The Anglican Way: Magisterial Worship

One of the common critiques of Western Christians, of either the Roman Catholic or the Protestant variety, is that we are obsessed with systematizing our faith. We develop catechisms, confessions, and treatises ad nauseum in our quest to define our faith down to the teeniest detail. By contrast, Eastern Christians say that they have a lived faith. That is not to say that there is no emphasis on doctrine in the east. On the contrary, having right doctrine is a great concern of those who seek to be known in the world by the label “Orthodox.” Nevertheless, the concern within Orthodoxy is not to define faith down but to live into it by way of spiritual practices, the liturgy being chief among them. It is through living an Orthodox life and experiencing Orthodox worship that a person is formed in the particularities of the faith. For the Christians of the East, Christianity is not something you simply believe, but something you do, something you are.

In this respect, classical Anglicans share more in common with Orthodoxy than with our sister churches in the west. We have no specifically Anglican confession. We do not narrow our doctrine down on every last matter but only on those matters where the Holy Spirit has definitively spoken in the Church through the Scriptures and the Fathers. We allow mystery to be, well, mysterious. There is, however, an important and distinctly western element to the way that we live this out that separates us from our Eastern brethren. We have a magisterial authority.

The word magisterial comes from the Latin for “magistrate” or “master.” That which is magisterial is that which conveys the mind of the master. It is official and authoritative. Magisterial authority within the Church is that which is exercised to provide us with the framework of both how to understand our Christian faith and how to live good Christian lives. In the Church of Rome, this function is performed largely by edicts of the Pope. In traditional Reformation Protestantism, it is the work of the confessions. Some more radical Protestants deny the need for any magisterial authority beyond the Bible itself, though in practice this usually means that the whims of individual preachers and teachers fill in the gap. For Anglicans, magisterial authority rests in the Book of Common Prayer.

Liturgy as Teacher

As has been previously discussed in this series, the theological modus operandi of Anglicanism is an intentional return to scripture and to the faith and practice of the early Church. Anglicanism holds scripture in the highest place of authority and yet acknowledges that scripture has to be interpreted from within the life of the Church to be properly understood. While there is more than one way to pass down this apostolic faith from one generation to the next, liturgy is by far the best. This is because liturgy is not simply didactic. Liturgy is participatory. Liturgy is dynamic and relational. When we read the words of a confession or listen to a good talk by a learned Christian preacher, we may learn many good things about God, but when we participate in liturgy we actually encounter God. We learn who He is and who we are in relation to Him by worshiping Him, hearing His Word proclaimed, and receiving His grace through the Sacraments.

This is not a new idea. In fact, it is the approach used by the earliest Christians. When the apostle Paul seeks to explain the way in which Jesus is both God and Man and the nature of His self-giving for us, he quotes from a hymn from the liturgy of his own time (Philippians 2:5-11). So we can see, right from the beginning, that there is a synergy between scripture and liturgy, between the revealed Word and the method by which that Word continues to be revealed.

The Roots of Our Anglican Liturgy

Of course, the Prayer Book did not just come down to us from on high, nor would it be fair to say that Cranmer wrote it, though both his writing and his editorial fingerprints are all over it. But most of what we say in the Prayer Book liturgy is scripture itself, formed into prayer. That which is not quoted from scripture directly is more often than not taken from ancient prayers written by the great saints of the early Church. The arrangement of the services follow ancient patterns of worship wherever possible. If a first century Christian came into a Prayer Book service today, while there are many things that might surprise him, by and large he would be able to recognize the liturgy as consonant with that of his own day. This is why the Prayer Book has always been for Anglicans the highest source of authority for teaching and understanding the faith of the scriptures. The liturgy is not just an expression of our faith but the teacher of that faith itself. It forms us in our faith, and as such we are called to submit ourselves to it.

