Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Theological Interpretations of Episcopal Authority


Next Previous


Theological Interpretations of Episcopal Authority

Episcopacy was preserved in the Church of England at the Elizabethan settlement largely because it enabled the Monarch to exercise control over the Church more successfully than other Reformation Church governments1. Subsequent Anglican theologians from Hooker onwards frequently stressed the value of episcopacy as a continuous link with the Early Church, but few 'unchurched' other Protestant denominations which had dispensed with the episcopate.

The Catholic Revival in the Church of England in the 19th century led to acceptance by a number of clergy and laity of the doctrine of Apostolic Succession as believed in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. Many claimed that the Church of England was atrue branch of the universal Catholic Church which had preserved its episcopal succession intact. The dispute over the validity of Anglican Orders that led to Apostolicae Curiae in 1896 encouraged more Anglicans to consider the doctrine. In the following years the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, commissioned Dr. Mason to produce a major study on the episcopacy, The Church of England and Episcopacy, (1914). Mason claimed the understanding of episcopacy as a divine institution had always been present in the Church of England but that the 19th century controversialists had introduced new viewpoints. The Anglo Catholics had rejected other Churches which did not have episcopacy, an area where the Church of England had never hadan official theological standpoint2, and the Evangelicals rejected the whole doctrine as though it had never been an intrinsic part of Anglicanism3.

The Oxford Movement and the subsequent Catholic revival within the Church of England led to a polarisation of theological beliefs, although many Anglo Catholics would claim that their interpretations were based on those held by divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries such as Jewel and Laud. This was to cause a major predicament for Anglo Catholics which lasted from the 1850's to the 1960's because their elevated interpretation of the role of bishops was constantly at odds with their rejection of the bishops' practical authority whenever they opposed Anglo Catholic ritual practices. For some this paradox caused moral difficulties, others seemed to accept their need to disobey their bishops with no such moral qualms.

Esse, Bene Esse or Plene esse

During this period three lines of thought can be distinguished concerning the role and authority of the bishop within the Church of England. The ?more Catholic minded Anglicans have upheld the episcopacy as part of the esse of Church structure, owing its origins to divine apostolic authority and without which no denomination can be part of the Church of Christ. Much of the Church of England held, in varying forms, that the episcopacy was part of the bene esse of the Church, because it was a means by which the Church throughout the ages was linked to the early Church and to a proven system of Church administration. The bishop's authority was delegated to him by the Church, and it was part of that authority which was given to the Church by Christ. Tradition and continuity with the early Church made the office the best means of exercising this authority but, if bishops were unavailable, it could be exercised by others. Its acceptance by other Protestant denominations was to be encouraged, especially in any unity schemes, but their ministries and sacraments were respected and they were not regarded as outcasts of the Church Universal because they lacked episcopacy. The third view, which came to be very much associated with the publication of The Historic Episcopate in 1954, was that bishops were part of of the plene esse of the Church. This view had wide support among the more liberal Anglo Catholics and the moderate elements of the Church of England but not the Evangelicals. It again emphasized the link with the apostles and suggested that although denominations were not deprived of divine grace in their ministry and sacraments without it, yet they lacked the fulness that episcopacy should bring. Exactly what this fulness is was never defined but was believed to be learned experientially4. Among Anglican writers generally the distinctions between episcopacy as part of the bene esse and of the plene esse was not always clear, usually being clarified only when the context was enlarged to include some kind of definition of episcopal authority.

For those who believed bishops to be of the esse of the Church, Christ's authority was transmitted by Him to the apostles and by them to the bishops who were the continuing apostolic presence in the Church and whose existence was part of the divine plan. Authority in the Church therefore resided in the bishops, as direct transmitters of Christ's authority, rather than beingdisseminated through the whole body of the Church.

For those who believed bishops to be of the bene esse of the Church, the bishops are representations of the Church and of Christ, exhibiting Christ's authority transmitted via the Church as a whole. They focused the Church's authority in themselves as they fulfilled and proclaimed His Word. The episcopal links with the apostles were emphasized as signs of the continuity of the Church and of the authority of its message.

For those who believed bishops to be of the plene esse of the Church, bishops were part of the divine law and gave to the Church a sense of fulness and integrity with the Gospel that would otherwise be missing. Both those who believed the bishops are of the plene esse or of the bene esse would not have 'unchurched' those denominations which had no bishops, saying rather that God's authority given to His Church was not limited in this way and the God's grace could be transmitted to their ?clergy and through their sacraments without episcopal authority. Those who held the plene esse believed that this grace would be enhanced in fulness and gain in authority if thesedenominations adopted episcopacy into their structures. This implied that authority comes from God to the Church as a whole and also in some special complimentary way through the bishops.

Apostolic Succession

The doctrine of Apostolic Succession likewise received a different interpretation among the three groups. Some of those who saw bishops as of the bene esse of the Church only accept Apostolic Succession as meaning the orderly succession of offices in the Church from apostolic times. Others came close to the supporters of the plene esse position who acceptedApostolic Succession as being the succession of the apostolic Commission and the apostolic functions of preaching,ruling and ordaining. Those who upheld the bishops as being of the esse of the Church added to these functions the belief that Apostolic Succession also conveyed the transmission of grace.

These three positions have been stated here in a way that stressed their contrasting implications. When expounded by Anglican theologians these implications were not always so clearly defined. Even for the firmest believers in the bishops as the esse of the Church there was often a reluctance to deny God's grace and a degree of authority to Protestant non episcopal denominations, and a disinclination to see the transfer of apostolic authority as a mechanical process.

