Ministry and Governance

by Philip Jones

The English ecclesiastical state, or Church, comprises two functions or powers:

(1)  the ministry of Word and Sacrament, which is unique to the Church and

(2)  a power of governance, which all states and organisations must have in order to exist.

The power of governance derives from the Monarch’s supreme authority over the Church.  Sir Matthew Hale confirms that

‘although … annexed to … ecclesiastical offices, yet … jurisdiction ecclesiastical in foro exteriori is derived from the Crown of England.  For there is no external jurisdiction, whether ecclesiastical or civil, within this realm, but what is derived from the Crown’ (History of the Common Law (1713), p.30).

Thus a new bishop acquires the power of governance when his appointment is confirmed, not when he is consecrated (ordained).  Confirmation is effected by the Vicar-General, in obedience to the royal mandate to the Archbishop. By the act of confirmation ‘the judge commits to the bishop elected the care, governance and administration of the spiritualties’, even if the bishop is not yet consecrated (Phillimore Ecclesiastical Law, 2nd edition 1895, pp.38, 40: s.4 Appointment of Bishops Act 1533).

However, authority to administer the divine Word and Sacraments comes from episcopal ordination.  Article 37 affirms that ‘we give not to our Princes the ministering of God’s Word or of the Sacraments’.  The Preface to the Ordinal affirms that ministry requires episcopal ordination.

Ordination is therefore the link between ministry and governance.  The Monarch may nominate bishops, and lay patrons may nominate parish priests, but ordination is still required for the nominated persons to be constituted bishops or priests in the first place.  An episcopal ‘ordination’ of some sort is also required for constitution as a lay minister, such as a lay reader (cf. Canon E5(5)).

What is Ordination?

Article 25 denies that orders are a sacrament, but suggests that they are one of the ‘states (status) of life allowed (probati) in the Scriptures’.  The 1662 ordination services are separate from the Book of Common Prayer (‘BCP’) and are collectively entitled ‘the Form and Manner of making, ordaining and consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons’ (the Ordinal). 

The phrase ‘Form and Manner’ may be significant.  The full title of the BCP refers to the ‘rites and ceremonies of the Church’, but the Ordinal does not refer to ordination as a rite or ceremony. 

Despite the Ordinal’s title, ordination clearly does involve a religious rite and ceremony, the laying on of hands with invocation of the Holy Spirit.  Article 36 also refers to the ‘rites’ of the Ordinal.  However, the rite and ceremony of ordination must be distinguished from the authority for conferring ordination in the first place.

Article 34 affirms the right of each particular Church to ‘ordain, change and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority’.  This includes the ordination rite (laying on of hands) but does not explain the authority for conferring ordination.

This authority is explained by Article 23, not Article 34.  Article 23 provides that a minister of Word and Sacrament must be ‘lawfully called and sent … by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation’.

Thus ordination is

(1) the calling and sending of a minister of Word and Sacrament (Article 23)

(2) which is effected in the Church of England by episcopal laying on of hands with invocation of the Holy Spirit (Article 34 and the Ordinal).

However, Article 23 and Article 34 make clear between them that ordination does not necessarily require either

(1) the laying on of hands (perhaps not even the invocation of the Holy Spirit) or

(2) the intervention of a bishop.

The essential requirement is that the calling and sending of any minister in the Christian Church must have proper authority (Article 23).  The method of effecting or completing this calling and sending, including the structure of ministry itself, is a matter for each particular Church to decide for itself (Article 34).  Different Churches may therefore have different structures of ministry.

This makes clear that the rite and ceremony of ordination by itself will not make an ordination.  The ordaining minister must have proper authority under Article 23.  A ‘rogue’ bishop might purport to ordain a priest, but this would not be a true ordination.  Even though the correct rite and ceremony be used, the ordination is a nullity, because the rogue bishop lacks the ‘publick authority’ to perform it.

This point is reinforced by the Preface to the Ordinal, which recites that candidates for holy orders must be ‘approved and admitted thereunto by lawful authority’.

