An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XXXVI

Article XXXVI.

Of 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 anything, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated or 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.

De Episcoporum et Ministrorum Consecratione.

Libellus de consecratione Archi-episcoporum, et Episcoporum, et de ordinatione Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, editus nuper temporibus Edwardi VI. et authoritate Parliamenti illis ipsis temporibus confirmatus, omnia ad ejusmodi consecrationem, et ordinationem necessaria continet, et nihil habet, quod ex se sit, aut superstitiosum, aut impium: itaque quicunque juxta ritus illius libri consecrati, aut ordinati sunt, ab anno secundo prædicti regis Edwardi, usque ad hoc tempus, aut ordinabuntur, rite, atque ordine, atque legitime statuimus esse et fore consecratos et ordinatos.

[The only change, in the American revision, is the omission of the references to the time of Edward the Sixth, and the insertion of a reference to the General Convention of 1792, by which the Ordinal was set forth. One change was, however, made in the Ordinal itself, of which something must be said; since the alteration of the age requisite for the Diaconate, — which only recurs to the provisions of the period antecedent to 1662, — and the local adaptations of promises and oaths, require no special consideration.

In the PROPOSED BOOK, the English Ordinal was accepted, with a proviso omitting “any oaths inconsistent with the American Revolution.”

Bishop White says, that “the alterations of the Ordinal were prepared by the Bishops;” and adds, “there was no material difference of opinion, except in regard to the words used by the Bishop at the ordination of Priests.” Bishop Seabury was urgent for retaining the words in the English Ordinal, though he finally consented to the insertion of the alternative form. Bishops White, Provoost, and Madison appear to have been disposed to omit the words, though they also agreed to the alternative. Indeed, it is believed that Bishop White proposed it.

Some, doubtless, may object to the alternative form as insufficient. To such persons it is quite enough to reply that no special form of words has ever been considered requisite, as accompanying the imposition of hands. Others will fault the first form, as savouring of Romish superstition. Let such remember that the words objected to are the very words used by our Lord in commissioning His Apostles; that unless they involved Romish superstition in His using, they need not in ours; that to give up all Scripture which the Roman Church has corrupted is something worse than folly; and that the retention and use of our Lord’s words in the Ordinal is, when rightly viewed, the strongest possible protest against such corruption. — J. W.]


WHEN the Liturgy of the Church was undergoing a revision in the reign of Edward VI., it was obviously desirable that the Ordinal should be revised too. Accordingly, A. D. 1549, an act of Parliament was passed to appoint six prelates and six other learned men, to devise a form of making and consecrating archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers.[1] The Ordinal, drawn up by these divines, was in use till 1552; and six bishops were consecrated by means of it.

According to the forms in the Ancient Roman Pontificals, those who were ordained priests had their hands anointed, the vessels of the Eucharist were delivered to them, and authority was given them to offer sacrifice. The new Ordinal omitted the Chrism, and all mention of offering sacrifices, but retained the custom of delivering “the chalice or cup with the bread.”[2]

In the year 1552, the Second Service Book of Edward VI. came forth; and with it a still further revision of the Ordinal. In the latter, the porrection of the chalice and paten was omitted. The form of ordination was nearly as in our present services; except that in the prayer of ordination of priests it was only said, “Receive thou the Holy Ghost,” without adding, “for the office of a priest,” &c.; and in the prayer of consecration of bishops, it was said, “Take the Holy Ghost,” without the words, “for the office and work of a bishop,” &c.

On the accession of Queen Mary, the new Ordinal was immediately suppressed. The orders conferred in the late reign, and with the use of the reformed Ordinal, were not declared invalid; but those who had been so ordained, were to be reconciled, and the deficiencies supplied, such as unction, porrection of the chalice,[3] &c.

