Validity of new rite of episcopal consecrations: 5

Solution of the Difficulties: Defect of form

1) It is clear that the new form has nothing in common with the old form since the new rite does not take as its starting point the tradition of the Roman Church, but an Eastern tradition. Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis of November 30, 1947, defined what constituted the form of ordination in the Roman Rite. Obviously he did not intend to declare null and void the forms of the sacrament in usage in the Eastern Rites.

The expression “Spiritus principalis” used to designate the grace of episcopacy occurs in the two rites that we have compared with the form of Paul VI, but also in other Eastern rites.[84] Dom Botte explained it this way:

The expression 'Spiritus principalis' used in the formula of episcopal consecration raises several difficulties and gives rise to various translations in the proposed modern language versions. The question can be resolved provided that a sound method of explication is followed.

For indeed there are two problems that must not be confused. The first is that of the meaning of the expression in the original language of Psalm 50. That is the business of exegetes and specialists in Hebrew. The second is the meaning of the expression in the consecratory prayer, which is not necessarily linked to the first. To assume that the words did not change meaning for twelve centuries is a methodological error. And this error is all the more serious in this case as the context in which the word is used in the psalm does not serve to elucidate its meaning. Nothing indicates that the psalmist had the faintest idea of likening the situation of a bishop to that of David. For a Christian of the third century, the expression had a theological meaning which had nothing in common with what a king of Juda could have been thinking twelve centuries earlier. Even if we suppose that principalis is a mistranslation, that would have no importance in this matter. The only problem that arises is to know what meaning the author of the prayer gave to the expression.

The solution must be sought in two directions: the context of the prayer and the usage of the word hegemonicos [the Greek word corresponding to the Latin principalis] in the Christian vocabulary of the third century. It is evident that Spirit designates the person of the Holy Ghost. The entire context shows this: everyone keeps silent because of the descent of the Spirit. The real question is this: among all the epithets that might have been suitable, why was principalis chosen? At this point it is necessary to broaden the investigation.

The three orders [i.e., bishops, priests, and deacons] have a gift of the Holy Ghost, but it is not the same for each. For the bishop, it is the Spiritus principalis [the Spirit of authority]; for the priest, who forms the bishop’s council, it is the Spiritus consilii [the Spirit of counsel]; and for the deacon, it is the Spiritus zeli et sollicitudinis [the Spirit of zeal and solicitude]. It is clear that these distinctions are made according to the functions of each minister. Thus it is clear that principalis must be correlated with the specific functions of the bishop. It suffices to reread the prayer to be convinced of this.

The author begins with the typology of the Old Testament: God has never left His people without a leader, nor His sanctuary without a minister; this is also true for the new Israel, the Church. The bishop is both leader who must govern the new people, and the high priest of the new sanctuary which has been established in every place. The bishop is the ruler of the Church. Hence the choice of the term hegemonicos is understandable: it is the gift of the Spirit apt for a leader. The best translation in French would perhaps be 'the Spirit of authority.' But whatever the translation adopted, the meaning seems certain. An excellent demonstration of this was made in an article by Fr. J.  Lecuyer: 'Episcopat et presbyterat dans les ecrits d’Hippolyte de Rome,' Rech. Sciences Relig., 41 (1953) 30-50."[85]

It can be concluded that the formula is certainly valid, for it has been utilized from time immemorial in numerous Eastern Rites; it means the gift of the Holy Ghost that creates the bishop.[86] In passing, let us point out that this destroys the objection of Rore Sanctifica (see above, No.4, p.4), which claims that the essential form contains a Monophysite heresy, an “anti-filioque” heresy, an anti-Trinitarian heresy, and that it is Cabalistic and Gnostic to boot, for according to this view it affirms that the Son receives the Holy Spirit from the Father at a particular moment of His life. In reality, here it involves a gift of the Holy Ghost imparted to the human nature of our Lord. This (created) gift is conferred by the three Divine Persons, as is every work that is external to the Trinity, but it is attributed to the Father (see Jas. 1:17), according to the classical Catholic principle of appropriation.

2) The consecratory prayer of a bishop in the Antiochean Syrian Rite which Dr. Coomaraswamy cites is indeed quite different from Pope Paul VI’s rite.[87] But the Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani approving the new rite does not refer to this prayer. As we have explained, it was necessary to compare the new rite with the consecration rite of a Maronite patriarch. The doctor simply confused the two rites. Moreover, Dr. Coomaraswamy did not go to the trouble of looking at the Coptic rite, the second rite to which Pope Paul VI referred. When we pointed this out to a “Coomaraswamist,” the answer back was that the Coptic rite was quite close to the Syrian rite, and that that could not affect the demonstration. That answer merits a double zero, and suffices to show that the work of the “Coomaraswamists,” even if it looks impressive (especially by its volume) is in reality worthless.

