“Nothing is his; all is His.”

When the bishop lays his hands on the head of a man who is to become a “presbyter” in the Church, he is directed to use these words: “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. Or if he uses the alternative form, the bishop must say: “Take thou Authority to execute the Office of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to thee by the Imposition of our hands.” (BCP 546) In each instance, the concluding words of the formula of ordination are: “And be thou a faith¬ful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments,” while the first of the forms adds: “Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”

Here we learn in so many words that it is the intention of in traditional Anglican churches-for these formulae, abandoned elsewhere, are found everywhere where the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer is used-to ordain men to a priesthood in God’s Church. This is a priesthood which, as the Preface to the Ordinal makes clear, is continuous with the priesthood of the ancient Church and of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout the ages: “to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in this Church.’”

So then we pose our first questions. What is a priest? What is his relation to the Christian Church as a whole? What are the characteristics of his office?

It is obvious that a discussion of these topics necessarily must be somewhat “theological” in character. It is not enough to talk about the priesthood from the purely empirical point of view, to discuss the several duties of the man who has been ordained to this high office and, especially, the necessity for high moral character and spiritual discernment in his ministerial life. We turn to these issues later, but it is essential that we understand what a priest is, who he is in the final sense, before we go on to these other highly important matters. In far too many ordination sermons, the preacher talks about the ordinand’s work but never talks about the priesthood to which he is to be ordained. Yet the being of anything, its ultimate significance and meaning, must come before any doing. In the ministry, as well as everywhere else in human life, the right order of things is, “I am this; hence I do this.’”

The first question when we discuss the meaning of priesthood is simply: “What is the Church?” The answer is equally simple. The Church, as the Ordinal in the Prayer Book declares, is Christ’s “Spouse, and his Body.” It is not an association of men and women who have come together in order to promote religious and moral interests. It is not even a fellowship of people gathered into one by their common beliefs or ways of worship. Above all, it is not a kind of ethical society or service-league which works for a higher standard of conduct in the community.

To be sure, the Church must promote religious and moral interests. Its members must have common beliefs and ways of worship which will certainly improve the “tone” of the community. Primarily, however, the Church is something else. It is the Body of Christ. It is the means whereby He continues to make His presence known and to carry on His redemptive work in the world of men. The Church is an organic whole, its members having been so incorporated into it that they are like branches of a vine, and the Vine is Christ Himself. The Church is the bearer of the divine life of Christ, still mediated through a human agency, as in Palestine the very life of God was mediated through the human nature of Jesus.

When a man is ordained to the priesthood of the Church, he is ordained to a “ministerial priesthood.” The reason that the ordained priest is a ministerial priest is that it is his office and function to act for the essential priesthood of the Church. Christ’s priesthood is the only essential priesthood of which a Christian may properly speak, but the priesthood of the Church is none other than the priesthood of Christ Himself.
It is His priesthood expressed in and operating through His Mystical Body the Church.

This truth follows as an inevitable consequence of the nature of the Church described in the last paragraph. If the Church is in very fact the Body of Christ, His Bride and Spouse, then the Church’s inner life is the life of Christ. That which is His is also His Church’s, and this despite the sin and error, the weakness and fallibility, which undeniably attach to the Church in its human aspect.

So, the man who is “ordered priest” is given a ministerial function within the Body of Christ. He has no rights nor privileges, no status and no position, apart from the Body of Christ. When we attempt to understand the meaning of the priesthood, we must recognize the primitive and soundly Catholic teaching that the laity have a priesthood which is not in opposition to, but is in close relation with, the ordained priesthood of the Church. This priesthood of the laity, however, is not for a moment to be understood as suggesting that ‘‘every man is his own priest”-a view which some of the Reformation denominations have taken as their own.

The truth is that no man is his own priest. Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world, is the only priest who can serve as mediator between God and man, since He Himself is both God and man. But once again, because the Church is the Body of Christ and because all Christians are “very members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ,” each and every baptized Christian is a sharer, through participation in Christ’s Body, in the priesthood which is the Church’s since it is the priesthood of Christ Himself. The doctrine of the priesthood of the laity, far from being an assertion of individual rights and privileges, is an assertion of the social nature of our Christian membership; the priesthood of the laity is a doctrine of community.

The ordained priest is the representative and functional agent of the Church’s essential priesthood, which is Christ’s. As such, he is also the representative and functional agent for the extended priesthood of the laity. There is no contradiction here. Through rightly appointed and commissioned men, the two facts that Christ is priest in His Church and that all His members share in the priesthood of their Head, are visibly and sacramentally expressed.

Some may think that such teaching implies a low view of the nature of the ministry. This is not true. To the contrary, this is the condition for maintaining the highest view of the ministry, for it relates the ministry directly to our Lord’s priesthood, making it not an artificially instituted ministry in which Jesus only appointed those who would act as his substitutes, but rather making it a ministry in which our Lord Himself is at work. It is His own ministry functioning through those whom He has called and whom, in His Church, He has set apart for this particular work.

