Does the C of E ordain ‘priests’?

51tJTu7PQ3LOver the summer I enjoyed reading Graham Tomlin’s recent book The Widening Circle: priesthood as God’s way of blessing the world. Graham has just moved from being Principal of St Mellitus College in London, which has been seen as the pioneer of the new pattern of ‘contextual’ ordination training, to become Bishop of Kensington. I had just heard Graham speak at a New Wine seminar of which I was host, and the book is marked by the same clear teaching style that Graham presents in person. He offers an interesting mix of theological reflection and reference to primary sources, and the whole book is set out as a kind of thought experiment, in which he advances a tentative thesis. It gives the book a sense of gentle clarity—but is the thesis really persuasive?

His thesis is this: that God’s way of dealing with the world is through an intermediary agent, and that agent somehow ‘participates’ in both parties for whom he or she is acting as intermediary. We often use the language of ‘priesthood’ for such an intermediary, and if this is the case, then ‘ministerial priesthood’ is just one example among many of God’s way dealing with the world. Tomlin sets out the appeal of this: in a Church often divided on this issue, finding language that could be shared by both Protestant and Catholic would be ‘a prize indeed.’

The Introduction sets out the issues around the word ‘priest’, and in particular the paradox that, in some circles, the term represents the apogee of spirituality, whilst for others it represents the worst abuses of the Church as institution. He connects the idea of priesthood with election in the OT, and observes the shape of Jesus’ priesthood in terms of descent and ascent, which the frames the next couple of chapters. Here, as in several places, I was surprised that no mention was made of an obvious biblical text which illustrated this—in this case, Phil 2. I am not sure if this is just the sign of someone focussed on biblical studies reading something written by a systematic theologian.

Chapter 1 takes the first of these movements—the downward—and explores the incarnation largely through the Letter to the Hebrews. Along the way, Tomlin gives us a nice primer in Christology with references to a number of the Fathers, but also advances his thesis:

Christ is priest because he is the Mediator—the one who binds together both humanity and divinity in one. The incarnate Son is not a third party who reconciles humanity and God. Instead, Christ’s mediation between God and humanity is dependent on his sharing the full nature of both.

The logic here reminded me a little of Anselm’s in Cur Deus Homo? though used with a different controlling metaphor. Tomlin then draws on Calvin and Torrance (in a characteristic knitting together of the early church, Reformers, and contemporary theologians) to illustrate the importance of this.

Chapter 2 then moves on to the second movement, of ‘ascent’. I was slightly puzzled as to why the crucifixion belonged here, rather than in ‘descent’ as Paul has it—a slightly inexplicable Johannine moment (since John sees the cross as ‘glory’ and not ‘abandonment’). Tomlin again explores Jesus as priest through Hebrews—though, curiously, the OT priests are in fact not proper priests since they don’t ‘participate’ in God. From Calvin on crucifixion, Tomlin moves to Pannenberg to help us see the significance of the resurrection. (Barth might excite our passions, but it is Pannenberg who clears our minds.) The resurrection establishes and confirms the priesthood of Christ, since it confirms God’s verdict on his life and his claims, and shows him to be one with the Father.

The third chapter takes a historical turn, and traces the way that the early church started to adopt priestly language (hiereus in Greek, sacerdos in Latin)—and the way that the Reformers rather brutally rejected this. I am seriously tempted to say that all ordinands ought to read, learn and inwardly digest the quotations here (pp 57–63).

The move that Luther makes is not so much to apply the idea of priesthood to the laity, but effectively to deny the distinction between the clergy and the laity altogether…

For Calvin, as for Luther, the word ‘priest’ is appropriate, not for a special caste within the Church, but for all Christians…The basic fact is that the New Testament does only speak of two main types of priesthood: the priesthood of Christ, and the priestly character and calling of the Church. There is no mention of the word hiereus in relation to Christian ministers—a whole range of other words are used (presbuteros, diakonos, episkopos, apostolos, etc) but not hiereus. 

Christ remains the only true High Priest. We do not have any priesthood that is outside of his. Any other priesthood held by the church, humanity or Christian ministers is a sharing in Christ’s priesthood, a way in which his priesthood is exercised in the world.

In setting out the issue so clearly, Tomlin sets himself an ambitious goal in seeking to reclaim the term ‘priest’ for ministry in a Reformed context.

He does this by taking a step back, and looking (in chapter 4) at the priesthood of humanity in creation: we were made to mediate God to the created world, to help perfect the world, and to offer it in praise to God. Here we come to another great virtue of this text—Tomlin’s willingness to admit where his case is weak or has critics. Thus he cites Richard Bauckham, who criticises this kind of approach as part of the ‘anthropocentric fantasy that God relates to the rest of creation only via humans.’ More persuasive is chapter 5, where Tomlin focusses on the priestly role of the people of God in the world. Here he uses the ‘mediate, perfect, offer’ paradigm to good effect, and in the section on evangelism I sensed he was at his most comfortable, making this significant observation:

One of the very few places in the New Testament where priestly activity is explicitly carried out by the Church or by Christians is a reference not to the Eucharist, nor even to blessing or absolution, but to evangelism…Evangelism is, perhaps surprisingly, one of the most priestly acts of the Church.

The church that fails to engage with this priestly activity, the church that forgets the centrality of evangelism has forgotten its true calling, to be the means whereby Christ makes his priestly offering to God of people ransomed, healed and forgiven.

If chapter 5 is the strongest, then chapter 6 is the weakest. Here Tomlin tries to argue for a distinct, ‘priestly’ role for clergy, and it is notable that as he does so, he is not able to lean on Scripture or Reformed theologians in the way that he has previously. Indeed, some of what he says here is fighting against what he has said previously, and he has two particular problems.

518DpQBXxOLThe first is in the language of ministry in the NT that he has previously highlighted. As Robert Banks points out (in Paul’s Idea of Community) Paul takes a radically different view of God’s people from both Jewish and pagan religious ideas:

Paul’s dissolution of traditional distinctions: between priest and laity

Within the church, distinctions between priest and layman, mediatorial and common service, cultic ritual and secular activity, do not and cannot exist…

Between officials and ordinary members

Paul rejects the idea of certain members of the community possessing formal rights and powers…

Between holy men and common people

Paul has no place in his view of community for the traditional distinctions between its members along cultic, official or religious lines… (chapter 13)

This is not suggesting that Paul’s thinking about church organisation was undeveloped, and needed filling out in the post-apostolic era—quite the contrary. These things were the hallmark of the work of the Spirit, recreating a new humanity after the pattern of Jesus’s life and ministry—and it is one resulting precisely from the reconfiguration of priesthood by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If we borrow Tom Wright’s paradigm of new covenant and new creation—understanding the church as both the renewal of Israel and the renewal of creation—then the priesthood of the people of God both renews the priesthood of humanity and reforms the priesthood of Israel. Neither of these allows the development of a priestly ‘caste.’

The second thing that Tomlin is fighting against here is the language of the Church of England itself. Although it uses the word ‘priest’ with reference to clergy, it does so in a highly qualified way, and one that doesn’t allow for the common understanding of a priestly caste with a distinctive mediatorial role in line with other religious traditions. It is the ‘ministerial’ priesthood; in parts of the Anglican Communion the term presbyter is preferred. In Communion, the person leading is the ‘president’ and not the celebrant or priest. He or she stands at a table, not an altar—the word occurs nowhere in authorised Church of England liturgy. In the Roman Mass, the people pray ‘May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands’; such language is simply not possible for us in the Church of England. In signing off Common Worship, Synod explicitly rejected any language of ‘offering’, so that the Eucharistic Prayers talk only of the gifts ‘we bring before you’ (Prayers B, E and G). If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the language of ‘offering’ being side-stepped.

