In Defense of Anglican Holy Orders Against Rome

This article was originally written by Christian B. Wagner who has since handed the project of Apologia Anglicana over to me. I have reformatted and adjusted the article for compatibility with the current website and to correct the occasional typo. I hope you appreciate this article.

For Apostolic succession in general, see: Apostolical Succession in the Church of England Apostolical Succession in the Church of England, or for a shorter work, Lectures on Apostolic Succession in the Church of England, in regard to the validity of Anglican Orders, see: Apostolic Succession and Anglicanism: A Defense of Anglican Orders and Catholicity


In the creed each Sunday, we declare that we believe in “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” We affirm that Christ’s Bride is “One,” that she is unified by virtue of our one Baptism, that she is “Holy,” that she is purified by the Holy Spirit through the application of Christ’s merits, that she is “Catholic,” not a local church, but one across time and space. What then does it mean to be Apostolic? Ever since the Protestant Reformation, this has been a looming question, “are we Apostolic?” Most famously in the history of the English Church, there was the debate between the Puritans and Conformists, for example, with William Laud in 1604 stating:

there could be no true churches without diocesan episcopacy.

William Laud quoted in The Translators Revived, p. 135

But, later, in 1896 the attack came from the other side in the form of a Papal Bull by Pope Leo XIII called Apostolicae Curae.

The Roman Church claimed that the Anglican Bishops were not valid bishops, and therefore that we did not have Apostolic Succession, saying that the orders of our Deacons, Priests, and Bishops were

absolutely null and utterly void.

Apostolicae Curae, Pope Leo XIII, paragraph 36.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York swiftly replied with Saepius Officio, arguing for the validity of Anglican Orders. What I seek to do in this article is to first, describe what we mean by “Apostolic Succession,” then to lay out the claims of Rome of why Anglican succession is invalid, and then lastly to respond to those claims.

It is important to note before I begin that it is possible for one to be a good Roman Catholic and to affirm Anglican orders. I wish for all my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters that they read the arguments made by both Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and decide for themselves. In fact, the Papal bull itself mentions that the validity of Anglican orders was a common belief amongst Roman theologians, a report from the USCCB comments,

One key element in the new context for the evaluation of Anglican orders today is that in 1978 the Vatican archives were opened through the year 1903. This has brought to light documents that show that the decisions of Apostolicæ Curæ were arrived at through a more complex process than we had previously imagined. The process, it must be admitted, is not so important as the conclusion. However, it is helpful to observe the process. The documents now available to scholars definitely confirm the existence of two distinct groups among the eight members of an apostolic commission appointed by Leo XIII in January 1896 to reexamine the validity of Anglican orders. Leo’s commission was divided, and four members of the commission believed that a ‘historic continuity’ with the medieval Church in England could be traced in modern Anglicanism. In 1896 Vatican opinion on the invalidity of Anglican orders was not as solidly negative as we once imagined, prior to 1978. It would not be to our purpose to comment on the opinions of the four members who were in favor of invalidity because these arguments found their way into Apostolicæ Curæ. Almost unknown today are the positions of the papal commissioners who concluded positively in favor of the orders.

For example, one member of the papal commission, Louis Duchesne, believed that the practice of regarding Anglican orders as null and void did not derive from ‘an ecclesiastical sentence’ given in full knowledge of all the facts in the case. For a second commission member, Pietro Gasparri, the material succession of Anglican orders was intact. A third member, Emilio De Augustinis, held that the ordination rite of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer safeguarded the substance of the sacrament of order, and that the formula Accipe Spiritum Sanctum, contained in the 1552 book, was a valid form of Catholic ordination. A fourth member, T B. Scannell, believed approvingly that ‘true Roman caution’ had prevented the papacy from making a definitive negative judgment on Anglican orders in the sixteenth century.

Anglican Orders: A Report on the Evolving Context for their Evaluation in the Roman Catholic Church | USCCB

What is Apostolic Succession?

We can speak of Apostolic Succession in two ways, both of which are necessary to claim to be an “Apostolic Church,” first, Apostolic Succession of men, second, Apostolic Succession of teaching. In the first, we claim that our church’s ministers receive their commission from Christ. Just as the Father sent Christ, and Christ sent His Apostles, so did His Apostles send the first Bishops of the Church (such as St. Timothy and St. Titus), and these first Bishops sent forth other Bishops, down to the present day. The second means that we teach the same doctrine as the Apostles and the church that they founded, for example, many of the heresiarchs were validly ordained into the Episcopacy, some even being Patriarchs, yet they did not succeed the Apostles in their doctrine, and thus were judged and deposed of their rank, the church not recognizing their ordinations and consecrations.

In this article, we will focus on the former sense, that Anglicans have a succession of Bishops from the Apostles. This is where the Roman Church aims her attacks, as we will see in the next section. This post is not meant to be a defense of the concept of Apostolic Succession, though that is an idea that I have been mulling over in my head for a future article. Such a defense can be found in The Tracts for the Times, specifically, tracts 4, 15, 19, and 24.