The Purpose of Liturgical Revision

That is not to say that the liturgy is perfect or above the need for revision. The eighteenth century Anglican Humphrey Prideaux observes, “As to the Liturgy of our Church, I freely acknowledge, and I think no man can contradict me therein, that it is the best which was ever yet used in any Christian Church, but that it should therefore be so perfect as not to be capable of amendments or alterations for the better, doth by no means follow.” From the beginning, the Book of Common Prayer has undergone periodic revision. Yet the purpose of that revision has largely been to make the faith presented more clear, not to change it. While there is a definite waxing back and forth in the theology of the first two Prayer Books, the Elizabethan Book of 1559 made a clear theological statement about the Reformed and Catholic nature of the Church of England. Despite protests from Puritans, Romanists, and Radical Protestants, this liturgy remained authoritative in the Church of England for nearly a century. And after the English Civil War, when the Prayer Book was revised into its current form, the theology of the Elizabethan Prayer Book largely remained unaltered. The purpose of revision is not to change doctrine or to accommodate the new fads and trends of any particular age, but to make the ancient and unalterable faith accessible to every people, in every place, in every generation.

Liturgical Accessibility

Accessibility is in fact one of the major Reformation insights that informs the way that Anglicanism expresses its Catholic heritage. The Book of Common Prayer replaced a panoply of earlier service books which were only accessible to clergy. In the BCP, at least in theory, every person has access to the liturgy, in one concise volume that is written in the language of the people. If one of the major purposes of the liturgy is to form people in the faith, then the people need to have access to that liturgy. This does not mean that the liturgy should be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, smoothing out the difficult bits and removing anything that the average person would find challenging. Rather, the liturgy in the language of the people, in the hands of the people, allows the people themselves to participate in the prayers and the worship, so that they can be incorporated into the mystery of God’s self-revelation in Word and Sacrament. This is not a show put on by the clergy to entertain or pacify the people. It is the work of priest and people together to step into the mystery of God.

The beauty of having magisterial worship is that it ensures that we hold to a standard of accepted truth while freeing us from the whims of any culture, generation, or charismatic individual leader. As Roberta Bayer observes in this excellent essay, the theology of the Prayer Book is “a distillation of the accepted, historical teaching of the Christian church. Implied is the idea that inherited wisdom shaped by scholars steeped in God’s Holy Word, and the example of the blood of the holy martyrs, was a surer foundation for the English church than the will of any particular magister, be he Pope or King.” Keeping this in mind, Bayer questions the way in which modern Prayer Book revision has worked in the opposite direction, allowing us to affix our own ideas about current, hip theology onto the bones of the ancient skeleton:

I am forced to ask of those who desire innovation: if these innovations are founded on the BCP and scripture, why was it not seen by the holy and learned teachers of the past? I ask them to think again what it means to be under the BCP as magisterium. Surely the answer cannot be to take a line from it here or there to justify one’s own desires. Instead it is to stand under it, to learn from it, to take its order into one’s soul and practice its daily discipline. Humility, rather than intellectual pride, would be the result.

It is no accident that the unraveling of traditional faith in some parts of the Anglican Communion has coincided with the introduction of new liturgies that obscure both the beauty and truth of classical Anglican worship. Our liturgy is our center. When it goes, everything else eventually will go with it.

Fortunately, the same also applies in reverse. If we wish to see a revival of Anglicanism, the place to begin will be with a revival of traditional worship. By this, I do not simply mean that we should start saying “thee” and “thou” and awkwardly chanting the psalms. Rather, I mean that we must recover a sense of the magisterial authority of our classical worship, that it should form us and teach us what we need. Instead of seeing liturgy as a tool that we wield for the sake of setting our own agendas, we need to recover the idea that through liturgy God speaks to us. The center of liturgy is not us, but Him. The heart of liturgy is not our desires, but His grace.

Photo courtesy of Bryan Sherwood. Learn more here.

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About Fr. Jonathan

Your average traditional crunchy Christ follower with a penchant for pop culture, politics, and puns.
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13 Responses to The Anglican Way: Magisterial Worship

  1. Eugene says:

    HI, Fr. Jonathan,

    First of all, I have to say I love this blog; also thank you once again for communicating with me via email regarding some complex points.

    For the sake of public dialogue, I’d like to say this: In the article above, you mention how liturgy shapes faith and so forth. As an Orthodox Christian, one of the things that initially spoke most profoundly to me from Orthodox worship, was the simple rubric of having the priest — and all the people — face the front of the church, the altar. It creates a great sense of community, of liturgy in the sense of a public act of the people. I have become somewhat familiar with the BCP, and love the language — I really do. But what is communicated by the priest facing the people? “Let’s have a chat!” Or “Listen to me!” It could even be “Let us pray,” but space and orientation makes a difference, and what is modeled is discussion, not praise and supplication.

