Thursday, November 02, 2006

REC Orders Again

2 November 2006
All Souls' Day

Dear Father:

I concur that the Church of England in her official formularies never formally attempted to redefine the nature or the meaning of the Threefold Apostolic Ministry, save for the fact that the Preface to the Ordinal and the ordination rites themselves sought to clarify the original, that is, the primitive and apostolic, character of Holy Orders and to re-express a more bibliodidactic and pastoral role for the Sacred Ministry. Certainly the situation in 1873 with the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church is not an exact parallel of the English Reformation, although one must point out that many divines and churchmen of sixteenth and seventeenth century Anglicanism clearly held to views similar if not identical to those espoused by the founders of the REC. It was on that very basis that the REC organisers could claim they were continuing and restoring the principles of the English Reformation. At one early stage, the Edwardian, 1547-1553, the Church of England was spared something like the Declaration of Principles because of the interplay between the Monarchy and Church authorities, not to mention the untimely death of Edward VI which brought the protestant campaign to an end with the accession of Mary. By the time of Blessed King Charles I and Blessed Archbishop Laud, general Anglican views, having passed through the Settlement and the refinement of the Elizabethan age, had moderated from those held by the protestantising bishops and divines who had inaugurated the Reformation in England almost two generations before. Surely we were rescued by the Caroline Divines from the more extreme protestant views which would come to define only a party within Anglicanism, and not the whole.

However, the entire point of my submission yesterday is this: even if the REC Declaration of Principles radically redefines the meaning of Holy Order by its revision of essential doctrines, most particularly the doctrines of the Real Presence, the sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic oblation and the sacerdotal nature of the Apostolic Ministry, nevertheless, so long as the REC retains the minimal intention to ordain Sacred Ministers, bishops, presbyters and deacons, in conformity to the mind of Our Blessed Lord and the New Testament Church, such Orders are sacramentally valid ex opere operato, on the basis of the promise and institution of Christ. So long as one intends to ordain according to the teaching of Holy Scripture, the institution of Our Lord and the practice of the Apostolic Church, with proper laying-on-of-hands and prayer, the ordination is valid, even if the minister and subject have totally misunderstood what Our Lord, the Scriptures and the earliest Church have given and instituted concerning ordination. The original consecrators in the REC episcopate believed that they were making genuine bishops, presbyters and deacons according to the true mind of Christ and His Church and deliberately employed a rite which the Anglican Communion herself has used essentially unchanged since 1550. That minimal intention, expressed liturgically and ritually, suffices for validity. Where proper form, matter, minister and subject are present, the Church, as I understand it, has always presumed in favour of proper intention. Therefore the onus of responsibility for adjudging such orders invalid would fall on those who reject them; one must then prove theologically that a proper and necessary minimal intention was not present, and that would be very difficult to achieve. Defect of form and defect of intention are so closely bound together in the organic unity of sacramental action that it is difficult to separate them. Leo XIII tried, and, I think, failed. The principles of sacramental theology which I have attempted to postulate would supply that a necessary sacramental intention is a remarkably easy, uncomplicated and direct element in the administration of the sacraments. A minister of ordination would have to try extremely hard or be mind-numbingly negligent to lack the necessary minimal intention. Regarding ordination, the only way to lack such an intention 'generally to do what the Church does' would be to form, liturgically and personally, a clear intention not to ordain. A purposed intention not to ordain, such as in play, jest or mockery, would be the only radical denial which could eradicate necessary sacramental intention.

I recommend that one consult Dr RD Fenwick's magisterial work The Free Church of England. Originally, the Church of England accepted the validity of REC Orders, at least in theory. In 1878 a Convocation was established to examine the question of Reformed Episcopal Orders. In 1879, the Counsel of the Convocation advised the Archbishop of Canterbury, Tait, that 'the orders conferred by Bishops Gregg and Toke [of the REC] are as undoubtedly valid as any conferred by your Grace.' This was the legal opinion given to the episcopal committee of the Church of England, which was later challenged by the American Bishops. On 5 April 1885 Bishop Richardson of the REC wrote to Archbishop Benson of Canterbury claiming that REC Orders had been acknowledged as valid by no less a figure than Dr Pusey. It is true that in a letter of 8 February 1882 Dr Pusey had referred to Bishop Gregg as a Bishop. As I noted in earlier correspondence, Bishop Edward King of Lincoln acknowledged the validity of REC Orders as well. The expert legal opinion that REC Orders were 'valid but irregular' ran counter to the American desire, plainly political, to see the REC mitigated as a potential influence over the evangelical wing of PECUSA. Eventually an American Memorandum rejecting REC Orders as null and void was considered and entered into the record by the Lambeth Conference 1888. However, on 20 July 1886, the Dean of the Court of Arches, Sir Walter Phillimore, issued a legal opinion on behalf of the Bishop of Bath and Wells stating that REC Orders were 'valid though irregularly and improperly conferred.' The Church of England did not officially decide to administer absolute ordination to former REC ministers until after the submission of the 1888 American judgement. To maintain the unity of the Anglican episcopate, the Church of England from henceforth followed the American lead on the subject. As late as 1891, Archbishop Benson was unsure of what course of action to take with former REC clergy; he could not decide if REC Orders were valid or not - he clearly did not want to reiterate the Sacrament of Holy Orders, hesitating to administer absolute ordination in the case of REC ministers. Finally Benson stated that the re-ordination of REC ministers was 'a matter on which each Bishop exercises his own discretion.' In order not to rile Rome on one hand, which at the time was busily examining the validity of Anglican Orders and the legitimacy of the Anglican episcopate in dialogue with Lord Halifax and Anglo-Catholic constituency, and PECUSA on the other, which was threatened by the existence of a new rival church, the Church of England determined to maintain solidarity with the American Church rather than introduce a dispute that could undermine the unity of the Lambeth Conference.

The conclusions I have presented are based squarely on the premises which I have provided; of course, one would have to accept deductively the premises here given to arrive at the same conclusion I have discovered. I deeply appreciate your kindness and your candour in this discussion.

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