Notes on Apostolicæ Curæ
by John Beeler

Lines-of-succession claims are vagante stock-in-trade (the reason they exist, thanks to a uniquely Western view of holy orders, from St Augustine) and something some Anglo-Catholics have clung to for years (talking about the sometime Archbishop of Spalato hanging around in England centuries ago, the legend of the bishop on the boat off Italy - interesting parallel to some liberals’ stunts today - reordaining several men more than 100 years ago, and of course the Dutch touch). What if a liberalish RC bishop took part in an Anglican bishop’s consecration about 40 years ago? Certainly a case where conditional ordination of a convert priest would be possible. Which Rome has done only twice and rather recently (Fr John Jay Hughes and Mgr Graham Leonard).

The Orthodox, taking their cue from a different church father (St Cyprian) on the issue, don't play 'what’s my line?' (good rule of thumb: run from any priest who does), rather looking at the context of whole churches. Them what's got apostolicity don’t need to play it. There is no Orthodox doctrine about sacraments outside the church, only that the church’s sacraments have grace. In practice they often recognise 'economically' (meaning 'not being as strict as the book allows') RC orders and those of their own splinter nationalist and true-believer groups. They would not recognise an Anglican ordination in which a rogue Orthodox bishop took part.

As you probably know, Rome treats all Anglican claims to imported valid orders as of doubtful validity; such priests are never received in their orders.

It helps to look at the Trelease case from an Orthodox-like POV. No matter the Archbishop of Santa Fe's orders, this happened in an Anglican service - context, not the lines game - so no.

AFAIK, reasons Apostolicæ Curæ is true: nothing to do with the Nag's Head fable or allegedly mean-spirited 19th-century RCs.

1. Cranmer's Protestant intent. It doesn't matter that the older forms of the Roman ritual didn't have the porrectio instrumentorum etc.; taking them out showed he didn't intend to ordain Catholic priests. To say that generations of English ordained Catholic priests without intending to is not apostolicity but magic.

(Which sounds like the Orthodox' criticism of the Western view of orders: definitely saying yes to orders outside the church = magic = vagante nonsense.)

Private heretics can give valid sacraments. Talleyrand in France was a rank unbeliever but it didn't matter. Using the Roman Rite in a Roman church, he meant to do what holy mother church does even though he didn't believe a word of it. Not so Cranmer and his friends.

2. The 1662 ordinal is orthodox (and pretty) but it wasn't used between the last Catholic ordinations (including Henrician schismatic ones) and that year. The ordinal used in between is the problem; it was heretical. So although the English kept the title of bishop, to Catholics it's just like what the Church of Norway did: after the Norwegians turned Lutheran they dropped the old system completely for a while - districts with superintendents instead of dioceses with bishops. They brought it back, and still have it, but only sort of: they changed the titles back but didn't try to get the succession back.

The Swedes - and through them the Finns and a few small African Lutheran churches - like the English claim the succession but Rome has neither issued a statement on nor accepted it. Part of what sinks their claim is Lutheranism doesn't teach the succession is essential - for example the German ones don't claim it - which is why Swedish-Americans had no problem losing it and most Lutherans, episcopal and non-, are in communion with each other. The conservative Missouri Synod, of German heritage and retaining the distinctive semi-Catholicism of confessional Lutheranism - they defend using the crucifix, crossing yourself and going to the pastor for confession; not your garden-variety American Protestants! - doesn't claim it or think it necessary.

In the Anglicans' Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral they seemed to say their claim was non-negotiable but with Porvoo in Europe, waiving the requirement for the time being as they merge with the liberal Lutherans in America and provisional full communion with the United Methodists they seem to have backed off that, which makes sense considering their scepticism on more basic beliefs. In practice they're now good Swedish Lutherans, liking the cachet of the claim (they think it's ecumenically cool, giving them something in common with Rome and the East) but thinking that insisting on a literal succession is a bit childish so it's not essential.

Which is not new: in the 1940s the Episcopalians in America almost merged with the Presbyterians; Anglo-Catholics managed to vote it down and were recriminated against because of that.

Of course the Evangelical Anglicans in England for example never cared for the claim; in that tradition, in America the Reformed Episcopal Church which left the Episcopalians over Anglo-Catholicism kept the titles but dropped the beliefs about them.

- August 2010