Validity of new rite of episcopal consecrations: 4

Is the new rite valid?

Having set forth the genesis of the new rite, now we must answer the question: is this rite valid? As we have seen, the prayer for the ordination of a bishop was taken from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, also called the Diataxis of the Holy Apostles. Dr. Marcel Metzger, a researcher in canon law and professor of the Strasbourg Theology Faculty, explains its historical context:

The relations between Chapter VIII of the Apostolic Constitutions[64] and the Egyptian Church Order,[65] the Testament of the Lord Jesus Christ,[66] and the Canons of Hippolytus[67] have led researchers to posit a common source, which several researchers have attempted to reconstitute by presenting it as a work of Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235): the Apostolic Tradition. This identification has been contested by other researchers. Basing our judgment upon the work of M. Richard and J. Magne, we prefer the title Diataxis of the Holy Apostles: this document forms the outline of Book VIII of the Apostolic Constitutions and has already been amply studied and reported on, in particular in Dom Bernard Botte’s attempted reconstitution.[68]

It mainly treats of ordinations, the celebration of the Eucharist, baptism, community meals, prayer and fasting.

Origin, date, and author. For those who attribute the authorship of this work to Hippolytus, everything is simple: it would have been compiled at Rome c. 215 to 218.[69] But if this attribution is rejected, [as it seems to be] by researchers at present, one can only repeat with J. Magne that it is 'an anonymous compilation containing elements taken from different periods.'”[70, 71]

The original Greek has been lost except for a few passages. An ancient, 5th century Latin version exists which contains a good half of the work.[72] Other Eastern versions (Coptic, Arabic, Abyssinian) enable the text to be reconstructed with a fair degree of certitude. In addition to these translations, we also possess free adaptations, though which lack the same value, such as Book VIII of the Apostolic Constitutions and its Epitome.[73]

As for the priest named Hippolytus to whom this work is attributed—without certitude—we know little about him: Pope Damasus (366-84) composed an inscription for his grave, proof that his cultus as a martyr was official at that time. Yet the same pope informs us that he was schismatic. It is believed that he was reconciled with Pope Pontian (230-35) while in exile, but this is uncertain. The Roman Calendar [in the Chronography of 354] records under August 13 the feast of Hippolytus with that of St. Pontian.

The Apostolic Tradition contains 42 chapters (and a conclusion) which can be divided in three parts: the Constitution of the Church (Chapters 1-14: regulations concerning bishops, deacons, priests, confessors, etc.), Christian initiation (Chapters 15-21: catechumenate, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist), and the usages of the community (Chapters 22-42: rules concerning meals, prayer, etc.). The prayer for the consecration of a bishop is found in Chapter 3, while Chapter 4 gives a Eucharistic prayer utilized by the bishop after his consecration. In fact, it is this prayer that has been taken (with modifications)[74] for the second Eucharistic prayer of Pope Paul VI’s new Mass.

If we had only this book (of which we know neither the origin nor even the orthodoxy) it would be necessary to scrutinize the prayer of consecration to see if it can validly confer the episcopacy. However, as we have shown, Dom Botte points out that this consecratory prayer was incorporated into two Eastern rites, and it is this fact that determined the Consilium [that is, the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy—Ed.] to accept it. The two rites are the Coptic rite, used in Egypt, and the Western Syrian rite, used notably by the Maronites.[75]

Let us note in passing that these two rites are perfectly Catholic. This has nothing to do with the rites of “schismatic and heretical Abyssinians,” as one “Coomaraswamist” pontificated on the Internet on July 11, 2005. Beside the fact that neither the Maronites nor the Copts are Abyssinian,[76] this Internet pontificator apparently does not know that the Eastern “schismatics and heretics” use the same rites as the Catholics.