All this is because Cranmer took the understanding of ‘priest’ back to its etymological origin—it is a contraction of ‘presbyter’—by pulling the church back to NT understandings of ministry. Communion now focuses not so much on what the president is doing, but on how the people are receiving (see Colin Buchanan, What Did Cranmer Think He Was Doing?). It is striking that those who wish for a more distinct, sacerdotal understanding of ordained ministry must look to other liturgies (the rejected 1928 Prayer Book, or the Roman Missal) for support; the Church of England’s liturgy as it is simply does not give them what they need.

It is worth reflecting on whether we need to recover a ‘priestly’ understanding of ministry. I can quite understand Tomlin’s desire to reform (or restrain?) some of the contemporary language of leadership, as he aims to do in the final chapter. But my reading of contemporary reflections on the church is that a greater need is for both ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ to have a larger vision of the priestly ministry of the whole people of God. In this book, Tomlin offers a good deal of material which supports that task admirably—and some clear, substantial theology which provides much food for thought.

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58 thoughts on “Does the C of E ordain ‘priests’?”

  1. The reality, in tghe Church of england at least, is that those who have felt the call to priesthood, are duly ordained priest. Those who think they are ordained ministers become minster. Simple as that! A priest, by my simple reckoning, is the ordained clergy-person who recognises the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Maybe those who prefer the title ‘ minister’ do not recognise Christ’s Presence in the same way.

    • Thanks for your observation Ron—I think you are right.

      But that leaves us with a problem: The Church of England does not believe in Real Presence, as its liturgy makes clear. It has no altars, and it makes no offering—save that of ‘thanks and praise’ at remembrance of what Christ has done for us.

      What are we then to do?

      • Use Times and Seasons?

        Seriously ..

        It is my reading of the Apostolic Fathers leads me to believe that they understood the Eucharist as Offering, The primitive church is my first point of reference – fully missional, sacramental and charismatic.

        I look forward to reading the book.

        • To your ‘early church’ I play ‘the earliest church.’ There are clearly points where the Fathers move away from the theology of the NT. I think Paul was fully missional, sacramental and charismatic—but with a different understanding of what that meant.

          Why would you prioritise the later over the earlier?

    • I find the Anglican Ordination service helpful in clarifying the Anglican theology of what a priest is (see below).
      In baptism Christians join the ‘royal priesthood’, but some are called to serve and equip the Church, in roles of oversight, leadership, discipleship and service. Ministering in word and sacrament are part of this, but certainly not all. The liturgy clearly uses language of ‘presbyters’, ‘oversight’ and the only ‘offering’ is of the praise of the whole community to God. As you’ve said, Father Smith, the calling aspect is the most significant.

      I found Graham’s book particularly helpful in rediscovering the uniqueness and completeness of the priesthood of Christ, that for me is quite releasing as I train for ordained ministry, as I have identified more with the calling to ‘oversight’ than specifically sacramental ministry. In the language of ‘presiding’ at Communion, I look forward to the privilege of inviting people to the table to share in the family meal, to encounter Christ by His Spirit and remember what He has done for us.

      Text of Introduction to Ordination of Priests, also called Presbyters:
      “God calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood, a holy nation, to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

      The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom.

      To serve this royal priesthood, God has given particular ministries. Priests are ordained to lead God’s people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel. They share with the Bishop in the oversight of the Church, delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being. They are to set the example of the Good Shepherd always before them as the pattern of their calling. With the Bishop and their fellow presbyters, they are to sustain the community of the faithful by the ministry of word and sacrament, that we all may grow into the fullness of Christ and be a living sacrifice acceptable to God.’

      • Thanks, Eve, that is really helpful. Always good to go back to what the C of E actually says!

        I think the language there of the ‘royal priesthood’ of the people of God, and in this context the use of ‘presbyter’ in reference to ordained ministry, is highly significant. I think it supports my comments above as well. I wonder whether it is time to finally let go of the language of ‘priest’ in relation to ordination. It would certainly make things clearer!

      • I ought perhaps to add that when you (and I) use ‘Anglican’ in this discussion, we are referring to the Church of England, rather than the Anglican Communion as a whole.

  2. This is very interesting Ian. Not having read the book it and not being an Anglican I know i must be careful commenting.

    But is your implication that the thesis of the book tries to cohere a language of priestliness that the Church of England does not adhere to with sacerdotal is that Rome does hold in order to smooth relationships? And that it does so by trying to reintroduce some kind of mediatorial understanding of priesthood that the CofE has doctrinally rejected?

    I think that’s how I read your critique. If so, isn’t what is at stake far greater than how priest language may serve eccumenical relationships? Doesn’t it go to the heart of both our christology and our ecclesiology? Any attempt to try to relate well to others that sacrifices Christ’s exclusive mediator-ship and reintroduces mediating clericalism sounds like a disaster in the making – albeit for very kind, considerate and relational reasons

    You will have to excuse an outsider not understanding, but why would such a notion even hold attraction within the CofE, let alone gain traction? I would genuinely like to know the answer

    • The reason is that, arising from both the influence of Archbishop Laud in the seventeenth century, and more significantly the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth, their exists a well-established (though now minority) view that the C of E made a mistake in separating from Rome, and that Roman understandings of Communion and ministry (the two go together) is correct, and that current C of E teaching is mistaken. Ron’s comments above are a good example of this.

      (See and (though the second one is not very good)).

      So the challenge is to decide whether you apply actual C of E teaching, and close off this group, whether you simply turn a blind eye and live and let live, whether you find a way to accommodate (as Tomlin is doing), or whether you actually change the liturgy to incorporate this view.

      Does that help?

      • So your saying it’s an internal accommodation to allow people to remain who don’t agree with the doctrine of the church rather than trying to find language that makes CofE – Rome relationships easier?

        I approve of every inclination to relate well and deal well with disagreement, but what are the perceived boundaries on that in the CofE? This would seem fairly foundational, or is it not perceived that way? If not, why not?

        • Internal or external? Both. Or rather, to accommodate those who think relations with Rome matter.

          This is perceived as foundational by some at all times, and by many at some times. Just now, it is perceived as foundational only by a few—for a range of reasons. There are other challenging issues around, and many feel ‘Let’s work together in the areas we agree, and not press this issue as we don’t see it as essential in practice.’

  3. Hmm. Really helpful summary, from reading your commentary I’m disappointed with where the book appears to end up . . . we could, excitingly, have had a text for re-imagining ministry in the Church of England – but, this doesn’t appear to be it.

    • Yes, we could…But I guess for me it raises slightly obliquely the question of to what extent those already in the structure feel free to critique it. Graham Tomlin might be able to offer his own comments on this. It would, perhaps, be mischievous to ask whether he would still have been appointed a bishop had he suggested that something significant needed to change…!

      • There is the Church of England catch 22. Struggles to listen to the voice of those not ordained, if you are . . . hard to critique without being seen as a total maverick . . . yet, in ministry terms, Catholics seem to have discovered some exciting ways of re-imagining ministry in an age of fewer priests . . . quite a few Diocese have ministry communities, visited occasionally by “priests” rather than reliant on them. The national conversation around re-imagining ministry seems to have the caveat of “this is mostly about the ordained, because they are the set apart ones”, when of course, “ecclesia” all of us, are set apart.

        I completely disagree with Giles Fraser on rural ministry, and liked very much your reflections (non) sense – as you put it. Yet, rurally, the CofE seems to think the norm is 1 priest covering who knows how many churches, becoming nothing more than a dispenser of communion. SO much more could be done with a renewed and envisioned laity, and I kind of thought Graham’s book might help 🙁

      • Ali, yes, I would agree with you on the last point. Martyn Taylor said something similar on Facebook.

        As to your first point: if you are not ordained, you just do not count at all in terms of theological contribution. I would always advise someone who is in the system: whatever you do, get ordained first.

