Reordination

Strictly speaking, the term is a misnomer since in practice it applies only to those who have received ordination which is regarded as “invalid”-that is, as no ordination at all-and who consequently are in need of ordination* rather than reordination. In the early church the appearance of heretical or partially heretical sects and schismatic groups forced the issue into prominence. Unanimity of judgment is not to be found, however. Cyprian* (third century), for instance, insisting that outside the Catholic Church there could be no salvation, regarded every action of separated bodies as null and void: their baptism was no baptism and their orders were no orders, and acceptance was to be gained only by (re)baptism and (re)ordination in the unity of the Catholic Church, which is reality were first, not second, baptism and ordination.

The Council of Nicea* (325) represents a more moderate position which attempts a distinction between, on the one hand, heretics whose sacraments and orders were judged invalid, and on the other hand, schismatics who otherwise were orthodox in their articles of belief and whose sacraments and orders were judged acceptable in the event of their wishing to end their schism. The position of greatest tolerance is represented by Augustine* (d.430), in whose view rebaptism and reordination were unnecessary for the reconciling and acceptance of those who hitherto had been divorced from the Catholic Church, since Christ-not man or the church-is the source of grace and validity.

The Cyprianic position regarding orders (but not baptism) has been that of the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation. Nonpapal orders have been dismissed as invalid and to all intents and purposes nonexistent. It is an attitude, too, that has become widely accommodated in the Anglican Communion,* though it is contrary to the teaching and practice of classical Anglicanism. The insistence, whether explicit or implicit, on the necessity of episcopal ordination (and therefore, despite pious talk regarding the blessing of the Holy Spirit that has attended nonepiscopal ministries, on the invalidity or insufficiency of such ministries) has proved a stultifying factor in attempts to achieve reunion between Anglican and nonepiscopal churches, especially when “catholic” Anglicans demand a method of reconciliation which can be interpreted by them as a reordination of ministers who lack episcopal orders. In view of the nonrecognition of Anglican orders by Rome, such manipulations have a distinctly Gilbertian flavor.

In the situation now prevailing, when there is so much disunity and fragmentation, the Nicene principle-according to which adherence to the apostolic faith is the criterion of the genuineness of a minister's calling and ordination, and the ground of reunion without question of reordination-is the principle which should consistently be applied.