The Bestowal of the American Episcopate

Common 17 and 7

On Monday the 14th of November the Anglican Breviary celebrates the Bestowal of the American Episcopate (see appendix S73-77). The propers for the feast are contained in the appendix to the Breviary. They are an interesting subject for reflection.

The propers for the Feast are mostly taken from Common 17 “Of the dedication of a Church” while the Scripture readings of the first Nocturn are taken from Common 7 “Of a Bishop Confessor.” The proper Legend tells the story of how an American Priest was refused Episcopal Ordination by English Bishops and eventually resorted to Ordination from non-Juror Bishops. Thus it was that America received the historic Episcopate. This story is contextualized by Common 17 and Common 7. The Episcopate of Common 7 (and of the Proper Legend) are to be situated in the Church Catholic of Common 17. These two commons are also found in the Roman tradition both secular and monastic. The Anglican Breviary unapologetically situates the Anglican Episcopate in the Church Catholic. Even more specifically, the Anglican Breviary makes the Anglican Episcopate dependent on that of Rome by placing this feast within an Octave’s distance of the celebration of three major Roman Basilicas! This squares well with the debt owed by the Church of England to the missionary and restorative efforts of St. Augustine of Canterbury who was sent by Pope St. Gregory the Great. The events of 1066 did not change this English dependence on Rome.

Like the Anglican Breviary situates the Anglican Church in a Roman dependence and context, the same is true of the Anglican Missal. The observant worshipper will have noticed that many times a particular Mass mentions a “station” at … These stations are in fact Churches in Rome. For example: throughout the season of Lent we find that Masses nhave these stations and if we would look them up on a map we realize that these stations take us on a “liturgical tour” of Rome. The station Masses were celebrated by the Pope in these station Churches. The stations emphasize what we find in the Breviary: Catholic Anglicanism is a sub-species of Roman Catholicism. There are not two catholicisms.

At this stage it must be admitted by Anglicans that the origins of the Book of Common Prayer are heretical. We must acknowledge and reconcile with the fact that English Reformation happened and that it was Protestant. The preservation of Catholicism in the English Church was an historical accident not foreseen by the Reformers, but orchestrated by God. Heresy does not necessarily invalidate a sacrament. The Book of Common Prayer does not – as such – teach or contain any heresies (the 39 Articles are appended to it but do not strictly belong to it). The deficiencies of the Book of Common Prayer are in what it ommits rather than in what it contains. This seems to be very close to the conclusion of the Russian Synod which examined the American Prayer Book of 1892 and concluded that some things must be removed from the Book of Common Prayer: particularly doctrinal statements which are clearly Protestant or easily interpreted as such. Secondly the Book of Common Prayer lacks elements which ought not to be lacking and must therefore be restored to it. The preface, written by Walter Howard Frere, states:

“Complaint is made of some important omissions; and we must, at least in some cases, plead guilty. Complaint is made of lack of definiteness: in some cases we should do well to admit the defect, and, for our own sake, amend it; in other cases we may believe that our formularies are not so ambiguous or compromising as they are here made out to be. But, even so, it is clear that they are not definite enough to satisfy or reassure our friends, although they may satisfy us ourselves. In that respect, then, the demand for more explicitness is, from a practical point of view, justified; and, as practical people, we must satisfy it, if we are to advance with the Russian Church in mutual confidence and recognition.”

~ Russian Observations upon the American Prayer Book.

The Anglican Breviary and Missal are precisely the sort of amending that is needed. There is no ambiguity, nor any lack of any kind in them. They have retained all that can be retained from the Book of Common Prayer and they ought to be (but, to my knowledge, they are not) the standard for doctrine and worship to any body of Catholic Anglicans.

The Invalidity of Anglican Orders

Much has been written about Anglican Orders and their validity or invalidity. Since 1896 Anglican Orders have been rejected by Rome as “null and void.” This was done in the Papal Bull Apostolicae curae. I will walk through this Bull quickly:

History: Apostolicae curae presumes a history of consistent rejection of Roman Bishops, including the Pope of Anglican Orders bestowed by means of the Edwardine Ordinal, as invalid. This is effectively countered by the rejoinder Saepius officio where the Anglican Bishops show that Apostilicae curae’s history is inaccurate at best.

