- Episcopi vagantes
"Episcopi vagantes" (singular: "episcopus vagans") are persons who have been consecrated as Christian
bishops outside the structures and canon lawof the established churches and are in communion with no generally recognized diocese. Also included are those who have in communion with them a group so small that it appears to exist solely for the alleged bishop's sake.Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article "episcopi vagantes"]
The term is
Latin, and means "wandering bishops" (or "stray bishops"). Those to whom it is applied see it as pejorative.
In modern times, the main streams of succession deriving from "episcopi vagantes" are those founded by
Arnold Mathew, Joseph René Vilatte, Leon Chechemian, and, since the 1970s, Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục
In Western Christianity, it has traditionally been taught, since as far back as the time of the
Donatistcontroversy, that any bishop can consecrate any other baptised man as a bishop provided that he observes the minimum requirements for the sacramental validity of the ceremony. This means that the consecration is valid even if it flouts certain ecclesiastical laws and even if the participants are schismatics or heretics.
Some theologians, within the Roman Catholic Church and elsewhere, question whether all such consecrations have effect, on the grounds that an ordination is for service within a specific Christian Church. Therefore an ordination ceremony that concerns only the individual himself does not, they say, correspond to the definition of an ordination and is without effect. The
Holy Seehas not commented on the correctness or erroneousness of this theory. Other theologians, notably those of the Eastern Orthodox Church, dispute this notion, but it can be seen how such an understanding opens up the possibility of valid but irregular consecrations proliferating outside the structures of the "official" denominations.
A distinction is also made in Catholic theology between the conferral of the "sacramental" powers associated with the episcopacy and the conferral of "jurisdiction": the power of a bishop to govern his people. In Roman Catholic canon law, a bishops's sacramental power is to some extent entwined with his jurisdiction (or lack of it): jurisdiction is required for valid celebration of the sacraments of Penance and Matrimony. Jurisdiction can be conferred only within the official structures of the Church under the Pope. Catholic "episcopi vagantes" sometimes appeal to the principle that, in emergency situations, jurisdiction is automatically "supplied" even where it has not explicitly been conferred ("Ecclesia supplet").
Eastern Orthodox Church's position has been summarised as follows::While accepting the canonical possibility of recognising the existence (υποστατόν) of sacraments performed outside herself, (the Eastern Orthodox Church) questions their validity (έγκυρον) and certainly rejects their efficacy (ενεργόν)."Citation
last = Pheidas
author-link = Professor Dr. Vlassios Pheidas
title = Τhe limits of the church in an orthodox perspective
url = http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/pheidas_limits_2.html
accessdate = 2007-11-07 ] It sees "the canonical recognition (αναγνώρισις) of the validity of sacraments performed outside the Orthodox Church (as referring) to the validity of the sacraments only of those who join the Orthodox Church (individually or as a body)."
This applies to the validity and efficacy of the ordination of bishops and the other sacraments, not only of the
Independent Catholic Churches, but also of all other Christian Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Assyrian Church of the East.
Anglican ordinations are not recognised as valid by the Roman Catholic Church. In recent times, some have claimed to discern intimations from the Roman Catholic Church that the non-recognition of Anglican ordinations might be re-examined. The ordination of women in the Anglican Communion has complicated this issue.
Many "episcopi vagantes" claim succession from the
Old CatholicSee of Utrecht, or from Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, or Eastern Catholic Churches. A few others derive their orders from Roman Catholic bishops that have consecrated their own bishops after disputes with the Holy See.
Many, if not most, "episcopi vagantes" are associated with
Independent Catholic Churches, and in some cases the bishop is almost the only clergyman of the group. They may be very liberal or very conservative. "Episcopi vagantes" may also include several conservative " Continuing Anglicans" who have broken with the Anglican Communionover various issues such as Prayer Book revision, ordination of womenand the ordination of unmarried, non-celibate individuals (including homosexuals).
Particular consecrations of "episcopi vagantes"
When it declared devoid of canonical effect the consecration ceremony conducted by Archbishop
Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thụcfor the Carmelite Order of the Holy Face group at midnight of 31 December 1975, the Holy See refrained from pronouncing on its validity. It made the same statement with regard also to later ordinations by those bishops, saying that, "as for those who have already thus unlawfully received ordination or any who may yet accept ordination from these, whatever may be the validity of the orders ("quidquid sit de ordinum validitate"), the Church does not and will not recognise their ordination ("ipsorum ordinationem"), and will consider them, for all legal effects, as still in the state in which they were before, except that the ... penalties remain until they repent" (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decree "Episcopi qui alios" of 17 September 1976- "Acta Apostolicae Sedis" 1976, page 623).
A similar declaration was issued with regard to Archbishop
Emmanuel Milingo's conferring of episcopal ordination on four men - all of whom, by virtue of previous Independent Catholic consecrations, claimed already to be bishops - on 24 September 2006: the Holy See, as well as stating that, in accordance with Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, all five men involved incurred automatic ("latae sententiae") excommunication through their actions, declared that "the Church does not recognise and does not intend in the future to recognise these ordinations or any ordinations derived from them, and she holds that the canonical state of the four alleged bishops is the same as it was prior to the ordination."Citation
author-link = Sala Stampa della Santa Sede
title = Declaration of the Press Office of the Holy See on the present ecclesial situation of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, 26.09.2006
date = 29 September 2006
year = 2006
url = http://126.96.36.199/news_services/bulletin/news/18881.php?index=18881&po_date=26.09.2006
accessdate = 2007-11-07 ]
In contrast, the Holy See has questioned neither the validity nor the canonical effect of the consecrations that the late Archbishop
Marcel Lefebvreperformed in 1988 for the service of the relatively numerous followers of the Traditionalist Catholic Society of St. Pius Xthat he had founded.
Some have questioned the mental capacity of Archbishop Ngô to form the requisite intention to consecrate. On this question it would be extremely difficult to obtain a definitive objective judgement. Ngô was advanced in age and was reportedly experiencing a dementia at the time of his actions in question.
* "Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church". Henry R.T. Brandreth. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1947.
* "Episcopi vagantes in Church History". A.J. Macdonald. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1945.
* "Bishops at Large". Peter F. Anson. New York City: October House Publishing, 1963.
* "The Wandering Bishops: Apostles of a New Spirituality" by Lewis Keizer. 2000 edition. [http://www.hometemple.org/WanBishWeb%20Complete.pdf] pdf
* "Independent Bishops: An International Directory", edited by Gary L. Ward, Bertil Persson, and Alan Bain. Apogee Books, 1990
* "Episcopi Vagantes and the Challenge to Catholic Ministry", an MA thesis by James Ford, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California, 1991.
* "The Priesthood Renewed: The Personal Journey of a Married Priest", by Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, HSA Publications, New York, NY, 2005.
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