The Roman Argument

The Roman Catholic argument as found in Apostolicae Curae is as follows:

  • Whereas, “This practice [of denying the validity of Anglican orders] is fully proved by the numerous cases of absolute re-ordination according to the Catholic rite even in Rome…[and] ‘custom is the best interpreter of law’…[for] it is sacrilegious to repeat the sacrament of order…[and] not only did the Apostolic See tolerate this practice, but approved and sanctioned it”[iv] (Apostolicae Curae 15-16)
  • Whereas, “the judgement of the Pontiff [in the case of rejecting the validity of John Gordon’s orders] applies universally to all Anglican ordinations.” (Apostolicae Curae 21)
  • Whereas, “the words which until recently were commonly held by Anglicans to constitute the proper form of priestly ordination namely, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” certainly do not in the least definitely express the sacred Order of Priesthood (sacerdotium) or its grace and power, which is chiefly the power “of consecrating and of offering the true Body and Blood of the Lord” (Council of Trent, Sess. XXIII, de Sacr. Ord., Canon 1) in that sacrifice which is no “mere commemoration of the sacrifice offered on the Cross” (Ibid, Sess. XXII, de Sacrif. Missae, Canon 3).” (Apostolicae Curae 25)
  • Whereas, “The same holds good of episcopal consecration. For to the formula, “Receive the Holy Ghost”, not only were the words “for the office and work of a bishop”, etc. added at a later period, but even these, as We shall presently state, must be understood in a sense different to that which they bear in the Catholic rite. Nor is anything gained by quoting the prayer of the preface, “Almighty God”, since it, in like manner, has been stripped of the words which denote the summum sacerdotium [High Priesthood].” (Apostolicae Curae 28)
  • Whereas, “This form had, indeed, afterwards added to it the words “for the office and work of a priest,” etc; but this rather shows that the Anglicans themselves perceived that the first form was defective and inadequate. But even if this addition could give to the form its due signification, it was introduced too late, as a century had already elapsed since the adoption of the Edwardine Ordinal, for, as the Hierarchy had become extinct, there remained no power of ordaining.” (Apostolicae Curae 26)
  • Whereas, “in the whole Ordinal not only is there no clear mention of the sacrifice, of consecration, of the priesthood (sacerdotium), and of the power of consecrating and offering sacrifice but, as We have just stated, every trace of these things which had been in such prayers of the Catholic rite as they had not entirely rejected, was deliberately removed and struck out.” (Apostolicae Curae 30)
  • Whereas, “For once a new rite has been initiated in which, as we have seen, the Sacrament of Order is adulterated or denied, and from which all idea of consecration and sacrifice has been rejected, the formula, “Receive the Holy Ghost”, no longer holds good, because the Spirit is infused into the soul with the grace of the Sacrament, and so the words “for the office and work of a priest or bishop”, and the like no longer hold good, but remain as words without the reality which Christ instituted.” (Apostolicae Curae 31)
  • ERGO, “We pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void.” (Apostolicae Curae 36)

The Roman argument can be summed up in four points:

  1. The practice of the Roman church in denying Anglican orders, based on the inherent authority of the magisterium (Apostolicae Curae 15-16, 21).
  2. The defect of the form in the words “receive the Holy Ghost,” which omits the phrase “for the office and work of a bishop/priest,” (Apostolicae Curae 25, 28, 31),
  3. The absence of a minister of the sacrament on the supposition of the invalidity of the ordaining Bishops (Apostolicae Curae 26),
  4. The intention is faulty on two grounds,
    1. The denial of “the power ‘of consecrating and of offering the true Body and Blood of the Lord’ (Council of Trent, Sess. XXIII, de Sacr. Ord., Canon 1),”
    2. The denial of “that sacrifice which is no ‘mere commemoration of the sacrifice offered on the Cross” (Ibid, Sess. XXII, de Sacrif. Missae, Canon 3).’” (Apostolicae Curae 25)

Saepius Officio

In response to Apostolicae Curae, the next year, the Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote a document called Saepius Officio which responded to the theological and historical claims of the Papal bull. It is from this document that the rest of this article will be drawing, along with other articles which affirm the validity of Anglican Orders, both Roman and Anglican. Among these is an Official report from the U.S. Bishops, Anglican Orders: A Report on the Evolving Context for their Evaluation in the Roman Catholic Church | USCCB.

Argument from the Roman Magisterium

The first argument is that the Roman Magisterium had and has authority, therefore their historical and current rejection of Anglican orders constitutes a reasonable basis for the rejection of Anglican orders. First, this is seen practically in the case of Reginald Pole, second, this is seen declaratively in Apostolicae Curae.

Reginald Pole was the Papal delegate who worked towards counter-reforming England when Mary took the throne, after the Edwardian rule. Apostolicae Curae uses his example as a defense of the Roman practice of rejecting Anglican orders, claiming that he absolutely re-ordained all priests who were ordained during the Edwardian period. This historical claim, though, is denied even by modern Roman Catholic sources, for example, the USCCB reports that,

Rome in the sixteenth century did not state categorically and explicitly that all orders conferred with the Anglican Ordinal of 1552 were null and void; and Anglican orders were not consistently rejected by the Roman See during the Marian Restoration in England of 1553 to 1558. (2) The vague nature of the instructions sent to Reginald Pole, the Roman Catholic legate in England during that period, suggests that re-ordination was not the only means of reconciliation of ministries in the sixteenth century. This conclusion is amplified by the fact that Pole himself was not a priest until March 1556.

