Sunday, December 18, 2011

Solo Consecrations

There is much discussion about the essential requirements for the consecration of a bishop. Traditionally, there has been the Roman Catholic doctrine of matter, form, and intent. This essentially says that one must intend to do what the Church does using the laying on of hands and the consecratory preface. While these scholastic terms are the legal requirements for Roman Catholics, they also are the general requirements for all other churches within the apostolic succession.

There is frequent discussion about the solo consecration of a bishop by another bishop. Generally, the desirable thing is to have two or three bishops together consecrating a new bishop. This ensures that (1) the consecration is valid if the principal consecrator lacks valid orders and (2) the collegiality of the neighboring churches gathered around the Eucharist. Indeed, there are ancient texts that speak to the necessity of having multiple bishops participate in consecrations:

Canon 13 of the Council of Carthage: That a bishop should not be ordained except by many bishops, but if there should be necessity he may be ordained by three.
Canon 1 of the Apostolic Canons: Let a bishop be ordained by two or three bishops. 

Yet, this practice is not always followed. There are points when it could not be followed because of persecution, inability to secure another bishop, etc. Below are some interesting historical precedents that point to places in history that prove that one is still valid when consecrated solo. Included are Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox examples of solo consecrations which were (often) conducted even in secret.
  • Bishop Dominique Marie Varlet, beginning in 1724, consecrated Steenoven, Barchman, van der Croon, and Meindartz.
  • Bishop Josaph (Bolotav), the first Russian Orthodox Bishop of Alaska, was consecrated in 1799 by Bishop Benjamin of Irkutsk upon orders from the Holy Synod to perform that consecration alone.
  • Bishop Michel d'Herbigny (pictured), beginning in 1926, consecrated Pie Neveu, Aleksander Frison, Boleslavs Sloskans, and Antonio Malecki solo.
  • Bishop Matthew (Karpathakis) of Bresthena consecrated the bishops of the Greek Old-Calendarist Church solo in 1940.
  • Bishop Barnabas of Cannes of ROCOR consecrated Lazarus of Tambov solo in 1982.
There are also numerous examples of solo consecrations by Bishops Thuc, Alfredo Gonzalez, etc. This list is just to provide a few examples of solo consecrations.


  1. The sacraments are very simple signs and very simply administered. If a child is baptized by one priest, he is baptized and no one doubts that or questions it. The family and others have usually witnessed it and can verify that it was done. The ordination (consecration) of a bishop is the same. It is simple as outlined above. Once it is done even by one bishop it should not be called into question. In Northern Europe when travel was difficult, a century or more ago, it was very common to have two abbots or two priests act as co-consecrators. They were not bishops but witnessed that everything was done properly. So it was not uncommon for one (solo) bishop to consecrate even though three or more bishops are desired and recommended. Today in the Independent Sacramental Movement, there are so many bishops available, it would seem to be negligent to consecrate solo. Those who are to be consecrated as bishops should see to it that at least three bishops are present to lay on hands.

    Let me say that I object to the title Vagrant Vicar and to the use of the pejorative term episcopi vagantes but may say more on that in the future.

  2. For myself, I've accepted a harder line approach for consecrations.

    Recognition of Orders
    The 3 elements of consecration/ordination are: matter, form, and intent.

    1. Proper matter for a candidate to the episcopacy is a validly ordained priest. The proper matter for the consecrator is a validly ordained bishop. The Council of Sardica in 344AD stated the requirement for the episcopacy must be a priest. This was also affirmed in the 1917 Roman Catholic Canon 295. St. Thomas Aquinas further supported this belief when he wrote, “the episcopal power depends on the priestly power, since no one can receive the episcopal power unless he have previously the priestly power.” (Summa, Supp. 40, 5) The Order of the episcopacy is the same power of the priest in regard to the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Unction, and Matrimony. The order of the episcopacy is unique and proper ordered for the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders. The Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, canon 35 requires bishops be ordained priests for 5 years before being eligible for the position of bishop, however, the time period is not bearing upon validity.

    2. The form for a valid consecration includes the Rites within the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Mariavite Old Catholic, Jacobite, and Old Catholic faiths which are members of the Union of Utrecht. The ancient Catholic and Orthodox faiths both require 3 consecrating bishops to consecrate an additional bishop. The Orthodox Churches deny validity if there are less than two consecrating bishops. In 1562, the Western church allowed for 1 bishop and 2 delegated priests to be active in the consecration for the consecration to be valid, but only in mission territories where there were not 3 bishops available. Our own Bishop Varlet was consecrated in this fashion. At the very least, there needs to be three clerics present to consecrate. One bishop and two delegated priests who represent apostolic communities are needed to consecrate a bishop.

    3. The intention of the consecrating bishop must be to consecrate a bishop within the apostolic tradition. The Church has to ask for the consecration and the consecrators have to intend to do what the church intends to do. The Church is not defined denominationally, but it must include clergy and laity. Unilateral decisions made by 1 or 2 bishops with no other clergy or laity do not constitute the intent of the Church by any definition. Also, it is completely outside of the apostolic tradition to consecrate an overseer of nothing. A bishop who acts unilaterally in the consecration of a bishop is in serious violation of the apostolic tradition and the consecration may not be valid. The Roman Catholic faith has the practice of titular bishoprics for the purpose of administration within the church. The order of bishop is for sacramental purposes and for administration purposes. The titular bishopric is for the sole purpose of the latter and is outside of the apostolic intent of the early Church. With membership of the Roman Catholic Church reaching 1 billion people, the need for overseers without dioceses became essential and is a reasonable evolution of the role of apostolic administrators. For churches without these numbers, multiplying members to the Episcopal order is an abuse of the order and may constitute invalid intent, acting outside of the intent of the church.

    Note:Even within the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Old Catholic faiths, there are example of invalid consecrations for legitimate purposes and we trust in the grace of Holy Spirit, although the action is outside of the apostolic faith.