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October 1982

Demolishing the Church


In his Apostolic Constitution Sacerdos in aeternum (20 April 1744), Pope Benedict XIV provided an admirable summary of Catholic belief concerning the ministerial priesthood. His exposition followed the Council of Trent very closely. It has been repeated and amplified by many subsequent pronouncements of the Magisterium:

"The priest, forever, Christ Our Lord, on the same night He was betrayed, granted the Apostles, chosen by Him, the power to consecrate His Body, to offer, and distribute it. Later on, after His Resurrection, having conferred the Holy Spirit, He gave them unlimited power to remit and retain sins; at the same time, by His example and order, He established and sanctioned that for the future this power and this faculty should be communicated and extended to all the Church solely by means of lawful ordination to the Priesthood. By so doing He abolished the old ministry of the Levites, and the priesthood of the law of Aaron who were the type and figure of heavenly priesthood. To all His adopted children He opened the way to a new priesthood according to the Order of Melchisedech. Only those called by God and rightly trained and ordained by the Apostles and their successors can be elevated to the exercise of this sublime ministry".

Among the fundamental Catholic dogmas included explicitly or implicitly in this passage are the following:

(1) The Sacrament of Order was instituted directly by Christ Himself.
(2) It is imparted by the laying on of hands by a bishop whose own orders were received in the same way through an uninterrupted line going back to the Apostles.
(3) That a "character" is imprinted by ordination which means that
(4) The ordained man differs not simply in degree but in essence from the unordained
(5) And has powers which the unordained do not possess, namely:
     (a) to consecrate
     (b) to absolve.


In not a single instance are these fundamental dogmas affirmed without ambiguity in the ARCIC (Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission) Statements, including the 1979 Elucidations. Writing in the 29 June, 1979 issue of the London Universe, Dr. Edward Carey, an English theologian, commented: "The labours of ARCIC have not brought Anglicans and Catholics nearer in doctrine. Rather, the specialised jargon, the ambiguities and even equivocations of the Agreed Statements have inhibited any real dialogue and provide no basis for further progress towards unity". The proliferation of specialized jargon, ambiguity, and equivocation within the ARCIC documents is well calculated to confuse the reader who has no specialized knowledge of theology. Such Catholics might even imagine that in some instances the teaching of the Church has been upheld, which is hardly surprising as the ambiguous terminology intended to give this impression was devised by trained theologians after years of painstaking discussion and deliberation. In examining these documents it is perhaps even more important to note what they do not say, rather than what they actually do say or purport to be saying.

Fortunately, we have been provided with an excellent criterion for deciding exactly what the first two Agreements, on the Eucharist and Ministry, do and do not affirm from the standpoint of Catholic doctrine. Dr. Julian Charley, an Anglican member of the Commission, has written commentaries on them. Dr. Charley belongs to the Evangelical (Protestant) school of Anglicanism, by far the most numerous and influential body within the denomination. As a committed Protestant he clearly rejects Catholic teaching on the priesthood and the Mass, and could not possibly have put his signature to a document affirming this teaching unless he had undergone a conversion. His commentaries, and a subsequent lecture, make it clear that he has not done so. Thus, when Dr. Charley states that an agreement does not affirm a particular doctrine, we have every right to consider his interpretation accurate. It will therefore be most instructive to discover which funamental Catholic doctrines on the Priesthood and Eucharist Dr. Charley assures us the ARCIC Statements do not affiirm. In 1979, a document entitled Elucidations was published in order to clarify some of the obscurities of the earlier Statements. It will be examined to see if it remedies any of the deficiencies in these Statements (from the Catholic standpoint), which Dr. Charley has exposed.

In the space available to me for this article it is not possible to provide a detailed examination of all the deficiencies of the first two ARCIC documents. I shall confine myself to examining them from the standpoint of the headings which I have already listed, viz.:

  1. The Sacrament of Order was instigated directly by Christ Himself.
  2. It is imparted by the laying on of hands by a bishop whose own orders were received in the same way through an uninterrupted line going back to the Apostles.

