Ordering of Priests

normativism The boundaries of liberty given in normativist  worship have so far been probed (well-summed  by the BCP Preface and Hooker’s Four Precepts).  However, normativism has yet to answer this quesiton, “Besides general principles of  restraint, what elements of worship is  specifically required by God; thus, what has no  liberty?”   I found a ready answer in the 1928 BCP rite for “the Form and Ordering of Priests”:

Bishop. Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same, according to the Commandments of God; so that you may teach the people committed to your Cure and Charge with all diligence to keep and observe the same?
Answer. I will so do, by the help of the Lord.

What God Instituted Be clear. Both Anglicans and Lutherans provide distinction between divinely instituted and man-made worship. Both belong in their own category and are treated differently. Ceremony instituted by God must be performed while those belonging to tradition are conditionally approved. Unlike Presbyterians, Anglicans retained man-made rites that did not diminish the gospel but were good for common peace, order, deference to precedence, and edification of the Church. The very nature of the episcopate compelled both uniformity and continuity in ceremony that other Protestants neglected.

Nonetheless, because certain worship is man-made Article XXXIV says, “It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly alike…Every particular or national church hath authority to ordain, change, abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done edifying.  The Lutherans (whom Anglicans consulted in the course of our Articles) likewise retained a good amount of catholic ritual given such edifies. The line, however, is drawn where rites and custom pretend to merit grace and forgive sin, elevating ‘custom’ to the status of dominical sacraments. While antique and venerable, they do not have such power.  Melanchthon says in the Augsburg Apology:

“We should not add to God’s covenant, for God promises that He will be merciful to us for Christ’s sake…Why do we need a long discussion? No tradition was set up by the Holy Fathers for the purpose of meriting forgiveness of sins, or righteousness. Rather they were instituted for the sake of good order in the Church and for the sake of peace” (Apology, p. 190)

Man cannot change or alter the terms of God’s covenant. The visible marks of covenant principally remit sin. After all what would be the church be without this power? Consequently, the Church is known wherever the forgiveness of sin is administered, “For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments” (AC, Article VII). The Prayer Book tells us the episcopate possesses the Keys which “forgive and retain sin”, and by the laying of hands from Christ, to His episcopate, to their priesthood, these Keys are thereby delegated and used. The 1928 BCP  rite, “Ordering and Form of Priesthood”, summarizes the necessary rites of God (hence, His Keys) :

RECEIVE the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

A: What’s instituted, commanded, required by God, suffering no alteration, are the “retention and forgiveness” of man’s sin. God appointed His Word and Sacrament for this expressed purpose (mission), without which the church is mere political society, no different than, say, the Elks or Moose lodge.

How many Sacraments? It is readily apparent the Presbytery is charged not only with the instruction, peace, and otherwise canonical obligations (discipline) of the Church but particularly that which Christ appointed, Word and Sacrament. But what are the Sacraments? The St. Louis Affirmation says there are seven, and each is “His covenanted means for conveying His grace”. The Affirmation does not detail the “kinds” of grace conveyed (sanctifying or justifying), but a distinction is nonetheless acknowledged, differentiating Baptism and the Holy Eucharist from the other seven by calling such “necessary”. The Thirty-nine Articles also seperates the rank and dignity of Baptism and the Supper from the lesser, particular rites:

“There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God” (Art. XXV)

The Elizabethan “Homily on Common Prayer and the Sacraments” (Art. 35) likewise distinguishes Two from Seven:

“But in a generall acception, the mane of a Sacrament may be attributed to any thing whereby an holy thing is signified. In which understanding of the word, the ancient writers have given this name, not only to the other five, commonly of late yeres taken and used for supplying the number of the seven Sacraments: but also to divers and sundry other ceremonies, as to oyle, washing of feete, and such like, not meaning thereby to repute them as Sacraments, in the same signification that the two forenamed Sacraments are” (Homily on Common Prayer, p. 4)

By “corrupt following” perhaps the Articles implicate traditions that have befallen ‘confused usage’? An interesting study would be how the “Mass” is an “uber-liturgy’, broadened by the inclusion of various offeretory elements other than money, bread, and wine. Depending upon occasion, rites like Matrimony and Orders join the presentation alms and bread at the altar, given for God’s blessing.  Perhaps the “uber-liturgy’ of Mass (one rite ecnompassing a number of others) is the origin of the confusion? If so, it’s a beautiful one, but confused where the location of confection is mistaken– i.e.,  A married couple are not Bread and Wine for ‘eating’ . Perhaps I speculate.

