The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Formularies of the Church of England

By Cocksworth, Christopher J. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Formularies of the Church of England


Cocksworth, Christopher J., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


I. Preamble

On March 18, 1988, at Meissen in Saxony, delegations from the Church of England, the Evangelical Church in Germany (E.K.D.), and the Federation of Evangelical Churches in the G.D.R. agreed on the Meissen Common Statement: On the Way to Visible Unity.(1) The statement recommended that the churches make a declaration of mutual acknowledgement of ecclesial authenticity and of commitment to "take all possible steps to closer fellowship in as many areas of Christian life and witness as possible, so that all our members together may advance on the way to full, visible unity."(2) The declaration was approved by the appropriate bodies of the churches and duly signed by their leaders on January 29, 1991.

The declaration included an implementation procedure that, in turn, involved regular theological conferences "to encourage the reception of the theological consensus and convergence already received and to work to resolve the outstanding differences."(3) The first of these conferences took place in 1995 on the theme of the eucharist and koinonia. It was followed in 1996 by a conference on the general theme of apostolicity and succession.

I was one of the Church of England's delegates at the first conference. The text of the paper I contributed to that conference is reproduced here. As with its original form, the essay seeks to identify some of the Church of England's foundational texts pertaining to its understanding of the eucharistic presence of Christ, both to explore how they have been interpreted within the Church of England and to expose them for wider ecumenical analysis.

The distinctive Anglican theological ethos that emerged in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries believed it had a contribution to make to the unity of the church by concentrating attention on core doctrinal affirmations. Whether this is the case in terms of the understanding of the eucharistic presence of Christ, as defined and interpreted in the formularies of the Church of England, is for others to judge. However, in an attempt to put some contemporary flesh on the historical bones uncovered in the essay, I conclude with brief reflections on my experience of the usefulness of the economical but irenic Anglican affirmations in ecumenical dialogue (at the Meissen theological conference), ecumenical ministry (in a university chaplaincy), and ecumenical training (of those preparing for ordination).

II. Introduction to the Formularies and Their Analysis

The historic formularies of the Church of England are the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.(4) The first two of these documents relate directly to the matter of Christ's presence in the eucharist. The role of the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer in the history of the Church of England is a complex one. In order to appreciate this role, attention must be given not just to the words of the text but also to their nature and history and to the way they have been interpreted within the tradition or, rather, traditions, of the Church of England. Therefore, rather than simply analyzing the "pure text" of the documents, the following study attempts to examine them from the perspective of the way they evolved and have been viewed and used within the varied life of the Church of England. Thus, each section begins with some general comments on the character and function of the respective formulary. After some brief historical notes, the texts are quoted, textual analysis is provided, and their interpretation is discussed. Having considered the two formularies, the study then turns to three twentieth-century documents, each of an official kind, that reinforce its contention that, despite the breadth of views about the eucharistic presence of Christ in the history of the Church of England, the Articles and the Book of Common Prayer focus on a common center that Anglicanism regards as the ecumenical core of the matter. …

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