Anglican Orders: A Report on the Evolving Context for their Evaluation in the Roman Catholic Church | USCCB

In reality, rather than an absolute re-ordination which occurred, Saepius Officio reports,

In the conduct of which business there is evidence of much inconsistency and unevenness. Yet while many Edwardian Priests are found to have been deprived for various reasons, and particularly on account of entering into wedlock, none are so found, as far as we know, on account of defect of Order. Some were voluntarily reordained. Some received anointing as a supplement to their previous ordination, a ceremony to which some of our Bishops at that time attached great importance. Some, and perhaps the majority, remained in their benefices without reordination, nay were promoted in some cases to new cures. Pole did not return to England after his exile until November 1554, and brought the reconciliation to a conclusion in the fifteen months that followed. The principle of his work appears to have been to recognize the state of things which he found in existence on his arrival, and to direct all his powers towards the restoration of papal supremacy as easily as possible. In this period one man and perhaps a second (for more have not yet been discovered) received new orders under Pole, in the years 1554 and 1557; but it is uncertain in what year each of them began the process of being reordained. At any rate very few were reordained after Pole’s arrival. Others perhaps received some kind of supplement.

Saepius Officio, paragraph VI.

The second argument comes from the asserted nature of the Roman Magisterium. The claim is that since the Roman Magisterium has inherent authority on matters of faith and morals, therefore we ought to listen to their declarations. We may attack this assertion on multiple grounds. First, this would need to be proved, and not merely asserted, for it is not a common presupposition between Rome and Canterbury. Second, this is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Magisterium. Pope John Paul II mentions this document in relation to the “levels” of the authority that the magisterium can have, saying,

With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations.[vii]

Doctrinal Commentary on concluding formula of ‘Professio fidei’, section 11

The point being made here is that Apostolicae Curae is not infallible in the Roman framework. It can be overturned by the magisterium. In fact, the original bull itself points to the idea that it is not a dogma being promulgated, but a discipline of the church. Appostolicae Curae describes it as “idem caput disciplinae” (Apostolicae Curae).

From this, we see that,

  1. The historical practice of the Roman Church hasn’t been consistent with a rejection of Anglican orders, but is mixed on the issue, especially in the case of Cardinal Pole, and
  2. That the fact that the magisterium has spoken on this matter with a papal bull does not mean that Roman Catholics cannot disagree with said Magisterium if given significant reason.

The Defect of Form

Next, the Roman Church argues that the form of the sacrament is defective, i.e., it uses the wrong words. For example, the form of the sacrament of Baptism is, as given by Our Blessed Lord, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (cf. Matthew 28:19) The grounds for such an argument is that the 1552 Ordinal says “receive the Holy Ghost,” leaving out the term sacerdotium (priest) or summum sacerdotium (High Priest), which, they claim does not properly express the function of the office which they are being ordained/consecrated to. They further this argument by pointing to the fact that the 1662 Ordinal “fixes” this error by adding “for the work of a priest/bishop.”

First, we must ask ourselves, what is the form of the sacrament? There has never been a consensus in the liturgies of the ancient church of one form. The closest we could give as an example is Our Lord’s ordination of the Apostles,

And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

St. John 20:22-23

If we wish to take the Council of Trent’s view, it is, ironically “Receive the Holy Ghost” (session XXIII On the Sacrament of Order, canon IV) Though, “they do not occur in the more ancient Pontificals whether Roman or English, nor in any Eastern book of any date(Saepius Officio XIV).

Though, we do not need to in this matter absolutely require a single form and matter. If we demand a single form and matter for all sacraments (as some medieval schoolmen did) for their validity, then Rome has just given itself enough rope to hang itself. For, if we look at the example of confirmation we see two divergent practices, the first is the proper and biblical one, the laying on of hands, the second which occurred in many liturgical books was that of stretching forth ones hands towards the children to be confirmed, or a third one: the use of chrism.

Regarding the second—the stretching forth of hands—in the so-called “Gelasian” Sacramentary (perhaps of the VIIth century) we still read the rubric: In sealing them he lays his hands on them with the following words: then follows the prayer for the sevenfold gift of the Spirit. And in the “ordines” called those of S. Amand, which are perhaps of the VIIIth century, in ch. IV the pontiff touches their heads with his hand. But in the “Gregorian” we read raising his hand over the heads of all he says, etc. In the ordinary editions of the Pontifical we read again: Then stretching out his hands towards those who are to be confirmed he says, etc.

Regarding the third—chrismation–Saepius Officio shows, “The Orientals (with Eugenius IVth) teach that the matter is chrism, and use no laying on of hands in this rite” (Saepius Officio X) If you wish to demand a single form and matter, which is it? It is only in Baptism that we get such exactness and certainty about the Form and Matter of the sacrament, in the other sacraments there is greater liberty.