The freedom of particular Churches to decide their own ministerial structure may not be unlimited.  In a commentary on the 39 Articles, E.J Bicknell points out that the word ‘called’ in Article 23 is rendered cooptati in the Latin text.  From this he concludes that Article 23 requires that those with the power to call and send new ministers must themselves be ministers of Word and Sacrament, as distinct from secular officials (3rd edition (1955), p.321).  The ministry must therefore be self-selecting and self-perpetuating.

Thus ordination is an act of governance, which is effected by a prescribed rite and ceremony.  However, it may only be performed by one who is himself ordained.

Bicknell’s conclusion on Article 23 is supported by Article 37 (quoted earlier).  If the ministry were not self-selecting and self-perpetuating, it is hard to see any justification for denying the power of ministry to the secular ruler.  The exclusive structure of the ministry preserves its integrity and its unique function.  It limits the power of governance.  If it lost its exclusive structure, the ministry would be absorbed and dissolved into the power of governance.

Acts of Ministry and Acts of Governance

An act of governance which does not involve the ministry does not require ordination, nor does it necessarily require episcopal authority at all.  However, our discussion of ordination shows that ecclesiastical acts cannot be clearly divided into acts of ministry and acts of governance.  Ordination is an act of governance which is effected or completed by an act of ministry.

The marriage service, unlike the ordination services, is included in the BCP.  Article 25 holds that marriage is not a sacrament any more than ordination.  Marriage is obviously not particular to the Christian Church, and early Christians would have been married according to Jewish or Roman ceremonies.  The solemnisation of civil marriage is, of course, an exercise of the power of secular governance.

Thus the solemnisation of marriage, like the licence or publication of banns which precedes it, is an act of governance, even though performed within the context of a ministry of the Word (and the Sacrament, if Holy Communion is administered during the marriage service).  It also includes the rite of exchanging a ring (which is of pagan origin).

Acts of governance are quite often performed in the context of an act of ministry, i.e prayers, Bible readings and the Eucharist.  It is necessary to distinguish between the two.  Lord Chief Justice Coleridge observed of the consecration of land that

‘a practice has grown up of accompanying the ceremony of consecration with certain suitable and seemly prayers: but that is not the consecration itself.  Consecration is effected by the decree of a competent ecclesiastical court …’ (Wood v Burial Board of Headingley (1892) 1 Queen’s Bench 713 at 725).

Dependence of Ministry on Governance

Although it has an exclusive structure, the ministry is not free-standing.  It cannot exist without some power of governance, any more than secular institutions.  By itself, the ministry has no more than a devolved power.  Ordination is an act of governance, so it cannot be effected without the power of governance, the ‘publick authority’ required by Article 23.

Priests, deacons and lay ministers are ‘called and sent’ by the bishop, but who calls and sends the bishop?  A bishop is ordained (consecrated) by the Archbishop, with the assistance of other bishops.  However, the Ordinal makes clear that the Archbishop’s act is performed in obedience to the mandate of the Crown, which he has no discretion to refuse.  The procedure for appointing bishops is laid down by the Act of 1533.

It is true that a new bishop is subject to an ‘examination’ during his ordination service, just as priests are, but this is ‘to the end that the congregation present may have a trial, and bear witness, how you be minded to behave yourself in the Church of God’ (1662 Ordinal).  In other words, the purpose of the examination is merely to demonstrate the wisdom of the Crown’s choice.

Moreover, the power of governance ultimately determines the entire function of the ministry.  The ministry is concerned with Word and Sacrament, but what is that Word?  What is the Sacrament?  Only the power of governance can answer these questions.

Thus the celebration of the Eucharist is an act of ministry that can only be performed by an ordained minister (a priest) (Canon B12).  However, the form of service used by the minister is an act of governance, not an act of ministry.  And the form of service determines what the Eucharist is, what the Church understands it to be.

In the modern Church of England, forms of service are regulated by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974 and the canons promulged under the authority of that Measure.  The BCP was formerly authorised by the Act of Uniformity 1662.  Previous versions of the BCP were authorised by previous Acts of Parliament.

The Necessity of Modern Ecclesiastical Governance

The power of governance changed radically in the late modern era.  In England, the Monarch retains supreme authority over the Church, but divine authority is no longer claimed for this.  The modern canon concerning the royal supremacy begins ‘We acknowledge’, not ‘We believe’ (canon A7).  Even this only applies in England.  Modern secular authority does not accept divine law, let alone a duty to enforce it.

