by Michael Davies

------------------------------ Chapter II

The Protestant Position

The basis of Protestant teaching lies not in affirming the common priesthood of all the faithful but in denying that there is a difference in essence between this common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood conferred by the Sacrament of Order. For a Protestant, ordination is simply a public ceremony in which an individual Christian is appointed to perform a particular function within the Church. There is no question of the ordained man (or woman) receiving new powers which he did not possess before. He is simply given the authority to exercise publicly an office for which he was already qualified in virtue of the common priesthood of all believers. Martin Luther has explained the Protestant position with admirable clarity:

All of us alike are priests, and we all have the same authority in regard to the word and the sacraments, although no one has the right to administer them without the consent of the members of his church, or by the call of the majority (because when something is common to all, no single person is empowered to arrogate it to himself but should await the call of the Church). 1
Nor is it considered necessary for appointment to the ministry to be made by a bishop or even by an ordained man. Cranmer taught explicitly that "if it so fortuned that all the bishops and priests of a region were dead" then "the king of that region should make bishops and priests." 2 Over four hundred years later a Congregational minister insisted that ''as a matter of propriety and order, the pastor always presides at the Lord's Supper; but there is nothing in the New Testament to prevent a church from celebrating the Sacrament in the absence of its pastor." 3

There is now considerable debate within the Anglican Communion as to whether laymen (and women) should be allowed to preside at Holy Communion. Prebendary Peter Johnson, the president of the Islington Conference (an association of Evangelical Anglicans), made the following request in his presidential address in February 1975: "I want to ask . . . that we give very serious consideration to the question of authorizing laymen to celebrate the Holy Communion." 4 In February 1976 he followed this up by saying: "I have been asked to elaborate on the subject, and I gladly do so. There is no indication in the New Testament as to who should be the celebrant at the Eucharist . . . I would wish to see a lay person, recommended by the incumbent (or Rural Dean) and also recommended by the P.C.C. as being acceptable to the congregation, duly authorized by the bishop to administer the Holy Communion (i.e. to celebrate the Eucharist) in the absence of the clergyman, and only in his home church." 5
In an essay opposing the appointment of "lay-presidents", an Anglican theologian, Douglas Davies, lays stress on the fact that his opposition is in the interests of good order, and continues:

To say this is not to adopt the Catholic notion of priestly character, the doctrine that in his ordination the priest receives specific power and authority from the ordaining bishop standing in a proper episcopal succession, for the proper celebration of the Mass . . . To permit lay celebration is, then, to allow disorder to enter the church community, to allow one not fully subject to the life of minister to engage in the central activity of the gospel. Of course every believer has the right to do these things if so called by the church and the Spirit, the one publicly, the other privately. 6

There is nothing novel in these views, which long predated the
English Reformation and are found in the heresies of the Lollard sect. One of the articles for which John Browne and other heretics in Kent were condemned in 1511 was that "no power is given of God to priests, of ministering Sacraments, saying Mass, or other private service more than to laymen." 7

C In his magisterial work, The Question of Anglican Ordinations, Canon E. E. Estcourt has probably come as close as is possible to presenting a consensus of Protestant teaching on the priesthood. He traces a common doctrine through Wycliffe and Huss to Luther, Melanchthon and others who adhered to the Confession of Augsburg. Canon Estcourt summarizes this consensus as follows:

That all the faithful are priests, and can offer spiritual sacrifices to God, and that there is no other priesthood or sacrifice instituted by Christ in the Church; and that the office of Ministers in the Church is to preach and dispense sacraments, not to offer sacrifice.

That bishops and presbyters are one and the same. That it is a matter of propriety, though not of necessity, that certain persons should be appointed to teach the Word of God, and administer the sacraments; but that, though not ordinarily lawful, there is nothing to prevent anyone of the faithful from discharging those functions in case of necessity.

That there are two kinds of vocation to the ministry-----one internal and immediately from God, such as that of Apostles and Prophets; the other external by means of men placed in authority, as magistrates and communities of people. One or other ought to be had by one who is to teach in the Church. And as a matter of regulation, no one is to be suffered to preach without being called or ordained. That the calling of ministers should come from the people, or be made by princes or magistrates in the name of the people. And that this calling or appointment is sufficient without ordination or consecration.