Discussing the mystery and mode of sacraments is truly elusive. The Reformation seperated the Supper and Baptism from other rites according to their unique power to “remit or bind” sin. Can we say marriage ‘remits sin’ like Baptism? How about birthday blessings? Obviously palm leaves, paschal candles, and advent wrethes are man-made, albeit revered rites, and as a consequence cannot forgive sin. There must be a criteria, otherwise we become like the Eastern Orthodox who confuse custom with sacraments rendering even style of liturgy ‘essence’. Melanchthon highlights the problem:

“But if marriage has the name ‘sacrament’ because it has God’s command, other states or offices also, which have God’s command, may be called Sacraments, as, for example, the government. Finally, if among the Sacraments everything should be numbered that has God’s command, and to which promises have been added, why do we not add prayer, which most truly can be called a sacrament? For it has both God’s command and very many promises. If numbered along the Sacraments, although in a more prominent plaace, it would encourage people to pray. Alms could alaso be counted here…But let us leave out these things. For no levelheaded person will labor greatly about the number or the term, if only those things are still kept that have God’s commands and promises” (Apology, p. 185-6)

The problem with numbering sacraments is mistaking historical symbols (like crucifixes) and gestures (like the sign of the cross) that perhaps stir and excite faith with covenanted signs instituted by God to forgive sin. Tradition has an allegorical or memorialist signifcance, perhaps preparing us for the greater benefits of Christ, and thus indirectly assist our salvation, but God’s sacraments convey directly divine righteousness. It is not just a matter of ‘scope’, i.e., the universality or general application of the sacraments, but a specific grace which they grant,  i.e., justifying grace. Ultimately at stake is the uniqueness and mission of the Church, “Can man institute rites (seperate from Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Preaching of the Word) which bind and loose”? If so, then what is wrong with the blood of goats and bulls? Or Rome?

A matter of Adoration?                                                                                           Reformers revealed their medieval-scholastic colors by their systematic division of faith and love. Perhaps they were guilty of over-definition, but how else are abuses like indulgences addressed except through theology? Behind debates over justification and sanctification is the very nature of grace, “Is grace conditioned upon man’s civil righteousness?”  Rome based her economy of merit on pelagian and semi-pelagian concepts. The Reformation attacked Roman soteriology through rather rigid Augustinian categories. In fact, Anglicanism was the most true to Augustinian thought. What Anglican (Tudor) Reformers said about ‘justification’ (how sin is remitted) also pertains to dominical sacraments, i.e., their ex opera operato justifying power, wholly outside man.  From the Elizabethan Homily,

“First, you shall understand, that in our justification by Christ, it is not all one thing, the office of GOD unto man, and the office of man unto GOD. Justification is not the office of man, but of GOD” (Homily on Justification, p. 5)

“That we be justified by faith only, freely and without works, is spoken for to take away clearly all merit of our works, as being unable to deserve our justification at GODS hands, and thereby most plainly to express the weakness of man, and the goodness of GOD, the great infirmity of our selves, and the might and power of GOD, the imperfectness of our own works, and the most abundant grace of our Savior Christ” (ditto, p. 9)

Hall is rather final on the subject, the matter having resonance with Donatism,

“St. Augustine met this difficulty by enunicating the catholic doctrine that the true minister in every sacrament is Jesus Christ, and that it is because of HIs agency that when the external requirements are rightly and seriously performed the promised operation of the Spirit is pledged. It is the Savior’s institution and promise, rather than the earthly minister’s faith and worthiness, that makes the sacrament valid. This teaching has been determinative, ever since, of catholic thought on the subject” (Hall, Vol. IX, p. 5).