Arthur Cayley Headlam was one of the clearest exponents of the bishops as the bene esse of the Church. He followed Lightfoot and Hort in believing that bishops arose out of the early Church's practical need to appoint heads of groups of presbyters in each area. Therefore the authority of history and Tradition gave importance to the role of bishops even though he believed that there was no direct command of Jesus or His apostles to establish episcopacy as such5. History and Tradition were an authoritative source of,

'such an historic episcopate, linking Church government, the Church at the present day with the past, supple, elastic, capable of adapting itself to various circumstances, balancing authority and freedom, is, more than any system of Church government, adapted to the needs of democratic civilization and fitted to form the basis of Christian reunion'.6

For him Apostolic Succession was the authoritative succession of office and the grace given at ordination was given afresh each time in response to the prayers of the Church's authorized ministers, no mechanical transmission being involved .7 In a later ?work Christian Unity (1930) he repeated his arguments and produced a lengthy study of the development ofepiscopacy in the early Church from which he concluded, ' There is no evidence of grace as part of the idea of Apostolic Succession.8'

The value of Apostolic Succession was the historical link of the Church of today with that of the apostles and as a sign of the 'solidarity' of the Church throughout the ages. As such it should be restored among those Protestant denominations which had previously rejected it. He believed this would forward the return of Christian unity,

'Apostolic Succession as an historical fact is of great force and power. It does assert that from the Apostles' time down to the present there has been a regular succession of ministers appointed in an orderly way, and that each of these ministers has been appointed by those themselves duly appointed with authority for ordaining. Thus there is a definite historical link between our own Bishops and the times of the Apostles. It is an external sign of that regular succession in the Church which has handed down to us the teaching and discipline and rule of the Apostolic age to the present time. It is the external sign of the solidarity of the Christian Society'9,

In accordance with his belief that Apostolic Succession was not the only meansof the transmission of grace for ordination, Headlam was prepared to accept the orders of Protestant non episcopal Churches as of equal standingif these took place with prayer and the laying on of hands. He did not believe reordination would be necessary in any reunited Church.10 He later expanded on this, preferring to accept a form of Intercommunion with both ministries celebrating according to their former rites until such times as their ministries were completely unified with all future ordinations being episcopal presumably11.

Headlam was not without his contemporary critics, not just among Anglo Catholics, but among scholars of the early Church who believed that he misinterpreted St.Irenaeus in limiting Apostolic Succession to just succession in office but not including the right to confer the sacramental gifts the Apostles had conferred.12

His opinions were widely circulated in the many reprints of his work but only gained complete acceptance among Evangelicals who already held a similar view.

William Temple

Headlam's views on orders were accepted by the young William Temple13 who quoted with approval a statement of Headlam's that the authority to ordain resides in the Church and not in transmission via Apostolic Succession. Later he modified this position in his much ?quoted address to the Convocation of Canterbury in 1943. Then he spoke of his authority as a bishop to ordain coming from Christ in the Church, and that the Apostolic Succession of which he was a part was a succession in office and in consecration. He furthersuggested that the unbroken continuity of actual grace of consecration did play some part in his episcopal authority therebybridging the gap between the supporters of the esse and bene esse concepts of episcopate,

'When I consecrate a godly and well learned man to the office and work of a Bishop in the Church of God, I do not act as a representative of the Church, if by that is meant the whole number of contemporary Christians; but I do act as the ministerial instrument of Christ in His Body the Church. The authority by which I act is His transmitted to me through His apostles and those to whom they committed it. I hold it neither from the Church nor apart from the Church, but from Christ in the Church. I was myself admitted to the Episcopate by the twofold succession - succession in office and succession in consecration14,

Temple believed that the schisms within the Church did not impair the fulness of authority in the Church's ministry. Provided that the Church acts through duly consecrated bishops the Commission of Christ, 'who gives the Commission through the Church, His Body',is always there in the fulness of authority. Although he admittedthat if other parts of the Church did not recognize it the Commission lost some of its effectiveness in practice.15

It is difficult to 'label' Temple as a believer in episcopacy as the bene esse or plene esse of the Church. As archbishop he spoke more from the plene esse standpoint but his insistence that the role of the laity was very important in the ministry of the Church gave his teaching a more Evangelical thrust.16 In his attitude to non episcopal ministries he stressed the necessity of future episcopal ordination as part of any unity scheme but he, 'would go far in recognizing the de facto efficacy of the existing ministries'17. He further qualified his attitude to these ministries however by suggesting that they had limitations,

'Though real ministries within the Universal Church, they may still not be ministries of the Universal Church with a Commission from the whole fellowship to all its members.18'

Evangelical Attitudes

The report of Evangelicals, The Fulness of Christ (1950) presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a clear definition of the bene esse view of episcopal ordination,

'It denies the view that the ministry is a privileged caste, endowed by Christ with spiritual capacities not given to the Church at large, able to pass on these powers by ordination even without the consent of the Church, and able to hold the Church in subjection because it alone is capable of performing the sacraments which are essential to the Church's life. Ordination is the act of Christ in his Church, setting apart certain of its members to act representatively on behalf of Christ and the Church. What is given is not the capacity to do certain things which no one else can do, but authority to do things representatively and grace to use that authority aright. What is absolutely essential to ordination is not succession from previously ordained ministers, but ordination by these who have authority to act on behalf of Christ and the Church, although this authority is, and ought to be, normally exercised by those who themselves are already ordained ministers'19,

Their clear statements that the ministry was dependent on the Church rather than the Church being dependent on the ministry, directly contradicted Kirk in The Apostolic Ministry20. This report also recognised non episcopal ministries as, 'blessed and owned by the Holy Spirit'21.

R.R.Williams, a Liberal Evangelical, also writing in 1950 was prepared to give more support to the bishop as a vehicle of authority than other Evangelicals would be prepared to do. His study of Authority in the Apostolic Age led him to see the ministry within the New Testament period as essential for the bene esse of the Church and that this same authority in teaching, practical discussions and liturgical administration was as essential today as then 22. He believed there was enough evidence within the New Testament to support the concept of an historical succession of ministers in the Church to preserve the apostolic witness23. Williams was however very aware of the divisions in the Church and the confines this placed on the exercise of such authority. The acts and decisions and even the teaching of episcopal authority would only be accepted within some of the various autonomous groups which now comprise the Church Universal24.

Evangelical attitudes to episcopacy can be very much defined in the terms of the 1662 Prayer Book. In the Preface to the Ordinal it is stated that it is the Church's policy to continue the threefold ministry which has existed since the time of the apostles, but never mentions the Apostolic Succession, as such. ?The Rite of Consecration refers to the work of the bishop very much in terms of preserving the Faith in preaching and teaching.Generally Evangelicals have upheld episcopacy as ancient andlawful but not indispensible.25

Some Evangelicals see bishops largely as administrators and their authority in the preaching and teaching areas is only acceptable when it clearly conforms with an Evangelical interpretation of Scripture26. Although accepting the Church's confirmation of their own conviction of vocation by episcopal ordination, they would be prepared to accept as valid ministers those of other denominations whose confirmation of ministry lacked episcopal authority. This attitude was clearly demonstrated by the position they took in the failed Anglican-Methodist unity talks when they did not accept the need for Methodists to undergo any form of re-ordination as part of the unity scheme.