Vatican II follows Trent in teaching that the Sacrament of Order in the Catholic Church is of divine institution. Our Lord consecrated His Apostles as bishops at the Last Supper. The powers He gave them were permanent and meant to be transmitted to their successors by the laying on of hands. This power was to continue without interruption and has indeed been handed down without a break to our present-day bishops who are the lawful succesors of the Apostles in the Church, which is a hierarchically structured society.(1)

Not one of these fundamental dogmas is affirmed in the Agreement on the Ministry. The Statement makes a distinction between the function of "oversight" (episcope) and the office of "bishops" (episcopoi). The Statement affirms the existence of oversight in the New Testament but not the existence of bishops:

"The early churches may well have had considerable diversity in the structure of the pastoral ministry, though it is clear that some churches were headed by ministers who were called episcopoi and preybyteroi. While the first missionary churches were not a loose aggregation of autonomous commumities, we have no evidence that ‘bishops’ and 'presbyters' were appointed everywhere in the primitive period (para. 6)".

The agreement which the Statement reveals can be summed up briefly as: "Episcope yes, episcopoi not proven". It interprets the meaning of "apostolic" in the Creed not as the transmission of orders by the laying on of hands in an unbroken succession, but as teaching what the Apostles taught (which every heretical sect claims to do):

"The Church is apostolic not only because its faith and life must reflect the witness to Jesus Christ given in the early Church by the Apostles, but also because it is charged to continue in the Apostles' commission to communicate to the world what it has received (para. 4)".

From his Evangelical standpoint, Dr. Charley is totally satisfied that the Statement nowhere affirms that the priesthood was instituted by Christ, and that it has been transmitted from the Apostles without a break by the laying on of hands. In his commentary on the Agreement on the Ministry (the Canterbury Statement) he writes:

"Now the Commission's Statement emphasizes "oversight" (episcope) as an essential element in the ordained ministry (para. 9). It does not say the same about "bishops" (episcopoi). Instead there is a description of Anglicanism and Roman Catholic practice – what happens and why (para. 9). No exclusive claim is made for possessing the only acceptable form of Church order. This is implicit in the words of the Co-Chairmen about "respecting the different forms that the ministry had taken in other traditions" (Preface). It leaves wide open the question whether any other denominations would be obliged in any future rapprochement to take episcopacy into their system (pp.16-17)".(2)

He adds that: "The Statement says nothing about Apostles appointing bishops and thus establishing an unbroken chain down to the twentieth century: the fact is that there are too many links missing for such an assertion (p. 19)".

In its Twenty-third Session (15 July, 1563) the Council of Trent pronounced the following anathema:

"Canon IV. If anyone saith that, by sacred ordination, the Holy Ghost is not given; and that vainly therefore do the bishops say: 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost’; or that a character is not imprinted by that ordination; or that he who has once been a priest can again become a layman; let him be anathema".

The fact that a character, a permanent designation by Christ, is conferred by the Sacrament or Order, was also taught by the Council of Florence, it was repeated by the Second Vatican Council, the second Synod of Bishops in 1971, and the Declaration, Mysterium Ecclesiae published by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 24 June, 1973.(3)

Two other sacraments, Baptism and Confirmation, imprint an indelible character upon the soul and cannot be repeated. Each of these sacraments makes an essential change in the person who has received them. A person who has been baptized is essentially different, has a different nature, from an unbaptized person. The difference between a validly ordained person and a layman is that ordination confers the powers to consecrate and absolve, and also to ordain where it is a case of episcopal consecration. The fact that an ordained person has powers which he did not possess before is summed up in the phrase "different essentially and not only in degree". This phrase was used by Pope Pius XII, the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI, the Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, and by Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Priests on Holy Thursday, 1979.(4)

The Catholic Church teaches that there are three forms of priesthood. The first is the priesthood of Christ, the other two forms are a participation in this priesthood. There is the universal, common, or interior priesthood which derives from Baptism and is shared by all the faithful. Pope Piuss XII explained in his Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei (1947):

"By reason of their baptism Christians are in the Mystical Body and become by a common title members of Christ the Priest; by the "character" that is graven upon their souls they are appointed t the worship of God, and, therefore, according to their condition, they share in the priesthood of Christ Himself".