This doctrine of the priestly order and office is stated with great clarity in the famous reply of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the papal repudiation of Anglican orders. It is, in effect, the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox communion. It is found, in part, in some of the classical authorities to whom Rome appeals, as for example in St. Thomas Aquinas. The view that the ordained priesthood has essential status of its own, without regard to the Church of Christ for whom and in whom it functions is historically unsound. It is theologically a parody of the meaning of the Church and its place in the whole redemptive work of God. In fact, one might say, it is plainly heretical in the proper sense of the word, taking, as it does, one aspect of the truth and exaggerating it to such a degree that all balancing considerations are forgotten.

If the priesthood of the ordained man is as we have described it, what are the peculiar duties attaching to his office? Here we may turn to the Offices of Instruction in the American Prayer Book, for a clear and definite statement. In response to the question, “What is the office of a Priest?” the Prayer Book says: “The office of a Priest is, to minister to the people committed to his care; to preach the word of God; to baptize; to celebrate the Holy Communion; and to pronounce Absolution and Blessing in God’s Name.” (BCP 294) And, as we have seen earlier in this chapter, the Ordinal itself makes evident the same conception: the priest is to be a “faithful dispenser” of God’s Word and God’s sacraments, and he is authorized to forgive sins in God’s name.

We will discuss the several duties of the priest, but, at this point, it is necessary to make one thing clear. This is the way in which the priesthood of the Church, as traditional Anglicans conceive it. It is a priesthood commissioned to offer what the Anglican archbishops, in their reply to the Pope, called “the Eucharistic Sacrifice.” This must be positively affirmed, since many appear to think that because the Anglican Ordinal is explicit on the whole matter of God’s Word, and the preaching of it, it does not teach also that the priesthood is a “sacrificing priesthood.” However, it does so teach, in that it states, explicitly, that the celebration of the sacraments as well as the proclamation of God’s Word, is the work of the ordained man, while in the Eucharistic Office itself, the whole content and context indicate that this service is a sacrificial rite.

It is of course true that Anglican teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice does not imply any repetition of Calvary nor any¬thing added to that “one oblation of himself” which Christ there made to the Father. The Catechism states is that the Eucharist is “the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ.” It is “the memorial” which Christ commanded us to make, “the perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice,” the “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” with which Christ’s members are united as they offer this their “bounden duty and service.” So being “made one body with him,” He dwells in them and they in Him. It is an action, therefore, which both commemorates and makes effectively present the “benefits” of Calvary, where Christ made, “that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world.” Put more succinctly, “the Eucharist as the sacrifice which unites us to the all-sufficient Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the Sacrament in which He feeds us with His Body and Blood.” (Affirmation of St. Louis, Art. I).

The ordained priest stands at the altar celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, on behalf of the Church which is Christ’s Body. In so doing, he is making on the Church’s behalf the “continual remembrance’”; he is pleading Calvary before the Father, as the Church which is Christ’s very Body through Him the ordained priest “shows forth the Lord’s death.” All of this is soundly scriptural, soundly primitive.

It may be helpful to say a few words concerning the concept of a “valid ministry”, for much has been said of this in recent years. It would perhaps be just as well if the word “valid” could be forgotten in all discussions of the ministry. Never has a word been so misunderstood, with consequences that have been altogether unfortunate. No one would wish to claim that those ministries which are not in the traditional succession have been without the blessing of God, nor to assert that they have not been marked by a wonderful fruitage in spiritual and moral life. The statements of the Lambeth Conferences and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, time after time, have made this plain. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “…many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation…” (Paragraph 819)

All that is implied from the Anglican perspective when it is said that such ministries are not technically “valid,” is that they do not possess that kind of historical authentication and that explicit sacramental relationship to the Church’s apostolic source, which would give them entire certification. The laying-on of the hands of a duly consecrated bishop does not work in some magical fashion. What it does is to make “evident,” as the Anglican Ordinal says, that those who receive it are “approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority” so that the “Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ” may be rightly ministered. This is what constitutes “validity”. It is the assurance of continuity in the apostolic life of the Church, given through a sacramental means and thereby visibly shown before men.

This teaching concerning the ministry presented here has one consequence of enormous importance in the life of the priest of the Church. This is that the ordained man is not simply an “Episcopal minister,” as the general public is likely to call him. He is the rightly ordered “priest of God’s Holy Church’”. His ordination has placed him in a relationship to the whole Body of Christ, not merely to some fragment of that Body. Nowhere in the Ordinal do we read of ordination to the “Episcopal ministry”. It is always in and to the “Church of God.”

