Truth and Authority

Written by E. J. Yarnold SJ and Henry Chadwick Reviewed By Nicholas Sagovsky

The work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission is one of the most hopeful signs in an ecumenically hopeful time. However, some fail to be impressed by the spectacle of learned theologians producing statements that demonstrate large areas of agreement, and then expounding them in ways that are mutually contradictory. The appearance of a commentary on the Venice Statement (Authority in the Church) written by a Roman Catholic and an Anglican member of the Commission is an event worthy of note. They are able to say things which, presumably, many on the Commission think, and to indicate some of the likely avenues of progress. The Venice Statement differed from the previous two in that it enumerated four areas of disagreement. The authors of this commentary assess the weight of these disagreements and indicate a possible essential (or/just minimal?) understanding of the Marian dogmas now infallibly defined, the meaning of papal infallibility itself and the extent to which a future pope might exercise jurisdiction in a reconciled Anglican patriarchate. At this point one is tempted to see possible parallels in the secular and religious spheres. The issues between Canterbury and Rome begin to look like those between Whitehall and Brussels, not least when it is admitted that the real nub of the sovereignty issue is the power of the bureaucracy! One should follow this by saying that both statement and commentary make it very clear that authority in the church is utterly different in nature from that authoritarianism we all fear. We have here a handy and clear introduction to the issues.

Fr Martelet quotes with approval some words to be found in the first Joint Agreed Statement, that on the Eucharist: ‘Elements of the first creation become pledges and first fruits of the new heaven and the new earth.’ To use a phrase not of his making, he writes about the eucharist as though it were a prism which takes the light of the resurrection and in shedding its myriad colours on the material world and the creatures that are made of the same poor stuff shows that these are the very elements of the new creation. His twin foci are then the resurrection (in particular the resurrection body of Jesus) and the eucharist. He pillories Edouard Le Roy as a modernist Bultmann before Bultmann and asserts: ‘What the Apostles intended to bear witness to was not a faith which governed the existence of a fact, but rather a fact which gave birth to their faith’ (p. 91). That fact is the corporal resurrection of Jesus. He is similarly forceful on the Real Presence, telling the story of western eucharistic theology as one of the widening gap between the real body of Christ in the eucharist and the real body of Christ in heaven. We need both but do not know how to think of them as complementary rather than contradictory realities.

To circumvent this impasse three tools are needed. We need to learn from the eucharistic theologians who have turned from the language of substance to the language of significance. We need to think in terms of the Risen Body, and its nature. We need to remember the Holy Spirit. This is where the argument takes an unexpected turn.

Fr Martelet is a keen expositor of Teilhard, and where a Protestant might expect a closer look at the history of traditions about the empty tomb and the resurrection body, he turns to Teilhard in an attempt to expound the dogmatic cohesiveness of his general thesis. In effect, he gives us a meditation on Colossians 1, finding the point of interrelation between this vision of cosmic reconciliation and human experience of change and decay in first the resurrection and then the eucharist.

For me the Teilhardian language is a hindrance. I do not find it illuminating to think in terms of the Risen Christ as ‘absolute neg-entropy’ or the ‘supreme mutant’. To say that ‘in him all things hold together’ and that ‘he is the first-born of all creation’ seems to me no less illuminating.

One cannot overlook the excellent bibliographical content of the notes, a mine of information for the student of modern eucharistic theology. Whilst unhappy with the language of Teilhardian mysticism, I would certainly accept Thomas Corbishley’s judgment that ‘a careful reading of this book should lead to an enrichment of the spiritual and sacramental life of any thoughtful Christian’.

Nicholas Sagovsky

Cambridge University