The Catholic people form a holy priesthood; they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ (I Peter 2:5 & 9). An error of the Protestant Reformers was to teach that there is no other form of priesthood apart from this common or universal priesthood. They considered it a matter of propriety, though not of necessity, that certain persons should be chosen and appointed by the Christian community, or its accepted representatives, to teach the word of God and administer the sacraments; but that, though not ordinarily lawful, there is nothing to prevent any one of the faithful from discharging those functions in a case of necessity. The person chosen to preach and administer the sacraments could (but not as a matter of necessity) receive the authorization of the community in a ceremony of public ordination, incorporating prayer and the imposition of hands; but they were adamant that this was not a sacrament, nor was any sacramental grace conferred by it. Ordination was merely a sign of public approval, admitting a man who had received a call from God to the lawful exercise of the function of preaching and administering the sacraments. But the ordained minister differed only in degree from the rest of the community; he had been appinted to an office. He had undergone no essential change in his nature, and possessed no powers denied to the rest of the community. Every Christian was able to do what the minister did, but only he was authorized to do it. Martin Luther summed up the Protestant position very clearly:

"All of us alike are priests, and we all have the same authority in regard to the word and the sacraments, although no one has the right to administer them, without the consent of the members of his church, or by the call of the majority (because when something is common to all, no single person is empowered to arrogate it to himself but should await the call of the Church)."(5)

Pope Pius XII explained very clearly that an ordained priest does not derive his powers and authority from the community. It is true that he represents his people before God, but he is primarily the representative of God among the people. The Pope wrote in his Encyclical Mediator Dei:

"Only the Apostles and those who since have duly received from them and their successors the imposition of hands possess that priestly power in virtue of which they stand before their people as Christ's representative, and before God as vice-gerent of the people. This priesthood is not transmitted by heredity or blood relationship, nor does it originate in the Christian community, nor is it derived by delegation from the people. Before acting in God's sight on behalf of the people the priest is the ambassador of the divine Redeemer; and because Jesus Christ is the Head of that Body of which Christians are members, the priest is God's representative for the people entrusted to his care. The power committed to him, therefore, has nothing human about it ; it is supernatural and comes from God… Therefore the visible and external priesthood of Jesus Christ is not given in the Church universally, generally, or indeterminately; it is imparted to selected individuals by a sort of spiritual birth in one of the seven Sacraments, Holy Order. This Sacrament not only grants the grace proper to this particular function and state of life, it also confers an indelible character shaping sacred ministers to the likeness of Christ, and enabling them to perform the lawful acts of religion by which men sanctified and God duly glorified according to the divine ordinance".

The Church teaches that the Mass is primarily the action of Christ, actio Christi, in which our divine Redeemer makes present the Sacrifice of Calvary, offering Himself as a propitiatory sacrifice to the Father, se ipsum offerens. Christ offers Himself in the Sacrifice of the Mass through the ministry of the ordained priest at the altar who consecrates in persona Christi. In an important allocution delivered to the International Congress on Pastoral Liturgy, 22 September 1956, Pope Pius XII explained clearly how the essential sacrificial act, the consecration, in which the divine Redeemer is made present as a victim, is the action of Christ acting through the celebrant alone, and not of the entire congregation: "Actio Christi cujus personam, gerit sacerdos celebrans". The action of the consecrating priest is the very action of Christ who acts through His minister. Once the divine Victim has been made present the entire congregation can join with the celebrant in offering Him to the Father. "But", Pope Pius explains, "this action is not 'actio ipsius Christi per sacerdotem ipsius personam sustinentem et gerentem"'. The Pope stressed the same point in his Encyclical Mediator Dei:

"The unbloody immolation by which, after the words of consecration have been pronounced, Christ is rendered present on the altar in the state of victim, is performed by the priest alone, and by the priest in so far as he acts in the name of Christ, not in so far as he represents the faithful".