    Which is why I’m not sure this statement of yours above is actually true: “…we hold to a standard of accepted truth while freeing us from the whims of any culture, generation, or charismatic individual leader.” Honestly, has this been what has happened in the U.S.? Is this an accurate statement of what is really occurring? I’m not even saying that what is occurring is bad. But what is occurring is dialogue and individually-led movements, I think, not liturgy in any sense.

    Possibly the whole priest-as-magician thing coming from medeival Rome screwed things up. Even if the Anglican church began worshipping with the priest facing the front, it would probably communicate magic rather than community. So either way, it might be impossible in Anglicanism to get away from leaders being able to do whatever they want. The legacy of the papacy continues. Anyway, the Episcopalian liturgy, though it contains some good points, so far has not persuaded me to convert — which is what I keep trying to do without success. I’ll remain in the liturgy which really does inform the faith, that of the Orthodox Church. So far — unless a future response persuades me to do otherwise!

    With warm regards,

    Eugene

  2. Fr. Jonathan says:

    Eugene, it is always a pleasure to hear from you.

    In regards to your comment about the direction in which the liturgy is conducted – whether or not the priest should face the people or face east towards God when standing at the altar – I couldn’t agree with you more. The move towards the priest facing the people, while not technically wrong, is problematic for just the reasons you’ve said. It creates a cult of personality where we all focus on the priest, rather than together praying towards and worshiping God. And in TEC today, and in many other parts of the Communion as well, most priests face the people during the Eucharistic prayer. However, this was not always so. For most of Anglicanism’s history, most priests have faced east, whether of the high or low church variety. The Puritans railed against this at the time of the Elizabethan settlement and some simply refused to do it. The rubrics of the prayer book allowed for celebration while facing the people, but insisted that the normative position for the altar was against the wall. It’s only really since Vatican II that Anglicanism as a whole has absorbed this practice, but it is still by no means universal. I have served two parishes in my time as a priest in The Episcopal Church and both of them have had east facing altars. I celebrate in that fashion every Sunday, and my relatively low church congregation has no complaints!

    This brings me to your next point, that in the US at least it may not be fair to say that we operate under the Prayer Book and thereby find ourselves free of the error of becoming captive to a particular culture or personality. Again, I agree with you completely. Notice what I say later in the article, “It is no accident that the unraveling of traditional faith in some parts of the Anglican Communion has coincided with the introduction of new liturgies that obscure both the beauty and truth of classical Anglican worship.” The Episcopal Church is in large measure the prime example of this point. At some point along the line—and it really would require some careful study to be able to discern when—we stopped thinking of the Prayer Book as magisterial, as an authority that we submit ourselves to, and started thinking of it as a creative outlet for the theological whims of the moment. Hence, we see turbulent efforts at liturgical revisions marking the last thirty years every bit as much as we see a breakdown in The Episcopal Church of belief in the basic tenets of the Christian faith. Alternative liturgies abound today, each seemingly less historical and more heretical than the last, but even these do not seem to be placing limits on the clergy in many dioceses who feel free to dispense with authorized liturgies altogether and create their own from scratch. Letting go of the liturgy has meant letting go of the faith.

    Now, the question is, does this sort of departure speak to a problem at the heart of Anglicanism or is it an anomaly of our age. Perhaps I’m naïve about this, but I believe it is the latter. When we abandon the Prayer Book in favor of our own musings, we cease to be Anglican in any meaningful sense. But what’s happening in Anglicanism isn’t unique to Anglicanism. It’s also been happening in Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism, and Lutheranism. Orthodoxy so far has avoided this peril, but I believe that given enough time immersed in western culture and enough of a distancing from the motherlands and it too will start to develop these problems. Indeed, in some places in modern Orthodoxy in the west one can already see the cracks forming.

