Archbishops' communion advice contradicts the Thirty-Nine Articles

It is not just the Presiding Bishop of TEC who is compromising the Gospel message in what she says. Now, as reported with approval by Anglican vicar David Keen, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are offering official advice to the Bishops of the Church of England which directly contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the Apostle Paul, as well as Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine Articles:

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

1 Corinthians 11:25-29 (TNIV), emphasis added

30. Of both Kinds.
The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

(I presume that “men” here is intended in the older gender generic sense.) But today I read:

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have today written to Bishops in the Church of England recommending the suspension of the sharing of the chalice at communion.

On what authority have these Archbishops taken it upon themselves to recommend their bishops and clergy to go against the teaching of Jesus and Paul and disobey the clear instructions in one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England? Doug Chaplin has recently suggested that these articles might be consigned to the scrapheap. But if so, this needs to be done by an official decision of the church authorities and after wide consultation, not through unilateral advice from the Archbishops. And I trust no one is suggesting that the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles is similarly destined for the scrapheap.

Note that this is a theologically important issue because the mediaeval western church, and the Roman Catholic Church until recently, withheld the communion cup from lay people. The Reformers insisted on communion in both kinds because this was clearly taught by Jesus and Paul, as quoted above, and was the practice of the worldwide church up to the 13th century.

So the Archbishops, through the advice they have issued, are attempting to reverse one of the key advances made in the English Church at the Reformation, ironically one which the Roman Catholic Church has also made since Vatican II. By changing this practice, they are also, by the fundamental Anglican principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (explained by Doug Chaplin as “”The rule of praying is the rule of believing”, or, more colloquially, “If you want to know what we believe, look at how we pray””), changing the doctrine of the Church of England.

The Archbishops have recommended as an alternative “personal intinction by the presiding minister”. This is also an ancient alternative, having been used in the mediaeval western church before being condemned by a Council. It is not explicitly condemned in the Thirty-Nine Articles, but does seem to go against their teaching, and that of Jesus and Paul, about drinking from a cup. It also clearly goes against the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, also one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England: in the rubrics (instructions) for The Communion in the BCP there are separate words for two separate distributions of the bread and the wine to the people:

And, when he delivereth the Bread to any one, he shall say …

And the Minister that delivereth the Cup to anyone shall say…

The Archbishops justify intinction as “a practice widely observed in Anglican churches throughout Africa”. But since when does the practice of other Anglican churches take precedence over the Book of Common Prayer?

At this point at last I need to mention the excuse which is being used for this attempt to change the practice of the Church of England: a slightly variant form of a fairly mild disease which is currently doing the rounds in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Yes, you’ve guessed it: swine flu. For the vast majority of those who get it, it means a few days of a nasty headache, not pleasant (see this personal story in The Times) but really only a minor inconvenience. Yes, a few people, almost all with other health complications, will die from swine flu. But it seems no more deadly, or severe in any other way, than the regular flu which has always been “pandemic” and which kills tens of thousands in the UK most winters.

If swine flu is a reason to withhold the communion cup, then why hasn’t the same action been taken long before, in response to regular flu, and all kinds of other infectious diseases? It has long been recognised that shared communion cups are a potential health hazard. So, if action is justified, why has it been taken only now?

If Church of England members are not prepared to take a possibly slightly increased risk of a few days’ headache so that they can obey Jesus’ teaching, then what is the chance of them remaining faithful when real persecution for their faith comes?

So, let me return to a question which I didn’t answer: On what authority have these Archbishops taken it upon themselves to recommend their bishops and clergy to disobey the teaching of Jesus and clear instructions in one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England? They refer to “advice from the Department of Health not to share “common vessels” for food or drink”. But surely this has always been good health advice! So what’s new?

I can’t help thinking that the Archbishops are overreacting to panic stirred up by the media, and in doing so are putting at risk the doctrine and practice of the Church they head. Instead they should be taking a lead in reassuring the public that swine flu is not a big deal and will not be allowed to disrupt the work, let alone the doctrine, of the Church.

I call upon the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England, and their equivalents in any other denominations who might follow their lead, to withdraw the advice they have just issued and uphold the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles that the Communion is to be given to all as bread and in a cup. Instead they might like to advise that those who prefer this because they consider themselves at particular risk from swine flu should voluntarily abstain from the cup. They might also consider suggesting use of separate cups, as used in many non-Anglican Protestant churches, which avoid the health risks. But they must uphold the priority of the “historic formularies” of the Church and, above them, of the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles.