John Stott has emphasised the inherent danger to all Christian unity schemes of those who hold a strong view of the place of the historic episcopate. He claims that while episcope, in the senseof pastoral oversight, is firmly based on the New Testament tradition, the monarchical episcopate, supported by those who hold it to be the esse or even plene esse of the Church, is not biblically based and denominations have no right therefore to demand its inclusion in unity schemes. Hence the Methodists and Church of Scotland both had valid forms of episcope and the Church of England had no right to demand their acceptance of its own form27

Nevertheless many Evangelicals do value episcopacy as exhibiting,

'the continuity and authenticity of the one Church of Christ in space and time28'

and, like Colin Buchanan, could say that a bishop in fulfilling the apostolic ministries of preaching, teaching, maintaining sound doctrine, presiding at the Eucharist and admitting to, or excluding from, Communion was presenting the image of the ministry of Christ Himself and exercising His authority, a classic bene esse position.

Generally Evangelicals would see the authority that was transmitted by Christ residing within the whole body of the Church rather than in its appointed leaders. Authority is not based on Apostolic Succession but rather on whether the bishops (and of course the clergy generally) are truly the representatives of the body of the Church and acting with itsconsent and support.29. The minister or priest, and equally so the bishop, are delegates of the Christian fellowship ?granted the right to perform sacramental functions, preach and teach and grant absolution by their fellowship.

Of course such a position vis 85 vis the Church of England is purely idealistic. The congregations have little voice in the appointment of their clergy and almost none in the appointment of their bishop.

The Tractarians and their Successors

The Tractarians emphasised the role of bishops as successors of the apostles as part of their attempts to show that the Church of England was truly part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and not just a national denomination. They wished to demonstrate that the episcopate received its authority from Christ via the continuous line of consecration in unbroken episcopal succession from the early Church. The bishop exercises his authority from Christ over the Church, it is Christ's authority not that of the Church, even though the Church chose him as a bishop30. Bishops were for them the esse of the Church. Any denomination which had an unbroken line of Apostolic Succession of bishops was part of the Catholic Church and could be only in internal schism with it31. They had an overall wish to exalt the position of bishops as a reaction to centuries of eroded authority in the Church of England since the Reformation when bishops had become political appointees and the Church of England had almost lost its voice in doctrinal and liturgical matters. From the earliest days of the Oxford Movement, they managed to collect references from Anglican divines to support this view. Such an enthusiastic champion of Apostolic Succession as Darwell Stone however was rather more honest when he stated,

'There always seems to me to have been something providential in the notion of the Tractarians that they had support for their position in a post-Reformation tradition, because without this belief they very likely would not have had the heart to go on. But I now think we have now to face the facts that, so far as the Reformation and post-Reformation formularies and divines are concerned, there are loopholes which we can use, but not for the support for an exclusive position.32'

Bishop Bell of Chichester made an interesting collection of statements of Anglican divines on the subject which very much endorsed Darwell Stone's statement.33 In fact he concluded from his research that the Oxford Movement's approach was, 'really a novelty so far as general Anglican teaching was concerned34.'

The older Tractarians based their understanding of the authoritative role of bishops on St.Augustine for whom the life of the Church depended on the succession of validly ordained ministers and validly consecrated bishops in direct succession back to the apostles. Later more moderate Anglo Catholics were to look to St.Cyprian claiming that he based the validity of Orders upon the ?life of the Church. This interpretation of St.Cyprian would suggest that although bishops had special divine authority this could not be exercised outside the Church hence eliminating the functions of episcopi vagantes.35 They also included the non episcopal denominations as part of the Universal Church, claiming that the schisms of the Church were essentially internal and that none of these had broken away from the universal Church. From this they could maintain all ministries were blessed by God for all from the time of the apostles and would be restored to all. The Church of England, having preserved its episcopate, would be the role model for other non episcopal denominations to conform to when they entered into union with it in the future. St.Cyprian did not seem to envisage the possibility of such 'internal schisms' by which large sections of the Church were not in communion with one another, for him rejection of episcopal authority, which he saw as an essential sign of the Church's unity, meant schism from the Church36.

The concept of bishops as the esse of the Church was given great prominence by a collection of essays entitled The Apostolic Ministry (1946) edited by Kenneth Kirk, then Bishop of Oxford. The other writers included Lionel Thornton, Austin Farrer, Gregory Dix and A.G.Herbert. Kirk himself wrote of the role of a bishop that,

'The Episcopate is the divinely ordained ministerial instrument for securing to the Church of God its continuous and organic unity as a God-given city of salvation37'

If this episcopal ministry fails, then so does the Church,

'should ministry fail, the apostolic Church, which is the Body of Christ in space and time, would disappear with it38'

Kirk strongly rejected any form of ministry that did not proceed from episcopal ordination,

'Equally unscriptural and unapostolic is the view that the ministry of word and sacraments in the Church of Christ can be legitimately exercised by any who have not received the Commission to do so from the same unimpeachable source39'

Kirk and Gregory Dix used the Hebrew term 'shaliach' (a friend or slave who functions in the persona or as a plenipotentiary of ?another) in this volume to denote the relationship of the bishop with Christ. Dix believed the concept implied that a bishop acted in the Persona of Christ not just in His name40. Therefore each bishop is not just an alter apostolus but an alter Christus41. Dix even went so far as to say that what the apostles did as shaliachim would not be contradicted by Christ in any circumstances, 'He Himself cannot repudiate their action42'

The term 'shaliach' and its supposed implications received a great deal of criticism, especially as to whether a Christian shaliach could be the same as a Jewish one and whether a shaliach could commit his principal by handing on his powers to a successor43.

A.G.Herbert, who was a contributor to the book, writing again on the subject in 1963, maintained that in retrospect they should have emphased more the unique nature of the shaliachim of Jesus compared to the Jewish shaliach44.

