Saturday, November 04, 2006

Are REC Orders valid?

Readers of the Continuum may be interested in a discussion I have been having with a priest of the APA concerning their Concordat with the Reformed Episcopal Church, an arrangement that involves exchange of ministers. I have never been able to regard the REC orders as valid, and Fr. Candler Holder Jones accepted the challenge (in a recent E-mail) to convince me. I am very impressed with his arguments, even though I remain unconvinced. This conversation found its way to the blog ALL TOO COMMON.


ACC Member said...

A very good argument was made. The Ordinal used being almost identical to the English BCP and the 1789 American BCP, and a validly consecrated Bishop as the Consecrator, is a pretty strong argument. In the Church of England there has always been a "low church" ( somewhat Protestant) tradition, as well as the "high church" or "Anglo-Catholic" tradition. It could be said the REC represents the "low church" tradition. "Low church" Anglicans have always taken a more "Protestant" view of the Eucharist.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

Albion, perhaps you can explain to us why you remain unconvinced?

Albion Land said...

Gordon, I never commented, if you are talking about All Too Common. That was Fr Hart. But I am inclined to agree with his reasoning, given the stated beliefs of the REC.

J. Gordon Anderson said...


My bad. I see now. Fr. Hart wrote that post. I gave my opinions on All Too Common. Have a blessed Lord's day.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't the REC deny the sacrificial priesthood all together? Suppose they do, does that cause problems with valid succession?

poetreader said...

The Declaration of Principles specifically and strongly denies Apostolic succession and a Catholic idea of ministry. Cummins may indeed have been a valid bishop, but how could he be said to have intended valid consecrations when performing under an official statement that this church does not intend what the Catholic Church intends?

Under those conditions, it does not matter what form is used. Were it the form of the Pontificale Romanum, it would still be the vehicle for producing a consciously Protestant ministry identical to other Protestant ministries. An REC Presbyter is most certainly, as they claim, equal to any Presbyterian minister, and does not appear to be anything other than a Presbyterian minister is, also by their official claim.

Granted that many in the REC now hold a more Catholic view than that, they are still not in a preserved succession of form, matter and intent. If these more Catholic clergy of REC would renounce the Principles clearly and definitively, and seek ordination from an authentic source, I would be more than satisfied to be in communion with them. Until those conditions are met, I cannot.


ACC Member said...

After reading some of the other comments, I realize that the REC situation might be somewhat different. I looked up their website and read their Declarations. They do deny the traditional Catholic view of what Priests and Bishops truly are. So, even with a properly consecrated Bishop as consecrator, and a vaildly worded ordinal, it DOES LEAVE SOME QUESTION. Can you validly pass Apostolic Succession when your Declarations deny the existence of it. C.S. Lewis once called himself "an ordinary churchman of the Church of England, not especially high, not especially low, or especially anything else". That pretty much describes me as well. As an ordinary churchman of the Anglican faith I'm glad I don't have to make such a call. If problems exist, perhaps the APA Bishops they are now united with could solve the problem with "conditional ordinations"?

Ken said...

I think that apostolic succession goes beyond the mere transmission of Orders and includes the idea of faithfully handing on the "deposit of faith". This especially goes for the Bishops who, in a very real sense, becomes the Church to the faithful under his charge.

The succession includes being a "minister of the word" and being a "dispenser of the mysteries". If the "handing on" of this deposit is not done then the succession has ended.

I would submit that the leadership of the REC had neglected handing on the "mysteries" and therefore lost the succession.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

But the specific conditions for a valid ordination were there, as Fr. Chad showed, so they are valid preistly ordinations.

The Declaration of Principles is certainly a problematic document in a number of ways. As I understand it, it no longer holds sway in the REC in the way it once did, so that is good. But as far as it "cancelling out" the stuff that makes a valid ordination, or any sacrament valid, I think that is going too far.

What if an individual Roman, Orthodox, or Anglican bishop, while doing an ordination, specifically said to himself and in his mind during the ordination that he was not intending to do what the church did, and that he didn't even believe in a priesthood? And further, what if he wrote a document explaining that this was what he was intending to do? By the above reasoning, that would make the ordination invalid. The argument being used here against the validity of REC orders is a magnified version of this argument. That leaves us on very shakey grounds as far as the validity of any sacrament is concerned - that the minister has have a very specific theological intention in his mind while ordaining, etc. What would that mean for a priest saying mass if his minds drifts at some point during the canon? Would that invalidate the mass? Hardly.

