On September 13th, 1896, Pope Leo XIII promulgated his definitive, but not de fide, judgement on the status of Anglican Holy Orders. The months and weeks preceding the publication of the encyclical were full of expectation and interest from both Roman Catholics and Anglicans alike. One Catholic weekly, The Tablet, wrote that:
In the face of this document of the Holy See, our first duty is to express our gratitude to the Vicar of Christ for the fatherly zeal wherewith he has vouchsafed to put an end to the weighty and important question of Anglican Orders. We are sure that the gratitude to which we give expression will be shared not only by Catholics of England and of English-speaking countries, but also of the whole world.
The secular press in England took up a similar theme and tone as did certain Low Church parties. The Rock, an evangelical newspaper circulated at the time, says that:
The Pope has spoken with promptness and with a determination which many did not expect. We are fully in accord with him, and we can subscribe to almost all his arguments. It is precisely what we have always held, namely, that by the Reformation the heads of the Church of England deliberately and effectively separated from the Church of Rome, repudiated her teaching on the priesthood and the episcopacy, and therefore in ordination they never had any intention of conferring the priesthood, since they considered sacerdotalism an injury to the Priesthood of Christ, without foundation in the Scriptures, and repugnant to all the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel.
From examples like these, and there are many more, one gets a real taste of the socio-religious and political climate of the day. It is of great importance to acknowledge that AC was a great triumph for many conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church as it was equally a triumph for many Low Churchmen in the Church of England. When entering into a paper such as this through sympathetic anglo-catholic eyes one must not fall into the trap of assuming that AC was a negative document for the Church of England at large. The Exeter Western Times published an article at the time reflecting the low church consensus, saying that ‘ the disaster will not be due to the Church of Rome, but to those who have departed from the principles of the Reformation’, quite what the disaster which the author predicts will be, one is not quite sure. Whilst these voices were indeed the minority and in the extreme, and whilst most moderate Anglicans, and Anglo-Catholics concurred with Sapeus offcio, the Anglican Archbishops’ reply to Apostolicae Curae, they were still present and are indicative of those in the Church of England who cared nothing for a wider ecumenism than within their own number.
The letter to the Bishop of Rome from the Anglican Archbishops outlined the belief that the Church of England, in continuing to ordain Bishop’s, Priests and Deacons, did so that the historic order and continuity, so intrinsic to Catholic order might be preserved. They refer to the Preface of the 1550 Ordinal and subsequent revisions which states that this is indeed the intentions of the Church of England. However, Archdeacon Taylor of Liverpool, writing some years later says that:
With all due respect for the eminent prelates who have sent it forth, I cannot but regard it as altogether unsatisfactory and unworthy of the occasion. Far better to have left the Bull unanswered altogether. Their lengthy document contains a great amount of theological and liturgical research, but it simply omits altogether the real point at issue. The question is plainly stated in the words of the Papal Bull, but is passed over by proving what no one denies, namely, that the Reformers intended to continue the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons in the Church. This is not the question; but whether they intended that the priest should discharge precisely the same functions as before.6 The argument of the Bull is simple, intelligible, and, on the premises laid down, conclusive; and we owe the Pope a debt of gratitude for so clearly proving the thoroughly Protestant character of our Church.
Key figures of the reunion movement such as Lord Halifax and the French Lazarist, Abbe Portal, both who had for many years been active in seeking the recognition of Anglican Orders and the establishment of a semi autonomous Anglican rite in communion with the See of Rome, were sourly disappointed at the publication of AC. They had been lead to believe that the now ageing Pope Leo was kindly disposed to the Anglican Church and reports of his great interest in corporate reunion were burning the ears of those involved in the movement. A close aid of Pope Leo is reported to have said to the Pontiff ‘these Anglicans are at the door’ to which the Pontiff replied ‘and I shall throw them open’.