    Let me again say to you, however, that my goal in responding to your questions is not to convince you to convert. Indeed, from the Anglican perspective, if you were to join an Anglican Church you would not be converting at all, but merely moving from one jurisdiction within the universal Church to another. As someone who was Chrismated Orthodox, our bishops would be likely to receive you rather than re-confirm you, which is what happened to me, having come to The Episcopal Church by way of Rome. Receiving looks a lot like confirming, with one essential difference, that when the bishop lays his hands on you, he says that he acknowledges that you are already a part of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. So while I will happily defend the proposition that Anglicanism is true, authentic, orthodox Christianity, I do so with no desire to denigrate or deny the discipleship of anyone else in another communion. This is especially true when it comes to Eastern Orthodoxy, as I believe that there is a great affinity between Classical Anglicanism and the Churches of the East that goes beyond almost any other pairing I can think of in the Church. What divides us, while important, is much smaller than what we hold in common.

  3. Bryan Owen says:

    Thanks for yet another solid posting. I’m grateful that you’re in the Episcopal Church!

    I’ve cited this piece on my blog. And I’ll probably use it (with proper attribution) when I do some teaching on the Prayer Book this Fall.

  4. Pingback: Anglicanism’s Magisterial Authority

  5. Eugene says:

    Thanks, Fr. Jonathan — articulate and empathetic as always.

    I joke so often about “trying to convert.” With the help of a lot of people — you and Fr. Bryan Owen included — I’m probably going to stay where I am. Now, in the spirit of communication and fellowship, I’d like to issue a challenge…

    As a guitarist, I play a lot, on a very good guitar: a 30 year-old Martin D-28. There are some other “boutique” guitars I’ve considered buying, in order to get more attack and clarity in the high end (Martins are very bass and mid-range). But I find that every time I check out a very expensive boutique guitar, they’re all trying to do the same thing: sound like a Martin. Martins are superb for their sound, and almost unchallenged.

    Now, in my quest to convert to Episcopalianism, I’ve gone to a lot of E. websites. Interestingly, 9 out of 10 feature Orthodox icons as part of their general lay-out. Almost the same number quote from saints that are routinely studied in the Orthodox Church, many of whom would have subscribed to the entire Seven Ecumenical Councils. Many sites lament (as yours did) the falling-away from a consistent liturgy. In other words, every time I try to “shop” for an ecclesiastical guitar, so to speak, I find the other “brands” trying to sound like a Martin: like the Orthodox Church.

    So why don’t all of YOU guys convert, instead of me?! LOL (pardon the trendy acronym).

    Fr. Bryan mentioned it’s partly because of the Orthodox stand on certain moral issues, including the issue of women in the priesthood (which, by the way, “if I were king,…” you know, but I’m not). I definitely get that. But that’s like me looking for the high end in a boutique guitar. In the long run, I chose the Martin for its consistently superb sound.

    So why don’t you guys choose a Martin?

    Again, LOL. Both of you seem like great people and I wish you lived a little closer and we could have dinner together. My question is rhetorical, of course, and in any case I think Fr. Bryan answered it in one of his earlier blog posts. I just post for fun… but probably to make a point as well.

    Eugene

    • Bryan Owen says:

      Hi Eugene. As a guitar player myself, I’m rather taken with your analogy of Orthodoxy to your Martin D-28. It’s no doubt true that there are a lot of guitars out there that try to sound like a Martin, which, indeed, begs the question: why not just buy a Martin?

      In my case, the answer is because about 12+ years ago, I discovered Tacoma guitars (funnily enough, that was around the same time I was confirmed as an Episcopalian). I tried out the really expensive models, but I ended up buying a Tacoma DM-10 (at the time, this was basically one of the entry-level models). It just felt and sounded better to me than the higher end Tacomas. And quite frankly, it gives my dad’s Martin a run for the money.

      So if Orthodoxy is a Martin, perhaps Anglicanism is a Tacoma. They’re different, but they share many qualities in common. I know that a Martin is almost by definition what it means to be an acoustic guitar. But I can also confidently say that my Tacoma is no less of an outstanding guitar and that I’ve never desired a Martin since I bought it.