  4. Ian,

    ‘Any other priesthood held by the church, humanity or Christian ministers is a sharing in Christ’s priesthood, a way in which his priesthood is exercised in the world.’

    This statement is fine by itself, but it can often be undergirded by the belief that the Church of England’s current discernment process and priorities for the priestly vocation are part and parcel of that sharing in Christ’s priesthood.

    This might have been true when the C of E held to all of the NT qualifications for public ministry, including:

    Faithfulness in ensuring sound teaching in accordance with apostolic witness (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 1:8; Acts 20:27 – 31)

    It is especially St. Paul’s final exhortation to the Ephesian elders which indicates that sharing in Christ’s priesthood involves genuine commitment and gifting to encourage others to continue in the grace and truth of the gospel, rather than simply moving up through the ranks of lay churchmanship and public-spirited ritual and charitable roles until ordination is proposed as the next natural step.

    St. Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders focuses on what is critical to priestly oversight, which is to set a behavioural example of faithfulness and to guard the flock from deception by combating false teaching.

    St. Peter echoes this protective role of shepherding in his first letter (1 Peter 5:2 – 4)

    If there is a priestly distinction of clergy, it is the sacrificial commitment to publicise and endorse the witness of God, which was affirmed by His signs and wonders accompanying the apostolic testimony; this should be wherever and whenever needed and in the face of all false teaching.

    The times of the early church and Church Fathers wee not characterised by the sort of deference to every possible wind of doctrine which we see today: all for fear of appearing unwelcoming. For a while, shouldn’t we should park our concerns about the role of clergy in Communion and work out how to address this lapse in priestly diligence and vigilance?

    • I guess so. But is ‘priestly’ the right word for this? I wonder whether the fact that people appear to mean quite different things by this term actually hinders the kind of reform that you call for.

      • ‘But is priestly the right word for this?’

        I’d reply with an emphatic ‘yes’. The commitment to protect and pass on faithfully what has been revealed of Jesus through the apostles is a central theme of Christ’s high priestly prayer:

        ‘While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

        I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.’ (John 17:12 – 15)

        While it may be a hindrance that the term ‘priest’ is interpreted differently by different people, the remedy is a fresh commitment of fhe Church, as you say, to take the understanding of ‘priest’ back to its etymological origin, as Cranmer did, ‘pulling the church back to NT understandings of ministry’.

        ‘I have guarded them…I have given them your word…keep them from the evil one…sanctify them in the truth…as you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world’. Sustaining and passing on the apostolic faith ‘once delivered to the saints’ are central to NT priestly ministry, as the previously quoted apostolic exhortations show.

        • David, I know you will agree that words are extremely important and particularly so when communicating truth to the vast majority of people who are not theologians (including myself in that group).

          The word ‘priest’ immediately summons up for most people a picture of vestments, alters, sacrifices, the eastward position, possibly smoke and holding a wafer up high; all of which implies doctrine to which many of us could not subscribe.

          And this is so ingrained (with all its misunderstanding or superstition) that it cannot easily be eradicated in favour of the more nuanced meaning for which you are arguing – especially so since a proportion of clergy, whom I’ve probably unintentionally offended, will continue to promote what I’ve just described with vigour and certainty.

  5. I’ve not read the book but i wonder whether you have presented too narrow a vision of the Reformed position. Surely one can contest the word “priest” and its connotations of sacrifice without having to pull down the edifice of a specific, ordained ministry in the church? Is there not an argument for a specific ministry of priesthood/presbyter at the eucharist as part of that ordained ministry of authorisation for leadership of the church? One can say, “the eucharist makes the church” both as an evangelical and as a catholic, and thus the eucharist becomes the definitive, sacramental moment of Christ’s graced presence among his people without any of the compromises you suggest. The other key issue in this debate, then, is ecclesiology. Can i make a case for sacramental evangelicalism and suggest that the challenge is not to see “priesthood” as a redundant distinction but to authorise more men and women into that role?

    • Thanks Richard—but I am not sure anywhere I pull down the ‘edifice’ (fascinating word) of an ordained ministry in the church. My main point is that, from Scripture first and then from the reformed catholic position, you shouldn’t use the word ‘priest’ to connote that—and I feel Graham gets into knots trying to justify that.

      But I am fascinated that you suggest ‘the eucharist becomes the definitive, sacramental moment of Christ’s graced presence among his people.’ That is not the reformed position, and is certainly not the historic position of the Church of England—and perhaps indicates why we have got into this unfortunate muddle. The BCP is absolutely clear that ministry of is *word* and sacrament, and this is in line with the view of the reformers on what constituted the church.

      Why has preaching the gospel from Scripture become so side-lined in our thinking about church and ministry? Using the language of ‘priesthood’ is, I think, the chief way that this has happened.

  6. Given that all modern revisions of the liturgy are a compromise between what one party (on this issue Catholic) wants and what the other party (on this issue Evangelical) will let them get away with, I’m not sure how much weight you can legitimately put on it. And as I’m sure you well know, just as some evangelicals use versions of eucharistic worship bearing almost no relation to anything you defend here as in some sense the Anglican way, so some Catholics quite happily use “may the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands”. There is therefore a sense, I think, in which this assertion of an Anglican norm is somewhat detached from reality.

    • How much weight can you put on the words of the liturgy? Well, they are, formally, the only thing that actually defines Anglican doctrine, and the point of episcopal obedience and discipline. That looks pretty important to me.

      Some Catholics (I presume you mean anglo-catholics) happily use the words—indeed, because they don’t actually subscribe to Anglican doctrine. I am not detached from reality; I am pointing up a problem with reality as it currently is in the church.

      • I’m sorry to be a little contrarian here, but I think you ignore the ways in which some evangelicals, particularly the more charismatic ones, often entirely ignore the “only thing that actually defines Anglican doctrine” while pointing the finger at the catholics who blend Roman and Anglican liturgy. Both may be wrong, but you direct your criticisms only one way. And it would seem to me that in emphasising the language of presidency rather than priesthood you fail, for example, to give enough weight to such rubrics / notes that “the president must be an episcopally ordained priest”.

        But then again (and I know you will disagree), some of us simply think that the Reformers’ construction of a “priesthood of all believers” as a doctrine to deny a ministerial priesthood is simply wrong, although that’s an argument that needs more length than a blog comment.

        • That all depends on whether, by ‘you’, you are referring to me in general, or me in this particular blog post.

          Since I am reviewing a book here, I am bound to direct my comments at the issues that it raises. Anyone who knows me is well aware that I have plenty of other thoughts about other traditions with which I am involved–and to which I am committed. See my response/review/critique of New Wine, written in the summer.

          The rubric about who may preside is simply referring to an existing category of minister, and it could easily have called them ‘presbytery.’ There is no indication that it is thereby making a theological statement as to what kind of ministry is being exercised here.

          I think one thing Graham’s book does well is explore the tensions in the Reformation view of ministerial priesthood v the priesthood of all believers. But if you really do think that the Reformers were mistaken in arguing against a sacerdotal caste within the Church, then I am not sure why you would want to be an Anglican rather than a Roman Catholic…

          (I am not, in fact, clear that that is what you are saying…)

          • Hi Ian, I think by “you” I meant “you in this post” And the short answer is that I think the Reformers in reacting against a “caste” overreacted against the priestly nature of ordained ministry as enabling and serving the priestly nature of the people of God, and against away the way in which the Eucharist enables our participation in the sacrifice of Christ. That obviously needs a lot of unpacking, and I hope eventually to tease some of that out when I get on to some of the later articles over at my place. So you might not agree with me, but I think we might in the future have an interesting conversation about it.

          • I think we might indeed have an interesting conversation about it!