One must never forget however, that far from being a purely ecclesiastical problem, Anglican orders and their relationship to the See of Rome was, and indeed still is, moreover an historical and political problem. The Tudor monarchy of the day were so aligned with the controversies of the relationship of the Church of England to the Church of Rome, that it is impossible to consider the question without appealing to this history. The decisive years of the sixteenth century as far as the question in hand is concerned, were 1534 and 1559. 1534 brought with it the split of Rome and Canterbury, and 1559 dates the separation of England from the Church of Rome for the second and last time. The two figures who emerge at this time are of course, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. A further two dates which set the historical argument in context are 1549, when the ‘Mass’ was abolished and the 1549 BCP usage enforced, and 1553 when the ‘Mass’ was restored. Cranmer’s Ordinal, which forms the foundation of the claims of Apostolicae Curae, replaced the Roman Pontifical in 1550. One must therefore note, that between the dates of 1534 and 1550, the English church continued to use the Pontifical, and that the Ordinal in its original form was used only between 1550 and 1553. It therefore stands to reason, that the great interest shown in the consecration of Matthew Parker, as the first non-Roman Archbishop of Canterbury, was for no other reason than that he was consecrated using the Ordinal of 1552.
Let us now turn and consider the controversial composition of the first ‘Edwardine’ Ordinal, for it was this Ordinal and not the subsequent revisions which was considered by Leo XIII in 1896, and termed a novus ritus, a new rite, because the rite had according to Leo and his commission, departed from the accustomed norms which were to be deemed essential to the validity of Holy Order in the Catholic Church.
The four pontifical documents, cited by AC refer to the first two years of the reign of Queen Mary. Two were from Pope Julius III and two from the Pope Paul IV all dating between 1553 and 1555. It would seem that a critical examination of these texts would reveal that the question of Anglican Orders had been decided three centuries before AC was promulgated. The decision of Pope Leo, merely reiterated the decisions made by his venerable predecessors, and this is clear in the encyclical:
Treating ordinations according to the Edwardine rite as null and void [is] a custom which is abundantly testified by many instances, even in this city [of Rome], in which such ordinations have been repeated unconditionally according to the Catholic rite’.
Franklin goes further says that:
For Leo XIII, the letters of Julius III and Paul IV were the solid rock on which custom had been established and constantly observed for more than three centuries.
It seems clear then, that though Apostolica Curae is not clear in how these documents might be interpreted as a defense of the conclusions of the encyclical, what is clear is that custom and precedent dictate that the normative practice of the Catholic Church is to regard any non-Catholic ordinations as invalid.
When analytically considering the Ordinal of 1550 and the Ordinal of 1662, which continues to remain the official Ordinal of the Church of England to this day, the only revision which becomes obvious are the addition of the words ‘for the office and work of a priest/bishop in the Church of God’, thus the ‘form’ of the prayer becomes determinate because it tells us what the prayer is doing. There was no need to amend the ordination rite relating to the diaconate because that had always included the determinate form.
By the time Elizabeth I took the throne of England there was indeed a grave problem. There were few bishops left who would be willing to conform to the further reforms of the Church of England which were now needed after the Romanizing ideas of Mary. It is not clear if Elizabeth truly had a Christian commitment to restoring England to the reformation faith, or whether her interest was purely political. Some say that the very thought of the English ecclesial hierarchy being administered on a congregational basis, motivated Elizabeth into establishing an Episcopal Church government. That may well have been part of the story, but one must not attribute the Elizabethan restoration to such political motivation, for there is a ‘ditty’ of which, tradition says Elizabeth was fond:
Christ was the word that spake it
He took the bread and break it
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.
Surely not words which would emanate from the lips of a Protestant!
Elizabeth sent mandates to various Roman prelates seeking their obedience and asking that they would take part in the Episcopal consecration of Matthew Parker, all of them rejected the mandate in favour of obedience to the Roman Pontiff. Elizabeth therefore issued mandates to four men who she knew she could rely upon. Bishop’s Coverdale and Scory had both been ordained according to the Oridinal rites, and two, Hodgkin’s and Barlow had been ordained according to the Roman ‘Pontifical’ rite. Thus, Parker was ordained as the first non-Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, directly succeeding Cardinal Pole who died in the same year as Queen Mary. Here is not to engage with some of fables which emerged surrounding Parkers ordination, suffice to say that neither the claim that Parker was ordained in the Nags Head, Canterbury nor the claim that Barlow’s Episcopal orders were invalid can be substantiated nor are they taken seriously today. However, Parker was ordained according to the 1552 ordinal which contained in it, according to AC serious defects in both form and matter. It is important to note here that the intention of the 1662 BCP is not in question, and indeed AC deals only with the Ordinals of 1552. This is an important distinction to make but one that is not relevant to the argument, for by the time the defect had been remedied, a valid succession had, according to the Roman Catholic Church, been lost.
