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  • Rome and Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity
  • David Bird
Rome and Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity. By Mary Reath. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 2007. Pp. xviii, 158. $19.95. ISBN 978-0-742-55278-4.)

This is an excellent contemporary overview of Anglican-Roman relations, particularly strong on developments since Vatican Council I. Reath exhibits a generous understanding of the complex issues, providing an informative and thought-provoking text for ecumenical dialogue groups. Above all, she places theological and ecclesiological developments in their historical context, outlining the cultural and political forces bearing upon the respective churches.

The narrative is both hopeful and cautious. Anglicans will be encouraged when Reath cites Benedict XVI's judgment before his election:"As far as the doctrine of primacy is concerned, Rome must not require more of the East than was formulated and living during the first millennium" (p. 67).Yet she warns of understandable Catholic fears that the Anglican Communion could become little more than a loose confederation of separate churches instead of [End Page 744] a worldwide group identified, among other things, by a common prayer book; the dominical sacraments; the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds; interlocking authority structures involving all orders, lay and ordained; and clear teaching on discipline.

Reath discusses such issues in the United States as the consecration of Gene Robinson,an openly gay bishop in a long-term,same-sex relationship; the election of a female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori; and the unwelcome incursion of "Anglican missions" into the United States by four African primates offering alternative jurisdictions from that of the Episcopal Church, thereby raising questions about the nature of koinonia within the Anglican Communion itself.

The section on infallibility is a must read. The author cites Cardinal Kasper's assertion that such movements as the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the absolutism of modern states, Gallicanism, and Episcopalianism were among the extreme and exceptional circumstances, which led the council fathers of Vatican Council I to affirm papal infallibility. Yet she reminds us of the intentionally rare use of this gift. Pastor Aeternus, she reminds us, asserts that infallibility is to be exercised only after every means possible has been taken to determine the already existing mind of the Church; only then can an explicit and authoritative pronouncement be made. She has obvious affection for indefectibility, itself an aspect of infallibility, citing John Macquarrie's description of "infallibility" as "a persistence toward truth" (p. 57).

Benedict XVI's familiarity with ecumenical dialogue and the large number of ecumenical agreements approved during his leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are signs of hope. Likewise, Reath sees Archbishop Williams as making plain "that neither Western, liberal thinkers who sometimes believe that society sets the agenda, and the Church must respond, nor the so-called global south, which asserts that it is the Bible that sets the agenda, represent classical Anglicanism" (p. 80).

Reath's writing is clear and concise; her numerous quotations from both primary and secondary sources are judiciously selected and so woven into the narrative that they enhance the flow of the text. There are occasional editorial glitches to be corrected for the inevitable next edition. In a table on page 5,Catherine of Aragon is listed as first Henry VII's wife and then as Henry VIII's wife. Rather, she was Henry VII's daughter-in-law: first as wife of Prince Arthur and then of Henry VIII, the latter almost two months after Henry VII's death. On page 80, there is a reference to the "Apostle's" Creed. None of this detracts from the admirable breadth of detail and brevity of expression in Reath's narrative. [End Page 745]

David Bird
Trinity Cathedral
San Jose, California


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