The priest represents the entire company of the faithful throughout the ages. He also represents, in an effectual fashion, the priesthood of Christ in His Mystical Body. On the other hand, he is serving in this priesthood within the Anglican communion, which means that he is a “man under authority.” The Ordinal makes plain that he is one who must “reverently obey” his bishop and other chief ministers, while the “promise of conformity,” taken before ordination, demands that the priest must be loyal to the “doctrine, discipline and worship” of the Holy Catholic Church “as this Church hath received the same.” We will discuss later this apparent paradoxical truth in a more detailed fashion. It will suffice here if we emphasize it before we go on to the final consideration which must always be in the mind and heart of the ordained man.

It also is vitally important to understand that the priest is not possessed, in his own right, of any privileges or of any status. These are given him in and through and for the Church; they are given him by the Church’s Lord. The priest is always, unfailingly, the minister who represents and functions for the Church and the Church’s Head, on behalf of the Church’s members. As such, he possesses what the theology of holy order calls character. He has a distinctive function which can never be taken from him, since it is indelibly his by virtue of his having been lawfully “set apart” for priestly function. “Once a priest, always a priest.” Of course his right to perform his duties may be taken away from him, if he offends in some grievous fashion the Church and its well-being. But he remains, forever, one who has been ordained to this order and office.

On the other hand, there must be no pride of place. The priest is quite literally the minister, servus servorum Dei. We are not speaking here of the work of deacons or bishops, who also fall into the same category of ministers, servi, although with different duties and functions and in a different order and office in the Body of Christ. But on all of the clergy, whether they be deacon, priest, or bishop, is laid the same obligation of humility in their place in the Church’s life. The bishop is chief pastor, steward of the faith and sacraments of the historic Church; yet he is not to lord it over his flock but to be, in St. Paul’s phrase, “helper of their joy.” The deacon, by his very name, is one who ministers, assisting the bishop and the priest in their responsibilities. The priest, too, is a servant of Christ’s people.

Few phrases are so unfortunate as those now and again used by an ordained priest: “I must celebrate my Eucharist,” “I am offering my Mass,” and the like. In each and every instance, the priest is the representative, functioning for Christ in His Body at a particular time and place, in celebrating the Eucharist, pleading the Passion of Christ, proclaiming the redemption wrought by Christ, shepherding Christ’s flock in Christ’s name. “Nothing is his; all is His,” as a wise man once said of the priesthood.



CHAPTER 1 of What is the Priesthood?

The college student today probably needs to be reminded that our age is notable for its confusion and doubt. He lives at college in a pagan and militantly secular if not militantly atheistic environment. There is departmental parochialism. The faculty is no longer a true collegium. A Christian view of life is not conspicuously maintained in the classroom. Philosophical and scientific naturalism are in control.

If there is even a chapel on the campus, it is no longer the center of academic life. The Christianity preached there, if there is Christianity preached, is likely to be a revisionist Christianity with no notable emphasis on the great central affirmations of the historic Faith.

It is not the university alone that stumbles in confusion. The student learns very quickly from college studies that modern man and our common life alike arc in a tortured predicament. Modern man and much of our common life belong nowhere, are not sure of their destinations, have no adequate standards of reference, are disenchanted.
This is not to say that ours is an entirely irreligious age or that our colleges and universities are completely godless. There are other very powerful religions (of race, of diversity, of gender, of class) are abroad in our world and all have their dedicated adherents. Materialism and hedonism have countless disciples. In academic life secularism and positivism command allegiances. This cacophony of voices and creeds is as confusing to the student as it is fatal to the health of our culture. Our world is very close to spiritual bankruptcy while serving all manner of false gods. With this goes a deep, brooding pessimism not unlike that which marked the breakdown of Roman and Hellenic cultures many centuries ago.

No wonder the student is confused! No wonder he is not satisfactorily oriented. He sees the little men and women of the world pushed about like pawns. He sees a culture torn asunder by terrorism and war, by greed, by the struggle for sheer power. He sees how inventions for the increase of human happiness have been turned to the increase of human degradation. No longer can he talk blithely of enlightenment and inevitable progress.

Common assumptions about the nature of God, man, and the world no longer exist. He is studying within an educational system that has lost its unity and central purpose and his teachers know it. The education the student receives makes for an atomization of life and learning, a fragmentation of knowledge, increasingly removed from the world’s growing tragedy. He knows that nothing in his world is certain, nothing sure, unless a vital religious faith inform the whole and restore unity to our divided culture.

Our erstwhile proud modern world in the name of enlightenment has made vast promises of prosperity, security, and peace. Every hope appears to have been broken at various points. The resultant sense of frustration in our common life is due to the collapse of religion in our culture. The Christian outlook is foreshortened. Christian habits no longer dominate our common life. The sense of community and fellowship, essential as a background for Christian faith and practice, is tragically weakened. Christian conviction has been watered down to become a diffused and vague Christian sentiment. There are many who regard themselves as Christians, but whose faith is but a weak distillation of the strong brew known to earlier saints and leaders.

