A Chapter of Secret History (1922, 1945)

Being an Account of some little-known Bishops in the Nineteenth Century in England and of some facts in the history of the Order of Corporate Reunion
By Mar Francis Ernest Langhelt of the Free Anglo-Catholic Church
Reprinted at Glastonbury in 1945 by kind permission of the Church Times from its issue of April 28th, 1922, page 445.

In the years before 1866 desire for reunion with the historic Churches of the East and West had been shown very clearly in the Church of England. A petition, signed by some of the most influential of the Tractarian clergy, for instance, begged the first Pan-Anglican Conference of Bishops in 1867 to give effect to that desire. But the approach to the Christians of the East was in part affected by the controversy which had been aroused by the appointment of a Bishop at Jerusalem jointly by the Church of England and by the Lutheran Church of Prussia in 1841, a scheme which came to an end actually in 1881, and formally in 1886.

Among the bodies of Eastern Christians in Palestine the Jacobite Syrians have commonly delegated one of their bishops to deal with external affairs, a sort of Minister for Foreign Affairs, in fact, with the title of “Metropolitan of the World.” In 1865 this post was held by the Bishop of Emesa, M. V. Bedros, whose official title in his see was that of Peter the Humble, but whose name in religion had been Julius. Later he became Patriarch of Antioch under the title of Ignatius.

At Emesa on June 2, 1866, this Bishop consecrated M. Jules Ferrette to be a Missionary Bishop under the style of Julius, Bishop of Iona. The appointment was considered akin to the appointment of a Bishop in Jerusalem by the Crowns of England and Prussia, but it possessed this advantage; M. Ferrette had studied both the Presbyterian and Anglican systems, had become convinced of their worth and had been in touch with their Missions in the East. The new Bishop of Iona therefore came to represent the Jacobite Syrians in Europe.

Bishop Ferrette had had a wide experience. He had been a Dominican, professed in 1850 as Brother Raymond, Cardinal Patrizi had ordained him priest at St. John’s, Lateran, and his first Mass had been served by a fellow-ordinand, Edward Henry, afterwards Cardinal Howard (1829-1892). In 1860 M. Ferrette developed opinions about the divisions among Christians which he held to be inconsistent with his office in the Roman Communion, and these opinions led him to issue in 1865 an Arabic Liturgy, the first of a long series of liturgical and other pamphlets which may be found in the catalogue of the British Museum library, and which ended with a work published at Geneva nearly fifty years later (1903), Les Rites Essentiels du Christianisme, which gives defective forms for conferring the Sacraments.

In 1866 Bishop Ferrette, or to give him his official title, Julius of Iona, came to England and showed to various English clergy interested in Reunion his Letters of Consecration, avouched as genuine by the British Consul at Damascus, Mr. Rogers. Perhaps the most interesting and permanent record of Bishop Ferrette’s stay in England was his acquaintance with the very learned Dr. John Thomas Seccombe, who was then practising medicine in Norfolk. In 1867 Dr. Seccombe made a translation of the Great Catechism of the Orthodox Church, as well as a translation of the Holy Canons of the Seven Œcumenic Synods (published by Messrs. Simpkin, Marshall and Co.), which state that they are printed by authority of the Bishop of Iona.”

On September 20, 1866, Julius, Bishop of Iona, published in London The Eastern Liturgy, adapted for use in the West, with the object of promoting the Unity of Christendom. In the Pastoral prefixed to this book the Bishop declared himself “ready to give Holy Orders to pious and learned men, who, being duly elected, will declare themselves willing to conform to this Liturgy.”

To what extent this offer was accepted is not known. The Bishop of Iona presently settled abroad, first at Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A., later at Lausanne, and finally at Geneva. But whilst in England he consecrated as bishop an English priest, Richard Williams Morgan, to whom he delegated his functions. Bishop Morgan was grandson of John Williams (1745-1818), the well known Welsh priest who, for forty years, was Master of Ystrad-Meyric Grammar School. His mother married Richard Morgan, sometime Vicar of Llanvair Bala. Ordained deacon in 1841, priest in 1842, by the Bishop of St. David’s on the title of the perpetual curacy of Moughtrey, Montgomeryshire, from 1843 to 1853 he held the benefice of Tregynon, diocese of St. Asaph. He was a genius and eccentric, attacked his Bishop, Dr. Vowler Short, and 1855 requested the Archbishop of Canterbury to remove him on account of his ignorance of Welsh. Morgan was obsessed with a vision of a British Church which should restore the doctrine and discipline of the days before St. Augustine of Canterbury.