I can walk into a bank with a gun, and a sack with a dollar sign on it, and hold everyone up, but have some statement written somewhere that says that what I am doing is not robbing a bank, and that furthermore I do not even believe in banks. But by doing what a robber does it is very clear to everyone else that I am indeed robbing a bank, no matter what I say somewhere else.

Perhaps this means that the REC has maintained its orders entirely by accident. Then so be it. The same has been said of the CofE. I just think that this argument puts on precarious grounds sacramentally, and that it leads to lots of problems if you expand it to other sacraments. Since we traditionalist Anglicans get beat up on by others (didn't ECUSA used to say that we had invalid orders?), it seems that some people feel the need to find some other group to beat up on and "unchurch". That is what I think is going on here with regard to REC orders. We are willing to give ourselves, and all Anglicans for that matter, the benefit of the doubt, but not the REC.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Allow me to correct two errors of logic in the above comment. First of all, I quote: "By the above reasoning, that would make the ordination invalid." Well, not by the above reasoning of anything I can find. The point from the beginning has been that a church body, or ecclesial group, states its doctrine for its members. This is why the Preface to the Ordinal applies to Anglican ordinations, but the Declaration of Principles applies to REC ordinations.

Again, I quote: "Since we traditionalist Anglicans get beat up on by others (didn't ECUSA used to say that we had invalid orders?), it seems that some people feel the need to find some other group to beat up on and 'unchurch'. That is what I think is going on here with regard to REC orders. We are willing to give ourselves, and all Anglicans for that matter, the benefit of the doubt, but not the REC." Not so. I do not give anybody the benefit of any doubt regarding the sacraments of the priesthood. Simply put, I do not doubt the validity of (classical) Anglican ordinations, but I doubt the validity of REC ordinations (I doubt also that ECUSA can ordain anybody anymore).

Finally, I quote from an earlier part: "But the specific conditions for a valid ordination were there, as Fr. Chad showed, so they are valid preistly ordinations." On the contrary, this is the very point that I happen actually to doubt. Ex opere operato is not magic, dependent only on form. The condition I doubt in this matter is that of Intention.

The real question is why does the Catholic Tradition place a more complicated standard of Intention on Ordination than on Baptism? The answer is rather simple: Ordination is far more complicated. I would say that the negation of preisthood as such in the REC Declaration is the equivalent of a church body saying that they do not Intend priestly ordination. The Deaconate and the Episcopate are not quite as cut and dry in the REC, but the preisthood is flatly rejected.

poetreader said...

I agree.

The issue is not what some individual cleric intends, but what the church of which he is part intends. The Declaration of Principles at least was the official standard of teaching for the REC. I'm not clear as to its current status, but do understand that at least some of its current clergy decline to accept it. However, it was a foundational statement for the denomination, and thus expressed the official intent of that body for a lengthy period of time, covering all ordinations in that body at least during that time, and thus affecting all ordinations stemming from that chain of succession.

Does that make REC orders definitely INvalid? The Lord only knows. The implications of it all are too much for my poor head. But does it cast doubt so that we can not be sure? I think we have to say at least that. As I've said before, if the REC would renounce the Declaration - officially - AND accept conditional ordination, I'd be more than satisfied.

It would be a beautiful act of Christian humility if they were to do that, and, by msking it conditional, they don't have to renounce what they thought was sufficient either. I am praying for that.


J. Gordon Anderson said...

The question is this: how do we know what a church intends to do in a sacramental act? By doing what the Church does. The REC has always done what the Church does, so we know what is intended, if by accident.

