Validity of Orders

This is often one of those “obsession” subjects, but I might as well draw your attention to some reflections by Fr John Hunwicke in his blog.

A blog article can’t be expected to go into any real theological depth, but the argument is against the sedevacantists who use similar arguments for the invalidity of orders conferred according to the Roman rite of Paul VI as have been used from the late nineteenth century in regard to Anglican orders. I am fundamentally inclined to accept the validity of Roman Catholic orders, including those conferred according to the Bugnini / Paul VI rite – for the simple reason that there is an ecclesial context in an Episcopal structure and the fundamental intention to ordain priests who will do what priests do. A number of theologians have argued more for this essential ecclesial context than for the exact words of a rite.

I also find the sedevacantists generally quite execrable and deeply Donatist in their apologetics and attitudes. The best thing is that they paint themselves into the corner by finding “official Church” ordinations invalid because they use a new rite, and “vagante” ordinations invalid because they are outside any ecclesial context – therefore no valid orders anywhere except in the “forbidden” Orthodox Churches. Perhaps they don’t have valid orders because they are not in communion with Rome. What a wonderful apologia for – atheism!

I have read many arguments for and against this or that particular rite. If there is some church structure (a community consisting of at least a bishop, a few priests and laity united by profession of the Catholic faith), the imposition of hands and a formula to the effect of “receive the Holy Spirit and the priesthood of Christ”, that ordination is valid as far as I am concerned. I recognise Anglican ordinations if there are no women “bishops” in the line of succession (not because I don’t like women, but because the Apostolic Churches of the West and East are agreed that women cannot be ordained in sacramental and ontological terms).

There are other arguments for retaining the old traditional liturgies  from before the Church’s “industrial revolution” (Council of Trent to Vatican II). I won’t go into it all here other than recommend the writings of men like Bouyer, Ratzinger and Gamber.

What is validity? In simple terms, it would seem to be the difference between something that is real and genuine from an empty imitation or simulation, like an actor in a film. This is an accusation thrown by any institutional church against anything less “official”, “recognised” or numerous than they seem to be. There are clearly cases of men “playing religion” like overgrown children, and we might be permitted some doubts in their case. If there is some ecclesial community with one or more bishops, a number of priests, deacons and lay faithful, however few – and that community celebrates the liturgy, believes and teaches the Catholic faith and extends a pastoral ministry of sorts , I see no reason why that Church should not have “valid orders” in the same way as Canterbury, Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, etc.

The “cut-off” points are difficult, perhaps impossible, to define with any accuracy. Who is in and who is out? Who are the real ones and who are the impostors against whom we might feel a duty to protect the naïve and unwary? We have made it so complicated and we often deserve to be sitting on the branch we are sawing off! Like discerning who is in the Church and who is outside, there are no limits to God’s grace and ability to reach the most remote souls. I have always firmly believed that I should be under the jurisdiction of a Bishop, so that my priesthood be a fruit of being sent, having the mission of the Universal Church. A branch cut off from a tree withers and dies, but sometimes the most amazing miracles of grace can happen to repair and restore what human sin has divided. Whilst submitting to proper canonical discipline ourselves, we should have compassion on those labourers who have not yet found employment in the Lord’s vineyard. Surely, the Church is big enough for all and for all vocations between parish work, teaching, the ministry of writing, music and art and the contemplative life. How mean some people are, who take delight in the misfortunes of others! As I write this, I am listening to Perosi’s L’Entrata di Christo in Gerusalemme, and hear the baritone singing those majestic words of Christ as Saint Jerome translated them:

Hierusalem Hierusalem quae occidis prophetas et lapidas eos qui mittuntur ad te quotiens volui congregare filios tuos quemadmodum avis nidum suum sub pinnis et noluisti.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets; and stonest them that are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children as the bird doth her brood under her wings, and thou wouldest not? Is not our vocation to gather and seek the positive and good – wherever they may be found? It may be weak as a theological argument, but there are not many theological arguments left. At least, that is how I see it.

