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Rome & Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity.

Rome & Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

4501 Forbes Blvd, Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706

ISBN 9780742552784, $19.95, 2007

When dealing with a subject as large as the reunion between the Roman Catholic Church (Rome) and the Worldwide Anglican Communion (Canterbury), it is helpful for a writer to have some firsthand experience and knowledge of the situation, as well as the parties involved. Likewise, it is beneficial for the author to have a personal enthusiasm for the subject. Mary Reath has the experience, and in her short book, "Rome & Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity," she displays an operational knowledge of both camps. Equally, Reath also has a passionate desire to be part of bringing that reunion to completion. In her own words she states, "Seeking oneness is not an optional extra, but rather learning and receiving from each other is a divine imperative. Ecumenism is the future of Christianity" (96).

Mary Reath has written this book for the average member of both communions. She believes that most of those members have very little idea of what has been developing in the dialogues for reunion. She not only believes that providing an informative little book is a nice thing to do, but that it will help to move the reunion forward. "[?] a paper reunion would be meaningless. In the end without the laity involved this will never happen" (xvii). Her approach to reach this goal is to rehearse the history of how Rome and Canterbury got this divided point, and what are the major hurdles to reunion.

Reath's historical recitation is readable and informative, especially as she describes the early attempts at addressing reunion between Rome and Canterbury. I would imagine that most folks would be surprised to find that in the late 19th Century there was an attempt to have Rome recognize Anglican orders as valid, and Rome declared them "absolutely null and void" (30). But other attempts have been more successful and have left behind some promising results. Reath recounts the fairly successful work of the Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and the various agreed upon statements addressing topics such as the Eucharist, Ministry and Authority. It is in the middle of her historical recounting of ARCIC that Reath addresses what she considers as the major hurdle: the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

In chapter seven, Reath narrates the story behind the way in which Papal Infallibility came about, and its relationship to the primacy of the Pope. This chapter, rather than being laborious, is easy to read and grasp because Reath has done a fine job of boiling the major points down to the easily comprehensible. Papal infallibility is limited to faith or morals, and is a declarative event of that which is "explicitly and authoritatively the truth that already exists for the church" (56), and is something held by the whole church. As helpful as her presentation of this delicate matter is, there is an unhelpful idealism in this chapter which pops up in other parts of the book as well. Reath seems to miss the point that the 'whole church' mentioned in the 1870 document on infallibility from Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, is limited to the Roman Catholic Church, and does not necessarily include the Eastern Orthodox Church nor any branch of Protestantism in that phrase 'the whole church.' It seems to me that this little glitch muddles up some of her desired conclusions in this chapter and other places in the book.

Reath has provided a number of helpful appendices which address several of the ARCIC documents. Instead of quoting those documents in full, she has done quite a bit of the hard labor of culling through them and bringing out their salient points, coupled with her analysis.

One of the distractions in the book happens to be more with the format than the content. The blocked paragraphs seem easy on the eyes, but the fact that there are no indentions to tell you when you have approached a new paragraph is rather irritating.

Though at various points the book can read like a propaganda piece for ARCIC or Archbishop Rowan Williams, nevertheless, it is comprehensible, informative, and insightful with regard to the dialogue between Canterbury and Rome. If someone is looking for solid background information to that dialogue and the major hurdles that are restricting a reunion, "Rome & Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity" is a good starting point.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Philliber for Reader Views (11/07)
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Author:Philliber, Michael
Publication:MBR Bookwatch
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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