Fr. Hart's argument rests on his belief that the Declaraction of Principles acts as an efffective "anti-intention", and that it cancels out the fact that the REC maintained the right form, matter, etc. What I am asking is what else can qualify as an anti-intention? What if the minister specifically denies that he is ordaining or consecrating a man, yet goes through all of the motions? In many peoples' minds, the ambguity of the BCP ordinal is itself an anti-intention. There is nothing about a sacrificial priesthood, little about apostolic succession, no tradition of instruments and so on. The preface to the ordinal is also very imprecise. Didn't every Reformed Church think they were continuing the true, apostolic ministry of the early church? That lack of specificity could very easily be called an anti-intention. So again, the question then becomes: What else qualifies as anti-intention? We can use the anti-intention argument if we want, but it is at the peril of all the sacraments and our own orders, I think. Doing what the Church does is how we know what the Church intends.

And briefly regarding the idea that formulation of doctrine precedes Church pratice. That is not how the three-fold office even developed. Doctrine develops based on practice first; practice precedes doctrinal formulation. True, in the REC, the DP was a "foundational document", but if we absolutize the idea that a church states its doctrine first, then we are, again, on very shakey ground when we look at the history of the Church and how so many of our beliefs developed, because very few developed that way. So I think we have to be careful with that.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Just to clarify the facts about their Declaration of Principles, the REC has a legal charter by which it was formed. It is not possible for the REC, as such, to ever renounce the Declaration.

I am fully well aware of the fact that some of them want to be High Church Anglicans, and some of their clergy want to be priests in the Catholic Tradition. What Ed has suggested is in line with what everybody in the APCK, the ACA, the ACC, everyone except the APA, has said all along. Charity demands that we help the REC members who want to be truly Catholic. But, we cannot help them in a real way unless we do so carefully and truthfully.

Ken said...

Here is a take on the orders of the entire Continuum. Has anyone read this before?

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to see that this conversation is still generating such thoughtful contributions, which we should all welcome.

I shall add these points, just for my own clarification...

An important note - the Anglican Church in America has affiliated with the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas, which was co-founded by the REC and APA. The ACA's membership in FACA constitutes full communicatio in sacris with the Reformed Episcopal Church and thus the recognition of the validity of REC Orders. So it is now inaccurate to say that the APA alone of the Continuing Churches recognises the sacramental order and ministry of the REC. The ACA has now definitively decided in favour of the APA position on this matter.

Father Anderson's probing and excellent comments reiterate precisely what I have attempted to articulate regarding the thorny question of sacramental intention. Pope Leo XIII in Apostolicae Curae explicitly states that the Anglican Ordinal itself possesses an 'anti-intention' because of its asserted protestant origin, which contains, as he puts it, an 'anti-sacerdotal signification.' On the basis of purported defect of intention, Orders conferred with the Anglican Ordinal are always held by the Roman Church to be invalid. If one too rigidly defines the meaning of 'generally doing what the Church does,' then one has moved from that Augustinian theological axiom to a theological novum, one which is not necessary to the valid administration of a sacrament, to wit, to 'intend what the church intends.' From what I have read most carefully of our correspondence, it is exactly this view which is being postulated by Father Hart, e.g., to have valid orders a church must not only do what the Church does, but must also intend what the Church intends. Such a definition is beyond the traditional Western Augustinian theological method and moves into the Eastern and Cyprianic view of sacramental validity. That is fine, of course, if one wishes to so define the meaning of sacramental intention, but that is not the classical Anglican approach to the subject.

Moving from the minimalist view of doing what the Church does, a view held universally in the Western Church, into something more stringent or strictly defined puts us exactly where Pope Leo wants us to be. Dr E. J. Bicknell reminds us that Anglican Orders are valid simply because the Anglican Church generally intends to do in ordination what Our Lord, the Apostles and the New Testament Church instituted, nothing more, nothing less. That can certainly be said of the REC, no matter how imprecisely the REC expresses that view or how imperfectly she has grasped the objective truth of it in the course of history.

As Father Anderson points out, the intention to do what the Church does in ordination exists even in ecclesial bodies which lack apostolic succession. They do not have valid orders, not because of defect of intention, but defect of minister, for only a bishop can validly ordain. The case could be strongly made that even classical Lutheran and Calvinist ministries intend themselves to be true manifestations of the Office and Ministry of the Apostles. Such a general intention is all that is necessary for valid ordination.

