Before looking in detail at what the Bishop of Chelmsford wrote about Communion, I want to examine a document drawn to my attention by “BillyD”, commenting at the Thinking Anglicans thread about this matter: an Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine issued in 1971 by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Quoting from this Statement, BillyD claims that
The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have “reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist.”
But does this mean that the Roman Catholic Church has abandoned the doctrine of transubstantiation, or that the Anglican Communion has abandoned its rejection of this doctrine? I don’t think so. For one thing, this ARCIC agreed statement was never officially accepted as the doctrine of the Church of England, which is still formally based on the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. Also, this document manages very carefully to avoid specifying any one agreed view of the Communion, instead allowing for the partial truth of each of them. Thus there appears to be a statement of transubstantiation:
Communion with Christ in the eucharist presupposes his true presence, effectually signified by the bread and wine which, in this mystery, become his body and blood.
This statement was sufficiently controversial that it had to be explained in the later (1979) Elucidation document. However, this Elucidation seems to be self-contradictory:
Becoming does not here imply material change. … Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question: ‘What is that?’, the believer answers: ‘It is bread.’ After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question he answers: ‘It is truly the body of Christ, the Bread of Life.’
Well, does the material of the bread remain bread, or does it change into something different? The issue seems to have been fudged.
On the other hand, in the 1971 document there is a section upholding memorialism, in a subtly changed form:
The notion of memorial as understood in the passover celebration at the time of Christ—i.e. the making effective in the present of an event in the past—has opened the way to a clearer understanding of the relationship between Christ’s sacrifice and the eucharist. The eucharistic memorial is no mere calling to mind of a past event or of its significance, but the church’s effectual proclamation of God’s mighty acts. Christ instituted the eucharist as a memorial (anamnesis) of the totality of God’s reconciling action in him.
And there is a clear statement of real spiritual presence, with the body and blood of Christ being received only by faith:
The sacramental body and blood of the Savior are present as an offering to the believer awaiting his welcome. When this offering is met by faith, a lifegiving encounter results. … Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given. But they are really present and given in order that, receiving them, believers may be united in communion with Christ the Lord.
So what has been billed as “substantial agreement” is in reality a recognition that each of the views is part of the truth about the Communion, but that no one view is complete and perfect. Well, this reminds me of what I have written about the Atonement, that each of the models of it offers part of the truth, but no one of them is a complete description of a reality beyond human comprehension. I am happy to apply the same principle to models of the Communion.
But I am not sure if it is possible to avoid giving a clear answer to a simple question like this one: if some consecrated bread and wine by accident find their way out of the church building and are eaten by an unbelieving beggar who doesn’t know where they came from, is the beggar in any sense receiving the body and blood of Christ? Roman Catholics would certainly answer “yes”, because for them the elements have objectively become the body and blood, and I think most Anglicans today would do as well. But my answer would be “no”, and that was clearly the answer of the author of Article 29 of the Thirty-Nine, based on no less an authority than Augustine of Hippo:
The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ …
So I can’t agree that this ARCIC document provides an acceptable “substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist”. Nor can I give priority to this supposedly agreed view over the understanding set out in the historic formularies of the Church of England. The ARCIC view may be one Anglican view of the Communion, but it is by no means the only one that needs to be recognised as genuinely Anglican.
I hadn’t intended to write quite so much on this issue, but it has become long enough for its own part of this series. So I will leave the discussion for now and continue in part 4 – part 5: summary and conclusions.