To assure ourselves of the validity of Pope Paul VI’s rite, it will suffice for us to place side by side the new consecratory prayer and the two Eastern rites in question. The validity of these two rites can in no wise be called into question, otherwise the Coptic Church (Catholic as well as Orthodox) and the Syrian Church (which includes the Maronites) would have neither bishops nor priests, nor would they ever have had them. We have prepared a four-column comparison (refer Table 3: Four-column comparison of 1968 edition with Hippolytus text, Coptic and Maronite Rites) with, in order from left to right, Pope Paul VI’s new consecratory prayer,[77] the Latin version of the Apostolic Tradition [i.e., “of Hippolytus”—Ed.],[78] the Coptic rite, and the Syrian rite. For the latter two texts we have used the Denzinger translation.[79] With the four prayers transcribed into the same language, the comparison is made easy.

A more complete comparison of all the episcopal consecration prayers of this family is found in a 1919 study by Dom Paul Cagin, O.S.B. (Appendix 2: Comparison of forumulas).[80] This author compares 11 prayers for the consecration of a bishop of which—in addition to the two we provide—two more are certainly valid: the prayer for the consecration of a Maronite metropolitan [a hierarchical rank between patriarch and archbishop—Ed.] and that for a Coptic metropolitan and patriarch. He summarizes everything in a table of comparison which proves that all these prayers are from one family. All this was known 50 years before Pope Paul VI’s reform, and even before the deviation of the liturgical movement.[81]

The comparison between these various prayers seems to us sufficiently eloquent in itself: the new rite contains the substance of the Coptic and Syriac rites. Its validity cannot be doubted without striking from Church history these two Churches from which have come such great saints and doctors: St. Athanasius and St. Cyril of Alexandria (patriarchs of Alexandria), St. John Chrysostom and St. Jerome (ordained priests at Antioch), etc. Will it be necessary to say that these personages were merely pious laymen?

In the answers to the difficulties we shall enter into certain discussions in more detail, but it seems to us that the substance of the demonstration is achieved by this comparison.

Let it be said, though, that we are only speaking of the validity of the new rite as it was published by the Vatican. We do not speak of the legitimacy of this reform (was it good to suppress the Roman rite and replace it by an Eastern rite?), nor of the validity of the different translations and adaptations of the official right in divers particular cases: because of the generalized disorder that prevails in matters both of liturgy and dogma, there can be serious reasons for doubting the validity of certain episcopal consecrations.

For instance, on the occasion of the episcopal consecration of Bishop Daneels, auxiliary bishop of Brussels, Archbishop Lefebvre said: They published booklets for this consecration. For the public prayers, here is what was said and then repeated by the crowd:

Be an apostle like Peter and Paul, be an apostle like the patron saint of this parish, be an apostle like Gandhi, be an apostle like Luther, be an apostle like Martin Luther King, be an apostle like Helder Camara, be an apostle like Romero...."

An apostle like Luther?! What intention did those bishops have when they consecrated this bishop, His Excellency Daneels?[82] It’s frightening... Has this bishop really been consecrated? It can be doubted, all the same. If that was the intention of the consecrators, then it is unimaginable! The situation is even more serious than we had thought.[83]

It would be necessary to examine each case. Given the difficulty of the thing, the usage that seems to prevail among traditionalists is to conditionally re-ordain priests ordained by the conciliar Church and returning to Tradition. This prudential measure obviously does not weaken the conclusion of our study on the validity of the new rite in itself.

Part 5>


65 A compilation in use in the patriarchate of Alexandria [c. beginning of the 3rd century]. It is the most ancient document of the collection from which all the others are derived. Dom Botte matches its second half to the Apostolic Tradition. See R. H. Connolly, The so-called Egyptian Church Order and Derived Documents (Cambridge, 1916).—Ed.

66 See footnote 36.

67 An Alexandrine anthology probably dating from the second half of the 4th century. Edition: R. G. Coquin, Les Canons d’Hippolyte, Oriental Patrology [series] XXXI, 2 (Paris, 1966).—Ed.