In the reign of Elizabeth the reformed Ordinal was again restored, and in its use were consecrated Parker, the primate, and other bishops of the reformed Church. In confirmation of its authority, the Convocation of 1562 inserted this present Article among the XXXIX., in place of the XXXVth Article of 1552, which was more general, and concerned the whole Prayer Book, this being restricted to the Ordination Services. It was farther enforced by Act of Parliament, A. D. 1566; and the Article of 1562 was confirmed in 1571. On the accession of Charles II. and the restoration of Episcopacy, which had been abolished during the Commonwealth, the ordination services, being restored, were, however, subjected to a review, and reduced to their present form. The most important additions were the insertion, in the prayer of ordination of priests, after the words “Receive thou the Holy Ghost,” of the words “for the office and work, of a priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands;” and a like change in the prayer of consecration of bishops; so that the office of a bishop is distinctly expressed, whereas at first the words were general, and as applicable to a priest as to a bishop.

The Preface, which is assigned to Cranmer, was the same in the first reformed Ordinal as it is in the present Ordination Service in our Prayer Books.[4]

The object of this Article is to meet objections to the validity and propriety of ordinations conferred in the use of this Ordinal. The objections are of two kinds: I. That the Ordinal lacks some essential ceremonies. II. That it has some superstitious forms and expressions.

I. The first objection comes from the Romanists.

1. It is urged, that our bishops do not confer the chrism, nor offer the sacred vessels, nor more especially give the power of sacrificing; therefore none can be truly ordained by them to the Christian priesthood.

To this we answer, first, that Scripture gives no authority for all these forms. All that we read of there, is laying on of hands with prayer. Secondly, we say that we find no authority for such forms in the customs of the primitive Church. Gregory Nazianzen[5] indeed speaks of unction, but he means the unction of the Holy Ghost. The earliest specimen we have of a form of ordination is in the VIIIth book of the Apostolical Constitutions, c. 16, which is as follows.

“When thou ordainest a presbyter, O bishop, place thy hand on his head, the presbytery standing with thee, and also the deacons; and pray thus: O Lord, Almighty, our God, who hast created all things by Jesus Christ, and by Him providest for all, in whom is the power of providing in various ways. Now therefore, O God, Thou providest for immortals by preservation, for mortals by succession, for the soul by care of laws, for the body by supply of necessity. Do thou, therefore, now look upon Thy holy Church, increase it, and multiply those who preside over it; and give power that they may labour in word and work to the edification of Thy people. Do thou also look now upon this Thy servant, who, by suffrage and judgment of all the clergy, is chosen into the presbytery; and fill him with the Spirit of grace and counsel, that he may aid and govern Thy people with a pure mind; in like manner as Thou hadst respect to Thine elect people, and as Thou commandest Moses to choose elders whom Thou filledst with Thy Spirit. And now, O Lord, make good this, preserving in us an unfailing Spirit of Thy grace, that he, being filled with healing powers, and instructive discourse, may with meekness teach Thy people, and serve Thee sincerely with a pure mind and willing soul, and may perform the blameless sacred rites for Thy people.[6] Through Thy Christ, with whom to Thee and the Holy Ghost, be glory, honour, and reverence forever. Amen.”

This is the whole form of ordaining priests given in the Apostolical Constitutions. The words in Italics are the only words which can refer to sacrifice or Sacraments; and they are certainly as general as those in our own Ordinal, “Be thou a faithful dispenser of the word of God and of His holy Sacraments.” The words in the Roman Pontifical, “Receive thou power to offer sacrifices to God, and to celebrate the mass for the quick and the dead,” were not in any ancient form of consecration. Morinus, as cited by Bishop Burnet, acknowledges that he could not find any such words for the first 900 years.[7] The Greek Church merely prays God to grant to the newly ordained presbyter, “that he may stand blameless at Thy altar, may preach the gospel of Thy Salvation, offer to Thee gifts and spiritual sacrifices, and renew Thy people by the laver of regeneration.”[8] This again is perfectly general; and the earlier we go, the simpler we find all the forms of ordination, in all parts of the world. “Not a father, not a council, not one ancient author at any time mentions the delivery of the paten or chalice, or the formal words used by the Church of Rome, even when they describe the ordination of their days, and where this could not have been omitted, if it had been essential.”[9] This is surely proof enough that the omissions complained of are not sufficient to invalidate all the orders of the Church.