Answering the question against NPW, “What does God command?”.  One response might be, “whatever ceremony deserves our adoration”. God commands the cure of souls not by man-made rites (no matter how ancient or edifying) but by the very “hands of God”, which the Homily (above) calls “God’s Office”. Luther says the Gospel (promise of remitted sin) comes by four offices– spoken Word, baptsim, supper, and Absolution (aka. keys). The importance of Justification is to understand there is nothing we add to reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins. We must look outside ourselves for divine righteousness and approval, our eyes fixed upon the peculiar signs God has appointed for His Word to give comfort. Word and Sacrament alone reconcile and ‘prevent’ men from sin and to God. The Ordering of Priests beautifully encapsulates this truth when the Bishop hands the candidate a Bible and/or Chalice whereupon fidelity to “Word and Sacrament” is sworn. Normativism gives no liberty with God’s offices, “The chief point is God’s Word and ordinance or command. For the Sacrament has not been invented nor introduced by any man. Without counsel and deliberation it has been instituted by Christ” (Large Cathechism, Part 5.4), and so this is an answer to Regulativists who believe NPW leaves nothing to obey/duly administer.

I am finally drawing closure in my rants against RPW. NPW differs with Regulativism by insisting some (but not all) worship requires the express command of God. Man has a liberty in our response to grace, but none where sin is forgiven. Puritanical RPW lipsyncs Eastern Orthodoxy (and even Rome) when it raises all worship to the dignity and efficacy of sacrament. This is an abuse and gross error. Down the road I’d like explore the “lesser sacraments”, their correlation to the greater, and their essential relation to good works– i.e., responsive and preparatory to divine grace.

6 responses to “Ordering of Priests

  1. I sent you an e-mail before I read this, which covers most of the points the e-mail raised.

    St. Thomas, who wrote at a time when “sacrament” did not have a precise definition and when the number of the sacraments was not clearly worked out, identifies the 7 and puts them in an hierarchy. I think it was Communion, Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, Penance, and Last Rites. I’m certain of the order of the first 5.

    He bases his hierarchy on purpose and efficacy. Ordination, for example, has as its purpose marking men for the celebration of the Mass, and has as its effect giving them Grace to do that and forgiving their sins. Marriage has as its purpose producing men for Ordination, and so is a lesser sacrament than Ordination. The 2 last sacraments are solely preparatory; they do not set the recipients up for a new, honorable estate, as Ordination and Marriage do, nor do they add Grace, but only forgive sins, if that makes sense. (Of course, it makes sense the way St. Thomas says it, which I can’t look up right now.) Like the Prayer Book, the Affirmation, and the Reformers, St. Thomas puts Communion and Baptism in a “class by themselves” in his analysis.

    St. Thomas may also describe Communion as the “Sacrament of sacraments” because all the other sacraments are ordered towards effecting it or making us prepared to worthily receive it, and because in it Christ is actually received, and we are received into Him, whereas the others only make us more like Him. Also, Communion IS the thing in signifies, whereas all the other sacraments are just signs.

    I know he says all these things. I’m just uncertain as to whether he uses the “Sacrament of sacraments” terminology. This is how Hebrew forms a superlative (Holy of Holies = Holiest, King of kings = kingly-est, wonder of wonders = most wondrous, miracle of miracles = greatest miracle), so I tend to apply it to more ideas than other Christians. If he did, I don’t think he meant by it that all the other sacraments usually or ought to take place in physical and temporal connection to a Mass, though this is generally true, too.

    It seems we ought to quote the Prayer Book definition of Sacrament in this discussion:
    Question. What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?
    Answer. I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.

    It’d be another volume of the Summa, but I think we could go through and find how the 5 lesser sacraments remit sin. This is the express purpose of Confession and Last Rites. I’m not going to review it right now, but it seems the Ordination rite has elements of both the purging of sin and the enabling for good works. Is it not like the fiery coal placed on Isaiah’s lips which not only purified them but inspired them to speak God’s message to Israel?

    Marriage clearly exists to provide an outlet for certain passions especially disordered by Original Sin. I don’t know if this is the same as remitting sin, but if we use the analogy of sin as a monetary debt, Marriage is kind of like a payment plan or an agreement to accept payment in kind. Baptism cancels the debt of Original Sin, but Marriage deals with it (or its effects). Marriage, of course, must be more than this, too, because it was ordained at the time of Man’s innocency.

