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Leo XIII's Decision on Anglican Orders: The Intrinsic Argument

by Paul R. Rust, O.M.I.

Descriptive Title

Leo XIII's Decision on Anglican Orders - The Intrinsic Argument


This article discusses the ordination rite used by the Anglican Church and explains how it contains defects of form and intention which render the sacrament invalid.

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review


1041 - 1053

Publisher & Date

Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., August 1961

II. Intrinsic Argument

(Part I of this article limited its scope to an examination of the historical context which frames Anglican orders. It emphasized one important fact generally by-passed by Anglican apologists, i.e., that Apostolicae Curae was merely one more papal document which, when read in conjunction with the earlier documents of Popes Julius III, Paul IV, and Clement XI, attests the three-century judgment of the Holy See on the validity of Edwardine orders.)

Apostolicae Curae, making a special distinction between what is ceremonial in the rite of ordination and what is essential for validity, directed its attention to the Ordinal text itself. An analysis of its prayers and its rubrics, framed as they must be within the context of its historical origins, 1550-1552, clearly exposed the two defects which became the gravamen of Leo XIII, as they had been the gravamen of Julius III, Paul IV, Clement XI, namely, defect of "form" and, conjoined with it, yet independent of it, an essential defect of "intention" in the minister who had used the Ordinal.

When we address ourselves to the two defects of the Ordinal rite, we are obliged to clarify what theologians have in mind when they speak of what is essential and what is merely accidental (ceremonial) in the administration of every sacrament. In other words, it must be clearly understood what is the essential "matter" (that is the visible action that is being performed by the minister of the sacrament) and what is the "form" (which comprises the words recited by the minister which give a precise meaning, i.e., determination, to the "matter").

Theologians agree that essential to the sacrament is the text of the words recited by the minister; they are required to express the nature of that peculiar function the sacrament was instituted by Christ to effect, i.e., cleansing, strengthening, absolving, feeding, uniting, healing, ordaining — which explains what theologians mean by "determinate forms."

If the words pronounced by the administrator of a sacrament fail to express the sacramental function clearly, how can one say that doubtful words, that is a doubtful sacramental "text," a) signify the peculiar grace operating upon the arteries of the soul, or b) that they produce the sacramental action expressed by them?

Ordinal "Forms"

Pope Leo's criticism was that the "forms" for priesthood and episcopate composed for the ordination rite by Cranmer in 1550 express neither a) the grace received nor b) the power conferred by a genuine ministration of the sacrament of Holy Orders. We invite the reader to read our direct quote of the questionable Ordinal "forms."


Take the Holy Ghost, and remember that thou stir up the grace of God, which is in thee, by imposition of hands: for God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of soberness.


Receive the Holy Ghost, 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, etc.

The entire substance of the Anglican "forms" is to be found in the first four words: "Take (receive) the Holy Ghost." Of themselves, these words have no precise meaning beyond an invoking of the Holy Spirit, who could be invoked equally as well with these or similar words in the ministering of any sacrament or even in the recitation of any prayer of devotion.

If Catholic theology is inerrant and teaches, as it does, that the "form" must of itself express a) the power and b) the grace conferred, then admittedly Anglican orders are invalid because of defect of "form." (We repeat that this conclusion relates only to the Edwardine Ordinal.)

It is quite possible that the reader may inquire of us what was the Ordinal "form" for the ordination of an Anglican deacon. We quote its original text, as found in the 1550 Ordinal, to show that it is effective because of its determinate character. Apostolicae Curae made no mention of it at all.

Take thou authority to execute the office of deacon in the Church of God committed unto thee: in the Name of the Father, etc.

Why is this "form" expressive of the office being transferred and the "forms" for the orders of priesthood and episcopate indeterminate? The answer is simple. The deaconate has never been conceived as exercising any sacrificial function in the Church. There was no reason to alter its "form" as there was a cogent reason for the alteration of the "forms" related to the sacrificial office of a priesthood. Cranmer left no doubt in the minds of those who seriously employed his Ordinal, or in the minds of those who submitted themselves to its ritual.