Theology of Validity: Apostolicae curae makes several theological statements for the validity of the Sacrement of Holy Orders. They are:

  1. “… the Sacraments of the New Law, as sensible and efficient signs of invisible grace, ought both to signify the grace which they effect, and effect the grace which they signify.”
  2. “…the signification ought to be found in the whole essential rite, that is to say, in the “matter and form”, it still pertains chiefly to the “form”; since the “matter” is the part which is not determined by itself, but which is determined by the “form”.”
  3. “The Church does not judge about the mind and intention, in so far as it is something by its nature internal; but in so far as it is manifested externally she is bound to judge concerning it. A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do (intendisse) what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a Sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unbaptized, provided the Catholic rite be employed.”
  4. “On the other hand, if the rite be changed, with the manifest intention of introducing another rite not approved by the Church and of rejecting what the Church does, and what, by the institution of Christ, belongs to the nature of the Sacrament, then it is clear that not only is the necessary intention wanting to the Sacrament, but that the intention is adverse to and destructive of the Sacrament.”

It is Pope Leo’s view that the Ordinal of Edward VI fails in “form” and “intention” thus rendering any ordinations performed with it “null and void.” The intention is lacking in the Edwardine Ordinal because the 4th statement above is met:

Being fully cognisant of the necessary connection between faith and worship, between “the law of believing and the law of praying”, under a pretext of returning to the primitive form, they corrupted the Liturgical Order in many ways to suit the errors of the reformers. For this reason, in the whole Ordinal not only is there no clear mention of the sacrifice, of consecration, of the priesthood (sacerdotium), and of the power of consecrating and offering sacrifice but, as We have just stated, every trace of these things which had been in such prayers of the Catholic rite as they had not entirely rejected, was deliberately removed and struck out.”

In other words: the removal of the sacerdotium is doctrinally motivated and as such the “ommission” is understood as an intention to not do what the Church does. Ommission and not the absence of the sacerdotium. The difference is significant. Pope Leo is not saying the absence of sacrifice, consecration, and priesthood is what renders Anglican Orders invalid. Rather it is the removal – a deliberate and cotrinally motivated act – which renders Anglican Orders invalid due to a failure of intention. The mere mentioning of similar, ancient, precedent for absence (such as Saepio and other Anglican defences have done) is therefore not an answer to the Pope’s point.

Many years later another Pope adds to the difficulties of the Edwardine Ordinal by the publication of Sacramentum Ordinis in 1947. Between 1896 and 1947 Roman sacramental theology has been undergoing some finetuning. Pope Pius XII decides that for Holy Orders to be validly bestowed the following conditions must be met:

  1. for the Priesthood: “… the matter is the first imposition off hands of the Bishop which is done in silence, but not the continuation of the same imposition through the extension of the right hand, nor the last imposition to which are attached the words: “Accipe Spiritum Sanctum: quorum remiseris peccata, etc.” And the form consists of the words of the “Preface,” of which the following are essential and therefore required for validity:”Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Pater, in hunc famulum tuum Presbyterii dignitatem; innova in visceribus eius spiritum sanctitatis, ut acceptum a Te, Deus, secundi meriti munus obtineat censuramque morum exemplo suae conversationis insinuet.”[“Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty Father, invest this Thy servant with the dignity of the Priesthood; do Thou renew in his heart the spirit of holiness, so that he may persevere in this office, which is next to ours in dignity, since he has received it from Thee, O God. May the example of his life lead others to moral uprightness.”]
  2. for the Episcopate:in the Episcopal Ordination or Consecration, the matter is the imposition of hands which is done by the Bishop consecrator. The form consists of the words of the “Preface,” of which the following are essential and therefore required for validity:”Comple in Sacerdote tuo ministerii tui summam, et ornamentis totius glorificationis instructum coelestis unguenti rore santifica.”[“Perfect in Thy priest the fullness of thy ministry and, clothing him in all the ornaments of spiritual glorification, sanctify him with the Heavenly anointing.”]
  3. Wherefore, after invoking the divine light, We of Our Apostolic Authority and from certain knowledge declare, and as far as may be necessary decree and provide: that the matter, and the only matter, of the Sacred Orders of the Diaconate, the Priesthood, and the Episcopacy is the imposition of hands; and that the form, and the only form, is the words which determine the application of this matter, which univocally signify the sacramental effects – namely the power of Order and the grace of the Holy Spirit – and which are accepted and used by the Church in that sense. It follows as a consequence that We should declare, and in order to remove all controversy and to preclude doubts of conscience,

It does not take much effort to see that the Edwardine Ordinal seems to fail on all three points. Pope Pius does acknowledge that points 1 and 2 may not be present in Eastern Orthodox Odinals either but that in these Ordinals at least the form univocally signifies the effect and therefore enjoys validity. The Anglican Ordinal does not:

  • for Bishops: 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.
  • for Priests: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.

