For purposes of instruction to Anglicans, in addition to the confidence Bicknell's treatment bolsters in the validity of our sacraments (especially to those who have been either confused or damaged in conscience by the misinformation and bad reasoning of Apostolicae Curae, 1896, about which Bull we have written much on this blog), we have in Bicknell's work a very important statement about the nature of the priesthood. Here is the part we shall focus on for our present purpose.
In order to defend the the action of the Church of England we must go back to first principles. Here, as elsewhere, the Church of England desired to return to antiquity. She appealed against one-sided and perverted medieval ideas to Scripture and primitive tradition. In the later Middle Ages the function of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice had assumed such undue prominence in the popular idea of the priesthood, that there was serious danger of forgetting the ministry of the Word and the pastoral work that belong essentially to the Office. The Reformers rightly desired to recall men to a fuller and better-proportioned view of the ministry. Accordingly, in the Ordinal the comparatively late addition of the 'porrectio intrumentorum' and the singling out of the sacrificial function of the priesthood were omitted. This did not mean that the Church of England in any sense intended to institute, as it were, a new order. The preface to the Ordinal, composed in 1550 and continued in 1552, makes it as clear as human language is able to make it, that she intended to continue those orders which had been in the Church from the days of the Apostles, namely Bishops, Priests and Deacons, in the same sense as they had always existed. When we turn to Scripture we find no stress laid upon the authority given to ministers to celebrate the Eucharist. It is preposterous to suppose that our Lord chose or ordained the Apostles chiefly or primarily to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice. In S. Paul's address to the presbyter-bishops * of Ephesus, the stress is laid on the faithful preaching of the Word and the care of the flock (Acts 20.28-31). In the Pastoral Epistles, in the choice of presbyters the emphasis is laid on the possession of qualities of character which are needed for pastoral supervision and teaching (I Tim3.1-7, cp. 5.17, Tit 1.7-9). So S. Peter places in the forefront of the duty of presbyters the general oversight of the flock (I Pet. 5.1-4). In such passages as these there is no explicit mention of the Eucharist. No one can doubt that it was the centre of Christian worship on every Lord's Day, nor that any one of the presbyter-bishops had authority, if need be, to preside. But when we compare the New Testament picture of the presbyters with the modern Roman idea of the priest, we feel the centre of gravity has shifted. So, too, in the early Church, the power to celebrate the Eucharist is not the predominant mark of the presbyter. It is not isolated from his other functions. It is not singled out for special mention in primitive ordinals. It was only during the Middle Ages and as a result of a one-sided view of the sacrifice of the Eucharist that an equally one-sided view of the office of priesthood came to be held. At the Reformation the Church of England of set purpose returned to the primitive conception of the ministry...
So, then, our real quarrel with the Church of Rome is, at bottom, about the meaning of the priesthood and of the Eucharistic sacrifice. We contend that Roman teaching on both is so out of proportion as to be almost untrue. If the Church of Rome chooses to say that we do not intend to make priests exactly in her sense of the word, we are not concerned to deny it. We are content to make priests in accordance with the ministry of the New Testament and the Primitive Church.
It is here that Bicknell restores for us a fuller and better view of the priesthood than what has been presented many times, including what has been presented among the kind of Anglo-Catholics who have succumbed to the notion that Rome gets to define all things Catholic for us. For some the balance has been lost, and the πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros) has been replaced completely by the sacerdos. This has caused a deficiency in terms of everything else that the elder, that is the presbyter, has been ordained to do. As important as Eucharistic sacrifice is, and as central as it is to the life and worship of the Church, we must not neglect a fully-formed understanding of the role of the Christian priest. Anglicanism knows nothing of "choir priests" who have been ordained only to minister at the altar, and who have no pastoral responsibilities. That is because the "choir priest" is a product of medieval imbalance, and was unknown to the ancient Church.*
It is not that Eucharistic sacrifice is less than completely essential to the role of the priest, but simply that he must develop his full ministry. As Bicknell put it in one of his footnotes: "As we have said, the English word priest by derivation simply means 'presbyter'. But it has acquired the meaning of 'sacerdos'. The Christian presbyter in virtue of his office is a 'priest'. Priesthood is one of his functions." Indeed, the larger emphasis in the ancient Church was on his role as an elder, and his pastoral care for the Church was explained both in scripture and in other early Christian writings, usually by employing the word "rule" (προΐστημι, proïstēmi). This kind of ruling has the Bible for its support. Look at these examples from the New Testament epistles.
"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." I Tim. 5:17
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Heb. 13:17
Though not using the word "rule," the same thing is expressed in this passage: "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves." I Thes. 5:12, 13
In his classic work, Regula Pastoralis (literally, Rule of the Pastors, better known in English by the title, Pastoral Care), Pope St. Gregory the Great (circa 540 to 604) defines the word "rule" as it applies to presbyters. In this book, St. Gregory displayed a better understanding of human psychology than many modern doctors possess, examining repeatedly the attitudes and presumptions people have, and in each case the opposite. He does so in light of the need every person has strictly in light of the Christian doctrine of the Fall. Knowing that sin and death have weakened everyone, creating specific and varying deficiencies of character in just about everybody, Gregory instructs the presbyter in how to meet the needs of those whom he "rules." We learn from this that the rule of pastors in God's church is medicinal, a part of the healing that the Lord provides for his flock. The rule is not a dictatorial or tyrannical or authoritarian position taken as lords over God's people, but a remedial ministry of those who are ordained to be fathers in God's family. "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"asks St. Paul, rhetorically (I Tim 3:5).
Both from the ancient writings (that include, above all, scripture) and from ancient ordinals, we see the main emphasis in the office of presbyter as of one who, in this fatherly and kind manner, rules. We see also a very large emphasis on teaching. This is why the kind of priest we do not need is the man who has been thoroughly trained as an expert on liturgy, who knows Ritual Notes backwards and forwards, but possesses neither the theological skill to teach and enlighten, nor the pastoral skill to "rule" as a benevolent father. Yes, attention to liturgy is a very important responsibility; and leading the people in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Church must be done with great care and reverence (whether for a congregation that likes it high or low or in between). The sacrament of Holy Communion is, after all, one of those sacraments that is "generally necessary to salvation," and so nothing is more important than celebration and administering the sacrament.
But, the work of the Christian priest does not end there. Indeed, at that point it may just be getting started.
*In fairness, these days many among the Roman Catholic clergy see the same importance on pastoral ministry that we do.