Catholic "Forms"


For the Diaconate

For the Priesthood

For the Episcopate

Old Roman

We pray Thee, O Lord, also mercifully to look down on this Thy servant whom we humbly dedicate to the office of DEACON, that he may serve at Thy altars.

Bestow, we beseech Thee, O Lord, on these Thy servants the dignity of the PRESBYTERATE.

And we therefore pray thee, O Lord, to bestow grace upon these Thy servants whom Thou hast chosen to the ministry of the HIGH PRIESTHOOD — (Summi Sacerdotii).



. . . Do Thou Thyself, O Lord, preserve in all honesty of faith this person whom it has pleased Thee through me to promote to the office of a DEACON, and who holds the sacrament with a pure conscience. Grant (him) the grace granted to STEPHEN the martyr, who was the first called by Thee to the work of this ministry.


O God . . . who has honored with designation of PRESBYTER those who have been marked out as worthy to minister the word of Thy truth holily in that degree, do Thou, Lord of all things, grant in Thy good pleasure, that this person, whom it has pleased Thee that I should promote . . . may in blameless conversation receive the grace of Thy Holy Spirit.

Do Thou, Lord of all things, confirm and strengthen this Thine elect, that, through the hands of me, a sinner, and of the ministers and bishops present, he may by the grace of the Holy Spirit, receive the EPISCOPAL DIGNITY.


Do Thou, O Lord, in this hour look upon Thy servant and send down into him the grace of the Holy Spirit . . . and as Thou didst grant grace to blessed STEPHEN, the first whom Thou didst call to this MINISTRY, so grant that help from heaven may come down upon this Thy servant.


Choose him by Thy grace and by Thy mercy promote this Thy servant, who on account of Thy manifold kindness and the gift of Thy grace, is presented today from the order of deacons to the high and sublime grade of PRESBYTERS.

Do Thou, who canst do all things, adorn also with all good qualities and virtues this Thy servant, whom Thou hast made worthy to receive from Thee the sublime ORDER OF BISHOPS.


Lord God . . . who has chosen Thy Church and hast raised up in it Prophets and Apostles and Priests and Doctors . . . and has likewise placed in it DEACONS and as Thou didst choose STEPHEN and his companions, so now also, O Lord, . . . grant to these Thy servants the grace of Thy Holy Spirit, that they may be elected DEACONS.


Do Thou, therefore, great God of virtues . . . look down also now upon these Thy servants and choose them by Thy holy election through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit . . . and choose them to the PRIESTHOOD.

Do Thou, O Lord, even now cause Thy face to shine on this Thy servant, and choose him by a holy election through the unction of the Holy Spirit, that he may be to Thee a PERFECT PRIEST, . . . and confirm him by the Holy Spirit in THIS holy ministry to which he is ascending.


Grant him, O Lord, the power and grace of HOLY STEPHEN,Thy Protomartyr and FIRST DEACON, that being filled with Thy Holy Spirit, he may abide immaculate in the ministry of Thy holy table.

Listen, O Lord, now also to the voice of our supplications, and preserve him in this PRIESTHOOD to which he has been called, this Thy servant, now ordained, whom Thou hast chosen and received into the PRESBYTERATE.

The Divine Grace calls this N. from the Priesthood to the EPISCOPATE . . . I lay hands upon him: Pray all that he may be made worthy to preserve the grade of his EPISCOPATE immaculate.

Serapion's Prayer

Anglicans always base their arguments in favor of their orders, at least so far as Leo XIII's condemnation of them because of defect of "form," upon an ancient Sacramentary which liturgists attribute to Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis in the Nile delta (c. 339). In his ordination prayer for a presbyter explicit mention of both the order and the grace transmitted is lacking.

Father Francis Clark, S.J., evaluates the Anglican argument fairly and carefully:

Anglican apologists deny, not without reason, that the Sacramentary of Serapion is an undisputed Catholic rite in which the wording of the sacramental form for the priesthood did not make express mention of the Order or of the grace and power to be conferred. (Before the discovery of the Sacramentary of Serapion a similar claim was often made in connection with the Canons of Hippolytus, a very early sixth century collection of laws dealing with liturgy and discipline. They are wrongly attributed to St. Hippolytus, an ecclesiastical writer who lived c. 170 to c. 236.) It may be that the significance of the form must be judged not from one isolated group of words alone, but from the elements found in the same rite, which, when taken in conjunction with that formula, give it an unmistakable meaning. But if (as in the case of the Ordinal) the significance of the form is found to be defective, when it is taken in conjunction with other elements in the rite, then there is one single and decisive defect of form.