Albert C. Outler, writing in a study in the late 1940s, Colleges, Faculties and Religion, revealed that even then consultants are surprised more often than they should have been at their (i.e. the faculty members’) naiveté in religious matters. Both those who declared themselves “hostile” or “neutral” to religion revealed the most archaic and regressive notions about the contemporary religious situation and the intellectual temper of modern liberal Christianity and Judaism. Most of them seem to rely on garbled childhood memories to tell them what religion is, and their familiarity with the literature and living spokesmen of liberal religion was strangely scant for cultivated and intelligent people.

Occasionally faculty members denounced religion as “superstition, prescientific benighted-ness,” an “emotional crutch”, “both useless and dangerous.” A larger group were convinced that a humanistic or naturalistic creed was wholly adequate for a modern man. It goes without saying that the religious climate in institutions of higher learning deteriorated precipitously in the ensuing sixty years!

How could it be otherwise? When a culture is sick, the disease enters into every part of it. Decay infests the whole body.

Yet, man’s extremity has ever been God’s opportunity. It was so in the days of the prophets. They lived in a world very similar to ours. Their culture and people were in the hands of alien usurpers, but they were far from despair. They witnessed to the sovereignty of the one God, to His holiness, His righteousness, His goodness. They proclaimed Him with confident faith. His laws and righteous judgments they set forth despite every force against them.

It was when Rome was dying, when the learned were preoccupied with the sophistry of futility and the unlettered were calling upon every manner of god, that God sent forth His Son. It was into a world of despair and confusion that Christ was born with His gospel and with His redeeming grace. Those who knew Him best recognized in Him the very accent of God. Looking at Him, they said that the Eternal Word had been made flesh. He became a source of strength and freedom and joy to those who acknowledged His lordship. They knew that He had triumphed. They found in Him, alive for evermore, a constant source of grace and truth. They found Him to be a valid object of worship and they found that as they prayed they were freed. So they went forth into a dying world to proclaim the good news. They did not go to speak glibly about a theory, but to confront the world with a Person. The faith they possessed and shared, in the magnificent phrase of Clement of Alexandria, turned sunset into sunrise.

This was the Person and this the faith that sent forth from obscure Palestine a group of men and women endued with power from on high. That Person and that faith have revived our brittle civilizations many times over.

It is still the Church’s task to proclaim this Person and this faith to the sons and daughters of men and to mediate His life to mankind. She has no other mission. Her task is unchanged, but no greater mission could be imagined than the saving of the world and all who live therein. The Christian outlook alone offers men power to live lives of dignity and trust, free from irrelevancy and fear. The Christian outlook alone can supply divine insight into the true nature of man and his destiny, can grant discrimination as to what is transitory and what is eternal. It alone gives hope for the future and for the unity of man-kind in a world broken to bits.

We must fix our attention on Him who came to free us from despair and give us life and joy in His service. We must pay greater heed to what the Incarnate Lord said and did, so that the fire of a modern Pentecost may purge our culture and consume its dross. Man as a part of the natural order has a life that is brief, brittle, and brutish. That is true.
But he is also called out from the world to new life, and to walk in newness of life. Our religion is a school of life and its rules come from Him who once lived among us as Son of God and Son of Man and who still gives life to those who are incorporated into His Body, the Church. His is the life we are meant to reproduce. His is the life we are privileged to share.

As we learn to live in Him, we are strengthened by His life and enabled to go about our vocations with dignity and honor. The student must turn to the revelation of God in history and to His mighty acts: to the Incarnation and to Him who was made man, to Him who entered our tortured world and in that very scene saved man from the confusion and terror of life by His cross and its consequent victory, to the gift of His Spirit, and to all that God has done for man and our world in judgment and mercy throughout the ages. What one sees, then, is the entrance into the world of a new power from on high, not merely to carry the world forward to any new level of development, but rather to redeem and transform it. For He came as a new birth, in the fullness of time.

Now this is a book about the priesthood of the Church and it may perhaps be asked at this point what the priesthood has to do with the mission and responsibility of the Christian Gospel. We hope that question will be answered in the course of this book.
This much, however, should be stated right now. The Church is the Body of Christ and cannot be divorced from the Incarnate One. The Church, indeed, is as much a part of the Gospel as is our Lord Himself. The Church is the extension in time of Christ’s nature, work, and ministry. The Church is filled with His life, indwelt by Him. The Church is set in the world to convey to all men everywhere the grace and life of its Head so that in being joined to the Church we become partakers of His nature.