If this liberty of form was not the case then the Roman Church would be in trouble on another charge. That is, what is described as the indispensable form of the sacrament has not always been present in the Roman Sacramentaries. In the words of the Anglican Archbishops,

But let the Romans consider now not once or twice what judgment they will pronounce upon their own Fathers, whose ordinations we have described above. For if the Pope shall by a new decree declare our Fathers of two hundred and fifty years ago wrongly ordained, there is nothing to hinder the inevitable sentence that by the same law all who have been similarly ordained have received no orders. And if our Fathers, who used in 1550 and 1552 forms which as he says are null, were altogether unable to reform them in 1662, his own Fathers come under the self-same law. And if Hippolytus and Victor and Leo and Gelasius and Gregory have some of them said too little in their rites about the priesthood and the high priesthood, and nothing about the power of offering the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, the church of Rome herself has an invalid priesthood, and the reformers of the Sacramentaries, no matter what their names, could do nothing to remedy her rites. “For as the Hierarchy (to use the Pope’s words) had become extinct on account of the nullity of the form, there remained no power of ordaining.” And if the Ordinal “was wholly insufficient to confer Orders, it was impossible that in the course of time it could become sufficient, since no change has taken place.38 In vain those who from the [VIth and XIth centuries] have attempted to hold some kind of sacrifice or of priesthood, [and power of remitting and retaining sins], have made some additions to the Ordinal.” Thus in overthrowing our orders, he overthrows all his own, and pronounces sentence on his own Church. Eugenius IVth indeed brought his Church into great peril of nullity when he taught a new matter and a new form of Order and left the real without a word. For no one knows how many ordinations may have been made, according to his teaching, without any laying on of hands or appropriate form. Pope Leo demands a form unknown to previous Bishops of Rome, and an intention which is defective in the catechisms of the Oriental Church.

Saepius Officio XX


Both [the claims about the defect of form in Bishops and Priests) however of these opinions are strange, inasmuch as in the most ancient Roman formulary used, as it seems, at the beginning of the third century after Christ (seeing that exactly the same form is employed both for a Bishop and a Presbyter, except the name), nothing whatever is said about “high priesthood” or “priesthood” nor about the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ. “The prayers and oblations which he will offer (to God) by day and by night” are alone mentioned, and the power of remitting sins is touched on.

Saepius Officio XII

The form that is used, contrary to the claims of Rome expresses most fully the function and ministry of a priest/Bishop, at least as well as the Roman/Ancient /Eastern Rites do. The ordination rite is as follows,

After the end of the “Eucharistic” prayer, which recalls our minds to the institution of our Lord, there followed the laying on of hands by the Bishop with the assistant Priests, to which is joined the “imperative” form taken from the Pontifical, but at the same time fuller and more solemn. (Cp. ch. xix). For after the words “Receive the Holy Ghost” there immediately followed, as in the modern Roman Pontifical (though the Pope strangely omits to mention it), “Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained,” and then the words from the Gospel (S. Luke xii 42) and S. Paul (1 Cor. iv 1), which were very rightly added by our fathers, “and be thou a faithful Dispenser of the word of God and of His holy Sacraments: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This form is suitable to no other ministry of the Church but that of a Priest, who has what is called the power of the keys and who alone with full right dispenses the word and mysteries of God to the people, whether he remain a Presbyter or be advanced to higher duties as Bishop.

At that time too there immediately followed in our Ordinal those words of S. Paul which were believed to refer to the consecration of S. Timothy to be Bishop of Ephesus, and were clearly used in this sense:—“And remember that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee by imposition of hands; for God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of soberness (2 Tim. i 6, 7).” You may remember, brethren, that these are the only words quoted by the Council of Trent to prove that Order confers grace (Session XXIII On the sacrament of Order c. III.) This form then, whether contained in one sentence as in the Roman Church, or in two as in ours, is amply sufficient to create a Bishop, if the true intention be openly declared, which is done in the other prayers and suffrages (which clearly refer to the office, work and ministry of a Bishop), in the examination, and other like ways. We say that the words “Receive the Holy Ghost” are sufficient, not that they are essential. For they do not occur in the more ancient Pontificals whether Roman or English, nor in any Eastern book of any date.

[There are two parts to the ordination rite,] The former, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” with what follows, together with laying on of hands, confers the general faculties and powers of priesthood, and as is generally said, imprints the character. The second, together with the delivery of the Bible, gives a man the right to offer public service to God and to exercise authority over the Christian people who are to be entrusted to his charge in his own parish or cure. The two commissions taken together include everything essential to the Christian priesthood, and, in our opinion, exhibit it more clearly than is done in the Sacramentaries and Pontificals.

Saepius Officio XV

In regard to the lack of the term sacerdotium (priest) or summum sacerdotium (high priest), this too is an easy argument to dispel. For, the Priesthood is clearly referred to as the focus and the form of the sacrament to be administered, for example, “the collect Almighty God, giver of all good things which beseeches God on behalf of those called “to the office of the priesthood,” that they may faithfully serve Him in that office, was at that time part of the form, and used to be said by the Bishop immediately before the examination. Now however, since the new words clearly express the same sense, it has been moved elsewhere and takes the place of the collect for the day.”[xvii] With regard to the lack of the usage of summum sacerdotium as a title of the bishop to be ordained, we respond that “The African Church openly forbad even her Primates to use this title” (Saepius Officio XIII). This title is missing from many consecration rites, and is not used universally for Bishops.

