Anglican Succession


by Mark J. Bonocore

To an Anglican named Fritz, I had written...

<< As for Anglican priests, we sadly do not recognize such authority for them, since there is a historical break in Apostolic succession in the Anglican communion. I wish to God that that were not the case. However, that is our position. >>

And, Fritz responded...

<< Thank you for the explanations re transubstantiation. Your comments on Anglicanism are, however, not entirely accurate. Rome's position is based on the claim that there was a failure to intend to ordain valid bishops in the Anglican line during the reign of Elizabeth. I personally find the claim incredible, since if the Anglicans did not intend to validly ordain bishops, they certainly went to a great deal of effort to "keep up appearances" as it were, unlike say the Methodists and Lutherans. >>

Well, We have a few issues here, Fritz. The first of which is the matter of "form vs. substance." Unlike Lutheranism and Methodism, which were interested in recapturing (what they saw as) the 1st century Church as reflected in the Bible, the Church of England was set up to be, first and foremost, a "state church." And as England's "state church" it was necessary to preserve the outward forms which Christianity exhibited throughout the nation's Christian history. Yet, merely wearing the clothes of a cowboy does not make one a cowboy. :-) And, in the same way, merely utilizing the formal rituals and vestments of the Catholic Church does not make one Catholic. For example, can you picture some native of Sumatra reading the Old Testament and adopting the ancient Israelite forms of worship, and then declaring himself to be a Jew?! It simply doesn't work like that. Either one is a member of the historical Covenant people of God (be that the Jews, or the Apostolic Christian Church), or one is not. So, "appearances" don't count for much, I'm afraid. The true issue is Apostolic succession.

And, speaking of Apostolic succession, and its lack within the Anglican communion, here are the facts:

Under Henry VIII, all Catholic bishops (except St. John Fisher) went along with the Oath of Supremacy and the divorce from Queen Catherine, thus making the whole English hierrarchy, not heretical, but schismatic. Yet, when Henry died, the ministers of Edward VI changed all the Sacraments and installed Protestant ministers, making the Church of England not only schismatic, but clearly heretical and invalid by Catholic standards. Here, it is an unquestionable fact that the Sacrament of Holy Orders was rendered null and void, since Edward's church did not recognize the priesthood nor the Eucharist as a Sacrifice. Thus, at least 1/2 of the "bishops" under Edward were no longer candidates who were validly ordained by Apostolic succession.

However, when Edward died, Mary Tudor restored the Catholic hierarchy and her nation to the Catholic Church, so that England was once again Apostolic. Yet, when Mary died, Elizabeth repeated her father's Oath of Supremacy, and there were two important changes this time:

Firstly, none of the Catholic bishops in office went along with the oath. Secondly, Elizabeth resorted to the texts of Edward VI's heretical church, which had corrupted all the Sacraments (except Baptism and Marriage). So, when Elizabeth wanted to have Matthew Parker (a layman) elevated to the office of Archbishop of Canterbury, she couldn't get one Catholic bishop to go along. She therefore gathered together 4 co-consecrators for Parker. One was an auxiliary bishop who had embraced Protestantism; one was a priest who did the same; and the two others were laymen who had become Protestant ministers. So, the only chance for Apostolic succession to have passed to Matthew Parker was through the auxiliary bishop who was now a Protestant heretic. But, guess what? :-) Guess what text was used for the "ordination" of Matthew Parker? Yep. It was the corrupted formula for ordination drafted by the ministers of Edward VI, which specifically denies a Sacrificing priesthood and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist!

Thus, the whole line of Anglican bishops which succeed from Parker is utterly null and void. Thus, from Parker's reign on, the Anglican church has lacked a valid Eucharist, valid Confirmations, valid Anointing of the Sick, and valid absolution of sins. And all because it had no valid Holy Orders down to the 20th century, when a new and possibly-Apostolic line entered the Anglican communion.

So, in 1897, when Pope Leo XIII decreed that Anglicanism lacks Apostolic succession, it was a solid position indeed. However, there are two factors which leave some room for discussion:

First of all, in the 17th century, there was a conservative return to more "Catholic" ceremonies in the Anglican communion, and some of the Eucharistic texts and ordination texts would have been minimally "Catholic" had there been a true hierarchy of Apostolic succession, which there was not.

Secondly, after Pope Leo's encyclical condemning Anglican orders, there was a "semi-secret" ordination of an Anglican bishop by a wandering bishop from the East, who was a Nestorian. Now, while the Nestorians believe in the true priesthood and the Real Presence, it is questionable whether or not we may call them "Apostolic," given the fact that they are heretical in regard to the two natures of Christ, etc. However, this Nestorian bishop did participate in the ordination of an Anglican primate; and that means that the ONLY chance for Apostolic succession to exist in the pre-20th century Anglican church comes from this wandering bishop from the Orient. And this would still mean that the Anglican communion as a whole is devoid of Apostolic succession, with the outside chance that some individuals may have valid orders. However, there is no way of knowing for certain.