The subject area of Austin Farrer's chapter in the same book was a recognition that liturgical processes for the transmission of authority were not so rigid in the days of the very early Church. There was instead a gradual development of the ministry into an organised system and ordination rites and the accompanying liturgical formulae evolved in slightly different ways in different places.45

The other writers conclude these slight ambiguities ceased before the end of the second century and the monarchical episcopate became established.

Rather than seeing the transmission of apostolic authority as a mechanical process at consecration, Dix believed each bishop received his authority directly from Christ,

'The idea is not that of bishops as 'successors' of the apostles, but each new bishop as an actual addition to the original apostolic college, made by the heavenly Christ Himself, as in the cases of St.Paul and St.Matthias46.

The book was written as an attempt to recall the Church of England to a proper understanding of the role of a bishop. The authors believed this had been lost especially through the long period of Parliamentary control and the limitations imposed by the choice of bishop as political appointments,47 and in the light of discussions for unity with non episcopal denominations such as those concerning the formation of the Church of South India.

A.G.Hebert, although a contributor to the book, modified his own ideas and later criticised the views of the book in his later Apostle and Bishop (1963). He believed they concentrated too much on the bishop's office in the government of the Church. It also had the negative side that all who did not possess episcopacy were 'unchurched'48 despite the clear manifestations of grace within their ministries. The answer he found concerning those who lacked episcopacy was taken from the writings of the Belgian Dominican Schillebeeckx. For him the ministry and sacraments of non episcopal Churches (and presumably the Anglican Church whose orders Rome did not recognise) had the intention of doing what Christ commanded and therefore had a form of sacramental efficacy even though these were not the Catholic sacraments49. Hebert concluded that therefore it was perfectly correct to include these ministries and the non episcopal bodies within the Church50.

The Apostolic Ministry was widely criticized by those who held that the episcopate was only the bene esse of the Church especially by a group of Evangelical theologians including S.L.Greenslade, F.W.Dillistone and C.F.D.Moule. They published their refutations in The Ministry of the Church (1947) attacking Kirk and company's understanding of Reformation theology and their refusal to accept that God could act outside narrow episcopal channels. Greenslade expressed their united position when he asserted that a continuity in episcopal succession, was, 'necessary for conferring ecclesiastical authority, but not as necessary for transmission of divine authority51'. The concept of the apostles and their successors as 'shaliach' was also attacked, other scholars pointing out that a Jewish shaliach could not appoint a deputy and therefore could not have successors52. Later still A.G.Hebert countered this by saying the rules applying to a Hebrew shaliach did not apply to a shaliach appointed by Christ who desired to pass on his authority53.

The Tractarians and their successors were accused of having exalted,

'episcopacy as such to a higher position than do any other theologians in Christendom; they make it more essential and central to the Church's life than do either Roman Catholics or Orthodox.54'

Rawlinson accused Kirk and Dix of so doing in The Apostolic Ministry, especially in Dix's description of the bishop as the alter apostolus and alter Christus suggesting that even Papal claims were less55. A similar position ?was later held by E.L.Mascall who said of the consecration of a bishop,

'There is incorporation into the apostolic college by the communication of the apostolic character. The Apostolate receives a new member, who is then part of it as the first apostles were.'56

There were several major difficulties with the Anglo Catholic position on episcopacy which affect the question of episcopal authority. The first was that Apostolic Succession often appeared to be purely mechanical and unrelated to the Church as a whole, especially in relation to denominations which had not retained the episcopal structure. O.C.Quick pointed this out rather forcibly,

'We are required to accept the intolerable paradox that a man who has ordination in some hole in the corner fashion from a wandering bishop deprived of all office and jurisdiction is fully and validly ordained, whereas one who has received the solemn authorization of one, say, of the great Presbyterian communions is not ordained at all. This seems contrary to all reason, if authority is really the essence of orders57'

Quick therefore concluded that reason demands we believe that the right to exercise authority lies in the office of bishop rather than in the individual who holds the office and it can only be exercised when the bishop is functioning as a bishop in the Church. This would of course eliminate the anomaly of the episcopi vagantes.

This same argument was put by Henry Chadwick who, after a discussion on the role of bishops in the early Church, insisted that the Council of Nicea in decreeing that a bishop should be ordained by at least three bishops,

'would never have thought that a person consecrated by any three bishops in any circumstances whatever had claim to catholic recognition58',

likewise it would be alien to the thought of the early Church that,

'the transmission of sacramental grace through the apostolic ?ministry is mechanical.59'

The second difficulty was that although the Anglo Catholics had such an exalted view of bishops as the bearers of apostolic authority they have shown persistent reluctance to accept this authority if it was not in agreement with whatever they believed to be correct liturgical practice. They then claimed that their practice was in line with the tradition of the Church, the Ornaments Rubric etc. and that the bishops had no authority to tell them otherwise, even when the bishops had collectively come to a decision as over Reservation. Such a paradox caused some more moral qualms than it did to others.

The Anglo Catholic acceptance of bishops receiving their authority in a direct chain link back to the apostles was not without its critics. Major figures of the early this century, such as C.H.Turner and A.C.Headlam, claimed that Apostolic Succession grew out of second century controversies and was not therefore essential to the Church and individual Churches were free to create their own forms of ministry60. Certainly historians of the early Church have been increasingly unwilling to pronounce on the evidence for such a close link between the apostles and the monarchical episcopate as it was established by the late second century, even if not accepting Turner and Headlam's claims.

Archbishop Ramsey's position on bishops was not without its contradictions. His early years of ministry were firmly in the Anglo Catholic wing of the Church of England and in his The Gospel and the Catholic Church, first published in 1936 when he was relatively unknown and then republished in 1956 when he was Archbishop of York, he stated that 'the Episcopate is the esse of the universal Church61'. Yet in doing so he refused to 'unchurch' those denominations which do not have bishops indicating that all who are baptised are part of the Church and every part of the divided Church is incomplete, both those who possess the episcopate and those who do not62. The episcopate is however an expression of the unity of the Church and clearly part of a reunified Church as, 'Baptism and episcopacy are part of the utterance of God's redemptive love63.' Likewise, 'certain actions in this work of grace are confined to the Bishops64'. This means that, 'the orders of the Protestant bodies are gravely deficient65'. The divisions of the Church have obscured the meaning of orders and only when the Church is fully reunited, 'the full meaning of orders may be seen66'. These elucidations rendered his position somewhere between the esse and the plene esse position. Ramsey's position was based on a moderate Anglo Catholic understanding of the Cyprianic view of the Church with its emphasis on the collective responsibility of the episcopacy.

