Thursday, October 26, 2006

The right Path to 1662 is via 1928, 1892 and 1789!

One of the more interesting phenomena within the "renewal" of Anglicanism movements in the U.S.A. is the call to restore a public standard for Liturgy and that the standard should be the English BCP 1662. Naturally the Board of the Prayer Book Society of the USA ( is watching this development with interest.

People who now use the 1979 Book of Varied Services and Doctrines of The Episcopal Church (e.g., much of the AMiA, the Network dioceses and parishes) and others who now use the last official American Book of Common Prayer of 1928 (e.g. some Common Cause Partners of The Network) are stating that part of the renewal of the Anglican Way is the adoption of a stable Liturgy, and that this should be the BCP of 1662. The latest and very significant voice in this call is the Moderator of The Network, who on October 25, 2006 at Nashotah House Seminary (which gave him a D.D. degree) said this with respect to the loss of the Book of Common Prayer in modern times:

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 thetheological 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. We have become a Church that actually does believe, in the words of one eucharistic canon, that we are "worthy to stand before [Him]."(10) How staggeringly un-Scriptural and un-Anglican!

What I would also add to this is that the need for an "Authorized Version" of the Bible, at least parish by parish, or diocese by diocese, re-emerges alongside the need for a Book of Common Prayer. How shall we ever learn Scripture again except that we always hear it in the same way? The matter of formation needs to dominate our liturgical and ascetical thinking, rather than our desires for education, variety, correctness or newness. And since I have already given quite enough offense, I shall leave off here without arguing for hymnody that is static enough to produce texts that are known by heart?

A Church without a magisterium is soon no Church at all. It is not too late to begin the reform, but the time is short. The reform will also not come from the top -- as much as we might yearn for such a solution (for Reformations do not come from the top or begin at the center) -- but from a thousand altars, like the one at the heart of this House, and from leaders brave enough to embrace unpopular and counter-cultural truths. The future of Anglicanism is most assuredly tied up in this.

What Bp Duncan does not say here but what he certainly knows is that the BCP 1662 is a Formulary of most of the Anglican Provinces, that it exists in at least 150 languages through translation, that it is still used in many of these languages every day, and especially on Sunday, by the majority of the Anglican Family. (The Prayer Book Society is working with African dioceses to help them print editions of their own language-edition of the BCP 1662.)

So, as President of The Prayer Book Society of the USA, I must be happy that the AMiA, the Moderator of the Network, the Common Cause Partners of the Network and others are calling for a return to the classic Formulary of the Anglican Way. (See further, Peter Toon, The Anglican Formularies and Holy Scripture, 2006 -- available from or 1-800-PBS-1928.)

Yet in my joy there is some sadness and it is best expressed in the form of a question:

Why is it that American Episcopalians in their desire for renewal seem to be ignoring the use of that edition of the one Book of Common Prayer, specially created for American use, in 1789 (with the full approval of the C of E Bishops) and gently edited in both 1892 and 1928, with the approval of the General Convention?

I can fully understand the argument that the 1662 edition of the one BCP is by far and away the most widely used liturgy in the Anglican Family and also that it is the primary Formulary of the Anglican Communion (usually with the Ordinal & Articles attached). And I can appreciate the argument that what they use in Nigeria or Uganda or Rwanda we should use here to be fully in fellowship with them (even if what we use is a contemporary version of BCP 1662, where God is addressed as "You").

However, though not born in the USA and only having been here since 1990, I do have this real conviction which I would like to share for consideration. It is this:

that the true way of reform for Episcopalians within the ECUSA or within AMiA and those congregations attached to foreign Anglican bishops means a full acceptance of their identity and that means fully accepting that which from 1789 to 1976/79 was the BCP and were the Formularies of The Episcopal Church (PECUSA) in the USA.

One possible reason why this embrace seems not to have taken place is that there is an embarrassment to accept that The Episcopal Church in its period of massive innovation in the 1970s called its new "Book of Varied Services with Varied Doctrines" the BCP 1979 and sent the its own classic edition of the BCP (1789/1892/1928) to the archives. We all know that to be made whole includes facing the darker side of our memories, and for Episcopalians this means accepting and taking full responsibility before God and man for what was done by the General Convention in 1979 and what has been, as it were, rubberstamped a million times over by those who use and call this book, "The Book of Common Prayer" and insist that it alone be used in The Episcopal Church, or chiefly used as in the AMiA.

In other words, before we can with integrity embrace the 1662 BCP as formulary and as living prayer book (in its classic form or in a straight equivalent in contemporary English), we need to take the path to it via the 1928/1892/1789 edition of the same BCP. That is we need to take full responsibility as Americans for what The Episcopal Church of the USA did and has done, and what we have done, with regard to the American edition of the real and true BCP. Until we do this, Episcopal reform and renewal movements will lack real honesty, for they will be turning a blind eye to the worst thing (amongst many bad things since the 1960s) that The Episcopal Church ever did through its Convention -- to reject its own received identity by the rejection of its birth certificate and naturalization papers! Recovering identity means tracking the record back via 1928 and 1892 and 1789 to 1662, not jumping across 336 years!

The Revd Dr Peter Toon October 26, 2006

No comments: