Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not a mouthful

"Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands."
II Timothy1:6

"Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." 
II Timothy 2:2

Even as a child I knew that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican family to which it belonged was, along with the Anglican Communion as a whole, unique in identifying itself as Protestant and Catholic, with Catholic ministers and Protestant priests. I knew that one major thing that distinguished us from other Protestants was the Apostolic Succession of bishops. The phrase readily dripped off the tongue. For some it may have been simplistically understood or, at its worst, treated like some form of claim to nobility, placing our church in a higher class. But, in general, it was appreciated as a genuine link to Christ Himself and His Apostles. 

A few years ago I noticed, when writing for The Christian Challenge, that the Episcopal Church (TEC) of today has chosen a phrase they prefer: "The Historic Episcopate." As with so many phrases that cannot be disputed, it simply goes by unnoticed. It is sort of like their use of "God our Creator and Jesus Christ our Savior" that has become standard with them. It is true; but they use it to avoid saying "God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord." So, to camouflage an ignoble intention, they hide it behind unassailable truth, but only in terms of unobjectionable accuracy masking something unacceptable.

So, by now you may be asking, "What is wrong with saying Historic Episcopate?" Well, in one sense, nothing at all. The episcopate is absolutely indisputable as a fact of history. Indeed, it is so indisputable that any atheist has to acknowledge it. But, that happens also to be the problem. 

When we say "Apostolic Succession," we say a mouthful. The expression carries with it truth deeper than  mere historical fact. It includes the history, but contains so much more. That truth is in a twofold and inseparable combination: Sacrament and Word. 

The sacrament is that of consecration. It is so important that the Church of England and Queen Elizabeth made extra sure that the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be consecrated during her reign, thus establishing Anglican orders for generations to come, was consecrated beyond doubt by men with unquestionably valid orders. This importance is further highlighted by the efforts of enemies to discredit those orders, all vain efforts that no scholar today takes seriously. 

But, those strained efforts at deceit against Anglican validity are a compliment to the care taken for the Consecration of Archbishop Matthew Parker. The sacrament, about which we read St. Paul's words to St. Timothy in the earliest of times, is consistent with the way Moses had ordained Joshua to take his place, and reminds us of Elijah and Elisha also. The laying on of Apostolic hands, for the purpose of handing on necessary gifts and authority, is charismatic, the work of the Holy Spirit in giving grace to fulfill the work and ministry of the office of bishop. 

But, it is possible that TEC has fallen into the trap of contenting itself with a merely Historic Episcopate partly because the sacramental element of Apostolic Succession had come to be nothing more, to some of them, than a relay race; a historical record of who laid hands on who, and nothing more. Also writing to Timothy, Paul warned of those "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power (dunamis) thereof: from such turn away (II Timothy 3:5)." 

"Apostolic Succession" speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. Anyone who knows both our Ordinal and its Preface knows how highly Anglicans have regarded the work of God the Holy Spirit as the true source for all ordained ministry: The words "Receive the Holy Ghost" have been essential in imparting His special grace to all bishops and priests. 

But, I am sure that even the most deluded and misleading of TEC clergy would love to be able to claim the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit; indeed, they blame Him for all their errors, insisting that they are His only true followers. Indeed, "only" because of the new "revelations" they claim as well. No, they haven't dropped the term "Apostolic Succession" from frequent usage because of that. They deny the power, of course, but they do so by denying the essential truth, the truth that His power is present in His Church to confirm.

The part of Apostolic Succession that bothers them is the continuity of Apostolic doctrine to which it commits the bishops, and under their care the work of establishing and defending that doctrine in Christ's Church. Frankly, TEC has not come down with a case of admiral honesty in stepping back from the term "Apostolic Succession." They are not admitting to failure in passing on the pure word of God as taught from the earliest times. Rather, they don't want to pass it on. They really believe they are smarter than the Apostles, and would be embarrassed to teach something as un-stylish as orthodoxy. The true Gospel is not in fashion. They see themselves as far more enlightened than the eyewitnesses of Christ's resurrection, those who had heard from His own mouth, those to Whom He gave clear teaching, clear direction, and an unchanging charge; those to whom he sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

But, Apostolic Succession remains, and it remains for word and sacrament. "The same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" - for all generations to come.


Anonymous said...

You said a cotton pickin' mouthful Sir !

This is also the way I have understood it all these years.

Thank you!

RC Cola said...

As an RC friend who ignores what Leo XIII declared about Anglican Orders said, "The Episcopal church is doing their damnedest to prove Leo XIII right, aren't they?"

Anonymous said...

Apostolic succession without the Faith is no apostolic succession at all. It isn't even the "historic episcopate."


Fr. Robert Hart said...

I disagree. The historic episcopate has not always been faithful to the pure word of God, which is why we needed Reformation in the 16th century. TEC may still claim to having what the world would call the historic episcopate, because for them it is simply record keeping and a relay race.

Anonymous said...

It is not a kind of stud book, but a record of faithfulness to the Apostles' teaching.