So, it may be argued, even if the form in the Sacramentary of Serapion is indeterminate in its actual wording, it would, in a rite not contrary to the sense of the universal Church, acquire the necessary determination from the accompanying prayers, or even from the obvious purport of the ceremony as a whole. It may also be worth noting that in the only surviving manuscript of the Sacramentary of Serapion the order of presbyterate is expressly named in the title prefixed to the form.12

Non-Conformity in the Ordinal

Even superficial analysis of the Ordinal "forms" makes it clear that the Edwardine ordination rites are found wanting. They lack all conformity with "forms" long used by both the Latin and Greek churches. Catholic "forms" are everywhere "precatory." That is, they "supplicate" the Diety. Ordinal "forms" are uniformly "imperative." They tell the ordinand what to do.

Finally, Catholic "forms" do not leave us wondering what is the particular grace and what is the extraordinary power which are being transferred from the minister of Holy Orders to the ordinand.

1662 "Forms" of the Caroline Ordinal

When, in 1662, King Charles II restored the Elizabethan 1559 liturgy, his liturgists amended the defective "forms" by an addition of a few words. Why in the world did these men do this if the 1559 "forms" were genuinely effective? Would that they had recorded the reason for their revision!

Apostolicae Curae suggests that this was done because "the Anglicans themselves perceived that the first form was defective and inadequate." More than that, the encyclical added these words which ever since have been contested by Anglican apologists: "But even if this addition could give to the form its due signification, it was introduced too late, as a century had elapsed since the adoption of the Edwardine Ordinal; for as the hierarchy had become extinct there remained no power of ordaining." The Pope's words were historically true. England's last Catholic Bishop (Goldwell) had died in exile in 1585. The hierarchy had indeed become "extinct."

"No such thing," explain our Anglicans. "What actually happened was this. When the 1662 liturgists revised the Edwardine 'forms,' they did so to make it clear that there is an essential difference between the priesthood and the episcopate." In 1662 Presbyterian theologians had cited the Ordinal "forms" to establish their contention that Anglicanism and Presbyterianism were united in the belief that "presbyterate" and "episcopate" are one and the same thing.

A quarter of a century ago Dr. Ernest C. Messenger, in his monumental work on the Anglican liturgy, met the Anglican explanation with his characteristic good sense and amiability:

It is, we think, quite likely that the Presbyterian contention was mainly in view here. But this does not mean that the alterations were not in part based upon Catholic criticism of the preceding forms. For already, before 1661, many Catholics had criticized the Anglican forms and had maintained their insufficiency. And some of these had criticized the forms precisely because of the absence of terms specifying the distinct office conferred, and/or its special power.13

Thus, in part, Apostolicae Curae based its conclusion relating to the 1662 "forms" on three historical periods of English history:

1. 1550-1662 — the 112 years from the Ordinal of 1550 to the Ordinal of 1662.

2. 1559-1662 — the 103 years from the consecration of Parker to 1662.

3. 1585-1662 — the 77 years from the death of Bishop Goldwell to 1662.

A Favorite Anglican Argument

We noted above that the Canons of Hippolytus have periodically been marched out to do battle for the cause of the Edwardine Ordinal "forms." Contemporaneous with the publication of Apostolicae Curae, an Anglican, the Rev. T. A. Lacey, cited these fifth-century liturgical canons in an effort to refute Pope Leo's point relating to the indefinite "forms" of the Edwardine Ordinal.

"I answer," he wrote,14 "that the mention of the order is not necessary, for in the Canons of Hippolytus there are found prayers for the conferring of orders in the Roman Church of which that assigned to the deaconate contains no mention whatever of that order."

