I feel I should begin with either an apology or a health warning. I’ve been asked to review The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity (henceforth TESU) from an Evangelical perspective. TESU is, of course, the response of our own bishops to One Bread, One Body, the teaching document on the eucharist from the Roman Catholic bishops of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. But in this largely Anglo-Catholic journal the result may raise blood pressures. Rest assured I am only trying to fulfil my brief, not offend the susceptibilities of readers.
However, a problem with TESU is not only that it is less than Evangelical but that it fails even to present historical Anglicanism accurately, opting instead for a post-ARCIC, post-Common Worship vision of ‘normality’ where the theological understandings of the past have undergone considerable blurring in order to find agreement with Rome in the present. This is particularly so regarding TESU’s handling of the central doctrines of ‘real presence’ and ‘eucharistic sacrifice’.
On the real presence, for example, TESU asserts:
A real and true communion with and participation in Christ through the sacraments is upheld in our liturgical texts, from The Book of Common Prayer to Common Worship (in the eucharistic prayers we pray ‘that … these gifts of bread and wine may be to us his body and blood’). (para 29)
You don’t have to be an Evangelical, however, to question the way Common Worship is quoted here as though representing also the standpoint of the Book of Common Prayer when, of course, there is no such epiclesis in the latter. Whether or not one agrees with the recent shift towards an epiclesis regarding the elements, TESU is at best disingenuous in implying that this represents what Anglicans all believed during and since the Reformation. Unfortunately, this is typical of TESU’s handling of key issues, acting at every turn as if when Romans and Anglicans use a similar form of words they invariably mean the same theological thing.
The problem lies with TESU’s methodology. The Church of England’s doctrine is rooted in Scripture, but can be found “in the Book of Common Prayer” (Canon A 3.1) because, as we believe, the latter agrees with the former. However, there is no good reason to confine ourselves to the Book of Common Prayer itself when trying to discern what it teaches that Scripture teaches. On the contrary, we have Thomas Cranmer’s Defence of the True and Catholick Doctrine of the Sacrament readily available to reveal the intention of the wording of the BCP. If we are justified in appealing to Richard Hooker as a definitive Anglican theologian (as TESU does) surely we should also cite Cranmer? Of course, Cranmer and Hooker, along with the Creeds and the Church Fathers, must all be brought to the bar of Scripture, but a use of the BCP which not merely ignores but overrides Cranmer (as TESU also does) is surely perverse.
Only by ignoring Cranmer, however, can TESU claim both the Porvoo Common Statement and the ARCIC Final Report in support of its assertion that Anglicans generally believe ‘the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed and received under the forms of bread and wine’ (para 29) in a sense compatible with, though admittedly less precise than, that of OBOB, which quotes the Decree of the Council of Trent with approval:
By the consecration of the bread and wine, there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood … (para 50)
In the same paragraph, OBOB also quotes the ARCIC Elucidation to support its own position:
‘Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question: “What is that?”, the believer answers: “It is bread.” After the eucharistic prayers, to the same question he answers: “It is truly the body of Christ, the Bread of Life.”’
It is these affirmations which define the meaning of ‘form’ when OBOB speaks of Christ being present ‘under the forms of bread and wine’ (para 51), albeit in a way which ‘can be grasped only by faith, not by our senses’. Yet there is a fundamental difference between OBOB’s grasping by faith, and the Cranmer’s presence by faith. OBOB states,
Christ is present in this special way whether or not we believe in him or are open to him … [since] … Catholics rightly emphasise the conversion of the bread and wine in the eucharist … (para 53)
The Book of Common Prayer prays, however,
… that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood
Hence Cranmer’s position, is significantly different from that of OBOB or, apparently, TESU:
Even so when common bread and wine be taken .. to the use of the holy communion … it is now called consecrated or holy bread and holy wine. […] Not that the bread and wine can be partakers of any holiness or godliness, or can be the body and blood of Christ; but that they represent the very body and blood of Christ … . (182, emphasis added)
Cranmer is happy to say, “the bread and wine be sacramentally changed into Christ’s body” (194), which may give the impression that he believes Christ is in some sense present ‘under the forms of bread and wine’. However, his own answer to the question, ‘What is that?’ would be simply, ‘That is consecrated bread and wine’:
For this speech … be not understand [sic] of the very flesh and blood of our Saviour Christ, which in very deed we neither feel nor see, but that which we do to the bread and wine, by a figurative speech is spoken to be done to the flesh and blood, because they be the very signs, figures and tokens instituted of Christ, to represent unto us his very flesh and blood. (223, emphasis added)
By simply ignoring Cranmer, TESU seems to share the premature-post-modernism of Cardinal Newman, who wrote in Tract 90:
Whatever be the authority of the [Declaration] prefixed to the Articles, so far as it has any weight at all … its injoining the ‘literal and grammatical sense,’ relieves us from the necessity of making the known opinions of their framers a comment upon their text …
But intellectual honesty alone compels us to recognize that the Book of Common Prayer was composed to teach what Cranmer believed. Whether that is what we wish to believe is another matter, but it is not resolved by sticking our theological heads in the obscurantist sand.
