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Nineteenth Century Prelude

Revised: 7 March A.D. 2001,
St. Thomas Aquinas, DC.

    For most of us the news that married Anglican clergymen might be ordained as Catholic priests and retain an Anglican form of Mass came fairly recently.  In theory, and perhaps in practice, it began over a century ago.

The Issue of Anglican Orders

    King Henry-VII of England received the title "Defender of the Faith" from Pope Leo-X (1513-1521) for the treatise he published in 1521, "The Defense of the Seven Sacraments" against the innovations of Martin Luther. Yet within ten years, Henry would attempt to force the English hierarchy to accept him as their "only and supreme lord, and as far as the law of Christ allows, even supreme head." In 1532, Parliament would forbid the payment of taxes levied by Rome on the English Church, and allowed no appeals to Rome over the English ecclesiastical courts. Henry, of course, was trying to extort an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon -- an annulment that would come only Thomas Cranmer, who Henry installed as Archbishop of Canterbury that same year. Well before he died in 1547, Henry began the replacement of Latin with English in the Mass, and dissolved monasteries of his realm.

    Yet, for all of his conflict with the Holy See, it is incorrect to refer to Henry-VIII as a Protestant. While he was a schismatic for his denial of Papal authority, he did not purposefully undermine the doctrinal teachings of the Church as had Martin Luther and the "reformers." But Protestantism would surely come during the reign of his heirs. In 1549, Cranmer introduced his first Book of Common Prayer. In the same manner followed by the modernists of the twentieth century, the changes in worship came gradually and ambiguously. Conservatives could see a clear connection between the traditional Sarum rite and the new rite, yet simultaneously, those leaning toward Protestantism would be heartened by language that described the Mass more as a gathering for prayer than as the Holy Sacrifice, and by language that suggested a subjective presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament instead of a real presence. Both the new Communion Service and rite of Ordination were disassociated from the idea of a priesthood perpetuating the Sacrifice of the Cross through the offering of Mass. The altars were replaced within tables in 1550. In 1552, under Edward VI, a solidly Protestant prayer book replaced that of 1549.  In 1563, under Elizabeth I the Catholic Eucharistic doctrine was specifically denied:

    Article XXVIII:  "Of the Lord's Supper.... Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions."

    Article XXXI:  "Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross.... the sacrifices of Masses, in which it was commonly said, that the priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits."

    While the Anglican Church would thus appear to be officially Protestant, strong factions within it preserved at least the appearances if not the substance of Catholicism.  After the violence of the Reformation subsided, the "High Church" services returned in large measure to Catholic forms, with its members even publicly calling it the Mass and professing belief in the Real Presence. In recent years in some places, the Knott Missal, a verbatim translation of the Missale Romanum was used as the altar book.  Conservative members of the High Church party spoke of themselves as Anglo-Catholics, and held that their Church was just another "branch" of the Catholic Church, along the same lines as the "Roman branch."

    But Catholicism is more than appearances.  Those (including high-church Anglicans) who hold to Catholic theology recognize that the power to offer Mass and bring about the Real Presence, and to ordain priests capable of doing so, comes through the Apostolic Succession.  While this Succession might exist apart from Rome, as it does among the Eastern Orthodox, it cannot exist if it is not passed on Sacramentally from bishop to ordinand, starting with someone who has received it to begin with, ultimately going back to Jesus Christ Himself.  From the Catholic perspective, the Protestant rituals and official teaching had purged the concept -- and consequently the reality -- of aa sacrificing priesthood from the Anglican church.  By the nineteenth century the bishops who had been validly ordained before Cranmer's and Edward's changes were several hundred years dead.  And even if an occasional valid bishop could be prevailed upon (from among the Orthodox or Old Catholics) to perform ordinations, the Anglican church no longer employed a ritual capable of perpetuating Apostolic Succession.  And even if it did in some ambiguous fashion, the Thirty-Nine articles served as a public profession of disbelief in the sacrificing priesthood.

    Nor did it help that Anglicanism also accommodated some much more Protestant members.  The Methodist revival under John Wesley (1703-17910 -- originally a movement within the Anglican church -- brought the questions of hierarchical authority and Holy Orders into finer perspective.  Anglican authorities who took the Wesleyans to task for their unordained and unauthorized work were sometimes asked embarrassing questions about the source of their own authority and Orders.  And in some cases the high-church divines were not comfortable with their own answers.

    This question of the validity or invalidity of Anglican Orders became more significant as the Anglo-Catholic movement grew in strength and numbers.  It was, of course, of particular significance to Anglican converts to the Catholic Faith:  Was a man who had perceived himself as a priest for many years actually a priest?  Was he now bound by the laws that bind Roman priests?  Had the convert been Confirmed?  Had he ever made a valid Confession?  In order to answer questions such as these, Pope Leo XIII commissioned an extensive investigation of the question: "Are Anglican Orders valid?"  Pope Leo's answer -- in the negative -- comes to us in the Apostolic Letter, Apostolicae Curae, issued on 13 September 1896.  His Letter, is useful reading, for, in addition to Pope Leo's answer, it outlines the history and theology of the question.  There is also a good article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Anglican Orders."