68 Bernard Botte, O.S.B., La Tradition apostolique de saint Hippolyte: Essai de reconstitution, LQF 39 (Munster-Westfalen, 1963); abridged version: Hippolyte de Rome: la Tradition apostolique d’apres les anciennes versions (SC 11 bis ), (Paris, 1968). On the controversy over this document, see these sources: J. Magne, Tradition apostolique sur les charismes et Diataxeis des saints Apotres (Paris, 1975), pp.23-32; A. G. Martimort, “La Tradition apostolique,” L’Annee Canonique, 23 (1979), 159-173; A. Faivre, “La documentation canonico-liturgique,” Revue des Sciences Religieuses, (1980), 297-86; G. Kretschmar, “La liturgie ancienne dans les recherches historiques actuelles,” La Maison Dieu, 149 (1982), 59-63. (Metzger’s note.) [Translator’s note: The trimestrial review La Maison Dieu, dedicated to liturgical matters, was launched in 1945 as the organ of the Liturgical Pastorate Center, itself an arm of the Cerf Publishing Co., an important participant in the Liturgical Movement that culminated in the liturgical changes ushered in by Vatican II. The publishing house was actually founded by a Dominican priest at the request of Pope Pius XI, to offer an alternative to Charles Maurras and his organization, Action Francaise.]

69 See Botte, O.S.B., SC 11 bis, p.14.

70 J. Magne, Tradition apostolique sur les charismes..., p.86; later, this author even speaks of “pre-Apostolic regulations.” J. M. Hanssens, in La liturgie d’Hippolyte, ses documents, son titulaire, 2nd. ed. (Rome, 1959), p.250, while accepting the attribution of the work to Hippolytus, also thinks that this document contains more ancient elements: it was “both an Apostolic document and the personal work of an author, Hippolytus,” a thesis further developed on p.500.

71 Marcel Metzger, Les Constitutions apostoliques (Paris: Cerf, SC 329, 1985), I, 17-18.

72 This document is part of a collection of writings discovered on a Veronese palimpsest. It was published in 1900 by Hauler at Leipzig under the title: Didascaliae apostolorum fragmenta Veronensia latina. A palimpsest is a parchment that has been used more than once, the earlier writing having been scraped off. Thanks to modern techniques, it is possible to read the earlier writing. However, in the case of this manuscript, Hauler used a chemical agent which rendered it impossible to read today using an ultra-violet lamp. Dom Botte thought that, from what he was able to verify with the naked eye and using a magnifying glass, Hauler’s work was careful and can be relied upon for what has now become illegible (Botte, op. cit., p.xvii).

73 F. X. Funk, Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum (Paderborn, 1905), II, 72-96. This writing, also called the Constitutions by Hippolytus, is an extract from the Apostolic Constitutions; however, for some chapters, the text of the Epitome is closer to that of the Apostolic Tradition, notably for the prayer for the consecration of a bishop, of which the Greek is very close to the Latin and Ethiopian versions of the Apostolic Tradition.

74 See Sel de la Terre, 52 (Spring 2005), p.75.

75 The Latin version of the text of these two rites was attached as an appendix to [Group 20’s] Schema 180 of Aug. 29, 1966.

76 Abyssinia is another name for Ethiopia. The Ethiopians have their own rite, different from that of the Egyptian Copts.

77 Pontificale Romanum, 1968. The text is the same in the second edition (1990). The document that served as a basis for the new rite was not the Latin version (in column 2), but a reconstitution based upon the Latin version, the Ethiopian version, and the Greek epitome of the Apostolic Constitutions (see n.10). This explains certain differences between the first two columns.

78 Hippolytus of Rome, La Tradition apostolique d’apres les anciennes versions, with introduction, translation, and notes by Bernard Botte, O.S.B. 2nd ed., SC 11 bis (Paris: Cerf, 1984). It is the version that was discovered on the Veronese palimpsest and then published by Hauler (see n.9).

79 Henricus Denzinger, Ritus Orientalium Coptorum, Syrorum et Armenorum in Administrandis Sacramentis, 2 vols. (Graz, Austria, 1961).

80 Dom Paul Cagin, O.S.B., L’Anaphore apostolilque et ses temoins (Paris: Lethielleux, 1919), pp.274-93. See Appendix 2.

81 [Translator’s note: Cf. Didier Bonneterre, The Liturgical Movement (Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2002).]

82 Conference given at Nantes, February 5, 1983.

83 Conference given at Econe, October 28, 1988.