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16 Responses to Validity of Orders

  1. Jacob Flournoy says:

    There are many charlatans who “dress up and play church”, but this one is not to be rivaled.

  2. Jacob Flournoy says:

    Not only does he claim to be a cardinal he also lays claim to the title “Crown Prince of Etruria”. It makes one wonder if it is merely a fantasy or insanity.

    • More like Clown Prince…! At least circus clowns make children laugh (adults too if they’re any good). Here are my favourites from the Arlette Gruss Circus:

      Many such cases were described by Peter Anson in Bishops at Large. Anson did tend to tar most “vagante” bishops with the same brush, but did make some fine distinctions as with the theologian Freidrich Heiler who got himself consecrated by Vilatte.

      There are a few such men imitating Roman Catholic prelates, and I just don’t understand the pathology involved. I say this as someone who is tolerant to the notion of “little churches” if the intention is right and everything is proportioned to the reality.

  3. Jacob Flournoy says:

    I have followed the comings and goings of this man for several years. He has ordained and consecrated numerous men who were formerly part of Continuing Anglicanism. Most of them severed their ties with him shortly after they become involved. Did they discover the truth? He now manages a bakery, Gigi’s Cupcakes, in Mobile, Alabama USA. I have often thought he should name his new enterprise “Pontifical Pastries”.

    • I’ve nothing against a non-stipendiary priest who earns an honest living. I am self-employed as a technical translator (French to English) and am thinking of branching out into making wooden toys as my volume of work isn’t always constant. I see no shame in managing a bakery or even being the man at the oven. Baking is a highly skilled job.

      What I don’t like is this guy pretending to be something really big, when all he needs to be is a simple priest or, at a pinch, a bishop of a “little church” looking after two or three souls gathered in Christ’s name. The problem is there and not whether he is in a Church big enough to pay him a salary for a full-time ministry.

      • Jacob Flournoy says:

        I agree with you, he could be a credible non-stipendiary priest and serve a valid purpose. His books and blogs are orthodox from an Anglo-Catholic perspective, but any legitimacy he may enjoy from his theological orthodoxy is destroyed by his fantasies. He has made himself so well known as a fraudulent “cardinal” and “nobleman” that no amount of spinning the truth can save his reputation. He is not yet forty years old and this will follow him all his days. It is truly sad.

  4. Vagantepriest here. That’s even the name of my (pretty much moribund) blog. (But you can find me on FB.) There is toxic craziness in what we might call the “Independent Sacramental Movement” (ISM) to be sure. However, there is also toxic craziness in the mainstream Churches, albeit of a different sort. There is also sanity and sanctity to be found in both places. So choose your poison and buyer beware. For some, the pearl of great price is found in one place; for others, it is found in another. And don’t forget: whether the context is mainstream or independent, Christ is probably always going to be found most reliably on the margins. Also, “all who wander are not lost”.

    But yeah, stay away from any independent bishop who calls himself “patriarch”.

    Wooden toys, huh? My daughter and son-in-law are doing that.

  5. Jacob Flournoy says:

    As a priest in an independent jurisdiction, one which the “official” church considers schismatic, I fully support the churches involved in the Independent Sacramental Movement as long as they hold orthodox theology….at least Three Ecumenical Councils and an all-male priesthood. I believe it may the the way of the future, if Christianity is to survive. Despite its heterodox theology I have known very Christlike priests in the Liberal Catholic Church. An Old Roman Catholic bishop once said to me, in reference to the “Cardinal”, “Men like Johnson are also found in the big three (Rome, Constantinople and Canterbury) and they sweep them under the rug. The difference is,….they have wall to wall carpet and all we have is a door mat.”

    • I might have guessed. I find most independent Churches extremely disappointing, and many of the more promising and life-size figures who gave so much hope have disappeared from the map. They probably couldn’t hold out and have just retreated into secular life – perhaps. I won’t mention any names. Some would say that this is intrinsic of any not being in one of the “big three”. We need to develop our sense of priestly vocations that don’t depend on a “critical mass” of tithing laity, but rather on the resources we have within ourselves.