Meanwhile perhaps the Archbishops ought to put a bit more emphasis on this part of the government’s health advice:

To help to prevent the spread of the virus, churches need to ensure that bins for the disposal of tissues are available at all public gatherings, that surfaces are frequently cleaned and that hand-washing facilities, including disposable towels, are well maintained.  Churches should also consider supplying tissues at services and other meetings as well as providing hand-washing gel.

What am I supposed to think if I go into a church which is withholding the cup but has not even provided visible “bins for the disposal of tissues”? Perhaps someone’s priorities have got mixed up.

0 thoughts on “Archbishops' communion advice contradicts the Thirty-Nine Articles

  1. Peter, I said in the post you reference: “I hope to show that a conversation with them has more to offer than either a bare dismissal of them as a past irrelevance, or the rhetoric which treats them as some kind of shibboleth”.

    I’m not quite sure how my attempt to prove they’re not irrelevant “consigns them to the scrapheap”

  2. Doug, I didn’t mean to suggest that you advocated the Articles being thrown on the scrapheap, just that it was possible that they would be. Sorry about this ambiguity of the English words “suggest” and “might”, which I didn’t intend to imply your support for this possibility. As you may remember from the first time you posted your series on the Articles, I appreciate the high value you put on them but also the critical way in which you examined their relevance. Sadly I don’t remember and can’t now access what you had to say about Article 30.

    Mind you, it seems that with the Archbishops around the Articles don’t need your rejection to end up on the scrapheap.

  3. I can’t remember what I said either, though I expect I said something about “normal practice” having administered the sacrament in one kind on various pastoral occasions, including some just from the “cup”, in this case a drop on the end of a finger for a person who was really “nil by mouth” and dying in hospital.

  4. Doug, I wouldn’t have a problem with special arrangements for seriously ill people. My problem is when practice is changed for everyone whether sick or not, without any debate.

  5. The ‘whenever’ is a bit of a get-out clause!! And I’d better not get started on whether communion can be celebrated by the head of a household, rather than a priest, or else I’ll be deported to Sydney….

    From what I recall at theological college (dim and distant memory now), the BCP envisaged communion being celebrated 4 times per year, rather than weekly, or even daily. Perhaps we should go back to that tradition too.

    The estimated fatalities will be 50-500% higher than the 12,000 caused by normal seasonal flu’, and there are also knock-on effects on the economy (and therefore jobs and livelihoods) the worse it gets.

    We’re also providing hand-washing gel, including for the priest at communion, and doing a spot more cleaning than normal.

    I take it you’ll be encouraging your church to carry on as normal?

  6. David, I am not in much of a position to influence what my church does (I suppose I can send the churchwardens, in the vicar’s absence on holiday, a link to this post), but if asked for my advice I would propose providing waste bins and disposable towels in the toilets, and carrying on with communion as usual.

    As for the possible fatalities, see this comparison of the figures, and this scepticism about the highest figures.

    And as for frequency of communion, I take your point. Maybe, rather than reintroduce the former popish practice of communion in one kind only, the Archbishops should advise that churches revert to what the BCP envisaged and not offer communion at all for three months. But imagine the howls of protest from Anglo-Catholics! In fact they might try to deport you to Sydney (transport you to Botany Bay?) just for suggesting that.

  7. I received the following comment from a friend on the Facebook note copy of this post:

    I think youve thought about this way more deeply theologically than the archbishops probably have. I reckon seperate cups would be easier. Its just a reaction to try to make people less fearful of swine flu I reckon and the fear filled reaction to swine flu is not helped at all by the media! Maybe its the responsibility of the churches themselves to ensure the last advice?

    My reply: Yes, you are probably right. But the Archbishops really should ensure that any statements they put out have been thought through theologically, properly if not deeply. Perhaps what I have written can prompt them to do so.

  8. This indeed looks like a disturbing and regrettable knee jerk reaction. Some of the more devout anglo catholics I have known felt that you will never receive infection from the chalice because of the consecration. Not sure of that is provable but I am not convinced!

    In my own church, there are one or two who retain their bread and dip it in the cup when that is brought to them simply becaise of the general risk of infection. Leaving it to the individual in this way looks like a practical solution. Personally I find those individual thimble like glasses beloved in non confirmist churches impossible. But that is for the practical reason that I have moderate essential tremor in the hands so tend to end up throwing the contents over myself. I prefer the chalice, which apart from the symbnolism of the common cup, can he held for me. Yes even that is not strictly in line with BCP, but it is the best solution to a real problem.