The Episcopate as the Focus of the Church's Unity and

Historical Continuity

The episcopate was often referred to as the focus of the Church's unity. Although this is expressed more frequently in Anglo Catholic rather than Evangelical writers it was also to be found in semi-official statements of the Church such as the 1937 Report of the Doctrine Commission Doctrine in the Church of England which stated that,

'the historic Episcopate [is] in a special sense the organ of unity and continuity67'

E.L.Mascall referred to the historic episcopate as a continuance of the apostolate to further stress the continuity of unity back to the time of Christ,

'the Church's unity is established in our Lord's institution of the Apostolate, which is continued in the universal episcopate!68'

Mascall's argument was that the Eucharist was the cause and expression of the Church's unity, the existence of the Eucharist depended on the existence of Holy Orders, where these are lacking there can be no valid Eucharist or cause of the Church's unity. Holy Orders were dependent on the episcopate so where the episcopate was lacking so was the unity of the Church69. Hence the unity of the Church was dependent on the authority of the bishops. This was of course open to all the arguments of those who were opposed to seeing authority based in the hands of those who have received it in an unbroken chain from the apostles rather than within the Church itself as the Body of Christ. Furthermore the unity of the Church has been fragmented and bishops, even if they have inherited apostolic powers as Dix and Mascall and fellow Anglo Catholics suggested, have been powerless to uphold the visible Church's unity. Likewise in the 'invisible' Church universal there were those groups which refuse to accept bishops. Mascall was not the first Anglo Catholic to use these arguments, although he did develop them. They were to be found in writings of Bishop Gore 70 and Darwell Stone71.

This view of the episcopate presumed that bishops were of the esse or at least of the plene esse of the Church. To regard them merely as demonstrating historical continuity would hardly justify the additional reference to them as an organ of unity. Those of the bene esse school were prepared to accept the ministries of non-episcopal denominations.

Archbishop Ramsey wrote at length of the problems concerning a theological understanding of the Church's unity in The Gospel and the Catholic Church upholding Anglo Catholic understanding of the issues. Yet he was reluctant to make such demands on the episcopate,

'it may be asked whether it is legitimate to treat the episcopate as in itself the ground and the test of Church unity72'

He realised that the bishops could do little to prevent the fragmentation of the Church and that they were certainly not visible signs of the unified authority of the Church as when bishops of more than one denomination exercised jurisdiction within the same territory but over separated flocks.

The authors of The Historic Episcopate (1954) challenged Kirk and his supporters concerning bishops as the esse of the Church. While upholding the importance of the historic episcopate they refused to accept that the Church was dependent on the episcopate and not the episcopate dependent on the Church. They rejected Kirk's conclusion that all non episcopal denominations must be unchurched. John Robinson declared rather of the episcopate,

'We believe its possession to be a necessary mark of the Church's fulness, rather than an indispensible qualification for being a part. It is not what makes the Church the Church so that in exclusion from it everything falls to the ground. But in repudiation of it the Church can never express the plenitude of its being as one Body of Christ in history.73'

For this group of theologians who hold the episcopate to be the plene esse of the Church the bishop received his authority from Christ through the Church. The bishop was responsible to God and to the Church for his exercise of authority74. It was firmly God's will that the bishop should exercise this role and those parts of the Church which are non episcopal were lacking in the fulness and perfection of their faith which was part of the Church from the earliest times even though they were still part of the universal Church.

One of the main functions of the episcopate was to exhibit continuity in time. The historic episcopate and Apostolic Succession were the outward signs of, 'the Church's catholicity and of its apostolicity75.' It was indeed the effectual sign of the relation of Christ to His Church : for it manifested His authority within His Church.76

Needless to say the plene esse theory did not gain universal acceptance. It was attacked especially by the esse school of thought. The most masterly criticism was by a Canadian Anglican E.R.Fairweather in his shorter work Episcopacy Re-Asserted (1955). He provided quotations and evidence from Scripture, the early Church and a host of Anglican divines of former centuries to contradict all ?major statements of The Historic Episcopate asserting that all these pointed to the necessity of the episcopate within the Church, and that this concept was not just that of the Tractarians as those authors had suggested. Kenneth Ross attempted a rather similar exercise to that of Fairweather in his book The Necessity of Episcopacy (1955).

These writings were all produced at the time of the formation of the Church of South India. They were really attempts to define what should be the Church of England's attitude to the newly formed united Church which would have bishops and which provided that its new ministers would be episcopally ordained. However many of its existing ministers had come from non episcopal denominations and were not expected to undergo any form of reordination. The question really was should the Church of England accept communion with many whose ordination had no episcopal authority, or was the new Church's acceptance of episcopacy into its structure a sign that it now shared in the 'fulness' of the Church and its ministers accepted into IntercommunionThe other major writer of the 1950's who held retention of bishops to be an important act of historical continuity was Norman Sykes in Old Priest and New Presbyter (1956). He cited an impressive array of quotations from former Anglican divines to indicate that from the time of Laud at least bishops were regarded as de iure divino and a necessary part of the Church where they could be preserved. They were not so essential to the ecclesiastical structure that their absence rendered a Church's ministry and sacraments invalid. Their role was one of perfecting the integrity of a Church.

His conclusion perhaps summarised the general trend of Anglican theology over four centuries, rather than the extremes of thought which tried to claim its support,

'The via media affirms the maintenance of episcopacy by the Church of England as part of a continuity with the early and medieval church, its acceptance of the ground of historical continuance since the apostolic age, its requirement for ministering within its own communion, and its restoration to these churches which have lost it, as a condition of reunion, without asserting their nonepiscopal ministries and sacraments to be invalid because of itsloss.77'

Hence the traditional position of Anglicanism could uphold episcopacy as either the bene esse or plene esse of the Church78.

In fact his conclusions were that the Church of England had preserved episcopacy but had never developed a consistant theology of episcopacy. Unlike the authors of The Historic Episcopate he saw no reason why such a theological interpretation was necessary. He was more concerned with the historicity of episcopacy than with its ?authority.

