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The Oratorian Jean Morin , in the seventeenth century, and Cardinal Hergenröther, in the nineteenth, designated as "reordinations" the history of all ordinations which were considered null for any other reason than defect of the prescribed form or intention and which were repeated. This means that if there were in fact reordinations corresponding to this definition they were unjustifiable because theology determines as the sole causes of nullity of the Sacrament of Holy orders defect of the prescribed form or intention. But in the course of the history of the Church other causes of nullity have been admitted in certain circumstances. It has been admitted that all or any sacraments administered or received extra ecclesiam (outside the Church ) were null and had to be repeated. By the words extra ecclesiam is understood the situation of the minister or the Christian separated from the Church by heresy, or schism, or excommunication. At certain periods these separatists were considered so dangerous and were kept at such a distance that there was a tendency to deny them wholly or in part the power of conferring the sacraments. The maxim, "Out of the Church, no sacraments ", was applied with more or less severity.


That this history is complex and difficult is shown by the action of the Council of Trent. The council declared as a truth of faith the doctrine affirming the validity of baptism administered outside the Church according to the prescribed form and intention ; but the validity of confirmation and Holy orders conferred under the same conditions was not defined as a matter of faith, owing to the waverings and partial disagreements on these points of tradition revealed by the history of theology. The council was unwilling to give a definition that would place the doctrine of numerous writers in opposition to a teaching of faith. A good judge in these matters, Father Perrone , has written:

Ordinationes ab illegitimo ministro peractas illicitus esse, nemo umquam theologorum dubitavit: utrum vero præterea irritæ, inanes ac nullæ habendæ sint, implicatissima olim questio fuit, adeo ut Magister Sententiarum scribat: 'Hanc quæstionem perplexam ac pæne insolubilem faciunt doctorum verba, quæ plurimum dissentire videntur' (I, iv, dist. 25); deinde profert quatuor sententias, qui nulli adhæreat. Monumenta ecclesiastica prope innumera pro utraque sententia, sive affirmante irritas esse eiusmodi ordinationes sive negante, stare videntur, cum res nondum eliquata esset. Nunc iam a pluribus sæculis sola viget S. Thomæ doctrina, cui suffragium accessit universæ ecclesiæ, ordinationes ab hæreticis, schismaticis ac simoniacis factas validas omnino esse habendas"

That ordinations performed by an unlawful minister are illicit, no theologian ever doubted ; but whether they are, moreover, to be regarded as null and void was of old a most intricate question — so much so that the Master of the Sentences writes: "This problem is rendered complex and almost insoluble by the statements of the doctors which show considerable discrepancy" (I, iv, dist. 25). He then presents four opinions, none of which he adopts. For each view — that which affirms and that which denies the nullity of such ordinations — there seemed to be innumerable evidences from church history, as long as the question was not cleared up. But for several centuries past, the teaching of St. Thomas alone has prevailed and is accepted by the whole Church, to the effect that ordinations performed by heretical, schismatical, or simoniacal ministers are to be considered as valid ["Tractatus de ordine", cap. iv, n. 136, in Migne, "Theologiæ cursus completus", XXV (Paris, 1841), 55].

In the second half of the fifth century the Church of Constantinople repeated the confirmation and ordination conferred by the Arians, Macedonians, Novatians, Quartodecimans, and Apollinarists (Beveridge, "Synodicon", II, Oxford, 1672, Annotationes, 100). The Roman Synod of 769 permitted and even prescribed the repetition of orders conferred by the antipope Constantine ("Liber Pont.", ed. Duchesne, I, 408 sqq.). In the ninth century, during the struggle with the chorepiscopi, the ordinations conferred by those prelates were often declared null. In 881-82 Pope John VIII prescribed the reordination of Bishop Joseph of Vercelli, who had been ordained by the Archbishop of Milan, then under the ban of excommunication. On several occasions the ordinations conferred by Pope Formosus were declared null and were repeated. After the eleventh century the discussions concerning simony gave new sharpness to the controversy about reordinations. Cardinal Humbert affirmed the nullity of simoniacal ordinations as did also the Synod of Girona (Spain) in 1078. In the strife between the emperors of Germany and the popes of the eleventh and twelfth centuries the power of ordination of schismatic bishops was discussed and denied in various ways (cf. Saltet, "Les réordinations", 205-412). In the thirteenth century the conditions for the validity of Holy orders were determined in such a way that since then all uncertainty has been excluded.


The chief instances just cited and the attempts that have been made to justify them, constitute, from the theological standpoint, doctrinal deformations. It is not then surprising that these difficulties have sometimes and even quite recently, been used as objections against the Church and the pope, especially by Anglicans, who are always sensitive on the question of ordinations. It is true that during these controversies the doctrinal authority of the popes was more than once involved. But to what extent? It is obvious that the decisions of the popes on these points did not possess the character required by the Council of the Vatican for definitions involving the sovereign authority of the pope in doctrinal matters. In the history of reordinations the authority of the popes is much less concerned than in the doctrine regarding the relations of the civil and ecclesiastical powers, in which, nevertheless, as theologians maintain, papal infallibility is not involved (cf. J. Fessler, "La vraie et la fausse infallibilité des papes", Paris, 1873). The question as to the conditions for the validity of certain sacraments was one of those that caused serious divisions in the early Church. The popes cannot be held responsible for these lengthy controversies. In ancient times it was the whole Church that sought the solution of these great difficulties. At a time when ecclesiastical organization was only just beginning, the initiative, and the responsibilities as well, were heavy burdens for the great Churches and their heads. It was not only the tradition of Rome which at first was somewhat hesitant on certain aspects of this question, but that of the Church in general, and in this matter the tradition of Rome was incomparably more firm than that of all the other Churches. To accuse the Church in Rome in this matter is to accuse the Universal Church ; and on this as on so many other questions the Anglican Church has an interest in common with the Roman Church. Old Catholics and Anglicans often bring charges against the Roman See, which, if they had the value that is claimed for them, would tell not only against the popes but also against the early Church and the Fathers. Against this manner of representing the state of theological tradition concerning the conditions for the validity of Holy orders, only they can raise objection who interpret in a strict sense the saying of Vincent of Lérins: "Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus". But to defend this thesis is to undertake to show in tradition the absolute identity and the unchangeableness of the most essential Christian doctrines, a task which will readily appear impossible. History shows us in the life of the Church and in doctrine a movement between determined limits and the popes as regulators of this movement. To implicate the popes in the long history of these controversies it must be proved that they failed in this task, which cannot be done.

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