Thursday, August 09, 2007

Not different but essentially the same---the English and American Prayer Books

BCP 1662 (C of E edition) and BCP 1789-1928 (PECUSA edition) are identical in doctrine, discipline and worship

If we are to take the words of the Founding Fathers of The Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. at their face value, then we can assert with confidence with them that there are no substantial differences of doctrine, discipline and worship between The BCP 1662 and The BCP 1789 (1892/1928). Further, we know that the English Archbishops also held this opinion. However, and importantly, this positive assertion cannot be made of the American 1979 Book which is an altogether different kind of collection of services and prayers.

The Preface to the 1789 (also in the 1892 & 1928 editions) states very clearly that there are differences between the English and American editions of The BCP but that they are not substantial. Below are reproduced the sentences which state this fact. However, it is necessary, first of all, to state that the reproduction of this 1789 Preface in the 1979 Prayer Book of The Episcopal Church is one of many deceitful aspects of this book, which bears the name of Common Prayer, and has the content and character of what elsewhere at that time was called "A Book of Alternative Services," alternative that is to the actual BCP itself (which in 1979 was the edition of 1928).

The Preface, written in excellent style by William Smith in 1789, states in brief the following:

(a) the general principles of the Church's worship as expressed in the Anglican tradition;
(b) the reasons for an American edition of the one Prayer Book, distinct from the English 1662 edition;
(c) the nature and character of the American revision for the 1789 Book; and
(d) a brief commendation of the 1789 Book to the membership of the Church and to every sincere Christian.

After stating the need to make alterations in terms of the identity of civil rulers, the Preface states that other alterations were made as were deemed expedient. Then of these changes it states:

They will appear, and it is to be hoped the reasons for them also, upon a comparison of this [Book] with The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. In which, it will also appear that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.

We must now reflect on what the implications of this sentence are.

Any competent person in 1789 who had been used to using The BCP 1662 all of his or her life (and most of the Founding Fathers of the Republic were familiar with The BCP 1662) would notice several differences right away. Here are three examples. First, the Venite (in 1662 = Psalm 95) had been changed although the old Venite was still allowed—this was done to remove the seemingly harsh last four verses of Psalm 95. Secondly, the Athanasian Creed had been removed—which an Enlightenment, Latitudinarian culture would understand right away, due to its opening statement concerning who shall be saved. Thirdly, the Order of Holy Communion had been changed, as it was commonly known, to accommodate the desires primarily of the delegates from Connecticut, and to provide for unity. (Few then as now knew the historical and religious reasons why Bishop Seabury and others pressed for the imitation of the Scottish 1764 service by the American 1789 service.)

The removal of the Athanasian Creed did not change the doctrine of the American Church but it did lessen its witness to the Trinitarian Faith. And the revision of the Communion Office—despite recent claims from Anglo-Catholic circles that it does—did not change the doctrine of Holy Communion, but simply attempted to make explicit what could be seen either as implicit in the Rite of the Church of England or as providing what belongs to adiaphora (that is, useful in the USA but not necessary worldwide). Certainly those who actually made the changes in the Communion Service in 1789 were those who agreed at the same time to these words: In which, it will also appear that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.

The mistake that the American Church made in 1789 was to make compulsory its revised Order for Holy Communion in its BCP edition for America (looking for unity in the newly independent denomination) and not to allow as an alternative the previously common usage in most of it not all of the thirteen colonies—the Order of The BCP 1662.

The advantage of the 1662 form, from a pragmatic and practical viewpoint, is that it can be supplemented if this is deemed appropriate in a local situation; however, the 1789 form can only be supplemented in a direction away from the basic norm of The BCP 1662 (as in the Anglican Missal towards Tridentine Catholicism). Thus it was wise for The Anglican Communion Network and Common Cause Movement to choose The BCP 1662 as formulary, which foundation then allows the use of the American BCP 1789-1928 and the Canadian BCP (1918-1962) as real alternatives for they supplement rather than take away from the original text.

So as long as there is an orthodox Anglican or Episcopal Church in the USA, the use of The BCP 1928 ought to be a Formulary, but not alone, but with The BCP 1662, so as to allow the comprehensiveness based upon orthodoxy that the post-Gene Robinson situation requires. August 9 2007

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