    I’ve said very little about Confirmation. That’s because I remember very little about what St. Thomas says about Confirmation, except its great importance. I have no excuse, as we covered this in Senior Theology class the same week I was confirmed.


    • Gosh, Rebekah, this is an incredibly interesting subject. I wish I could devote more time and thought. Perhaps I will come back and edit my answer.

      The Articles only recognize two sacraments. This is not merely their ‘general’ nature but also because the two have been ‘ordained by Christ’. Other rites and ceremonies of the church, of course, are mutable according to order and edification. Hooker admits another constraining factor, namely antiquity. Thus, the church has catholic rites; hence we have services for matrimony, unction, ordination, etc.. in the BCP. The Articles also say the five ‘commonly called’ sacraments have been devised partly to corrupt following, partly to state of life.

      It also says these five do not share in the nature of the first two. I take this ‘nature’ in the Lutheran sense (and we ought to trace the geneaology of Art. 25 back to the Ten and Thirteen Articles?) to mean such do not remit sin but are rites devised by men to recollect baptism and the supper. Unction, Confirmation, and Marriage stir faith by pointing to Christ’s true sacraments, but do not, according to Lutherans, remit of sin. If the stirring of faith forgives sin, then there are really infinite sacraments in the church, including icons, crosses, candles, palm leaves, ashes, vestments, stain glass windows– anything which symbolizes Christ. Ironically, this results in a very low view of sacrament. Of course, we can only say these things because the Articles indeed define what constitutes a sacrament. Returning to a more vague definition might fix the problem of the other five rites, but that would not help us apologetically against either Rome or Zurich. Both, in my opinion, remain relevant today; Zurich representing fundamentalism in general, and Rome representing a deified tradition that is neither catholic or scriptural.

      A higher view might say the sacrament is efficacious regardless the disposition of the person. By faith we receive the benefits of Christ, but by disbelief the sacrament condemns. I believe this is what Article 29 and 26 implies (an objectivity –bind/loose– which neither depends upon the minister nor recipient). This returns us to that half of the articles which deal with ‘doctrines of grace’, namely, our justification by God’s action not human merit. As Jewel often says, “robbing the honor which is due to God only” (the very means by which He sovereignly forgives sin). If the five other rites remit sin, sharing in the nature of Christ’s word and sacrament, then shouldn’t salvation come by works? If works, then what need is there for Christ? These are closely related doctrines, one preparing the way for the other, borne even in the organization of the Articles where doctrines of grace precede sacraments.

      However, I think it is true the other rites stir faith and visually instruct us about Christ and His Church, given these rites point to Christ’s sacraments. They do have a relationship, but it is derivative.

      I should say something about Penance and Absolution, however. Absolution was considered a sacrament, in persona christi, by Lutherans. The priest himself was the matter or sign. But absolution is nothing more than the declaration of the Gospel, so it was later folded into the preached Word. I do believe preaching is also a sacrament since Christ speaks through the minister. More on penance later… but for now let’s say penance is a response to the promise of forgiveness (the audible Word). Penance is not sacramental in itself, but it’s sacramental aspect belongs to absolution given after confession. etc.

      Thus, there are two sacraments of the church, baptism and the supper, serving a visual signs, and they are never separated from the preached word wherein we find absolution. If other rites grow around these sacraments, like the eucharistic prayers surrounding the bread and wine (WofI), then these magnify what Christ has already established. At least that’s how I understand it… Preached Word and Two Sacraments… The other rites point to them, stirring piety, preparing us for benefits of both audible and visible Word.


  2. A correction:

    The Psalter, Broadway musicals. What’s the difference? Rather than mentioning “wonder of wonders” and “miracle or miracles,” I should have brought up an extra-Biblical, but more Anglican example: Book of books. The Bible is not just a Book made up of books, but the greatest Book.


  3. I’m confused. Are you explaining the Articles, that historical document appended to the Prayer Book but not a part of it, state, or what you believe?