    According to Leo XIII and a variety of others, the question of the validity of Anglican Orders had been around almost since the issue of Edward's rite of ordination (usually referred to as the "Edwardine Ordinal").  It was of lesser significance in the early days, when one could be drawn and quartered for saying anything that sounded too "Romish," but increased in importance as years went on and Anglicans had time to consider their Catholic heritage.  Well before the time of Pope Leo XIII the question had become significant to a number of High Church Anglicans.

The Order of Corporate Reunion

    The Anglican situation is unique among the Christian churches separated from Rome.  On the one hand, the "liturgical" churches like the Eastern Orthodox and a few others have a valid Mass and Holy Orders, and an accurate theological understanding of what they possess.  On the other hand, the "reformed" Churches deny the concept of a sacrificial Mass and the need for Holy Orders -- they are content to agree that they have neither of these things in the sense that Catholics understand them, but they feel no deprivation for they feel that they have Christianity as it should be.(2)  Only among the Anglicans do we find numbers of people who believe that Holy Orders are necessary -- and who also are concerned that their church may not possess them.  For most the doubt must be speculative -- one presumes that when the doubt is positive for very long they seek another church -- Cardinal Newman and Saint Elizabeth Seton come to mind -- but Msgr. Ronald Knox, himself a convert, in a position to know, suggests that the doubt is simply repressed or ignored for a variety of social reasons.(3)  The Catholic requirement for celibacy among the clergy no doubt deterred some, and perhaps the requirement that Mass be in Latin.  The immemorial conflict between England and France -- the "Church's eldest daughter" may have contributed.

    On occasion, Anglican clergymen have received Holy Orders from bishops validly consecrated in the Eastern Orthodox and Old Catholic churches.  In 1877 a rather unusual overture was made by Catholic bishops towards individual Anglicans in doubt of their orders.  In order to preserve confidentiality, the "Order of Corporate Reunion," as it was called, was a relatively secret undertaking, so precise evidence is lacking.  But even Anglican critics like Henry Brandreth agree that two Anglican clergymen and one physician -- Dr. F.G. Lee, Rev. Thomas W. Mossman, and Dr. John T. Seccombe -- received Baptism, Confirmation, and all Holy Orders from Roman Catholic bishops.  Others claim to be able to identify specific prelates as the consecrators, including the archbishops of Venice, Milan, and Ravenna.(4)  The name of the Order suggests that Rome -- or at least important members of the hierarchy -- hoped to return groups of Anglican clergy and people to union with the Holy See in an Anglican uniate rite as it had done in the past with numbers of Eastern Orthodox.

Arnold Harris Mathew

    It was into an Catholic and Anglican family that Arnold Harris Mathew was born in 1852.  While attending an Anglican seminary his doubts about Anglican Orders moved him to become a Catholic and to transfer to the seminary in Glasgow.  After some years of serving as a parish priest, followed by a year of religious indecision, he rejoined the Anglicans in 1890, taking a wife, and serving until 1889 in an Anglican parish.  Once again a lay Catholic, he made his living through translation and literary pursuits.  But in 1907, mislead and miscalculating, Mathew felt that the time was right for an English church boasting undoubtedly valid Orders.  Some hold that he was consecrated a bishop in the Order of Corporate Reunion, while others say that he started his own version of the Order.(5)  He may well have been concerned that the clandestine nature of the Order would leave as much doubt in peoples' minds as Anglican Orders.  In any event, he was consecrated publicly by the Archbishop of Utrecht on 28 April 1908.  Mathew's connection to Utrecht was short lived, for it had fallen into "Old Catholicism," espousing ideas alien to the mission of corporate reunion with Rome.  [Link to related material]

    1.  The history of the Protestant Reformation in England is well covered in Philip Hughes, A Popular History of the Reformation (NY: Image, 1957); in Henri Daniel-Rops, The Protestant Reformation (NY: Image, 1961) two volumes;  and in Michael Davies, Cranmer's Godly Order (Devon: Augustine Publ., 1976)

   2.  There may be an exception to this among certain Scandinavian Lutherans who claim to possess Apostolic Succession.

    3.  Cf.  John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua;  Joseph I. Dirvin, CM, Mrs. Seton: Foundress of the American Sisters of Charity (NY: Farrar, Strauss, and Cudahy, 1962);  Msgr. Ronald A. Knox, "Reprobation," a sermon given at O.L. Mt. Carmel and St. Simon Stock, Kennsington (1928).

    4.  Cf. Henry R.T. Brandreth, Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church, London 1961.  Brandreth defends the validity of Anglican Orders and speaks harshly of those who sought to remedy their defect.   For the opposite point of view see the web-site at which sets out the lines of consecration of +Robert Samuel Loiselle and Peter A. Compton-Caputo with the following claim:

       Bishop Frederick George Lee (Primate I of the Order of Corporate Reunion), Bishop Thomas Wimberley Mossman, and Bishop John Thomas Seccombe, were consecrated according to the ancient Ambrosian Rite on the Feast of St. John the Baptist and Holy Fore-Runner of the Lord, June 24, 1877, in Venice, Italy, by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Venice, Patriarch Dominicus Agostino, assisted by a Byzantine Catholic Bishop, by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Milan, Italy, Luigi Nazari di Calabiana, by the Abbot-General of Ordo Mechitaristarum Venetiarum from the Island of Saint Lazarus near Venice, Archbishop Ignatios Ghiurekian, and by Vincentius Moretti, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ravenna.

    5.  Ibid.

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