He held various curacies in England; from 1870 to 1874 he was at Marholm in Northamptonshire, which he left for Mapledurham in Oxfordshire, where he became acquainted with Reginald Blount, who was later connected with the Order of Corporate Reunion. Here he was consecrated by Bishop Ferrette, having been previously conditionally baptized, confirmed, and conditionally ordained, and here he published a Liturgy of the Ancient British Church under the pseudonym Pelagius. He describes himself as Hierarch of Caerleon. After his consecration he served as curate of Stapleton in Shropshire and last of all of Offord d’Arcy in Huntingdonshire, where he died in 1888. For Morgan’s action in remaining in communion with the English Church it has been urged that a somewhat similar precedent was established by the saintly Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, when in 1749 he accepted the position of Antecessor of the Anatolian Synod of the Moravians, but it is fair to say that the Bishop was then eighty-six years of age and that there is nothing to prove that the position was more than a titular one—he performed no episcopal acts for them. But Bishop Morgan’s consecration would appear to have taken place with the clear object of furthering Christian reunion.

It has been said above that in 1866 Corporate Reunion was much in the minds of English Churchmen; it was not confined to them.

A practical scheme (suggested by some French Jesuit Fathers, it is said) was outlined in the January number of the magazine, Etudes Religieuses, Historiques et Litteraires for that year. The suggestion was made that Anglican bishops and clergy need not make implicit or explicit disavowal of their orders. “It would appear to suffice that they should submit to the reception of Holy Orders under condition.” This suggestion of conditional re-ordination, as a prelude to Christian unity, was taken up by the Rev. G. Nugee, who interviewed Cardinal Wiseman and then Pope Pius IX.

The account of these interviews given by Nugee was impugned after Cardinal Wiseman’s death by Mgr. Searle (Union Review, September 21, 1867), but the Editor of the Union Review maintained the accuracy of the account. Writers in a correspondence which appeared in 1909 in the Tablet asserted that Pope Pius IX., on the advice of Cardinal Mai authorized subsequently the consecration of the first bishops of the later-formed Order of Corporate Reunion. Whether the Order was suggested by the article or not, the principal object of the Order was to remove the hindrance to the reunion of Christendom by giving, to such clergy as desired it, conditional ordination from a source which would be recognized as valid by the Catholic West and the Orthodox East.

It is stated that at some date after 1866 one Scottish diocesan bishop received consecration from sources which would be recognized universally as valid, and had he lived the hindrance to unity which non-recognition of Anglican Orders entailed might have been removed. But in 1874 an Order of Corporate Reunion was founded owing its inspiration undoubtedly to that devoted worker for the Reunion of Christendom, Mr. Ambrose de Lisle Phillips of Garendon Park, near Loughborough. The Order sought to secure a triple episcopal succession derived from Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox sources, and three bishops for it were consecrated before July, 1877. These were, first, the Rev. F. G. Lee, D.C.L., Vicar of All Saints’, Lambeth, a first-rate antiquary, a poet and a most industrious writer; the list of his publications fills twenty-one pages of the British Museum catalogue. Second, the Rev. Thomas Wimberley Mossman, Rector of East and West Torrington, Lines, a devout and learned man who founded a Brotherhood of the Holy Redeemer there for candidates for Holy Orders; an Order the failure of which was partly due to its founder’s asceticism and to his belief that the living expenses of each member could be compassed upon £20 a year. The third bishop was the learned Norfolk doctor of medicine, J. T. Seccombe of Terrington, already mentioned in connexion with the work of Julius, Bishop of Iona, a county magistrate, a man of letters and an antiquary. Dr. Seccombe was well known to Mr. Ambrose de Lisle; in earlier life he had been a novice at the monastery of Mount St. Bernard which de Lisle had founded, but had returned to the Church of England. These three Bishops were consecrated respectively to the titular sees of Dorchester, Selby and Caerleon. With them were associated Bishop R. W. Morgan, whose consecration by Bishop Ferrette has already been mentioned, the Rev. Dr. Saxton (1806-1889), and the Rev. Joseph Dunne, Vicar of St. Mary’s, Wakefield. Where and by whom the first three bishops were consecrated has never been officially stated. Dr. Lee is believed to have been consecrated by a Greek bishop in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople, in or near Venice; Dr. Mossman, according to a statement made by the Rev. J. Elphinstone Robertson, who was later ordained by him, was consecrated by the then Archbishop of Milan. The validity (as apart from the regularity, which is another matter) of the orders of these bishops has never, it is believed, been officially denied, but it is most desirable that all particulars of names and dates should be published.

