Monthly Archives: January 2012

Apostolic Succession in Anglicanism: Preservation of the American Episcopate

In 1783 the Anglican parishes in the infant United States were in severe disarray. There were no bishops on the continent, and some were even beginning to consider abandoning the very concept of Apostolic Succession.  The priests William White and Samuel Seabury, a former Royal Army chaplain, exchanged a series of letters about the future direction of the Church of England parishes in America, with White suggesting a bishop-less, or presbyterian style of government.  Seabury responded with his famous statement: “we have the power, if we choose, to New Model the Church in any way we wish, but then it shall become not Christ’s Church, but ours.”  In March of that year, Seabury accepted the request of the Connecticut clergy to seek consecration as a bishop and set sail for England.  In England he found bishops willing to consecrate him, but only if he were to vow allegiance to the king, a course not possible for a newly independent American.  After much delay, the non-juror Scottish Episcopal bishops, although members of an illegal and underground church, offered to consecrate him, and on November 14, 1784, in Dundee, Samuel Seabury was consecrated to the episcopate as the first Anglican bishop for North America.  This event is commemorated in the Church under the names “the Consecration of Samuel Seabury,” or more appropriately as “the Bestowal of the American Episcopate.”

In the 1890s, as a result of a number of Anglican approaches to Rome and under pressure from the very anti-Anglican British Roman Catholic community, Pope Leo XIII issued the papal bull Apostolicae Curae, including the famous statement that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void.”  This bull was ably refuted by Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York in Saepius Officio.  Nevertheless, a movement arose amongst Anglicans that rather than argue the deficiencies of logic and history in Leo XIII’s bull, that orders unquestioned by Rome could be infused into Anglicanism.  This concept, popularly referred to as “the Dutch touch” because of its reliance on the Old Catholic Churches centered on Utrecht, was pursued, to the extent that by the middle of the twentieth century a large number of sitting Anglican bishops possessed their heritage not only from Anglican but also from Old Catholic sources.  In the United States, this “Dutch touch” came via the Polish National Catholic Church, with several PNCC bishops participating in Episcopal consecrations, even to the extent of using their own church’s formula of ordination, the historic Catholic formula.  Regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of Apostolicae Curae, whether it was true or not in 1890, by the 1960s it was itself largely null and void.

Then, however, in the 1970s came another attack on Apostolic Succession with the illegal attempts to ordain women in 1974 and 1975 in the USA.  In 1976 both the Anglican Church of Canada (AC of C) and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA) voted to permit the ordination of women. In so doing, each of these bodies declared their intention to abandon Apostolic Succession.  As five of seven sacraments require valid ordination, the abandonment of Apostolic Succession by the AC of C and PECUSA meant that ordination, eucharist, unction, absolution and confirmation administered in those bodies were questionable and probably invalid.  When it became clear that the AC of C and PECUSA had no intention of repenting of their departure from Apostolic Succession and consequent invention of a new, non-Apostolic order of ministry in their ecclesial bodies, thousands of clergy and laity met in St. Louis in the autumn of 1977 in a Congress organized by the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen.  This Congress ratified the Affirmation of St. Louis, separating from the AC of C and PECUSA because of their apostasy, and beginning the process for drafting a constitution for the new Anglican Church in North America (a name which it was to drop when the constitution was ratified the following autumn).  This Congress also resulted in the selection of four men to be consecrated to the episcopate: Fathers Charles Doren, Peter Watterson, Robert Morse, and James Mote.  Their consecration was approved and agreed to by four Anglican bishops, and the chief consecrator was named: Bishop Albert Chambers of
Springfield, Illinois.  Bishop Chambers had been consecrated by both PECUSA bishops and a bishop from the PNCC, who used his own church’s formula of ordination when he laid hands on Chambers.  Thus, on January 28th, 1978, undoubted valid Apostolic Succession was secured for Anglicans in North America, succession that is both Anglican and Catholic, in indisputed and unbroken descent from the Apostles.

These aforementioned events are what is celebrated today, January 28th, the Feast of the Preservation of the American Episcopate.