Otherwise, to come full circle, we Anglicans have used Apostolicae Curae against ourselves. The sacraments always convey what they symbolise, ex opere operato, in the serious performance of the matter and form, with the deliberate intention of doing what the Church does in a general sense. In this case of ordination, it is 'ordination.' The minister and subject do not even have to intend to produce the objective grace or effect of the sacrament; they must only intend, in a general way, to do what the Church understands as 'ordination.' To demand anything beyond that is, for Anglicans at least, to confirm that Leo XIII is right.

God bless you!


Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, some years ago Allen Guelzo (then a presbyter of the REC, now one of ECUSA -- after having been either "blessed for ministry" [as Dr. G. put it to me] or "ordained" by bishop Ackerman [and the latter told me he definitely intended to ordain him]) told me in some detail about how the founders of the REC adopted the Declaration of Principles before founding the denomination and so embedded it in its charter and all relevant legal documents that the REC could never either alter or abrogate it without leaving itself open to lawsuits from disgruntled parties within the REC who might seek possession of its corporate assets on that basis. He predicted to me then that while the REC might ditch its 35 Articles of 1875 in faovr of the original 39 and might provide an alternative "more Anglican" eucharistic rite in favor of its original rite (which as far as I can tell does a thorough job of proscribing any view that goes beyond high Calvinism at the uttermost), it would never be able to touch the Declaration of Principles. I got into something of an internet row with a REC presbyter out in Woodinville, WA who, while disliking Anglo-Catholicism, described himself as a "Laudian," over whether such views as his were compatible with the historical position of the REC and its Declaration of Principles. He, in turn, assured me that he expected that the DoP would go the way of the 35 Articles -- and when it didn't he reconsidered his position and turned Orthodox. He was an honest man.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

RE: To Gordon Anderson, above:
Didn't every Reformed Church think they were continuing the true, apostolic ministry of the early church?

Even the Baptists and Pentecostals believe that. Just how far do we take it? They all "intend to do what the Church does." However, we Anglicans always intended to ordain priests, deacons and bishops- intending to do what the Church does with at least something of doctrinal substance. The DP of the REC may allow for bishops and deacons (at least the argument can be made), but it does not allow any bishop to intend the ordination of a priest. Therefore, the doubt we have is very real.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Answer to Ken:

I will have to take time to read the piece after Sunday (too late into the weekly final stretch). After a glimpse, I do find it amusing that anyone doubts the validity of Apostolic Succession with only two bishops as consecrators. In an emergency (which is what the Denver situation became) one bishop may consecrate and it is valid. The custom of having three is simply for insurance (and to show unity). As a matter of fact, the details of how this came about and why, proves that a modern theory that only the chief consecrator really counts, is hogwash. In effect, one bishop consecrates, and two conditionally consecrate- if we really think it through. It's insurance, not an essential issue of sacramental validity, and those who don't know this display enormous and embarassing ignorance. Even the RCs have had bishops "in the field" consecrated by only one, and so have the Orthodox.

ACC Member said...

What matters, to the Laity, is the validity of the eductional process. Whether it be through "reading for orders" through home study under the direction of a priest/bishop; or through traditional seminary, we want to know the clergyman is well-educated and qualified to celebrate & preach. The validity of Holy Orders is most valid if the people they serve see them as valid. TEC will never admit continuum orders are valid, the local RC priest says Anglican orders are invalid, etc., etc. In a legitimate jurisdiction (not the one parish-one bishop kind)if the people of that jurisdiction see the orders as valid that is what counts. I believe that a loving, forgiving God will not send anyone to Hell because the priest who baptized them may have had irregular orders.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The ECUSA has nothing to say about the orders of the 1978 consecrations, and have no reason to comment on them. I am not aware of them ever mentioning validity. It would be ironic if they did, a great big laugh I have missed out on.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Fr Anderson and Fr Chad,

Your attempt to draw a strong parallel between the REC in the 19th C. and the C of E in the 16th C. is completely inappropriate. All the C of E could be accused of with respect to its ordinations in themselves was omitting explicitly sacerdotal language in the Ordinal and having some bishops who personally may have held wholly anti-sacerdotal views of ministry.

