Why does the Church of England have invalid holy orders?

From what I understand, the Catholic Church recognizes the Eastern Orthodox Church as having valid holy orders, carrying on apostolic succesion.

But that the Church of England – though it too broke away from Rome and also claims apostolic succesion – is not recognized by Rome as having authentic succession.

Why is that (in terms of the history of / origin of the Church of England)?




The CofE would say the same about the Roman Catholic Church, and so would the Methodists, Baptists, etc etc. Religious differences, I think that’s what it comes down to. The Orthodox Church is perhaps more of a Sister/Brother whereas the CofE is more like a cousin.

I don’t think there is a single Anglican alive who would say that Roman Catholic orders are invalid. No Anglican Church claims this. For me, personally, this is why it is so intensely painful that our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are required to view our orders as invalid.

The Church studied this issue in the 19th century. Much in response to the New Oxford Movement in England the conversions coming from there. Many felt it was a curtesy gesture, as the results were a foregone conclusion. It is a simple matter of history. During the early part of the reformation in England, the Church of England was decidedly Calvanistic (many CofE members still insist they are Cavinists). As such, they abandoned the sacraments, in particular the rite of Holy Orders was disrupted. Simply put, apostolic succession was broken in the late 16th and early 17th centruies in England.

:blush: Sorry. I have perhaps been watching too much TV.

I thought the Anglicans considered the concept of the Papacy invalid?

No, largely, we hold a view similar to the Orthodox view when it comes to the Papacy. An important Bishop no doubt, a first among equals, but we deny Papal infallibility.

So yes, you do deny the validity of the Pope.

Of course they don’t share the Catholic view on the papacy, but it doesn’t follow from that rejection that Catholic Holy Orders must, from that point of view, be invalid.

Brother Nhylan,

Did you read the links posted by 1ke? I am interested in what you think about the reasons why the Catholic church has declared the Anglican apostolisic succession invalid.

Do you disagree with the assessment, or were you unaware of these reasons?

I don’t think the Catholic church is trying to be hurtful towards the Anglican church, but uphold faithfully what has come from the apostles who walked with Jesus.

It’s actually possible that some Anglican Orders may be valid again, and the validity of Anglican Orders may yet be fully restored.

In 1552, the Church of England began using a rite (the Edwardine Ordinal) which was defective in form (and, likely, in intent). Form and intent are two of of the five requirements for the validity of any Sacrament (the others being valid recipient, matter, and minister).

Prior to this, all Anglican bishops had valid Orders. When these valid bishops began ordaining men using the defective Edwardine form, the ordinations were not valid. 110 years later, the rite was corrected, and seems to be valid according to the understanding of the Catholic Church, but it hasn’t mattered because the Anglican Church had no valid bishops remaining. They may have restored valid form, but they no longer had any valid ministers.

However, that may be changing. The Anglican Church has retained the practice (from the Nicene Council) of having at least three consecrators when ordaining a bishop (though it’s common to have more than three). It’s not unusual in these Ecumenical days for one of the consecrators to be from a communion with valid Orders (such as the Old Catholics). If the current Anglican form and intent are, indeed, valid (which they appear to be, but the Church has never said one way or another) AND there’s at least one valid bishop doing the ordination, **you have a *bona-fide 100% *genuine Anglican bishop - absolutely valid Holy Orders **(we’ll assume he’s a baptized male).

The mathematically brilliant aspect of the Nicene 3-consecrator rule is that the line of succession purifies itself over time. So the Anglicans might get their Orders back.

Here’s how it works according to pure probability…

Suppose (for sake of discussion) there are 100 Anglican bishops, and 10 have valid Orders. Each time a bishop dies or retires, another is ordained, so the total number does not change. If you pick three consecrators at random, there’s a 30% chance at least one of them will be valid. Approx. every three consecrations thus produces one additional valid bishop. So when three ordinations take place, there are now 11 valid bishops - and the probability of selecting a valid consecrator goes up to 33%. Do three more ordinations and you get one more valid bishop - now you have 12, and the chance of selecting a valid bishop goes up to 36% (I’m rounding off - it’s not exactly three ordinations - it’s a bit less by now).

By the time you get 34 valid bishops (a little more than 1/3) then every ordination is statistically 102% likely to include at least one valid bishop. 66 ordinations later, you ought to have all valid bishops.

(again, I’m rounding off - there’s always the chance that one of the deceased/retired bishops was one of the valid ones, so the pool of valid bishops will have some setbacks that aren’t accounted for here, but that just slows us down a bit; we’re still guaranteed a 100% valid college of bishops eventually.)

And, if you have more than three consecrators (a very common practice) then the line purifies itself much more rapidly. If one in ten bishops is valid, but you have ten consecrators, you have a 100% chance of having at least one valid consecrator. EVERY ordination should produce a valid bishop (and the probability of an invalid ordination diminishes very rapidly).

Of course, as long as you have at least three invalid bishops, there’s a possibility of an invalid ordination, but it gets statistically less and less likely. If one out of 20 bishops were invalid, and three consecrators were used, the chance of selecting three invalid bishops is less than two-tenths of one percent. By the time several generations have been ordained, the possibility of an invalid ordination is so small to render it virtually impossible.

Of course, if you always have a guaranteed-valid bishop (such as an Old Catholic) then you always have a valid ordination. If Anglicans did this every time, their Orders would be restored in one generation.