            But I continue to come back to Banks’ question: why do we need a priestly caste to enable the priestly people of God to fulfil their vocation when St Paul

            a. did not need it
            b. more or less explicitly rejects it?

  7. “The BCP is absolutely clear that ministry of is *word* and sacrament, and this is in line with the view of the reformers on what constituted the church.” – Ian Paul –

    Unlike the Church of England, some of us in the Anglican Communion have gone beyond the BCP in coming to terms with present-day biblical theology. What is sometimes forgotten by the Evangelical, Sola-Scriptura school, is that the New Testament emphasis on the revleation of Jesus, is that he was (and is, in the Eucharist’ ) the definitive ‘Word-made-flesh’ the One who promised that ‘everytime you do this (make Eucharist) you do it to re-member me”. The task of the priest is to preside at this ‘re-membrance’. Of course, if you don’t thing this is your particular gift of the Holy Spirit at ordination, then you might be just ‘a minister’ and not ‘a priest’. “The Word’ did not remain imprisoned in ‘The Book’ but lives among us!

    • If you have ‘gone beyond’ the BCP, then some of us would consider that you have problems as a result.

      As I point out in the post, the point about the Reformers was to take us back to Scripture, and that that should shape our theology. The idea that this involves imprisoning the Word in a book is a poor parody.

  8. hi Ian… In an early comment you state as a given that ‘The Church of England does not believe in Real Presence’. If by that you mean the doctrine of transubstantiation, I give you the point. But wouldn’t you agree that a long line of Anglican theology has coalesced round a view which whilst rejecting transubstantiation, has indeed affirmed that the elements are more than Cranmer thought they were … that in some mysterious sense that we are reluctant to define (pace Rome) they are indeed the body and blood of Christ? So Williams, Ramsey, Gore, The Carolines…

    And to imply that Laud thought the decision to separate from Rome a mistake is seriously awry: i think you’re at risk in your comments of polarising the alternative between the Roman (Tridentine) view on the one hand, and Cranmer’s on the other. There is a via media: the Hooker-Cariolines-Carolines-Moberly-Gore-Ramsey-Williams line on ministry and Eucharist which is not identical with the Roman understanding … Though close enough to it for the members of ARCIC-1 to think they had achieved consensus, before the then Cardinal Ratzinger told them they had not. The Church of England and Anglican Communion more generally – with admittedly a few worried Protestant voices at the edges – endorsed the view of Eucharist and ordination reached in the ARCIC process when it was brought to Synod and then Lambeth 88.

    • Thanks Peter, but there are a few things I would take issue with on this.

      First, the ARCIC process has no authority whatsoever in defining Anglican theology. The late Ian Cundy went so far in the last session as suggesting that Anglicans have no problem with the idea of a Pope in principle, which Colin Buchanan demonstrated was utter hogwash. Reports have no formal status, even when ‘taken note of.’

      Similarily, although the writers you cite might have been influential in C of E practice, they don’t define doctrine; the liturgy does. And the net result is still absolutely zero in terms of Communion being a sacrificial offering to God rather than a remembrance.

      I also think I’d resist the idea that Hooker can be drawn in a line with Ramsay and Gore. On Laud, I don’t suggest he thought departing from Rome was a mistake. I was trying to trace the roots of the Sacramental view which often believes this.

  9. To a non-specialist in this area this debate feels like it could do with terms being more carefully pinned down, to avoid arguing over mere semantics.

    Is your main contention that you want to drop the term priest for ordained ministry? Since, as you say, priest derives from presbyter, presumably it is not the word that you are objecting to but something about the role that the word priest has come to suggest. Which I understand is the mediator role, in combination with the offering (suggesting of sacrifices, on an altar) role.

    You seem to be saying that the CofE officially, although it uses the term priest prolifically for its ordained ministers, carefully avoids language connoting this mediator/offering role for them. Your beef with Graham then is that he is trying to identify priesthood with this mediation role and apply it to ordained ministers. Since you are not convinced by the biblical or theological soundness of this idea of church leaders functioning as mediators you are objecting to his thesis, which you express by objecting to the use of the term priest for clergy.

    In terms of the actual question you pose in the title, the answer is clearly yes, as a matter of fact of terminology the CofE ordains people priest. My question then is why your response to Graham is to want to remove the use of the term priest for clergy (a clearly radical proposal), rather than just objecting to his attempt to restore mediator imagery to it, which would only defend the traditional line of the CofE as a reformed church.

    I suspect the real problem here lies in the way we translate the Bible. The word priest derives from presbyter and presbuteros, but we use it to translate Greek and Latin terms for the mediator role (hiereus), so that our use of it for clergy comes to connote these ideas as well. This is surely a reflection of the evolution of the role in the post-apostolic era, and of our language within that context. Perhaps then we should find other terms to translate hiereus so that the term we use for our clergy is not the same as the term we find used for OT Levitical ministers. The challenge would be to do that and not create confusion when, in English since the Reformation, the term priest is in fact used in both senses. Perhaps a qualifier might do the trick eg priest-mediator. Clunky I know, but there may not be any neat way of trying to overcome centuries of etymological evolution.

    • ‘Is your main contention that you want to drop the term priest for ordained ministry?’ At one level, yes—but for ‘Church of England’ ordained ministry. Note that the term is not used in the Methodist Church, despite the historic links and the vast overlap in contemporary uses of language in worship.

      Formally speaking, the theology of the liturgy of the C of E is closer to that of the Methodist Church than the Roman Catholics, but (because of the Oxford Movement) there are many in practice in the C of E who wouldn’t want it this way.

      I think the word ‘priest’, despite its etymology, *does* have a sacerdotal meaning, hence (as you say) its use in translation for hiereus/sacerdos (we have no other word) and also its use in the RC church. So my plea would be two-fold. First, let’s be clear what the C of E actually says, and not fudge that. And second, why not help that process and use the correct language to reflect the liturgy?

      • That makes sense, but would be pretty drastic for the poor CofE. There does seem no ideal solution.

        I wonder though whether we might indulge in a bit of neologism and borrow the word sacerdote from Latin-based languages and introduce it into English in order to be able better to translate the Bible.

        Jesus is our great High Sacerdote!

  10. So maybe we should recall those well-known words attributed to Elizabeth I?

    Christ was the word that spake it.
    He took the bread and brake it;
    and what his words did make it
    that I believe and take it.

    Or is that just too limiting of God’s love?!

    • Except that his words clearly did not ‘make it’ anything at the last supper, since his body was sitting and holding the bread over which he was speaking. I’d be happy with that.

  11. Thank you for the review Ian, haven’t read the book but look forward to reading it in future.

    You wrote: “To your ‘early church’ I replay ‘the earliest church.’ There are clearly points where the Fathers move away from the theology of the NT….Why would you prioritise the later over the earlier?”

    This statement exposes a number of problems hope you don’t mind me making few observations: First, of course one can sense that you hold firmly to the Reformation principal of Sola Scriptura (as I think you have stated somewhere above). The problem I find is that Scripture does not come alone, Scripture comes with interpretation, I think you would agree with me here. Every reading of Scriptures is an interpretation, hence, perhaps we should stop thinking that everyone who does not agree with the Reformers are simply being unscriptural. All orthodox Christians take Scripture to be the Word of God. Hence it is not the case of choosing the ‘early church’ over ‘the earliest church’, rather it is to read the Scriptures through the lens of the Patristic church, rather than that of Calvin or Zwingli. And I think it is good to remember that the Patristic Church gave us what we call the NT as a set of authoritative books equal in authority to those of the OT. The same church had a firm and establish belief in Threefold ministry, as the bishop representing Christ at the Holy Table, and firm belief in the ‘Real Presence’. The same St. Irenaeus who uses the authority of NT to refute the Gnostics, lists the succession of bishops of Rome, through whom the Apostolic teach has been passed down, and he refers to the bread and wine as the Lord’s body and blood. In short the people who gave us the NT and called it Scripture they did not feel that the notion of priesthood and the nature of Eucharist (and many other things) were at odds with the Apostolic teaching.
    This is only to say, just because the Fathers don’t affirm your interpretation of Scripture, does not automatically make them unscriptural. (The same can be said about Williams and Ramsey Rowan – Williams’ writings on Eucharist or Michael Ramsey’s ‘The Gospel and the Catholic Church’ or ‘The Anglican Spirit’ they use Scripture as the basis for their argument).