Phillimore describes the development of the modern Anglican Communion in territories that were then mostly British colonies:

‘Diocesan and provincial synods became a matter of necessity to insure harmonious action, and these were constituted in the course of a few years by independent and almost simultaneous efforts in America, Australia, New Zealand and Africa’ (op.cit p.1776).

As the state became secularised and repudiated its responsibility for the administration of religion, this responsibility was assumed by individuals on a voluntary basis, as Phillimore says, as ‘a matter of necessity’.  Thus modern ‘synodical government’ emerged.

Under this new secular regime, the role of the state was limited to the enforcement of voluntarily agreed Church rules, on the basis of contract or trust law.  The Church was thereby reduced from a God-given public state to a merely private association of individuals.

This loss of status may seem unimportant, or even positively desirable.  It is said to give ‘freedom’ to the Church.  However, it carries the uncomfortable corollary that the Divine Word and Sacraments are also reduced to the status of a private matter, something agreed between the members of the association.

The Anglican experience is not unprecedented.   Congregationalist Churches, such as Methodists and Baptists, predated the modern Anglican system of synodical government, and, like synodical government, were a reaction against secularisation.

Articles 19 and 23 do refer to the Church as a ‘congregation’, but of course these references are made in the context of a strong emphasis on the ecclesiastical authority of the secular ruler.

Nor is there anything congregationalist about modern synodical government.  The synodical structure was formed under tractarian influence.  It was formed in order to protect the ordained ministry, and so to prevent the Anglican Church from becoming congregationalist. 

With this purpose, the synodical structure is sensitively organised, or moulded, around the structure of the ordained ministry, which in turn is derived from the late mediaeval Catholic Church.  Though created in the 19th century, synodical government is sometimes given a mediaeval veneer, so as to harmonise with the mediaeval ministry.  Thus rules become ‘canons’, committees and assemblies become ‘synods’.

Acts of governance require the consent of the ordained ministry, through its representatives.  Bishops and lesser clergy are generally represented separately, so acts of governance will require the consent of both groups of ministers.  Episcopal primacy within the ministry is scrupulously respected. 

So, far from being congregationalist, this tractarian-inspired system of governance is strongly clericalist.  Bishops and clergy may enjoy greater power of governance under the modern system than under the old theocracy that it replaced.  The ordained ministry is largely self-governing, though its power of governance is limited, by being made subject to the consent of lay representatives.   Synodical government may therefore be described as constitutional clericalism.

Individual participation in modern Anglican governance is based on association with the ministry.  The right of clergy to participate derives from their particular office within the Church, not directly from their ordination, even if the office is a mere permission to officiate on a temporary or occasional basis (as in the case of a retired priest). 

Likewise the right of the laity to participate in governance depends on their association with the ministry.  Association with the ministry derives from such acts as attendance at worship and reception of holy communion.  It does not derive directly from baptism.

Thus the right of clergy and laity to participate in the Church’s governance derives equally from their association with its ministry, albeit the test of association is different for clergy and laity.  However, this does not explain how and why a person’s association with ministry should confer on him or her the right to determine what that ministry is.

So we are left with Phillimore’s doctrine of necessity.  The ministry requires a power of governance of some sort in order to exist.  In a secular state, nobody can claim a better right to determine the function of the Church’s ministry than its own clergy and lay worshippers.  If they did not exercise the power of governance, nobody else could or would, and no form of ministry could continue.  

Separation of Powers

The classic doctrine of the separation of powers (legislative, executive and judicial) is rather secular in character.  It takes no account of the ecclesiastical state, i.e the administration of the Christian religion by the state. 

The doctrine is not incompatible with the ecclesiastical state, since the ecclesiastical state shares the constitutional powers of the secular state but exercises them for a different purpose.  Indeed the doctrine has been incorporated into Roman Catholic law to a limited extent (cf canon 391 of the Code of Canon Law 1983).  However, the doctrine can only apply to the ecclesiastical power of governance, not to the unique ecclesiastical ministry of Word and Sacrament.