      To push the analogy a bit further, perhaps the problem is that we have a lot of folks in the Episcopal Church who don’t play their Tacoma guitar very well. Or maybe they’ve never really learned to play in the first place and now they’ve been pushed out on to the stage to perform. Or maybe they can play, but they’re out of tune. Or maybe they’ve decided that the standard tuning of the Prayer Book and the creeds are not for them, so when they play in an alternate tuning with folks like me, there’s dissonance instead of harmony. Then again, maybe they just don’t like acoustic guitars and they want to play a totally different instrument.

      The bottom line is that we’ve all got a good instrument. We just have to play it well.

      Eugene, it’s too bad we can’t get together and see how your Martin and my Tacoma sound together!

  6. Eugene says:

    As an addendum, I want to give kudos to two E. churches I’ve been in that do the Great Thanksgiving so humbly and reverently, that I was moved while there: St. Thomas church in Camden, ME, and St. John’s church in Dunbarton, NH. The Great Thanksgiving is, well, great; language good for any Christian. That language has power. I should also mention that my sister-in-law, an E. priest, also liturgizes rather well (IMHO).

    Great power in the words of the Great Thanksgiving. Now, if only the announcements weren’t right in the middle of the service; but in my church, we have two sermons in the middle, one in Russian and one in English. So that breaks the rhythm a bit, too.

  7. That’s my prayer book and Bible!

  8. Father Gregory says:

    Dear Father,

    What follows is a “stream of consciousness” type of respons provoked by the article you wrote above. The article is very good and I would like to agree with it but …. There’s always a but isn’t there? There are aspects of the BCP that make me uncomfortable to think of the BCP as a “magisterium” as it is today. From my pov in the process of re-editing and re-shaping the pre-BCP English rite into the BCP some essentials were thrown overboard for the sake of accommodating ideas more typical of Continental Protestantism. The BCP seems to have two minds in one body, a Catholic and a Protestant one. This has caused conflict in the history of the Anglican Church since the institution of the BCP until today. I wish to raise some of these issues as they come to my mind. I do not intend to burn the BCP or to pontificate the way forward. I hope you would take the issues raised below as “being put on the table” for review and for weighing their merit or lack thereof. My mind is NOT made up about how to deal with these issues and I am very conscious of the possibility I may be wrong or simply not seeing the whole picture. With that said perhaps I could ask for your thoughts about the issues I raise below that are so dear to me?

    (It may perhaps be helpful for you to know that I have recently been received in the Anglican Catholic Church after having served for 2 years as an Eastern Orthodox Priest, and that I am still adjusting to the “new climate” so to speak.)

    The BCP as “magesterium” is an interesting one. However, as a Catholic Anglican the BCP as a magesterium does not quite work for me. The BCP was created/edited with heavy anti-Roman bias and has eliminated many traditional “English” (therefore Anglican) customs from Sarum, Heresford, York etc. use. The BCP contains a bare minimum of the Catholic Faith rather than the fulness thereof. Catholic Faith and Practice were able to survive by means of the BCP. It survived not unlike the “Survivorman” from the Discovery Channel does on tree bark, bugs, and unfiltered water. To me the Magesterium should probably be sought in the pre-BCP Anglican Use(s). Or perhaps there should be a more definitive “interpretative context” (say the King’s Book” rather than Hooker’s “Laws”) for the BCP and indeed some restorations to the BCP (Propers/legends for the Seasons & Feasts of saints, traditional patristic readings to Sunday & Festal Offices, etc.). The BCP cannot – on its own – function as a magesterium because the various interpretations of it vary too widely. All the way from Charismatic Evangelical, to Anglican Papalist. To some this is a strength, but to those who care about “one faith, one baptism, one Lord” it is a severe weakness because the “oneness” is blatantly absent.

