Roman Catholic views on the validity of the Holy Orders of the Catholicate of the West

We often receive enquiries as to whether the Roman Catholic Church regards the Holy Orders of the Catholicate of the West as valid. In response, we reproduce firstly an article published in a Roman Catholic newspaper, and secondly the view of a Roman Catholic religious.

The following article is re-printed from the issue dated 19th August 1949 of The Universe, a leading Roman Catholic weekly newspaper, published in England. It will be recalled that the Western Orthodox Catholic Church was a formerly-used sub-title of the Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West):

WHAT A ROMAN CATHOLIC NEWSPAPER ARTICLE SAID:

THE EAST-WEST “BRIDGE”
by Paul Scott-Montagu
Dr Scott-Montagu, received into the Catholic Church last week, explains the aims of the Western Orthodox Catholic Church, in which he was Patriarchal Legate

The Catholic Apostolic Church, commonly called The Western Orthodox Catholic Church (Catholicate of the West) has no connection whatsoever with the Irvingite body known as the Catholic Apostolic Church. (see note 1)

The words Catholic Apostolic were used because the denomination claimed to be truly Catholic and Apostolic in belief, teaching, practice, and succession.

The founders of the Western Orthodox Catholic Church viewed the religious anarchy and apathy that exists outside the Papal obedience with alarm and sorrow. So they set out to found a Church (see note 2) dedicated to labour for Christian reunion.

So far as is possible, this Church was intended to practice the rites and adhere to the dogmas of the Catholic Church prior to the great schism of 1054.

Valid Orders

It was believed that the first step was to establish and secure a legitimate and validly ordained ministry in the full Catholic sense. His Beatitude Mar Georgius, Patriarch of Glastonbury and Catholicos of the West, considered it necessary, therefore, to receive in his own person as many lines of valid episcopal succession as possible. All subsequent consecrations after the first were sub conditione.

He thought that by this means he would establish an episcopate whose validity could not be seriously questioned by any part of the Christian Church.

Undoubtedly, his actions in this direction are open to severe criticism, and nevertheless his motives were pure and  sincere even if his methods were contrary to Catholic practice (see footnote 3).

Various rites were used in ordaining priests for the Western Orthodox Catholic Church, but all were recognised valid rites.

The Western or Roman Rite was used for some and one or the other recognised Eastern Rites for others. Great care was taken to ensure that nothing was omitted or added which could in any way invalidate the ceremony.

Misguided

A courageous, if misguided, attempt was being made to form a “bridge Church” between East and West, and since about 90 per cent of the British people were held to be quite outside any organised Church, it was believed that some of them at least could be brought to Christ through the agency of a Western Orthodox Catholic Church which, possessing a valid priesthood, could administer valid sacraments.

Both Latin and Oriental Rites were permitted in the celebration of Mass or the Holy Liturgy, but the vernacular language was always used, and Holy Communion was given in both kinds.

Outside the Catholic Church and the Church of England there are or were some 16 small episcopal communions in Great Britain, most of which have their origin in the Old Catholic Movement started in England by the late Archbishop Mathew.

Mar Georgius hoped to regularise this unsatisfactory state of affairs by affiliating them together under the discipline and primacy of the Catholicate of the West, providing, of course, that they agreed to accept the fundamental tenets of the Orthodox Catholic Church.

The Western Orthodox Church accepted in full the theological position of the Eastern Schismatics with the exception of the filioque clause, which the Western Orthodox Church holds in common with the Catholic Church (see footnote 4). Special emphasis is also laid on the Second Advent and the Charismatic Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Healing of physical sickness is greatly encouraged by the laying-on of hands and anointing with oil.

The Western Orthodox Church is not in communion with any of the historic Orthodox churches.

Both Western and Eastern vestments can be used.

The following extract from an Encyclical Letter addressed by Mar Georgius to the Anglican Bishops assembled at the Lambeth Conference of 1948, is of interest: – On the subject of “territorial assumption in the form of jurisdiction” His Beatitude stated that

whilst it is true that in the days of undivided Christendom the principle of territorial jurisdiction was almost universally in operation, the unhappy divisions in the One Body of Christ have created a situation under which such a principle can no longer be seriously maintained and has in practice been abandoned by the Latin Church, which has permitted the existence of Uniate Communions side-by-side with the Latin Hierarchy in many places.