At this point, however, a note of caution must be sounded. Evangelicals must not fall into the trap of blindly opposing the doctrine of the ‘real presence’ when, as Martin Luther showed, it is possible to assert the ‘real presence’ of Christ in a basically Roman sense whilst opposing Rome itself. The opposition to the Roman doctrine in this country, however, seems to have gained impetus from its connection with notions of eucharistic devotions and sacrifice. These same notions remain problematic to Evangelicals and are present in OBOB, yet they receive either no recognition in, or are seriously mishandled by, TESU. In paragraph 55, for example, OBOB states,
At Mass and afterwards, Catholics express their faith in the real presence of Christ by genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration. … [and] … the sacrament is reserved for silent adoration.
The Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles take, of course, a somewhat different view:
It is here declared, that … no Adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. (The BCP ‘black’ rubric)
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped. (Article XXVIII)
The silence of TESU is embarrassing at this point, since it suggests a failure to wrestle with the tensions within Anglicanism itself whilst, at the same time, claiming to have found common cause with Rome.
On the matter of eucharistic sacrifice, again TESU aligns itself with Rome, even though Rome is far distant from the formularies which officially undergird Anglicanism. At the end of an extensive section on this, OBOB quotes the Response of the Holy See to the ARCIC Final Report:
The priest ‘offers sacramentally the redemptive sacrifice of Christ’… (para 40)
Yet the word ‘redemptive’, though crucial, seems entirely to be ignored by TESU. The latter is right when it says that in Holy Communion ‘we are drawn into the movement of [Christ’s] self-offering’ (para 24). When the Book of Common Prayer says, ‘here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee’, it is reflecting the injunctions of the Apostle in Romans 12:1. However, and equally biblically, both the language and the structure of Cranmer’s liturgy distinguish between Christ’s sin offering and our self-offering. Thus Cranmer writes,
One kind of sacrifice there is, which is called a propitiatory or merciful sacrifice … and is the ransom for our redemption from everlasting damnation. […] This is the honour and glory of this our High Priest, wherein he admitteth neither partner nor successor. For by his one oblation he satisfied his Father for all men’s sins … Another kind of sacrifice there is, which doth not reconcile us to God, but is made of them that be reconciled by Christ, to testify our duties unto God, and to show ourselves thankful unto him; and therefore they be called sacrifices of laud, praise and thanksgiving. (235, emphasis added)
Cranmer’s language here clearly reflects his Order for Holy Communion, which teaches on the one hand a ‘full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world’ and on the other hand ‘our own ‘reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice’ of ‘our souls and bodies’ without confusing the two – a distinction which seems entirely to elude TESU even as it is quoting Cranmer (paras 23 & 24).
There are several other points at which TESU could be challenged from an Evangelical Anglican viewpoint. The greatest sadness, however, is that TESU does such an inadequate job of representing historic Anglicanism in engaging with current Romanism. Indeed, it sometimes seems to have problems understanding either English or theology. It asserts that Anglicans and Romans both believe in the ‘real presence’ of Christ at the eucharist, which is true, without acknowledging that Rome teaches Christ to be ‘substantially’ present (para 50, OBOB), whereas the Book of Common Prayer denies this (viz, ‘the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances’). It alleges that we agree on the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, when in fact Rome identifies the priest’s own action with Christ’s redemptive offering whilst the Book of Common Prayer deliberately locates this in the past (‘who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered’, etc).
The House of Bishops appointed itself to produce TESU as ‘the body … particularly charged with oversight of doctrine and worship’ (para 4). Am I being too harsh to suggest that, on this performance, it is time that House received more help with carrying that responsibility?
Revd John Richardson Assistant Minister to that United Benefice which is the proud home to the Women’s Institute of Ugley