    Second, to my understanding, the Anglican reformers and subsequent core theologians of Anglicanism sought to be true to both Scripture and the early Patristic Church. One obvious example is that of the Ordinal, where it states that Threefold ministry is true to Scripture and ‘ancient Authors’. When BCP affirms Threefold ministry, it does not think it contrary to Scripture or the ancient church, and I for my part, I am happy to listen to the Ancient church’s reading of Scripture and its teaching on the threefold ministry. Indeed Common Worship’s Ordination ‘Study addition’ makes a substantial use of St. Ignatius understanding of threefold ministry.
    Third, your version of Anglican theology seems to be very narrow (already noted by others). I am not sure that you can confidently present your version of Anglicanism and its liturgy as the only legitimate reading. Granted it is one reading of it, but by no means the only reading. There are a number of examples of Anglo-Catholics and theologians amongst the Oxford movement who have embraced the BCP and the 39 articles with different understanding than the one you suggests.
    Fourth, I am not sure that I agree with you when you say that the Church of England does not belief in the ‘real presence’, as Williams Crockett points out that to the Anglican Reformers the ‘real presence was presupposed, the reformers were simply concerned to connect the sacrament with the communicants, that grace reaches the faithful rather than staying isolated from them. (Cf. Corckett William R. Holy Communion, in, The Study of Anglicanism). In the words of Hooker the Sacraments are not ‘mere remembrance…of things absent, neither for naked signs and testimonies assuring us of grace received before’. Rather, in the Eucharist ‘we receive him (Christ) and that grace which the Eucharist properly bestows.’ (Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Volume 2, Book V,). A good paper of Sacraments in Anglican theology can be found in Crouse Robert’s ‘The Biblical and Patristic foundation of Anglican Sacramentalism as understood by the English Reformers’
    Again you may disagree with this, but I hope we can agree that your interpretation of the Church of England is not the only interpretation, and as it has already been pointed out Times and Seasons in Common Worship suggests real presence in various ways.
    (It is also worth noting, as you already know, that Luther had a firm belief in ‘real presence’. He was also a Reformer!
    Finally, as an Anglican priest who was once a proud evangelical, I can say (and this is only my experience) that those who have problem with the notion of priesthood are usually Evangelicals or Atheists who do not like the idea of christianity all together. Many come to church for weddings, funeral, spiritual guidance…etc who are not church goers and they expect to see no less than a priest, in fact to present myself otherwise does makes them uncomfortable.

    • Dear Timothy

      Many thanks for your lengthy and fascinating comment. I think I can just respond with some headlines.

      First, I do hold to ‘sola Scriptura’ but I don’t think this means that Scripture can be isolated. Of course it needs to be interpreted—hence my PhD on biblical interpretation—but interpretation is integral to reading anything; it is not a supplement to the thing we are reading, and does not need to be construed as such. So taking into account how others have read (tradition) and how we might make sense of it from our different horizon) reading does not mean ‘adding’ to Scripture.

      Second, you comment ‘All orthodox Christians take Scripture to be the Word of God’. I’m sorry; I don’t think that is true, if by ‘orthodox Christians’ you mean people who might be involved in this conversation. Catholics clearly want to add Tradition as a second, related authority in a way which I would disagree with; we do have different positions on this.

      Third, just because Irenaeus uses Scripture well in one place does not mean he uses it well in another. His belief in Real Presence and monarchical episcopacy (see Smyrnaens) is I think not a development or interpretation but a contradiction of what is set out in the NT. Robert Banks demonstrates this very clearly.

      Fourth, I don’t think people are mistaken in their readings just because they don’t agree with me. I don’t advocate reading Scripture ‘through’ Calvin or Zwingli or Irenaeus. I believe in reading their understandings of Scripture, comparing them with my own, and exercising critical faculties to see which reading is most persuasive. As Tomlin points outs, The Reformers saw *some* things in Scripture which previous generations—at times including the Fathers—had mistaken.

      Fifth, I must reject the term ‘mere remembrance’. As anyone who has a relative with dementia knows to great pain, memory constitutes who we are, and this remembrance of Jesus forms us as the people of God. The only reason people seek for some other metaphysical explanation is that they have not grasped this. Remembrance is enough because remembrance is everything. Brueggemann says something similar, not least because he is influenced by Ricoeur, who I think it right. ‘This is my body’ is a metaphor, but it is not a ‘mere’ metaphor since metaphors are the way we constitute reality. That is why I am with Zwingli rather than Luther–except that I am not sure even he understood the importance of metaphorical language.

      Sixth, in consistently and everywhere adding other liturgical material, Catholics themselves agree with me on what the Church of England currently states it believes. If I was wrong in expounding the current liturgical texts, then they would not need to do this! I agree with you that not all Anglicans agree with me; but I think they do agree with me on what the authorised words say!

  12. The prayer of consecration recites: “HE took bread, etc” not “I take/took & so forth.” Every priest, of whatever tradition, can only offer, or re-present on our behalf, the Sacrifice already made – no other of his/her own.

    (A thought that, along with realising that the first to hold Christ’s body and give it to us was his mother – rather put an end to my scruples on female ministry.)

    It is not repeated for God’s attention, as it is already constantly before him outside time. It’s done for *us*, that we may be reminded and reoffer ourselves in response “a living sacrifice”.

    In faith we hold Christ to be present (otherwise why would Paul consider it dangerous to do unworthily) but Anglicanism mostly doesn’t presume to offer a scientific analysis of how it works – the Articles only reject physical transubstantiation as a required belief.

    And the blood that has been spilled over these disputes, while pagans rot in ignorance of the good news altogether, is a far greater dishonour to the Lord than which side of the altar a presiding celebrant stands. May we find – as the CoE is famous for doing – a way of working together and witnessing Who we believe and serve.

    • Karen, thanks for the comments. I think your comment about Paul must be a reference to ‘discerning the body’ in 1 Cor 11.29. I think most commentators nowadays would agree that the ‘body of Christ’ referred to here by Paul means the people, not the elements. See for example Anthony Thiselton on this.

      • The Lord said, “This is my body” when handing over the broken bread – not “You are my body”, which would hardly make sense when followed by “which is given for you”. It has been said in objection to transubstantiation that His natural body could not be in more than one place at the same time, and surely this must apply with at least as much (or little) force to the disciples as the dinner. The identification of believers as the Body comes elsewhere and in a different train of thought.

        I’m neither a theologian nor a Roman, and I’m not particular about whether the bread is rice paper or Mother’s Pride, but a service without it isn’t the same as one with – even though the collection of humans may be the same. So “the Body” is a bit more complicated than just another name for the congregation.

  13. What a good thread. I wonder if we don’t have the freedom to question the univocality (?!) we ascribe to the ‘early’ or ‘earliest’ church, or to the scriptures.

    1 ‘Royal priesthood’ as envisaged in Exodus 19 may have been a notion in opposition to the rigid system of kings and priests that emerged in Israel/Judah; but equally it is not necessarily incompatible with it. In an oligarchy not all are oligarchs, in a constitutional monarchy not all are constitutional monarchs, and the language neither of Exodus nor of Peter’s letter is sufficiently clear to rule out widely differing interpretations.