Actually the Fifth Canon does specify what order is being conferred: "If a Deacon is to be ordained." This rubric is followed by a prayer which determines the character of the order of the deaconate: "O God the Father, we earnestly beseech Thee to pour Thy Holy Spirit upon Thy servant to make him ready Like Stephen...."

Anglicans and the Coptic Rite

Occasionally, even today, Anglicans persist in making use of an imaginary decree of the Holy Office which they cite in favor of the Edwardine Ordinal "forms." This fictional decree is supposed to relate to the ordination "forms" of the very old Coptic Rite.

It will be remembered by our readers that the Copts, apart from a very small Uniate group, separated from the ancient Egyptian Church when they became Monophysites at the time of the fourth ecumenical council, the Council of Chalcedon, 451. (It will be recalled, too, that it was at this great Council that the participants in it cried out to Pope Leo the Great, "Peter has spoken through Leo!") The Copts, like the Orthodox Greeks, jealously have preserved intact their Catholic ordination rites, and it is to these that this decree of the Holy Office is supposed to refer.

The decree cited by these Anglican apologists is quoted as affirming that a mere laying-on of hands with the words, "Receive the Holy Ghost," suffices for the validity of Holy Orders.

1) No such decree was issued. An unidentified Consultor did submit a proposition to that effect. Twice it was vetoed by Clement XI (February 14 and April 10, 1704).

2) The genuine Coptic "form":

Lord God, look upon Thy servant who is to be promoted to the Priesthood. Fill him with the Holy Ghost, that he may perform The Office of a Priest. We call thee, N., as a Priest to the Holy Altar of the Faithful. Amen."

Intention of the Ordinal Creator(s)

In compliance with the directions of Pope Leo XIII, a complete collection of the fabricator(s) of the Edwardine ordination rites was placed in the hands of the scholars who had been attached to the Commission appointed by the Pope. While the almost unanimous opinion of the Cranmerian Anglicans was that the Holy Eucharist was not a sacrificial act of the Church, but merely a Communion rite, Anglicans have ever asserted that Cranmer and his associates intended to revive a liturgy which was celebrated by the primitive Church, a genuine Catholic liturgy which the Pontifical of later ages had polluted.

Anglicans do not seem to appreciate the justice of our reply to this claim. They fail to see, it appears, that it was the corporate intention of the Edwardine Anglican church to reject Catholicism itself, and not only rites which expressed the doctrines of Catholicism.

Viewed strictly within the context of Reformation history, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal had to abolish Mass and priesthood, even with a retention of the titles "Mass" and "priests" which in the original Edwardine rites were continued, before the liturgy was "made perfect" by the 1552 books of worship.

Intention of the Catholic Church

What does the Church intend? Our answer is ever the same. The Church intends to continue until the end of time what her Divine Founder commanded she do: the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which for centuries we have titled "The Sacrifice of the Mass." It is the Church's response to Our Lord's "Do this in commemoration of me." And His "do this" is continued day after day in the Catholic Church by her ministers who have been set apart from her laity by the sacrament of Holy Orders to celebrate Holy Mass, the unbloody sacrifice of the cross.

Sixty-five years have passed since the Evangelical Rock published this significant commentary on Apostolicae Curae:

With the Reformation the heads of the Church of England separated deliberately and effectively from the Church of Rome, repudiated her teaching on the Priesthood and the Episcopate, and, therefore, never had, in ordaining, any intention of conferring a priesthood, since they considered sacerdotalism an injury to the priesthood of Christ, without foundation in the Scripture, and repugnant to all the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel.15

In confirmation of this conclusion, a day later, another Evangelical paper, the Speaker, had this to say:

The majority of English Anglicans never supposed that their clergy possessed the power peculiar to the Roman Catholic priesthood. They have always repulsed every pretension of authority founded upon such sacerdotal power.16

Our comment? There have been relatively few "Vicars of Bray" who trimmed their doctrinal sails to suit, every ecclesiastical wind in the Established Church. A robust Protestantism was, to say the least, the rudder which steered the Anglican ship during the reign of Edward VI.