The clear ramifications of this day and the unpleasantness that made it necessary are that the orders of ministry of the AC of C and PECUSA, and all who remain in communion with those bodies, are some order of ministry other than the apostolic order, and therefore cannot be safely relied upon by the laity as valid and efficacious.  The result is that Leo XIII’s infamous decision, although almost certainly not true in 1896, was made true four score years later, and all sacramental actions purportedly performed within the Canterbury Communion since then can have their validity seriously called into question as “absolutely null and utterly void.”  One might wish to meditate on 2 Corinthians 6, especially the 17th verse.

Review of a Western Rite Liturgy

I have recently had the opportunity to examine one of the liturgies in use by the Western Rite Orthodox and must admit to no little surprise.  Let me begin with some simple factual observations.

To begin with, the liturgy includes with it a traditional Gregorian chant setting, the Missa de Angelis. In terms of order, the liturgy follows the basic shape of Western (Roman) Rite in general, with a few noteworthy changes: a Preparation of the Gifts before the liturgy, the Asperges seems to be intended for every celebration, an optional Litany from the Gelasian Sacramentary which may be used in place of the Kyrie, the sermon precedes the optional Dismissal of the Catechumens, followed by the Creed (appropriately sans filioque), and the prayers of the faithful in the form of the Prayers of Supplication of St Martin. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the altar is prepared accompanied by congregational singing of the hymn “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.”  The Anaphora seems to be as expected, followed by Ecce and Domine non sum dignus, and then a lengthy didactic congregational prayer “I believe, O Lord, and I confess….”  During communion comes an invariable sung Psalm 34.  After the blessing and dismissal follows the seasonal anthem of Our Lady, familiar to all Western Christians, and the liturgy closes with what appear to be congregational recitations of the Anglican General Thanksgiving (from the daily office) and four traditional prayers, another Kyrie, and the Gloria Patri and another final dismissal.

What is most striking in this liturgy is that it is presented in a modern English idiom that is formal and worshipful.  All in all, I found it to be a reverent and very workable liturgy, accessible and accurate.  It is truly a fine piece of work. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, whose liturgy this is, is to be commended.

This liturgy may be found at this site.

Quo Vadis?

A common question amongst Anglicans these days—indeed, it has been for many years now—is “where ought we to go?”  As a matter of fact, I ran an online discussion forum for over a decade where this was the most discussed topic. The landscape has changed quite a bit in the last couple years, however; not only have the options mutated, but conditions within the options have been reshaped.  Even for Anglicans who thought these were settled issues, the question bears re-asking and conditions need re-examination.  There appear to be six basic possibilities, more or less, depending on where in the world one lives.

Anglican Communion

The first possibility is just staying put in the Anglican Communion. That is, of course, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church of Australia, and so forth.  These ecclesial assemblies are in undisputed communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and therefore Anglicans who do not believe in the Virgin Birth, Deity, or the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus belong in these groups. It has been said that one might consider the Anglican Communion the Sadducees of our day—deniers of all spiritual reality.


The second possibility for Anglicans, at least in North America, is the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).1 There are four difficulties with this possibility, however. The ACNA requires acceptance of charismaticism as if it were a legitimate part of Christian tradition despite the obvious historical and theological objections. Secondly, the ACNA has a loose understanding of liturgy, leading to the third difficulty that the most objectionable trendy liturgies are officially accepted by this body. The fourth and most profound difficulty is that the ACNA claims to be in communion with Canterbury. By being in (or even just claiming to be in) communion with Canterbury, the very validity of their sacraments are therefore questionable.Anglicans who have no problem with these difficulties would find a ready home in the ACNA.


