annulment difficult. Henry, never the world's most patient citizen, was aided in his dilemma by Cranmer who suggested that the matter of the legality of the marriage to Catherine might well be settled by the English authorities without recourse to Rome. Henry acted upon this advice, had his marriage annulled, and declared that 'The Bishop of Rome hath no more power in England than any other foreign bishop.'

Thus was the breach with Rome begun. Be it noted that the same Bishops, Priests and Deacons who were in union with the Papacy the day preceding the break with Rome continued their offices after the break. There was practically no exception to this fact. Mass and other sacramental rites were continued as formerly; Henry VIII never heard Mass in English in his life; and he burned men at the stake for denying the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist.

Henry was succeeded by his son Edward VI. He was a mere boy at the time of his accession to the throne and he was guided by two protectors whose sympathies were definitely on the side of the Reformation. Under Edward VI, and guided doubtless by Cranmer who was now Archbishop, there was put forth in 1549 the first English Prayer Book. One year later appeared an Ordinal — a book which set forth the matter, form and intention in making additions to the ministry.

On September 13, 1896, Pope Leo XIII issued a now famous Bull called Apostolicae Curae in which he declared Anglican Orders invalid due to alleged defects in this and subsequent ordinals. To the arguments of Leo XIII we will now address ourselves.
Anglican Orders, says Leo XIII, are defective because they do not employ the proper matter and form. He admits that the 'matter' is variable and that the laying on of hands alone is at least permissibly valid in itself, so long as the 'form' sufficiently sets forth that the reason for using such laying on of hands is to make a true Priest or Bishop in the Catholic Church.

At the time of the split between England and Rome, ordination to the Priesthood was accompanied by presentation of the Chalice and Paten, and by anointing the hands of the ordinand. The first Ordinal of Edward VI omitted the anointing, but continued the
transmission of the instruments and bestowed also a Bible. The second Prayer Book, issued in 1552, dropped the transmission of the instruments and simply continued the giving of the Bible after the laying on of hands, the Bishop saying as he delivered the Holy Scriptures: 'Take thou authority to preach the Word of God, and to minister the Holy Sacraments in this congregation, where thou shalt be appointed.'

It is interesting to notice that when Anglican Orders were first attacked in the 17th century by English Romanists, their invalidity was asserted on two counts:

1. That there was no tradition of the instruments which was then held to be the real 'matter' of the Sacrament of Holy Orders; and

2. a denial of the orders of Archbishop Parker, from whom, in the reign of Elizabeth in 1559, subsequent English orders were derived.

It is perhaps indicative of the desperation of those who attacked Anglican Orders at that time that this alleged invalidity of Parker's orders was based upon what was called the Nag's Head Fable. In this incredible story, which was solemnly told as true by Romanist propagandists, Parker was party to a mock ceremony which happened at Nag's Head Tavern. It seems that the third cousin of the wife of somebody's brother had a friend who had heard from a friend who had heard from somebody who knew the man who did it that he looked through a keyhole and saw one of the supposed consecrators of Parker place a Bible on his head and that was all the ceremony there was. This story was, as I have said, accepted and used despite the fulness of the records of Parker's consecration by Bishops Barlow, Scory, Coverdale and Hodgkins, all of whom, it is explicitly stated, laid their hands upon his head and repeated the words of consecration.

Since we have mentioned the consecration of Parker, let it here be said that Romanists frequently center their attacks upon that event. They have, of course, abandoned the Nag's Head Fable since one of their able historians, Lingard, showed it to be completely untrue. But they now attempt to deny the validity of Parker's consecration on the ground that there is no record of Barlow's consecration, and that Barlow was Parker's chief consecrator. Into the details of this we cannot now go. Suffice it to say that there were many records of unquestioned Bishops which we do not now have. But even if the unlikely were true and Barlow were not consecrated, it is good Roman Catholic doctrine that all the assistant Bishops in consecration act as co-consecrators, so that were one invalid, the consecration's validity would be assured by the others. It is perhaps worth mentioning too, that Cardinal Pole, who was sent to England during the reign of Mary Tudor who reconciled England to the Papal obedience, accepted Barlow's consecration without question.