Ordinal Excludes a Right Intention

With good reason did Cardinal Vaughan write nearly seventy years ago:

It is impossible to ignore the doctrinal and historical fact that for three centuries the Church of England has repudiated the essential character of the Catholic rite of ordination, and has used a form which was of set purpose intended to exclude the idea of a sacrificing priesthood.17

To reach a conclusion that a bishop who seriously used the "forms" of the Edwardine Ordinal was intending to ordain a sacrificing priest requires a hardy kind of credibility. Charity and justice urge us to invite our Anglican brethren to think over what we have just said. To us it appears preposterous that Cranmer and his associates were really endeavoring to revive rites, primitive and apostolic, at the expense of reducing the rite of ordination to what we find in the Edwardine Ordinal.

The Vicious Circle

One favorite weapon brandished at Apostolicae Curae by its opponents and critics has been the blade of the so-called vicious circle. This weapon was first unsheathed by Canon Lacey, whose work on Anglican orders we have already quoted. He would ask us to believe that the papal judgment revolves within the circumference of circlearguing. "Defect of form," he wrote, "is proved from defect of intention, and defect of intention is proved from defect of form. The two arguments combined will make an excellent circle."18

His criticism was repeated quite as recently as 1950 by Dr. Bayard Jones, an American Episcopalian:

Rome gives away its case by admitting that the "Form" of the Ordinal might be quite sufficient if it were found in a Catholic Pontifical, where a right intention could be taken for granted, if we Anglicans had used a Catholic "Form." But the "Form" must be ruled invalid because of lack of intention.19

But Apostolicae Curae explained that defect of "form" is proved 1) from a consideration of the text of the "form" itself, and 2) from a consideration of the history of the compilation of the Ordinal rite. Both testify to the defective character of the Ordinal "form."

a) It is vague and indeterminate.

b) It lacks elements native to every effective "form."

c) Whoever fabricated it disbelieved in the sacrificial character of the genuine priesthood.

Grant, if you will, that the Edwardine bishop did intend to do what the Church does in ordaining candidates to the sacerdotium, the Edwardine "form" would still be ineffective because of the premises expressed immediately above in "a" and "b."

Apostolicae Curae was left with no alternative to judge the nature of the intention other than the historical framework which gives a positive shape to Cranmer's work. It would be difficult to view the Edwardine minister of the Ordinal "form" in any other light than in his intention to exclude the intention of ordaining sacrificing priests. He simply could not have been so ignorant as not to have realized that his new rite was opposed a) to the ancient rites of the Catholic Church, and b) to the consistent tradition of primitive Christianity.

Elizabethan Establishment

1. First Act of Uniformity (1549)

This parliamentary legislation of the reign of Edward VI abolished the Missal and adopted in its place Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, a compilation of the rites of the Edwardine Anglican church. A year later, 1550, Cranmer (not Parliament) substituted his Ordinal for our ancient Pontifical.

2. Second Act of Uniformity (1552)

Parliament suppressed the 1549-1550 liturgical books and imposed Cranmer's revised liturgy, with the explanation that the Anglican liturgy had now been made "fully perfect." Prayer Book and Ordinal actually did express the perfection, the full maturity, of Cranmer's beliefs relative to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

Professor Pollard measures the distance covered by Cranmer in reaching his point of no return: "It is clear that whatever foreign inspiration there may have been, that inspiration was Zwinglian rather than Calvinist."20

While we are completely aware that the citation of authors other than Anglican leave our Anglican readers cold, yet scholars like Pollard enjoy an enviable reputation for getting down to the bare bones of English Reformation history. They prove themselves to have been eminently successful in setting down the record of what actually had happened and not what our Anglican controversialist would have us believe did happen.

Dix's Shape of the Liturgy, Parker's The English Reformation to 1558 are as accessible to Catholics as are Pollard's writings, and are as valuable as are his conclusions in explaining the thoroughly Protestant background of the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We invite our readers to consult these Anglican authors in the event that they would care to come to grips with our Anglican critics on their own ground. For that matter, it has been suggested to me by a convert from Anglicanism that Catholics might be a step ahead if they do cite such Anglican scholars.

