Holy Order

If the Anglican Church claims to be catholic, she must be also ‘apostolic’, for apostolicity is involved in the very conception of the Catholic Church, as confessed in the Nicene Creed. If she is ‘apostolic’, her ministers are the successors of the apostles, their authority and gifts are of the same order as those of the apostles, and are derived, not from the state, nor by delegation from the Christian community, but from above. Or to put it more simply, if the Church of England is catholic, her ministry must be the ministry of the Catholic Church.

Queen Elizabeth I herself told Parliament in 1589 ‘that the state and government of this Church of England, as now it standeth in this reformation … both in form and doctrine it is agreeable with the scriptures, with the most ancient general Councils, with the practice of the primitive Church, and with the judgements of all the old and learned fathers’ ( JIE Neale, Elizabeth and her Parliaments (London, 1953/7) II, 198).

Anglicanism has never deviated from this claim. ‘We do not arrogate to ourselves a new Church, a new Religion, or new Holy Orders. Our religion is the same as it was, our Church the same, our Holy Orders the same, differing from what they were only as a garden weeded from a garden unweeded’ (Archbishop John Bramhall, Vol I, LACT, p119). ‘We maintain that our Church and the pastors thereof did always acknowledge the same Rule of faith, the same fundamental Articles of the Christian Religion, both before and since the Reformation’ (Bishop Bull, Vol II, LACT, p205).

The ancient Church was not abolished at the Reformation in England, nothing new was created; the same clergy and the same people continued to be combined in one and the same institution. The same Creeds were recited and the same Sacraments were administered. The Prayer Book assumes as a matter of course the continuity of the Church of England with the past, and also her unity in all that is essential with the wider area of the whole Catholic Church. The thirtieth Canon of 1604 is definite in stating that the purpose of reformation was not to divide, or separate from the unity of the Church, but ‘only departed from them in those particular points wherein they were fallen both from themselves in their ancient integrity and from the Apostolic Churches, which were their first founders.’

If, then, the Church of England is catholic, and the apostolic ministry, by divine institution, is part of the very definition of the Catholic Church, then her ministers cannot be less. The clergy of the unreformed Church continued for the most part in unbroken possession of their offices during the changes of the middle part of the sixteenth century. There was no re-ordination. Their ordination by the forms of the old pontificals were accepted, and they continued their ministrations to their flocks without any question. But to the Puritans there was an absolute difference in kind between ‘the reformed ministry’ and the historic ministry of the Catholic Church.

The Preface of the first reformed Ordinal (1550), which has remained practically unaltered ever since testifies to this:

It is evident unto all men reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which Offices were evermore had in such reverend Estimation.

No new office is proposed nor any innovating of existing catholic order. The Church of England has no right or authority to extend catholic order and at no time have her Canons sanctioned such an extension. Not only would it be a contradiction of the very essence of catholicity, but also outside the intention and beyond the jurisdiction of Anglicanism at the Reformation and since. Her catholicity consists of certain qualities of faith and order, which are of universal rather than of a parochially English significance. To speak of the catholicity of the Church is to speak of wholeness, not only communion, and not a simple empirical communion. Katholike means first of all the inner wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life, and belongs not to the phenomenal and empirical but to the noumenal and ontological plane. To extend and innovate catholic order unilaterally would impair that wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life, the inevitable consequence of which would be schism. Such an action would be an innovation, not a reformation.

The ministry of the reformed Church of England is to be absolutely identical and continuous with that of pre-Reformation times. There is no difference in principle between the one and the other. It is the old offices, and no other, which have been in the Church of Christ from the beginning, and which have always existed in the Church of England, that are here specified, and for whose continuance careful provision is made. This principle is fundamental to the Church of England.

Arthur Middleton is a tutor at St Chad’s College, a writer and a retreat conductor