Lastly, the claim about the revisers of the 1662 Book of Common prayer is false. This change was not made because of any realization of a mistake, but was made in response to the Puritan revolt which left the Archbishop of Canterbury and the King of England without a head. This was not done in view of the Roman controversy, to say otherwise is to ignore the specific historical realities of the creation of the 1662 prayerbook.

The Defect of Minister

Third, the Roman Church argues that there is a defect of minister in Anglican Ordinations and Consecrations.

First, this argument relies on the success of the previous arguments. For, if the matter, form, and intent of the Anglican rite is valid, then the Ministers of ordination/consecration today are valid. This cannot stand alone as an argument, but rests on the other argument, adding nothing to it, but taking away from the argument, as we will see. As St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa points out,

When a bishop who has fallen into heresy is reconciled he is not reconsecrated. Therefore he did not lose the power which he had of conferring Orders.

Further, the power to ordain is greater than the power of Orders. But the power of Orders is not forfeited on account of heresy and the like. Neither therefore is the power to ordain.

Further, as the one who baptizes exercises a merely outward ministry, so does one who ordains, while God works inwardly. But one who is cut off from the Church by no means loses the power to baptize. Neither therefore does he lose the power to ordain.

Summa Theologiae Supplement, Question 38, Article 2

Therefore, if we have a validly consecrated Anglican Bishop, even if he is in schism, he retains the ability to ordain and consecrate.

Second, this argument was given before the “mixing of orders” occurred. This is a reality that Pope Paul VI realizes when, to the Anglican Bishop of Huron, he noted that the intermingling of Anglican Orders with theirs [those of the Old Catholics of Europe] is relevant to any modern review of Anglican Orders’.

In the continuing Anglican churches (and to a lesser extent the Anglican Communion) orders are often “mixed.” That is, some Bishops in the consecration of a new bishop are from Anglican lines of Apostolic succession and others are from Old Catholic (Dutch) lines. Since the Old Catholic lines are recognized as valid by Rome then those Anglicans consecrated as bishops with mixed co-consecrators will be validly consecrated in the eyes of Rome by virtue of the Old Catholic Bishop. Therefore, the episcopacy is restored, and all those he consecrates and ordains are valid in the eyes of Rome. This happened en masse during the “Preservation of the American Episcopate” in 1977. By Rome’s standard, the continuing churches descended from the 1977 Congress of St. Louis have valid orders.

The Defect of Intention

Lastly, the Roman Church argues that because the intention of the church denies,

  1. “the power ‘of consecrating and of offering the true Body and Blood of the Lord’ (Council of Trent, Sess. XXIII, de Sacr. Ord., Canon 1),”
  2. The denial of “that sacrifice which is no ‘mere commemoration of the sacrifice offered on the Cross” (Ibid, Sess. XXII, de Sacrif. Missae, Canon 3).’” (Apostolicae Curae 25)

First, the power of consecrating the true Body and Blood of the Lord. This, on the part of Rome, is a misunderstanding of Anglican doctrine. It is true that the 39 articles state:

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 XXVIII

But, we ought to realize that this denial of transubstantiation is not the same as a denial of “the power of consecrating and of offering the true Body and Blood of the Lord,” for it is anathema amongst many of the post-reformation divines to deny that the eucharist is the “true Body and Blood of the Lord;” this comes from a strawman of Rome, rather than the truth of the matter.

The truth, as Lancelot Andrewes (an extremely popular Anglican bishop of the early 17th century, and major figure in the translation of the King James Bible) said in response to St. Robert Bellarmine,

“Christ hath said, ‘This is My Body’, not ‘This is not My Body in this mode.” Now about the object we are both agreed; all the controversy is about the mode. The ‘This is,’ we firmly believe…of the mode whereby it is wrought that ‘it is’, whether in, or with, or under, or transubstantiated, there is not a word in the Gospel. And because not a word is there, we might rightly detach it from being a matter of faith…[quoting Durandus] ‘We hear the word, feel the effect, know not the manner, believe the Presence.’ The Presence, I say, we believe, and that no less true than yourselves.”

Andrewes quoted in Nine Sermons by Pusey, p. 43

The First Book of Homilies, written in 1547 by Cranmer himself (5 years before writing the Ordinal which allegedly denied this power of the priesthood), states,

the due receiving of his blessed Body and Blood, under the forme of bread and wine.

The First Book of Homilies, p. 147

This same language is reflected in the 13 articles of the Church of England a decade before which explained this phrase as,

Concerning the Eucharist we continue to believe and teach that in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, the body and blood of Christ are truly, substantially and really present under the form of bread and wine. And that under these forms they are truly and really offered and administered to those who receive the sacrament, whether they are good or evil.