The ordained priest of the Church is to act for the Church, express its own priesthood which is of Christ, Himself. So, when we speak of the priesthood as an office, we are speaking of those ordained to function within a Church whose mission is to convey the divine life of Christ to the world for its healing, for its saving, for its joy. Nothing less than this!

Let us be sure, as will be further developed in our next chapter, that the Church itself is a priestly Body. It is described in the First Epistle of St. Peter as an holy priesthood. The writer there addresses his readers as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people. The Apostle clearly is thinking of the Christian Church as the inheritor of the ancient Jewish Church to which such notes were once ascribed. As then the family of Aaron acted in a representative function for a priestly body, so it would be now in the Beloved Community.

A young man, before he is ordered priest today, belongs to a priestly Body. His baptism incorporated him into just such a fellowship. Once he is set apart for the work of the ministry by the priestly Body he is to act as its representative, though the authority of his ministry is derived from God himself. God’s means for the saving of mankind is through Christ’s body, a priestly body. The ordained priest is pledged to this mission, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

This vocation is, then, both sublime and terrifying. It is sublime since it is a vocation derived immediately from Christ our great High Priest and is meant to convey His eternal priesthood to a sinful world and to sinful men and women. It is terrifying to anyone who dares to accept it, since a man would be a fool not to be aware of his own inadequacy, weakness, and sin in the face of such a commission. Who could possibly be worthy of such office and responsibility? Obviously none, except those whom God calls to this office. God does not call those who are fit, but He fits those whom He calls.
The frenzied state of the modern world is sufficient to cause the most gallant-spirited in the ministry to falter. To win wayward man back to his true allegiance, to restore unity to a schizophrenic society, to redeem the times and resolve man’s warring loyalties, the Incarnate Lord gladly faced and endured humiliation, sorrow, and death. His ministers today in the sacred priesthood are committed to the same enterprise. This has ever been the heavy responsibility laid upon the ministry of Christ’s Body.

To those who have sensitive ears and hearts the responsibility seems of tremendous urgency in our day. Has any age more clearly stood in need of God’s saving act in Christ, of His grace and truth?

We who are committed to the way of Christianity, who are sharers in the life of His Mystical Body, have a task to accomplish and one that will require faith, hope, and love. We are sent to our brethren, within the Church and without, to bear witness to the sovereignty of God. More than that, we are to mediate to men the power of His grace.
We must proclaim with conviction the Good News about God: He was born of the Virgin, He suffered under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, He died and was buried, He rose again on the third day, He ascended on high, He sitteth on the right hand of God, He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

The world desperately needs that news. The Church must be the witnessing fellowship that proclaims it. The priesthood must provide the leadership for this work, which is Christ’s work. His life must be given to men and to our world.

Here is a vocation dealing with basic realities, a vocation demanding and dangerous, a vocation utterly necessary for the healing of the world and for the peace that can overrule man’s restless heart. Every young man who would love God and his brothers and sisters. should consider it honestly and prayerfully.


In 1954, when some measure of sanity still prevailed in the American Episcopal Church and Holy Orders had not been thrown over,   John V. Butler and W. Norman Pittenger published, WHAT IS THE PRIESTHOOD? A Book on Vocation.  With the ensuing madness of the next several decades, this became a book that no longer was “relevant” and gradually found its way onto back shelves in parish libraries and sale tables at ECUSA seminaries.  For traditional Anglicans and, for that matter, Roman Catholic and Orthodox men discerning a vocation to the priesthood, this work maintains its worth.

This is particularly so for “continuing” Anglican bodies where the paths to vocation are more than somewhat vague, educational standards nearly non-existent and even the means of background review of candidates for Holy Orders porous.   Certainly, there is little guidance available to those thinking and praying about the possibility of serving the Church as clergy.

Over the next few weeks,  we will be attempting to update and publish the work of Messrs. Butler and Pittenger here on the blog.  It is my hope that it will prove useful to those being led by the Holy Ghost to think about Holy Orders and those others who may simply wish to know more about the priesthood.


     Here is an introduction to the priesthood which is as simple and forthright and illuminating as any parish priest could ask. It is written for the enquirer, primarily—for the student examining his own nature, or the layman impatient for some clearer sign of vocation—yet it will help men long-ordained, as it helped me, by the clear and swift strokes by which the classic form of the priesthood is outlined.

     In a series of brief, packed chapters, there is an exposition of various aspects of priestly life. One of the original authors is a theological teacher and the other an experienced parish priest.  So, the chapters are realistic and as complete as the compass of the book permitted.   To a young college student, whose experience of the Church is probably limited to one or two parishes and as many clergymen, this exposition of the range and variety of priestly life should be invaluable.

