Monday, April 18, 2011

Apostolic Succession Pt. 3 - A Cranmer postscript

As an addendum to Part 1 and Part 2, I would like to add some research from the award winning biography on Thomas Cranmer by the scholar Diarmaid MacColluch.  As already presented, I've seen no direct evidence in the historical record that the English reformers held to a doctrine of divinely instituted Apostolic Succession, as either an essential mark of a true church or necessary for the validity of the Sacraments.

John Jewell echoes other reformers such as Calvin, Vermigli, Bucer, and Bullinger in his Homily (part of the the CoE's formularies) when defining the three necessary marks or notes of a true church:  sound doctrine, the sacraments rightly administered, and the right exercise of ecclesiastical discipline.  Conspicuously missing is any mention of Apostolic Succession.

Similarly in Article XIX. Of the Church from the Thirty-Nine Articles, we find the first two marks:
The Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.

Likewise Hooker writes, “we must not simply without exception urge a lineal descent of power from the Apostles by continued succession of bishops in every effectual ordination.”

But are there clues or bits of insight in the historical record that would give us a window into Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's personal view concerning Apostolic Succession?  Here are some excerpts from the chapter Salvaging the Cause (pp. 276-279) in MacCulloch' biography concerning events of 1541:

... he [Cranmer] was otherwise engaged, mainly in presiding over the contentious work of the doctrinal commission set up by the King at the beginning of April... The doctrinal committee seems to have worked within a framework formed by seventeen set questions on doctrine... - The other notable feature is their [i.e. the surviving documents] collection of marginalia from King Henry in truculently reformist mood, questioning the scriptural origins of confirmation, unction and chrism, challenging the exclusive right of bishops to ordain clergy, and wanting proof for the origins of their office...
Cranmers' most extensive answers were made in relation to the definition of royal power in the Church... which now occupied six of the seventeen questions...

Even King Henry had questions concerning the origins of the office of ordination held by bishops.  MacCulloch continues as he describes Cranmer's peculiar and antiquated One Kingdom view of Christendom and that of royal power as pertains to the appointing of bishops.  Cranmer tackled the following question before the committee:

"Whether the apostles lacking a higher power, as in not having a Christian king among them, made bishops by that necessity, or by authority given them by God?"  In this, he revealed a breathtaking skepticism about any independent character for the church.  His starting point was the basic character of a Christian polity, royal supremacy in its purest form:  God had delivered to 'all Christian princes... the whole cure of souls, as concerning the ministration of things political and civil governance'.  Ministers within this commonwealth were divided between those whose functions were 'civil' and those 'of Gods' word'.  And 'comely ceremonies and solemnities' by which they were admitted (in other words, ordination and consecration in the case of clergy) were 'only for a good order and seemly fashion', without any special conferring of grace by the 'promise of God'.  The basic assumption had an important consequence for Cranmer's view of the course of Church history; it was a journey towards the righting of a wrong, the lack of proper authority in the apostolic Church, which had only been remedied when the first Christian rulers appeared, in the third-century Armenia and the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great.  The apostles of the first century AD had lacked 'remedy then for the correction of vice, or appointing of ministers' and had to make do with 'the consent of christian multitude among themselves'...

MacCulloch summarizes Cranmers' understanding:

Far from holding any doctrine of apostolic succession in 1540, therefore, Cranmer saw the first Christians casting round to create makeshift structures of authority:  'they were constrained of necessity to take such curates and priests as either they knew themselves to be meet thereunto, or else as were commended unto them by other that were so replete with the Spirit of God... that they ought even of very conscience to give credit unto them'.  Sometimes the apostles sent ministers to the people, sometimes the people chose their own.  Hence he had no difficulty in assenting to the idea Christian rulers could start the ministry off anew, creating bishops and priests, if they had no alternative... Cranmer affirmed that 'princes and governors' had as much right as bishops to make a priest, or even, as he had to admit on the analogy of the early Church, 'the people also by their election [i.e. choice].

In the above we may even see some seeds that contribute to the articles concerning ordination of ministers and ceremonies in the Church:

XXXIV. Of the Traditions of the Church.  It is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one or utterly alike; for at all times they have been diverse, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's word. Whosoever through his private judgement willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not repugnant to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly that other may fear to do the like, as he that offendeth against common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the conscience of the weak brethren.
    Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.

XXXVI.   Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers.  The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops and ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such consecration and ordering; neither hath it anything that of itself is superstitious or ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrate or ordered according to the rites of that book, since the second year of King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same rites, we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated or ordered.

My main contention in these three posts on Apostolic Succession is that if an Anglican wants to hold a divinely instituted Apostolic Succession as necessary for a true church and for valid sacraments, he will not find its warrant in the 16th century English reformers, nor in the writings of early church fathers such as Jerome... let alone the New Testament.  So where is one to go to find direct support?  The only place I know of is either the medieval Roman church period or to the more recent Anglo-Catholic movement of the 19th century with its revisionist take on the English reformation.

1 comment:

  1. The advocates of a 'Clergy Club' don't really need validation.

    But they will do contortions of some manner to twist a reasoning out of Scripture, or tradition. Anything to hang onto a little bit of the God project.

    The next step is the pointy hat.