13 January 2009

Dixit et Loquitur: the Elizabethan episcopate

Courtesy of my friend Mrs Jill Pinnock, here is an extract from a letter written by the great Mystagogue and spiritual guide, Dom Gregory Dix, OSB, who dominated the Papalist movement in the Church of England in the middle years of the twentieth century. Dix was one of the great English proe stylists; this letter of 1948 is less polished than what he was willing to put in print, but it conveys his vivacious dash and spirit.

One must remember the extraordinary muddle of the whole pre-Tridentine Western Church. What did 'consecrating a Bishop' mean theologically to a man brought up on a work like the Pupilla Oculi - the 'Bicknell' of the period. The whole of medieval theology denied that Bishophood was a separate 'order' or 'sacrament'. Bonaventure is quite representative when, in his Comment on the Sentences, he says that a bishop only ordains in virtue of the sacerdotium given in ordination to the priesthood! The episcopate as such is an 'administrative office', not a sacrament. Apostolicity has been concentrated in the 'Apostolic See'. The 'Apostolic Succession' had, in the sixteenth century, no meaning in connection with the Episcopate (it has, so far as I can see, very little meaning in current Roman theology). Deny the sine qua non nature of the 'Apostolic See', and away goes any idea of 'Apostolic succession' as such. Bishops had been the administrative vicars of the Pope. They became the administrative vicars of the Crown, as the new 'Supreme Head'. The 'Protestant ' position is a quite logical development of the late medieval outlook. When Calvin said Presbyters could ordain, he was talking good medieval theology.

What rather staggers me is that Elizabeth bothered to get Parker consecrated at all! She might very well have simply nominated him - as Lutheran princes were doing. Wasn't it the fact that the first Convocation of the reign took the line it did; and that Parker took the line he did; i.e. the fact that the Church in England was obviously going to insist on having 'bishops' of some sort, which forced the hand of the government? BUT what sort? The only legal, as well as canonical, rite, was 'the' Pontifical. But which Pontifical? There was no standard edition in England before the Reformation. Every bishop had his own manuscript - and even the sixteenth century ones differ surprisiongly about the rite of Consecration of bishops. they fell back on a rite which was both uncanonical and illegal (and I'll bet the consecrators were more nervous about the latter than the former) but which was the rite by which three of them had been consecrated. They could hardly doubt its sufficiency. And in fact there is no need to do so, or ground for doing so - in itself.

I know all the song and dance which has been put up about what happened in Mary's reign. The fact remained that the Papacy had (at great inconvenience all round) refused to condemn it clearly and plainly. (I agree with Fr J B Scannell - one of the Commissioners on Anglican Orders in 1896 - that all through Mary's reign the English Catholics were trying to get an unequivocal condemnation out of Rome - and failed. How could the Holy See condemn it without prejudging the exceedingly difficult and delicate discussions on Orders due to come off some time at Trent?) What the Holy See all through Mary's reign was trying to do was to satisfy the English Hierarchy without upsetting the apple-cart of Trent. The result is all those curious briefs which must have tried Pole's patience severely.

More later.


William Tighe said...

Recalling the letter you wrote to me in October 2003, including its citation of Bonner's homilies, plus my own reading, the last paragraph of this letter of Dix's doesn't seem wholly accurate.

In what year was it written? I ask because in *The Question of Anglican Orders* (1944) Dix seems to be suggesting, or implying (pp. 68-72) that the "Romanist" rejection of the validity of Anglican ordinations was a gradual process, not completed until the end of the 16th century or the beginning of the 17th.

Presbyter said...

I share your wonder that Elizabeth did not simply nominate Parker, but doubt your explanation as to why she decided to have bishops and to go through a form of service to ordain them. Was her preferred form of church government perhaps adopted for political reasons as being more amenable to royal control and more likely to produce order out of an increasing chaos?

William Tighe said...

"What rather staggers me is that Elizabeth bothered to get Parker consecrated at all! She might very well have simply nominated him - as Lutheran princes were doing."

Well, I'm not so sure about this, and I fear Dix's knowledge here may have been rather limited. In Denmark, when Lutheranism was introduced by royal fiat in 1537 and the Catholici bishops (most of them unconsecrated electi) imprisioned, great care was taken to get the new Lutheran superintendents "consecrated" by Luther's Wittenberg friend and colleague John Bugenhagen (a man in presbyter's orders only), and in Sweden King Gustav Vasa (a king whose interest in church matters was wholly limited to the economic and political, as he had no theological interests whatsoever) made great efforts to get a duly consecrated bishop from Rome in 1524 and subsequently to force this bishop to consecrate other bishops (without a papal mandate) in 1528 and 1531 -- after 1540 the king seemingly decided to abolish bishops altogether, and there were only one or two left in Sweden whe he died in 1560, and it was on the more doubtful one of these two that the Swedish church depends for the purported preservation of its "apostolic succession" in 1575.

Even in the confused circumstances of Germany, where about 9 to 12 Catholic bishops became Lutheran at various points between the 1520s and the 1560s (and one as late as 1583), attempts were made to perpetuate a kind of episcopate: in East Prussia, where both Catholic bishops became Lutheran in 1525, the succession was maintained until both bishops -- one of the original two and the other's consecrated successor -- died in 1550/51, and afterwards a kind of appointed episcopate was maintained there until episcopacy itself was abolished in 1587. In Germany proper as Catholic-turned Lutheran bishops died, neighbouring Lutheran princes got the cathedral chapters to elect them "Administrators" of the dioceses, and as such promptly appointed "General Superintendents" to carry out their spiritual functions. There were not consecrated (although Luther himself personally "consecrated" two "evangelical bishops" in 1543 and 1545, these remained unique occurrences).

And, of course, in 1566-2 some 5 or 6 Catholic bishops became Calvinists, and were told that if they expected to function as ministers among the Huguenots they would have to renounce their "popish unChristian orders" and be ordained anew.

As to Elizabeth and England, was it an oversight that led to a modified version of the 1552 Prayer Book to be authorizied in 1559 without the Ordinal? Bishop Bonner was able to devastate the attempt to bring charges against him in 1566 by some of Elizabeth's bishops by alleging that in law (English law) they were no bishops, as having been consecrated by an illegal form. The attempt to convict him had to be dropped and a bill rushed through Parliament in that year or 1567 "validating" all episcopal consecrations in England from 1559 onwards. We hear of the principle "Ecclesia supplet" from time to time, but we have not heard of "Senatus Reginaque supplent" and how an Act of Parliament with the Royal Assent could do such a thing -- perhaps a good Anglican precedent for what happened in 1993?

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Professor Tighe: 1948 (I did put the date in my prefatory note).

Isn't Dix's point in 1948 that while the English bishops wanted Edwardine Orders condemned, Rome was unwilling to do this unequivocally because of the complications that might be caused at Trent by a recent magisterial document deining the porrection of the instruments as the Matter?

Not that I think the idea is very plausible. And the problem was there anyway by virtue of the Decree to the Armenians.