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Anglican Orders Not Invalid

Francis Justin Welby

Anglican orders should not be written off by Roman Catholics as “invalid” stresses a new book by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

He calls into question Pope Leo XIII’s 1896 papal bull that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void.” There’s already plenty of heat in response to the Cardinal, particularly from Roman Catholics who see the Cardinal as undermining papal teaching, even to denying and “dissolving” the sacrament of ordination. This website is one devoted to light over heat – if you want to have a heated debate about this, there’s plenty of online sites that you can turn to.

The Cardinal refers to the Pope giving pectoral crosses, rings, or chalices to Anglican clergy. “What does it mean when Pope Paul VI gave a chalice to the Archbishop of Canterbury? If it was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, it was meant to be done validly, no?” he explains. “This is stronger than the pectoral cross, because a chalice is used not just for drinking but for celebrating the Eucharist. With these gestures the Catholic Church already intuits, recognises a reality.”

“When an ecclesial community, with its ordained ministry, in obedience to the Lord’s command, celebrates the eucharist, the faithful are caught into the heavenly places, and there feed on Christ,” he says.

I have previously pointed out another symbolic event. Roman Catholicism holds that only someone ordained may preach at Mass. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, preached at a Roman Catholic Mass at Lourdes celebrating 150 years since the 1858 vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous. My question was: in inviting the Archbishop of Canterbury to preach at such an internationally significant Roman Catholic Mass are they acknowledging that Archbishop Rowan Williams is validly ordained?

There is no doubting that Pope Leo XIII’s 1896 papal bull had political dimensions. RCs were formally establishing an episcopate in England so that there were two sets of bishops – CofE and RC. Admitting CofE bishops were equivalent to RC bishops wouldn’t have really worked at that particularly sensitive time would it…

Since that bull, Anglicans have come into full communion with Old Catholics, so that, with RCs accepting the validity of Old Catholics’ ordinations, anyone holding to a “pipeline” theory of how valid ordination is passed on, even if there had been a severing of the pipeline in Anglicanism previously, then the pipeline would have been reconnected as, since 1930, Old Catholics have been fully involved in Anglican ordinations of bishops.

As for issues about the rite used, Vatican II changed the RC ordination rites (so much so that there are traditionalist Catholics who do not accept the validity of post-Vatican II RC orders). The form of Anglican and RC ordinations is now pretty much indistinguishable.

This has all been part of the significant progress made by the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission in the areas of the Eucharist and ordained ministry.

There is the issue of ordaining women. I support the ordination of women, but I understand that there are those who do not. Even in the CofE there are those who see a bishop’s acceptance of the ordination of women as meaning that such a bishop’s understanding of ordination is so tainted that he (and it would be a “he” in such a case) cannot form the intention required to validly ordain. I think that stretches the requirement for right intention beyond orthodox sacramental theology. Intention is expressed by faithfully following the rite as agreed, not by the internal beliefs of the ordainer at the time of the service.

Which brings me to my final point. In Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, it is now a year since our General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) gave our Anglican bishops the right to individually authorise services for his or her episcopal unit – this year of waiting is required by our Constitution to allow anyone to protest this before a bishop can exercise this right. Prior to the GSTHW vote, I expressed my disagreement with this giving of jus liturgicum to our bishops (see Statute 711, also here, and elsewhere), and we must now live with the allowance. The bishops themselves appear to disagree about what right they now have. We know that prior to receiving of jus liturgicum, some bishops did not adhere to the agreed ordination rite. It seems that there is no unanimity whether a bishop can create an ordination rite or whether every bishop is still bound to follow the ordinal in A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. If ecumenical consultation and negotiation around mutual recognition of orders (Anglicans already accept RC orders) were seriously a possibility between Rome and Canterbury (and New Plymouth), the variety of ordination practices would be a new layer of difficulties that I think could have been avoided.

In any case, I think it will be a while before we see such mutual recognition officially verbalised, even though, from the pope down, signs of such recognition are not uncommon, as the good Cardinal has so helpfully highlighted.

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30 thoughts on “Anglican Orders Not Invalid”

    1. Thanks, Sr Catherine. Dr Edward’s suggestion that Pope Leo’s papal bull might be infallible is part of another discussion – that there is no infallible list of infallible declarations. This is a regular issue with papal declarations and has been discussed more than once on this site. Easter Season Blessings.

  1. Bosco, I would ask that you have a look again at your source material. I admit to not feeling well today, but I believe that the quote “When an ecclesial community, with its ordained ministry, in obedience to the Lord’s command, celebrates the eucharist, the faithful are caught into the heavenly places, and there feed on Christ.” is a retelling of a quote from then Cardinal Ratzinger by Bishop Rowell.

    I’m off to take my temperature now.

    1. Thanks, Kevin. In the article, in fact, the last named person prior to this “he says” is “the Pope Emeritus”. The lack of clarity of the source doesn’t alter the main point. Get better. Easter Season Blessings.