    2 Our NT canon gives Paul a foundational status that no one would want to deny him; yet it’s clear that much of what he wrote was a plea to bring Christian communities round to his mind; and we don’t have much evidence as to his success in that. From the start the church took more than one way – even attempts to tidy things up as Petrine or Pauline are far too simple – and we can’t say when – or whether – what Paul wrote about Christian ministry ever became, in its detail, the mainstream orthodoxy or -praxy. The kind of priesthood that would make Colin Buchanan’s mitre-lappets curl has continued in an unbroken line for more millennia than its detractors can bear to allow, and it’s not clear who’s in a position to anathematise it today.

    3 It’s time for a disciplined refraining from using the phrase ‘the Fathers’. We’ve mercifully stopped trying to get away with phrases like ‘the evangelists say’ or ‘as it says in the epistles’; we are aware of the fascinating diversity of that chorus of thinkers and writers who gave us so much wisdom during the first centuries of the church: the umbrella term should honour them but not homogenise them.

    • I wish we do more than simply reciting the Creed every Sunday without going through the trouble of reading the fathers behind it. We nod our heads to Nicaea-Constantinople, to Ephesus and Chalcedon, but hardly take time to read Irenaeus, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Cyril of Alexandra..etc. We are content to read and encyclopaedia article or let them be reduced to a dictionary item, or read about them in classical theology text books which have contributed to the misconception sounding the Fathers. We need to read them for ourselves, there is noting like reading Irenaeus’ faithful and skilful approach to Scripture, or that of Athanasius when refuting Arians. No one after reading Cyril’s letters would deny the fact that the church by eating the blessed bread and drinking the consecrated wine they eat and drink Christ’s body and blood; that Christ giving us himself in the Eucharist is a normative orthodox theology. It is when we read the people behind the creeds we see the unity of thought among the orthodox fathers.
      A recent lecture Fr. John Behr masterfully exposes some of the classical problematic approaches to patristic study and the right way of approaching the Fathers, well with the time.

      • ‘No one after reading Cyril’s letters would deny the fact that the church by eating the blessed bread and drinking the consecrated wine they eat and drink Christ’s body and blood’. But that is only if we take Cyril as our authority for practice.

        If, instead, we take the NT, then we would think no such thing. The two are not easily compatible, and I am unclear as to why i should prefer Cyril to St Paul as my inspiration and guide…

        • Again it is not about preferring Cyril over Paul, no one have suggested that! it is about reading Paul in company of the fathers. it is not like you are reading Paul without any intermediary tools, as I said earlier we are all interpreters, hence it is a danger to think that we have an immediate access to Paul, an access no one have enjoyed in the past. Your interpretation belongs to post reformation, modern, and perhaps even post-modern era, I prefer the one which BCP calls the‘ancient Authors’ – the tradition of the Church. And let us not rush in calling ancient primitive and dated… even in the competitive market of modern day interpretation prominent theologians hold to the patristic principal of Scripture interpretation. A good example is John Behr’s book ‘The Mystery of Christ’ where he masterfully treats the currant problems of modern-day interpretation and theological methods, showing us the our need to pay heed to patristic principles.

  14. I can’t nest this, but just wanted to add a couple of observations in reply to wherever, up above, our conversation reached the no option to reply bit!

    I think it would be interesting to hear what you make of Paul using the analogy of priestly ministry for gathering the Gentiles in as an offering in relation to this discussion.

    And, partly à propos of that metaphor, isn’t it also the case that for most of the authors of the NT, “priest” necessarily also entailed (I generalise slightly) a specific genealogy in the Jewish world, and a political position in the Roman one. It is unclear to me to what extent the word signified “specialist caste” in those worlds.

    I would also argue, I think, that we at least of to take account of the fact that, however else the early church read the books they were slowly collecting into the canon, they didn’t read them as excluding priesthood as appropriate language for Christian ministry, nor offering as appropriate language for the Eucharist. And while I think the text is not straightforward, it is the very primitive text of the Didache that applies Malachi’s “pure sacrifice” to the eucharistic assembly. And of course, it is Paul himself who appears to parallel the Eucharist with sacrifice in 1 Cor 10:18-21.

  15. Three thoughts, if I,may:

    1 If Ex 19.6 – quoted of the Church by St Peter (I Peter 2.9) – envisaging the People of God as a royal priesthood and seen to justify belief in the priesthood of all believers can sit alongside e.g. Ex 28-30 which speaks of the Aaronic priesthood, why is there a reluctance to consider how a similar balance can apply in the NT and so in today’s Church? “Both-and” is not only more eirenic, it’s truer to Scripture and far more exciting today than “either-or”.
    To the obvious assertion that the Aaronic priesthood was replaced by the Melchizidek priesthood in Jesus and so that such priestly ministry is no longer required, remember that John 20.22 links the breathing by Jesus of the Spirit to the command and authority to absolve. We no longer butcher animals, but the apostles (and their successors) were commanded to apply, in the present and down the years, the fruits of Jesus’ one eternal sacrifice.
    That priestly task implies a share in Jesus’ eternal high priesthood and comes even before the ministry of word and sacrament in the ordination of priests. (In this, do recall that it’s the Ordinal attached to the BCP not the latest modern one which is one of the Anglican formularies and it nowhere replaces the word Priest with presbyter!)

    2 You comment (23/10 @ 17.01) that Jesus’ words “made nothing” of the bread and wine which remained bread and wine as he held them. (As an aside, even Aquinas agreed with that: the accidents remain bread and wine, while their substance changes!)
    However, the body which held them was dead a day later and alive at Easter. Cleopas and his friend found that the breaking of the bread quite clearly revealed the risen Lord. Yes, Emmaus was different to St X’s in 2015 because Jesus was physically there in the body that had entered and gone through death, but the same bread says the same things now. It really does proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes; but, more than that, and as Jesus said. it gives life (cf Jn 6.57).
    (As another aside, it would be interesting to explore further (cf Dr Margaret Barker) the relevance of the Shewbread in this: once again, what links OT to NT seems to benefit our understanding of both.)

    3 You also comment (27/10 @ 11.31) “remembrance is enough, because remembrance is everything”. That insight is pastorally sensitive, but it’s true only up to a point as funerals that rely on remembering and not on commending to God always remind us.
    Had Jesus not taken up his life again, the apostles might have formed a dining club to reminisce about those wonderful three years and use the bread of the supper to remember him.
    They didn’t, because he did. Instead of a dining club of old mates, there was a Church: his Body. Instead of boozy reminiscence (Let’s leave out Corinth!) there was the Eucharist. It was more than a remembering; because, as at Emmaus, it was understood – and that before there were written Gospels to record the fact – to be the making real of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    This isn’t unimportant. Scripture tells us that the Lord himself harrowed Hell (I Pet 3.19f) in order to apply the sure benefits of his saving death and resurrection to those who’d gone before. It also tells us in the Emmaus story that he makes himself known in after the resurrection precisely in the Eucharist: the giving thanks over and breaking of the bread.

  16. I wonder if I might be allowed to make some comments for the benefit of those who might be unaware of the spectrum of Anglican views and where Dr Paul’s argument is to be located within them?

    First of all, anyone considering the Church of England’s view on priesthood would do well to consult the authoritative texts, which are the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal (and its Preface), the Articles (chiefly XXXVI) and the Canons (chiefly A4, B12, B29, C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, C7, C8, C15, C24, C26, C27, C28). To these may be added the Common Worship Ordination Services, which indeed do not establish any new doctrine but reflect accurately the historic doctrine of the Church of England in a modern liturgical register.

    In all of these foundational texts it is abundantly clear to me that the answer to the question, “Does the Church of England ordain priests?’, is “Yes”.