But most of the early Anglicans were happy to affirm some sort of Eucharistic Sacrifice, consisting of sacramental and not just mental acts, and thus drawing on and distributing the effects of the One Sacrifice -- as long as it was not conceived as an additional ("other") sacrifice for sin where the earthly priest did something to Christ to really change his state from unoffered to offered (cf. Article 31). Even the 39 Articles support this when Articles 25 and 28 are compared: the Eucharist is seen to be an "effective sign" of "our Redemption by Christ's death". That is, the Articles teach that this Sacrament both symbolises and contains the reality of the One Sacrifice in (salvific) action.

In addition, what was left in the ordination rite itself was more than sufficient to provide a valid form, and there was no statement in or immediately associated with the rite which declared a positive and explicit intent NOT to do something: namely, ordain priests who would offer Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is the latter that would be necessary to provide a genuine "anti-intent" sufficient to cancel out an admitted general intent to ordain, "to do what the Church does and has always done". (Misunderstandings or errors which happen to be held about the effects of a sacrament by a church or individual are universally acknowledged as not affecting the validity of that sacrament.) The reason for this should be clear -- once a proper general intent is established, only something definite and manifest which clearly "informs" the act being considered would be enough to undermine the general intent. The absence of certain statements, especially statements in themselves not intrinsically necessary, obviously cannot "inform" a rite or the acts of will by its users/ministers. Intention and "anti-intention" must both subsist in real human acts of conscious will, whether individual or corporate, and thus need some positive cognitive content, albeit minimal. So, to claim "ambiguity" could provide an "anti-intent" is simply wrong. And the Preface to the Ordinal is in fact completely unambiguous when it comes to the intention to continue the Church's traditional threefold ministry, even using the words "intent" and "continue"! Thus, we have an incontestable and explicitly expressed intention to do what the Church does and always has done, and nothing explicitly expressed to reject the Church's traditional ministry in any way in the context of ordination.

It is this explicit rejection that does characterise the REC's first consecration in particular, where, as I understand it, a statement equivalent to the DoP was read out immediately before the ceremony.

However, as I said at All Too Common, the argument above is related less to the reasoning of Apostolica Curae than to one popular attempt to salvage it: by Fr Clarke, SJ, as it happens. I do not believe Fr Clarke's argument was the same as the Pope's was. The latter's argument was much less nuanced, making more extreme statements and admitting no proper general intent at all. The Pope's reasoning is not accepted by us primarily because of certain false factual statements in it. Theologically, there is much less to criticise.

Fr Clarke's argument, which involves what Fr Hart and I (but not Fr Clarke, so far as I know) call an anti-intent, is also wrong as applied to the 16th C. C of E for the reasons I gave above. But, if Fr Clarke's theory is right, the REC would clearly be in big trouble. If Fr Clarke is wrong, then the REC's Orders are valid, as far as I know. The only possible disagreement I have with Fr Hart is that I am not sure whether Fr Clarke's approach (which, in its very specific contours, may well have been a "novum" or at least "development") is right or not and so consider REC Orders to be possibly but not certainly valid.

Ken said...

An important note - the Anglican Church in America has affiliated with the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas, which was co-founded by the REC and APA. The ACA's membership in FACA constitutes full communicatio in sacris with the Reformed Episcopal Church and thus the recognition of the validity of REC Orders.

I'm not sure that is actually the case. One ACA priest told me different.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


That is not the case at all. the Federation does not involve mtual recognition, but is simply an attempt to work together on certain issues. It was started by Bp. Robert Duncan of ECUSA.

welshmann said...

To all:

I remember reading somewhere that the Orthodox have a concept called "oikonome" (sp?) whereby they sort of "fix" problems like this. The same question arose in ancient times when the North African church had been officially Arian for several years, complete with Arian baptisms, ordinations, and yes, consecrations by Arian bishops. When they were restored to the Catholic faith, they wondered if they had to "re"-baptize, "re"-ordain, and "re"-consecrate all these folks. Ultimately, they didn't, since there was the real possibility that the sacraments were valid anyway, it would have been a logistical nightmare to re-do everything, and because they were afraid that fixing the problem would cast even more doubt on the sacraments. At least, that's the very short version.

Maybe traditional Anglicans can find a similar solution?