Sunday, September 15, 2013

Orders and Disorders

A bit of a photo gallery to begin today's post.

These are all supposed to be Church of England priests: St Dunstan (advising King Edgar, Archbishop Warham (the last Archbishop of Canterbury in communion with Rome), Archbishop Laud, a 17th Century service, Fr, Alfred Hope Patten (responsible for rebuilding the Shrine at Walsingham), Sally Hitchiner (The Rev wears Prada).

While I was preparing for my priesting, it struck me that if I am to share in the Priesthood of Christ, then I do run up against the fact that the Church of England through which my orders have come does indeed have a distinct Protestant thread running through it. The Articles are subtly Protestant and, although I am not bound by them, my ecclesiastical ancestors were. Somehow, I have to reconcile myself with sharing the same Priesthood as Fr. Patten, St Dunstan and the 18th Century priest caricatured above. It is quite clear that the 18th Century Priest is very different from both St Dunstan and Fr. Patten. Surely the Roman Catholics are right. Surely there has been a rupture in Anglican Orders which renders any Anglican participation in the Catholic Priesthood completely null and void.

Of course, much ink has been spilt about the question of the validity of Anglican Orders, just as much blood has been spilt by the shameful fact that Christians are divided and some have been more than willing to shed the blood of others. I am no expert on the subject, and I have much work to do to get myself to the same depth of learning and wisdom as my priestly colleagues, but I do understand that the reason why the Holy See has declared Anglican Orders null and void is the defect of intention. In short, a Roman Catholic does not believe that an Anglican presbyter participates in the Catholic Priesthood of Christ because somewhere along the line, an Anglican Bishop did not intend the person they were ordaining to be a Catholic priest.

Now, I will probably re-hash some old arguments here, but I find it worth considering several points which convince me that I and my colleagues and so many other priests who happen not to be in communion with Rome are still nonetheless Catholic Priests.

1) Anglicans have preserved tactile ordination, the episcopate, and the fact that only an ordained minister may celebrate the Eucharist. This at least provides some mechanism by which Anglicans may share the Catholic Priesthood.

2) The Anglican Ordinal of 1550 (in companion to the prayerbook of 1549) makes specific reference to the ordering of "bishoppes, priestes and deacons", and that priests are given the same authority as Our Lord gave to the first priests "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven". This provides some evidence that the intention is the same.

3) Sacraments are not comprehensible. These are gifts from God! After the consecration, both Protestant and Catholic will see a wafer. The Protestant will deny the reality of the sacramental presence of Christ since he cannot see the Truth. However, a Catholic will receive the Truth that Christ is somehow present; he may even hold to the Romish doctrine of Transubstantiation. However, neither will he grasp the extent to which Christ is present. There is always a gap between what is really there and what we see, understand and believe to be there. God is gracious far beyond the bounds of human eyes. Likewise, the nature of the Catholic priesthood is not comprehensible. The 18th Century Church of England intended to make bishoppes, priestes and deacons as much as it did in the 16th and indeed 14th and prior centuries, though it will not have comprehended, nay even denied, the full grace and effects of the sacrament to the recipient in some adherence to the Protestant cause. That does not mean that that grace and those effects have not been given. God is gracious! Is any Catholic priest fully aware of the sacramental grace that he has been given by virtue of his ordination? Is he fully aware of the presence of Christ in him as he consecrates the Eucharistic elements?

The main point is that validity is really a test for a positive, not for a negative. A much surer test is that which Our Lord Himself reminds us: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits . Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down , and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (St Matthew vii.15-20)

It is in this way that one can discern intention and even then not wholly. Thus I do believe that Anglican Orders are and always have been just as valid as any other Catholic Priest's. It is entirely possible (though I doubt it) that the Anglican Church was Protestant. However, looking at the Anglican Catholic Church, if it ever was Protestant before 1977, then it most certainly is not now. I am convinced that I am a Catholic priest, that my Bishop is a Catholic bishop, and that my colleagues all participate in the One Priesthood of Christ as do so many others, and I thank God for it.

A defect of intention is difficult to prove, but if proved does indeed nullify a sacrament. As Sally Hitchiner proves, a defect of matter is often much easier to discern.

1 comment:

ed pacht said...

I've never seen "Protestant" and "Catholic" as true antonyms. The picture of the 18th C preacher makes me thankful, as neither did he. No matter how loudly he'd proclaim himself a 'minister' of the 'Protestant Church of England', he still affirmed the 'holy catholic church' and the 'one catholic and apostolic church., repeatedly and often, and meant it, even if he was not always sure what he meant by it. The opposite of 'Protestant' was then, and should be now 'Romish' or 'Papist', or, perhaps more politely, 'Roman' or 'Papal'. Unfortunately, there is not such a clear locution in the other direction, except perhaps simply non-catholic.

The Reformation insights are valuable, insofar as they do not devolve into negative polemics. Even Trent was strongly influenced by the reformers, presenting a Catholicism far removed from the popular religion of the era preceding, and Vatican 2 cneerfully adopted much of what the Reformers had advocated.

Does any group of Christians understand what they are talking about? I don't think so. Are there any of us who will not ultimately (at the Great White Throne) find ourselves to have bee in serious error? I doubt that highly. We muddle along, doing the best we can, and trusting Our Lord to make up for our glaring deficiencies.eU