Being a 1662 Anglican
I’m grateful to Fr Richard for giving me space to reply to his recent post on the report, about to come before Synod, Mission and Ministry in Covenant. It proposes to open the way for existing Methodists minsters, who were not ordained by a bishop, to take up ministerial positions in the Church of England, and to function as fully equivalent to Anglican priests. That would happen as part of an agreement by which the Methodist Church would adopt a form of the historic episcopate into its own structure, going into the future.
I welcome the larger aim of the report – the reconciliation of churches and ministries – but I find the proposed means for achieving that unbearable. They would involve departing from the fundamental practice and understanding of what Anglican priestly ministry means and ensures: understandings and practices that have been at the foundation of our church order since 1662, and which, of course, we inherited from the past, and share with other episcopal churches. I have set out my thoughts in a comment piece for Church Times, and I will not rehearse them in full here. Instead, simply I want to take up Fr Richard’s kind offer, so that I can reply to two of his comments on my Church Times article.
At one point, I try to place myself in the position of some of my fellow Anglicans, for whom these proposals do not constitute such a change to our historical practice as to seem that the church is leaving them behind. I am considering the proposal to license ministers who have not been ordained by a bishop to parishes and chaplaincies in the Church of England, and to give a ‘permission to officiate’, across a diocese, to others. I try to imagine why someone might think that presents no problems. I could think of three reasons:
For the C of E to accept [these proposals] would be to say at least one of the following: (1) that nothing significant distinguishes ordination by a bishop from ordination without; (2) that nothing about the eucharist (or anointing or absolution) is significant for the journey of salvation; (3) that orders are irrelevant in these cases, since means of grace depend only on the inner disposition of each individual. Each of those arguments sells short the faith and practice of the C of E.
Notice that I am not saying that any Methodist thinks any of these things. I am, instead, exploring why some of my fellow Anglicans might sit comfortably with opening up priestly roles in the Church of England to ministers who have not been ordained by bishops, while I cannot. One reason might be that a fellow Anglican thinks there is no significant difference between ordination by a bishop and ordination without. Alternatively, he or she might simply think that preaching and pastoral care is what really matters, and that sacramental provision really isn’t that important: some of my fellow Anglicans certainly do think that. As it stands, however, the Church of England holds both to the importance of the sacraments, and to the importance of episcopal ordination.
Let us be charitable over the question of the importance of sacraments, and suppose that this isn’t in view for anyone commending these proposals (since it certainly need not be). I would still want to know why the substitution of non-episcopally-ordained ministers for episcopally-ordained ones would be of so little consequence. It would surely have to be because the Church was indorsing the idea that episcopal ordination and non-episcopal ordination are as-near-as-matters equivalent. If, however, it were to do that, I could no longer be able to say that the Church of England upholds the ancient catholic order it currently does uphold.
Putting my mind to it, for the sake of a fuller exploration, I can, in fact, think of one other reason someone might give for being comfortable with a period during which we treat having been ordained without a bishop as equivalent to ordination by a bishop. Someone, that is, might say that the church, as custodian of the means of grace, renders the ministry of non-episcopally ordained presbyters as equivalent, by extraordinary fiat. I should immediately say that this is not a position I would want to espouse myself. I do wonder, however, if this approach lies behind the enthusiasm for the report show by some of the Anglo-Catholic traditionalists on the group that produced it. (An enthusiasm, we might note, that is not shared by Forward in Faith.) There would be precedents in the Roman Catholic Church for thinking this way. There are indulgences, for instance, by which the Church sovereignly applies the accumulated merit of the saints to certain deeds. I cannot see that being a useful model for Anglican evangelicals. Then there is the sense, for Roman Catholics, that the Church can be directly involved in regulating the efficacy of rites as sacraments. To give an example, a civil marriage between two non-Catholics is taken to be sacramental, but that same sacramentality is denied, on the authority of the Church itself, to Catholics who marry in that way. Again, that strikes me as rather distant from Anglican understandings of the church and sacraments. Finally, there is the doctrine of ecclesia supplet, where the church supplies what is missing from the celebration of a sacrament in certain circumstances, for instance if a celebration lacks some necessary element. One example would be the case of someone who is ordained ignorant of the fact that he had not been baptised. Ecclesia supplet, however, is thought only to apply – as far as I know – only to situations of ignorance or deceit, which is not what we are talking about here. In any case, I don’t find this this approach to the role of the Church compelling for Anglicans, or Methodists. It is worth mentioning, simply because it may have influenced the report, one way or another.
To return to Fr Richard’s comments on the first passage he quotes from my Church Times article, my reply is straightforward. I agree that a desire to see the historic episcopate passed on comes from a position that values it. That passing on, however, was not what I had in mind at that point. I was wondering what we would mean by a willingness to equate a minister ordained by a bishop to a minister not ordained by a bishop, over the course of the next three or four decades. If we think that episcopal ordination is so important, and the means by which we are assured of sacramental ministry, can we really so easily contemplate a period of all those years during which sacramental functions in our church will be carried out, potentially in quite large numbers, by those who have not been ordained by a bishop?
