"Essential to the perpetuity of the Christian ministry": did we really need the Tracts?

In yesterday's post I mentioned James Bassnett Mills.  Today, an extract from another of his works, A History of the Christian Priesthood (1835), a traditional High Church defence of the apostolic three-fold order. It suggests how utterly flawed is any notion that Anglicanism needed Tractarianism in order to be reminded of "the real ground on which our authority is built, OUR APOSTOLICAL DESCENT" (Tract I).

It has also been proved, upon scriptural authority, that these Bishops were exclusively invested with the right of ordination; there being not a single passage of Scripture that speaks of ordinations by Presbyters. It follows, therefore, that the office of the Apostolate or Episcopal order is essential to the perpetuity of the Christian ministry. All authority to minister in the Church is derived from Christ, and there are but two ways in which this authority could have been delegated by him to his ministers; either by the continual and visible interposition of Christ in the call and ordination of every individual minister, which would have been contrary to the scheme of God's providence as displayed in his dealings with mankind or by the transmission of that authority through an uninterrupted succession, from those who had primarily received it from Christ himself down to the present time. Hence the original necessity for, and the continuance of the Episcopal order.


  1. I'm not sure how the publication of a book that happens to agree with the tracts on a key point somehow obviates the need for the tracts. How widely read were the works of this James Bassnett Mills? Did he represent a general upswell in the Church of England toward recovering the patristic and apostolic heritage?

    1. Joseph, many thanks for your comment. The book was representative of a vibrant, widespread, popular High Church movement in the CofE and wider Anglicanism prior to 1833 and apart from Tractarianism. As Nockles has shown in 'The Oxford Movement in Context', and as JDC Clark has demonstrated in a number of works, this High Church tradition had deep roots amongst both clergy and laity. The point is that the patristic and apostolic heritage did not need to be recovered - it was very much alive (indeed, probably dominant) in Anglicanism in 1833.



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