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The validity of Sacraments (3): Apostolicae Curae
June 25, 2011, 8:05 am
Filed under: Opinion | Tags: ,

The “matter” of a Sacrament varies: for Baptism, it is the pouring of, or immersion in, water; for the Eucharist, it is the taking of bread and wine. What is it in the case of Ordination? It is usually taken to be the designation of a particular individual by the laying-on of hands. (It also requires that the individual designated is eligible for Ordination, which is a further question). However, during the Council of Florence Pope Eugene IV defined the “matter” as the handing over of a chalice and paten (with wine and bread) to the ordinand by the Bishop, although he did not say that this was necessary. Rather (I think), he was saying that this was the way, de facto, that ordinands were designated in the Latin Church at his time. What is essential is that there is a precise designation of a particular person.

What is the “form” of the Sacrament? This means, in practice, a form of words which expresses what is being done. For instance, in Baptism it is the formula, “I baptise you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” (or some equivalent). The phrase, “I baptise”, is what is sometimes called a “performative utterance”, one in which the saying of the words is itself the performance of the act. In the Eucharist, the form is normally taken to be the Dominical words of institution, “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” or some close equivalent. (However, even this can be given a wide interpretation: one Eastern Liturgy does not include these words expressly, but seems to be accepted as valid). In its own context, though, the words must indicate what it is that is being done.

Pope Leo XIII judged that the form employed in Cranmer’s Ordinal was insufficient for this purpose (“Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, etc.”), although it is arguable that Cranmer, in utilising the words of our Lord in John 20.22f, certainly intended to do whatever it was the Lord had done, even if he had an inadequate,even mistaken, understanding of what that was.  Pope Leo acknowledged that the later Anglican form which was more explicit might suffice in a Catholic context, but by the time this was brought in the succession of “authorised persons” to administer it had died out.

What is the status of Pope Leo’s decision? In the originally published version of his Bull the matter is called a “caput disciplinae”, a matter of discipline. In a later edition the word “disciplinae” has dropped out. A theologian consulted said, “The word is actually included in the version published in Acta Sanctae Sedis 29 (1896-7), which is the official version of the text. There is therefore no need to view the original document signed by the two cardinals. However, in the collected edition of the Acta Leonis XIII the word is omitted; this edition seems to be unofficial, being published by the Societas Sancti Augustini, Desclee de Brouwer, Bruges, vol. 6, 1900.” Perhaps what is meant by calling it a matter of discipline, rather than a matter of doctrine, is that since it involves historical judgements about what may have been thought or intended by someone at a particular time, it can never attain dogmatic certainty. However, in practice the ordinations must be treated as invalid, since their validity can likewise never be certainly established. It seems that the Anglican authorities, while publicly repudiating the Pope’s judgement, nevertheless took steps to remedy any possible defects in the future, by inviting Old Catholic Bishops with orders recognised by Rome to participate as principal co-consecrators in the ordination of Anglican bishops. The effects of this action has never been officially determined by the Holy See, but there would seem to be a good case for saying that whatever the situation as submitted to Pope Leo, the current situation is now altered, and there is a prima facie case for saying that Episcopal and Priestly Orders are now validly transmitted in the Church of England.

Pope Pius XII determined that the Form of Ordination in the Roman Pontifical was the prayer said over the ordinands together by the Bishop, rather than the words said (if any) at the laying on of hands. I suggest that this too only determines what is the present custom of the Roman Church, rather than laying down what is necessary in all circumstances. The actual prayers used have varied at different times, and what is essential is simply that the ordaining bishop makes clear what it is he intends to do, in performative form. “Receive the Holy Spirit for the office and work of a bishop/priest in the Church of God” would seem adequate for this purpose.

(to be continued)

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1 Comment so far
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There were two Bishops of impeccable credentials from the 16th and 17th centuries who took part in consecrations, and if there ever was any doubt as to the Apostolic Succession, surely their participation pre-dated the ‘Dutch Touch’. They were Hugh Curwen, Archbishop of Dublin (1555-1567) consecrated according to the Roman Rite during the reign of Mary, who under Elizabeth became the Bishop of Oxford. The other was the Roman Catholic Mercantonio de Dominis Archbishop of Spolato (Split) who came to England in 1616 and became Dean of Windsor. He took part in consecrations, one of whom was the chief consecrator of William Laud who later became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Comment by Father John Dewar




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