Search Icon, Magnifying Glass

Graduation Cap Heart Question Mark Magnifying Glass

Plene Esse, the Holy Spirit, & Intercommunion

This is part three of a four part project. The final project is here.

“For a long time the Conference on Faith and Order shied away from and avoided directly addressing this problem [ecumenical Eucharist]. It was the type of issue so loaded with emotional dynamite, that we feared it might with the first little thrust set off a spark that would explode our entire movement into pieces.” Dr. Leonard Hodgson.1

The great scandal of the 20th and 21st Century Church is this, though we have done great work in recognizing each other’s work in the Kingdom of God and the validity of our shared baptism in the Body of Christ, we still cannot fully share in the Sacrament of Jesus’s Body and Blood at his Holy Table. Despite all of our progress. Despite all of our good will. Despite the moments where Church unity seems real and visible. At Holy Communion the schism in the Church is painfully visible for all to see. Here, the illusions of our great ecumenical progress seem to fall completely apart. When Christians from diverse traditions come together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper the air is indeed “loaded with emotional dynamite."2

A constructive engagement of Eucharist in ecumenical settings for Anglicans first requires the definition of a few technical terms. “Anglican” here refers to the churches joined in apostolic succession with the Archbishops of York and Canterbury and holding to the ecclesial, theological, and liturgical traditions of the Church of England expressed in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and the XXXIX Articles of Religion 1562. In North America, prominent Anglican churches are the Episcopal Church (TEC), the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Prior to the great Anglican Realignment of the early 21st Century, the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) — first among equals of Anglican bishops — and the Lambeth Conference — a conference of global Anglican bishops called by the ABC about every ten years — were the instruments of unity and coordination in the global communion of Anglican churches. Prior to the breach of the Episcopal Church after the Lambeth Conference of 1998, the Lambeth Conferences — though not technically binding to each local church — were seen as the voice of global Anglicanism. “Eucharist,” “Communion,” “the Lord’s Supper,” etc. refer to the dominical sacrament instituted with bread and wine by Jesus at the Last Supper in the upper room before his crucifixion.

Eucharist is the center of much controversy and emotion in the ecumenical life of the presently divided Church. At the celebration of Eucharist questions more easily ignored or set aside in other contexts come clearly and powerfully to the forefront. Primary among these issues are the validity of various church governance structures and thus the validity of ordinations, sacraments, and teachings within that structure. For the Catholic Traditions — Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, etc. — episcopal church governance under bishops in valid apostolic succession are a part of the very esse of the Church. If validity of another ecclesial body’s apostolic succession is questionable or the other body is missing or rejects apostolic episcopal oversight the very nature and being of the other is called into question. Even when the heart calls for unity and compassion with non-episcopal bodies it is difficult to find a path forward without directly contradicting one’s own confession and construal of the esse of the Church.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is a theological document originating in 1886 with TEC in the United States which was extended and ratified by the Lambeth Conference in 1888. This document covers the four main elements Anglicans see as being the esse of the una sancta ecclesia and the starting point for all ecumenical dialog. First, the Church affirms that the Bible “containeth all things necessary to salvation."3 Second, the Catholic Church affirms the Apostles' and Nicene creeds as being a sufficient explanation and boundary for the Faith. Third, that the Catholic Church affirms and practices the two dominical sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. And, fourth, “the historic episcopate, locally adapted” as the sign of visible unity and adherence to apostolic teaching in the Church.4

The first three points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral are easily affirmed by the vast majority of global Christians. It is, however, the fourth point that has caused much pain and theological questioning in Anglicanism. Is the historic episcopacy truly so critical to the esse of the Church that Presbyterians or Baptists should be excluded from the Church Catholic? Is it possible to accept non-episcopal churches as valid and visible members of the una sancta ecclesia without contradicting the Catholic Traditions' gift of apostolic succession? In Anglicanism, there are three main schools of thought with different answers to these questions.

The first school of thought can be called the esse school. In this more traditional and often Anglo-Catholic leaning viewpoint, non-episcopal communities simply do not constitute valid expressions of the Church.5 Non-episcopal communities, thus, do not preside over valid sacraments. In this view, individual members of these communities, if baptized in the “name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” are valid baptized Christians, but they are not a member of the Church or possess valid apostolic authority to preside over the Lord’s Table. The historic episcopacy — as the only means for the transmission of the apostolic authority originating from Christ’s establishment — is totally and completely bound to the very esse of the Church. Though God’s grace is active all around, the una sancta ecclesia must by very nature be the ecclesia apostolica through direct succession of bishops “by prayer with the laying on of hands in claimed unbroken historical continuity from the time of the apostles."6

At the other extreme of the esse school of thought is the more Reformed view of the historic episcopacy being a part of the bene esse of the Church.7 Bishops, in this view point, are a historic marker of the Church. In times past, bishops were a visible sign that a community could be trusted to be teaching the “authentic message of Jesus and the apostles."8 However, during the Reformation for various historical reasons many faithful Christians lost the episcopacy. In this view, “the Church as a whole” lives the vita apostolica.9 “The witness to the gospel has been entrusted to the Church as a whole. Therefore the whole Church as the ecclesia apostolica stands in the apostolic succession”10 If a non-episcopal church has remained faithful to the teaching of the apostle’s and lives as a Catholic and apostolic body — seeing itself not as a sect, but a member of the one holy Catholic Church —, then it’s existence and orders can be seen as valid and apostolic without question. Episcopacy, then, is a historical tradition worthy of continuing, but not critical to the nature of the Church.