This book also had its critics, primarily A.L.Peck in Anglicanism and Episcopacy, (1958). Peck took many examples from Sykes' collection of quotations and added others to give a much more positive view of the importance of bishops and their authority within the Church of England. He showed that the Anglican divines asserted that bishops were an apostolic and divine institution, ordained by God, with a calling of divino jure79.

Ecclesiastical Pronouncements

The 1930 Lambeth Conference reaffirmed the importance of thehistorical episcopate, stressed in the 1888 Lambeth quadrilateral, to the Anglican Church describing it as an, 'historic development, analogous to that of the Canon of Scripture and of the Creeds80'. Although it did not use the term Apostolic Succession it stated that the historic episcopate is characterised by both the succession of office and the succession of consecration, along with the functions of discipline, ordination, safeguarding of the faith, and the maintenance of unity in the Eucharist81. This would appear to be a declaration of the bishops' role as of the bene esse and possibly also the plene esse of the Church.

The report of the Doctrine Commission Doctrine in the Church of England (1937) devoted a small section to the episcopate in which it stated the various roles of a bishop in the Church. The episcopate was described as symbolising the apostolic mission and authority within the Church, and the value of a continuous succession of bishops in various sees was to secure the purity of apostolic teaching82. The Church of England had been correct to preserve its episcopate therefore as 'the organ of unity and continuity'. The Report also stated that the 'indelible character' of ordination applied to all grades of ministry83. Concerning non episcopal denominations the Report declared,

'we do not doubt that God has accepted and used other Ministries which through breach of continuity in the past are deficient in outward authorization84'.

Although it spoke in terms of symbolism and practical value of bishops it avoided any significant detailed theological exposition of Apostolic Succession as a means of transferance of grace, a belief held by many clergy in the Church of England at that time. The general impression was that the authors wanted to state just as much of a doctrine of episcopacy as could be accepted by the Church of England as a whole and studiously avoided controversy.

Subsequent reports of the Doctrine Commission Christian Believing (1976) and Believing in the Church (1981) madealmost no reference at all to bishops and omitted any theology of the ?episcopate. Especially in the latter it seems extraordinary that 301 pages discussing the corporate nature of the Church's faith found so little to say about bishops who, according to the 1937 Report, wereregarded as at least symbolic of its unity and continuity. It may be that this was yet a further attempt to avoid a controversial area in view of previous failed attempts at Church unity largely brought about by controversy over episcopal authority.

In 1971 the Ministry Committee Working party on the Episcopate of the General Synod produced a short report on Bishops and Dioceses including a section on 'A Theological Understanding of Episcopacy85. The three different understandings of the nature of episcopal authority were distinguished - the bishop receiving his authority directly from Christ to exercise over the Church, the bishop receiving his authority from Christ through the Church to be exercised for the fulness and perfection of the Church, and the bishop as exercising at the Church's request part of Christ's authority given to the Church. The report did not attempt to suggest which of these was the doctrine which approximates most to the tradition of the Church of England but rather looked for the points the three positions have in common. It reiterated the Doctrine in the Church of England statement that the episcopate symbolised and maintained the apostolic mission, authority and teaching in the Church along with their other practical functions86. It did however point out that in practice the bishop's authority was, 'shaped by whatever form of Synodical government that part of the Church to which he belongs may possess'87, omitting to add that it was also affected in the Church of England by the relationship with the State and Parliamentary legislation. Episcopal authority has definite restrictions placed upon it whatever theologians would wish to claim for it. In fact when this report came before General Synod a clerical member of Synod suggested that the phrase, 'The Episcopate symbolises and secures in an abiding form the apostolic mission and authority within the Church,' should read, 'The Episcopate symbolises and secures in an abiding form the authority of the State within the Church', referring to the system of appointment to bishoprics88.

The ARCIC I Statement on the ministry was prepared to accept that in the early Church there was probably,

'considerable diversity in the structure of pastoral ministry, though it is clear that some churches were headed by ministers who were called episcopi and presbyteroi. While the first missionary churches were not a loose aggregation of autonomous communities, we have no evidence that 'bishops' and 'presbyters'were appointed everywhere in the primitive period... the full emergence of the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon required a longer period than the apostolic age89.'

Although the concept of Apostolic Succession and its importance was upheld90, the joint Anglican-Roman Catholic acceptance of a position less extreme than that of some authors in The Apostolic Ministry and of E.L.Mascall was significant and marked a downturn in future Anglo Catholic statements on the origins of the episcopate.

Intention and Authority

The doctrine of Intention in the consecration of bishops was never properly explained in the Church of England at this period. It had been discussed in the context of the ordination of clergy and as such was the subject of Langford2DJames, The Doctrine of Intention (1927). Later Derek Whitehead, in an unpublished thesis91 considerably extended Langford-James's study but concentrated on Intention in relation to ordinations to the priesthood.

There were various theories concerning the origins of a bishop's authority, basically whether it came directly from the apostolic college and Christ as its head and is personal, or whether it came from Christ through the Church and was centred in the office of bishop rather than in the person of the bishop.

The Church of England as a body has shown remarkable reluctance to accept any theory as its own basis of doctrine and has refused to state any corporate definition of the doctrine of episcopacy. Such diversity of opinion precluded the possibility of any doctrine of Intention in relation to consecration of bishops. If there were no doctrine of episcopacy it was impossible to state what is the Intention at their consecration.

Those who maintained bishops to be of the esse of the Church and who had a belief that divine grace for ordination and for the exercise of their authority was received at their consecration believed that this in some sense was always the Intention of bishops when consecrating new bishops in the Church of England. Those who held to the bene esse theory must logically believe that the Intention at consecration is the setting apart of an individual priest chosen by the Church for specific functions within the Church, including ordination and the exercise of authority, rather than the transmission of grace for ordination which they can always pass on to others whatgver the circumstance. Here the stress was on doing what the Church had always done and the proclamation of a succession of holders of a specific office and functions going back to the early Church. The supporters of the plene esse theory would be somewhere in between and in varying degrees accepted that the new bishop receives authority from Christ via His Church, with an emphasis on the historical continuity of the chain of bishops.They felt reluctant to believe that the new bishop could exercise his authority independently from the Church, for example as some form of episcopi vagantes.