  9. Peter,

    A certain ecumenical partnership not far from here decided a couple of months ago to set aside chalices for the immediate future and use individual ‘free church’ glasses. It doesn’t seem to have been an issue for the more high church members of that congregation, insofar as I can gather. I feel that (apart from exceptional circumstances, such as the seriously ill or those about to face surgery) there is something plain wrong with communion in one kind only. I’m a little saddened that in this supposedly ecumenical age the archbishops have not pointed to the free church example as a way forward. The cups of course still need thorough washing in hot soapy water – which may be what the archbishops are in here. 🙂

  10. Thanks, Colin and Dave. Colin, I hadn’t realised that could be an issue with separate glasses. I would in general prefer the symbolism of the common cup, but one could get round that by pouring the wine into the cups after it is consecrated – the only problem then is that it could take a long time with a large congregation. Dave, I agree with you in feeling that “there is something plain wrong with communion in one kind only”. What saddens me most is that the Archbishops don’t even seem to have considered such feelings, which are often an expression of deep theological misgivings.

  11. I just sent the following e-mail to the webmaster responsible for the Church of England site where I found the Archbishops’ advice:

    I’m sending this to you as webmaster because I don’t know which of the sections listed on your feedback page it is relevant to. Perhaps you can pass it on to whoever is responsible for the relevant section.

    I am not happy with the advice in the news article “Swine Flu: Archbishops’ advice on sharing of Communion”, I have posted a response to this article on my blog, at, with the title “Archbishops’ communion advice contradicts the Thirty-Nine Articles”. I would be very pleased to receive any response from the Archbishops or their representatives concerning what I have written, either as a comment on my blog or by e-mail.

    I am copying this to Lambeth Palace and to the Archbishop of York’s office via their online forms.

    Peter Kirk

    I will let my readers here know of any response I receive.

  12. The following footnote accompanies the Archbishops’ advice: “The administration of Holy Communion in the Church of England is principally governed by section 8 of the Sacrament Act 1547, which provides that
    ‘… the… most blessed Sacrament be hereafter commonly delivered and ministered unto the people… under both the kinds, that is to say of bread and wine, except necessity otherwise require…’”

    “Necessity” was quite possibly provision in time of plague. Swine flu can’t be thought of as anything so serious. However, the timing of the issuing of the Archbishops’ advice was prompted by the Dpartment of Health’s official advice on the use of common vessels. It would be difficult to be seen to be acting contrary to such advice. In the Diocese of Durham, Bishop Tom Wright’s guidance is that Communion in one kind suffices, but the President at the Eucharist may choose to intinct the Host before the distibution.

    We’re staying with the advice – but we’ve also just taken delivery of a case of Communion wine…

  13. Martin, thanks for spotting that note. It is not included in the “full text of the letter” at the site I linked to, but it is included as a footnote in the downloadable copy of the letter (.rtf). I must say I am surprised to learn that an Act of 1547 takes precedence over the BCP and the Thirty-Nine Articles, which make no mention of “except necessity otherwise require”.

    Anyway, I agree with you that this is not a matter of “necessity”. I wonder what kind of “necessity” they had in mind in 1547. Not, I think, plague, as I don’t think at that time anyone knew about any infection possibly being passed on in this kind of way. Perhaps in that era it was more a matter of wine being unavailable.

    The summary of government advice linked to by the Archbishops is, in part, “that, during a true pandemic, the common cup ought not to be used during communion services” (emphasis in the original). That raises the question of what is meant by “a true pandemic”, and are we in one? The official definition of “pandemic” refers to the global spread of a disease rather than its seriousness or its prevalence in the UK. The WHO declared swine flu a pandemic based on its spread in Mexico, the USA and in Australia, so why is that relevant to the UK? AIDS is also “a true pandemic”, so why haven’t these guidelines been applied ever since that started?

    I wonder if Bishop N.T. Wright has actually personally examined the theological issues involved here, or whether some low level official has issued ill thought out advice in his name.

  14. We seem to have a wonderful example of mixed and muddled advice – in the best of British traditions. Those “at the top” seem incapable of issuing a clear sensible and single piece of advice. So we end up piecing bits together. “Improvise Mr Mainwaring, there is a war on”.

