The per saltum consecrations of 1610: Anglican precedent or not?

In 1610 the titular Archbishop of Glasgow, John Spottiswood, and the titular bishops of Brechin and of Galloway were summoned to London to receive episcopal consecration.  These consecrations were the culmination of an effort by King James (VI of Scotland and I of England) to restore diocesan episcopacy and order to his first realm of Scotland.  The 1610 consecrations are an interesting event in the history of the Scottish Church in particular and of Stuart Britain in general.  These consecrations are also, so far as I can discover, the sole mainstream Anglican example of episcopal consecrations per saltum:  that is, of consecration to the episcopate of men who had not previously received the inferior orders of deacon and priest.  Consecration ‘per saltum’ means consecration ‘by leap’, referring to the skipping or leaping over of the ‘interstices’ of the lower orders.

In this brief paper I will not consider in detail the general question of consecration per saltum.  A few points, however, on this wider subject are necessary.  First, and as will be noted in more detail later, there are several examples in the ancient Church of such consecrations –– Saint Ambrose is the most famous case.  Secondly, such examples do not effectively settle the matter, since subsequent enactments by Church synods and Councils forbade such consecrations and further determined that the recipients of such orders incur ecclesiastical penalties that include a permanent bar on the exercise of the order so irregularly received.  So, thirdly and finally, the usefulness of such consecrations as a possible future tool for purposes of ecumenical reconciliation and reunion remains an open question.

It is undeniably true that consecrations per saltum were likely to be at least a little less offensive to Stuart Scottish churchmen of a Presbyterian persuasion than would consecrations preceded by what such churchmen would certainly have seen as re-ordinations to the presbyterate.  Even as it was the consecrations were bitterly resented by many.  A contemporary of the events, John Row, the Minister of Carnock, wrote a few years after the fact in A Historie of the Kirk of Scotland (Edinburgh: Maitland Club, 1842) that the Scotsmen were kept in London

…till the moneth of November, at what tyme the English Parliament satt doune at Westminster; and then, be a speciall Commission from the King to the Bischop of London for that effect, the Archbischop of Glasgow and the other two wer solemnlie ordained, inaugurat, and consecrat, with anoynting of oyle, and other ceremonies, iust according to the English faschion and pontificall of the Papists; who efter returning to Scotland, in the moneth of December, did to the Archbischop of St Androis in St Androis, as they were done withall at Lambeth, alse neer as they could possiblie imitat….. (Pages 97-8)

Another unsympathetic Scotsman, David Calderwood, in his True History of the Church of Scotland briefly described the consecrations of Bishops Spottiswood, Lambe, and Hamilton, and then wrote, ‘Their Consecration is of…no force, and ought not to be acknowledged.’ (1704 [1678], Holland [?], p. 644).  This condemnation comes from a Presbyterian perspective, not from any scruple about proceedings per saltum.  But if the very idea of episcopacy were so offensive, how much more would be that of an episcopacy that implied the invalidity of all Presbyterian ordinations?  James no doubt had this question and its practical implications in his mind.

Archbishop Spottiswood himself is probably best known as the author of his own history of the Church of Scotland.  Happily for us, this history includes Spottiswood’s account of his own consecration.  Spottiswood tells us that after their arrival in London, he and his companions were summoned to court in mid-September, where the King addressed them in the following fashion:

That he had to his great charge recovered the bishoprics forth of the hands of those that possessed them, and bestowed the same upon such as he hoped should prove worthy of their places:  but since he could not make them bishops, nor could they assume that honour to themselves, and that in Scotland there was not a sufficient number to enter them to their charge by consecration, he had called them to England, that being consecrated themselves they might at their return give ordination to those at home, and so the adversaries’ mouths be stopped, who said that he did take upon him to create bishops, and bestow spiritual offices, which he never did nor would he presume to do, acknowledging that authority to belong to Christ alone, and those whom he had authorized with his power.

Spottiswood, speaking of himself in the third person, next tells his readers that he indicated his willingness to obey the king’s desire, but only wished that the reception of orders at English hands not imply acceptance by the Scots of ‘old usurpations’ which would subject the Church of Scotland to the Church of England.  James replied that he had already thought of that, and so had determined that neither of the English archbishops would serve as consecrators, since they alone conceivably might pretend to any authority over Scotland.  The bishops of London, Ely, and Bath were to be the consecrators.  With that matter settled, the consecrations were scheduled for October 21st at London House.