3. Third (and final) Act of Uniformity (1559)

We note that this is the last parliamentary effort to revise the Anglican liturgy. Parliament did not legislate a new Act of Uniformity when the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal were restored in 1662; it simply ratified a liturgy approved by the Convocations of Canterbury and York. This was effected by an appeal to the Elizabethan Act we are about to discuss as the Preface of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer explains.

In all probability it will never be known for certain exactly what were Queen Elizabeth's liturgical preferences, although it has been well argued that, if she had been allowed her will, the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 would have been restored. But the Queen yielded to policy, and the Zwinglian 1552 Book was revived June 24, 1559, when the Catholic rites were abolished.

The only success which Elizabeth enjoyed was to see the notorious Black Rubric21 of the 1552 Communion rite suppressed (to reappear in a slightly modified form in 1662). Her success in this matter has sometimes been cited as proof of her personal acceptance of the doctrine of the Real Presence. These verses, attributed to Elizabeth, oddly enough are quoted by liberal Anglicans to support this interesting view of her Anglican mind:

Christ was the Word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it,
And what His word did make it,
That I believe and take it.

The Elizabethan Episcopal Bench

It strikes us that Anglican readers of this portion of our article may question our fairness and, perhaps, even our accuracy. Our calling back from the Shadows the restless spirits of these half-dozen prelates named by Elizabeth at various periods of her lengthy reign to fill some of the Sees of the Established Church is for the purpose of endeavoring to assess the doctrinal tenets embraced by the Elizabethan hierarchy. We are of the opinion that these six are representative of the opinions on the priesthood professed by a majority of the seventy-two bishops who held Sees during the Elizabethan Age, from 1559 to 1603. We quote directly and verbatim from the pages of a book by an Anglican writer.22 Surely it is not conceivable that this man had any axe to grind with these prelates who occupied the Elizabethan episcopal bench. Italics are ours.

Edmund Grindal — "The fact of the Dutch and French ministers not being episcopally ordained, as an essential of the ministry, presented no difficulty to Grindal. On the contrary, he distinctly recognized the validity of Presbyterian orders as existing in Scotland."

John Jewel — "He submitted to the ceremonies of consecration, while at the same time he thought them silly, if not worse."

Robert Horne — "He loathed their [the Catholics'] ritual and hated their doctrine."

Richard Barnes — "I have driven out the 'massers.'"

William Overton — "Burghley informed the Queen that he [Overton] had 'in one day made seventy ministers for money,' of whom Burghley declared that the 'greatest part was not worthy to keep horses.'"

Richard Bancroft — "When he became Archbishop of Canterbury, he held that Presbyterian ordination sufficed where episcopal ordination could not be had."

The question we must ask is this: Would it have been probable that the leaders of the Elizabethan church could have had the intention of ordaining "priests" in the sense that priests had been ordained prior to the substitution of the Protestant Ordinal for the Catholic Pontifical?

Anglican Froude and Anglican Parker

The paragraphs that follow express not a Catholic, but an Anglican appraisal of the hierarchy of the Elizabethan church. The author of these devastating quotations was an Anglican deacon.

In the midst of these grave matters, a little scene had taken place in Lambeth Chapel, which must not be entirely forgotten. To some persons it has appeared as an event of great and transcendent moment — the readjustment of the ladder between heaven and earth by which alone divine grace could descend upon the inhabitants of these islands. To more secular minds it has seemed altogether secondary — a thing merely of this world — a convenient political arrangement.

A Catholic bishop holds his office by a tenure untouched by the accidents of time. Dynasties may change — nations may lose their liberties — the firm fabric of society itself may be swept away in the torrent of revolution — the Catholic prelate remains at his post. When he dies, another takes his place. And when the waters sink into their beds, the quiet form is seen standing where it stood before — the thing itself rooted like a rock on the adamantine basements of the world.

The Anglican hierarchy, far unlike its rival, was a child of compromise. It drew its life from Elizabeth's throne, and had Elizabeth fallen, it would have crumbled into sand. The Church of England was a limb lopped off from the Catholic trunk. It was cut away from the stream by which its vascular system had been fed, and the life of it, as an independent and corporate existence, was gone forever. But it had been taken up and grafted upon the state. If not what it had been, it could retain the form of what it had been, the form which made it respectable, without the power which made it dangerous. The image, in its outward aspect, could be made to correspond with the parent tree. And to sustain the illusion it was necessary to provide bishops who could appear to have inherited their power by the approved method, as successors of the apostles.

