John Hunwicke asks about the implications of the Anglican bishops’ response to One Bread, One Body

THE EUCHARIST: Sacrament of Unity – An occasional paper of the House of Bishops of the Church of England” (ESU) is described on its back cover as “a courteous but robust reply” to recent assertions of the Roman Catholic practice with regard to what we used to call Intercommunion.

This “Courteous and Robust” paper, however, fails to acknowledge some absences

from its pages Anglican skeletons best kept
in the cupboard or let us call them Ghosts at
the Banquet.

GHOST 1: Clarifications.
ESU makes much play with the ARCIC agreements on the Eucharist, and the Archbishops, in their foreword, rightly observe ‘that the General Synod and the 1988 Lambeth Conference judged [ARCIC I, on the Eucharist] … to be consonant with the faith of Anglicans.’ The Ghost? ARCIC left some niggling details that needed clearing up with regard to Presence and Sacrifice. In 1993 a new ARCIC document Clarifications so admirably wrapped these up that within six months the relevant Roman dikasteries (including Ratzinger’s) were prepared to write ‘The agreement [of ARCIC I, on the Eucharist] … is thus greatly strengthened and no further study would seem to be required at this stage the remarkable consensus…. ‘ So why does ESU not strengthen its argument by citing Clarifications? Could it just conceivably be because – after nine years – that document has not in fact received from the Synods in these islands – or from the Provinces around the world – anything like the enthusiastic welcome it received from Rome?

GHOST 2: Mass for the Dead.

Rome wanted clarification of “the propitiatory nature of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which can be applied also to the deceased. ” Clarifications delivered this (“we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion” clearly includes the departed.) But ESU observes that “Anglicans have not generally seen the Eucharist as actually benefitting the departed.” Nine years after Clarifications, ESU, in effect, goes back on it.

GHOST 3. The Common Worship debacle.
Clarifications re-emphasized belief in the “presence of the living Christ truly and really in the elements”, claiming that ARCIC I wished to express what the Council of Trent clearly intended by the use of the term Transubstantiation. Yet, as General Synod ‘revised’ draft Eucharistic Prayers for Common Worship, painstaking care eliminated any expression which related the transforming work of the Spirit to the Eucharistic Elements.

GHOST 4: Women Priests.
ESU expresses the cheerful “Hope that mutual ecclesial recognition will become possible in due course in acknowledgement of the ecclesial authenticity of Anglican ordinations”, without mentioning women priests. “Hope”, by the way, reminds me … in their foreword, the two Archbishops find the Roman refusal of eucharistic sharing “hurtful and unhelpful”. Really? But is it not still true that Archbishop Hope does not receive sacerdotal ministrations from women? Does this mean that he is hurtful and unhelpful? Is it not a little curious that David Hope is apparently urging Roman Catholic bishops to encourage their laity to do something (receiving sacraments from Anglican women priests) which he is not prepared to do himself? Or does he really mean that Roman Catholic bishops should encourage their Laity to receive ‘Anglican sacraments’, but add a rider ‘not from women’? Goodness gracious me: what an entertaining rumpus it would set in motion if they did that! I almost Hope they will.

GHOST 5: Apostolic Succession.
ESU fails to be frank about the fact that
Clarifications re-emphasised belief in the Porvoo promoted a model of Apostolic
“presence of the living Christ truly and really in Succession which, at least prima facie, diverges from the Roman. And, in its definition of what constitutes a local church’, instead of referring to ‘Bishops’ or ‘Episcopacy’, ESU employs the intriguingly mannered expression “the apostolic ministry of oversight (episkope). ” If I were one of the Men in Rome, I’d smell several sackfulls of rats in this coy little phrase.

Yet I do not feel that the House of Bishops is purely animated by old-style anti-Roman prejudice. It consists of well-meaning men whose aspirations are worthy. Their negative and irritable tone of voice is, I feel, the result of frustration: frustration at not getting anywhere. But they’re not getting anywhere because they want to have things both ways: pats on the head from John Paul II and Bartholomew I but at the same time smiles from Methodist and Lutheran ministers and fluttered eyelashes from women priests. But in the great big grown-up real world, one can’t very often have one’s cake and eat it, not this side of the Parousia.

There is an alternative ecumenical possibility. Strong evidence exists that Rome desires to be spectacularly positive with ecumenical partners whom she feels are in a real spirit of convergence – unlike those Anglicans who go their own willful way and then whinge like fractious children.

Six years ago, Bishop Edwin Barnes wrote:

‘Suppose that the PEVs and those in their care were able to develop a closer relationship with another church … What now if the PEVs were able to persuade another church, whether Orthodox or Catholic, that the faith of the traditionalist part of the Church of England was, indeed, recognisably that of the whole church, and was a distinct prelature, is it unthinkable that such a prelature might enter into a new relationship with that other part of the universal church, while remaining part of the Church of England? This would be a development far removed from the various schemes for union which have foundered down the last half-century.’

Is there no chance Bishop Edwin, when he retires from flying, could undertake a theological initiative such as this; officially unofficially?

John Hunwicke is Head of Theology at Lancing College.