Those of the esse school were probably reluctant to mention this concept of Intention in their arguments as it would be very difficult to prove from quotations from the writings of former bishops. They were aware that in the past, if not the present, they would have to demonstrate a consistency of interior Intention to satisfy the Roman Catholics of their claims in any ecumenical discussions whereas they would find it quite difficult in practice to produce sufficient evidence of exterior Intention.

For the other groups an acceptance of the rather vague and noncommital wording of the Prayer Book service and the fact that the episcopacy has been preserved in unbroken succession within the Church of England was enough. The Intention has been to do what the Church has always done. They shared in the official Church of England position of a reluctance to be too specific in the hope that those of widely differing views would not therefore be alienated by a statement they had to totally reject.

The Impossibility of Definition

The summation of attempts to impress readers with a plethora of quotations from Anglican divines of past eras served to illustrate that selectivity can produce almost any conclusion on the episcopacy and its authority. The underlying difficulty was that these much quoted divines were declaring their own beliefs and their own understanding of Scripture and Tradition within the Church of England. They found little in its formulae on which to base their arguments except those few statements concerning historic continuity which appear in the Prayer Book, itself an appendage to an act of Parliament, the composition of which had never been the subject of debate within the Church.

Bishop Gore summarised the ambiguity of the Church of England on the Apostolic Succession when he wrote,

'It is quite true that the Church of England imposes upon the clergy no obligation to hold the dogma that only episcopal ordinations are valid, and only priestly consecrations of the eucharist, and that bishops are the esse of the Church, but it has acted, so far as its corporate action, always in such a way as to satisfy those who hold these doctrines and to impose severe restrictions on the action of those who do not hold them would naturally wish to take.92'

The Elizabethan religious settlement in its desire to exclude Presbyterianism from the Church of England, while not alienating completely the supporters of the new non episcopal denominations, retained an ambiguity from which all divisions of thought could claim some support. Historically the Church of England has never reordained any clergy entering its fold from the Roman Catholic Church but ?as a general rule has reordained clergy entering its fold from the Free Churches. This course of action certainly endorsed Gore's statement.

The idea that the Church of England could insist on episcopacy without accepting any particular theology of episcopacy, theapproach taken in all Anglican unity talks with non episcopal denominations, did have support from her theologians. A.E.J.Rawlinson, Bishop of Derby, and author of many works of academic theology, could write,

'there is no "particular" theory of episcopacy the acceptance of which is today obligatory in Anglicanism, or the acceptance of which ought in any united Church of the future to be imposed as obligatory.'

Even A.G.Hebert, a contributor to The Apostolic Ministry, recognised that as Church of England clergy were not expected to accept any definition of episcopacy or of Apostolic Succession such definitions could hardly be imposed on others as part of the process of reunification between the Church of England and non episcopal denominations. All that could be asked was, 'the acceptance of Episcopacy as the universal Ministry of the Church of Christ93.'

Bishop Bell of Chichester, again writing in the context of Christian Unity asserted,

'the classic Anglican view does not regard the ministry as an essentially doctrinal question.94'

Although he accepted Anglican statements on the importance of episcopacy in a united Church, he insisted that the Church of England recognised the reality and effectiveness of non episcopal ministries and sacraments95. As was his habit he supported his statements by a large collection of quotations from past Church of England divines including many bishops.

Likewise Leonard Hodgson could write that this is an interim period,

'between the disruption of the past and the reunion of the future' and while the acceptance of episcopacy and even Apostolic Succession must be our goal for the future church, in the meanwhile we should recognise as equal episcopal and nonepiscopal ministries.96.'

Others, such as O.C.Quick, believed that the schism in the Church rendered all authority incomplete, and that in a divided Church ?all orders were defective cnd that all ministries, episcopal and non episcopal did share in Christ's authority but in all something was lacking97.

Anglo Catholic theologians have sometimes protested vigorously against this lack of a theology of episcopacy in Church unity talks, notably E.L.Mascall 98, but they have failed to persuade the rest of the Church of England to accept their theology of episcopacy. Their understanding of episcopacy as the esse of the Church would lead to the conclusion that the only means of unity with non episcopal denominations, which would ensure episcopal authority was not compromised, must involve the full episcopal ordination of the ministers of the non episcopal body. Such an action would inevitably prove unacceptable. Hence some Anglo Catholics, like Archbishop Ramsey, produced a doctrine that is between the esse and plene esse position declaring that in a divided Church there must be flexibility especially where thegrace of God can be seen to be at work even without episcopal sanction.

The difficulty with all theories of episcopal authority is that they are discussed in the context of an idealised Church which does not exist. It seems strange to apply the lofty ideas of a bishop as a new apostle who takes his place in the heavenly ranks with the other apostles to a man who was appointed by a prime minister, sometimes not an Anglican himself, and sometimes against the expressed wishes of the other bishops of the Church of England. Likewise those who hold to the bene esse theological position must hold similar reservations as such bishops can hardly represent the general voice of the Church. Whether the bishop has this divine authority from Christ Himself or from the Church his attempts to exercise it within this period have been severely limited. He could only choose clergy within his diocese when he had the patronage of the livings, and modifications in the Church's liturgy, doctrine and discipline were all subject to the will of Parliament, the majority of whose members were not practising Anglicans.

Yet without definitions unity talks during this period constantly ran into difficulty as other Churches felt the need to know what they would be accepting or rejecting. The production of anything but a very circumscribed definition would have had the effect of bringing the theological divisions of the Church of England even further into the open, a situation which the Church as a whole wished to avoid. By 1990 greater consensus was achieved with the publication of Episcopal Ministry, the report of the Archbishops' Group on the Episcopate, where the belief that the bishops were of the esse of the Church was firmly stated99. Even in this document definitions were not given with the exactitude necessary for ecumenical requirements, particularly to satisfy the Free Churches.

Next Previous

1) This is the view held by Hamilton Thompson in Essays Catholic and Critical, (1926) p.361 and by most subsequent historians of the period, although they would emphasise that Elizabeth went to some lengths to secure the proper consecration of Archbishop Parker in an attempt to reconcile her Catholic subjects.

