Thursday, April 27, 2006

Apostolicae Curae is not our problem- it’s theirs Part Two

By now it ought to be obvious that ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Canterbury Communion has become a mere polite formality with no goal, no real purpose. The Church of England, the Episcopal Church, and other trendy Anglican churches have turned around to face the other way, taking the road to Porvoo and unity with Protestants. This is because no longer do they have serious talks about becoming one Church with the Orthodox, as they once did. And, no longer is “eventual reunion” with Rome a realistic idea- not even a dream. They chose women’s “ordination” as a higher priority than the reuniting of Catholic Christendom.

What does that have to do with Apostolicae Curae, the 1896 Bull of Leo XIII that declared Anglican Orders to be “absolutely null and utterly void” due to specific deficiencies? Probably only this: The conclusion has never been rescinded by Rome. To do so would be too dangerous. But, what about Anglican Orders? Do we of the various Continuing Anglican bodies recognize Anglican Orders? Yes, but not all of them. We will return to that later.


Over the years many self-appointed apologists have argued in many Blogs and other venues against the validity of Anglican orders by using the reasons listed in Apostolicae Curae. This is both annoying and embarrassing. One can only roll his eyes, and ask, “but don’t you know that every point you just made has been answered already, in 1897, by the Archbishops of England?" The document Saepius Officio has already laid to rest the arguments of Apostolicae Curae.
If the practice of the Holy See was simply to make infallible pronouncements, as the uneducated wrongly suppose, the reasons for their statements would be clouded in mystery. But, they argue and give reason for every decision, using the occasion to teach. This practice seems commendable, because the human mind is not treated with contempt, and their faithful are, indeed, taught: the old “pray, pay and obey” line is a vicious slander. The Holy See is very careful to educate, to honor the mind and conscience of the faithful.

For this reason, Apostolicae Curae concluded after making a very strong argument. However, for those who take the time to read Saepius Officio, only one conclusion is both logical and reasonable: Apostolicae Curae contains a lot of non-sense. It makes its arguments from a combination of errors about history and about the Anglican practice of the time- the last part being quickly spotted by anyone who had a Book of Common Prayer, or who had witnessed Ordination (or Consecration) in an Anglican Church. The mistakes in Apostolicae Curae are not only wrong- they are embarrassingly wrong. In 1945 Dom Gregory Dix strengthened the Anglican position by his book The Question of Anglican Orders: Letters to a Laymen.
However, because of precedent, the Roman Catholic Church is stuck with a piece of “scholarship” that would earn any student a well-qualified “F.” And, that is not our problem- that is, it is not the problem of Traditionalist Anglicans. However, I can offer a solution. One can live with the truth about Pope Leo XIII’s Bull, and yet be a good Catholic who believes in Papal Infallibility, even the lowest, or third kind that is not spoken Ex Cathedra, and is based on something less than revelation (see Part One). But first, a few more things should be clarified.

The self-appointed apologists, mentioned above, would love it if the Anglican answer had been to argue with the Roman Catholic teaching on what priesthood is. Indeed, the earlier edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia made a passing attempt to give such an impression by saying that the Anglican response had been simply to assert that the nature of the priesthood was basically pastoral, and not sacramental. That was a good try, but simply not true, as we have seen in Saepius Officio. It is, rather, significant that the Anglican response is based upon the assumption that Rome and Anglicanism have the exact same beliefs about the priesthood (and that this is true is demonstrated in the document- not by citing the private opinions of Anglican deviants, but by citing the chief Formulary itself, the Preface to the Ordinal and prayers from that Ordinal, which was the Ordinal used for the disputed Parker Consecration). The Anglicans did, however, regard it as a deficiency in Apostolicae Curae that no mention was made at all of the pastoral work of the priesthood, or of teaching. However, they made it clear that they were not rejecting the wider meaning of priesthood. The problem for Roman Catholics from Saepius Officio is that the Anglican position was not to argue with the Roman Catholic theology of priesthood and of the Apostolic Succession of bishops, but to accept that theology as commonly held faith.

So, how does one accept the facts about Apostolicae Curae and remain a good Roman Catholic? The answer is very simple, so simple that it embarrasses me to point it out. The errors of Apostolicae Curae are not errors about faith and morals, but about history. And, the Magesterium of the Roman Catholic Church does not claim to be infallible about history, science, archeology, economics- or even about readi’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic. The conclusion of Apostolicae Curae is wrong, because every argument that led to that conclusion is wrong. But, the theology of the Bull is not in error.