From the above forms for making a Bishop and a Priest it would seem evident that the sacramental effect is not univocally signified in either form. By Sacramentum Ordinis the conclusion of the invalidity of Anglican Orders seems inevitable.

The Validity of Anglican Orders

With the double condemnation of Anglican Orders via Apostolicae curae and Sacramentum ordinis how can we be confident that Anglican Orders are actually valid after all? We do not have to look much further than the year 1932. For from that year on several ordinations were peformed with Old Catholic co-consecrators. This means that validly ordained Bishops began to restore validity to Anglican Orders via co-consecration. This time with an updated Edwardine Ordinal too! For in 1662 a new Ordinal came into use where the sacramental effect is univocally signified in the form:

1. for a Priest: RECEIVE the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. 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

2. for a Bishop: RECEIVE the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. And remember that thou stir up the grace of God, which is given thee by this Imposition of our hands; for God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and soberness.

Which together with the Preface to the Ordinal clearly intends to do what the Church does and is therefore easily seen to be valid. The Preface to the Edwardine Ordinal had always stated that the intention for the services of ordaining Deacons, Priests, and Bishops was to continue these three orders as they had been instituted by the Apostles. Not to replace them by something else. In other words there is a valid form and a valid intention combined with validly ordained (Old Catholic) Bishops infusing their validity into the Anglican Church:

“… bishops of each church started in 1932 to act as co-consecrators in episcopal consecrations of the other. Both churches intended that, by taking part as co-consecrators, the Old Catholic Church should through its bishops pass the orders of its church to the new Anglican bishop. To put matters beyond uninformed criticism, in each case the Old Catholic bishop as well as the presiding archbishop actually spoke the words of consecration. On every occasion protocols were executed by the Old Catholic consecrator, emphasising that both churches were independently in possession of the apostolic succession, and that he intended to pass to the ordinand those orders which he had received from the apostles, and as they had always been known and understood in the Catholic Church since their days. In similar manner Anglican bishops have taken part in Old Catholic episcopal consecrations. Up to now 20 Anglican bishops have been directly consecrated by bishops of the Old Catholic Church. All these bishops have themselves subsequently consecrated many bishops, and those bishops others. And because it is the practice of the Church of England that many bishops act as consecrators (15 or 20 being quite usual), the Old Catholic succession spread very rapidly. By 1962 every bishop of the entire Church of England except the diocesans of Liverpool and Birmingham and the suffragan bishop of Dover was in the Old Catholic succession. By 1969 the process was complete. But because the Church of England never felt it needed Old Catholic participation for the validity of its orders, no succession tables were kept; and the present writer spent long hours tracing the participants in every consecration in the Church of England since 1932 to arrive at the results given above.

~ Timothy Dufort, The Tablet, May 29th, 1982.

So even if Anglican Orders did go extinct between 1550 and 1662 they have been restored entirely since 1969. Ironically the Roman Catholic Church began to lose its valid Orders in 1968 with the implementation of the New Ordinal. We have seen above what the criteria are for a valid ordination according to Apostolicae curae  and Sacramentum ordinis. The New (Roman) Ordinal fails to meet the criteria of Sacramentum ordinis and fails to met the criteria of Apostolicae curae as well. The new form of 1968 for Bishops:

Et nunc effunde super hunc electum eam virtutem, quae a te est, Spiritum principalem, quem dedisti dilecto Filio tuo Jesu Christo, quem Ipse donavit sanctis apostolis, qui constituerunt ecclesiam per singula loca ut sanctuartium tuum, in gloriam et laudem indeficientem nominis tut.

[So now pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to the holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name.]

The “perfecting of the Priesthood” is deliberately ommitted from the form because the composers of the New Ordinal had come to reject the Medieval view of the Episcopate and updated the form to ordain Bishops accordingly. The form also fails to univocally signifiy the sacramental effect and runs afoul of both Apostolicae curae and Sacramentum ordinis. So that even though the new form for the bestowal of the Priesthood may be valid any Bishop ordained by means of the new form is not in fact a Bishop and someone who is not in fact a Bishop cannot make priests. The Roman Catholic Church is rapidly losing its Holy Orders! But perhaps a kind Anglican Bishop could be found to restore validity to our Mother Church? At least two prominent Bishops of my own Anglican Catholic Church, Bishops Haverland and Mead could be approached to perform an operation of sacramental rescue?

Might there be another way to look at i? Perhaps the New Roman Ordinal can be said to be valid after all … Perhaps by that same logic Anglican Orders have been valid all along as well?


Fr. Gregory Wassen



About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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