    My own vicar will continue to follow whatever guidance emanates from our Dicoese. Until now intincture has been a matter of personal choice. Like Peter, I am not convinced that the swine flu situation is serious enough to support witholding the cup on a blanket basis. However I could accept inticture as a short term expedient if the Bishop advised his clergy not to administer the cup. Given my tremor I might even find I like it!

    My vicar has also commented that silver has disinfectant properties. So our combination of alcoholic wine in silver plated chalices (which are sterilised by the way) further reduces the risks of infection. He is a chemist by training, and I am not, so I cannot comment on the science of that. Of course you may not want to use alcoholic wine, and your cups may not be silver plated.

  15. Hi Peter

    It is a rare thing for me to find the time to blog these days, but I have taken the opportunity to write something (primariy for the benefit of my parishioners) about the chalice and swine flu.

    Drift on over to my personal blog if you are interested…

    Go well,


  16. I agree that the 1547 Sacrament Act is unlikely to refer to the risk of infection, as germs and infection were not a part of scientific knowledge until hundreds of years later.

  17. Colin, in Dad’s Army terms I think the bishops’ confusing advice, new and contradictory each week, is more like Jones’ “Don’t panic”.

    Paul, thanks for your post, which is the only other proper theological discussion of this issue I have seen so far. See also my comment on your post.

    Meanwhile (thanks to David Keen for the link) there is a long discussion of this issue at Thinking Anglicans, but (apart from my not yet approved comment) no sign of any real theological reflection on the issue.

  18. Tim, I agree with you that it is unlikely. But it is just possible. For just one year before that Act, in 1546, Girolamo Fracastoro may have been the first Christian to write that disease was passed on by infected material objects:

    I call fomites [from the Latin fomes, meaning “tinder”] such things as clothes, linen, etc., which although not themselves corrupt, can nevertheless foster the essential seeds of the contagion and thus cause infection.

    But the idea was not new, as it had apparently been known in Muslim Spain. As early as the 11th century Avicenna had introduced quarantine for infectious diseases, and this was practised in Italy at the time of the Black Death. So it just might have been common knowledge in 16th century England that plague and other diseases could be passed on by contact and shared cups.

  19. I just heard this morning from an incumbent here in the Diocese of Chelmsford, not in my own parish, that, having read this post, he is not following the advice from the Bishop of Chelmsford to his clergy, which is:

    the Administration of the chalice should be suspended throughout the diocese for the duration of the current pandemic

    but is going to continue to offer the cup, while allowing those who prefer not to take it a decent opportunity to withdraw. One parish down, how many thousands to go?

    But I do want to take issue with the Bishop of Chelmsford’s statement, in his letter to clergy, that

    Congregation members may need
    to be assured that receiving communion in one kind in no way diminishes the
    fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

    At the very least he should offer his clergy a proper theological justification for this statement. Otherwise he is expecting his clergy to deceive their congregations by giving them baseless assurances.

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  23. We had communion in one kind in my church on Sunday. There was a feeling of dismay and anticlimax and discomfort coming off people as they returned to their pews and I expect church numbers will be down for as long as this continues. The church appears not only ill-educated in the properties of wine and silver, but to be on the side of the scaremongers. Any brief appraisal of public views (perhaps the bishops don’t have time to look at opinions on the web..oh dear if so)
    will show that the vast majority think the whole thing is vastly hyped up and the actual virus is mild and less fatal than many flu viruses. This includes many puzzled doctors. Does the church wish to appear wimpy, rather full of hypochondriacs, and ultimately risk averse?? Christianity would never have have got started at all if the early Christians had been like that.

  24. Thank you, LJMT. I think if we had had communion in one kind yesterday, the reaction would have been similar. But it wasn’t the Sunday for communion, and anyway our vicar is away. I note that the government and even the Daily Mail are now trying to play down the risk. You make a very good point in your last two sentences.

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  26. Well Gentlemen, Ladies , Clergy and (if they are here) Bishops!
    My 2 churches will be carrying on as usual with Communion in both kinds as some of us remember all the rubbish that went with the report “AIDS and the Chalice” in the 1980’s.
    It is a regrettable knee-jerk reaction (again) by the C of E that always likes to be seen to be doing something – usually the wrong thing.
    If this were a real pestilence that swept the country and was trying to carry off the human race I might have a different opinion; but till then……

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  29. I agree entirely. I made some notes on the subject on an historical basis and touched on the fact that the recommendations and withdrawal of the chalice is illegal.

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