Article 7

The 39 Articles of 1563 strikes a passage in its revision of the 42 articles (article 28) which states that “a faithful man ought not either to believe or openly confess the real and bodily presence (as they term it) of Christ’s flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” This omission shows forth the fact that there is a denial of language which rejects “real and bodily presence,” or at the very least a tolerance of affirming it. In fact, the most revealing observation is that which the Rev. Ben Jefferies makes in his article Is the Eucharistology of the Anglican Reformation Patristic? He makes five observations which show that the 39 Articles denied a lower sacramentology which would fall under the condemnation of Apostolicae Curae. The 39 Articles omitted

The assertion that the Sacrament does no more than the Word in exhibiting Christ to us…The deprecation of the sacrament in itself “apart from Christ”…The assertion that what a believer receives in Communion is no more than what can be received from Christ any time, independent of the sacrament…The explicit denial that Christ is received by the mouth…The assertion that the real body of Christ is in fact far away from the local congregation, I.e. in heaven, which is a place far away.


The condemnation “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession” is a direct jab at a standard Reformed formulation…and this became the first thing we hear about the Sacraments in Article 25.

Is the Eucharistology of the Anglican Reformation Patristic? – Part 2 by Jefferies

Now, a few quotes from early Anglican Divines (who used the 1552 BCP) to show forth this point more abundantly. First, Bishop John Overall (d. 1619) said,

So to eat the Flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood. By this it may be known what our Church believeth, and teacheth of the Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament. And though our new masters would make the world believe she had another mind, yet we are not to follow their private fancies, when we have so plain and public a doctrine as this…And herein we follow the Fathers, who after consecration would not suffer it to be called Bread and Wine any longer, but the Body and Blood of Christ…It is confessed by all Divines, that upon the words of the Consecration, the Body and Blood of Christ is really and substantially present, and so exhibited and given to all that receive it, and all this not after a physical and sensual, but after an heavenly and incomprehensible manner. But there yet remains this controversy among some of them, whether the Body of Christ be present only in the use of the Sacrament, and in the act of eating, and not otherwise. They that hold the affirmative, as the Lutherans (in Confess. Sax.) and all Calvinists, do seem to me to depart from all Antiquity, which place the presence of Christ in the virtue and benediction used by the Priest, and not in the use of eating the Sacrament.”

Overall quoted in The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent by Pusey, p. 40-41

Second, Hadrian à Saravia (d. 1612) writes,

“Of those who partake of the Eucharist, all eat the same spiritual food, and all drink the same spiritual drink; but it is certain that it has not happened, and does not happen, to all to do this to salvation… Some eat and drink to salvation, and some to judgment, the same spiritual food, namely, the flesh and blood of Christ… Those who eat and drink unworthily partake of the real and complete Supper of the Lord… It seems to me no more absurd that the flesh of Christ be really eaten in the Sacrament by the wicked than that the ark of God could be handled and carried by the wicked sons of Eli.”

Saravia quoted in Darwell Stone Collection by Darwell Stone

Lastly, Herbert Thorndike (d. 1672) states,

“As it is by no means to be denied that the elements are really changed, translated, turned, and converted into the body and blood of Christ (so that whoso receiveth them with a living faith is spiritually nourished by the same, he that with a dead faith is guilty of crucifying Christ), yet is not the change destructive to the bodily substance of the elements, but cumulative of them with the spiritual grace of Christ’s body and blood; so that the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament turns to the nourishment of the body, whether the body and blood in the truth turn to the nourishment or the damnation of the soul.”

Thorndike quoted in The Holy Eucharist: an Historical Inquiry of The Church Quarterly Review, vol. 57 (1902), p. 68

Further, why the acceptance of the validity of Orthodox orders? The doctrine of Transubstantiation is denied by many Orthodox and St. Thomas’ definition is not universally accepted in that communion. A bare real presence, without the precise scholastic definitions of St. Thomas is accepted widely. A similar situation is present in Anglicanism, yet one is condemned as having a “lack of intent” and the others’ apostolic succession is declared to have been retained.

This intent is not only present in the formularies and Divines of the church, but is outwardly declared, as Saepius Officio states,

the intention of our Church, not merely of a newly formed party in it, is quite clearly set forth in the title and preface of the Ordinal. The title in 1552 ran “The fourme and maner of makynge and consecratynge Bishoppes, Priestes and Deacons.” The preface immediately following begins thus:—“It is euident unto all men, diligently readinge holye Scripture and auncient aucthours, that from the Apostles tyme there hathe bene these ordres of Ministers in Christ’s Church: Bishoppes, Priestes, and Deacons: which Offices were euermore had in suche reuerent estimacion, that no man by his own private aucthoritie might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and knowen to have such qualities as were requisite for the same; And also, by publique prayer, with imposicion of hands, approued, and admitted thereunto. And therfore, to the entent that these orders shoulde bee continued, and reuerentlye used and estemed, in this Church of England; it is requysite that no man (not beyng at thys presente Bisshope, Priest nor Deacon) shall execute anye of them, excepte he be called, tryed, examined and admitted, accordynge to the form hereafter folowinge.” Further on it is stated incidentally that “every man which is to be consecrated a Bishop shalbe fully thyrtie yeres of age.” And in the rite itself the “consecration” of the Bishop is repeatedly mentioned. The succession and continuance of these offices from the Lord through the Apostles and the other ministers of the primitive Church is also clearly implied in the “Eucharistical” prayers which precede the words Receive the Holy Ghost. Thus the intention of our Fathers was to keep and continue these offices which come down from the earliest times, and “reverently to use and esteem them,” in the sense, of course, in which they were received from the Apostles and had been up to that time in use. This is a point on which the Pope is unduly silent.