This teaching is repeated by the Second Vatican Council, in the Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, in the 1979 Holy Thursday Letter of Pope John Paul II, and in his 1980 Holy Thursday Letter, Dominicae Cenae.(6)

It will be useful to quote from Dominicae Cenae to make it clear how closely Pope John Paul II adheres to the classical Catholic teaching as expounded by Pope XII. The two Holy Thursday letters of the present Pope can be used to make a point-by-point refutation of the Agreed Statements on the Eucharist and Ministry. It is inconceivable that a Pope with such a profound grasp of the traditional teaching could ratify the evasive and ambiguous ARCIC Statements. Pope John Paul II teaches that:

"The priest offers the Holy Sacrifice in persona Christi; this means more than offering "in the name of" or "in the place of" Christ. In persona means in specific sacramental identification with 'the eternal High Priest' who is the Author and principal Subject of this Sacrifice of His, a Sacrifice in which, in truth, nobody can take His place. Only He - only Christ - was able and is always able to be the true and effective 'expiation for our sins and . . . for the sins of the whole world'. Only His Sacrifice - and no one else's - was able and is able to have a 'propitiatory power' before God, the Trinity, and the transcendent holiness. Awareness of this reality throws a certain light on the character and significance of the priest celebrant who, by confecting the Holy Sacrifice and acting in persona Christi, is sacramentally (and ineffably) brought into that most profound sacredness, and made part of it, spiritually linking with it in turn all those participating in the Eucharistic assembly".

In Protestant belief, the role of the ordained minister in the Eucharist is not essentially different from that of any member of the congregation. He is their representative presiding over the assembly in their name. He is simply their spokesman or representative. He does nothing, and is able to do nothing, that could not be done by any one of them. He presides because, as the ordained minister, it is appropriate that he should do so, not because he possesses a special power which makes him the only person able to do so.

The second power imparted by ordination to the priesthood, that of absolving, has not yet been mentioned. It will be dealt with separately.


The ARClC Statement on the Ministry nowhere affirms that:

(a) A "character" is imprinted by ordination which means that
(b) The ordained man differs not simply in degree but in essence from the unordained
(c) And has powers which the unordained do not possess.

Dr. Charley's interpretation of the Statement is that an ordained minister is:

". . . the most appropriate person to preside at the celebration of the Eucharist. The Statement says nothing about a 'priestly character' necessary for such a responsibility, by which an ordained man is empowered to do something which no layman can do. It speaks rather of what is right in the light of the nature of both the Eucharist and the ministry. The Lord's people gather together around the Lord's table. If the minister is the focus of the people's unity, who could be more fitting to act as president?"(7)

Can we deduce from this that Dr. Charley upholds the classic Protestant position that, if the community thought it necessary, any member of the congregation could act as president; and that the ordained minister normally does so as a matter of propriety and not necessity? The answer is definitely, "Yes". In a lecture delivered at London Colney (England) on 11 November, 1974 he was asked the following question:

"In your commentary on the Canterbury Statement you say: 'It says nothing about a priestly character by which an ordained man is empowered to do something which no layman can do'. From what you have said I take it you wouldn't want to say that anything happened to the bread and wine at the Consecration. So would you therefore say that this is something that a layman could do? Could a layman consecrate?"

Dr. Charley replied:

"What the Ministry Statement makes quite explicit is that it is not as if there is a kind of magical - no, magical is an unfair, a loaded word – a kind of power which a certain person has to do something; that the work of the reality of the Eucharist is something that God does. But it is true at the same time that there is an appropriate person to do it. Now I think that if l'm honest and you were to push me over this, I would say that I believe that the ordained person - which is what we are saying in the Ministry Statement - who is there as the intentional focus figure for the fellowship of Christ’s Church, he is the right and appropriate person to be the celebrant at the Lord's Supper; because if the Lord's Supper is the focus of our unity, and the Ministry is to be the focal point of the leadership and so on of the life of the Church, then there is no one more appropriate… l'm sure there is a difference of opinion about this, about whether a layman can ever be in a position to be the celebrant: I fully appreciate that. I think I would have to say myself as an Evangelical, my own personal conviction is that I believe the right and proper person, because of Christ’s intention for the Ministry, is the minister, that he ought to be the celebrant. But I can find, if I’m honest, no ultimate theological reason why in exceptional circumstances a layman could not be the celebrant".