    1. Thanks, David. Our role of Archbishop (unlike Rome and Canterbury) is not tied to a location (having that has been discussed and rejected). That is the location of our current Archbishop. Easter Season Blessings.

  2. Thanks Bosco,

    You have given us a good summary of all this !

    Re: “Roman Catholicism holds that only someone ordained may preach at Mass.”

    Unfortunately for our argument Bosco, that applies to a homily, but non-ordained may give a reflection at Mass.

    It appears to me that the elephant in the room on the validity of this or that detail is the ancient doctrine that “the Church supplies” what is necessary to correct what is lacking. It would be a capricious God indeed who would refuse to supply that when the validity of the Holy Eucharist is at stake. To refuse to feed the hungry is a mortal sin.

    The Catholic way of saying that is that “God is not bound by his sacraments”, taught by Aquinas and Vatican II.

    Having been raised Anglican, and capable of distinguishing between bread and the body of Christ, and wine and his sacred blood, I am morally certain that Anglican Orders (including women) and Eucharist are valid.

    It is apparent to me from working with non-Catholic ordained ministers that they do, in fact, posses that sacramental ontology pertinent to ordination.

    Easter Blessings

    1. Thanks, Chris. I am no canon lawyer, and cannot speak for Roman Catholicism. I gave the links to the RC canons for people to peruse for themselves. I think the suggestion that if an unordained person speaks after the Gospel at RC Mass then that is a “reflection” rather than a “homily” and is thereby allowed, is an interesting approach that others will need to be the judge of. I have to console myself from time to time that ecclesia supplet (the Latin technical term for the Church supplies) is active. The principle is mentioned in RC Canon 144. I have seen it argued the other way. I think your eirenic approach (also evident in Pope Francis) is the better way forward than one that is rule-obsessed. Easter Season Blessings.

    2. Thank you for the Canon Law reference Bosco. Arguments about it’s interpretation would need to refer to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which I believe is led by one Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, a most excellent and erudite churchman.

      You may recall that in a recent Anglican/Catholic meeting in Rome, Pope Francis referred approvingly to the practice in the northern regions of Argentina, a practice known to the bishops and apparently approved by them, of Catholics frequenting Anglican Mass when no Catholic Mass was available, and vica versa.

      “Time is greater than space”.

      If I remember correctly, one Jesus of Nazareth seemed to place a much greater emphasis on love, justice, and unity than legal obstructions. But look where that got him !

      Many Blessings

  3. On the flip side, we cannot be certain of the validity of Catholic Holy Orders as we cannot trace apostolic succession with absolute certainty and neither are we privy to intent of ordaining bishop or cleric ordained.

    But where does all this doubt get us in building up the kingdom of God ?

    1. Thanks, Chris. Your point about “intent” is why I stressed that orthodox sacramental theology that follows the matter/form/intention model sees intention as expressed by faithfully following the rite as agreed rather than the internal thoughts and doubts.

      You are right about building God’s reign. And I think that one of the biggest blockages to that is Christian disunity.


    2. Chris Sullivan

      I recall a case where a priest didn’t “faithfully follow the rite as agreed” although he certainly intended to. He innocently forgot something. This seems to indicate the usefulness of the Catholic idea of intent as “remote object willed” rather than what was actually done. If my Talmud memory is correct, I think rabbinic law stressed the internal willed intent of the priest.

      In Catholic understanding, the performer of the sacrament has to intend to do what the Church does. EG baptism by an atheist is valid if the atheist intends to do what the Church does in baptism – believing in it is not necessary.

      Many Blessings

  4. Whatever is said or done to take the heat out of a debate, which in real terms means little is welcome.

    I for one, so no difference in the Orders of RC of Anglican Priests, and I believe that when the Sacraments are involved, both orders are consecrating the elements to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and as a former Catholic, I also believe in the Real rather than Symbolic presence of Jesus Christ in those actions.

    I don’t doubt that there will be some who want to decry such things, but I don’t worry about that – it’s my own conscious and faith that matter. If I believe, and follow the Gospel to the best of my ability, than I have to be content. I would love to do better, and I once went forward for Ordination, but was judged not suitable at the time, which hurt, but didn’t change anything in terms of my faith or belief.

    I am just coming to the end of 3 years of study to become a licensed lay minister in the CofE, and have had the privilege of preaching and leading some non-Eucharistic services in that time, as well as Communion by Extension when no Clergy are available. All with permission from the Bishop. Whose authority I acknowledge and agree with.

    Were I still a Catholic, no doubt I would be in obedience to the Bishop of that place.

    I know that there are doctrinal differences between denominations, but take the view that we all share the same Baptism, therefore, we are brothers and sisters in faith and are united in that way.

    1. All sounds great, “UkViewer”. Just one note – part of keeping this site having more light and less heat (I hope you’ve noticed that positive culture) is that we use our ordinary names here. It reinforces for us that these are real people with real feelings and positions. Easter Season Blessings.

  5. Roma locuta est, causa finita est. Rome has spoken, the case is closed. Anglican orders are invalid, period. One Cardinal with a differing opinion has no weight on dogmatic matters. It is important to remember why the Anglican priesthood is invalid too. In separating themselves from Apostolic Succession Anglican Orders are not just illicit but invalid.