    Regardless, there is a kind of definition of sacrament by which anything that symbolizes Christ is a sacrament. This simple definition would be “sacred sign” or “sign of something sacred.” A more formal version of the definition would be “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us” without the rest. The Romans call such things “sacramentals.” They include Holy Water and anything blessed, and usually anything meant for religious purposes, such as rosaries and icons. I think the concept carries over to intangibles, like the Sign of the Cross and the sprinkling of Holy Water.


    • Hi Rebekah,

      I am reading the Articles in light of what proceeded them, namely the Ten prior. The 10 Articles were drawn during the strong influence of Wittenburg, and understood by Melanchthon’s Apology that deals with justification by faith and adiaphora. These two early reformation doctrines are very much tied into Anglican sacramentology, and both are key themes in our Articles, explaining what is meant by ‘the nature of the sacraments’ and why only there are ‘two’.

      I would argue the other rites are do not bind/loose but stir faith, preparing us for the benefits of Christ. In this sense, they might be called ‘sacramentals’, albeit elaborate ones. They are not altogether different from the giving of Palms or putting on of Ashes. But the Sacraments are another kind because Christ has ordained these to remit sin by His death. The others are rites established by church for the sake of order and edification. Rites like unction and penance, however, are indeed the same Sacrament but applied privately according to circumstance.

      What seperates reformed from romanist, might be known by the following question, “what is meant by binding/loosening”? Reformed would say only sin is bound/loosened through the Sacraments instituted by Christ and the preached Word. Romans would say more than sin but also the many “sacraments” and rites in the Church, which are countless. In Roman Catholicism, if the theology is played out, the church can declare what forgives sin– for example a pilgrimage, rosary, or a paid indulgence. Fortunately they are not all that arbitrary, but such ‘sacraments’ have grown from a corrupt following and were rather abused by the 16th century. ?

      The RC church, following this understanding of binding/loosening, is no longer bride but is groom too. I think this is a very important notion, explaining why Romanism views tradition equal to scripture. RCism allows the alteration of biblical witness of how sin is forgiven. Anglicans on the other hand do not equate scripture and tradition, and there is a reason for this, hinging upon our understanding of justification vs. works (or sacraments vs. adiaphora).

      The narrowing of a definition is sometimes necessary for apologetics. It happened during the course of hammering out the doctrine of Trinity and Christ’s nature/person. I would not say it’s a superfulous distinction, rites vs. true sacraments. Perhaps our rites are apostolic, even ordained by God, but not to remit sin like the Sacraments. I think that’s the point I’d like to make– how sin is forgiven. 🙂


      • Perhaps a further reference to Anglican thought on justification might be found in both the 1st and 2nd book of Homilies? Either those sermons regarding works, repentance, and/or sacraments.

        or this paper:
        Justification by Faith in the two Homilies 1547 and 1571

        I am still thinking about this, and while I am inclined to stick with Melanchthon and Jewel on how sin is remitted, I was reading the Prayer Book’s Ordinal, and the Ordinal indicates by the laying on hands the gift of ministry or a chrism is given. I don’t mean to displace or reduce apostolic rites like confirmation or ordination to ‘sacramentals’. Rather, it seems they do confer an increase in grace or authority given by Christ. Protestants have treated our sanctification, following our justification by baptism (anglican), as synergistic. Perhaps these latter rites are too.

        From the prayer book’s Offices of Instruction (1928, p. 291 pew size book):

        Q: What special means dos the Church provide to help you do all these things?
        A: The church provides the laying on hands, or confirmation, wherein, after renewing the promises and vows of my baptism, and declaring my loyalty and devotion to Christ as my Master, I receive the strengthening gifts of the Holy Spirit.

        Regarding laying on hands described in our Ordinal for the Consecration of Bishops (p. 558, pew size bcp 1928):

        “Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands…And remember that thou stir up the grace of God, which is given thee by this Imposition of our hands”

        After reading what the prayer book says regarding laying on hands, it seems like it is for the distribution (or declaration of) spiritual gifts within the Church, be it Offices or priesthood of believers (confirmation). The Creed calls the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of Life”. The holy spirit, then, perhaps increases or adds upon our union with Christ which is already gained by the ‘preventing’ death of the Lord as given in the bread of communion and waters of baptism. Perhaps in this way the lesser sacraments derive or stand upon the great ones.?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s