Historical episcopate

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The historic or historical episcopate comprises all episcopates, that is, it is the collective body of all the bishops of a church who are in valid apostolic succession. This succession is transmitted from each bishop to their successors by the rite of Holy Orders. It is sometimes subject of episcopal genealogy.

Line of succession[edit]

In the churches that have well-documented ties to the history of Christianity as a whole, it is held that only a person in apostolic succession, a line of succession of bishops dating back to the Apostles, can be a valid bishop; can validly ordain priests, deacons and bishops; and can validly celebrate the sacraments of the church.[1] These churches are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Eastern Rite Catholic Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Church of Sweden, the Church of Denmark (Lutheran), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the Old Catholic Church, the Moravian Church, the Independent Catholic Churches, the Anglican Communion, and the Assyrian Church of the East.

Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lay claim to the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands by Lutheran bishops in the historic episcopate, with bishops from the Moravian Church and Episcopal Church being present too as the full communion agreement came into fruition at that time.[2][3] Some theologians, such as R.J. Cooke, have argued that the Methodist Church is also within the historic episcopate, being "in direct succession to the apostles through the bishops and patriarchs of the Eastern Church."[4][clarification needed] An Anglican-Methodist Covenant stated that

Anglicans and Methodists are aware of the substantial ecumenical consensus that recognises that ministry within the historic episcopate should be a feature of united churches (as it already is of several in South Asia with whom Methodists and Anglicans are in communion).[5]

The Roman Catholic Church holds that a bishop's consecration is valid if the sacrament of Holy Orders is validly administered with the intention of doing what the Roman Catholic Church does by ordination and according to a valid sacramental form, and if the consecrating bishop's orders are valid, regardless of whether the rite takes place within or outside the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, Roman Catholics recognize the validity of the episcopacy of Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East and Old Catholic bishops, but argue the validity regarding Lutheran bishops, Anglican bishops, Moravian bishops and Independent Catholic bishops (see Episcopi vagantes).[citation needed]

The Eastern Orthodox Church's view has been summarised, "While accepting the canonical possibility of recognising the existence (υποστατόν) of sacraments performed outside herself, (the Eastern Orthodox Church) questions their validity (έγκυρον) and certainly rejects their efficacy (ενεργόν)"; and it sees "the canonical recognition (αναγνώρισις) of the validity of sacraments performed outside the Orthodox Church (as referring) to the validity of the sacraments only of those who join the Orthodox Church (individually or as a body)."[6] This applies to the validity and efficacy of the ordination of bishops and the other sacraments, not only of the Independent Catholic Churches, but also of all other Christian Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Assyrian Church of the East.

In 1922 the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople recognised Anglican orders as valid, holding that they carry "the same validity as the Roman, Old Catholic and Armenian Churches possess".[7][8] In the encyclical "From the Oecumenical Patriarch to the Presidents of the Particular Eastern Orthodox Churches", Meletius IV of Constantinople, the Oecumenical Patriarch, wrote: "That the Orthodox theologians who have scientifically examined the question have almost unanimously come to the same conclusions and have declared themselves as accepting the validity of Anglican Orders."[9] Following this declaration, in 1923, the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church of Cyprus agreed by "provisionally acceding that Anglican priests should not be re-ordained if they became Orthodox";[7][8] in 1936, the Romanian Orthodox Church "endorsed Anglican Orders".[8][10][11] Historically, some Eastern Orthodox bishops have assisted in the consecration of Anglican bishops; for example, in 1870, the Most Reverend Alexander Lycurgus, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Syra and Tinos, was one of the bishops who consecrated Henry MacKenzie as the Suffragan Bishop of Nottingham.[12]

Because of changes in the Ordinal (the rites of Holy Orders) under King Edward VI, the Roman Catholic Church does not fully recognize all Anglican Holy Orders as valid, but the latter are recognized (and participated in) by Old Catholics, whose Holy Orders are considered valid by Rome.

Anglican views[edit]

In the sixteenth century a solid body of Anglican opinion emerged which saw the theological importance of the historic episcopate[a] but refused to 'unchurch' those churches which did not retain it.[13] The preface to the Ordinal limits itself to stating historical reasons why episcopal orders are to 'be continued and reverently used in the Church of England'.[14] Before 1662 it was assumed that the foreign Reformed (Presbyterian) Churches were genuine ones with an authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament. The 1662 Act of Uniformity formally excluded from pastoral office in England any who lacked episcopal ordination but this was a reaction against the abolition of episcopacy in the Commonwealth period.[15]

As the divergences between the theory of 'the godly prince'[clarification needed] and the practices of monarchs like James II, William III and the early Georges became more obvious, Pearson[b] and Beveridge[c] saw the "Apostolical Office" of the bishop as a guarantee of the Church's identity and this formed the background to the vital emphasis placed on it by Newman and the other Tractarians,[16] through whom it passed into Anglo-Catholic thought.

The modern debate divides three ways: between those who see the "historic episcopate" to be constitutive of the Church (of the esse); those who hold it is a question of its "well-being"(bene esse); and those who consider that it is necessary for the Church to be fully itself (plene esse).[17] The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral includes the "historic episcopate" as "essential to the visible unity of the church", but allows for its being adapted locally in its working to the varying needs of those who God calls into the unity of the Church.[18] However, this has not meant a general commitment to the idea that in its absence there is no Church.[17]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ The phrase "historic episcopate" is far more common in Anglican writings than "historical episcopate"
  2. ^ Bishop of Chester (1674-83) and "probably the most erudite and profound divine of a learned and theological age."(Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church)
  3. ^ Bishop of St. Asaph, Wales (1704-08), author of an Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles(Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church)


