Difficult Question about Anglican Authority!

I have a a tough question about authority relating to the Anglican Church. The Catholic Church declared that the Anglican Church did not have apostolic authority in 1895 in a papal bull from Pope Leo. I am not here to dispute his arguments on why he believed they lost authority or his declaration.

However, I do have a very difficult question. The Catholic Church claims that the Anglican Church lost its apostolic authority after making changes that they say invalidated their authority and broke the chain under King Edward VI. But, several years later, under Queen Mary, when the Catholic Church was briefly brought back to England, the Catholic Church never invalidated ANY priests for invalid Holy Orders. They did invalidate some priests for other issues, such as being married, but never for a lack of Apostolic succession. Their orders were only invalidated years later.

How can the Catholic Church reconcile this?

Note: Citation: Saepius Officio: Answer of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Bull Apostolicae Curae of H. H. Leo XIII


"Apostolicae Curae

His Holiness Pope Leo XIII
On the Nullity of Anglican Orders
September 15, 1896"

It’s an excellent question, going to the two questions that supposedly underlay the Commission, and the bull, to begin with: what had been the historical attitude of the RCC toward Anglican orders, and should this be changed. And it’s an excellent example of what I often say about the story of Apostolicae Curae: long, sad and complicated, full of theology, politics, personalities and history. And this emphasizes the complicated part.

The question is a tangled one. There is evidence of some few " re-ordinations" early in Mary’s reign. But no evidence of what prompted them, that is, no evidence that the Ordinal was the presumed fault. When Mary, in March 1554, issued injunctions to her bishops, for the restoration of good order in the Church, one such injunction suggests that possibly “re-ordinations” of those ordained with the Ordinal might be required. But it is frustratingly unclear.

After the arrival of Pole, the Papal Legate, and Archbishop of Canterbury, late in 1554, things proceeded in more orderly fashion. But not more clearly. Pope Paul IV issued a Bull, Preclara Carissimi, in 1555, which was probably aimed at clarifying matters. It didn’t. A brief (Regimini universalis) was issued a few months later to try to clear up some points on the orders issues. And it wound up declaring that the essential point was not the rite used in the conferring of the orders but the the rite used in the orders of the ordaining bishop. It was both murky and self-contradictory.

And so it remains. I have not the time to dig further into it now; there are details under details, and assertions and interpretations of that most complicated thing, history. I’ve barely touched on it here, but I have many things to do, over the next two weeks. Again, I recommend Hughes, ABSOLUTELY NULL AND UTTERLY VOID, for the best historical account. See especially chaps. 12 (The Marian Restoration) and 13 (A Clerical Bridegroom and an Episcopal Spy), pps.245-283.

For all the murky details and contradictory interpretation of dubious points in the history, one thing is clear. The RCC holds and teaches that Anglican orders are null and void, per Apostolicae Curae, and all RCs should affirm the same.

A long, sad and complicated story.


Thank you as always GKC, I greatly appreciate it. I think it is a very difficult point for Catholics to argue, but I would love to hear someone who maintains their support on the side of the Church on this issue answer the question. GKC is very knowledgeable to be sure, but GKC is an Anglican who does believe Anglican Holy Orders are valid, so I would like to hear from the other side.

I’ll watch.


There were a very small number of English clergy who doubted the sufficiency of their orders under the Edwardine Ordinal who sought re-ordination. In my (Anglican) Diocese, which was in Prayer Book Rebellion country, a Priest called John Grose had been ordained Deacon and Priest by Miles Coverdale in 1552. He became Rector of a village called Creed in 1553 and in 1554 he visited +Bonner in London to receive his orders as Deacon and Priest under the old Pontifical. Grose was not forced or required to submit for re-ordination, he chose to seek re-ordination due to personal doubts about the sufficiency of his orders.

As GKC has already said, their was much confusion in the area and it seems that even Cardinal Pole was unclear. Pole himself had recourse to consult the Pope on at least a couple of occasions for clarification, even then, the matter remained unclear.

As you’ve pointed out, clergy that married during Edward’s reign would have been deprived of their livings under Queen Mary. It does seem however that many clergy ordained under the Edwardine Ordinal remained in their livings and functioned as normal. I’ve read claims from both Catholic and Anglican perspectives but to coin GKC’s phrase, it’s murky and contradictory.

Your first para fleshes out and makes human one of Hughes’ points as to the 12-15 clergy known or thought to have been “re"ordained” in the early portion of Mary’s reign. None were known to have done so directly for issues related to the ordinal, at the insistence of the restored Church.


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