However, maybe the Holy Spirit was guiding the Holy See even in the mistaken history of that Bull. Not that its conclusion was right, but that it may be good for Roman Catholics today to beware the orders of most of the trendy, Western or westernized Anglican churches. As the ECUSA, the Church of England, the Church of Canada, New Zealand, etc. rush over the cliff of heresy like nice religious lemmings, the further away from that crowd the better- for all of us. At this time we should not consider the “ordinations” of the trendy Canterbury churches to be valid. The Intention of the sacrament of Orders has been corrupted ever since women were first “ordained.” And, things have only gotten worse, to a point now that seems to be beyond hope for recovery. It is no accident that we have a feast day for the Preservation of the American Episcopate. Therefore, Continuing Anglicans of the Saint Louis Affirmation churches ought to be very clear about such “orders” as those of the ECUSA, as it has morphed into what it is now- at this time those orders are null and utterly void.


albion said...


You say:

"Therefore, Continuing Anglicans of the Saint Louis Affirmation churches ought to be very clear about such “orders” as those of the ECUSA, as it has morphed into what it is now- at this time those orders are null and utterly void."

Is your final statement not a bit sweeping?

I would certainly consider as invalid any ordinations carried out by women bishops or by Mr Robinson.

I might conceivably expand that universe to those carried out by others who have not repudiated women bishops and Mr Robinson, but would need to be argued through it.

But what about the ordinations that occurred before the aberrations of the late 70s?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Yes, it was sweeping. And, I very much mean "today." The ECUSA has gone over the edge, especially since the rebellious G.C. of 2000.

poetreader said...


Why would ordinations by Robinson be ipso facto invalid? There have always been heretical bishops. There have always been immoral bishops. if an RC bishop were to live an immoral life (as many have and do)or were to teach formal heresy (as many have and do, would that render the ordinations they would perform invalid? By my reading of church history, that would produce a high probablity of RC apostolic succession having become extinct. Besides, such a view has been formally condemned as Donatism, very forcefully affirmed as such in our Articles.

It is the faith of the ecclesial body and the desire of the bishop to continue that faith that render valisity possible. In the case of Robinson, if his denomination held such a faith his ordinations would be valid in spite of his heresy and schism. However, that proposition, in itself, is highly questionable (at best) today, and for that reason his ordinations are suspect.

Were I a bishop or examining chaplain, I would need to look closely at the antecedents of a clergyman coming to the Continum from ECUSA. In some cases (mostly older priests) they could simply be incardinated, in some cases of definite invalidity (where a woman had ordained him) an ordination de novo would be required, on other cases (probably most) an ordination sub conditione would be advisable. It is now many years past the time when ECUSA ordinations could be presumed valid without investigation.


albion said...


I do not recognise Mr Robinson as being now, or ever having been, a bishop. Therefore he cannot ordain. So any act in which he purports to ordain is invalid.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Dear Poetreader:

You said: "It is the faith of the ecclesial body and the desire of the bishop to continue that faith that render validity possible."

Now, how can an ecclesial body that goes out of its way to make Gene Robinson into a bishop(?) be said to have the kind of Faith that lends itself to a proper sacramental Intention? It is that very matter, the Intention of what purports to part of the Church, that renders many of the ECUSA Orders invalid, possibly all of them after a point of no return which may be in the very near future if not present already.

poetreader said...

My point precisely, Father, stated succinctly. If ECUSA can still consecrate bishops, Robinsion, however unworthy, is one. If, however, the point of no return has been passed (a distinct possibility), and ECUSA cannot, then he is not. I am now 65, and I would hazard a guess that few of ECUSA's clergy younger than I would really pass muster as indubitably ordained, thus my call for at least conditional ordinations.


Fr. Robert Hart said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fr. Robert Hart said...

Dear Anmonymous

Never again leave one of your unwelcomed advertisements in these comments. Never again.

James the Thickheaded said...

Let us grant that Anglocatholics (Continuing and any others caring to do so: WRV, Anglican Use, ECUSA) can and do make a valid case for their catholicity. Without venturing to judge their statements or their basis, let us also grant as well that Rome may or will refuse to acknowledge the argument - even allowing that they refuse because they can do no other....given prior statements. Therefore in so far as Rome asserts that the English Reformation in fact exceeded the limits of reform established in Trent or failed to extend to the fullness of traditions of the church expressed in Trent, let us assume that the Roman denial incorporates this understanding of the C of E: that it was somehow deficient. Was the opinion rendered only for the C of E at that time, or did it extend to the C of E as of Vatican I ?