Bruce said...

Father Hart,
In the real world, we see priests (with apostolic succession) with all sorts of flaws and I don’t just mean personal flaws. Some don’t teach, some give the impression that they’re just drawing a paycheck, some don’t make any efforts to look after the more pathetic in their parish particularly if the pathetic don’t have much to offer, some lie as a part of politicking within the parish and in extreme albeit rare cases, some do things like molest children. I’ve seen all but the last example with my own eyes. For a while, this led me to doubt that the laying on hands gave them anything at all. My doubts were basically something like, “what good did it do father so-and-so?”
I’ve backed off from this position and my thinking is more along the lines of “they’re given authority to administer the sacraments” and not much else. I assume you would consider this view deficient and that they/you are given something more. So what else are they given and how do I reconcile that they are given these additional gifts (beyond authority over the sacraments) with what I sometimes see.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

"But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:48)."

If the Church looks to clergy as only ministers of the sacraments, and not ministers of the word who must live up to that word (I Tim. 3), then they treat them as "Christian" shamans or witch doctors, not as pastors. Under those low expectations it is easier for wolves to wear sheep's clothing.

RC Cola said...

When I was still RC unused to confront priests that fit your description. They often defended themselves by saying their "mass is valid." To which I would respind that's all the more shameful. They were hiding behind ex opere operato as if it were a get out of jail free card. When I pointed out that eoo was meant to protect the faithful from idolatry not protect the priest from living a true priestly life they answered with the typical slurs on traditional theology and morality with an injunction against being 'judgmental' for good measure. No wonder the RCC languishes. (To be fair many of my former classmates are exemplary priests who walk the walk.)
My solution is for laymen to hold priests' feet to the fire. I still pray the RCC Liturgy of the Hours because it's what I learned in school. When we recently elected a bishop in our diocese I asked, "Which priest prays his office faithfully? He should be the next bishop." As it turns out, no priest would admit to praying the office. No wonder the Anglican Church here has problems. The priests don't pray! Let me tell you something plainly. A priest cannot be a good priest without praying the Divine Office. It's like trying to live without eating. It simply cannot be done. As a layman it was disappointing to learn that I pray more than my priests and bishop. However, it explained everything when I looked at our numbers. The cathedral has about 40 to 50 members. The largest parish has about 30 people. The smallest parishes are nothing but the priest and his family, with NO parishioners. This is in a city of 4.5 million. Pathetic. It boils down to priests who are not living the priestly life.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

"A Night at the Ex Opere Operato" is my favorite Marx Brother's movie.

Bruce said...

I probably shouldn’t put the sacrament of ordination to an empirical test any more than I should the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. That’s my mistake I guess. We don’t decide the Eucharist isn’t a sacrament because we see someone take it and then behave badly. Obviously a sacrament can be abused. A Catholic who abuses his marriage doesn’t invalidate the reality of sacramental marriage.
I guess I just expect some basic things from clergy when the claim to have the Apostolic ministry.
For what it’s worth, I confessed what I wrote above as a sin this past Sunday. I shouldn’t murmur/gossip, even if it’s anonymously buried where no one will see it.

Bruce said...

RC Cola,
I’m frustrated by our tiny numbers too. We went to a small, old-fashioned Baptist church a couple of Sundays ago and they had many dozens of children. But I can’t accept their errors.
Our parish has only our children and an occasional grandchild brought by an older member. My wife wants to be around other families like ours but I think there aren’t many young families in the Continuing Churches.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


What you said was fine, and I can't see any sin in an honest statement like that. You want some I Timothy chapter three and Titus chapter One standards. So did St. Paul!

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...But, I do apologize for the typo I put in your name.

RC Cola said...

I feel I should clarify that I am still in an ordinary Anglican Communion parish, because there are no continuing churches in my country. I don't wish to suggest that Continuing priests are slothful. The few that I've met are very good men. I think the relatively small numbers in continuing churches is due to many factors both internal and external, but I do not think sloth is one of them. It seems that most priests are self-supporting and therefore do not have the time to actively evangelize the way full-time priests ought to.
Having said that, my sympathies are entirely with the Continuum.

In my country's case, priests are full-time yet many have started their own social service organizations to supplement their income. The number one complaint is that they aren't paid enough. Without exception, they see themselves as liturgical functionaries and the victims of circumstances. "If only X then I'd have a better parish." they fail to recognize that there is really an f(x) in which they are the major independent variable. So, they kick back and wait for a check from the Australians or English to supplement their coffers. No one has made the connection that if they went out and recruited new Anglicans their parishes would grow and thus they would have larger collections (and by extension greater incomes). Why would they when they know a support check is coming?

I have been recommended for orders although no one is quite sure what to do with a foreign priest who is not a missionary. There is also the fear that the foreigner will have a better attended service than the natives. Considering the number of parishes that are just the priest and his family, that's a rather low bar. On the other hand, supporters of an English language service and mission think it could help to bring more people--especially young people--into the Church.