Having now considered something of the history and baggage which lead to the promulgation of Apostolicae Curae, let us now consider the theological and doctrinal implications of the document, and consider just what the so called ‘defects’ in the 1550 Ordinal, which lead, according to Rome, to the loss of succession and valid Holy Order in the Church of England, actually were.
We must first establish what it is that Pope Leo meant when speaking of form and matter. Matter is what is being done, therefore at an ordination service the matter is the symbolic actions and the intention to perform and ordination. Form refers to the words and formula which is used to give meaning to the matter. As an example, the context of the ordination service, the candidate and the laying on of the bishop’s hands with the intention to ordain the candidate form the matter and the words, which accompany that action or matter create the form. As far as a sacrament is concerned, the form and the matter must be integral to each other in order that the sacrament might be valid. In the rite of ordination, the form must represent that which the minister of the sacrament, in this instance the bishop, intends to happen. Therefore, if a deacon is to be ordained priest, there must be a distinctive form which gives expression to this. The words in the 1662 Ordinal ‘receive thou the Holy Ghost for the Office and work of a priest in the Church of God’ clearly gives form to the matter, yet this is missing in the 1552 ordinal which simply says:
Receive the holy goste, whose synnes thou doest forgeve, they are forgeven: and whose sinnes thou doest retaine, they 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 goste. Amen.
According to Pope Leo, the form is missing from this ordination prayer. If the words used by the officiating minister fail to give due expression to the sacramental functionality of the rite, then the matter and form cannot be conducive with each other and the sacrament is rendered invalid. Leo’s criticism and the basis of his judgment was thus, that the forms for the episcopate and priesthood which were composed by Cranmer in 1550, express neither the power to exercise the peculiar office of bishop or priest nor the grace received for such Office.
Thus, the words ‘take the holy ghost’, in the 1550 Ordinal, in themselves have no precise meaning beyond invoking the Holy Spirit, and therein lays the defect of form. Even a rudimentary analysis, reveals, that according to the criteria laid down by the Roman Catholic Church for the validity of ordination rites, the Edwardine rites are found defective. I stress, they are found wanting by the criteria laid down by the Roman Catholic Church, this is not to say that they are universally defective!
With the addition, during the Carolingian reforms, in the 1662 Ordinal, of the directive form which explicitly states which Office the candidate is to be ordained to, came the accusation that the Church of England had perceived its error and took measures to make recompense. This analysis of the revision of the Ordinal features in Apostolicae Curae, it says that:
The Anglicans themselves perceived that the first form was defective and inadequate […]. But even if this addition could give to the form its due signification, it was introduced too late, as a century had elapsed since the adoption of the Edwardine Oridnal; for as the hierarchy had become extinct there remained no power of ordaining.
Yet history attests that the truth was different, and that the Prayer Book was revised not because the Caroligian reformers believed the original form to be defective in any way, but to make it explicitly clear that there was indeed a difference between presbyterate and episcopate, and that the Church of England had never deviated from a hierarchical understanding of Church governance in the historical formula of Bishop, Priest and Deacon. There was, however, further ecclesio-political motivations for this revision, and that was a distancing of the Church of England from the Presbyterian assertion that both communions agreed that there was no difference between presbyterio and episkopoi. This was not the Anglican understanding nor indeed was it the Cranmerian understanding of the threefold order. Ernest Messenger says that:
It is, we think, quite likely that the Presbyterian contention was mainly in view here. But this does not mean that the alterations were not in part based upon Catholic criticism of the preceding forms. For already, before 1661, many Catholics had criticized the Anglican forms and had maintained their insufficiency. And some of these had criticized the forms precisely because of the absence of terms specifying the distinct office conferred, and/or its special power.