My second question is then whether the Roman denial extends on the basis solely of the discontinuity of the English reformation...and therefore that there is no longer a body with which to contend....but also....does Rome's judgment fairly and accurately gauge the C of E post-Oxford Tractarians? In other words, can catholicity be recovered once lost in the main body? If it cannot be recovered, then it seems fair to consider that my sketchy knowledge of the Arian period suggests that catholicity was lost in the establishment and recovered from the remnant in hiding at that time. The difference with the C of E would lie simply in that the catholic remnant was in fact a party within a schismatic body that sought a restoration with the main body.....and therefore correction of prior errors. Rejection of this line of thought would seem to render a sort of permanent condemnation by the church of a sort we do not presume that God himself would render...and thus it seems less consistent with my limited understanding of these things. Fact is, post Vatican II, it seems more of the spirit of Rome to recover these parts - and that catholicity can be recovered. Thus if catholicity can be recovered, then there is a definition of the critical elements and the question shifts to whether and when this has happened if at all - and has the Continuum tackled these measures?

The point is to get to the heart of the matter for us non-Romans, non-E. Orthodoxians: Can catholicity really be recovered? Or if lost to Anglocatholics, how does this differ from the catholicity "lost" between the mutual ex-communications between Rome and Constantinople ? To what extent do the deficiencies each of these two see in each other differ from the deficiencies they see in Anglocatholics?

Finally, while we pressed the button in terms of addressing this issue in terms of clerical orders, it is equally a question of how this bears on the layity. The traditions of the anglocatholic layity in a sense are more universal than many of the layity within both the Roman and Orthodox traditions for whom their identification is more one of family heritage than personal commitment; for in fact, the diversity and disobedience within each is at least as great as within that of our now befallen ECUSA - whom so many trash with undeserved vehemence as if it were the one and only vagrant (yes I meant that rather than vagante).

A lot of questions from a fairly simple mind. Maybe you can tackle them...or maybe you can point me elsewhere. Thanks!

Fr. Robert Hart said...


You make this more complicated than it needs to be. The position of Pope Leo XIII's Bull was that the English Church back in the 16th Century did not have the sacramental Intention or Form necessary to continue valid episcopal lines. And, therefore, even if the Intention was recovered and the Form corrected, it was too late after the English Episcopate had ceased to be valid for over at least one generation, with no true bishops through whom it could have continued.

And, the Anglican position, as demonstrated in the document Saepius Officio, compels us to accept the correctness of the theological position that valid orders require an unbroken line of Apostolic Succession. Doctrinally, the Anglican position and the Roman Catholic position are identical in this matter.

What Saepius Officio (and later Dix's book) argues is not that Catholic validity was ever recovered, but that it had never been lost in the first place. I encourage you to follow the link I have provided. You can read Saepius Officio, and see very clearly why the Archbishops of England made their argument on grounds of historical fact and logic. The Intention and Form were never deficient; Rome's Apostolicae Cuare is exposed as a straw man and historical revisionism of the worst kind.

Finally, Catholicity cannot be recovered without valid episcopal lines, because the reality of the sacraments depends on true Apostolic Succession. This is all an extension of the Incarnation through which history and matter are connected to the charismatic substance of what the Church is. However, Apostolic Succession cannot perish from the earth because the gates of Hell cannot prevail against the Church. God simply will not allow it to happen, anymore than Christ could have remained dead.

James Curtis said...

Fr. Robert Hart,

The Ordinal that is considered null and void is The King Edward VI 1552 Ordinal not the 1549 Ordinal. The King Edward VI Ordinal was purposely compromised to exclude the sacrificial nature of Holy Orders and of Eucharistic celebration (Mass). Hence, it lacked the intent which Pope Leo XIII speaks of. Also the form was compromised, this Ordinal does not specify the postulants position as either Deacon, Priest, or Bishop. The major issue is the sacrificial nature of Holy Orders and the Mass which had been excluded from the King Edward VI Ordinal to appease Thomas Cranmer and the more Protestant wing of the Church of England. Why do you think there has been schism after schism in Anglicanism? Its because of this and because of the 39 Articles of Religion, and then women ordination followed by the blessing of same sex marriages and same sex marriages between clergyman.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Mr. Curtis, there is no 1549 Ordinal. I was defending the very one you mention. Nowhere does it deny "the sacrificial nature of Holy Orders and of Eucharistic celebration." (Yes, we know what a Mass is, thank you.) Neither does it exclude them, inasmuch as the sacraments are specifically mentioned as part of the priestly office. If you knew the Bible (which I guess is too much to hope for from a Roman Catholic "apologist"), you would see clearly that the specific offices are clearly stated by the quotations contained in each form. Furthermore, each of those three quotations is from a part translated from Latin that had been used since the Medieval period. As Saepius Officio makes abundantly clear, Apostolicae Curae denies the validity of ALL orders, Roman Catholic and Orthodox as well.

As for the rest of your comment, The Thirty-Nine Articles had to be rejected (if only Article VI) before the innovations could take place, and the BCP thrown out. If you knew The Affirmation of St. Louis, and who we are, you would know why those innovations are not relevant in addressing us.