    1. Thanks, Ryan. If you are an informed RC, you will know it’s more complex than that. Not everything that Pope Francis “has spoken” is definitive for all future time. I don’t know where you are getting your information that Anglicans “separated themselves from Apostolic Succession” – but in current terminology, that would be #FakeNews. Easter Season Blessings.

      1. I agree, there is nuance to it and after all, Apostolicae Curae is not ex cathedra, and therefore not of the Extraordinary Magisterium, therefore not requiring the full assent of faith. It therefore needs to be asked at what level of the Magisterium was AC exercised in order to determine how much obedience is owed to it.

        It is (1) a Papal Bull (2) of the Ordinary (Irreformable) Papal Magisterium and (3) ubique, semper et ab omnibus, thus requiring the assent of faith to its teaching (cf. #11 CDF’s Commentary on Professio Fidei) . Which means that Cdl. Coccopalmerio’s are null.

        To be sure Rev., I have read your blog for some time and honestly enjoy reading your opinions, especially on my own church – you are at least confident in your opinion and intellectual about it, which can’t be said for some of the visionless priests and laymen who don’t want anything beyond the declining status quo! – but the future consecrations and ordinations by the originally Catholic Bishops who joined the Church of England were not just illicit like the Orthodox Church but invalid (f. AC 3-8).

        1. Thanks, Ryan. I am absolutely delighted by your encouragement – God bless you and also your continued part of the community that gathers here. Your distinctions between “full assent of faith” and “assent of faith” will be lost on many here. I am not as convinced as you that Apostolicae Curae is “Irreformable” within Roman Catholicism, not least because it precedes the involvement of Old Catholics in Anglican episcopal ordinations as well as the reform of RC ordination rites as I have explained above. Furthermore, if Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not disciplined for his questioning of the irreformability of Apostolicae Curae then I am arguing that it is not seen as irreformable at the highest level of your church. Blessings.

  6. Peter Carrell

    I do not have a great interest in this matter. I am interested in whether a person the church says is a priest acts as a presbyter (elder) and is instinctively trusted by their congregation as a leader; as a unifier so the congregation is united under this leader; and, most importantly, exhibits the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. Ordination recognises such ministry and publicises it to the people of God at large.

    Some such analysis is, I suggest, at work when Roman priests gather with local ministers’ associations, rejoice in Christ’s work among his scattered flocks, pray together and read Scripture joyfully, despite not being able to break bread together because of these unfortunate past declarations and resolute determinations about Apostolic Succession, a matter not taught in Scripture!

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      Your description of what actually happens is part of the very fabric of the new discussion this post is pointing to.

      Let’s remember that the core of the discussion is not limited to Roman Catholicism. Formally, you do not break bread together with the Salvation Army officer in your ministers’ association, even if s/he wanted to. And we have had a number of Salvation Army officers come to leadership positions within Anglicanism. In order to do so, such an officer has to endure up to five different Anglican rites – none that the Salvation Army see taught in Scripture.

      Easter Season Blessings.

  7. Thank you, Fr Bosco, for your remarks, which are theologically correct.

    In fact, all the liturgical gestures (not only in sacraments) are visible signs of something invisible. I also remember how pope JP II and patriarch Theoctist exchanged chalices. If they had not meant sacramental acknowledgement, they would have exchanged… thuribles, icons, and the like. And, indeed, what Rowan Williams has delivered in Lourdes was really a homily, wherefore he did use vestments.

  8. It’s interesting to me to consider that theology might be used now to bring people together rather than be used to drive them apart.

    The Anglican separation from Rome after all, at least in its beginnings, was mostly about politics, power, and money. Theology was used more as a weapon by men and women who had ‘more’ to lose than souls.

  9. Out of curiosity, is there a similar bull regarding the Apostolic Succession and validity of the orders of Northern European Lutheran Churches who believe they have it?

    1. That’s such a good question, David! I’ve never thought of it. If there is not, it reinforces my point of the political underpinning of the bull. Easter Season Blessings.

    2. David,

      No there is not but there was an opinion approved by Pope Benedict that derived from a view that Anglican and Lutheran communities are not really Churches in the full sense (the flip side to that is that Catholic teaching holds that the Catholic Church is not a Church in the full sense either, partly because of the divisions, partly sin, and partly the necessity of semper reformanda).

      There is some discussion here (with a link to the SCDF document). http://scecclesia.com/archives/5680

      And a very interesting discussion here from a VERY traditional Catholic viewpoint (whose arguments seem to my mind to actually favour the validity of Lutheran ordination).

      Easter Blessings

  10. I would just add something. The RC never denied publicly Old-Catholic and Swedish holy orders. In the past, it was assumed by Rome that the Swedes had valid priesthood.

    On the other side, from a theological point of view, the Bonn agreement has mainly served the OC. Since 1931, OC holy orders are rooted again in an ecclesiological understanding of the episcopate.

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