Page 5, 18th December 1981

18th December 1981
Page 5
Page 5, 18th December 1981 — The challenge of unity

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Locations: Canterbury, Rome


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The challenge of unity

An Anglican and a Catholic authority on ecumenism give their views on unity

by Canon Denis Corbishley

Secretary of the Ecumenical Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference.

THE CHURCH of England (now the Anglican Communion) broke off all relations with Rome in 1534.

Since then there has been a good deal of hostility on both sides. Anglicans feared and disliked Roman Catholics — not because of their beliefs so much as because they were at first political enemies, and more recently (especially since 1850) they were rivals.

But two things happened to ease the situation.

The first was the statement made by the Lambeth Conference (to which all the Anglican bishops in the world were summoned) in 1908, which said that "there can be no fulfilment of the Divine Purpose in any scheme of reunion which does not ultimately include the great Latin Church of the West".

The other was the work of Vatican 11 which put Ecumenism on a new footing and declared that, among the communions separated from the See of Rome

in which some Catholic traditions and institutions continue to exist. the Anglican Cornmunion occupies a special place-. thus making Anglicanism

the only Church outside their own to be mentioned by name.

These put Rome and Canterbury on a new footing. In 1960 Archbishop Fisher of Canterbury paid the first visit to the Pope since 1397.

Then came the Council and the change in policy and action of the Church of Rome towards the "separated brethren" as they called us, so ignoring the fact that they were separated from us.

In 1966 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, paid a formal visit to the Pope when a joint declaration was issued which agreed to set up dialogue between the two Churches and to discuss matters of theological difference between them.

This dialogue. carried out by the Anglican / Roman Catholic International Commission, was immediately set up and has now finished its work and produced three agreed statements. The first is on the Eucharist, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass and the doctrine of the Real Presence.

The "sacrifice of the Mass" is a phrase rather loosely used by Roman Catholics, but needing to be spoken very carefully as otherwise it suggests that there is a new sacrifice every time the Eucharist is carried out.

This is wrong. Christ's sacrifice on the Cross was the one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, past, present and future.

The problem of the Real Presence presents no difficulty. Roman Catholics call it "transubstantiation", but this is an old word without much meaning nowadays.

Anglicans believe in the Real Presence just as much as Roman Catholics do.

The second agreement deals with the ministry, and this presented few problems. Unlike most reformers. Anglicans kept the ancient threefold ministry of the Church — Bishops, priests and deacons — and took great trouble to see that this was preserved.

The problem here is the validity of Anglican orders which were declared "null and voidby' Leo XIII in 1896.

The Commission did not enter into this problem. but there are signs that the old decree will be abolished in time.

The third agreement was the most difficult. It dealt with authority in the Church and the position of the Pope.

After much deliberation the Commission came to the unanimous conclusion that "the only See which makes any claim to universal primacy, and which has exercised and still exercises such Episcope is the See of Rome, the city where Peter and Paul died.

All this shows remarkable agreement, on theological questions, of the two Churches. Of course, a lot of problems remain to be sorted out, but we are definitely on the right track towards unity.

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