Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Book of Common Prayer is Not a "Party Book"


[VirtueOnline] 8 Sep 2009--In the United States, people who use the traditional Book of Common Prayer are mistakenly called 'High Church' by Anglicans and Episcopals who worship in evangelical parishes. This is something of a misnomer because the traditional Book of Common Prayer, which belongs to Reformed Catholicism, does not require in its usage the 'catholic' elements of churchmanship which high churchmen normally seek. Its ceremonial provisions are austere by comparison with the medieval and counter-reformation rites, and the doctrine of its prayers adheres to the theological consensus of the 16th century Reformers. Its theology dates from a period that is prior to the Tractarian, or high church movement of the nineteenth century.

The high church tradition in contemporary Anglicanism comes out of the Tractarian Movement, which by and large desired to reject certain aspects of the Reformation for the sake of adopting a practice and aesthetic closer to that of the Roman Catholicism to which it was contemporary. Tractarian churchmanship, with its high doctrine of the church, ministry, and sacraments, also came to embrace a full-scale "ritual revival" of counter-reformation ceremony and ornament.

Originally mounted as Prayer Book, it soon began to embellish, or even replace altogether, the Prayer Book rites with rites borrowed from the Sarum or Tridentine use. In the post-war period, anglo-catholic liturgists (Dom Gregory Dix et al.) began to reject in great part not only the reformed, but also the medieval and counter-reformation developments of liturgy, and sought to reconstruct liturgy on the basis of hypotheses about ancient and patristic liturgy.

The Evangelical Movement, also of the nineteenth century, emphasized the supremacy of Scripture and the Thirty-Nine Articles, and was for the most part quite satisfied with the Book of Common Prayer, and in the party warfare of the 19th and early 20th century, usually interpreted it as a touchstone of evangelical doctrine and practice, in opposition to anglo-catholic doctrine and practice.

It was only in the late 20th century, as evangelicals embraced the "Parish Communion" promoted by the Liturgical Movement, and then the priority of subjective experience promoted by the Charismatic movement, that evangelicals began to have reservations about the Book of Common Prayer.

Related articles:
Thoughts on the Prayer Book: J.C. Ryle, The Usefulness of a Liturgy - Church Society
Thoughts on the Prayer Book : J.C. Ryle, The English Book of Common Prayer - Church Society
Thoughts on the Prayer Book : J.C. Ryle: The Leading Principle of the Prayer Book - Church Society

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