To consider whether or not there was any intent in the omission of the directive form in the 1550 Ordinal would breach the scope of this paper. Romanists would, in support of Pope Leo, suggest that the intent was clear, and that Cranmer removed any notion of sacrifice from the rites of the Book of Common Prayer in order to repudiate the Catholic doctrine of a sacrificing priesthood, why else would the directive form be present in the 1550 ordination of deacons and not the ordination of priests or bishops? If this is the case then it would seem that it was the corporate intention of the Book of Common Prayer to undermine and reject Catholicism and the rites which expresses catholic doctrine. However, this is clearly not the case, for even hard-line Anglo-Catholic’s can find in the doctrines of the Book of Common Prayer, a Catholicism which they can align themselves to. Newman, in his famous Tract 90, gives one example of how the Book of Common Prayer can be interpreted as a wholly catholic document.
The argument of Pope Leo can be summed as being based on the principle that the 1550 Anglican rite of ordination cannot convey the grace of Holy Order because the rite wholly intended and purposefully abrogated the Catholic doctrine of Holy Order, particularly in reference to the sacrificial office of the priest. As I have already alluded, there were many, and indeed, still are many within the Church of England and wider Anglican communion who would agree with the Pope on few things other than this statement. They would say that Holy Order according to the rites of the Church of England do not convey the same powers of Office which the catholic rite is intended to do and therefore, why would the Church of England wish their orders to be validated by the Catholic Church? Colin Buchanan, in his Grove publication What Did Cranmer Think he was Doing?, sums this dictum up very well:
We can see already that there is in his [Cranmer’s] understanding no such presence of Christ in the Eucharist as would enable us to offer him to the Father, and no instituted action to be fulfilled with the elements except the eating and drinking of them.
For Cranmer, the only sacrifice offered by the priest was the sacrifice of laud, honour and praise, and any notion of propitiary sacrifice, that is, the offering of Christ’s passion, re-presented on the altar, for the placating of the Deity, was Romish doctrine and had no place in the reformed doctrine of the Church of England. It has been suggested that Cranmer purposely revised the 1550 Ordinal with a view to revising the rite of ordination so as to make it different in intention to that of the Roman Catholic Church, and through reading the rite, it is clear that there is no hint of the pre-eminent and essential feature of the priestly ministry as a ministry of offering sacrifice. Many have argued that, be this the case, what of those catholic minded bishops in the Church of England, who, using the revised rites (post and including 1662), fully intend to ordain priest into the heritage of the Catholic understanding of priesthood? The answer which is abundantly clear in Apostolicae Curae, is that the original authors intentions stick, and that the presumed intentions of the original authors are what render the rite of 1550 invalid, and not subsequent ordinations carried our by bishops of ‘sound’ doctrine.
Thus, the Church of England and wider Anglican Communion is left in something of a quandary. The Roman Catholic Church accept that the rites of ordination which followed the 1662 revisions of the Ordinal are not defective in form and matter, but that, by the time the revisions were made, a valid episcopate had expired and so Anglican Orders to this day, by Roman Catholic logic, must be deemed invalid.
And therein lays the key to the debate. One cannot argue from history against the criteria of the Roman Catholic Church for the validity of Holy Order, one can only concur with them, that according to that same criteria, Anglican Holy Orders are invalid and therefore at this time, Pope Leo’s judgement continues to set the agenda for any dialogue that might ensue. However, as one author notes:
The Papal Bull made no infallible commitment. It closed no avenue to the continuing study of Anglican history. It is quite possible that historical facts unknown to Pope Leo XIII […] may rise to the surface out of the obscure limbo of the past.
The Anglican argument would be as that set out in this paper, that Anglican Order was never defective in form or matter, and that, despite accusations against Cranmer to the tune of anti-Catholicism, there remained and continues to remain in the Church of England a Catholic priesthood whose validity is to be found, not in the legalistic dictates of the Roman Church, but in the grace of God who founded his Church on Peter, the Rock and whose succession has ever since given validity and continuity in the Church catholic, that the faith might be preserved and the gospel propagated.
 The Tablet sept 26 1896
 The Rock, Sept 25 1896
 Exeter Western Times, Sept 26, 1896
 Quoted by the Tablet, March 27, 1897
 W Franklin, Anglican Orders: Essays on the Centenary of Apostolicae Curae, (London: Mowbray, 1996), p. 10.
 BCP 1662
 1552 BCP
 AC session 26
 Ernest Messenger, The Reformation, the Mass, and the Priesthood II, (London: Longman, Darton and Todd, 1937), p. 223
 Newman, Tract 90
 What did… p. 6.
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