    That said, I would not advocate a return to the Breviary or the Monastic Office (the Anglican versions thereof are fine for Monastic Communities but not for Parish use). Rather the way forward is in adopting some of the suggestions of the Rev. Charles Walker (of Brighton) to add a third Lesson on iij lesson feasts (assuming his Sarum rather that Roman based Kalendar is, in principle, also adopted), to re-structure the Communion on a less Protestant and more Anglican basis (such as the “Anglican Missal,” “English Missal,” or the Western Rite Orthodox “Tikhon Rite of the Mass” ) thereby restoring the Anglican Eucharist to a more ancient and traditonal form while avoiding Roman ideas of “Transubstantiation” as well as radical Protestant ideas like “High Calvinist Virtualism.” At the same time it would help the Eucharistic Rite to restore its “propers” for the Mass for which very poor substitutes are (sometimes) provided in the BCP. Yet I would not necessarily see the “Gregorian Canon” restored as it was before the BCP, there are definitely elements of emphasis contained in the BCP rite which ought to be adopted into the pre-BCP rite precisely to prevent certain “abuses” (especially such additions as this one: “by his one oblation of himself once offered” which secures a solid cruciform shape to the Eucharistic Liturgy not so explicitly present in the pre-BCP rite).

    I would also like to see restored to the Anglican way of prayer & life the proper and true doctrine and practice of the “invocation of the saints.” Here the BCP also parts company with traditional, ancient Christianity. The BCP contains a Kalendar of saints to be celebrated/commemorated, without propers to actually do so. This, it seems to me, is ambiguous at best and not at all good teaching (or practice).

    This post may seem critical of the BCP as such, and in some ways it is. But I suppose what it is really all about for me is “the BCP as Magisterium” … The BCP – if we can assume that 1662 is our basis (most other BCP’s in use derive from this one) – teaches to be sure but it seems to me that what it teaches is ambiguous unless some restorations are done to it and/or some definitive context is provided for it. The BCP does not exist in a vacuum. It is true, as you have remarked, that the BCP is mostly Scripture turned into Prayer and this is a major strength of the BCP. But at the same time Scripture and BCP are not self-interpreting and need context for interpretation. I guess what it comes down to for me is that the current BCP’s lean too much toward Abp. Cranmer’s later advanced Protestant narrowness (especially but not limited to the 1552 BCP).

    What is needed, it seems to me, for Anglicanism as much as for Roman Catholicism is a “Reform of the Reform.” For the Romans that would mean that one should look at the pre-Reform rite for Reforming the Reform, and similarly for us Anglicans it should mean that we ought to look at the pre-Reformed rite as well.

    Gregory +

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thank you, Fr. Gregory, for your thoughtful reply. You raise a number of questions which I will try to address, but I think from the outset it will help if we define the playing field a bit. I would love to hear more about your journey from Orthodoxy to Anglicanism, perhaps at some future time. But it seems to me, from reading your post and examining your parish’s website, that your interest in Anglicanism is driven by your Anglo-Catholicism. In other words, you are Anglican because it is a good place to be a Catholic. This is the position that a lot of Anglo-Catholics take. It’s also the position that many Evangelicals and Charismatics take but from their own theological positions. And it’s frankly why there is so much in-fighting in modern Anglicanism, because Anglo-Catholics are always trying to get Anglicanism to be more Anglo-Catholic and Evangelicals are always trying to get Anglicanism to be more Evangelical and Liberals are always trying to get Anglicanism to be more Liberal, and so forth. That approach is by far the predominant one in modern Anglicanism, but it is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do here. What I am arguing for is classical Anglicanism, meaning a particular Anglican theological ethos that is unique to Anglicanism. When we look at Anglicanism from this lens, there will naturally be many things that will seem more Anglo-Catholic, more Evangelical, or more Liberal, as all of those streams hold dear to certain things that are inherent in Anglicanism. Yet classical Anglicanism does not fit neatly into any of these streams alone because classical Anglicanism articulates a vision of the Christian faith that is not bound to any particular party or approach but its own. And what I argue for in this post particularly is that the BCP as the great standard of the classical Anglican tradition should be forming us in our faith. Anglicanism should be forming us. We should not be forming it.

      So, with that in mind, you can see why I’m not going to be able to give you an answer that you’ll find adequate to criticisms like this one:

      The BCP as “magesterium” is an interesting one. However, as a Catholic Anglican the BCP as a magesterium does not quite work for me. The BCP was created/edited with heavy anti-Roman bias and has eliminated many traditional “English” (therefore Anglican) customs from Sarum, Heresford, York etc. use. The BCP contains a bare minimum of the Catholic Faith rather than the fulness thereof.

