BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT UNOFFICIAL talks took place at the British Council of Churches' offices in London last Saturday between a group of Catholics and a group of Baptists anxious to understand more about one another's theological traditions, with a view to removing some of the barriers between the two Churches.
The theme of the discussions was the Eucharist. The Baptists were particularly interested in the place of transubstantiation in Catholicism. This was explained by the Catholics, but it soon appeared that Cath ics and Baptists had even more fundamental differences about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Baptists 'tended to find the presence of Christ in the cornniunity when 'it meets together to listen to the Word of God and to partake of the Eucharist. Catholics associated the presence of Christ in a special way with the consecrated elements of bread and wine. It was pointed out.from the Catholic side that recent official documents also stress the presence of Christ in the Church, in the Word and in the minister, as well as in the consecrated elements, and instruct that the Catholic laity should have these points explained to them by their clergy.
DIFFICULTY It was thought that there is greater theological difficulty for Baptists to associate the presence of Christ with the consecrated elements than there is for Catholics to stress the community aspects of the Eucharist. without of course ignoring its other aspects. The Baptist difficulty seemed to become most acute where it was a question of reserving the Blessed Sacrament or otherwise dissociating the consecrated species from the Eucharistic celebration complete with Word and Sacrament and community.
It became apparent that differences included a whole complex of devotional prac tices, faith, interpretation of Scripture, Church traditions, theology and philosophy. Some of these areas were looked at in more detail.
For instance, it was felt that the philosophies of Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant had some relevance to the use of the words "real" and "symbolic" by Zwingli and the Council of Trent, and that modern linguistic analysis was relevant to the interpretation of words like "substance" and "transubstantiation."
A hopeful sign for Baptists was that the Catholic Missa Normativa, with official approval, stressed many elements in the Eucharistic celebration which Baptists had thought were lacking from the Catholic Mass, and that modern Catholic scholars were looking very hard at New Testament data on the ministry, on the Catholic doctrine of the priesthood, and. similar topics.
From the Baptist side, it was thought there was tendency to place more importance on ordination than in the recent past, but it was doubted whether any great theological significance should be read into this, REAL PRESENCE
The question of the relation of the Eucharist to Calvary was mentioned, but was not thought to be the theological bogey which some Baptists imagined. It was stressed that for Catholics the Mass was a sacramental presentation of the death of Christ, and that the Body and Blood of Christ were not physically separated, but only symbolically separated, in the Mass itself.
The doctrine of the ministry was touched on, but only in its relation to belief about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
It was agreed to meet again early in the New Year, when the topic will be the Scriptural basis of our faith in the light of modern Biblical scholarship. Catholics present were Fr. John Challenor, Mr. Roderick Bell, Mr. Frank McGowan and Mr. Frank O'Hara.