THE ORDER OF MELCHISEDECH
by Michael Davies
------------------------------ Chapter IX
Towards a Common Ordinal
Proposition 6 of the Ten Propositions of the Churches' Unity Commission requires that admission to the ministry of the "United Church" of the future shall be by means of a common ordinal. The proposition reads:
We agree to recognise, as from an accepted date, the ordained ministries of the other covenanting Churches, as true ministries of word and sacraments in the Holy Catholic Church, and we agree that all subsequent ordinations to the ministries of the covenanting Churches shall be according to a Common Ordinal which will properly incorporate the episcopal, presbyteral and lay roles in ordination. 1
This is by no means a new idea thought up by the members of the Churches' Unity Commission for publication in their Ten Propositions in 1976. It is an idea which passed the theoretical stage and was implemented in practice in the Ordinal of the Church of South India, first published in 1958. This Church was formed by the unification of Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist elements. The problem of composing an ordinal acceptable to all these denominations might appear insurmountable, some Anglicans having views on the apostolic succession, and a difference in essence between bishops and priests (and even as to what a priest is), which are totally unacceptable to Nonconformists. However, in true Cranmerian style, by passing over in silence what could not be stated ambiguously, a rite was finally agreed upon to which general but not universal consent was given. The fact that the Anglican Communion was prepared to accept the various Nonconformist ministries as equivalent to its own was found unacceptable to many Anglo-Catholics, who had insisted upon the Catholic nature of Anglican Orders, and a good number realized the inescapable logic of this situation-----that the Church of England was simply one Protestant sect among many-----and accordingly made their submission to Rome. The best known of these Anglican ministers was the late Hugh Ross Williamson. The influence of the Church of South India and its various rites upon the ecumenical movement and the liturgical convergence within the major denominations, has been far greater than is generally realized. During a lecture given at London Corney on 11 November 1974, the Reverend Julian Charley, an Anglican member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which produced the notorious Agreed Statements on the Eucharist, Ministry, and Authority, remarked that:
One of the very fascinating things that I don't know whether you are aware of is that if you do a little research on this you will find that in the Anglican Church with its Series III Communion and in the Roman Catholic Church with its new Eucharistic Prayers, the common ground behind them is in many cases the liturgy of the Church of South India. It's a very remarkable thing, if you study those documents you will find that the Church of South India-----a remarkable pioneer work-----in fact has influenced very substantially the liturgical work both of the Roman Catholic and of the Anglican Church, though neither of them seem terribly keen to admit that this is so. 2
The influence of the Ordinal of the Church of South India is nowhere more clearly seen than in the proposed Anglican-Methodist Ordinal, published exactly ten years later in 1968, the same year as the new Catholic rite of Ordination. The similarity between the South India and Anglican-Methodist Ordinals is hardly surprising in view of the fact that the late Professor E.C. Ratcliff had considerable influence in the drafting of both. The striking similarities between these Ordinals and the new Catholic rite can be explained by the fact that two members of the Commission which drafted the Anglican-Methodist Ordinal were also among the Protestant advisers to the Consilium which produced the new Catholic rites of Mass and Ordination. The fact that the Protestant Observers were given every opportunity to influence the decisions of the Consilium is documented in Appendix lli. The Observers in question were the Reverend A.R. George (Methodist) and Canon R.C.D. Jasper (Anglican). It was shown in Chap. VII that our own Catholic hierarchy was not consulted in any way in the compilation of the new Catholic Ordinal. Our bishops were not even given the opportunity of seeing it before they were presented with it as a fait accompli. There is considerable irony in the fact that our "separated brethren" were far better informed than our own bishops. In the preface to the Anglican-Methodist Ordinal it is stated that:
Through Mr. George and Dr. Jasper we have been able to keep in touch with the Methodist Faith and Order Committee and the Church of England Liturgical Commission, and the same two scholars, being also observers at the Roman Catholic Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, have kept us informed about the current revision of the Roman Catholic rites of Ordination. We have also consulted scholars of other communions on particular points. 3
A most important factor to look out for in recent or proposed ordinals is the absence or inclusion of imperative formulae when conferring ministerial status. Clearly, those who reject the traditional concept of apostolic succession do not accept that those presiding over the ordination rite (which they do not recognize as a Sacrament) possess any powers denied to a layman. It is impossible to convey non-existent powers. Thus even in the nineteenth century, some Low Churchmen wanted the imperative formula in the Anglican Ordinal, based on John 20:23 ("Receive the Holy Ghost: whose sins thou dost forgive, etc."), rephrased as a prayer asking for the gift of the Spirit for the ordinands. This was in opposition to attempts by members of the Oxford Movement to use this imperative formula to interpret the Anglican Ordinal in a Catholic sense. 4
The manner in which the proposed Anglican-Methodist Ordinal overcomes this problem deserves close study by all connoisseurs of ecumenical ambiguity. What happens is that the ordaining bishop simply tells the ordinand what Christ said.
