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Did the Anglicans and Roman Catholics Agree on the Eucharist?, by Colin Buchanan 

21 June 2019

Christopher Hill weighs an argument about eucharistic agreement

BISHOP Colin Buchanan’s book is a study of the eucharistic agreements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) going back to 1971, but focusing particularly on a document, Clarifications, published by ARCIC II in 1994, though drafted by some members of the earlier Commission.

This reviewer was one of them, as also was Buchanan’s close friend and colleague, Julian Charley, to whom this book is dedicated. Buchanan generously acknowledges my co-operation in its writing, though making clear that I was not “in his pocket”. It would be uncomfortable for anybody to try to have Bishop Buchanan in their pocket!

For Buchanan, criticising sharply a text for which the late Canon Charley (Gazette, 22 September 2017) was in part responsible must have been painful, although he rightly reminds the reader that the responsibility for its final form and its publishing rested with the new Commission and the respective Anglican and Roman Catholic authorities. For a generally objective overview of the complex process and of all the texts that ARCIC offers on the eucharist, this book is to be recommended, even if not every reader will agree with all Buchanan’s criticisms. These fall into two categories: process and content.

On process, Buchanan probes why Clarifications was not subjected to the same reception process as the documents of ARCIC I, including scrutiny by General Synod(s) and the Lambeth Conference 1988. Were the Churches bored with ecumenism after 1994? Were later ARCIC Agreed Statements on authority and Mary more interesting or more controversial?

The burden of his argument is that the RC authorities have apparently accepted the agreements, including Clarifications, while Anglicans had already broadly accepted the texts before Clarifications. This was drafted specifically in response to the much delayed official Vatican response. Buchanan is right on the asymmetry of the process. Other ecumenists involved have also noted the fact that the agreements of ARCIC II were much less systematically treated, and long periods of neglect were followed by some occasional catch-ups.

On content, Buchanan welcomes the novelty of reference to liturgical texts in ecumenical discussion. On the original meaning of Cranmer and his definitely reformed eucharistic liturgy, he is clearly right. But Anglicanism (to use an anachronistic term) continued to develop under Elizabeth, James, Charles, and even during the Commonwealth “in exile”, as well as at the Restoration and beyond, what Diarmaid MacCulloch has styled “the re-invention” of Anglicanism. But Buchanan is silent on Caroline divinity and liturgy of the 17th century.

Mark Langham, an RC co-secretary of ARCIC III, has recently argued that the Carolines provide an important contribution to Anglican-RC reconciliation on the eucharist. Buchanan argues, rather, that the text is the text as Cranmer meant it. But many would argue that all liturgical texts have a contextual development in performance and meaning.

Irrespective of this, should Rome have asked whether the earlier ARCIC texts conformed to the Council of Trent? The clear answer must be no — but neither to the Articles of Religion. Should ARCIC have, therefore, declined to make any response on these terms at all? One lesson here is that the meaning of ecumenical agreement itself needs prior agreement. Although ARCIC meant by its claimed “substantial” agreement an agreement that allowed difference of expression, interpretation, and practice, at that time the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not think in this way. A member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Archbishop Don Bolen, has recently written diplomatically of a “learning process” at precisely this time. Indeed, with the Lutherans on justification, a “differentiated agreement” was explicitly accepted.

On whether and in what way the eucharist is a sacrifice, the Carolines and the Patristic corpus are relevant to Buchanan’s somewhat binary criticisms. St Augustine’s definition of a true sacrifice was: “every work which is done so that . . . we may come close to God”. Buchanan refers to the late E. L. Mascall with respect; this was his starting-point rather than sacrifice as immolation. Mascall himself also emphasised the unity between Christ and his Church: the whole Christ is present through the action of the eucharist.

What of Buchanan’s interrogative title? He concludes by a review of the section on the eucharist in the current (ARCIC III) Agreed Statement, Walking Together on the Way (2018). This was published only just as his book was going to press. It largely references the earlier 1971 agreement, which he can accept, and of which Charley was a key drafter. Buchanan even suggests that he might have written his book in another way had this been available when he began.

Buchanan’s book should be studied by ecumenists in relation to process, whatever the particular arguments about content. It is a valuable piece of detective work, but the author himself points to a way forward on the basis of the ARCIC III’s summary of eucharistic agreement.

The Rt Revd Christopher Hill is a Consultant to ARCIC III and a former Bishop of Guildford.

Did the Anglicans and Roman Catholics Agree on the Eucharist? A revisit of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s agreed statements of 1971 and related documents
Colin Buchanan
Pickwick Publications £21
Church Times Bookshop £18.90

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