Thursday, November 16, 2006

The BCP as Template

This short essay continues the thinking and debate (recently initiated by Bishop Duncan, Moderator of the CAN) concerning the making The Book of Common Prayer (1662 edition) into the standard of Anglican Liturgy and the basic Formulary of the Anglican Way. And it does so by considering this classic edition of The BCP which is translated into 150 languages, as a template.

A template is a piece of rigid material used as a pattern for processes such as cutting out, shaping or drilling.

So The BCP (1662) as template becomes the model or pattern of all Anglican services in all provinces and languages. However, even as there can be all kinds of minor local variations on that which is produced from the original template (e.g., if a dress then in color, material used, additions attached and so on) so with The BCP there can be minor local variations in order to meet with distinct cultural, societal and political needs. However, the same basic structure and content will be everywhere so that there is both uniformity in doctrine, shape and contents, but a limited multiformity in style, churchmanship and ceremonial. And the latter multiformity will be consistent with the basic uniformity in terms of doctrine. (This kind of proposal is in some ways parallel to that made for human society where multiculturalism is said to have gone too far and now needs to be centered and restricted by a uniculturalism—and in this process the government has a clear role to play.)

Now the Template would itself need to exist in two forms as far as English is concerned but it all other languages, as far as I can tell, one language would work.

In English there would need to be (a) the classic edition itself (from which of course in some places the prayers for the English Monarch would be removed and others for local State inserted) that is in the English language of prayer; and (b) a contemporary English version of this which maintains the doctrine and contents of the classic edition but is suitably rendered into an accessible form of English. The latter is necessary because many in the English-speaking world no longer have the desire or will to address God using the long-established and beautiful classic English language of prayer (which was in use from late medieval times to the middle of the twentieth century).

To this proposal of the BCP as template in two related forms, one has to add a further proposal of control to stop the modern Anglican activity of producing an unceasing series of liturgies and of exercising localized private judgment via a worship committee to decide what is liturgy. The Anglican Churches that use English would have to agree upon some permanent authority (that is a group in which is invested authority, be it a commission or a committee or a council of elders) first to agree upon the text of the contemporary language edition of the BCP and then to decide in principle and case by case what kind of multiformity is permissible in terms of additions and subtractions to the text of both templates. Such an authority would need to exist in each Province but if each of these worked with the others in the other Provinces, perhaps Anglicans could achieve by this means what the R C and Orthodox achieve by other means. Obviously autonomy would need here to be very much influenced by interdependency.

Until the 1960s each and all used the one BCP in one or another edition and language. Since the 1960s the options in liturgy have mushroomed and with it chaos in doctrine and decorum as well. Uniformity used to be a bad word; but now it is beginning to seem a good one, especially when it is connected with Unity in the Holy Spirit and in basic Doctrine, along with minimum multiformity in an ordered and gracious way locally!

Dr Peter Toon November 16 2006

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