However, we must return to the matter and form of the first Ordinal. It is with the 'form' that we now concern ourselves. The 'form,' you will recall, is the words which determine what is being done. The Ordinal of 1550 prescribed that the Bishop shall place his hands upon the ordinand's head and say 'Receive the Holy Ghost, whose sins thou dost forgive they are forgiven ; and whose sins thou dost retain they are retained ; and be thou a faithful dispenser of the word of God and of His holy Sacraments. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.'

This form, says Leo XIII, is defective because the words 'Receive the Holy Ghost' certainly do not in the least definitely express the Sacred Order of Priesthood, 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, Session XXII d. Sacr. Ord. Can 1).

Furthermore, says Leo XIII, Anglicans themselves recognized that this form was defective, and in 1662 they added 'For the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to thee by the imposition of our hands' in a vain attempt to make the form valid.

To anyone not conversant with the facts, and to an Anglican layman reading these impressive words in a two-penny tract such pronouncements might cause some heart searching. But whether the Pope or an angel from heaven utters them, they are simply not historically true. There is no mention of the priestly function of offering 'The sacrifice of Masses' in any unquestionable Catholic ordination forms prior to the ninth century — possibly even later than this. And as far as making a specific mention of the office to which the man is to be ordained, there are not fewer than nine references to this in the ordination of priests in the 1550 Ordinal.

The addition of the words 'For the office and work of a Priest, etc.,' in 1662 was not made because Anglicans recognized a defect in their previous form, but was inserted against the Presbyterians who maintained that there was no essential difference between the office of Presbyter and that of a Bishop. In inserting the words 'for the office and work of a Priest' and 'for the office and work of a Bishop' the Church of England was affirming her belief in the validity of her Catholic orders and their difference from the Presbyterian form of the ministry.

More serious, and certainly more convincing to the average layman, is the pointed omission of the function of offering the sacrifice of Masses in the Anglican Rite. Let it be at once admitted that this is a fact. There is no mention of the 'sacrifice of Masses.' This was a deliberate omission for two reasons at least.

First, because Cranmer and others who worked with him in the compilation of the Ordinal were determined to avoid the dangerous medieval conception which seemed to consider every Mass as another immolation of our Lord. In this sense they denied the sacrifice of Masses — and be it noted Rome officially does too. That the Mass itself is a repleading of the 'one oblation of Himself once offered' upon the Cross and that this offering is a 'full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world' ought to be, it seems to us, clear to anyone who can read English and who takes the trouble to read the Canon of
the first English Prayer Book — or of the later ones.

The second reason for the omission of the function of sacrifice is that English Bishops desired to emphasize the other functions of the priestly office which were gravely neglected. Surely a priest of the Catholic Church is as much bound to be a shepherd of souls as he is to offer sacrifice. If we take the Lord's own words as our criterion, and take those very words which Roman Catholics so love to use in connection with their defence of Papal Infallibility, i.e., 'Feed my sheep,' the pastoral office was one of the duties Jesus laid upon the Apostle Peter.

Roman Catholics argue that if a man gave authority to a steward to act for him and sign checks and then later give him power to act for him, without specifically mentioning the function of signing checks which he had hitherto enjoyed and exercised as a prerogative of his office, it would be pretty conclusive evidence that he was rescinding the power of the steward to sign his checks. Likewise they argue, the failure of the Anglican Ordinal to mention specifically the power to sacrifice proves that it never was intended to bestow it. But such a conclusion by no means follows. What is nearer to historical facts is that the man who gave his steward power to act for him and to sign checks found that the said steward was neglecting the other duties just to sign checks. So, in order to remind him that he was not doing his full job merely by being a check signer, he emphasizes that the steward has power to act for him in all matters. The emphasis is on the 'all' matters and the plain inference is that the steward should stir about some of his father's other business.

It should be borne in mind that prior to the 9th century no sacramentary contained the anointing of the hands; the transmission of the instruments; the words 'Offer sacrifice for the quick and the dead' or 'whose sins thou dost forgive,' etc. If because of the omission of any of these Anglican Orders are invalid, then no orders in Christendom, including those possessed by Rome, are valid either.

We come now to the next matter which must occupy our attention. It is the assertion of Leo XIII that the formulators of the Ordinal had no intention of perpetuating Catholic Orders or Sacraments. I have already dealt with the claim that they did not intend to make sacrificing priests, I shall now deal with the general intention of the Ordinal to continue the Catholic orders.

