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The validity of Sacraments (2): The Ordination of Priests
June 24, 2011, 8:28 am
Filed under: Opinion | Tags: , ,

This is clearly a Sacrament, that is, an act of Christ through his authorised representative. It is Christ who ordains, through the Bishop. Since other Sacraments depend on there being an “authorised minister”, it is important to establish how such authorisation is to be given, and what flaws might invalidate it.

Let me recall what I said in the previous post about Baptism: It is sufficient that the minister performs the action (including the appropriate words) with the serious intention of “doing what the Church does”. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true for Ordination. But what is the “action”, and what the words? And is a more precise intention required? How does “intention” differ from “understanding”? Questions like these bedevil the problem of “Anglican Orders”. Can we find a way through?

A respected theologian has coined the term “Gut Instinct Invalidation” to express “the conviction that the Sacraments of someone of whom one very strongly disapproves – either personally or theologically – are invalid.” The Donatists rejected the Baptisms performed by those who had compromised the faith under persecution; St Theodore would not accept the Episcopal ordination of St Chad by Celtic bishops. Nevertheless (writes the aforesaid theologian), “valid orders can and do exist in the most unattractive and improbable places. And … the minimum requirements in terms of Matter, Form and Intention are extremely low. This is the dominant and official doctrinal tendency within Catholic theology.” The Articles of Religion are clear that “the unworthiness of the minister hinders not the effect of a Sacrament.” If an apparent Sacrament is to be declared invalid, something more precise is required than Gut Instinct.

(to be continued)

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