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Note: An English translation of Apostolicae Curae is available here.

A Bull of Leo XIII issued 15 September, 1896, and containing the latest papal decision with regard to the validity of Anglican orders. Decisions had already been given that such orders are invalid. The invariable practice also of the Catholic Church supposed their invalidity, since, whenever clergymen who had received orders in the Anglican Church became converts, and desired to become priests in the Catholic Church, they have been unconditionally ordained. In recent years, however, several members of the clergy and laity of the Anglican Church set forth the plea that the practice of the Catholic Church in insisting on unconditionally ordaining clerical converts from Anglicanism arose from want of due inquiry into the validity of Anglican orders , and from mistaken assumptions which, in the light of certain historical investigations, could not justly be maintained. Those, especially, who were interested in the movement that looked towards Corporate Reunion thought that, as a condition to such reunion, Anglican orders should be accepted as valid by the Catholic Church. A few Catholic writers, also, thinking that there was at least room for doubt, joined with them in seeking a fresh inquiry into the question and an authoritative judgment from the Pope. The Pope therefore permitted the question to be re-examined. He commissioned a number of men, whose opinions on the matter were known to be divergent, to state, each, the ground of his judgment, in writing. He then summoned them to Rome, directed them to interchange writings, and, placing at their disposal all the documents available, directed them to further investigate and discuss it. Thus prepared, he ordered them to meet in special sessions under the presidency of a cardinal appointed by him. Twelve such sessions were held, in which "all were invited to free discussion". He then directed that the acts of those sessions, together with all the documents, should be submitted to a council of cardinals, "so that when all had studied the whole subject and discussed it in Our presence each might give his opinion". The final result was the Bull "Apostolicae Curae", in which Anglican orders were declared to be invalid. As the Bull itself explains at length, its decision rests on extrinsic and on intrinsic grounds.

Extrinsic grounds

The extrinsic grounds are to be found in the fact of the implicit approval of the Holy See given to the constant practice of unconditionally ordaining convert clergymen from the Anglican Church who desired to become priests, and in the explicit declarations of the Holy See as to the invalidity of Anglican orders on every occasion when its decision was evoked. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, to attempt to confer orders a second time on the same person would be a sacrilege ; hence, the Church, by knowingly allowing the practice of ordaining convert clergymen, supposed that their orders were invalid. The Bull points out that orders received in the Church of England , according to the change introduced into the Ritual under Edward VI, were disowned as invalid by the Catholic Church, not through a custom grown up gradually, but from the date of that change in the Ritual. Thus, when a movement was made towards a reconciliation of the Anglican Church to the Holy See in the reign of Queen Mary (1553-58), Pope Julius III sent Cardinal Pole as Legate to England, with faculties to meet the case. Those faculties were "certainly not intended to deal with an abstract state of things, but with a specific and concrete issue." They were directed towards providing for holy orders in England "as the recognized condition of the circumstances and the times demanded." The faculties given to Cardinal Pole (8 March, 1554) distinguished two classes of men: "the first, those who had really received sacred orders, either before the secession of Henry VIII, or, if after it and by ministers infected by error and schism, still according to the accustomed Catholic Rite ; the second, those who were initiated according to the Edwardine Ordinal, who on that account could be promoted, since they had received an ordination that was null." The mind of Julius III appears also from the letter (29 January, 1555) by which Cardinal Pole sub-delegated his faculties to the Bishop of Norwich. To the same effect is a Bull issued by Paul IV, 20 June, 1555, and a Brief dated 30 October, 1555. The "Apostolicae Curae" cites also, amongst other cases, that of John Clement Gordon who had received Orders according to the Edwardine Ritual. Clement XI issued a Decree on 17 April, 1704, that he should be ordained unconditionally, and he grounds his decision on the "defect of form and intention ".

Instrinsic grounds

The intrinsic reason for which Anglican Orders are pronounced invalid by the Bull, is the "defect of form and intention ". It sets forth that "the Sacraments of the New Law, as sensible and efficient signs of invisible grace, ought both to signify the grace which they effect, and effect the grace which they signify". The rite used in administering a sacrament must be directed to the meaning of that sacrament ; else there would be no reason why the rite used in one sacrament may not effect another. What effects a sacrament is the intention of administering that sacrament, and the rite used according to that intention. The Bull takes note of the fact that in 1662 the form introduced in the Edwardine Ordinal of 1552 had added to it the words: "for the office and work of a priest ", etc. But it observes that 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; and, moreover, as the hierarchy had become extinct, there remained no power of ordaining.

The same holds good of episcopal consecration. The episcopate undoubtedly by the institution of Christ most truly belongs to the Sacrament of Orders and constitutes the priesthood in the highest degree. So it comes to pass that, as the Sacrament of Orders and the true priesthood of Christ were utterly eliminated from the Anglican rite, and hence the priesthood is in nowise conferred truly and validly in the episcopal consecration of the same rite, for the like reason, therefore, the episcopate can in nowise be truly and validly conferred by it; and this the more so because among the first duties of the episcopate is that of ordaining ministers for the Holy Eucharist and Sacrifice.

The Pope goes on to state how the Anglican Ordinal had been adapted to the errors of the Reformers, so that thus vitiated it could not be used to confer valid orders, nor could it later be purged of this original defect, chiefly because the words used in it had a meaning entirely different from what would be required to confer the Sacrament. The force of this argument, which is clear to Anglicans themselves, may be applied also to the prayer " Almighty God, Giver of all good things" at the beginning of the rite. Not only is the proper form for the sacrament lacking in the Anglican Ordinal; the intention is also lacking. Although the Church does not judge what is in the mind of the minister, she must pass judgment on what appears in the external rite. Now to confer a sacrament one must have the intention of doing what the Church intends. If a rite be so changed that it is no longer acknowledged by the Church as valid, it is clear that it cannot be administered with the proper intention. He concludes by explaining how carefully and how prudently this matter has been examined by the Apostolic See, how those who examined it with him were agreed that the question had already been settled, but that it might be reconsidered and decided in the light of the latest controversies over the question. He then declares that ordinations conducted with the Anglican rite are null and void, and implores those who are not of the Church and who seek orders to return to the one sheepfold of Christ, where they will find the true aids for salvation. He also invites those who are the ministers of religion in their various congregations to be reconciled to the Church, assuring them of his sympathy in their spiritual struggles, and of the joy of all the faithful when so earnest and so disinterested men as they are embrace the faith. The Bull concludes with the usual declaration of the authority of this Apostolic letter. (See ANGLICAN ORDERS ).


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