We must be grateful to Dr. Charley for his frankness, both in his written commentary and in answering this question at his lecture. What his testimony proves beyond any possible doubt is that the Agreement on the Ministry is acceptable to a man who denies the existence of priestly character conferred by ordination, denies the existence of special priestly powers which a layman does not possess and believes that if the need arose a layman could celebrate the Eucharist. In a Preface to this Agreement the Co-Chairmen of ARCIC, The Rt. Reverend H.R. McAdoo for the Anglican Communion, and Bishop Alan Clarke for the Catholic Church, state: "Even though there may be differences of emphasis within our two traditions, yet we believe that in what is said here both Anglican and Roman Catholic will recognize their own faith." Well, the Anglican Co-Chairman had every right to say this, as any Protestant could recoginze his own faith in this Agreement. It is a straightforward Protestant statement. But how any Catholic, least of all a Bishop, could claim to recognize the Catholic faith in this Statement, and expect us to accept him as a man of integrity, is a complete mystery. But even if, per impossibile, Bishop Clark had deluded himself into sincerely believing that this Statement did express the full Catholic teaching on the priesthood, he was certainly made aware of its deficiencies as a result of the very strong criticism from orthodox Catholics prompted by its publication. The Statement on the Ministry was published in 1973.


The deficiencies which I have pointed out in this article were made known to the Catholic members of ARCIC by many priests and laymen, both in published articles and private letters. The Catholic members thus had every opportunity of insisting that the true Catholic position was affirmed, or of admitting publicly that no agreement could be reached. In 1979, ARCIC published Elucidations, which was intended to clarify the previous Statements. Elucidations proved conclusively, if further proof were needed, that the Catholic members of ARCIC were not willing to offend their Anglican colleagues by upholding authentic Catholic teaching on the priesthood. It is explained in Elucidations that:

"The Statement (para. 13) explains that the ordained ministry is called priestly principally because it has a particular sacramental relationship with Christ as High Priest. At the eucharist Christ's people do what he commanded in memory of himself and Christ unites them sacramentally with himself in his self-offering. But in this action it is only the ordained minister who presides at the eucharist, in which, in the name of Christ and on behalf of his Church, he recites the narrative of the institution of the Last Supper, and invokes the Holy Spirit upon the gifts".

Before commenting on this passage I will quote the words of Pope Pius XII in his Allocution of 2 November, 1954:

"There are some who have not ceased claiming a certain true power to sacrifice on the part of all, even laymen, who piously assist at the Sacrifice of the Mass. Opposing them, We must distinguish truth from error, and do away with all confusion. Seven years ago, in the Encyclical just quoted (Mediator Dei), We reproved the error of those who did not hesitate to state that Christ's command 'do this in memory of Me', refers directly to the whole assembly of the faithful, and that only afterwards did a hierarchical priesthood follow. Hence, they say, the people possess a true sacerdotal power; the priest acts only as an authority delegated by the community. Wherefore they think that 'concelebration' is the true Eucharistic Sacrifice, and that it is more fitting for priests and people together to ‘concelebrate' than to offer the Sacrifice in private, with no congregatîon present".

It is clear that the passage just quoted from Elucidations is fully compatible with the errors censured in the quotation from the Allocution of Pope Pius XII.

(1) It could be interpreted to mean that Christ's command "do this in memory of Me" was given to all the faithful.

(2) It could be interpreted to mean that the congregation and ordained minister "concelebrate" the Eucharist, with the minister simply presiding as "an authority delegated by the community".

(3) The Statement does say that the minister "recites the narrative in the name of Christ and on behalf of his Church", but it studiously avoids using the phrase "in the person of Christ". Every Protestant minister presides over the Eucharist in the name of Christ as well as that of the congregation, but a Catholic priest does more than preside, he does more than "recite the narrative of the Last Supper". A Catholic priest consecrates in persona Christi, he confects the sacrament.

The precision with which the language of Elucidations has been chosen to avoid affïrming the Catholic position could not possibly be accidental or coincidental. This is equally manifest in the 'clarification' of the meaning of ordination which appears in Elucidations:

"Both traditions agree that a sacramental rite is a visible sign through which the grace of God is given by the Holy Spirit in the Church".