Moving on, Fr Richard quotes a second portion of my article:
THE Synod documents show a lack of clarity about the word “presbyter” (or “priest”). Introducing the report, the Faith and Order Commission makes much of welcoming “presbyters/priests serving in either Church as eligible to serve in both Churches”. The suggestion is that there are Anglican presbyters and Methodist presbyters, and that they are basically the same thing: wouldn’t it therefore be ideal if they could serve in one another’s churches?
Here, too, I stand by my argument, which is really no more than to point out how easy it is to commit a ‘fallacy of equivocation’: to suppose that, because two different groups use the same word, they mean the same thing by it, or that what those two different uses of the word point to is, in fact, the same thing.
Here, I am not invested in whether we call people priests or presbyters. The two words are used interchangeably in the Common Worship ordination rites, and I am happy to use ‘priest’ and ‘presbyter’ interchangeably myself. I am, however, wary of the danger of an approach which sets out Anglican and Methodists presbyters as simply equivalent from the start, and then argues on the basis of that assumption. Our practice since 1662, of only recognising presbyters ordained by a bishop as equivalent to our own, and not those ordained without a bishop, sets out the position of the Church of England. A presbyter who has not been ordained by a bishop is not taken to be equivalent to one who has.
On that point, Fr Richard is right to mention analogy, which is exactly the right category through which to approach topics like this. He is also right to say that Christ’s priesthood is the source and template of all priesthood in the Church: Christ is the ‘prime analogate’. There must be, therefore, some degree of an analogy between Anglican presbyters and Methodist presbyters, since both participate in the priesthood of Christ, as do all God’s people. I would not, therefore, ever say that there is nothing of the priesthood of Christ in the Methodist ministry. However, it is one thing to recognise a participation, and another to say that we recognise that participation as sufficiently equivalent to how we understand our own ministry for them to be interchangeable. Indeed, the clear message of the practice of the Church of England is that, regretfully, while we do see an analogy between the Methodist presbyterate and our own, that analogy is not substantial enough for them to be interchangeable. Again, that underlies our unchanging practice of requiring a Methodist minister, who wants to exercise a priestly ministry in the Church of England, to receive ordination from a bishop.
In what I have written in Church Times, I have explored this question – of a degree of analogy, but an insufficient degree – by reference to the central place that we give to ordination by a bishop in the polity of the Church of England. That is to say, I have mainly been concerned about the role of bishops in all of this. As a further way into thinking about the continuities and discontinuities between Methodist presbyteral ministry and our own, however, we could also look at what the Methodist Church says about its own presbyteral ordinations. Here, many readers of Fr Richard’s blog are likely to be struck by the insistence of the Methodist Church – if I read its statements correctly – that its own presbyters are not marked out from lay people when it comes to any personal reception of priestly character. This is from the Deed of Union of 1932 (section 30):
Christ’s ministers in the church are stewards in the household of God and shepherds of his flock. Some are called and ordained to this sole occupation and have a principal and directing part in these great duties but they hold no priesthood differing in kind from that which is common to all the Lord’s people… the Methodist Church holds the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and consequently believes that no priesthood exists which belongs to a particular order or class of people … For the sake of church order and not because of any priestly virtue inherent in the office the ministers of the Methodist Church are set apart by ordination to the ministry of the word and sacraments.
It was underlined in ‘Episcopacy and Methodist Doctrinal Standards’, fifty years later, in which we read that ‘the ordination of ministers conveys no priestly character’ (§10).
In what I have written about the report’s proposals so far, I have somewhat bracketed differences of self-understanding between our churches over the nature of the presbyterate. I have proceeded, rather, as if the two churches say something fairly similar about presbyters per se, with it simply being that Anglicans think that the minister for the ordination of a presbyter is a bishop, and Methodists disagree. Turning to the Deed of Union, however, and the 1982 statement, we see things said about presbyteral ordination that might give an Anglo-Catholic pause when it comes to stressing an analogy between Anglican and Methodist presbyteral ordination: ‘the ordination of ministers conveys no priestly character’; no personally received power, authority or character is said to be conferred to a Methodist presbyter that would distinguishes him or her from a lay person, for instance when it comes to the celebration of the Eucharist (which, of course, makes sense of the Methodist embrace of lay presidency).
To my mind, there is a clear contrast here with our own, Anglican understanding of the priesthood. The 1662 Ordinal describes the Order of Priesthood, as coming from the Apostles’ time; it is an ‘Office and Ministry, appointed for the salvation of mankind’. It also explicitly restricts presiding at Holy Communion to priests, in contrast to the Methodist Church, and it goes out of its way to stress the reception, by priests at their ordination, of the authority to absolve sins. I get all that from the Prayer Book, which is to say nothing of the pages of Saepius officio.
Let me be frank: I receive the report’s proposals, as they stand, with something uncomplicatedly close to despair. However, I am willing to be persuaded to see things otherwise. In thinking about what is laid before us, I know that I will find my ongoing discussions with Fr Richard of great value, even if, in the end, he remains of the opinion that the ‘anomaly’ with which they present us is ‘bearable’ and I, much to my regret, continue to think that it is not.
Fr Andrew Davison is a priest in the Diocese of Ely, and Canon Philosopher of St Albans Cathedral. He teaches at the University of Cambridge.