That it is proper, though not of necessity, that one of the pastors should be elected as Superintendent, and that the ministers, when called and elected by the people or magistrates or patrons, should be presented to this Superintendent for trial and examination, and if approved, should be admitted to the ministry by prayer and imposition of hands.

That in such ordination, the charge given to those admitted to the ministry, ought not to be to sacrifice for the living and dead, but to teach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.

That ordination is not a sacrament, nor is any sacramental grace conferred in it, but is merely the public approval of persons as truly called, and possessed of the proper qualifications for the ministry, and admitting them to the lawful exercise of their functions. 8

Canon Estcourt also shows that Bucer and the Strasbourg school of divines, and Zwingli and his followers, did not differ from this standpoint in any important respect. He also points out that the principal theses of continental Protestantism were accepted by the English Reformers, whose doctrines were a mixture of Lutheranism and Zwinglianism learnt in their travels abroad together with elements of Wycliffe's teaching which had descended to them at home. 9 The extent to which the English Reformers accepted the heresies of their Continental counterparts is fully documented in Cranmer's Godly Order. I will not repeat it here beyond citing Cranmer's explicit statement, that the difference between priest and layman is not that the priest alone has the power to offer sacrifice "and distribute and apply it as him liketh. Christ made no such difference, but the difference that is between the priest and the layman in this matter is only in the ministration; that the priest as a common minister of the Church, doth minister and distribute the Lord's Supper unto other, and other receive it at his hands." 10

Precisely the same point was made by a contemporary Anglican bishop in the 1976 General Synod debate on the theology of ordination. The Bishop of Guildford said:

In discussing our proposals (the Guildford ones) with people, we found that the one question which came up time and time again was, "What difference does ordination make to a person?" If we believe in the ministry of the whole Church shared by the whole people of God, if lay people are authorized to do all kinds of functions in the ministry of the Church-----such as preaching, pastoral care, leadership of worship and so on-----what difference does it make for a person to be ordained? We tried to answer that by . . . "In ordination a person is given authority to act on behalf of the whole Church". 11

An important study entitled Lay Presidency at the Eucharist? was published in 1977. It is a booklet which every Catholic could study with profit as it expresses the viewpoint of a body of Anglican opinion which is growing in strength.

The Reverend Trevor Lloyd contributed an introduction favouring the appointment of "lay-presidents" for the Eucharist in which he makes the following points:

In what does presidency consist? If you have a doctrine of consecration which implies a "moment" of consecration, whether by words or by manual acts, then you need someone to do and to say those things with sufficient authority, given him by the Church to do so. If, however (and many would say we had now moved into this position) there is no "moment" of consecration and it is the whole action that gives significance to the bread and wine, it could be argued that there is no longer any definitely "presidential" act. If there is, what is it? It surely cannot be the "compering" function many presidents at parish Eucharists seem to have. And it is difficult to see it simply as the recital of one prayer . . . it would seem far less damaging to license a number of leading lay people as Eucharistic presidents, recognising the extreme diversity of gifts and ministries in the Church of England (as in the Church in the New Testament), than to insist on "ordination" for such people. 12

There is also ample testimony available to prove that contemporary Lutherans have not departed from any of their founder's fundamental axioms. In 1958 the United Evangelical Church of Germany published an officially approved report entitled A Declaration concerning the Apostolic Succession. 13 Among the points made in the report is that apostolic succession in the Catholic sense can be accepted as a sign of "the real apostolic succession" if understood as "appropriate but not objectively necessary". It will not accept this system of episcopal succession as the exclusive means for transmitting the full authority of office.

. . . the mission to a pastoral office cannot be established in a uniform way of transmission and succession from person to person, a real mission and authorization thereto can be effected by the Holy Spirit through extraordinary means. Restriction of the transmission of authority to office holders in the line of historical succession is contradictory to the sovereign freedom of the Holy Spirit in the Church and the frailty of the earthly existence of the Church. Moreover, it accentuates a separation of clergy and laity that is not in keeping with the reciprocity of the services between the spiritual authority of the special office and that given to all believers.

The declaration states specifically that:

Indeed, the maintenance of the Church in the succession of the apostolic faith can also be preserved by special acts of God, who in exceptional circumstances awakens true shepherds outside the institutional succession of offices in the Church. They carry on the pure apostolic preaching.

Because episcopal succession in the Catholic sense is not accepted as the exclusive means of transmitting the apostolic succession, denominations which do not practise it would not be required to adopt it in the event of reunion.