Saepius Officio XVII

In regard to Eucharistic sacrifice, this too is a strawman of Anglican beliefs, Seapius Officio responds thus,

Further we truly teach the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice and do not believe it to be a “nude commemoration of the Sacrifice of the Cross,” an opinion which seems to be attributed to us by the quotation made from that Council. But we think it sufficient in the Liturgy which we use in celebrating the holy Eucharist,—while lifting up our hearts to the Lord, and when now consecrating the gifts already offered that they may become to us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,—to signify the sacrifice which is offered at that point of the service in such terms as these. We continue a perpetual memory of the precious death of Christ, who is our Advocate with the Father and the propitiation for our sins, according to His precept, until His coming again. For first we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; then next we plead and represent before the Father the sacrifice of the cross, and by it we confidently entreat remission of sins and all other benefits of the Lord’s Passion for all the whole Church; and lastly we offer the sacrifice of ourselves to the Creator of all things which we have already signified by the oblations of His creatures. This whole action, in which the people has necessarily to take its part with the Priest, we are accustomed to call the Eucharistic sacrifice.

Saepius Officio XI

This doctrine is not absent from the Reformed theologians of the early Anglican era. Peter Martyr Vermigli (d. 1562) wrote,

Insofar as by the same act [i.e., the Eucharist] we celebrate the memory of Christ’s death, give him thanks for gifts received, and consecrate and offer ourselves to God, it is and may be called proper sacrifice by which we give most acceptable oblations to God himself.

‘Of Sacrifice’ in McLelland and Duffield, Peter Martyr, 313.

Girolamo Zanchi (d. 1590) writes, explicitly following St. Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice,

What if someone should say that this sacrifice [of the Eucharist], which has been termed a propitiating one, is offered to God by the whole church, or even by the priest (as they say) himself in the name of the whole church in the public assembly. [If it is said] in this sense, of course, that each person, content with the sacrifice of Christ alone, once offered to the Father for our sins, yields the whole [sacrifice] to it, and so implores the Father, that He might acknowledge Himself contented with [Christ’s] single sacrifice, by the public commemoration of which is celebrated in the Lord’s Supper, both with words and rites, in place of all the oblations, satisfactions, works, and lastly of all of the things that can be thought by humanity to be for the expiation of our sins and necessary for eternal salvation. [If someone should say] this, we will in no way dispute with them. For is anyone that attends to the matter itself able to disapprove of this? Indeed, the whole of Christian piety consists in the offering [oblatione] of this kind of sacrifice.

Commentary on Ephesians

This is again not a problem of “whether,” but “how?” For, everyone will agree to the language of “bloodless sacrifice,” but what do we mean by it? There is also a similar problem here with the affirmation of Orthodox and Old Catholic orders. For, the Old Catholics explicitly deny Trent’s doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice and left the Roman church because of it. Seapius Officio points out a similar problem in the Orthodox church,

For he seems to condemn the Orientals, in company with ourselves, on account of defective intention, who in the “Orthodox Confession” issued about 1640 name only two functions of a sacramental priesthood, that is to say that of absolving sins and of preaching; who in the “Longer Russian Catechism” (Moscow, 1839) teach nothing about the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, and mention among the offices which pertain to Order only those of ministering the Sacraments and feeding the flock. Further it thus speaks of the three Orders: “The Deacon serves at the Sacraments; the Priest hallows the Sacraments, in dependence on the Bishop; the Bishop not only hallows the Sacraments himself, but has the power also to impart to others by the laying on of his hands the gift and grace to hallow them.” The Eastern Church is assuredly at one with us in teaching that the ministry of more than one mystery describes the character of the priesthood better than the offering of a single sacrifice. This indeed appears in the form used in the Greek Church to-day in the prayer beginning O God who art great in power:—“Fill this man, whom Thou hast chosen to attain the rank of Presbyter, with the gift of Thy Holy Spirit, that he may be worthy blamelessly to assist at Thy Sanctuary, to preach the Gospel of Thy Kingdom, to minister the Word of Thy Truth, to offer Thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices, to renew Thy people by the laver of regeneration,” &c. (Habert Greek Pontifical p. 314, ed. 1643.)

Saepius Officio XX

Lastly, the unity of intent between Rome and Canterbury has become clearer in the modern church. “At the forty-first meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States of America (ARC/USA), on January 6, 1994, having in mind the significant agreement on the eucharist represented by The Final Report of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission and responding to the request in the Vatican Response to the ARCIC I Final Report for clarification, we wish as the official representatives of our two Churches in the United States to make together the following affirmations:

We affirm that in the eucharist the Church, doing what Christ commanded his apostles to do at the Last Supper, makes present the sacrifice of Calvary. We understand this to mean that when the Church is gathered in worship, it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to make Christ present and to receive all the benefits of his sacrifice.

