Friday, October 27, 2006

Lex Credendi, Lex Orandi—not Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: Let us cease saying the mantra, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.”

It is exceedingly common in The Episcopal Church to hear from people at all points on the liturgical spectrum that the genius of the Anglican Way is expressed in the words of a Latin tag, lex orandi, lex credendi (the law or rule of praying is the law or rule of believing). And they usually go on to tell you that this law or rule has ancient, patristic roots (and it has, if and only if, by it is meant that a truly solid orthodox liturgy provides a doxological account of the Christian Faith!).

However, the popular use of this Latin tag in The Episcopal Church is related to the successful propaganda of the Standing Liturgical Commission in the 1970s, propaganda which was taken up and used widely by bishops and clergy (very few of whom, we can now see, actually knew what they were talking about!). The Commission, as we all now know, created a new Liturgy for the Church to replace the traditional one that had been passed on within the Anglican Way in the succeeding editions of the one Book of Common Prayer (first edition 1549 and last American 1928). The members of this revolutionary Commission well knew that what they produced was different in structure, style, doctrinal content and polity to the most recent edition of the one Book of Common Prayer (that of 1928), and that therefore they needed to commend it in ways that would not disturb people too much. And one of the ways that they used to commend their new liturgical productions as authentic (and truly ancient!) was to take a slogan from the contemporary ecumenical liturgical movement and apply it to their liturgy. That is, they sought to persuade people that real Christian doctrine is found in and communicated by the Liturgy and thus to know what the Church believes , teaches and confesses one must pray/use the Church’s Liturgy, which is a better source than Protestant-type Confessions of Faith. Further, the new Liturgy of the Episcopal Church, they said, is based on Early Church texts and principles, and therefore the old rule of “the law of praying is the law of believing” applies supremely to it.

And, with the help of some [much?] arm twisting by bishops, this strategy generally succeeded so that (with the exception of the members of The Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer –now the PBS of the USA) many came to believe that the new Prayer Book of 1979 was not only the real Liturgy but also the sole Standard of Faith of The Episcopal Church and into this Faith people were “initiated” by the “Baptismal Covenant” within the Baptismal Service within this Book. (In 1979, when the new Liturgy was finally made the official Liturgy, the received, classic Formularies of the Anglican Way were sent off to the archives to make room for the innovatory liturgy and faith—a most tragic moment in the life of The Episcopal Church.)

What we need to realize is that:
  1. Certainly a sound liturgy functions as a law of believing.
  2. But, the law of believing in logic and chronology precedes the development of a full, sound liturgy.
In the Early Church, before the creation of the full Liturgies of East and West, in Greek, Latin and other ancient languages, the Church had a developed form of doctrine and dogma; and these laws of belief most certainly guided the shape, structure and content of the public Services. Where can one find more moving accounts of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit than in the Divine Liturgy of Constantinople?

At the Reformation of the Church of England in the 1540s – 1560s the Reformers led by Archbishop Cranmer had come to clarity as to the “law of believing” based on Holy Scripture and the early Fathers before they produced the reformation of the services which became known as The Booke of The Common Prayer (1549, revised 1552). This is clear from the powerful, doctrinal printed sermons, known as The Book of Homilies (1547) and from the draft form of what became known as The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, to which eventually from 1571 all the clergy assented by subscription. Cranmer and his colleagues revised the medieval Mass and other services by the very principles that are set forth in the Homilies and found in The Articles. Here as in the Early Church the law of faith certainly guided the law of worship.

All this stands in great contrast to what occurred in the innovating Episcopal Church in the 1970s. The work of a committee to produce a revised Catechism was rejected by the Liturgical Commission and House of Bishops because it did not harmonize with the content of the emerging new prayer book. So another committee was appointed with the express task of discovering from the Rite 2 services in the emerging prayer book what doctrine was contained therein – the result is “An Outline of Faith” in the 1979 Book!

No wonder that this “Catechism” departs from historic Orthodoxy in various ways; and no wonder that The Episcopal Church that set off on this dangerous path of deception in the 1970s has continued in it to this very day, adding innovation to innovation on its principle that the law of praying is the law of believing (so we had a whole set of diocesan rites for the blessing of same-sex couples in existence way before Gene Robinson was chosen as a bishop!).

So we are grateful to Bishop Duncan of Pittsburg for calling us back to the need for stability and to One Book of Common Prayer, preferably the classic edition of 1662, even though we may regret that he chose to use the Latin tag (which we would like to see forgotten by Anglicans!):

I want to be so bold as to suggest the following: that Anglicanism’s practical magisterium – its reliable teaching authority — has been its Book of Common Prayer, and that without a restored Book of Common Prayer, reasserting the theological propositions of medieval Catholicism as reshaped by the English Reformation, best represented in the prayer book of 1662, Anglicanism will continue its theological disintegration apace. For that Western Church whose popular and practical believing was more nearly lex orandi, lex credendi than any other tradition — for that Western Church whose practical magisterium was its prayerbook — a fixed prayer book is essential. For a tradition that has a separate magisterium, Vatican II-style liturgy is a possibility. For us as Anglicans, it is, quite demonstrably, not. Forty years of alternative texts and expansive language have produced an undisciplined people and a theological wasteland. [address at Nashotah House, Oct 25]

The time has surely come for Anglicans to discover and humbly re-assert their Identity, and as Bp Duncan states, this means a fresh dialogue with the written statements of that Identity, the historic Formularies (see my The Anglican Formularies and Holy Scripture, 2006 from )

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

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