Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Fractured Body: The Eucharist and Anglican Division

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Fractured Body: The Eucharist and Anglican Division

Article excerpt


The church of Jesus Christ is divided, and division has become the context in which the church's life unfolds, rather than an exception. The Anglican Communion has by no means been immune to these disruptions in unity. Indeed, the events of the past several years- the emergence of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) and the formation of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the departure (or ouster, depending on one's viewpoint) of the Diocese of South Carolina from the Episcopal Church, continued lawsuits against parishes and dioceses that have withdrawn from the Episcopal Church, impaired states of communion among Global South provinces and the Episcopal Church, and so on-showcase how adept we are at schism. The future of the Communion remains uncertain.

Though the divide between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America is the one I feel most keenly, and the one that features most prominently on my own horizons, I am not focused on any one state of division here. Nor do I intend to take sides, either to justify or to condemn any particular players in these sad events. There is blame enough to go around. To analyze this blame, however, would serve no purpose other than to more deeply entrench the divisions and animosity. Instead, I hope to point a way forward toward the healing of schism. To do so, I propose an argument that formally applies to both "conservatives" and "liberals." Both parties' anger and frustration over the current state of affairs demonstrates the need for this applicability to both sides.

Drawing from Augustine's treatment of the church as the totus Christus realized in the eucharist, I propose that the proper criterion for ecclesial unity is not the correctness of one's views or practices, but the recognition that we all belong to Christ. This criterion allows for not only diversity, but even divergence within Christ's body, acknowledging that even those who are sorely wrong may still be Christ's own. Schism is a failure to consistently apply this criterion, refusing to hold together in communion with those who likewise belong to Christ.

If this is the criterion for unity, what is its shape? The conventional wisdom would seem to be that the way to overcome division is to recognize and welcome diversity, or to achieve consensus across diversity. However, as Ephraim Radner argues, in a divided church things are not so simple. Consensus fails to yield the desired results, and celebrations of "diversity" fail to adequately account for the consequences of schism.1 Instead, Christian unity is a unity that embraces one's enemies. Finally, returning to the eucharist, I offer an account of the fraction rite that incorporates two dimensions: sacrifice and communion. These two dimensions allow me to synthesize an Augustinian account of eucharistie ecclesiology with Radner s penitent anti-triumphalism, and to propose a way of cultivating the imaginative space within which reunion of divided churches could occur.

Membership in Christ: Criterion of Unity

Of course schism is nothing new. The divisions of the sixteenth century still beleaguer us, and even they played out in the context of a church which had been divided along East-West lines for five centuries. Before the Great Schism of 1054 other divisions had occurred within the church. Indeed, Pauls first letter to the Corinthians addresses the state of division that obtained in their church (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-22; 11:17-22; 12:1-31). In order to address the dividedness of the church at Corinth, Paul appeals to the oneness of Christ himself (1:10-17; 3:1-22), to the image of the church as a body (12:1- 31), and to the church's practice of eucharist (11:17-22). This lays the foundation for what will later be termed the "threefold body" of Christ: the historical body, which was bom of the Virgin and hung on the cross; the sacramental body, present on the altar; and the ecclesial body, which is the church. …

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