The third Anglican view of the nature of the historic episcopacy in the Church, plene esse, is a mediating view originating out of the lived ecumenical experiences of the 20th Century. Non-episcopally organized churches lack the fullness of the vita apostolica and are in a limited sense a “defekte Kirche” — a defective church.11 In this view, non-episcopal churches are only a “defekte Kirche” because they are missing the historic sign of faithful adherence to the teachings of the apostles' and continuity and unity with the Catholic Church, the episcopacy. A “defekte Kirche” can gain fullness by entering “a relationship of mutual participation in episcopal ordinations with a church which has retained the historical episcopal succession."12 A church can “embrace this sign” of bishops “without denying its past apostolic continuity."13

If the historic episcopacy is part of the esse or bene esse of the Church then answers to ecumenical questions of ecclesial and sacrament validity are relatively easy to answer from the Anglican perspective. If of the plain esse of the Church non-episcopal churches are de-churched. Everyone is voted off the island, as it were, and the only way back into the Church is for total and full reintegration into the historic episcopate — including reordination of ministers and changes to church governance. If of the bene esse of the Church, everyone is already valid in the eyes of Anglicans and only conversations and praxis are needed to realize visibly the apostolic unity already present in the still divided Church.

To my eyes, the esse view of the historic episcopacy makes the most sense at face value. If from the earliest days of Church history the office of bishop is clearly the visible sign of apostolic teaching and if the church through the ages were so careful to faithfully continue and unbroken chain of consecrations by the laying on of hands, then the episcopacy is clearly a part of the very esse of Christ’s Holy Church. At the same time, “ecumenical encounter” with various Protestant traditions forces me to “recognize the one Holy Spirit of truth” present in the ministry of these churches.14 The episcopacy, then, must for me be of the plene esse of the Church. Anglicanism, as a whole, has come to this conclusion as well. In full-communion agreements in North American, India, and England with Lutherans, Methodists, and Reformed/Baptists Anglican bodies were able to accept the past and present ministries of non-episcopal ordinations only after these bodies accepted the historic episcopacy and episcopal ordinations going forward.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886 / 1888 and the plene esse view of the historic episcopacy give a clear trajectory and framework for visible Church unity or “full-communion,” but they do not clearly speak into the liminal space between now and the future. The question remains of what one is to do when full-communion has not yet happened and the episcopacy has not yet been restored. What is the status of the Eucharist of a “defekte Kirche”?

Dr. Leonard Hodgson was an Anglican priest and served as Theological Secretary to the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches from 1933 to 1952. During Dr. Hodgson’s tenure, the Commission on Faith and Order was tasked with researching and writing on the great debate of ecumenical Eucharist. In his essay “Anglicanism and Intercommunion” Dr. Hodgson struggles with the reality of the present divided moment in light of his vision of the future. Holding a plene esse view of the episcopacy, Dr. Hodgson forges a path that recognizes the nature of the Church while also leaning on a strong understanding of the Holy Spirit.

In the present situation, full-communion — total recognition between two churches of each other’s ministry and sacraments — is not yet possible between the vast majority of churches. We cannot yet experience full unity, but through the Holy Spirit, there is a path to intercommunion. Intercommunion is when two churches open their Tables to each other. Neither body is in full unity yet and, in the case of Anglicans, the full essence of the Church’s apostolicity has not yet been received, but both bodies recognize each other as members of the una sancta ecclesia and see merit and even validity in each other’s orders and sacraments.

In Hodgson’s view, “every sacrament is what God makes it, and to regard any sacrament as deficient is to believe that God withholds from it the fulness of the gift which it is intended to convey."15 Just as Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit falls upon the Body of Christ when it is gathered together. To “speak depreciatively” about another — non-episcopal — church’s sacraments “is a blasphemous contradiction” of our Christian understanding of who the Holy Spirit is and what God can do in his Church.16 The argument then is not about the validity of a non-episcopal church’s sacraments, but the validity of God’s “sacramental activity” in non-episcopal bodies.17 Hodgson suggests that Anglicans” can be faithful to both” our desire to uphold the historic episcopacy and Christian charity to Protestant churches not yet in full-communion with us “if we distinguish between God’s will for His Church in its unity and His will for it in its present divided condition."18

Recognizing the work on the Holy Spirit and the mystery of God’s works in the world, Anglicans can embrace the “zeitgenössische, einzigartiges Werk des Heiligen Geistes” — present, unique work of the Holy Spirit — in our midst today.19 By holding to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, expending of view of episcopacy to a plene esse view, and by recognizing the powerful mysterious work on the Holy Spirit in the Church Anglicans have the tools we need so that “we may in practice recognize the equality of the sacraments of our fellow Christians from whom for the time being we are divided."20


An Anglican-Methodist Covenant: Common Statement of the Formal Conversations between the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of England. London? Methodist Pub. House and Church House Pub., 2001.