The Eastern Catholic Churches are also in existence side-by-side in the United States of America. It is therefore inimical to the good of the Church for the Anglican Communion to cling tenaciously to the system of territorial jurisdiction either in England or elsewhere.

The Holy Synod, holding to the principle of jurisdiction by rite, submits that it is the only workable principle of jurisdiction in these present times, and would urge upon Your Lordships the great need for the Anglican Communion to accept this system in the interests of Christian reunion.”

Later in the Encyclical Mar Georgius suggested that the Church of England should hand back the ancient pre-Reformation Cathedrals, abbeys and churches, to the Roman Catholic Church, from whom they were wrongly taken. No reply was given to the communication.

Footnotes (by Mar Georgius, upon the reprinting of the above article in Successio Apostolica (Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West), Glastonbury, 1959, p.40, with minor emendations)

1. The correct name of this Rite is THE CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH (Catholicate of the West)
2. The founders of The Catholicate of the West did not “found a church,” but created a unified Rite by the merger of certain pre-existing bodies.
3. By “contrary to Catholic practice” Dr Scott-Montagu means, of course, Roman Catholic practice, from which standpoint submission to Rome solves all ecclesiastical problems.
4. THE CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH (Catholicate of the West) does not use the Filioque. When the Creed is used as a Profession of Faith, the text used is precisely the same as in the Eastern Orthodox Churches; but when used as a liturgical devotion it is permitted to sing the formula accepted at the Council of Florence, 1439, “Who proceedeth from the Father through the Son”.

A note on the author: Dr Paul Scott-Montagu, originally an Anglican, was educated at the University of Oxford (M.A.) and the University of Göttingen (Ph.D.) He served as Secretary and later Archdeacon in the Evangelical Church of England under Primus Gordon Pinder. Under his guidance, discussions were held regarding the proposed unification of that church with the Church of England, though these came to nothing. While still Archdeacon, Dr Scott-Montagu was re-ordained sub conditione by Mar Georgius and thereafter served as Patriarchal Legate and Archpriest of the Catholicate of the West. In 1949 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Dom Bede Griffiths O.S.B. of Farnborough Abbey.

A copy of the above article was formerly framed and on public display at the erstwhile Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd, Clapton.

WHAT A ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGIOUS SAID:

Dom Paul Davin, O.S.B., was a Roman Catholic monk of the Olivetan Benedictine Priory of Christus Rex, attached to the Foundation Vita et Pax in Bramley Road, Oakwood, north London. The Foundation was established with a mission towards the reunion of all the churches.

In a letter of 29 April 1953, a copy of which was held by Mar Georgius, Dom Paul states,

De wijdingen van bisschoppen en priesters van de Catholic Apostolic Church zijn geldig.

Translation: “The Orders of Bishops and Priests of The Catholic Apostolic Church are valid.

In a pamphlet “Histoire succincte de l’Eglise Catholique Apostolique” published by the Archdiocese of Antwerp, Brussels, Belgium, Dom Paul Davin is also quoted as follows:

Leurs Ordres et Consecrations sont parfaitement valides…Leur profession de foi, leur discipline, leurs usages, leur liturgie, leurs Sacrements sont valides, complets, catholiques et orthodoxes. Leur Credo est en tous points semblable a celui de l’Eglise Orthodoxe.

Translation: “Their Orders and Consecrations are perfectly valid…Their profession of faith, their discipline, their usages, their liturgy, their Sacraments are valid, complete, catholic and orthodox. Their Creed is on all points similar to that of the Orthodox Church.

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It should not be thought that these are the only occasions on which Rome has given some form of recognition to the Catholicate, and during the 1950s a bishop attached to the Catholicate (Dr H.P. Nicholson, Primate of the Ancient Catholic Church) was received favourably at Rome when visiting there.