By Robin G. Jordan
In 1958 the archbishops and bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting in the Lambeth Conference adopted the following resolution:
Church Unity and the Church Universal - Episcopi Vagantes
The Conference draws attention to the fact that there are "episcopi vagantes" who call themselves either "Old Catholic" or "Orthodox," in combination with other names. It warns its members of the danger of accepting such persons at their own valuation without making further inquiries. The Conference reiterates the principle contained in Resolution 27 of the 1920 Lambeth Conference, that it cannot recognise the Churches of such "episcopi vagantes" as properly constituted Churches, or recognise the orders of their ministers, and recommends that any such ministers desiring to join an Anglican Church, who are in other respects duly qualified, should be ordained "sub conditione" in accordance with the provisions suggested in the Report of the relevant Committee of the 1920 Lambeth Conference.
In choosing to receive Bishop Derek Jones last year, the ACNA College of Bishops chose to ignore Resolution 54 and to recognize his orders even though they fell within the purview of Resolution 54. The explanation that was subsequently offered for recognizing Bishop Jones’ orders was that the line of episcopal succession in which it he had been consecrated, while it included a number of episcopi vagantes, also included Salomão Barbosa Ferraz, a former bishop of the Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira, whom Pope John XXIII fully recognized as a bishop even though he was married and had seven children and had been consecrated by excommunicated Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa.
From a Roman Catholic perspective holy orders that Duarte Costa conferred after he left the Roman Catholic Church are usually concluded to be valid but illicit. Ferraz’s consecration involved a single bishop recognized to be in the historic succession, not the three usually required by Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.
On the basis of the Ferraz case the Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira claims that its apostolic succession is valid, even by Roman Catholic standards. The Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira maintains that the Roman Catholic Church, by accepting Bishop Ferraz in the manner that it did, without any re-consecration, affirmed de jure and de facto the sacramental validity of the Duarte Costa Apostolic Succession of what is commonly known as the "Rebiba Apostolic Succession."
In accordance with the definition of The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Church of episcopi vagantes Ferraz, despite his recognition by the Church of Rome, was an episcopus vagans. His consecration was irregular and he was consecrated by a bishop who had been excommunicated by the Church that consecrated him and was in communion with no recognized see. Duarte-Costa was excommunicated by the Vatican on July 7, 1945.
The Western Church has generally been inclined to admit such irregular consecrations are valid while the Eastern Church does not recognize them. The position of the Anglican Communion is articulated in Resolution 54 and calls for the ordination sub conditione of ministers of the Churches of episcopi vagantes desiring to join an Anglican Church, “who are in other respects duly qualified.”
It would appear from the recent actions of the Church of Nigeria’s House of Bishops that the Nigerian bishops have chosen to follow in the footsteps of the ACNA bishops and recognize Bishop Jones’ orders. They have received him into the Church of Nigeria. The Church of Nigeria has joined The Episcopal Church and the ACNA in disregarding a resolution of the Lambeth Conference. The Episcopal Church chose to pay no heed to the 1998 Lambeth Conference’s resolution on human sexuality. The ACNA and the Church of Nigeria have chosen to ignore the 1958 Lambeth Conference’s resolution on the Churches of episcopi vagantes and the orders of their ministers.
I am not suggesting a moral equivalency between the actions of The Episcopal Church and those of the ACNA and the Church of Nigeria. The Episcopal Church broke with the teaching of the Bible. However, the actions of the Church of Nigeria are not inconsequentual. While the ACNA does not enjoy the formal recognition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of Nigeria is a recognized member of the Communion. Although the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference are not binding on Communion members, they are generally considered “the mind of the Communion” on a particular issue. The Nigerian House of Bishops has chosen to reject the mind of the Communion on this issue.
I must wonder if Katherine Jefferts Schori had withdrawn from the Primates Meeting and the Nigerian Primate had not boycotted it, whether the Nigerian bishops would have received Bishop Jones. Would they have required his consecration sub conditione?
No one is questioning Bishop Jones’ qualifications or even the validity of his consecration. What concerns this writer is the willingness of the ACNA to extend recognition to groups such as convergence churches and independent Catholic churches, which the Anglican Communion does not recognize. These churches have been strongly influenced by the unreformed Catholicism of the Roman Catholic Church. The Protestant and evangelical faith of the reformed Church of England is not a part of their heritage.
The Nigerian Bishops’ recognition of Bishop’ Jones consecration gives the ACNA the greenlight to admit more convergence and independent Catholic congregations and clergy into the ACNA and even to merge with one or more convergence and independent Catholic jurisdictions. The ACNA leadership, in particular Archbishop Robert Duncan, is preoccupied with numbers. The ACNA must give the appearance of being more dynamic and growing Anglican body than the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. This provides an easy way to replace the AMiA congregations and clergy that the ACNA lost.
The ACNA’s Anglican identity is shaky as it is. An influx of convergence and independent Catholic congregations and clergy into the ACNA would further weaken that identity. The ACNA does not exhibit a strong commitment to the historic Anglican formularies, the recognized doctrinal standard for Anglicans. Congregations and clergy in the Anglican Reformed tradition, which have historically sought to maintain and uphold these formularies are a definite minority in the ACNA. With this development the likelihood of the recovery of confessional Anglicanism in North America is more remote than ever. I wonder if the Nigerian bishops weighed this possible consequence in their decision to receive Bishop Jones.
From this writer’s perspective the Africans seem to ineffectual in their dealings not only with liberal North Americans but also conservative ones. Those who look to the Africans to preserve authentic historic Anglicanism may be looking to the wrong people.
First, the Anglican Church of Rwanda adopts a constitution and canons that are the work of a conservative North American, a former-Roman Catholic priest, and which incorporate doctrine, language, norms, and principles from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law, including core dogmas of the Council of Trent. Then, the GAFCON Primates issued their response to the offer of an Apostolic Constitution for Anglicans in which they recognized the Roman Catholic Church as sharing the same commitment to the historic apostolic faith, moral teaching and global mission that they proclaimed in the Jerusalem Statement, prompting the Church Society Council to draw to their attention that their description of the Roman Catholic Church was not compatible with the Thirty-Nine Articles and to plead with them to recognize that authentic historic Anglicanism does not agree with Roman Catholicism on fundamental truths and in particular on the nature of authority and the means of salvation. Now, the Church of Nigeria has signaled that it has no objections to more unreformed Catholic congregations and clergy in the Anglican Church in North America.
These are disturbing developments and they cannot be downplayed. They weaken the credibility of any description of the Africans as Biblically faithful and evangelical.
What we are seeing is an Anglican Church that is split into two camps over a number of issues. Neither camp appears to be qualified to recognize a genuine expression of Anglicanism. Both camps have drifted away from the Protestant and evangelical heritage of the reformed Church of England. This points more than ever to the need for individual Christians as well as congregations and clergy in the Anglican Reformed tradition to network together to safeguard that heritage and transmit it to posterity—not only in North America but around the world.
Historic Anglicanism is grounded in the Bible and the Reformation. It is Protestant and reformed Catholic. It stands for the return to primitive and apostolic Christianity, free from the errors of doctrine, ritual and practice that defaced and overlaid it during the Middle Ages, that were disowned and rejected in the sixteenth century, but which since that time have been permitted to deface and overlay it again. It has a strong affinity with that branch of the Reformation of the Western Church that is designated by the term “Reformed.” It is thoroughly evangelical in that it regards salvation by grace by faith (as opposed to sacraments and good works) as the essence of gospel teaching. This is the Anglican Way. It is the true Anglican Patrimony.