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  • Sixteenth-Century Divisions and Ecumenical Dialogue
  • David N. Power O.M.I.
The Eucharist. By Edward Schillebeeckx. (New York: Burns and Oates, a Continuum imprint. 2005. Originally published 1968. Pp. 160. $18.95 paperback.)
The Eucharist in the Reformation. Incarnation and Liturgy. By Lee Palmer Wandel. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp. xii, 302. $70.00 clothbound, $24.95 paperback.)

It has been remarked more than once that ecumenical dialogue risks failure when the appropriate historical studies are neglected, either not done or not taken into account when the possibilities of eventual communion between churches are discussed. Without these, the issues in dispute at the time of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations of the sixteenth century are not clarified, nor can it be seen what import they have for present ecumenical efforts and what relation they have to the Gospel and to the apostolic tradition.

Both of the above books show careful historical research into sixteenth-century developments and questions. Schillebeeckx is concerned with more theological issues, historical and current. He bases his thoughts about present trends in Eucharistic theology on careful historical research into the Council of Trent. He then relates the issues debated by the Council to contemporary European ways of thinking about the symbolic. Wandel is more purposefully historical. She writes principally about how the Mass, Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion were celebrated by the communities that drew apart from each other in their understanding of what they did and what Christ commanded. Holding these two works in hand together is a reminder of how complex the issues were and of how quite varied aspects of dispute and schism need to be studied. They illustrate the distinction that has to be made between doctrinal and practical questions, as well as the need to explore the relation between the two. They also make the reader sensitive to what is at stake in relating such matters to current thought, practice, and teaching. While that is not her intent, Wandel's book in particular should make it clear that no solution to ecumenical communion, such as a general policy of open communion table, is possible unless churches address the ways in which members of different traditions inevitably think differently about the meaning of the communion table. Even the existing agreed statements on the Eucharist, rich and important though they are, do not take the belief and feeling of participants in the liturgy into full account and so seldom address how to deal with popular and pastoral exigencies.

The small book of Edward Schillebeeckx, rather deceptively entitled The Eucharist, is a reprint of a 1968 book. When written it was not meant to be a full range Eucharistic theology. It might better have borne the title "Christ's Presence in the Eucharist" since it treated of then current trends in the discussion of Christ's presence in the Eucharist in the light of the Tridentine doctrine given in the Decree on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The work is still very relevant, [End Page 273] both to historical studies on Trent and to the development of a theology of Eucharistic presence in the light of contemporary thinking and culture. Indeed, one might say that in Catholic circles Schillebeeckx's presentation surpasses much that has been written between then and now and students and scholars would benefit from returning to the careful and accurate thought of a Magister in the field. We can be grateful to Continuum for the reprint.

The book is divided into two parts, the one historical and the other a treatment of theological trends of the period before, during, and after Vatican Council II. In the historical section, Schillebeeckx's purpose is to clarify what was discussed and defined at the Council of Trent and to place its teaching into its proper historical and cultural setting. Contrary to the positions taken by some others, Schillebeeckx insists that the matters of Christ's presence and of transubstantiation were thought through in terms of the prevailing Aristotelian natural philosophy. It is only by recognizing this fact that we can know what was intended by its doctrine and how we are to take it seriously in a time when...


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