3) The utilization of the form that is in use in two certainly valid Eastern rites assures its validity. The difficulty raised in this objection cannot open to doubt the fact of its validity, but calls for an explanation of how it can be valid. To respond to the difficulty, two solutions can be offered: 1) Either the designation of the episcopal power by one of its properties (the capacity to receive jurisdiction[88]) is sufficiently clear, in which case the essential part suffices;[89] 2) or else the essential part, insufficiently determined, is specified by the context, especially by the expression “summum sacerdotium” [fullness of the priesthood] which follows. This would be an instance of “significatio ex adjunctis” [that is, the full significance of the form is expressed by the surrounding words and ceremonies]: a form that does not fully express the essence of the sacramental grace is expressed by the prayers and the ceremonies which accompany it. Thus, in the traditional Mass, the Offertory manifests the propitiatory aspect of the Mass, and its suppression in the new rite constitutes a grave omission.

Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that the Coptic rite does not mention in any way the “completion of the priesthood” anywhere. Only an indirect mention is made of the plenitude of the power of Order in the expression: “May he have the power to constitute clerics according to his order for the sanctuary” (ut sit ipsi potestas... constituendi cleros secundum mandatum ejus ad sanctuarium).

4) What is important in the sacramental form is its meaning. Now, it is clear that the various modifications introduced do not change the meaning: “Spiritum principalem” in the accusative designates a gift of the Holy Ghost, as we have explained above. This explains why one finds the word Spiritus either in the genitive (designating the Person who gives the gift), as in the Latin version of the Apostolic Tradition; or in the accusative (designating the gift) as in the Canons of Hippolytus, which has “tribuens virtutem tuam et spiritum efficacem,” and as in the new rite. It is truly puerile to think that the addition of the phrase “super hunc electum” changes the meaning of the formula. Moreover, an analogous formula occurs in the form of consecration of a Maronite metropolitan.[90]

In general, when the several rites are compared, one can see that the differences are important. That proves that our Lord did not specify the form as precisely as He did for baptism or for the Eucharist (where the various formulas are very similar). He left a certain latitude to His Church, and it is futile to split hairs over minor changes that do not affect the meaning.

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84 For example, the consecration of the patriarch of Alexandria (“effunde super eum in spiritu tuo hegemonico scientiam tuam”), of the Syrian bishop (“mitte super servum tuum istum Spiritum tuum Sanctum et principalem”), and of the Maronite metropolitan (“effunde virtutem praefecturae Spiritus tui super hunc famulum tuum”): Henricus Denzinger, Ritus Orientalium Coptorum, Syrorum et Armenorum in Administrandis Sacramentis, II, 48, 97, 200.

85 Dom Bernard Botte, “Spiritus Principalis (formule de l’ordination episcopale),” Notitiae, 10 (1974), 410-11.

86 The gifts of the Holy Spirit in sacred Scripture are called “spiritus.” See Is. 11:2: “spiritus sapientiae et intellectus, spiritus consilii et fortitudinis...” designate the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

87 That said, even the consecratory prayer of a bishop in the Maronite rite contains the expression “Spiritus principalis” in the essential part, at least in the translation given by Henry Denzinger, who uses the version of Renaudot in a Florentine manuscript: “Mitte super servum tuum istum Spiritum tuum Sanctum et principalem…” (Ritus Orientalium, II, 97). Dr. Coomaraswamy gives the translation from the Pontifical des Syriens d’Antioche (Liban: Sharfe, 1952), Pt.2, 204-05: “Send upon your servant here Thy holy and spiritual breath...” (Le Drame anglican, p.49). It seems that there are variants in the Syrian rite.

88 As we have said in the introduction, we are working from the hypothesis that is most unfavorable to the validity of the new rite, namely, the sacramental nature of the episcopacy, in the sense that the episcopal consecration is held to impart some additional element of the sacrament of Orders beyond that which is conferred in ordination to the priesthood.

89 In the sacrament of Extreme Unction, the form of the sacrament is a prayer for obtaining the pardon of sins committed by the divers senses and organs. That is not the essence of the sacrament (which is a grace that fortifies the soul for the moment of death), but one property of it.

90 See Dom Paul Cagin, L’Anaphore apostolique, p.280: “super hunc famulum tuum.” Several other rites have “super eum.” Rore Sanctifica suspects that the use of the word “electus” is an allusion to Manicheism:

Now, given the Gnostic nature of the system from which this form comes, it is legitimate, in light of this context, to wonder if the episcopal rite of Paul VI might not be a rite conferring the powers to a Manichean elect." (Rore Sanctifica, p. 98).

This is literally ridiculous. The use of the word “electus” is constant in ordination rites even in the most ancient documents. It suffices to look at page 22 of Rore Sanctifica to see that the word is used in a text which the author dates before the year 300. As for his objection to the usage of the word “Filius” instead of “puer” (see footnote 10), one can simply answer that the Greek word for boy or child has been translated by son in the Latin version... and in Ludolf’s translation of the Ethiopian version; cf. Dom Paul Cagin, L’Anaphore apostolique, p.275. Rore Sanctifica does not even give his source. It is not a serious work.