Some Catholics might be inclined to accept this definition as an adequate expression of the teaching of the Church, but in an article in the May 1980 issue of Christian Order, Professor van der Ploeg points out that the definition is not adequate as it uses the preposition "through" rather than "by". He explains:

"The ambiguity of this statement lies in the words ‘though which’ (not ‘by which’), because of the various ways a Sacrament is thought to give grace: as opus operatum – by its own virtue; or as opus operantis (by virtue of him who receives the Sacrament). This latter is a Protestant doctrine".

The distinction to which Professor van der Ploeg refers is of considerable importance. The Catholic Church teaches that sacramental grace is derived only from the sacrament. This is referred to as the reception of grace ex opere operato. The grace made available is no way dependent upon the recipient of the sacrament. But the extent to which the sacramental grace produced by the sacrament will benefit its recipient is affected by his personal disposition. Thus these dispositions will decide whether a person makes a good confession or a bad confession, a good Communion or a bad Communion. The influence of the dispositions of the recipient upon the fruits of the sacrement is referred to as ex opere operantis.

It is of the very greatest importance to stress that in no way at all is the grace of a sacrament ever produced ex opere operantis. The source of grace is Christ Himself acting through His Sacraments. The dispositions of the recipient only help to determine the effectiveness of this grace in his particular case, in no way can they be the cause or the source of the grace which he receives.

As regards the Protestant position, it must be remembered that they reject the entire Catholic concept of grace, but there is no space here to explain the nature of their error. It must suffice to state that they deny that the sacraments contain the grace they signify, or that grace can be conferred by the sacraments. However, the performance of a sacramental rite can stir up and nourish the faith of an individual in much the same way as reading the Scriptures can. The Council of Trent anathematized the following propositions: the sacraments were instituted for the sake of nourishing faith alone; they do not contain the grace which they signify; grace is not conferred by the rite itself (ex opere operato), but that faith alone in the divine promises is sufficient to obtain grace.

Now to state that grace is given through the sacramental rite is in no way unorthodox - the phrase is even used by the Council of Trent, but within a context in which the ex opere operato doctrine is affirmed forcefully and frequently. The significance of the choice of through rather than by is that through is compatible with the heresy that the sacraments do not contain the grace that they signify, but by is not.

The quotation from Elucidations continues:

"The rite of ordination is one of these sacramental rites. Those who are ordained by prayer and the laying on of hands receive their ministry from Christ through those designated in the Church to hand it on; together with the office, they are given the grace needed for its fulfilment. Since New Testament times the Church has required such recognition and authorization for those who are to exercise the principal functions of episcope (oversight) in the name of Christ. This is what both traditions mean by the sacramental rite of ordination". Professor van der Ploeg comments:

"Again, these words have been chosen most carefully, if we except the last sentence, which is simply not true. Nowhere in this description is there any mention of grace given by the sacrament of Order: and the 'ministry’ is equated with 'authority'; bishops (or priests) are ‘designated’ for their office; 'together' with this designation they receive grace. The Church 'recognizes them' and ‘gives them authority' to exercise their function in the name of Christ. Through the use of these words the true Catholic doctrine is carefully avoided. What is said is not untrue ; but from the Catholic standpoint it is essentially incomplete. It becomes untrue because it purports to give the ‘substantial’ doctrine of the Church in this matter: ‘This is what both traditions mean by the sacramental rite of ordination’… The text says that those who are ordained by prayer and the laying on of hands receive their ministry from Christ ‘through those designated in the Church to hand it on’. Here the word ‘designated’ is insufficient since its primary meaning is of a juridical act and we are not told that it has another meaning as well: the consecrating bishop has not only to be designated, but also to be ordained (or consecrated) in the way the Catholic Church associates with and attaches to this word".