That the men who began the Order acted with perfect sincerity and good faith cannot be doubted, their aim was to heal the divisions in the Church of God. Whether their methods were right and wise aroused much controversy at the time, and the leaders of the Anglo-Catholic Revival in England denounced the movement, as may be seen by a published “Statement of the Society of the Holy Cross” on the matter, issued in 1879. That is a matter of history, and the purpose of this article is historical. What is also historical is that later another bishop was consecrated for the Order by Dr. Lee, Bishop R. W. Morgan, and another prelate. This new bishop was the Rev. Charles Isaac Stevens, who acted as coadjutor to Bishop Morgan, and after his death assumed his title of Bishop of Caerleon. Later Bishop Stevens took a course very different from that designed for the Order of Corporate Reunion, and became associated with another prelate, Leon Chechemian. Chechemian was an Armenian Uniat who became a Protestant, and published an account of his life in a tract, “An Eastern’s Step from Darkness to Light.” On April 23, 1878, he had been consecrated as a Vartabed or Suffragan to his diocesan, but his consecration did not apparently confer the right to ordain to Major Orders. He arrived in London in 1885, and endured strange hardships, being at times a stableman and a sandwich man. In time he became acquainted with extreme Evangelicals, particularly with the head of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Bishop A. Richardson, whose orders were those of the English Church. He became known to Dr. Lee, to Bishop Stevens, to the Bishop of London (Dr. Temple), and to the Archbishop of Dublin, Lord Plunket, who in 1890 granted him a license in his diocese. Chechemian was then offered the headship of the Free Protestant Church of England. To settle any doubt of his status Bishop Stevens offered his assistance and consecrated Chechemian bishop.

Before his death in 1917 Bishop Stevens consecrated or assisted in consecrating two other bishops. One of these was the Rev. Andries Caarel Albertus MacLaglen, on November 2, 1897, the senior consecrator being Bishop Chechemian; and another, G. W. L. Maaers, who went to Spain to assist Senor Cabrera to found a Protestant Church in that country.

It is interesting, and may be of future importance, to note that the Orders possessed by these Protestant bodies, conferred through Chechemian, MacLaglen, and their coadjutors, are free from the objections alleged against Anglican Orders by Roman Catholic controversialists.

So ends a very curious chapter in the history of Holy Orders. Whether the present writer adds to the recital in future years must depend upon the spirit in which this is received. If it provokes harshness of judgment, evil speaking and censure, he will be little encouraged to furnish the detail which really furnishes the basis for its historical study.

He ventures to add this. To those who know how the members of the Order of Corporate Reunion set out with glowing hearts, filled with naught save the Love of God, to seek the unity of all who acknowledge the Name of His Son, this tale of wayward and obscure courses, and of long lives spent amidst waning hope must needs touch very near to the fount of tears. Yet there remains the absolute certainty that whilst the Wisdom of God may delay the desires of men, His Almighty Mercy will by some means, possibly by the strangest, grant to them the vision of their longing, and that, as the woman of Tekoah spoke, He Who is no respecter of persons shall yet devise the way whereby His exiles shall not be utterly banished from Him.

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