Three pair of episcopal hands at least were required to communicate that stream. Five of Edward's hierarchy, English and Irish, had survived the Marian persecutions. The Bishop of Llandaff had apostatised. Of the six, four were selected to supply in numbers the uncertainty of their qualifications. And, omitting Kitchin, whose character did not bear investigation, and Bale, who was a foul-mouthed ruffian, the others — Barlow, who had been bishop of Bath; Scory, who had been bishop of Chichester; the venerable Miles Coverdale, and Hodgkins, late suffragan of Bedford — were summoned by royal letter to Lambeth, on the 17th of December, 1559, to consecrate Matthew Parker Archbishop of Canterbury.

The consecration was duly accomplished; the installation followed. There was an Archbishop of Canterbury once more. Rapidly, one after the other, the remaining Sees were filled up, and the new order of English bishops settled down to their work, shorn of much of their wealth, shorn of their privileges, but still peers of the realm, and with sufficient provision for the appearance they were expected to maintain.23

Forty million Anglicans acclaim Arthur Michael Ramsey the one hundredth successor of St. Augustine in the See of Canterbury. British Catholics envision Archbishop Ramsey as the twenty-ninth Protestant Primate of England, the first being Matthew Parker. Catholics in England will tell you that the Catholic line of succession, beginning with Augustine who was sent to England by Pope Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century, died out with the death of Cardinal Pole, 1558.

I saw them march from Dover long ago,
With a silver cross before them, singing low,
Monks from Rome from their home where the blue seas foam,
Augustine with his feet of snow.24

Apostolic Secession

Few of our readers will dispute the fact that the fetish of "apostolic succession" has been worshiped by Anglicans with mounting devotion since the renaissance of Catholic tendencies, in doctrine and ritual, in their church. Nor have our readers reason to doubt that even in the late sixteenth and all throughout the seventeenth century there is evidence that some "high" view of the episcopacy was being developed in the tradition of prelates like Andrewes and Laud. But are we to believe from the scattered evidence at hand that the "apostolic succession" was a tenet of general belief among Anglicans? We think not. Not many Anglicans, prior to the labors of the nineteenth century Tractarians, interested themselves in such a tradition. Few, if any, to a marked degree looked beyond the origins of the English Reformation to see in the setting sun of Catholicism what is today so welcome a belief — the vision of a line of bishops descending in an unbroken series from Augustine to Ramsey.

One Scot Presbyterian evaluates the evidence from history in much the same way that Catholics scholars weigh it. We ask Anglican readers of this page to stay in their chairs. We merely take the liberty to quote what we believe — and do not Evangelical Anglicans agree with us? — is the historical truth.

In those days (the years of the 16th century) the Anglican Church did not hold the doctrine of "apostolic succession." Preachers from the Reformed Churches were freely received, and their Orders recognized as genuine. The members of the Reformed Churches abroad were given Communion without question in the Anglican Church. It was only in the days of Archbishop Laud, some seventy-five years later, that the Church of England began to put forward claims to the divine right of episcopacy.25

All of which means simply this — and we are of the opinion that those of our readers who have followed with us the trenchant force of the argument from history will arrive at this one conclusion: the vigorous unmitred and uncrosiered Elizabethan bishops who fertilized the newly turned soil of the Established Church with their unanimous rejection of sacerdotalism and of all that "papistry" stood for were knit from tougher yarn than are their mitered and crosiered counterparts on today's Elizabethan episcopal bench.

Is Further Investigation Possible?

All too frequently do Anglican writers suggest that Rome will one day adopt something as improbable as these two extremes. Either some Pontiff will reverse the judgment of Apostolicae Curae or he will decree that Catholic scholars desist in writing on the subject at all. Those who are pinning their hopes on anything so chimeric must be unaware of the spirit of Apostolicae Curae. Its text embodies no more and no less than a juridical sentence whose validity depends upon the evidence adduced from the historical setting of the Ordinal as well as upon an impartial analysis of the Ordinal "forms" themselves.