At this point a more serious problem was raised by Lancelot Andrewes, who at the time was the bishop of Ely, and so one of the proposed consecrators.  Andrewes also was probably the most able theologian on the English bench.  Spottiswood gives the following account of Andrewes’s presentation of the problem and of the resolution thereof:

A question…was moved by Dr Andrews, bishop of Ely, touching the consecration of the Scottish bishops, who, as he said, ‘must first be ordained presbyters, as having received no ordination from a bishop.’ The archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Bancroft, who was by, maintained ‘that thereof there was no necessity, seeing where bishops could not be had, the ordination given by the presbyters must be esteemed lawful; otherwise that it might be doubted if there were any lawful vocation in most of the reformed Churches.’  This applauded to by the other bishops, Ely acquiesced, and at the day and in the place appointed the three Scottish bishops were consecrated.

The objection from Andrewes and the reply from Bancroft are put in quotation marks by Spottiswood.  Here we see that Andrewes raises an objections to consecration per saltum and was thought by Bancroft to imply a high and exclusive understanding of episcopacy.  The response from Bancroft, who in the Elizabethan context was a very determined episcopalian, is nonetheless more typical of Tudor and early Stuart views of episcopacy than was the view implied by Andrewes, or at least implied by Andrewes in Bancroft’s mind as reported by Spottiswood.  The typical episcopalian under Elizabeth and James contended that the claims of episcopacy should not be asserted so far as to unchurch non-episcopal Protestant ecclesial bodies. As Hooker put it, those reformed churches which lost episcopacy against their will are more to be pitied for their loss than condemned and unchurched.

Few Anglican Catholics now, I suspect, would shrink from the conclusion that Bancroft and his generation apparently found unthinkable:  namely, that there is a radical defect in non-episcopalian ecclesial bodies.  But it is not surprising given the common opinion of the day that the other bishops present ‘applauded’ Bancroft’s argument from necessity in cases where ‘bishops could not be had’.  Yet it is noteworthy and perhaps significant that, after mention of this applause, Spottiswood says only that Andrewes ‘acquiesced’ in Bancroft’s proposal.  We cannot, I think, now determine whether Andrewes reluctantly consented to the majority opinion, whether he was persuaded by Bancroft’s argument and another that we will consider in a moment from Bishop Abbot, or whether he bowed to royal opinion, about which we also will hear in a moment.  It seems likely that Andrewes was aware of the ancient synodal condemnation of per saltum consecrations.  Certainly Andrewes would have felt that consecrations per saltum are at best irregular in the light of the very clear requirement of the Prayer Book for the prior inferior ordinations by a bishop.  Since Andrewes was willing to let his scruple be overcome, he clearly did not consider per saltum consecrations to be necessarily and universally invalid.  All that Spottiswood’s readers can glean from his account is that in the event the consecrations did occur, with Andrewes as a consecrator, despite his initial objection.

The Reverend W. Stephen, in an 1896 History of the Scottish Church adds a bit more to this picture.  After citing Andrewes’s objection and Bancroft’s response, Stephen says that the

…primate’s opinion was supported by Dr. Abbot, bishop of London, who further cited the historical cases of St. Ambrose and Nectarius, both of whom were laymen consecrated per saltum to the episcopate.  The majority of the bishops concurred with Bancroft and Abbot.  (Page 202)

Abbot is here said to have added historical precedents to Bancroft’s argument.  It is possible, if Andrewes’s acquiescence implies that he was converted from his original objection, that he was persuaded in whole or part by Abbot’s precedents, and not – or not mainly – by Bancroft’s argument.  Again, one can only note the possibility.

A third version of the event comes in Gilbert Burnet’s famous History of My Own Time.  It should be remembered that Burnet was a Whig in politics and a Latitudinarian in religion, and also that he wrote about a century after the event in question.  Burnet refers to the events of 1610 when discussing the second revival of the Scottish episcopate, namely that which followed the Restoration of Charles II.  On that later occasion, Burnet writes,

When the time fixed for the consecration of the Bishops of Scotland came on, the English bishops finding that Sharp and Leightoun had not Episcopal ordination, as Priests and Deacons, and the other two having been ordained by Bishops before the wars, they stood upon it, that they must be ordain’d first Deacons and then Priests.  Sharp was very uneasy at this, and remembred them of what had happened when King James had set up Episcopacy.  Bishop Andrews moved at that time the ordaining them, as was now proposed:  But that was overruled by King James, who thought it went too far towards the unchurching of all those who had no Bishops among them.  But the late war, and the disputes during that time, had raised these controversies higher, and brought men to stricter notions, and to maintain them with more fierceness.  The English Bishops…were positive in the point, and would not dispense with it.