2. It has also been objected, that the bishops consecrated according to the Ordinal of Edward VI. and Elizabeth, could not have been rightly consecrated, because the words of consecration were only, “Take the Holy Ghost, and remember that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee by imposition of hands: for God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love and soberness.” Here is nothing which might not apply to a priest or deacon, as well as to a bishop.

But we may reply, that the whole service concerns bishops, not priests and deacons; and that, if the words, “for the office of a bishop,” &c. afterwards inserted, were not at first added, it is quite evident that they were sufficiently implied. Everybody must have felt that it was episcopal consecration which was conferred. The form of ordination does not consist merely in the prayer of consecration. The whole service forms part of it. And, moreover, even in the Roman Pontifical, the words which accompany the imposition of hands are simply, “Receive the Holy Ghost;” and the prayer, which follows, does not directly mention the office of a bishop.[10]

II. Another objection proceeds from a very different quarter. The Puritans, and many well-meaning Christians since them, have much stumbled at our using those memorable words of our Lord and Saviour Christ, “Receive the Holy Ghost . . . . Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.” The objection is of this nature.

1. The power of remitting and retaining sins was miraculous, and confined to the Apostles, and so not to be expected by other ministers. 2. Man cannot bestow God’s Spirit, and it is profane to claim the power to do so.

It is remarkable, that the reformers who rejected as superstitious some mere ceremonies, such as delivering the paten and chalice, and the anointing of the hands, should yet have retained this form of words, which to many seems nothing short of blasphemy. Was it that the reformers had a deeper insight into Scripture than those who now object to their proceedings?

1. Under Art. XXXIII. I have already considered at length the question concerning the remitting and retaining sins. There it has been shown that such power was not miraculous, nor peculiar to the Apostles. A power of that higher kind never was given to mere man. The only authority which our blessed Lord thus conveyed to His first ministers was, more solemnly than before, authority to bind and to loose, — that which is elsewhere called the power of the keys, — so that ministerially they had the keys of the Church or kingdom, to admit men to it by preaching and baptism, to exclude men from it by excommunication, to restore them to it again by absolution. The assurance given them is, that their acts, as Christ’s ministers in all these respects, shall be ratified in Heaven. It has been shown moreover, that this power of the keys is a portion of the Church’s birthright. It is committed to the Church as a body, and more particularly to her bishops and presbyters. Hence every bishop, having authority to ordain, has also authority to declare that the power of the keys is committed to the person ordained by him. And no more is meant by these solemn words in our ordination service, than that, as Christ has left to the presbytery the right of ministering His Sacraments, and of excluding from His Sacraments; so the newly ordered presbyter now receives by Christ’s own ordinance that right, — a divine commission to minister, and at the same time a divine commission duly to exercise the authority of excluding the unworthy, and admitting again the penitent sinner.[11]

