Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Any man can dream…

I'm sure I must have posted before about the modern difficulty concerning the sacrament of Orders. Is it three-fold, or seven-fold? And is Episcopacy a separate order from priesthood (as certainly current theology would have it) or the legal unfolding of powers already latent within the priest (as Trent would imply)? My view has always inclined to the latter, not because I want to think of myself as a bishop, but it would be hard to explain otherwise how a priest has the apostolic power to forgive sins, and why he consecrates the chrism with the bishop. There is a lot more that could be said here, but the point I want to make is that considering Episcopacy a separate order, standing on its own, like the presbyterate or diaconate, opens the door to groups like the American Catholic Church (see the last post), who are so proud of the validity of their orders.
Peter Anson in his wonderful book Bishops at Large (which desperately needs reprinting) asked a very pertinent question. In the course of his book, he went into great detail about the proliferation of these little groups and noted that it was rarely sufficient for them to be episcopally consecrated only once: they were often consecrated over and over again by other bishops, as if this somehow made them even more valid. Anson asked: In what sense can these consecrations really be considered valid? Yes, of course, in a mechanical, pipeline, sense, all the bits are in place. But did our Lord really establish the college of bishops so that strange men might celebrate weird rites in odd clothes in their front rooms with their wives making the responses?
The older understanding of episcopacy would suggest that these episcopal consecrations lacked the essential element for validity—legitimate ecclesiastical authority. The Orthodox would agree. Whereas priesthood is sacramentally conferred by a validly consecrated bishop, episcopacy is [non-sacramentally?—in a literal sense] conferred by ecclesiastical authority unbinding the powers latent in the priesthood, so that the bishop thereafter exercises 'the fullness of the priesthood'. If there is no legitimate authority doing the unbinding, then the consecration would have no validity, no matter how many times the ceremony is repeated and, presumably, the specifically episcopal functions carried out by the recipient would, simply, lack validity. He would simply remain a presbyter (assuming he had received presbyteral orders from a bishop who genuinely possessed ecclesiastical sanction for his consecration).
This would sort out the proliferation of these strange sects who claim legitimate catholic status combined with arcane theological positions. And I hope it would bring to an end this rather disedifying scramble for episcopal orders. An Anglican priest in the Welsh borders told me that there is a not insignificant number of ordinary Anglican clergy who may well have obtained episcopal orders in anticipation of a melt-down of the CofE. Indeed he knows of one or two. Setting aside the question whether the CofE can count as legitimate ecclesiastical authority within the meaning of the term, the older theology would help them sort this one out. However, I am aware that the CofE is firmly wedded to the threefold ministry, and I rather suspect that this is where our more modern view came from in the first place!

Wikipedia makes the point that the episcopal consecrations of Archbishop Milingo were declared null, whereas those of Archibishop Lefebvre have been declared valid but illegal. This does rather suggest (probably, all other things being equal) that Rome is thinking about legitimate authority again.

If you have the stomach and patience for it, here is the lineage of one Episcopus Vagans (who delights in that nomenclature). He has his own blog.


Hestor said...

Didn't the Palmar de Troya have a small following in London in the 80s-90s? I remember seeing them outside Westminster Cathedral with pictures of their stigmata "Pope". Very weird.

I seem to also recall there was a following of a sedevacantist bishop in the Isle of Dogs.

gemoftheocean said...

It seems to me that it has to be one order, with the powers of Order unfolding. After all we don't have 9 Sacraments.

The question is how does this unfold. Top down or bottom up? And I look to the beginning for the answer. It's clear that Peter is in charge by Matthew 16. We also know that before Jesus died the apostles were involved in the ministry, but not yet forgiving sins or consecrating - but doing works and exorcising demons. Then at the Last Supper Jesus gave the apostles the power to consecrate, and after his resurrection he gave them all and not just Peter the power to forgive sins. (Though granted, Peter still retains "the keys" in a special authoritive way. He's the guy that's obviously the leader in action all throughout the Acts of the Apostles.)

After the Ascension, then what? Now you've got the "head man" Peter. And immediately he's concerned with the structure of who does what. He calls the apostles specifically together - and says that Judas had a part of the ministry -- (though he'd split before he was given the power to consecrate or forgive sins.) Peter is replacing him. They all vote - it's tough for me at this point to say if Peter was the only bishop at this point were the others too? At any rate, it's clear the (now again 12) are set apart from mere disciples. [As far as I can remember there was no mention of laying on of hands in the NT until Acts - when the deacons are commisioned.

Peter says his job and that of the other apostles should be devoted to "the prayers" [presumably Eucharist, etc] and preaching the word. [At this time verbal, because none of the New Testament exists.] But then after the 7 deacons have hands laid on them by the apostles [and presumably the Holy spirit told Peter it was okay, because otherwise it's a new "Deposit of Faith" item that they even have the power to do this[!] - so that even in itself tells us it's an inherent "Deposit of FAith" item, that they have the power to make deacons. [The slipper slope is, where do these "new" orders stop? Notaries? Porters? -- some of the ancient churches had "Notary" as a minor order. -- and can you REALLY call them minor orders? I honestly can't think "porter" can in any way be considered something God Himself would consider an "order" in the sense of it infusing anyone with anything! It's hardly a "Character stamping." [Deaconesses anyone? The earlier church had them and there was also a hand laying too...but not, sacramentally.]

I'd consider the diaconate a legit "order" in that sense, but anything below that is REALLY pressing it. There was definitely a division in the church with whether or not the subdiaconate was considered a "Major" order or a Minor one. The article on the subdiaconate in the Catholic Encyclopedia takes the subdiaconate more as a sacramental. [Interesting article on that here. [Their articles on minor orders and deaconesses are interesting too.]

And then with Stephen - there he is preaching after the Apostles said they were going to hang on to that function -- which doesn't mean they didn't give him that "Faculty" later!

It is intresting to see that the community at large suggested to the apostles which 7 men were to be present to the apostles to be appoint as deacons. This would make sense as the were "the Greeks" and presumably them not being Jews the apostles didn't know them as well, but trusted to that community to tell them who was reliable amongst their number.

berenike said...

Here is another painful bit of flippant free-making:

"Some sixteen years ago I coined the phrase 'the Dutch Touch' to describe the participation after 1933 of Dutch schismatics with indubitably valid orders in Anglican episcopal consecrations (the technical details are in my paper in the volume Reuniting Anglicans with Rome). The secret archives in Pusey House, Oxford, make absolutely clear that the intention of the very highest levels in the Church of England and the Dutch Old Catholic Church was to introduce the 'Dutch Succession' into the Church of England and so, after two or three generations, render Apostolicae curae obsolete. Remember that in 1662 the Cof E had made the formulae in presbyteral and episcopal ordination (which Leo had asserted were insufficiently clear), more explicit. Although the plotting of 1933 was done in private (so that nobody could say'Ah, the Anglicans do realise they are not real priests'), it clearly represents a formal and ecclesial act."


Henry said...

Pretty vestments and mitre. Bright colours might fade in the sun though.

Ceremonier said...

A paperback edition of Bishops at Large was published in 2006

Ceremonier said...

A paperback edition of Bishops at Large which was published in 2006 may still be available from on e of the following sites:

joe mc said...

If I read you right, Father, then there can be no apostolic succession in the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands. If that is true, Father, then wouldn't Rome have been able to doubt the validity of Mgr Graham Leonard's presbyteral orders with more confidence?

Pastor in Valle said...

Well, the Catholic Church has decided that their orders are valid, so, er, they are valid. In other words, they possess some form of legitimacy.