Professor van der Ploeg is even more severe in his critique of the claim: "Since New Testament times the Church has required such recognition and authorization for those who are to exercise the principal functions of episcope in the name of Christ". He writes :

"Here we do not only disagree but protest. Ordination to the priesthood is not to be explained as an act of authority only, or as one of ‘recognition’ (of a grace already given). By his ordination the priest gets real power ‘to offer and consecrate the true Body and Blood of the Lord, to forgive sins or not to forgive them’ and his priesthood is not ‘only an office’ (officium tantum), as Trent has made clear and declared."


The Council of Trent took great pains to make it clear that the forgiveness of sins when the words of absolution are pronounced by a duly authorized priest is a real judicial pardon. The priest makes a judgement, and decides to forgive or retain the sins of the penitent. Some Protestant sects devised a rite resembling the Catholic Sacrament of Penance in which the minister informs the penitent that his sins have been forgiven. But there is no sacramental absolution on the part of the minister, there is no judicial sentence. He is simply reassuring and comforting the penitent by reminding him that God has forgiven his sins. Trent anathematized anyone who claimed that: "The sacramental absolution of the priest is not a judicial act, but a bare ministry of pronouncing and declaring sins to be forgiven to him who confesses; provided only he believe himself to be absolved". (Session XIV, Canon IX.)

The ARCIC Statement on the Ministry is totally compatible with this heresy which Trent anathematized. It explains:

"Authority to pronounce God’s forgiveness of sin, given to bishops and presbyters at their ordination, is exercised by them to bring Christians to a closer communion with God and their fellow men through Christ, and to assure them of God's continuing love and mercy". (para, 11)

This is blatant Protestantism. When a Catholic priest is ordained he receives the power to absolve or retain the sins of the penitent. An ARCIC minister is given authority to pronounce God's forgiveness of sin. This is not even subtle, but if any doubt remains let Dr. Charley dispel it:

"'The authority to pronounce God's forgiveness of sin should not be open to misconstruction. The relationship of such a ministry with the word of God is fundamental. The forgiveness is God's not ours, for sin is primarily an offence against God who alone therefore can offer pardon. As in the Anglican Prayer Book, where the absolution is either a prayer to God or a statement about God, so here the minister is simply said to 'pronounce' it".

What could be clearer? But should further clarification be needed, Dr. Charley provided it during the lecture which has already been cited. He was asked to comment on the Catholic belief that absolution is a judicial act. He replied:

"In the (Anglican) Prayer Book the actual basis of the pronouncement of absolution is either in the petitionary form of a prayer that God will absolve, or it is a declaratory thing, that God absolves; not, though, that I absolve ... If an offence is primarily against God, it is God who will forgive. But there is an authoritative Minister of Christ who has authority to say, this is what Christ says: "If you repent of your sins I will forgive you". I believe that as a preacher of the Gospel I can have a declaratory authority in the name of Christ. But that's a different thing from saying that I forgive somebody's sins; but I believe that I can declare something with authority, on the authority of Christ as His representative." (My emphasis)


The space available to me in this article precludes any detailed discussion of ARCIC's treatment of the Catholic doctrines of Sacrifice the Real Presence. In his commentary on the Canterbury Agreement on the Ministry (p. 23) Dr. Charley observes with great satisfaction:

"The Statement on the Eucharist" claimed to be a ‘substantial agreement’ from which, according to the Chairmen in the Preface, ‘nothing essential has been omitted’. That Statement spoke explicitly of the sacrifice of Christ, but it never described the Eucharist as a sacrifice. Even a ‘substantial agreement’ did not requre that. The present Statement on the Ministry is ‘the consensus of the Commission on essential matters’ (para. 17)". (My emphasis)

Well, there we have it. The Catholic members of ARCIC, including two bishops, are satisfied that they have reached a substantial agreement on the Eucharist, from which nothing essential has been omitted, without affirming that the Eucharist is a sacrifice as well as a sacrament. In order to affirm the Catholic doctrine fully it should be stated that it is a propitiatory sacrifice, and not simply a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving - something the Anglican Reformers were prepared to accept.