     Two emphases are particularly helpful: one is the “manly and straightforward way the whole matter of vocation was approached.”   Almost every young (and not so young) man considering vocation needs to come to the mature realization that vocation is a co-operative matter, in which the individual and society and God all have a hand. How many men there have been, and are, who try to understand vocation as if it all rested on their shoulders, alone before a silent God who gave no sign or help. By the same token, how many there have been who have missed their vocation because they waited for the imagined thunderbolt of a “call” to strike.

     Indeed, all three parties to a vocation have a stake in it—the man who chooses, the Church which speaks for society in assessing the individual’s worth and readiness, and the God who, in all and through all, teaches us in a thousand ways where our duty and our joy are to be found.

     The second emphasis is the pervasive one on the relationship of individual priesthood to the great, single Priesthood which fills the Church and the world.  There is no specific Anglican doctrine of priesthood. All we claim or desire is the ancient form in all its fullness. Yet it has been, in recent years, some Anglican writers such as the late Michael Ramsey have reemphasized the changeless truth that individual priesthood does not stand alone; it is not magic; it is not an ecclesiastical contagion; it is the continuing act of Christ in His Body, of which individuals are privileged to be the voice or hands or thought or prayer.

     Just as the “priesthood of the laity” is a misnomer, because of general misunderstanding of its meaning, so is the individualistic and magical priesthood of the priest when taken apart from the endless work of Christ in time. I hope that blogging a revision of this book will help us see this anew.  In any event, I hope that effort will help  in the most urgent task of awakening our Church to the needs and claims of her ministry, and that it may awaken in many hearts a humble, certain sense of the call of Christ to follow and serve.

-The Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls, STL, JD

Ascension Day, 2018

Snarks and Low Sunday



Fourth of Henry Holiday’s original illustrations to “The Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll. From Fit the Second: The Bellman’s Speech.


For reasons unknown, in preparing the homily for tomorrow, I found myself rereading Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. The plot follows a crew of ten trying to hunt the Snark, an animal which may turn out to be a highly dangerous Boojum. The poem is dedicated to young Gertrude Chataway, whom Carroll met at the English seaside town Sandown in the Isle of Wight in 1875. Included with many copies of the first edition of the poem was Carroll’s religious tract, An Easter Greeting to Every Child Who Loves “Alice”. 

The ocean map used by the Bellman to lead the snark-hunting expedition seems an apt metaphor for the state of the disciples. Despite all of the teaching and all of their witness, the events of the Crucifixion seem to have erased entirely the map of salvation the Lord had given them. It is, perhaps, equally as apt for our modern world which seems to be bent on likewise forgetting or even erasing the “map” to our own salvation.

After all, the Bellman’s map (above), which, being blank, is equally useful everywhere, unlike normal maps. “Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank” (So the crew would protest) “that he’s brought us the best– A perfect and absolute blank!”  We can, after all, populate our own map, with our own landmarks and fancies, never mind the actual shoals, reefs and deeps!  Could that be a recipe for a shipwreck?

Well, to see how this somewhat nautical tale ends up, stop in to St. Alban’s, Richmond, Virginia, at 8:30 (Morning Prayer this week) or 11:00 a.m. (Holy Eucharist with music).

secret faults

“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.”-St. Mark 9:38-39

Today I wish to share a note about claims of membership in “the one true church” and the incredibly angry people who make them.  As some of the readers are aware, yesterday a layman backed up by several priests of the East asserted that I shall not be saved because I am not a member of the “Holy Orthodox Church”.  Apparently, one can be wholly “orthodox” and suffer condemnation and consignment to…well…you know.

My accusers, members of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, insisted that no one save the big “O” Orthodox may enter into the gates of Heaven.  There was even a list of other Christians who would, in the vision of the zealot and his clerical backers, be best served to take a pop-up thermometer with them into the next life given where they were headed.

Any attempt to challenge this position was met with vitriol by the lay person and smug condescension on the part of the clergy.  None of these folks appeared to be cradle Orthodox.  In fairness, I have received the same treatment at the hands of some Roman Catholic “trads”, albeit not with the force and anger I was treated to by their Eastern counterparts.

To those who wish to wave the bloody standard of “one true church”, particularly those who can’t seem to get past the events of 1054, I offer the above quote from St. Mark.  Even the disciples themselves did not appear to have the “exclusive franchise”.  Maybe, just maybe there might be other folks who can comfortably claim to be Christian and even (shudder) believe in accordance with the Vincentian canon.  What the hey?  Given the our Lord’s admonition to St. John and the boys, one just might be cautious in claiming who is “in” and who is “out”.

The Fathers had some pointed remarks on all of this.  In response to, “We Forbade Him, Because He Was Not Following Us”,  St. Augustine noted that, “[t]here may be something catholic outside the Church catholic. The name of Christ could exist outside the congregation of Christ, as in the case of the man casting out devils in Christ’s name. There may by contrast exist pretenses within the church catholic, as is unquestionably the case of those “who renounce the world in words and not in deeds,” and yet the pretense is not catholic. So as there may be found in the church catholic something which is not catholic, so there may be found something which is catholic outside the church catholic.”  St. Augustine, ON BAPTISM, AGAINST THE DONATISTS 7.39 (76).