We do not regard as necessary . . . the further extension of such an episcopal succession to churches which do not already have it. Indeed such a policy could even be dangerous because it might give rise to the misunderstanding that ordination in churches without episcopal succession is not fully valid.

All this is commendably frank and is particularly relevant to the Agreed Statement, Ministry and Ordination, published in 1973 by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. This Agreement (The Canterbury Statement) is totally compatible with the views of the Lutheran theologians which have just been cited, and yet it was signed by two Catholic bishops. The Canterbury Statement is examined in detail in Chapter VI.

In 1563 the Twenty-third Session of the Council of Trent condemned a series of errors current among the Protestant Reformers on the subject of Holy Orders. These condemnations are infallible and irreformable-----as are all anathemas of a General Council ratified by the reigning Pontiff. They are just as applicable today to the same errors still being propagated by the spiritual descendants of the heresiarchs who first devised them. Sadly, it is clear that a good number of those now claiming to be Catholics (and even some bishops) must be numbered among these spiritual descendants of the Protestant Reformers.

The canons anathematizing the Protestant errors which were promulgated by the Council of Trent need to be studied carefully and kept in mind throughout the reading of this book.

The Canons of the Council of Trent on the Sacrament of Order

CANON 1. If anyone saith that there is not in the New Testament a visible and external priesthood; or that there is not any power of consecrating and offering the true Body and Blood of the Lord and of forgiving and retaining sins; but only an office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel; or that those who do not preach are not priests at all; let him be anathema (D. 961).

CANON II. If anyone saith that, besides the priesthood, there are not in the Catholic Church other orders, both greater and minor, by which, as by certain steps, advance is made unto the priesthood; let him be anathema (D.962).

CANON III. If anyone saith that Order, or sacred ordination, is not truly and properly a Sacrament instituted by Christ the Lord; or that it is a kind of human figment devised by men unskilled in ecclesiastical matters; or that it is only a kind of rite for choosing ministers of the word of God and of the Sacraments; let him be anathema (D. 963).

CANON IV. If anyone saith that, by sacred ordination, the Holy Ghost is not given; and that vainly therefore do the bishops say: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost;" or that a character is not imprinted by that ordination; or that he who has once been a priest can again become a layman; let him be anathema (D. 964).

CANON V. If anyone saith that the sacred unction which the Church uses in holy ordination is not only not required, but is to be despised and is pernicious, as likewise are the other ceremonies of Order; let him be anathema (D. 965).

CANON VI. If anyone saith that in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy by Divine ordination instituted, consisting of bishops, priests and ministers; let him be anathema (D. 966).

CANON VII. If anyone saith that bishops are not superior to priests; or that they have not the power of confirming and ordaining; or that the power which they possess is common to them and to priests; or that Orders, conferred by them, without the consent or vocation of the people, or of the secular power, are invalid; or that those who have neither been rightly ordained, nor sent, by ecclesiastical and canonical power, but come from elsewhere, are lawful ministers of the word and of the Sacraments; let him be anathema (D.967).

CANON VIII. If anyone saith that the bishops who are assumed by the authority of the Roman pontiff are not legitimate and true bishops, but are a human figment: let him be anathema (D. 968).

With regard to Canon VII, some amplification is necessary. This canon certainly does not teach that a priest cannot be given the authority to confirm. It is also possible that the Pope has the authority to empower a priest to act as an extraordinary minister of the Sacrament of Order. These points are discussed in Appendix V.

1. Pagan Servitude of the Church, cited in LPE, p.22.
2. Questions and Answers concerning the Sacraments (1540) in Miscellaneous Writings (Parker Society, 1846), p. 117.
3. R. W. Dale, A Manual of Congregational Principles (1889). Cited in LPE, p. 9.
4. LPE, p. 19.
5. Ibid.
6. LPE, p. 24.
7. J. Foxe, Acts and Monuments, vol. V, p. 648.
8. QAO, pp. 15/16.
9. QAO, pp. 16-18.
10. The Works of Thomas Cranmer (Parker Society), vol. I, p. 350. A much longer extract is included in CGO, pp. 39/40.
11. LPE, p. 10.
12. LPE, p. 8 & p. 10.
13. Erklä
rung zur Apostolischen Sukzession, in Infonnationsdienst der Vereinigten Evangelisch-Lutherischen KircheDeutschlands (1958).


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