In this account Bancroft’s argument about unchurching non-episcopal Protestants is attributed to the mind and will of King James.  James, of course, was a rather accomplished theologian who most certainly would have had an opinion in the matter.  It would not be surprising if his Archbishop of Canterbury mirrored the royal mind.  If so, it is possible that Andrewes’s acquiescence to the consecrations per saltum was more a matter of bowing to the royal will than to the arguments of either Bancroft or Abbot.  In assessing this possibility one should remember Andrewes’s very high opinion of royal authority.  Burnet’s account does not settle the matter of which opinion weighed most heavily in Andrewes’s thinking, but one at least must consider Burnet’s emphasis.

In the end while we can be fairly certainly about most of the facts of the incident in question, we cannot be so certain about the exact motives and opinions of Lancelot Andrewes.  My best guess is that his original objection to the consecrations per saltum rested upon the clear requirements of the Prayer Book and knowledge of the traditional canonical prohibition against the practice.  Andrewes probably would have been reluctant to formulate explicitly an argument that would, as Bancroft put it, cause doubt if there were any lawful vocation in most of the reformed churches.  Reluctance to move further to an assertion of theoretical invalidity would be natural, given Andrewes’s irenic temper.   Given the period such reluctance to unchurch all non-episcopalians would have been perfectly consistent with belief both in the absolute superiority of episcopalianism and also in the divine institution of episcopacy.

Despite the limits to what with certainty we know from the sources just cited about the consecrations of 1610, we know enough to deal with the limited question of their authority as a precedent with ecumenical relevance.  Whatever the true and full motives of Lancelot Andrewes, the 1610 consecrations per saltum form no apt precedent for future consecrations per saltum or for resolving the problems of reunion with non-episcopal ecclesial bodies.  On the one hand, the chief argument for not first bestowing the inferior orders in 1610 was that that would ‘unchurch’ most reformed bodies.  As I have already said, this argument will not carry much weight with Anglican Catholics.  Furthermore, it is not a necessary argument:  it is possible to stick upon the need to receive Holy Orders in the normal order for the sake of regularity and tradition, without formally asserting the certain invalidity either of non-episcopal ordinations or of ordinations per saltum.  It is easier to say where orders are certainly valid than to say where they certainly are not.  It is possible to stick upon a point for the sake of certain validity and regularity without asserting the certain invalidity of those who proceed otherwise.  A prudent silence may be best concerning those who are doubtfully valid or regular.  In any case, Bancroft’s argument is unpersuasive.

In addition, if Andrewes were swayed not by the intrinsic merit of Bancroft and Abbot’s arguments, but rather by the royal will, then again we need not give weight to such considerations.  Lawful authority now condemns consecrations per saltum.  Even in 1610 the doctrine of passive obedience would not have required active obedience to what was merely a royal opinion or velleity, which had no force of law and in fact was contrary to the requirements of the lawfully and royally established Prayer Book Ordinal.  We need not condemn James:  he was no doubt legitimately concerned that a requirement for mass re-ordinations, which necessarily would have followed from a rejection of all non-episcopalian orders, might well have created a vast opposition in Scotland to the gradual re-establishment of effective, diocesan episcopacy.  History tells us the price James’s son paid for insufficient concern about Scottish Presbyterian sensitivities.  But if we need not condemn, neither should we imitate.

In short, the example of 1610 may have no force or bearing on contemporary behavior.  The English bishops in 1661 saw the flaw in the earlier proceedings and declined to repeat the mistake.  The Scottish Episcopal Church descended from the regularly restored hierarchy of 1661, rather than from the per saltum consecrations of 1610.  The events of 1610 are anomalous.

(Revised from 2006.  Copyright retained by the author)

2 thoughts on “The per saltum consecrations of 1610

  1. Thank you for this detailed article! I have been interested in this ever since reading Stephen Neill’s very brief account in Anglicanism (1958) – but had never yet tried to ‘do my homework’ on it, myself.

    You have now spurred me on, and I have encountered and read with interest Bishop John Wordworth´s 1909 work On Ordination “Per Saltum” and Home Reunion as transcribed at Project Canterbury.

    A question Dr. Wordsworth does not raise or address as such is, whether explicitly ‘conditional ordination’ would have been a possibility in either or both 1610 and 1661?

    In his little paragraph in Anglicanism, Bishop Neill writes, of the three in 1610,”This consecration per saltum served as one of the precedents for what was done at the inauguration of the Church of South India in 1947.” How does the ACC/do other Continuing Anglicans look back upon that?


    1. I don’t think the ACC would view the Church of South India scheme with much favor. It’s subsequent history would support some skepticism about it. I think some Continuing Anglican groups have not conditionally repeated the interstices in cases when the ACC does. As for the form to be used (now or in the 17th century), since the BCP and Ordinal provide no conditional forms, except for baptism, I was told by my predecessor that the condition should be mental and in the intention of the officiating bishop with no change in the form itself.


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