Again, from St. Augustine who appears far more charitable than some moderns, “We ought not be disturbed because some who do not belong or do not yet belong to this temple, that is, among whom God does not or does not yet dwell, perform some works of power, as happened to the one who cast out devils in the name of Christ. Although he was not a follower of Christ, Christ ordered that he be allowed to continue because it gave a valuable testimony of his name to many.…”   LETTER 187, TO DARDANUS 36.

The words of the saint seem to fit yesterday’s electronic stone casting.  It involves some who are intent on severe disciplinary principles that they disturb the peace of the church that they try to separate the wheat from the chaff before the proper time. Blinded by this error, they are themselves separated instead from the unity of Christ. St. Augustine, FAITH AND WORKS 4.6.

So, it would seem the more profitable course to stop picking up stones to cast them at other Christians.  In the end, Our Lord will let us know who “got it right”.

I’ll bet it’s a short list.


Tomorrow’s Bible study will cover I Kings 17-20. As usual, we will meet in the parish library at 10:30 a.m. Please bring your Bible and some note taking materials.

“But Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished all his house.“-I Kings 7:1

Easter Sunday


I hope that you have enjoyed the serialized version of my revision of Lent for Busy People.  It has been a joy to share it with you, and my hope is that it will be out in paperback well in time for Lent 2019.

For this Easter Sunday, I am reprinting a 1901 sermon by the late Bishop of New York,  the Right Reverend Henry Potter.

Blessings of this Feast of the Resurrection to you and yours!

Canon Charles Nalls

“Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the Sepulchre?” St. Mark xvi:3.

What an unlooked for and triumphant answer did they get who uttered that perplexed demand! They come, three sorrow-stricken women, to anoint their Master for His burial with hope quite dead in their bosoms, yet their love longs to pour itself out even upon their Lord’s insensible remains, and with tenderest ministries to make His dead body ready for the grave. And so, very early in the morning, “at the rising of the sun” they turn their footsteps toward His Sepulchre. Their hands bear aloes and myrrh, and every costliest antiseptic that their deep devotion can command, and in their woman’s weakness, their only thought now is, who shall be strong enough to roll away the stone?

That sealed and close shut Tomb; who would unlock it for their entrance? Their hearts never lift themselves above that poor dilemma. If they ever understood their Master’s promised victory over the grave, events have quenched their confidence in it now. To their eyes, the world’s forces seem to have been too Strong even for the powers that were His. Their hopes have been baffled, their glad anticipations quenched in tears–their Lord is dead, and now as they bend their steps to that new tomb in which His pulseless form was yesterday laid to rest, neither their expectations nor their fears can reach beyond the plaintive question–” Who shall roll us away the stone?”

They come to find that tomb an empty casket–they come to find its door wide open, and its tenant gone. Nay, they come to learn that He who yesterday was sleeping there, has wakened out of his sleep, and waiting for no earthly hands to give Him liberty, has passed the guarded portal, and scorning every poor material impediment, has gone forth alive again and free! An angelic hand has indeed rolled away the stone, and one clad in white raiment bids them see the place where only a little while before, their Master lay. But we must not overlook the fact which the Gospels make so plain, that when the angel comes to roll away the stone, Christ is already gone. He has needed no outward interposition to set Him free. When angels come to lift away the granite door, the rocky tomb is empty, and they are sent only the more unequivocally to show forth that emptiness to others. Within that grave had lain a force which no stone, however huge, could prison, nor any seal, however princely, bind. That life which Christ brought with Him out of heaven was mightier than any grave, and strong enough to brush aside the most huge and massive rock which could be rolled before it.

Is not this, now, the especial emphasis of what we call our Easter-fact? That fact finds fittest utterance in our Easter legend “now is Christ risen.” Our Easter joy is not the outgrowth of a speculation. Our anthem peals are not the purified prettiness of empty sentiment. Today we stand upon a fact, a fact against which unbelief has hurled its hostile waves in vain. The Lord is risen indeed. If that be not a fact; if every soundest rule of evidence does not authenticate it to us as a fact, then there is nothing under heaven susceptible of proof. If anything in all the past is true, then this is true–that out of that tomb into which Christ was day before yesterday borne a corpse, He went forth on that first Easter day a living man. On that fact we rest–take it away, and I own, freely, that the superincumbent structure crumbles to nothingness. On this ground the Apostle plants himself without equivocation. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” “But now is Christ risen from the dead.” That fact is our sheet anchor! But in what, I ask, resides its chiefest emphasis? What is it that Christ’s rising certifies to us? How is it that His victory intimates a victory for us? What is the law of which it is the high and bright disclosure?

