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Out of the question: ‘Another Christ’?

31 August 2010

Your answers

A priest said that he stood at the altar as “another Christ”. Is this Anglican/Catholic doctrine?

In the pre-Constantinian Church, the bishop or presbyter celebrating the eucharist probably stood behind the communion table facing the people, and it was natural to see him as standing in for Christ at the Last Supper. But this view did not receive expression until Cyprian of Carthage (c.200-258) said that the presbyter was alter Christus, which might be translated as “another Christ”.

Despite the fact that in the Western Church the medieval priests had their backs to the people, thus implying that they were representing the people before God, the concept of alter Christus was not lost. Since the Reformation, most Protestant ministers have denied this status, and see themselves simply as obediently carrying out Jesus’s command to “Do this.” But Anglican priests in the 19th century re-emphasised their inheritance as part of the Western Church, and no doubt the priest who is quoted as seeing himself as “another Christ” was within this tradition. It is un­fortunate, as it downplays the truth that Christ is unique.

Modern Catholic doctrine (Anglican or Roman) does not emphasise this point. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ” (paragraph 1581). A representative is not the same as a substitute.

Let it not be forgotten that the word “Christian” means a disciple of Christ (Acts 11.26). Thus every be­liever represents Christ to the world, challenging us to behave in a Christ-like way in every daily situation.

Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey, Surrey

Your questions

While transcribing baptism regis­ters, I have found a number of cases where one, some, or even all god­parents were proxies. This was in the late 1930s or early 1940s, in a working-class parish. How is this prac­tice legal, and is it still so?
I. S. N.

I read that the 11th Canon of the Council of Cloveshoe under Cuth­bert, Archbishop of Canterbury (747), and the sixth Canon of Egbert, Archbishop of York (c.750), directed our priests to teach their people “the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed; and inform their under­stand­ing in the study and practice of all points of the Christian Religion”. Where may I find the original Latin, an English translation, and the his­torical setting of these Canons?
A. B.

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 13-17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN.


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