2. On the words, “Receive thou the Holy Ghost,” we may observe, that, as the power to remit and retain sins was not a personal and miraculous power conferred on the Apostles, so neither was the gift of the Spirit then breathed upon them the personally sanctifying influence, nor yet the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost. We cannot doubt that they had long ago received the sanctifying grace of God in their hearts, and so the ordinary operations of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. And the miraculous baptism of the Spirit, which gave them powers peculiar to the Apostolic age, they did not receive until the day of Pentecost. Hence, this bestowal of the Spirit in the twentieth chapter of St. John was neither the one nor the other of these. What then must it have been? Evidently the ordaining grace of God. All ministerial authority has ever been believed to proceed from the Holy Ghost. Ministry, the right to minister, is one of the charismata of the Spirit. That charisma our Lord then for the first time fully bestowed upon His Church. But the same charisma was afterwards given “by the laying on of the Apostle’s hands (2 Tim. i. 6), and, “with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim. iv. 14). Not that the Apostles or their successors could from themselves send forth the Spirit of God, or the gifts of the Spirit; but that, as our Lord had appointed ordination to be the means of receiving the grace of ordination, so the Church in undoubting faith believes, that, whensoever ordination is rightly ministered, the proper gift of orders flows down direct from the ordaining Spirit; not to sanctify the individual personally, but to constitute him truly a minister of Christ, and to make his ministry acceptable to God. Hence, when the bishop’s hand is laid on the head of him whom he ordains, we doubt not that the charisma of God’s Spirit is given, “for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God.” The difference between such an ordination and our Lord’s ordaining of His first ministers recorded in St. John chap. xx. is this. In the latter case, Christ Himself, to whom the Spirit is given without measure, gave of that Spirit authoritatively to His disciples; and so, in giving, He breathed on them, as showing that the Spirit proceeded from Him. But in the other case, our bishops presume not to breathe, nor did the Apostles before them, for they know that ordaining grace comes not from them, but from Christ, whose ministers they are; and so they simply, according to all Scriptural authority, use the outward rite of laying on of hands, in use of which they believe a blessing will assuredly come down from above.[12] That blessing is the gift of the Spirit of God, for the office and work of a priest.

And thus we conclude, that, as the Ordinal lacks nothing essential to the due administering of orders in the Church, so does it not contain anything that of itself is superstitious and ungodly.


  1. Heylyn, History of Reformation, p. 82.
  2. Liturgies of Edward VI. Parker Society, p. 179.
  3. Heylyn, Hist. Ref. History of Queen Mary, p. 36.
  4. The question concerning the unbroken succession of our Bishops might naturally occur to us here. But it does not properly come under consideration in this or any other of the XXXIX. Articles. The student may consult Courayer, Defence of English Ordinations; Bramhall, Protestants’ Ordinations Defended; Mason’s Vindiciæ Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ. See also Palmer, Origines Liturgicæ, II. ch. XII.; On the Church, part VI. ch. X.; Harington’s Succession of Bishops in the English Church. [The student may profitably read Dr. Evan’s excellent Essay on Anglican Ordinations, and Dr. Oldknow’s small, but very useful tract on the same subject. — J. W.]
  5. Orat. V. Tom. I. p. 136.
  6. τὰς ὑπὲρ τοῦ λαοῦ ἱερουργίας ἀμώμους ἐκτελῇ.
  7. Burnet, Vindication of English Orders, p. 24; Bingham, II. xix. 17.
  8. Morinus, De Sacr. Ordin. pt. II. p. 55; Walcott’s English Ordinal, p. 260.
  9. Bramhall, Protestants’ Ordinations Defended, Works, Anglo-Cath. Library, V. p. 216. Several ancient forms, and much useful information, may be found in Walcott, On the English Ordinal, ch. VI.
  10. Palmer, On the Church, pt. VI. ch. X. Vol. II. p. 460.
  11. I have not fully entered into the question of the efficacy of absolution, when pronounced on a repenting sinner. That it may restore to Church communion, none can doubt. But many, in our day, question, or rather deny, that it can be accompanied with any spiritual grace. The whole subject of ministerial blessing and absolution seems to be explained by the words of our Lord (Luke x. 5, 6): “Into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it; if not, it shall turn to you again.” Here the blessing of the minister was to be accompanied by blessing from above, if the recipient was rightly disposed for blessing. But if the recipient was unbelieving and impenitent, the blessing could not reach his heart; but yet the minister would himself have comfort from having acted on his commission, and having sought to convey comfort to others.
  12. See Hooker, Bk. V. 77, 78.

E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

'An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XXXVI' has 1 comment

  1. March 21, 2024 @ 10:45 am Luke

    Hi there. I’m Presbyterian, but I’m interested in learning more about Anglican polity.

    It is my understanding that the role of the so-called “monarchical bishop” was a later development in the church (2nd century). Is this the Anglican understanding of the history of this office?

    If not, do Anglicans believe such an office was instituted by the apostles? And what would be the biblical and historical evidence of that?

    If so, why do Anglicans believe the development of such an office was either Scriptural and/or a positive development?


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