It is because, by force of contrast, they throw out into such strong relief the heart-broken question of these tearful women for my text. For that question leads directly to radiant truth on which our Easter joy must rest. They thought Christ cold and stark and impotent. To approach Him and release His lifeless body, some power external to that body in its utter helplessness must be invoked to roll away the stone. But what a complete and radical mistake theirs was! Was Christ a prisoner there dependent on the chance ministries of some external hands to set Him free?

Ah, no! He waited for no angel, for, into that grave, when He descended to it, He carried a seed of life which of itself was strong enough to burst the seal and roll away the stone and give Him triumphant freedom!

The law of our life in Him is simply that His life passes over into us to be a quickening within us stronger than any grave. Does death steal suddenly on our households, taking away the forms our love has clung to? No matter! The life that has apprehended Him has in it that which is stronger than any grave. Or, do we feel in ourselves the growing sense of physical infirmities, and are we forced to own that the frail shrine through which our soul looks out on life is tottering to its fall? Still, what does it matter? Is it not true of every life that has fixed its grasp on Christ that just as with a beautiful and prophetic imagery the ancients buried their dead with seeds clasped in their hands, so our own hands have hold upon a principle of life potent enough to break through every bondage of the grave? We lay our dead to rest with no such dreary emblems as the pagan past discloses. Study the symbolism of the grave before Christ entered the world and see how hopeless it was. The broken column, the torch inverted in the chiseled stone, what did such signs as these proclaim but that in the eyes of those who used them, death had shattered the half-complete career, and left only ruin and darkness behind it?

Nay, we turn back to see the same hopelessness in those, whose rare endowments ought, we think, to have lifted their thought above the common gloom. Alas, they did not. We read the dialogues of Plato, and in them oftener than otherwise, there moans the sad undertone of blank uncertainty, we go to Cicero sitting grief-stricken in his Tuscan villa beside the dead body of his daughter, and as his eager thoughts run onward to her grave, what is his outcry, thinking of the gloom so soon to shut him out from her forever, but the dim echo of that question Who is there that can roll away the stone?   Ah, yes, through tear-dimmed centuries the question rang, and waited for an answer! In homes into whose glad serenity the shadow of the death-angel had forced its unsparing way, –from quivering lips left alone beside the graves that hid away out of their sight their loved and lost, wrung out of grief-burdened hearts that could not let their dear ones go, there came that cry, “Who is there brave enough and strong enough to roll away the stone?” And now we have their answer. Not as they looked for it, did it come, but by the clear disclosure of a truth how much more grand and gracious. Our sainted dead are not dependent on the help even of the angels, for they have taken the key that unlocks their prison door into the grave itself. The seeming victory of death is only seeming. Our Leader spoiled it when He died Himself. His burial was only one more step towards a fuller, freer life. And what was true of Him became thenceforward true of that humanity for which He died!

We may go back to nature now, and see how crowded full with these analogies it is. For nature is life. Anything in it that looks like death is but a token and certificate of life about to commence anew. Every end there is only a beginning–some lower form letting go its life and casting away its coarser self that it may re-appear again in forms more beautiful and pure. The mere leaves that seem to fade and rot, pass downward into the root life of some rarer plant more lovely than themselves, and when the sun and rains summon them anew come forth in forms more wonderful and hues rarer than ever they had known before. The creeping worm dies out of its meaner life into a winged form beauty which Egyptian art and Christian symbolism have alike borrowed to utter, the one its struggling hope–the other its clear undoubting faith. And this is at once the fitness and suggestiveness of our Easter blossoms. We miss the lessons of yonder flowers if we look on them as forms of mere adornment, or see in them only the hues and fragrance of a fleeting life. Beautiful as they are, like us, they will fade and fail. But their supreme appropriateness lies in this, that in all plant life under Heaven, death is the stepping stone to life more fair and rich, the law of which is held within themselves. The autumn winds strip the plant’s branches bare, and wither its blossoms and to outward semblance, quench the life of it wholly. But when the spring rains come again and the sun’s kindlier rays kiss the greenness back into the shriveled branches, there has been at work all the time an answering law of life within those branches, more powerful than all other powers besides. And thus, our vernal buds best symbolize our Easter fact.

How can our hearts then refuse to echo those notes of triumphant gladness with which this morning the Church’s services are ringing? How are our griefs transmuted, and our tears turned backward in their channels, as looking down into the empty sepulcher of Christ we find it a grave no longer, but transformed into the most glorious fabric and most solemn temple ever hewn by mortal hands–its open portal the firmest basis of the imperishable hopes of humanity and its ascended occupant the Everlasting pledge of what even death may be made to minister to us.