Take this book (the Bible), a token of the authority which you have received from God to preach the Gospel of Christ and to minister the Sacraments of the New Covenant in the congregations to which you shall be appointed, and be mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus to the apostles which you heard in the Gospel, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."In May 1977 the new Anglican Series III Ordinal was published. 5 It is useful as an indication of the degree of sophistication to which the process of calculated ambiguity found in the Ordinal of the Church of South India has now been brought. In the ordination rite for the priesthood it is manifest that every crucial passage has been phrased in such a manner that it does not exclude Catholic teaching, but could be totally acceptable to the most obdurate Nonconformist.
In the Introduction it is explained that there was no Series II Ordinal but that the proposed Anglican-Methodist Ordinal ("which met with widespread approval") can be seen as occupying this position. It adds that many of the developments found in the Anglican-Methodist Ordinal are also found in the new Roman Catholic Ordinal (1968) and the draft revision of the Ordinal published by the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. in 1970. It also notes that a new Methodist Service, also based on the proposed Anglican-Methodist Ordinal, was published in 1975.
The introduction refers those seeking to study the theological background of the Series III Ordinal to the Anglican-Methodist Ordinal and the Statement on the Ministry and Ordination issued by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission in 1973. This Statement was examined in Chapter VI, where it was shown that in every important issue the Catholic delegates signed to a formula which Cranmer would have accepted without hesitation.
It is interesting to note that the term "priest" (not "presbyter") is used throughout the Series III Ordinal. The Bishop's declaration in the rite for the ordination of a priest begins by stating:
A priest is ordained within the historic succession of the Church's ministry, as the Church of England has received it.
To put it mildly, this sentence is capable of a very wide range of interpretations! The Declaration continues:
As a priest he is called by God to work with the bishop and with his fellow-priests, as a servant and shepherd in the place to which he shall be sent. He is to proclaim the word of the Lord, to call his hearers to repentance, and in Christ's name to absolve, and declare forgiveness of sins.
The key word here is "declare". Some Anglo-Catholics have claimed that the Edwardine Ordinal clearly intended to impart the power to absolve sins and therefore was intended to continue the Catholic priesthood. This argument was examined in Chapter VI, where it was shown that there is all the difference in the world between the power of a Catholic priest to absolve or retain the sins of a penitent and the function of a Protestant minister to declare to him that God has forgiven his sins.
He is to Baptize, and to prepare the baptized for Confirmation; he is to preside at the celebration of Holy Communion; he is to lead his people in prayer and worship, to intercede for them, to bless them in the name of the Lord, and to teach and encourage by word and example.
Needless to say, a Nonconformist minister presides at the celebration of holy communion.
One passage in this Declaration is of particular interest to Catholics. It reads as follows:
In the name of the Lord we bid you to remember the greatness of the trust now to be committed to your charge, about which you have been taught in your preparation for this ministry. You are to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; you are to teach and forewarn, to feed and to provide for the Lord's family, to search for His children in the wilderness of this world's temptations, so that they may be saved through Christ for ever.
These are all duties of a priest and the passage is admirably biblical. The reader will note that, once more, it contains nothing to which a Nonconformist could take exception but its special interest comes from its historical background. The passage is taken almost verbatim from the Bishop's Declaration in the Edwardine Ordinal (1550):
And nowe we exhorte you, in the name of oure Lorde Jesus Christe, to haue in remembraunce, into howe hyghe a dignitie, and to howe chargeable an offyce ye bee called, that is to saye, be the messengers, the watchemen, the Pastours, and the stewardes of the Lorde to teache, to premonishe, to feede, and prouyde for the Lordes famylye: to seeke for Christes shepe that be dispersed abrode, and for hys children whiche bee in the myddest of thys naughtye worlde, to be saued through Christe for euer.