We affirm that God has given the eucharist to the Churches a means through which all the atoning work of Christ on the cross is proclaimed and made present with all its effects in the life of the Church. His work includes ‘that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world’ (Cf. Art. 31 BCP [USA], p. 874). Thus the propitiatory effect of Christ’s one sacrifice applies in the eucharistic celebration to both the living and the dead, including a particular dead person.

We affirm that Christ in the Eucharist makes himself present sacramentally and truly when under the species of bread and wine these earthy realities are changed into the reality of his body and blood. In English, the terms substance, substantial, and substantially have such physical and material overtones that we, adhering to The Final Report, have substituted the word truly for the word substantially in the clarification request by the Vatican Response. However, we affirm the reality of the change by consecration as being independent of the subjective disposition of the worshipers.

Both our Churches affirm that after the eucharistic celebration the body and blood of Christ may be reserved for the communion of the sick, ‘or of others who for weighty cause could not be present at the celebration’ (BCP, pp. 408-409). Although the American Book of Common Prayer directs that any consecrated bread and wine not reserved for this purpose should be consumed at the end of the service, American Episcopalians recognize that many of their own Church members practice the adoration of Christ in the reserved sacrament. We acknowledge this practice as an extension of the worship of Jesus Christ present at the eucharistic celebration.

Five Affirmations on the Eucharist as Sacrifice by USCCB

We affirm that only a validly ordained priest can be the minister who, in the person of Christ, brings into being the sacrament of the eucharist and offers sacramentally the redemptive sacrifice of Christ which God offers us.

As the Vatican Response had already recorded the notable progress toward consensus represented by The Final Report in the respect of eucharistic doctrine, in the light of these five affirmations ARC/USA records its conclusions that the eucharist as sacrifice is not an issue that divides our two Churches” (Five Affirmations on the Eucharist as Sacrifice).


In conclusion, as I have thus proved, the conclusion of the Roman church that Anglican orders are “null and utterly void” is false. This is seen through misunderstandings of Anglican doctrine, bad historical work, and shifting standards which Rome holds Anglicans to that it does not hold Old Catholics or Eastern Orthodox to.


3 thoughts on “In Defense of Anglican Holy Orders Against Rome

  1. Thank you so much for putting this together! I was researching this independently and wondered how many English bishops from 1550-1900 truly adhered to the belief that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in a true not only symbolic or spiritual sense. the long-extended quotations from the teaching of historic English bishops and other ordination including Eastern and historic western priestly ordination rites were telling. I’m a Catholic researcher and research into the limits of papal infallibility brought me here. Can you please elaborate on the “Preservation of the American Episcopate in 1977”?
    Thank you for your extended citations from Saepius Officio they helped me form my own conscience and opinion on this controversy! I also really liked your research into what Pope Paul VI said about intermingling of Anglican orders with Old Catholic orders. That was previously another research question for me. Do these Old Catholic Bishops intend to ensure the validity of an ordination by co consecrating? Is ensuring the validity of an ordination the official reason why Old Catholic Bishops travel hundreds of miles to participate in the ordinations of similar groups?


    1. Hi! Great to hear your feedback! Basically, in the late 20th century, different Anglican bodies started to defect from the catholic faith. This happened with the Episcopal Church in the United States when it started ordaining women, so the Anglican Church was continued, and the American episcopate preserved, through the Affirmation of St. Louis which, in 1977, declared, “the Anglican Church of Canada and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, by their unlawful attempts to alter Faith, Order and Morality (especially in their General Synod of 1975 and General Convention of 1976), have departed from Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
      So, in 1978, Bishop Albert Chambers (who had PNCC bishop Rowinski present at his own consecration), with Bishop Pagtakhan (Philippine Independent Church who has the Dutch Touch through Bishop Grochowski to Aglipay to de los Reyes to Pagtakhan). Of course, the inclusion is not because anyone doubts Anglican orders. Instead, historically, they attend either for ecumenical reasons or to support or a bishop needs another bishop for a consecration or the bishop just shows up and joins the consecration because he wants to!
      At least, that’s how I understand it. I hope this is helpful!


  2. “Since the Old Catholic lines are recognized as valid by Rome then those Anglicans consecrated as bishops with mixed co-consecrators will be validly consecrated in the eyes of Rome by virtue of the Old Catholic Bishop”
    Actually, that is theoretically possible but shouldn’t be taken for granted. As it stands the Catholic Church is not sure whether or not the Co Consecrator actually takes part in transmitting the sacrament. one theory is that you have to have the ordained Bishop say the words of the form of the ordination in order for him to confer Order. I’m not sure how much sense this makes considering that many eastern riots do consider the silent Co Consecrators to be imparting the Holy Spirit. However, it cannot be taken for granted that a Co Consecrator who does not participate in the essential form would be considered to have ordained anyone according to standard Roman Catholic teaching.


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