Anglicans may have lost their Orders in 1552, but they might be getting them back…

Aside from the question of Apostolic succession, another key issue is the Anglican understanding of the nature of the Mass. According to Catholic teaching, the role of a priest is to offer a sacrifice, and the Catholic Mass is both a commemoration of the Last Supper/Calvary and the actual sacrifice of Calvary made present. Simply put, from the Catholic viewpoint, if the person at the altar is not offering a sacrifice then he’s not a priest, regardless of whether or not he went through a priestly ordination rite.

In terms of Anglicanism, today there are groups who state that the Mass is a commemoration but officially deny that it is a sacrifice. There are also groups who have come to embrace a more Catholic understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice. For example, consider what is presented in this Wikipedia link under the heading, “Eucharistic Theology.” In light of all this, it is doubtful that Anglicans who do not view the Mass as a sacrifice would ever be considered valid priests (from the standpoint of Catholicism) regardless of Apostolic succession.

As for the other Anglicans, who knows? I guess time will tell.

As a former part of the Anglican Communion, I can accept the fact that some priests were validly, but illicitly ordained. If an Old Catholic Bishop ordained them and if the intent was to have a valid sacrificial Eucharist. Those days are long gone now. With women being ordained as priests and bishops, the intent is no longer valid because the doctrine of the priesthood has changed.

Many Anglicans are now entering the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate as the Anglican Communion, whether it is the CoE or the Episcopal church no longer holds an orthodox Christian belief in Christ. I am not saying that many individuals do not hold orthodox beliefs, however the Anglican Communion has completely reversed its doctrines in the past 20 years and continue to do so.

There are many reasons why Anglicans are entering the Church, as their eyes have been opened to how far the Anglican church has strayed from Christian belief. They now understand why there is the need for Peter the Rock, our Pope to lead the Church without error.

Yours in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary


I am also formerly part of the Anglican Communion. But I must disagree with your assessment.

First of all, the Church of England has never “ordained” a female bishop (though this seems somewhat inevitable). So, at least for now, the Orders of the CoE are not complicated by such activity. The “ordination” of female “priests” is of a lesser concern (they are incapable of transmitting the error of their “ordination” to others).

If an Anglican episcopal ordination includes at least one valid bishop (such as an Old Catholic) who posses valid intent, then the ordination is valid, even if the recipient is a (willing baptized male) heretic (because the requirement of “intent” applies only to the minister, not to the recipient). Wake me up when an Old Catholic bishop participates in the consecration of a female Anglican “bishop” (not that it would matter anyway).

If the intent of the Anglican Church is not valid, then none of its ordinations are valid. But, if every ordination includes at least one valid bishop with valid intent, then every ordination is valid. If only 10% of its ordinations include a valid consecrator then only (about) 1/3 of its ordinations are valid (but the math will win - Anglican Orders WILL become pure if these valid bishops have valid intent).

Non-Anglican Catholic bishops may yet salvage what Anglicans have forsaken.

Brother, this might be true - this lack of intent may invalidate his celebration of Eucharist. But would it invalidate his priesthood??? Is it not possible for a person to be a valid priest and yet not validly exercise his priestly ministry?

A valid Sacrament requires five elements, two of which are valid minister and valid intent. Can a priest be a valid minister, yet not have valid intent (which renders the Sacrament invalid, but does not render his priesthood invalid)? If such a priest repented of (and confessed) his lack of faith, could he not immediately and validly resume his priestly ministry, without any requirement of conditional Ordination?

Hello there. I didn’t read the links largley because I know why the Roman Catholic Church says the orders are invalid. Someone else said it here, form and intent. The Anglican response to both of those is that if the form was insufficient others had been using the same words and if that was true then it wasn’t just Anglicans that had invalid orders. As for intent… What did they think we were trying to do? Ordain a goat?? I’m inclined to say that just as some Roman priests may have invalid orders and not know it a Few Anglicans may also have been invalidly ordained but that the orders have been repaired by the old Catholics if they were even invalid to begin with. No matter the case it’s incredibly irresponsible of the Catholic church to say that all Anglicans have invalid orders, it’s simply not true and can be proven. Simply find a bishop who was ordained by an old catholic bishop and you know for SURE. But that’s only if you believe that at one point they were all invalid. This is largely a reason I could never be a Roman Catholic. I could never hold AC to be true. Hope that clears that up a little for you.

Well to be honest I am not an expect on holy orders so still a bit confused, but it sounds like you have your reasons. Still you should read those articles if you have time, it may offer a different perpective.

Maybe you are not familiar with the term jurisdiction. I do not know if you are or not.

Take a look at the history of the SSPX and see how the Pope dealt with their episcopal ordinations.

Is it a coincidence perhaps that one of the SSPX bishops (and the one who’s giving the Pope and the SSPX the most trouble) is a former Anglican?

I understand your frustration (correct word?) nhylan, but first, allow me to say that Catholics did not think the C of E was trying to ordain a goat.

The problem with Anglican orders is essentially this: the intention of the bishops at the time of the Reformation was corrupt. Strong word, I know, but accurate. The persons doing the ordaining manifestly excluded the essence of the priesthood, viz., the power to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, sacraments being invalid if the form used does not truly signify the effect intended by the Church.

But, and these are strong words too but, again, accurate, even were the orders of the ministers of the Church of England valid, this fact would not help their claim to be members of the Catholic Church, for they were both schismatical and heretical, just as the bishops of the Old Catholic Church are. In other words, they are not in full communion with the Pope.

I hope you will begin to understand that it is totally responsible for the Catholic Church to safeguard the integrity of the Sacraments she has received from our Lord.

Anyway, I personally see bright days ahead for both Catholics and Anglicans and sincerely pray for the day when this mess will part of our past.

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