September 17, 2012


The General Principles of the English Forward in Faith movement regarding the ordination of women (1994) begin thus:

a) During the unprecedented process of “reception” and “discernment” called for by our bishops and inaugurated by their actions in ordaining and licensing women as priests, it is desirable in all circumstances that the greatest possible degree of communion should be maintained and expressed.

b) We seriously doubt that women so ordained are priests in the Church of God; but we accept that we may prove mistaken. It is doubt about the validity of the orders conferred, and not certainty as to their invalidity, which requires us to distance ourselves from them.
These principles express doubt rather than denial. Elsewhere “sacramental assurance” is spoken of, which I take to represent a similar notion. I find this to be a bit odd; I could more easily understand outright denial of the possibility of the ordination of women, or “certainty as to” the “invalidity” of their ordination, than this attitude of “doubt.”

It seems to me that there is also an effective answer to these doubts: and in a form that is supposed to be recognized as a basic element in Anglican thinking: taken together, two of the Articles of Religion (XXIII and XXVI) ought to provide sufficient assurance to end these doubts: the former making it clear that one should receive as lawfully called and sent whoever is called and sent by those with the public authority so to do. The latter affirms that all who are ordered and consecrated according to Form are rightly, orderly and lawfully ordered and consecrated.

The express purpose of these Articles, at the time of their creation, was to remove doubt concerning ordained ministry and ministers, and to provide assurance. They could still serve in this for those willing to allow the authority of the church to speak to them, however “unprecedented” the process by which such orders have been introduced.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
who himself does not harbor any doubts about the appropriateness of welcoming women into all orders of ministry, just to be clear!

Update: An offline correspondent noted the distinction between validity and legality, or liceity. He is of course quite correct that the issue -- including what is raised in part in the Articles of Religion — hinges on liceity (i.e., “lawfully ordered”) rather than validity as such.

One of the things in the discussions that revolved around the pre-approval ordination of women in Philadelphia was the tension between valid and regular (in the sense of “licit”), and some held that the ordinations were “valid but irregular.” The House of Bishops Theology Committee, held that the necessary conditions for ordination did not exist, including certain of the legal requirements concerning the right of the bishops who ordained lawfully to act as they did. 

Let me also add that the meaning of the word respect in the revised clause of the measure likely has a stronger meaning than “hold in regard” and should be understood as meaning “heed and comply with"” as in “she respected his last wishes.”

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