      You’re starting from a different set of assumptions than I am. Your assumption is that Anglicanism is medieval Catholicism on life support, having had the stuffing kicked out of it by the Reformation but still retaining its basic shape. Whereas I am arguing that Anglicanism is, in fact, the Catholic faith, and that where Anglicanism diverges from medieval Roman Catholic practice, that is because medieval Roman Catholic practice had ceased to be Catholic on certain points. This is not to say that we should not look to Sarum or York or other pre-Reformation rites to inform some of our thinking about all of this. After all, the Reformers looked to those rites themselves. But the BCP is not a minimalist document (unlike, for instance, the 39 Articles which are minimalist on purpose). While the BCP is not exhaustive, it does give us the riches of the fullness of the faith in liturgical expression. Furthermore, while Anglicanism is rooted in English Christianity, it is not true to say that anything that is English is therefore Anglican. King Henry VIII was English. He claimed for himself headship of the Church of England. He was not, by any stretch, an Anglican. Moreover, many of the Puritans were English and were members of the Church of England, some even as clergy. Were they Anglican?

      In terms of additions to the lectionary or other possible BCP revisions, I think that the first step would have to be a comprehensive agreement amongst Anglican churches to only revise their BCPs in such a way that they can be seen as carrying the same doctrine found in the traditional BCP, along with additions and local customs that the Communion as a whole is able to determine are consistent with the classical BCP. I would agree that the current “every province for itself” approach to revision is absurd and entirely un-catholic. That being said, I don’t think the BCP Eucharistic doctrine needs to be “restored” to something that is less Roman and less Calvinist. The BCP Eucharistic doctrine is already neither Roman nor Calvinist. It is decidedly Anglican, standing firm on what scripture teaches while leaving room for the mystery of what scripture does not provide. I have written about this elsewhere on the blog, so feel free to take a look around. (I’ve also written about Anglicanism and invocation of the saints in the post entitled “Purgatory and Grace.”)

      The BCP… teaches to be sure but it seems to me that what it teaches is ambiguous unless some restorations are done to it and/or some definitive context is provided for it. The BCP does not exist in a vacuum… Scripture and BCP are not self-interpreting and need context for interpretation.

      Again, this is where our different contexts will lead us to different conclusions. I don’t think that the BCP is ambiguous at all. It is very clear when it needs to be and only “ambiguous” on those points that are themselves mysteries. You’re right that it’s not self interpreting. Nor is it a systematic text. We cannot simply read it. We have to pray with it. But we have the context with which to understand the BCP properly, namely the context of the 39 Articles, the Catechism, the Canons, and a century and a half of Anglican Divines in the era following the Elizabethan Settlement. And, of course, we have the Fathers, who are even more primary to classical Anglicanism than any of these formularies. After all, if classical Anglicanism really is the Catholic faith, then one would expect that it did not simply pop into existence at the Reformation but can be found in practice in the early centuries immediately after Our Lord’s Ascension.

  9. Father Gregory says:

    Dear Father,

    You are right, I became Anglican because it is a good (I would say the best) place to be a Catholic. We operate on different principles perhaps, as you suggest. Nevertheless your blog is a goldmine even if we will not see eye to eye on everything. I suppose the basic difference would be our evaluations of the Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement. I concur with Fr. Nichol’s thesis in “The Panther and the Hind” and am perfectly happy to see an “English Office Book” and an “English Missal” – precisely because I see Protestantism as something to be overcome rather than valued. In that respect I must admit that Rev. G.D/ Carleton’s “The King’s Highway” has been and continues to be a very basic guide into “Anglicanism.” That is no surprise to you I am sure. The point being that where I find myself is Anglican Catholicism as different from Classical Anglicanism (if I understood you correctly).

    Thank you very much for taking the time to respond. It has been helpful in orienting myself in Anglicanism. In fact your blog in general has a great many things I can wholeheartedly subscribe to! But I admit that “Charismaticism” and “Evangelicalism” are indigestible to me. I will conclude by once again thanking you for your kind answer and for pointing out where the differences originate. Thanks!

    Oh – about Orthodoxy … It is just to alien for one who is neither Greek, Middle Easterner, or a Russian. Catholicism and perhaps a touch of reformation are part of my spiritual DNA!

    Gregory +

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