Anglican Consultative Council. Into All the World: Being and Becoming Apostolic Churches : A Report to the Anglican Consultative Council and the World Methodist Council by the Anglican-Methodist International Commission for Unity in Mission AMICUM 2014., 2014.

Anglican-Reformed International Commission, ed. God’s Reign and Our Unity: The Report of the Anglican-Reformed International Commission, 1981-1984, Woking, England, January 1984. London : Edinburgh: SPCK ; Saint Andrew Press, 1984.

Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. Faith and Order Paper, no. 111. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982.

Carey, Barbara. “An Ecumenical Eucharist in Hawaii.” Anglican and Episcopal History 60, no. 2 (June 1991): 264–69.

Castro, Emilio, Kondothra M. George, Jean Stromberg, Thomas F. Best, Marlin VanElderen, Thomas F. Best, and Joan Cambitsis. “Looking Beyond Doctrinal Agreements.” The Ecumenical Review 44, no. 1 (n.d.): 1–5.

Church of England, Archbishops' Commission on Intercommunion, Church of England, and Information Office. Intercommunion To-Day: Being the Report of the Archbishops' Commission on Intercommunion. London: Church Information Office, 1968.

Church of England, and House of Bishops. Apostolicity and Succession. London: Church House Pub., 1998.

———. May They All Be One: A Response of the House of Bishops of the Church of England to Ut Unum Sint. London: Church House Pub., 1998.

———. The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity. London: Church House Pub., 2001.

Conversations Around the World: The Report of the International Conversations between The Anglican Communion and The Baptist World Alliance. Falls Church, VA: Baptist World Alliance, 2005.

Draper, Jonathan, ed. Communion and Episcopacy: Essays to Mark the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Cuddesdon, Oxford: Ripon College Cuddesdon, 1988.

Episcopal Church, and House of Bishops. Eucharistic Presidency: A Theological Statement. London: Church House Pub., 1997.

“Eucharistic Hospitality.” The Ecumenical Review 44, no. 1 (January 1992): 1–90.

Guarino, Thomas G. “Bridging the Tiber.” First Things 222 (April 2012): 21–23.

Osborne, Kenan B. “Ecumenical Eucharist.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 6, no. 4 (1969): 598–619.

Osheim, Amanda C. “No Turning Back: The Future of Ecumenism.” Anglican Theological Review 99, no. 2 (2017): 406–7.

Rausch, Thomas P. “An Ecumenical Eucharist for a World Assembly.” America. 150 (19840101): 25–29.

Schäfer, Gerhard Karl. Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext: Zur Diskussion Um Das Herrenmahl in Glauben Und Kirchenverfassung von Lausanne 1927 Bis Lima 1982. Forschungen Zur Systematischen Und Ökumenischen Theologie, Bd. 55. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988.

Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Berlin ; de Gruyter, 1977.

Tucker, Ansley. “The Historic Episcopate in Anglican Ecclesiology the Esse Persepctive.” Consensus, The Canadian Lutheran-Anglican Dialogue, 12, no. 1 (November 1, 1986): 99–115.

Woolverton, John F. “THE CHICAGO-LAMBETH QUADRILATERAL AND THE LAMBETH CONFERENCES.” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 53, no. 2 (1984): 95–109.

World Conference on Faith and Order, and D. M. Baillie. “Intercommunion; the Report of the Theological Commission Appointed by the Continuation Committee of the World Conference on Faith and Order, Together with a Selection from the Material Presented to the Commission.” Harper, 1952.

  1. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 92. ↩︎

  2. Ibid. ↩︎

  3. XXXIX Articles; VI ↩︎

  4. Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1888 ↩︎

  5. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 126. ↩︎

  6. Church of England and House of Bishops, Apostolicity and Succession, 3. ↩︎

  7. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 126. ↩︎

  8. Anglican-Reformed International Commission, God’s Reign and Our Unity, para. 89↩︎

  9. Church of England and House of Bishops, Apostolicity and Succession, 9. ↩︎

  10. Ibid., 4. ↩︎

  11. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 126. ↩︎

  12. The Porvoo Common Statement ↩︎

  13. Ibid. ↩︎

  14. Church of England and House of Bishops, Apostolicity and Succession, 2. ↩︎

  15. World Conference on Faith and Order and Baillie, “Intercommunion; the Report of the Theological Commission Appointed by the Continuation Committee of the World Conference on Faith and Order, Together with a Selection from the Material Presented to the Commission.”, 265. ↩︎

  16. Ibid. ↩︎

  17. Ibid. ↩︎

  18. Ibid. ↩︎

  19. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 127. ↩︎

  20. World Conference on Faith and Order and Baillie, “Intercommunion; the Report of the Theological Commission Appointed by the Continuation Committee of the World Conference on Faith and Order, Together with a Selection from the Material Presented to the Commission.”, 268. ↩︎