    This cannot be argued against by setting up a false distinction between “priest” and “presbyter”, for the two terms are synonymous, as Dr Paul in fact says. The Roman Pontifical ordains, and always has ordained, “presbyters”.

    It is true that the 1560 Latin Book of Common Prayer (which is still authorized) everywhere translates “priest” as “sacerdos” rather than “presbyter”. This was not necessary, but it does supply a clarity of meaning at a time when Puritans were already beginning to put forward the idea – which has no historical basis – that the corrupt Roman Church had substituted the original Christian “presbyters” with something else called “priests”. The Church of England was being clear that presbyters are the same as priests, and that when the Church of England says “priest”, it means “priest”.

    Nor can any change of doctrine be inferred from the fact that the Holy Table is called the Holy Table, for that is what the Eastern rites of the Church catholic call it, too. Nor has any catholic authority ever argued, as far as I know, that the table of the Eucharist should be regarded as an altar in the same sense as the altar in the Jerusalem temple, or in the temples of the Pagans. Nevertheless the Holy Table is where the anamnesis of the Lord’s sacrifice is enacted through the ministry of his Church, and it is not therefore unfitting to refer to it as an altar, so long as it is understood that this is meant analogously (the Wesleys were quite happy to do so, for instance). In the same way the ordained priesthood of the Church needs to be understood analogously, if we are to avoid confusion about the function of Christian priests, but nevertheless it is a perfectly proper term for those who exercise the ministry of word and sacrament that Christ gave to his Church through the Apostles.

    Likewise the modern emphasis on the priest as “president” of the Eucharist should not be made to mean more than it does. This is something that we owe to the 20th Century liturgical movement, in common with Roman Catholics and many other Christians. It does not mean that the priest is not a celebrant, but brings out the truth that the congregation are active participants and not merely inert observers of the rite. But the Canons are clear that the president of the Eucharist must be an episcopally ordained priest. The priest is the only necessary celebrant and therefore is truly a “celebrant” in a different sense from others who participate in the rite.

    I really do not know what basis Dr Paul has for saying that the Church of England does not believe in the Real Presence. The Church of England does not enquire into the private beliefs of its ministers in this point, but the authorized forms of service require them to act as though they do believe in the Real Presence, for example by reverently consuming all the consecrated bread and wine, and by permitting reservation of the Sacrament for the sick.

    When it comes to the intention of the reformed Eucharistic and ordination rites, appeals to what Cranmer thought he was doing are always going to be speculative and inconclusive. The intention that matters is that of the Church of England in adopting and canonizing the reformed rites, and that is made clear in the Preface to the Ordinal. Nevertheless it may be observed that, at the time Cranmer was working, the most definitive contemporary statement of the Roman Catholic Magisterium on the ordination of priests (the Council of Mainz, 1549) held that the essential matter and form was the imposition of hands by the ordaining bishop and the invocation of the Holy Spirit for the power to absolve sins. It was precisely these Catholic essentials that Cranmer retained at the heart of the reformed ordination rite the very next year. And he did, of course, call it “The Forme of Ordering Priestes”.

    Dr Paul may not like the doctrine of the Church of England on the ordained priesthood; that is his privilege. But it is a bit much to argue that the Church of England does not teach what, it seems to me, it clearly and unambiguously does teach.

    • Dear Matthew, thanks very much for your interesting comments—which I think are mistaken on just about every point.

      I do not believe that the Latin prayer book is authorised—it can hardly be in the light of Article XXIV.

      You are making some odd assertions about language, if you think that noting that the C of E uses the word ‘priest’ settles the argument.

      My main point, which I am not sure you have noticed, is that (with all words in all languages) to know what a word ‘means’ you need to look at its semantic range—that is, how it is actually used. This is why you must look at comparative liturgies. If you do so, you will notice that, compared with the Catholic Mass (see here for the previous versions of the Eucharistic Prayers

      . the place of the action is an Altar in RC, but always and everywhere a Table in the C of E
      . the epiclesis calls the Spirit on the elements in the RC, but on the people in the C of E
      . this turns the elements into an ‘offering’ confirmed by priest and people; in the C of E the word ‘offer(ing)’ is deliberately and consistently avoided.
      . in the Mass, a memorial accompanies the offering; in the C of E, the whole act is the memorial—that is what we are making.
      . in the Mass, it is what is received that matters; in the C of E, it is the manner in which it is received that matters. Anglican Eucharistic theology is receptionist through and through.

      All this completely changes what the president does, and this in turn changes what the minister is. In RC, he is a priest making an offering at an altar. In the C of E, he is the elder of a community, inviting the family to gather around the table to share in the memorial. The Wikipedia article on the Prayer Book sums this up rather nicely in term of the thinking behind it:

      It was the final stage of the reformers’ work of removing all elements of sacrificial offering from the Latin Mass; so that it should cease to be seen as a ritual at which the priest, on behalf of the faithful offered Christ’s body and blood to God; and might rather be seen as a ritual whereby Christ shared his body and blood, according to a different sacramental theology, with the faithful.

      Modern Anglican liturgy has gone to great pains to retain this emphasis. So, no, the C of E does not ordain ‘priests’ in the same way the RC does. If they choose to use the same term, they use it with quite distinct meanings.

    • I should add that the C of E does not believe in the reservation of the sacrament. Again from Wikipedia:

      In the Anglican Communion a similar problem has resulted in the General Synod of the Church of England authorising a service of Communion by Extension. Because of the traditional hostility to reservation, apart from the requirement that the Communion continues to be celebrated ‘regularly’ in each parish church, the instruction is that ‘the consecrated bread and wine to be brought to the church from the celebration of Holy Communion in a seemly and dignified manner’ implying that the service will have taken place in another church but on the same day. Moreover, ‘[e]xplicit permission must be obtained from the bishop for the use of this rite. This permission should relate to specific pastoral circumstances, thus emphasizing the exceptional nature of this ministry’.

    • Well, I think we could end up agreeing. I think i have offered a fairly comprehensive refutation of your points. Do tell me where you think my points are in error—or conversely where you will consent to agree.

      For a text to be authorised for use in these particular locations means it is not authorised for general use in the Church, and therefore does not shape Anglican doctrine as currently understood.

      • Ian, I don’t see that you have refuted any of my points at all. And one reason why I feel we are unlikely to agree is, it seems to me, that you are not very interested in finding points of agreement but only of difference. Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but your comparison of Roman and Anglican Eucharistic practice seems to me to reduce both to polarized one-dimensional caricatures, in order to make them look completely different.

        Why does the Eucharist have to be understood as either an offering or a gathering for a memorial? Why the polarization? It is both, as the theology and practice of both churches make clear. Certainly the emphases may differ (as they do both within the Church of England and within the RC Church, as well as between the two churches), but the essentials are the same, as is shown, for example, by the fact that both churches use the Eucharistic Prayer of Hippolytus.

        I have no idea why you say that “the epiclesis calls the Spirit on the elements in the RC, but on the people in the C of E”. Only Prayer D does this, in the rest of the Common Worship prayers the epiclesis is clearly over the elements, “grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit, and according to your holy will, these gifts of bread and wine may be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Granted, the use of “be” rather than “become” allows for a scope of interpretation of what is happening (you can almost hear the committee trying to find a form of words that would satisfy everyone), but it certainly permits a catholic interpretation, and conversely, it seems to me, necessarily excludes a Zwinglian one. The catholic understanding is also reinforced by one of the authorized prayers at the preparation of the table: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: through your goodness we have this bread to set before you, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life”.

        Equally, I don’t understand what you mean when you say “in the Mass, a memorial accompanies the offering; in the C of E, the whole act is the memorial—that is what we are making.” The memorial, the anamnesis, is what we make in the Eucharistic Prayer, “with this bread and this cup we make the memorial of Christ your Son our Lord” (Prayer A).