The Papal Bull made no infallible commitment. It closed no avenue to the continuing study of Anglican history. It is quite possible that historical facts unknown to Pope Leo XIII sixty-five years ago may rise to the surface out of the obscure limbo of the past. But such facts and the knowledge acquired from them will disturb in no way the evidence cited by Leo. Nor will such a possible contingency reverse the official papal judgment rendered nearly three quarters of a century ago. Pope Leo's letter of November 5, 1896, addressed to the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, makes this certain; the Pontiff stated explicitly to Cardinal Richard that the judgment he had written into Apostolicae Curae was "irrevocable."

Summing Up

1. The Anglican Apologetic

a) Cardinal Newman's well-known "Tract Ninety" of Tracts For The Times proposed his solution to the difficulty caused by Article XXXI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Established Church. Newman merely adopted the solution invented in the 1630's by Catholic Franciscan Sancta Clara.26 Both men endeavored to explain away the words of Article XXXI which declared that the "sacrifices of Masses were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits." "Tract Ninety" remains basic to the Anglo-Catholic understanding of the Article's attack on the Mass.

b) For well over a century a succession of Anglican theologians and historians have persisted in arguing that the Edwardine reformers were men entirely dedicated and devoted to the emancipation of the Church from the servitude of superstition and had merely restated the true Catholic doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Catholics are expected to accept this interpretation of the English Reformation.

2. The Catholic Answer

a) Apostolicae Curae clearly set forth what doctrine of the Eucharist was rejected by Article XXXI and by the Edwardine reformers; why the reformers did reject this Catholic doctrine; what doctrine the reformers substituted for it.

b) Pope Leo had free access to the literary monuments of the English reformers, and these works left no doubt in his mind why they had altered the rite of ordination. The Pope knew, too, that the English reformers were "schoolmen" well versed in the theology of Catholicism as well as in the theology of the continental Protestants in whose footsteps they walked. These literary remains urge a convincing argument in favor of Apostolicae Curae, for they attest the undeniable fact that the new formularies of faith were designed to contradict traditional doctrines of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

c) With the passing of the years it is becoming increasingly difficult for Catholics to understand how Anglicans can long maintain their line of argumentation, confronted as they are with this massive testimony of their own Founding Fathers.27

d) In the long dialogue between Catholic and Anglican, Apostolicae Curae — as eirenic in purpose as it was temperate in argument — wrote Finis to a weary chapter of Church history.

e) As far as Catholics are concerned, "the case is closed" — "causa finite."


12 Anglican Orders and Defect of Intention (Longmans, London, 1956). Italics added.

13 The Reformation, the Mass, and the Priesthood, II (Longmans, London, 1937). Italics added.

14 Dissertations Apologeticae de Hierarchia Anglicana Supplementum, 1896.

15 September 25, 1896.

16 September 26, 1896.

17 Letter to Mr. Howell, October 2, 1894.

18 Contemporary Review, December 1896, "The Pope and the Anglicans."

19 Living Church.

20 Political History, i, p. 20.

21 "It is not meant thereby that any adoration is done or ought to be done, either unto the sacramental bread and wine, for they remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored." The Black Rubric regulated the posture to be taken when receiving the Communion. It was to be received kneeling at the table and not sitting as the Scot Reformer Knox wished to see legislated. Cranmer authored this Black Rubric.

22 The Lives of the Elizabethan Bishops, by F. O. White (London, 1898).

23 Elizabeth, i, pp. 121-123 (Everyman's Library edition), by James Anthony Froude.

24 By James Elroy Flecker (untitled).

25 Story of the Scottish Reformation, p. 59, Edinburgh, 1960.

26 Fr. John Berchmans' Christopher Davenport: Friar and Diplomat (Burns & Oates, 1960) is a biography of Sancta Clara.

27 "Loop-holes will still be found, new variations of old arguments brought forward; but all this cannot really hide the fact that Anglo-Catholics are in a most unenviable dilemma" (Scottish Journal of Theology, March, 1957, pp. 109-111, by Rev. T. H. L. Parker).

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