      We are very small in the Anglican Catholic Church but we have all the episcopal structure and organisation as many of the minor Orthodox Churches. It brings peace of mind, since inspiration and prophecy should not be opposed to good canonical order and the priestly hierarchy.

      Many clerics are alone, when Churches could give them a little more time to explain their mistakes and be allowed a chance to serve in something bigger than themselves. Perhaps it is easier for me, since I am totally bereft of ambition. I have other priorities in life. As I quoted the other day:

      Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets; and stonest them that are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children as the bird doth her brood under her wings, and thou wouldest not?

  6. Dale says:

    The issue I see with Fr John Hunwicke’s writings is that if one accepts Rome’s rejection of Anglican orders based upon a defect of intention in the BCP office of ordination and consecration, then indeed this same defect can be ascertained in the novus ordo rites. The fact that the modernist seem unwilling to look at this real problem is telling.

    Also, Hunwicke makes it appear that only the sede-vacantists are the only ones troubled by the new rites of ordination and its possible effect upon validity, this is not true, many, many Orthodox are worried by the same issue. I personally knew Orthodox bishops who would accept the validity of priestly ordinations of Roman Catholic priests ordained in the old rites, but reject the validity of those ordained in the new rites, which were considered to be defective at best. Or at least questionable to the point where a re-ordination was demanded.

  7. Jules says:

    I speak as an amateur liturgist, connoisseur of sacred music, and as an Orthodox Catholic Christian. For me, the validity of orders is dependent on the text of the liturgy of consecration and the presence of apostolic succession. A liturgy of consecration that is improperly worded or consecration outside of the apostolic succession means that the orders are invalid.

    Therefore, I consider the consecration of Anglican priests who have received the unaltered faith of the apostles valid, so long as he was consecrated within the apostolic succession and the liturgy of consecration was canonical. The validity of the consecration is decided in my mind when the issue arises. There is no rule of thumb for the validity of consecrations, so while I may consider Father Chadwick’s ordination valid, I do not recognise the “consecration” of the heretic Katharine Jefferts Schori as valid in any sense of the word.

    • The typical scholastic conditions are matter, form and intention. For ordination: imposition of hands, a liturgical formula and evidence of the ordination being conferred by and for the Church. For the Eucharist: bread and wine, the liturgical rite, and a priest at the altar of the church in vestments or as best as he can manage in some “emergency” situation (Communist concentration camp, etc.).

      I would deny the validity of some jerk-head priest in jest saying the formula of consecration of the host on passing in front of a baker’s shop and of the chalice on passing in front of the off-licence next door. It is obvious that this is not seriously intended to be a Mass.

      Similarly, I would doubt some of the “vagante” ordinations due to the ignorance and twisted mentality of the bishops and ordinands involved. Idem for “clown” ceremonies in official RC and Anglican churches.

      Moral unworthiness (priest committing fornication or adultery for example) does not affect the validity of a Sacrament (cf. St Augustine against the Donatists) but evidence of a perverse intention does. There has to be something tangible.

      Those are the general principles, but there’s no guarantee of fairly judging every case, some of which “fall between the cracks”.

      • ed pacht says:

        Ultimately, as there are no verifiable documents tracing hand-to-head consecration all the way back to the Apostles, we have to rely upon the judgment of the Church to assure validity. What the Church deems to be valid we have to accept as truly valid. I know, that’s problematic under the conditions of a divided Church. One does have to start from the historically universal agreement of all those calling themselves Catholic that validity depends upon Apostolic succession, on an acceptable form, on a seriousness of intent, and on a proper (i.e. male) candidate. I would have to add to this a real connection with a definite and serious worshiping community.

        Beyond this, each community (RC, EO, Anglican, or Old Catholic) can only judge the validity of those who are under the jurisdiction and/or in full communion with the community. It is really no business whatever of one church to decide what is valid within another, unless union or intercommunion is being considered, or unless a cleric moves from one church to another. As we become willing and able to pursue a closer unity with our brethren, we will find ways to resolve such questions. A true desire for the unity will produce a true desire for a solution. Until then, well … ?

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