Rome makes much of the fact that Cranmer and others who shared his opinions had a prejudice against the Roman Catholic conceptions of a sacrificing priesthood. In this they are doubtless correct. But as the Reverend Doctor Felix L. Cirlot has so ably demonstrated in his monumental work Apostolic Succession and Anglicanism , the private opinions of Cranmer, or even the public opinions of Cranmer and his followers do not commit the Anglican Church to such views.

As a matter of fact it is good Roman Catholic doctrine that the private opinions of a minister, however erroneous they may be, cannot affect the validity of any sacrament he administers. So long as he acts as the official representative of the Church and uses her formularies, then by that very fact he intends what the Church intends.

The importance of this is vital. Since nobody can ever see into another's mind and determine with what intention he administers any sacrament, it is most essential that the recipient have an objective assurance that he receives a valid ministration of the Church. It is the Church's official formularies which supply this assurance. Lex orandi, lex credendi — 'the rule of prayer sets forth what is believed.' If the validity of a sacrament depended upon the private opinion of the celebrant, or upon his personal orthodoxy, how could one ever be sure he was receiving a valid sacrament?

As Dr. Cirlot points out in the above mentioned work, the only way Rome can establish her case against Anglicanism is by deciding quite gratuitously that every doubtful or ambiguous word or phrase in the Anglican Formularies be interpreted in the most Protestant way and as though that way represented the mind of the whole Anglican Communion rather than of a small but powerful minority within it in 1550.

This kind of argument may establish a Roman Catholic case, but it hardly establishes a sufficient ground of truth to cause any Anglican priest to doubt the validity of his Orders, or for any Anglican communicant to become concerned about the Sacraments received from such Anglican priests. Moreover, the matter of what the Church officially intended to do is set forth in the Preface to the Ordinal of 1550. It is significant that nowhere in the Bull of Leo XIII which condemned Anglican Orders is any mention made of the intention there set forth. We refer our readers to the text of the Preface to the Ordinal as it appeared in 1550, and as it has appeared in every Anglican Prayer Book since then, down to the present day.

It would be difficult, we think, to find a more explicit statement of intention than that. This, whatever the private opinions of Cranmer, is the official intention of the Church. It sets forth what the Church of England believes about Holy Orders and what it requires for them. Only by adopting the querulous prerogative of Humpty-Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland and making words mean 'anything I want them to mean' can this plain statement be explained away.

Two minor points I should like to note in conclusion: there is now a tendency on the part of some Roman writers to deny jurisdiction to bishops not in communion with Rome. Let me dispose of this by pointing out that there never was a time in the Church's history when the universal jurisdiction of Rome was accepted. See Waddington History at the Church p. 234. where it is pointed out that in the Pontificate of Alexander II (1061) a constitution was drawn up under which 'No Bishop in the Catholic Church was permitted to exercise his functions until confirmed by the Holy See.' This is by way of reaction from previous confirmation of the Emperor who appointed Popes, Bishops, etc. So Henry VIII in taking back the right to appoint was only rescinding a Papal action of llth century.

The last point is the sly Roman reference to the 39 Articles and their supposed denials of Catholic truths. The articles appeared in 1562. The decisions of the Council of Trent which set forth the present Roman Catholic official position concerning the Eucharist were not officially accepted and confirmed until 1564. To attempt to use the Articles as denying doctrine which even Rome did not officially accept until two years after the Articles appeared is a feat of logical legerdemain worthy of those Indian fakirs who throw a rope into the air, climb up on it and then they and the rope disappear. Nobody has ever seen this done. But everyone will admit it is a good trick — if it can be done. But so far as this Anglican is concerned, until he sees it, and until he sees a better case for Rome than has yet been produced, he won't believe it!

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We regret to inform the Anglican community that Ptr. Henry Chomarsin was never ordained in the Anglican Church in the Philippines (Traditional) Inc. as a deacon nor do we have any plans of doing so in the future.  Let it be known further that he is not in any way connected with any of our mission churches and any activity or solicitation in relation to the same is not authorized by the Anglican Church in the Philippines effective October 31, 2009.  For the public's guidance and information.