The significance of this passage, and the fact that it has been retained in the new Series III Ordinal, derives from two reasons. Firstly, there is a corresponding passage in the Sarum Pontifical which it replaced, in which candidates are reminded that later the chalice and paten will be placed in their hands
that they may know that they have received the power to offer pleasing sacrifices to God, for to them it pertaineth to make the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord upon the altar, also to say prayers and to bless the gifts of God.
This office was used by Jesus Christ Our Lord, when, after the supper, He changed bread into His Body and wine into His Blood, in memory of His Passion. He also most excellently fulfilled this office when He offered Himself, Priest and Victim, to God the Father upon the altar of the Cross for the sins of the human race, and through His Own Blood entered the eternal holy place, and made peace between Heaven and earth.
In this we see how excellent is the office of the priesthood, through which day by day the Passion of Christ is celebrated at the Altar, and guilty ones, being converted from their sins, are reconciled to God.
Secondly, the passage cited from the Edwardine Ordinal derives its significance not simply from the fact that it excludes all the specifically Catholic teaching in the equivalent passage in the Sarum Pontifical, but from the fact that it is a prayer composed by Martin Bucer for his Strasbourg presbyters. 6 There is no doubt that Martin Bucer was the Continental Reformer who exerted the greatest influence upon Cranmer during the composition of his new Ordinal. As Fr. Messenger points out, Bucer was actually Cranmer's guest for some months in the summer of 1549, precisely when the new Ordinal was being composed; the "new English rite is inspired throughout by Bucerian ideas, and to an enormous extent it merely paraphrases or rather translates his Latin Lutheran rite." 7
With reference to this particular admonition, Fr. Messenger writes:
This Reformed or Protestant Admonition presents a conception of
the Christian Ministry precisely such as we should expect from a man like Bucer, who denied the Catholic doctrine of the objective Presence, the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Sacrificial Priesthood. After the fashion of all reformed ordination rites, it duly mentions the pastoral office, while of the sacerdotium or Sacrificial Priesthood as such there is not a single word. 8
The retention of this passage in the Series III Ordinal will no doubt do much to win for it the approval of Protestant-minded (Evangelical) Anglicans.
Among other points of interest in the Series III Ordinal are the words spoken immediately after the ordination ceremony which do not differ to any significant extent from the parallel passage in the Anglican-Methodist Ordinal cited in Chap. VII:
Almighty Father, give to these your servants grace and power to fulfill their ministry among the people committed to their charge; to watch over them and care for them; to absolve and bless them in your name; and to proclaim the gospel of your salvation. Set them among your people to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable in your sight, and as you have called them to your service, make them by the gift of your Holy Spirit worthy of their calling. Give them wisdom and discipline to work faithfully with all their fellow servants in Christ, that the world may come to know your glory and your love. (Emphasis in original.)
The most significant development of all comes with the presentation of the Bible. As was noted above, the imperative statement which had preceded this act in the Edwardine Ordinal ("Receive the Holy Ghost," etc.) was reduced in the Anglican-Methodist Ordinal to simply quoting the words of Our Lord. It is not even included as a quotation in the Series III Ordinal. The following words accompany the presentation of the Bible:
Receive this Book, a token of the authority which you have received from God this day to preach the gospel of Christ and to minister the sacraments of the New Covenant.
As was shown in Chapter V, the office of "preaching the Gospel and ministering the sacraments" is a Lutheran formula devised to exclude Catholic belief in a sacrificing priesthood. Its inclusion in the Series III Ordinal should also evoke satisfaction among Evangelicals.
To sum up, there is nothing in the new Series III Ordinal to indicate that ordination represents anything more than an appointment by the community to exercise an office within the Church. It is nowhere stated that the person ordained (and for Anglicans this must now include priestesses as well as priests) possesses new powers which the generality of the faithful do not possess. He or she can be seen simply as endowed with the authority to exercise powers already possessed by all the faithful. Most significant of all is the omission of any imperative formula which could suggest that the ordaining Bishop is able to transmit some new power by the imposition of hands.