        The (analogously) sacrificial nature of this memorial is expressed in some of the Eucharistic prayers: “Although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer you any sacrifice, yet we pray that you will accept this the duty and service that we owe” (C); “So, Father, we remember all that Jesus did, in him we plead with confidence his sacrifice made once for all upon the cross. Bringing before you the bread of life and cup of salvation, we proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes in glory” (E); “Father, we plead with confidence his sacrifice made once for all upon the cross” (G).

        The Church of England’s doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice is treated in extenso in Saepius Officio, a very pertinent document as it was the response of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to Rome’s argument in Apostolicae Curae, very similar to yours, that though the Church of England says it has priests it doesn’t because when it says “priests” it really means something else. Saepius is a very thorough and exhaustive refutation of that argument, and I commend it to your reading ( A quotation may be helpful:

        “We make provision with the greatest reverence for the consecration of the holy Eucharist and commit it only to properly ordained Priests and to no other ministers of the Church. Further we truly teach the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice and do not believe it to be a “nude commemoration of the Sacrifice of the Cross,” an opinion which seems to be attributed to us by the quotation made from that Council. But we think it sufficient in the Liturgy which we use in celebrating the holy Eucharist, while lifting up our hearts to the Lord, and when now consecrating the gifts already offered that they may become to us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, to signify the sacrifice which is offered
        at that point of the service in such terms as these. We continue a perpetual memory of the precious death of Christ, who is our Advocate with the Father and the propitiation for our sins, according to His precept, until His coming again. For first we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; then next
        we plead and represent before the Father the sacrifice of the cross, and by it we confidently entreat remission of sins and all other benefits of the Lord’s Passion for all the whole Church; and lastly we offer the sacrifice of ourselves to the Creator of all things which we have already signified by the
        oblations of His creatures. This whole action, in which the people has necessarily to take its part with the Priest, we are accustomed to call the Eucharistic sacrifice.”

        Also I don’t see how you can say that the C of E does not believe in reservation. Long before the authorisation of “communion by extension” (a specific provision for a congregation without a priest) the Sacrament was reserved for the sick, and as a dangerous sickness may occur at any time was necessarily permanently reserved. Reservation is in every diocese governed by regulations issued by the Bishop and aumbries and tabernacles are set up by faculties properly issued.

        As regards the equivalence of priests and presbyters, and the fact that Rome and the Church of England have the same understanding in essentials of their ministry, the practice of the Church of England in receiving ministers of other churches is definitive. For Roman Catholic priests are accepted as validly ordained, while the ministers of non-episcopal protestant churches are not (even if they call themselves presbyters). It is quite clear that the Church of England believes that the Ordinal does the same thing as the Pontifical.

        Finally, the authorization of the 1560 Latin BCP is a minor point, unnecessary to my argument (as I said), but it is the only official Latin translation of the BCP, and as such has a greater authority than quotations from Wikipedia. You can look it up here, if you like:

  17. I have read several authors who talk about Jesus fulfilling the OT roles of (high) priest, prophet, and king. It’s interesting to observe what these roles do.

    The primary role of the priest in Mosaic Law is to represent the people to God when offering sacrifices, and when petitioning divine adjudication in some matters of judgement. This is not to say that the priest does not have a teaching role, but it is not given the same prominence.

    The prophet speaks the word of God to the people. In earlier times, he ends up leading the people (Moses, Samuel). It’s interesting to note that Moses, despite being a Levite, Lawgiver, ruler, and great prophet is not a priest. He occasionally offers sacrifices for himself, but to sacrifice on behalf of the people is given to the high priest Aaron.

    The king rules and defends, and his holiness both represents and governs the nation’s holiness. But the king is answerable to the prophets, who are sent by God to guide or rebuke him.

    These roles are not necessarily absolute. David is king, but also prophesies. Earlier prophets are also rulers (though more in the role of judges than kings).

    The OT looks one chosen by God who will fulfil all three roles, in a way that exceeds Moses and Elijah, Aaron and Melchizedek, and David.

    What about the followers? Priests assist the high priest, but like him do not rule. We occasionally see them prophesy, and by the time of the New Testament they carry authority on all matters spiritual. In addition to the great prophets there are many lesser prophets. Some of these are also recorded as books of Scripture, while others appear only in the narratives. When Moses needs more assistants, he does not appoint priests, but rather men from each tribe to rule and judge.

    Like the high priests, lesser priests also represent the people to God in offering sacrifice, and lesser prophets represent God in speaking his word to the people. I also note that at the Passover festival it is not the priests who kill the lamb, but the head of each household. Unlike other sacrifices, the Passover is not associated with priestly activity.

    What happens when we get to the New Testament?

    Jesus says of himself or his followers little of priesthood. The references to priests in the gospels and Acts refer to the extant Jewish leaders and priesthood. In contrast, the book of Hebrews alone explicitly ascribes priesthood to Jesus.

    Meanwhile, Romans 15, 1 Peter 2 and Revelation also talk about a priesthood, but this refers to the people of God, applying the promises give to Israel to be a holy priesthood and royal nation. The only mention of assigning the role of priest to a specific person is Paul’s comment in Romans 15 that he has been given the priestly duty of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles. Even this is a prophetic rather than sacrificial role.

    As for sacrifices and offerings, most NT references are to pagan offerings or to Jesus himself in the past tense. Occasionally people make sacrifices or offerings, but the only allusions to doing this via a priest are when Paul returns to Jerusalem in Acts 21-24. Gifts of charity and holy behaviour are in places talked of as offerings, but these are offered directly to God, and the context suggests indirection rather than a specific act of good works offered as for that particular purpose.

    Prophets are mentioned throughout the New Testament, sometimes in passing, sometimes as a gift or role. In fact, teaching and instructing God’s people of and in the word are one core criteria for appointing leaders in churches. But notice that these leaders are not offered to offer sacrifices or to represent the people to God. They are not even appointed as traditional “prophets” who represent God to the people. The clearest analogy comes in the judges appointed by Moses over the people of Israel, or maybe fathers over households – they are to teach, discipline, judge and guard.

    To the Christian, there is only one King, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. While the Christian church is instructed to obey worldly kings under whose rule they find themselves, there is no analogy in the church to appointing lesser kings. The most kingly role is that of ambassador, a way of describing evangelists who take the message of the King to the world.

    As for the passover, there are a few passages that suggest that this has been appropriated in some form by the New Testament church as a practice or model for their gatherings. But again, any mention of a priest or appointment of a specific leader is absent. Representing the people to God is never mentioned as a criteria or role in any of the passages about appointing leaders. Rather, overseers and elders are to be shepherds who lead, guard and build up the flock. As in the OT, so also in the NT, there is no particular priestly representative role at the passover.

    Similarly, the act of baptising converts seems to be primarily given into the hands of evangelists. Like presiding at passover, it is not explicitly given as a role for overseers and elders.

    The only role in the New Testament that seems to come with a distinctive ordination is that of Apostle. The Apostles takes on the authority of the Old Testament greater prophets, declaring with authority the truths of God to his people. They teach, shepherd and serve. They pray for the people, but there is no suggestion that they represent the Christian church to God.

    Further, Apostles are not key to sacramental roles. On multiple occasions, Paul seems quite happy for his assistants or others to baptise converts, and he actively desires that his imprimatur not be associated with it. One is baptised into Christ; the baptiser is insignificant.

    The New Testament church is encouraged to appoint leaders, but the OT analogy seems to be towards judges, not priests. The role is focused towards guardianship, not sacrament. To see the role of the Christian leader as at heart sacramental and reserve the sacraments to the leadership caste (whether you call them “priests” or “presbyters”) appears to me to get things almost exactly backwards from the way the New Testament handles things.


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