As regular readers will be aware, one thing confounds me about the situation with the Catholic Church is the sheer scale of fragmentation. The "alphabet soup" that describes the Anglican Continuum is certainly an embarrassment. Further, the fragmentation is somewhat exacerbated by the episcopi vagantes that ordain and consecrate priests and bishops at a whim rather than in the prayerful and long discernment of the Church. Most of these episcopi vagantes produce valid but irregular bishops and priests, though some do not mainly because they rely on aged and infirm bishops to consecrate them. I look with some distaste at one bishop being consecrated by an aged, blind patriarch who seems to have no idea what is happening. That, to me, seems like defect of intention, and would render subsequent consecrations by this ordinand highly suspect to say the least.
It is the apostolic succession that ultimately must bind the Catholic Church together. St Paul warns both St Timothy and St Titus not to let controversies over genealogies damage the body of Christ. So many times do we witness this criticism over who has valid orders and who does not. This is particularly prevalent in Anglican Orders which have the clearly politically motivated Apostolicae Curae issued against us, despite its blatantly obvious falsity. However, until the attempts to ordain women, it was clear that Anglicans sought to preserve this succession as tightly as possible.
The defect of intention has now rendered all ordinations in the Church of England since 1992 suspect, though it does not render the acts of true charity and love that the CofE promulgates in any way suspicious. While it may lack sacramental assurance and cannot claim to be part of the Catholic Church, Christ's commands are still taken seriously, and CofE ministers are due as much respect as any other minister of God. Yet, the fact remains that the CofE is no longer Catholic as an institution.
In the Anglican Continuum, we have the famous Chambers Succession. In 1978, Bishop Albert Chambers and Bishop Francisco Pagtakhan were due to be joined by Bishops Mark Pae and Charles Boynton to consecrate Charles Doren the first Continuing Anglican Bishop. However, Bishops Pae and Boynton were both prevented from attending due to ill-health which meant that the consecration of Bishop Doren occurred with two consecrating Bishops. However, Bishops Pae and Boynton both sent letters of consent to Bishop Doren's consecration. Bishop Pae participated in subsequent Continuing Anglican ordinations while Bishop Boynton actually joined the ACC.
Now criticisms of the ordination of Bishop Doren clearly start with the fact that there were only two bishops present at the consecration. This is true. However, the first Apostolic Canon states "Let a bishop be ordained by two or three bishops." Of course, the standard has become that three bishops should ordinarily participate in the consecration of a bishop. Nonetheless, it is highly likely that there are bishops who were consecrated by two rather than three others. This does not throw into doubt the validity, but rather their regularity.
Regularity in this context demonstrates the rule by which the bishops live. Many of theepiscopi vagantes are regular only to themselves and their interpretation of whatever rules, canons, and polity they choose. Bishop Doren was indeed validly consecrated, however he was not regularly consecrated within the regularity defined by ECUSA. Now think about this carefully. Given that the Continuing Anglicans were desiring to stay with the Catholic definitions of sacraments and traditional understanding of Anglicanism, they clearly had objections to the regularity of ECUSA. This was not the regularity that the Catholic Church possesses, but ECUSA had moved the goal posts. Thus, it does not matter to the Continuing Anglican movement that its orders are not regular with ECUSA, but rather regular to the new body of Continuing Anglicans as put forward a year earlier in 1977 in the Affirmation of St Louis. This set up the rules for Continuing Anglicanism. Although it was a nuisance to have only two consecrators present at Bishop Doren's consecration, it did not affect its validity, but the consent that it received showed the strength of the intention of Bishop Doren and subsequently consecrated Bishops. The fact that the Chambers Succession flourished into a jurisdiction with a clear constitution, a clear purpose, and a clear desire to preserve the Catholic Faith, means that it cannot be compared with little groups of episcopi vagantes who change the names of their jurisdictions every five minutes, and who change their names and titles as often as they change their trousers.
The same is true of the Old Roman Catholic Church. They have been accused of being a product of a purported episcopus vagans, namely Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, but the fact remains that they have a visible regularity, an organic unity, and a government under God which seeks to continue the Catholic Faith as they have received it. That growth is testament to their validity in Christ. To the Roman Church, they may be irregular, but their bishops are as valid as any Roman Catholic bishop.
Further, a little discovery that I recently made was that one of the bishops who participated in the consecration of Bishop Chambers was Bishop Francis Rowinski of the Polish National Catholic Church whose orders are recognised by Rome. Even among the others of Bishop Chambers' consecrators were those whose consecration had been participated in by the Old Catholic Church. This reinforces what has always been said of Anglican Orders, that they are as valid as Roman Catholic Orders.
Should this bother us? Is this just Rome's problem with us?
We should not care that others don't recognise us as being valid only for as long as we truly seek the will of God in the World and live our lives in sacrifice to Him. Ultimately, it can only be He that validates or invalidates our ministry. Yet, the schisms within the Catholic Church are always a scandal and need to be healed for the integrity of the Church's mission to all people.
Recently, distances have been growing between UECNA and the ACC, despite the fact that they are both inheritors of the Chambers Succession - indeed, Bishop Doren became the first Presiding Bishop of UECNA after consecrating the first Archbishop of the ACC - Archbishop James Mote. UECNA is Anglican and holds to the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer together with its formularies. The ACC is not Anglican, but Anglican Catholic preferring to subordinate any doctrine in the Book of Common Prayer to the doctrine of the Early Church. This does mean that the ACC sees the XXXIX articles as largely irrelevant, but not unwholesome. That is something that UECNA find difficult, however the jurisdictions of the Chambers succession share that common bond. We are hewn out of the same rock despite our differences. We are children born from the same battle for orthodoxy.
As the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity approaches towards the end of the month, I wonder whether we should start looking at the lists of those who describe themselves as Continuing Anglicans and start looking for reasons why we cannot meet regularly with a view to seeing each other as "regular". I wonder whether we can seek out all those Christians who hold fast to the doctrine of the Primitive Church in the first Seven Oecumenical Councils. Instead of G8 summits, we can hold C7 summits for those who hold the doctrine of the first Seven Councils, and C4 with those who hold the doctrine of the first four. These clearly form some common ground. Once we have some kind of visible unity among the Independent Catholic Churches both nationally and world wide, perhaps then we can start to reach out to those who reject Catholic Doctrine and seek to be on good terms with them also.
We cannot be members of the World Council of Churches while it remains non-Apostolic and secular in its purposes and practices. We note that the Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC either for the same reasons. However, we need to stop saying why we cannot be members together and start thinking actively of how we can be members together. What we need is a council of Independent Catholics recognising each others' orders as valid and regular within their jurisdictions and also appreciating our differences which have arisen from history, so that
a) we can learn to view each other as regular in a wider context;
b) that, despite the smallness of member jurisdictions, we can present a larger front with which to dialogue with larger and better established jurisdictions; and
c) that we can better protect each other, arbitrate for each other, and assist each other in a growing bond of trust in Christ's Rule.
Perhaps then, we can begin to heal the schism within the Church and present a better ikon with which to draw those who schism from the Church back into the fold. This has always been my prayer, especially as I have such good friends from all over the Christian spectrum. There are good Christians out there who need to know that they are the Body of Christ. There is a ministry out there to bring the love and grace of God into a dark world through the means of the Sacraments. Can we do it together? I pray that with the help of our Omnipotent God we can.