On the other hand, the Catholic concept of the priesthood is nowhere specifically excluded, and Anglo-Catholics who claimed that the Edwardine Ordinal could confer valid orders should not have the least difficulty about making the same claim with regard to the Series III Ordinal. Their position will be greatly enhanced by the close similarity between the Series III Ordinal and the Catholic rite of 1968. Whereas the contrast between the Edwardine Ordinal (even with the 1662 additions) and the Roman Pontifical was so manifest that it is hard to see how anyone could claim in good faith that both were intended for the same purpose (i.e., to ordain sacrificing priests), the differences between the 1968 Catholic rite and the new Anglican Ordinal are so minimal that it is hard to believe that they are not intended for the same purpose (namely, to appoint men to the office of preaching the Gospel and ministering the Sacraments).
Lest any Catholic reader should begin to feel complacent after reading the Series III Ordinal, I suggest a very careful reading of the new Catholic Ordinal. It will be found that every imperative formula which could be interpreted as conferring any specifically sacerdotal power denied to the faithful at large has been carefully excluded from the new rite. It is not necessary to contest the fact that imperative formulae in the various Latin Pontificals (including the rites for Deacon and Bishop) only became current during the Middle Ages, and that prior to this the forms for the consecration of a bishop and the ordination of priests and deacons had been phrased as prayers. Nor is it claimed that imperative formulae are necessary for validity. What is at issue here is the removal of imperative formulae from existing rites, or the composition of new rites from which imperative formulae are excluded, to leave open the possibility that ordination is not a Sacrament conferring new powers but simply a service recognising admission to an office. An invaluable study of the evident convergence in the revision of ordinals has been provided by Peter Toon, an Evangelical Anglican minister. He notes that:
In particular, Cranmer held the following views. First, ordination is not a Sacrament but a public service of worship in which men are set apart for the work of the ministry and for which task they and the Church request of God the gift of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the essence of ordination is a prayer to God accompanied by the laying on of hands. 9
What is at stake, then, is honesty rather than validity. Let those who share the views of Cranmer, and the Protestant Reformers in general, make their beliefs clear in their ordination rites. Even more, the Catholic Church should ensure that her ordination rite makes her wholehearted adherence to the teaching of Trent totally unambiguous. If Christians, whatever their denomination, cannot be honest, cannot let their yea be yea, and their nay be nay, then what right have they to expect non-Christians to take them seriously? The spectacle of churchmen of different denominations working together to produce formulae of calculated ambiguity can provoke no reaction but revulsion among ordinary and honest Christians, whatever their allegiance.
Mr. Toon's booklet is particularly valuable for its comparison of the various revised and proposed ordination rites. He has provided useful outlines of some of the new rites, the Catholic one included, and these outlines provide clear evidence of the convergence already achieved. The Common Ordinal desired by the Churches' Unity Commission may not be here yet-----but it is only just round a far from distant comer.
A final point which merits careful study in all the new rites is the emphasis given to the acceptance of the candidate by the people. This conforms to the belief that the minister has been invested by the community with the authority to undertake an office, as opposed to receiving special powers transmitted to him solely by the ordaining bishop and received in an unbroken succession going directly back to Christ Himself. This form of acceptance is a very different concept from that in the traditional Catholic rite in which by their silence the people indicate that they know of nothing in the life of the ordinand which renders him unsuitable for the priesthood. There is a world of difference between the people's not objecting to a candidate and their actually appointing him.
The new Catholic Ordinal gives far more stress to the assent of the people than did the Roman Pontifical, in which they signified their consent simply by remaining silent. Now the people express their consent vocally "according to local custom". It is interesting to speculate upon how various customary forms of giving vocal assent can exist when assent was not given vocally in the former rite.
1. Visible Unity: Ten Propositions, Churches' Unity Commission, Church House, Dean's Yard, Westminster, London, SWlP 3NZ (1976).
2. For a detailed background to the Ordinal of the Church of South India, see: E. C. Ratcliff, "The Ordinal of the Church of South India." Theology, LXIII, 1960, pp. 7 ff. Also an article with the same title by T. S. Garrett in the Scouish Journal of Theology, XII, 1959, pp. 400 ff.
3. AMO, p. 3.
4. A. E. Peaston, The Prayer Book Revisions of the Victorian Evangelicals (London, 1963), pp. 25/6.
5. Ordination Services (SPCK, 1977).
6. RMP, vol. I, p. 471.
7. RMP, vol. I, pp. 455/6. Martin Bucer's ordination rite is now available in English. E. C. Whitaker, Martin Bucer and the Book of Common Prayer. (Mayhew-McCrimmon, 1974).
8. RMP, vol. I, p. 471.
9. OIR, p. 7.