Thus, we have this weird situation where, if we go into an Anglican church, the reserved "Sacrament" is presumed to be symbolic bread, because for it to actually be the Body of Christ, one must have certainty that the priest who consecrated it was ordained by a bishop, whose predecessor was (by some remote chance) ordained by this wandering Nestorian bishop. And, on top of this, we would also have to be assured that the validly-ordained priest (which is doubtful) used a valid Eucharistic text AND that this priest had the intention of doing what the Catholic Church intends in consecrating the Bread and Wine. So, as we see it, it's a pretty remote chance of all these things coming together.

But, for me, the spiritual proof of the total absence of Apostolic authority and succession in the Anglican communion is the total absence of dogmatic authority among the Anglican churches. For example, one cannot command an altar server what to believe in. When "bishop" Pike was brought up on heresy charges for repeating the 3rd century heresy of Modalism in regard to the Holy Trinity, the Anglican church exonerated him, even though he did not back down. That's pretty elementary, if you ask me. And, even before that, the Anglican hierarchy permitted contraception in the 1930's, breaking with ALL Jews and Christians for the first time on that moral truth; and, atop all this, they've now expressed their true colors with the "ordination" of women. The Anglican hierarchy has now made it thoroughly clear that it is not only Protestant, but liberal Protestant at that; and this leaves the so-called "Anglo-Catholics" without much support.

Fritz also wrote...

<< In the twentieth century, the Episcopal church (until their decision to ordain women) were in communion with the Polish National Catholic Church, and their bishops participated in Anglican ordinations for over 40 years. >>

This is true. However, two things:

(1) Not all "Polish National Catholics" have valid orders, and...

(2) They did not participate in every episcopal ordination within the Anglican communion.

So, once again, you have the problem of uncertainty. It is not enough to say that some of your priests may be validly ordained. The Apostolic Church works on the principal of Incarnational certainty (i.e. Christ ordained the Apostles, and the Apostles ordained our bishops, etc). As St. Clement I puts it in the 1st century:

The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by Gods will. Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. (1 Clement 42:1-4)

And also...

Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. (1 Clement 44:1-2)

The Catholic Church is the Family of God (1 Tim 3:15, Eph 2:19f; 3:14f); and over that Family, Christ and the Apostles appointed legitimate fathers. And this line of fatherhood must continue in order for the Family of Christ to be our Family today. There is no room for illegitimate fathers or illegitimate children. We must know who our fathers were and who we came from. Either we are begotten of Christ through the Apostles or we are not (1 Corinth 4:15-17). This is why Apostolic succession is so important. We must know for certain who our fathers are, just as the Jews did before us (e.g. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

Fritz also writes...

<< Rome has never questioned the validity of the PNCC line of succession, >>

Not the line itself, but the overall participation in it. Once again, it is an uncertain situation (see below). And the participation of the Polish Communist government makes this even more problematic, as with the "National Catholic Church" of China today.

Fritz also says...

<< so virtually all Episcopal priests and bishops today (I will leave out the women for the sake of this point) have a valid succession. >>

Sorry, Fritz, but that is a non sequitur. The PNCC's were always a minority presence. Even if they are unquestionably Apostolic (which is unproven), they were non present at every Anglican ordination. That is to say, not all Anglican episcopal lines flow from them. And, indeed, the mere fact that they entered into Communion with a non-Apostolic church (without requiring that non-Apostolic body to be re-Confirmed and re-Ordained, etc), corrupts the Apostolic nature of the PNCC, potentially (if not actually) reducing it to a heretical communion.

Fritz says...

<< I might add that from my days in St. Michael's preschool, to the present, no Episcopal priest has ever offered me a "don't ask, don't pursue, don't tell" explanation of the Eucharist. >>

Okay. Then how did they explain the Real Presence to you??? :-) Did they advocate Transubstantiation? Consubstantiation? Metaousia? A "spiritual Presence"? Which?

What I meant by "don't ask, don't tell" is exactly that. The High Anglican church abstains from taking a position. They claim Real Presence, but do not maintain how or why they hold to a Real Presence. Rather, the subject is politely avoided. However, in this day and age, that is quite dangerous.

Fritz says...

<< In fact, the reason I took so long in responding to you is that I went to Boise, ID to visit parents for New Years and visit the cathedral again. At every pew there is still posted notes to the effect that the Eucharist contains the real (not spiritual or memorial) presence of Christ, and the bread and the wine are the body and blood of Christ. >>

Well, once again, there is an issue of semantics here. What do they mean by "real" and "not spiritual" or "not memorial"? I believe that the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is both real and spiritual and memorial. Do they mean "Incarnational"? Simply put, do they mean that the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament is the very same, Incarnational Presence of Christ when He dwelled among the Apostles? If so, then they share the Catholic belief in principal, if not in objective application. However, in the Anglican world, this question never seems to receive an answer, and certainly not an "official answer," since contemporary Anglicanism does not possess the means of establishing dogma for all of its faithful.

Fritz goes on...

<< The prayer book also makes this point explicitly, although you are correct in pointing out that Anglicans do not explain how this process occurs. >>

Yes, or how it exists. To say that it is Christ's Body and Blood is good. However, in the words of Bill Clinton, "is depends on what you mean by is." :-)

Mark J. Bonocore

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