Article 36 is the concluding article on church discipline. It concerns the public form for the ordination of ministers and the setting apart (consecration) of some presbyters to act as “overseers” or bishops.
XXXVI—Of the Consecration of Bishops and Ministers
The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it any thing, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated and ordered according to the Rites of that Book, since the second year of the forenamed King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same Rites; we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered.
Article 36 is a 1563 revision of Cranmer’s 1553 original which reflects the objections to the validity of Anglican orders by the Council of Trent. The 1553 original underlines Cranmer’s continued reliance on sola scriptura: the orders’ beauty of expression and godliness in character are due to their faithfulness to “the wholesome doctrine of the Gospel.” The 1563 revision affirms that both Ordinals authorized in the time of Edward the Sixth contain "all things necessary" for the proper consecration of Archbishops and Bishops and the ordering of Priests and Deacons. Moreover, it asserts that those ordained according to those rites “be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered.”
Article 36 must also be understood in light of article 23, "Of Ministering in the Congregation." As you may recall, article 23 underlines how those who assume the office of preaching the pure Word of God and of administering the sacraments according to Christ’s ordinance but be “lawfully called and sent to execute the same.” There must be a process of discernment so that the inward call by Christ as the Head of the Church is confirmed by those who constitute “men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send ministers.” The laying on of hands with prayer is central to this public confirmation. Because the public form for the ordination and consecration of ministers was published the year after (1550) the first of Cranmer’s Prayer Books (1549), article 36 affirms the validity of the ordination services in the Ordinal.
It is the Ordinal’s second edition which concerns us here. It was published as part of the new Prayer Book in 1552. And because of its fidelity to the “wholesome doctrine of the Gospel” sacerdotal customs that had arisen during the Middle Ages were removed, such as giving the Priest the Bible in one hand and the chalice or cup with the bread in the other. The differing vestments worn were now standardized to underline the common plurality of ministers and the balance of Word and sacrament. The form of consecrating a bishop or archbishop was simplified and any distinguishing vestments eliminated to underline their role as simply prima inter pares (first among equals). The exhortations and the questions put to the candidates in services make it clear that the hallmark of ministers is primarily to teach and to preach, and then logically to apply the gospel in the administration of the sacraments.
The services remained unchanged until 1662 when certain verbal modifications were made and the words of ordination were expanded. The age of Deacons was raised from twenty-one to twenty-three. Deacons were also restricted to baptizing only “in the absence of the Priest.” New lessons and collects were added. The one significant change from 1552 reflects the prejudice of the Restoration bishops who also drafted the infamous 1662 Act of Uniformity. The 1662 Ordinal add directions for a bishop’s distinguishing vestment.
But what arises in a direction does not obscure the theology of the Ordinal as the words of ordination itself give more evidence that Anglican ministry is a plurality of elders. The rubrics for the ordination of presbyter and the consecration of a bishop both have first-person plural pronouns. It is assumed the college of presbyters will gather for the laying on of hands. The words of ordination are even identical.
The bishop and presbyters gather to lay hands upon the one to receive ordination: "Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands."
Archbishop and bishops gather in the same way to lay hands upon the one set apart as overseer: "Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands."
One could well ask why, in light of what the office of bishop has become in these days, is there more emphasis on parity rather than a difference in the historical formularies? The answer is in how our Anglican forebearers, having endured, exile, imprisonment, and even martyrdom in the Reformation era, understood the consequence of Christ’s redemption applied to his ministers in a way that escapes us today. In other words, the loss of Christ’s redemption by God’s grace alone through faith alone will lead to an enhanced sacerdotal ministry where human effort and status reasserts itself. When we grasp the fullness of the gospel equality before the cross, ministers realize that we are unworthy servants of God’s Word under the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head. A distinction is not hierarchy under Christ.
Recent revisions of the Ordinal in the Anglican Church of North America have tended to re-introduce ceremonies and variations of vesture in line with the doctrinal errors that obscure the clarity of the Gospel. Such changes go hand-in-hand with the modifications to the Communion services in the 2019 ACNA Prayer book, giving expression to a theology of Eucharistic sacrifice and a sacerdotal priesthood. Is it no wonder then, that the articles would be qualified to such as an extent in the ACNA as to make them useless in any real sense? Rather, it is article 36 that asserts the reformed Ordinal of 1552 that contains all things necessary for a biblically faithful ordering of presbyters and deacons, and the consecration of archbishops and bishops.
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Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.