The third possibility for Anglicans today, again at least in North America, is the Anglican Mission, originally the Anglican Mission in the Americas. The AM appears to be in the process of separating, whether voluntarily or not, from the Anglican province in Rwanda, the body through whom the AM had claimed connection with Canterbury. If this separation is indeed complete, then one major difficulty with the AM fades, but the AM shares similar difficulties with the ACNA in the AM’s nearly complete abandonment of liturgy and tradition in favor of promulgation of charismaticism as if it were a legitimate part of Christian tradition despite the obvious historical and theological objections. Again, like the ACNA, Anglicans who find these difficulties no barrier would do well to choose the AM.3

The three options above all consider that apostolic order is secondary to following the spirit of the age in that all three of the above have abandoned the apostolic succession. Anglicans for whom this is not a problem should consider only the first three possibilities above. Anglicans who value apostolic succession should consider only the three possibilities that follow.

Catholic Church–Ordinariate

Fourth in the paths for Anglicans is the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI has made a very attractive offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus, and the first two personal ordinariates for former Anglicans are up and running: in the UK the personal ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and in North America the personal ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter. The difficulties with the ordinariates is perhaps more subtle than those with the preceding possibilities. Although some cite issues with Marian dogmas, there is support within the first seven Ecumenical Councils for all of them. Remaining difficulties would be the issues with the papal dogmas, especially those of universal jurisdiction and infallibility. Anglicans who have no difficulties with these dogmas certainly should feel the spiritual obligation to connect with the ordinariates. A problem one might encounter here is the relative sparseness of distribution—outside of Texas and the south of England, ordinariate parishes and missions are few and far  between, although numbers are expanding.

Anglican Catholic Church

Fifthly we should consider the older, so-called “continuing churches,”4  the original group of separatist Anglicans. There are two difficulties to weigh here, however. The liturgical issue is narrowly defined, and the only options are for older style English.5 Admittedly, like other difficulties, for some this is a plus, not a minus. The second difficulty is, like the ordinariates, the sparseness on the ground.

Orthodoxy–Western Rite

The sixth possibility facing Anglicans today is the Western Rite of Orthodoxy. This option has recently grown considerably, with two canonical Orthodox jurisdictions offering a Western Rite: the Antiochian6 and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Both these orthodox churches offer a Western Rite vicariate with a structure and liturgy very familiar to Anglicans. The difficulties faced here are identical to those facing the ACC: sparseness and language. The Western Rite in ROCOR face an additional difficulty, however, and that is the Old Calendar—not many Anglicans can get worked up over Calendar questions. We have enough to worry about without it. There seem to be a rapidly growing number of WR parishes and missions all over the US. This may be the most attractive option for many.

One additional difficulty is shared by all the options—and that is the attitude of being embattled in the culture wars. To what degree will bitterness and what my mother used to call “contrariness” fill the ecclesial bodies to which we flee? And how will attitudes afflict our ability to grow and attract others? This final question is one that will need to be answered with specific congregations in mind, in order to make the preceding paths’ evaluation complete.

I hope this short summary may make planning simpler for some.  For all, happy hunting!

1This is the second body to be called by that name. The first body was formed by the St Louis Congress in 1978, later changing their name to the Anglican Catholic Church.

2This point is too complex to be gone into in detail in this venue, but put succinctly, the necessary parts of a sacrament involve matter, form, minister, and intent. Any body claiming communion with any other body that has abandoned apostolic order demonstrates its intent to be party to that abandonment, thereby declaring, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the orders they hold are to a ministry other than apostolic.

3It should be noted, however, that with the AM’s abandonment of liturgy and embrace of charismaticism there doesn’t appear to be any real justification for the AM to remain apart from, and real advantages to joining with, organizations such as the Assemblies of God.

4Pundits have talked about “hundreds” of tiny splinter groups, but the truth is that there are really only five. Of those five, two are talking about intercommunion, and three have already achieved it, so the reality boils down to the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) or one of the two ecclesial bodies in communion with them.

5Of course the advantages in poetic language must be weighed against the corresponding changes, good and bad, in appeal to an unchurched mission field. To what degree is traditional language a barrier to evangelism? Or isn’t it?

6Scholars, please bear with this, for although the usual and customary term in academia is “Antiochene,” the church itself chose to coin the term “Antiochian,” so “Antiochian” it is.