Another Anglican commentator, the Reverend Colin Buchanan, remarked that Thomas Cranmer, the apostate Archbishop of Canterbury, who was the principal author of the Anglican Prayer Book, could have signed the first Agreed Statement on the Eucharist while his (Catholic) opponents could not, and that its statements "about the presence of Christ in the Sacrament goes very much with his use of language, and the footnote explaining away transubstantiation without committing anyone to it would have made him chortle."(8)

The language in the Agreement on the Eucharist concerning the Real Presence is well calculated to deceive Catholics with little knowledge of theology. Some of the Protestant Reformers used very realistic language regarding the reception of Christ in Holy Communion, and yet they totally rejected belief in any substantial change in the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine. The ARCIC Statements are totally consistent with such a rejection. Professor van der Ploeg comments:

"In Elucidations (No. 6) we read, ‘His body and blood are given through the action of the Holy Spirit appropriating (our emphasis) bread and wine so that they become the food of the new creation already inaugurated by the coming of Christ’. This does not mean more than that the Holy Spirit takes possession in some way or other of the bread and wine, not that they cease to be bread and wine, having been substantially changed".

As the Reverend Colin Buchanan remarked, Cranmer could have signed the Statement on the Eucharist. Thomas Cranmer would never have signed any statement that could be interpreted as accepting a substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist.


What conclusions must we draw concerning the Agreed Statements? If we are objective we must conclude that the Catholic delegates no longer accept the teaching of the Council of Trent, and that these Statements are nothing less than an attempt to demolish the Catholic Church. Professor van der Ploeg writes:

"We ask the Catholic members of the Commission to read the doctrinal formulations of the Council of Trent. True, this Council was called as a bulwark against the Reformation of the sixteenth century; it is one of the major obstacles blocking the way to the modem ecumenist. We know that not a few 'Catholic' ecumenists would like to break it down; but we are not disposed to assist them in their work of demolishing the Catholic Church". (Christian Order, May 1980.)

How, then, must we regard the Catholic members of ARCIC? I will conclude by quoting Professor van der Ploeg. His strictures are severe, but his logic is inescapable. I agree with him completely:

"It is difficult to find Catholic doctrine better formulated than in the dogmatic canons of Trent: so much so that it is difficult or, indeed, impossible for anyone refusing to use them to keep the Catholic faith.(9) This, apart from the fact that every Catholic is bound to subscribe to them, so that anyone refusing explicitly to do so cannot be called a true Roman Catholic."



(1) Council of Trent, Session XXII, 17 September 1562 (DB 938, 961 963); II Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 20, 21 22, Christus Dominus 2, 4, 6, Presbyterium Ordinis 2; Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae 24 June 1973, 6; Pope John Paul II, Letter to Priests, Holy Thursday 1979, 4.

(2) Agreement on the Doctrine of the Ministry.

(3) Council of Florence, Bulla unionis Armenorum, Exsultate Deo, (DB. 695): II Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 21; Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2: Documents of the Synod of Bishops: 1. The Ministerial Priesthood, part one, 5, AAS 63 (1971), p.907: Mysterium Ecclesiae, 6.

(4) Pope Pius XII, Discourse on the Priesthood, 2 November 1954: II Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 10: Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Mysterium Fidei, 31: Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 6: Pope John Paul II, Letter to Priests, Holy Thursday, 1979, 3.

(5) Pagan Servitude of the Church.

(6) II Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 28; Presbyterium Ordinis, 2: Mysterium Ecclesiae, 6; Letter to Priests, Holy Thursday 1979, 3; Letter, Dominicae Cenae, 1980.

(7) Agreement on the Doctrine of the Ministry, p.21.

(8) C. Buchanan, What did Cranmer think he was doing? (Grove Books, Nottingham, England).

(9) "It is intolerable that anyone on his own initiative should want to modify the formulas with which the Council of Trent has proposed the eucharistic mystery for belief. These formulas, and others too which the Church employs in proposing dogmas of faith, express concepts which are not tied to any specified cultural system. They are not restricted to any fixed development of the sciences nor to one or other of the theological schools. They present the perception which the human mind acquires from its universal, essential experience of reality and expresses by use of appropriate and certain terms borrowed from colloquial or literary language. They are, therefore, within the reach of everyone at all times and in all places." (Mysterium Fidei, par. 24)



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