2) Mason, The Church of England and Episcopacy, pp.448,484

3) Ibid.p.448

4) The Historic Episcopate, ed. K.M.Carey (1954),p.126

5) The Doctrine of the Church and Christian Reunion, (1920),pp, 44,105, also Christian Unity, (1930),p.124

6) Prayer Book Dictionary, (1912), p.316

7) Ibid, p.42

8) Christian Unity, p.136

9) Westminster Lectures 3, quoted in Ronald Jasper, Arthur Cayley Headlam, (1960), p.114

10) The Doctrine of the Church and Christian Reunion, (1920), p.280,306-7

11) Christian Unity, p.145

12) C.H.Turner, Catholic and Apostolic, (1931), p.282

13) Church and Nation, (1916), p.146

14) The Church Looks Forward, (1944), pp.24-5

15) Thoughts on Some Problems of the Day, (1931), p.114

16) cf. Joseph Fletcher, William Temple : Twentieth Century Christian, New York (1963), pp.110-111,45

17) Private letter, quoted in A.M.Ramsey, From Gore to Temple (1960), p.124

18) Thoughts on Some Problems of the Day,p.14

19) The Fulness of Christ, pp.34-5

20) Kirk, The Apostolic Ministry, p.67

21) Ibid.p.66

22) Williams, Authority and the Apostolic Age, p.44

23) Ibid.p.73

24) Ibid.pp.140-1

25) J.R.W.Stott, Christ the Controversialist, (1970), p.28, n.2

26) I am grateful to John Stott for clarifying for me the position of the more conservative Evangelicals on this issue.

27) Christ the Controversialist, p.8

28) Colin Buchanan in Growing into Union, by C.O.Buchanan et al. (1970), p.312

29) This position was expressed with considerable clarity by H.B.Gooding in Liberal Evangelicalism : An Interpretation (1923), pp.169-171

30) A classic statement of this position is to be found in Darwell Stone's essay "Episcopacy and Reunion" in Episcopacy Ancient and Modern, ed. Jenkins and MacKenzie (1930), p.375f

31) These Tractarian arguments are discussed and the illogicalities of their position pointed out in O.C.Quick, Doctrines of the Creed, (1938), p.338ff

32) F.L.Cross, Darwell Stone,(1943), p.245.

33) G.K.A.Bell, Christian Unity : The Anglican Position, (1948), p.23ff and also The Study of Anglicanism, ed. Stephen Sykes and John Booty, (1988), p.299ff

34) Bell, Ibid. pp.21-2

35) cf O.C.Quick, The Christian Sacraments, pp.134-154; L.Hodgson, Essays in Christian Philosophy, pp.145-148; and A.M.Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church, (1956 edn.), pp.215-9

36) These arguments have been dealt with thoroughly in A.Hastings, One and Apostolic, (1963), especially pp.68-9 See Cyprian Ep.68:2, Ep.67:3 and Unit.5

37) Kirk, The ApostolicMinistry, p.8

38) Ibid.p.40

39) Ibid pp.23-4

40) Ibid.p.203

41) Ibid.p.200

42) Ibid.p.287

43) Cf. especially Theology, May-October 1948, and E.R.Fairweather and R.F.Hettlinger, Episcopacy and Reunion,(1953), pp.64-77

44) A.G.Hebert, Apostle and Bishop, (1963), p.23

45) Kirk,The Apostolic Ministry, chapter by A.Farrer, 'The Ministry in the New Testament',pp.113-182

46) Ibid.p.200

47) Ibid.pp.3-4,50-51

48) Ibid. p.17

49) Apostle and Bishop, pp.146-148

50) Ibid.p.148

51) The Ministry of the Church, p.61

52) A.Erhardt, The Apostolic Succession, (1953),p.20, A.Hanson, The Pioneer Ministry, (1961), pp. 9-10

53) Apostle and Bishop, (1963), p.57

54) A.T.Hanson, The Pioneer Ministry, (1961) p.136

55) Problems of Reunion, p.43

56) Christ, the Christian and the Church, (1946), p.124, cf also Corpus Christi, (1953), p.23; The Recovery of Unity, (1958), p.185

57) O.C.Quick, The Christian Sacraments (1927), p.143, Doctrines of the Creed (1938), p.339

58) Today's Church and Today's World, (1977), p.214

59) Ibid.p.214

60) C.H.Turner 'Apostolic Succession' in Essays on the Early History of the Church and Ministry, ed. H.B.Swete, (1918), and A.C.Headlam's Bampton Lectures, The Doctrine of the Church and Christian Reunion, (1920), especially pp.105,242

61) Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church, (1956 edn.), p.84

62) Ibid.p.85

63) Ibid.p.67

64) Ibid.p.83

65) Ibid.p.219

66) Ibid.p.219

67) Doctrine in the Church of England, p.122

68) Corpus Christi, pp.18-19

69) Ibid. p.19; The Recovery of Unity, pp.173-4

70) Cf.Northern Catholicism, ed.Williams and Harris, (1933), pp.207-8

71) Cf.Episcopacy Ancient and Modern, (1930),p.375ff

72) Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church, p.151

73) Carey, The Historic Episcopate, p.22.

74) Ibid p.22

75) Ibid.p.21

76) Ibid.p.108

77) Sykes, Old Priest and New Presbyter, p.261

78) Ibid.p.245

79) A.L.Peck, Anglicanism and Episcopacy (1958), p.63ff

80) The Lambeth Conference, 1930 (1930), p.115

81) Ibid.p.115

82) Doctrine in the Church of England, p.122

83) Ibid.p.125

84) Ibid.p.122

85) Bishops and Dioceses,pp.9-17

86) Doctrine in the Church of England, p.15f

87) Ibid.p.10

88) Proceedings of General Synod, (1973) Vol.4 No 3, p.605

89) Ministry ?and Ordination, (1973), 156

90) Elucidations on Ministry and Ordination (1979), 154

91) The Doctrine of Intention in Anglican Theology, (1973), unpublished thesis for Ph.D., University of Lancaster.

92) C.Gore, The Basis of Anglican Fellowship, (1914), p.34 Cf. also a similar statement of the Church of England's ambiguity on these issues is to be found in A.E.J.Rawlinson and Charles Smyth, The Genius of the Church of England, (1947), p.16

93) Intercommunion, p.86

94) Christian Unity : the Anglican Position, (1948), p.177

95) Ibid.pp.182-5

96) L.Hodgson, Anglicanism and South India, Cambridge (1943), p.19

97) O.C.Quick The Christian Sacraments, (1927), p.146

98) Corpus Christi, (1953), pp.15-16

99) Episcopal Ministry, p.87, 15188