  1. ^ Alan Richardson; John Bowden John (1 January 1983). The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0664227481. Retrieved 11 November 2012. The churches of Sweden and Finland retained bishops and the conviction of being continuity with the apostolic succession, while in Denmark the title bishop was retained without the doctrine of apostolic succession.
  2. ^ Veliko, Lydia; Gros, Jeffrey (2005). Growing Consensus II: Church Dialogues in the United States, 1992-2004. USCCB Publishing. ISBN 978-1-57455-557-8. In order to receive the historic episcopate, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pledges that, following the adoption of this Concordat and in keeping with the collegiality and continuity of ordained ministry attested as early as canon 4 of the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea I, AD 325), at least three bishops already sharing in the sign of episcopal succession will be invited to participate in the installation of its next Presiding Bishop through prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit and with the laying-on of hands. These participating bishops will be invited from churches of the Lutheran communion which share in the historic episcopate.
  3. ^ "ELCA Presiding Bishop-Elect Hanson Installed in Chicago Ceremony". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 8 October 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2021. Lutheran bishops came from four other continents to participate in the laying on of hands: the Rev. Medardo Gomez Soto, bishop of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod, San Salvador, El Salvador; the Rev. Maria Jepsen, bishop of the Hamburg Diocese, North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hamburg, Germany; the Rt. Rev. Owdenburg M. Mdegella, bishop of the Iringa Diocese, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania; the Rev. Ambrose Moyo, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo; and the Rev. Julius Paul, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.
  4. ^ Cooke 1896, p. 139.
  5. ^ Anon 2001, p. 53.
  6. ^ Professor Dr. Vlassios Pheidas: The limits of the church in an orthodox perspective
  7. ^ a b Wright, John Robert; Dutton, Marsha L.; Gray, Patrick Terrell (2006). One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: Studies in Christian Ecclesiality and Ecumenism. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 273. ISBN 9780802829405. Constantinople declared, cautiously, in 1922 that Anglican orders "have the same validity as those of the Roman, Old Catholic and Armenian Churches", an opinion echoed by the churches of Jerusalem, Cyprus, Alexandria, and Romania. Heartened, Labeth bishops broadened the dialogue, sponsored the translation of "books and documents setting forth the relative positions" of the two churches, and asked the English church to consult "personally or by correspondence" with the eastern churches "with a view to ... securing a clearer understanding and ... establishing closer relations between the Churches of the East and the Anglican Communion."
  8. ^ a b c Franklin, R. William (1 June 1996). Anglican Orders: Essays on the Centenary of Apostolicae Curae 1896-1996. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 117. ISBN 9780819224880. In 1922 the Ecumenical Patriarch and Holy Synod of Constantinople were persuaded to speak of Anglican orders. They did so in Delphic terms by declaring that Anglican orders possessed "the same validity as the Roman, Old Catholic and Armenian Churches possess". Jerusalem and Cyprus followed in 1923 by provisionally acceding that Anglican priests should not be reordained if they became Orthodox. Romania endorsed Anglican orders in 1936. Greece was not so sure, arguing that the whole of Orthodoxy must come to a decision, but it spoke of Anglican orders in the same somewhat detached un-Orthodox language.
  9. ^ "Encyclical on Anglican Orders from the Oecumenical Patriarch to the Presidents of the Particular Eastern Orthodox Churches, 1922". University College London. 1998. Archived from the original on 25 January 2002. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  10. ^ Parry, Ken (10 May 2010). The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. John Wiley & Sons. p. 202. ISBN 9781444333619. The Orthodox Church resumed its former links with other Christian Churches. Delegates from Romania participated in the pan-Orthodox conferences in Constantinople (1923), Mount Athos (1930), the first Conference of the Professors of Theology in the Balkans (Sinaia, 1924) and the first Congress of Theology Professors in Athens (1936). It also took part in the incipient ecumenical movement. Professors and hierarchs participated in several conferences of the three main inter-war branches: 'Practical Christianity' held in Stockholm (1925) and Berne (1926), 'Faith and Organization' in Lausanne (1927), and 'World Alliance for the Union of Peoples through the Church' in Prague (1928) and Norway (1938), with subsequent regional conferences held in Romania (1924, 1933, 1936). The links with the Anglican Church were consolidated soon after the Anglican orders had been acknowledged by the Holy Synod, and subsequent to Patriarch Miron's visit to Britain in 1936.
  11. ^ Kallistos Ware (1977). Anglican-Orthodox dialogue: the Moscow statement agreed by the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission, 1976. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Retrieved 3 March 2016. As a result of the Conference, the Romanian Commission decided unanimously to recommend the Romanian Holy Synod to accept the validity of Anglican Orders, and this the Synod proceeded to do in March 1936.
  12. ^ Redmile, Robert David (1 September 2006). The Apostolic Succession and the Catholic Episcopate in the Christian Episcopal Church of Canada. p. 239. ISBN 978-1-60034-517-3. In 1870, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Syra and Tinos, the Most Reverend Alexander Lycurgus, paid a visit to the British Isles. During his time in England, Archbishop Lycurgus was invited by the Lord Bishop of London, John Jackson, to join with him in consecrating Henry MacKenzie as the Suffragan Bishop of Nottingham. Archbishop Lycurgus agreed to assist, and on 2 February 1870, he joined in the laying on of hands with the Bishop of London at the consecration of Bishop MacKenzie. Thus the Apostolic Succession in the Greek Orthodox Church was passed on to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion, and through them to the Christian Episcopal Churches in the United States of America and the Dominion of Canada.
  13. ^ Carey 1954, p. 129.
  14. ^ Montefiore 1954, p. 109.
  15. ^ Norris 1988, p. 304.
  16. ^ Norris 1988, p. 305.
  17. ^ a b Norris 1988, p. 306.
  18. ^ Evans & Wright 1991, p. 346.


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