Saturday, May 26, 2007

Responding to the Study Guide: Question 5

I'm continuing to work on the Study Guide for the Anglican Covenant. (Again, you can see previous posts under "Study Guide" in the Labels.) At this point I know I won't finish all fourteen questions. However, I think this one is important, and wanted to finish it before skipping ahead.

(5) The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church. Do you think they should be? Why or why not?

This question is specifically in response to the statement “that, led by the Holy Spirit, [the Anglican Communion] has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” The context is that this is among statements that “Every member Church, and the Communion as a whole, affirms,” as part of our “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith.”

It is relevant that the Episcopal Church shaped much of its first Book of Common Prayer not on the 1662 book but on the “Wee Bookies” in use in the Scottish Non-juror churches. While parts of the 1662 Book were included, according to Marion Hatchett, “A motion to use the 1662 Book as the basis for the deliberations of the convention of 1789 was defeated, and a copy of the [1786] Proposed Book was sent to the printers along with some sheets of instructions on changes to be made from the 1786 edition in the printing of the new Prayer Book.” (Commentary on the American Prayer Book, p. 10)

Thus, for some time the 1662 Book has not been something “every member Church, and the Communion as a whole, affirms.” This is not to say that the American Church has disparaged it. It has, however, always looked at it critically in the scholarly sense. So it was that the American Church agreed in the first American Prayer Book with the “Scottish Bishops” who

cannot help ardently wishing that Bishop Seabury would endeavour all he can… to make the celebration of this holy mystery [the Eucharist] conformable to the most primitive doctrine and practice in that respect, which is the pattern the Church of Scotland has copied after in her Communion Office, and which it has been the wish of some of the most eminent divines of the Church of England, that she also had more closely followed than she seems to have done since she gave up her first reformed liturgy, used in the reign of King Edward VI, between which and the form used in the Church of Scotland, there is no difference in any point, which the Primitive Church reckoned essential to the right ministration of the Holy Eucharist. (Documents of Witness, Armentrout and Slocum, eds, p. 16)

So, here we have two member Churches, as it were, who in that time were critical of the Eucharistic liturgy of the 1662 Book.

I can appreciate that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is important to many Provinces of the Anglican Communion. It continues to be the definitive Book of Common Prayer in some, and even in the Church of England, the Alternative Services Book and Common Worship notwithstanding. At the same time, that is an argument from familiarity and convenience, and not per se from principle. We might more reasonably argue for the 1549 or 1552 Books, or especially the 1559 Book in which so many items of 1549 and 1552 were simply merged. These Books have historical precedence over the 1662 Book, and represent a root that might be affirmed more substantially by all Anglicans, whatever Books have shaped their tradition.

A similar argument might be made about the Articles of Religion. Hatchett notes that the Articles were disliked and resisted by different parties within the Church of England at different periods of that Church’s history. He also notes that they were not included in the Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church until 1801, and only then with “alterations and omissions. Further,

The convention of 1804 sought to require specific subscription to the Articles, but the journal records: “A proposed Canon, concerning subscription to the Articles of the Church, was negatived, under the impression that a sufficient subscription to the Articles is already required in the 7th Article of the Constitution.”

So, in the sense that the Articles are authoritative for the Church of England, they have never been authoritative for the Episcopal Church.

Perhaps the real question returns to the statement to be affirmed: “that, led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons1”; and in the footnote intended to interpret it: “This is not meant to exclude other Books of Common Prayer and Ordinals duly authorised [sic] for use throughout the Anglican Communion, but acknowledges the foundational nature of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 in the life of the Communion.” Why would this affirmation be included, only to require this interpretation? Perhaps because a much more juridical authority has been asserted for these documents, especially for the Articles of Religion. Some have suggested that these “foundational” documents should specifically exclude “other Books of Common Prayer and Ordinals duly authorized,” including the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

That would indeed seem to be the problem here. I argued in answering question 4 that we should not affirm as part of our “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith,” assertions that did not include the historic episcopate. The inclusion of this statement regarding the 1662 Book and the 39 Articles in this list of affirmations seems to elevate these documents at least as essential interpreters of, if not equivalent to, Scripture, the Creeds, and the Sacraments as they are also included in the affirmations. Notwithstanding the interpretative footnote, this goes well beyond suggesting that the 1662 Book and 39 Articles are “foundational,” to say that they are essentials of doctrine.

This is particularly true of the Articles themselves. They are historic documents in both senses. Certainly, they are a part of our history. At the same time, they also represent a specific historic period and specific issues. As Bishop Moorman wrote, “These articles… are not meant to be a formulary of the Christian faith. They are a statement of the Church of England’s attitude towards the doctrinal disputes which were convulsing Europe at the time, including such doctrines as Predestination and Transubstantiation.” (A History of the Church of England, p. 214) Indeed, the first reference Bishop Moorman makes to subscription to the Articles of Religion is the Church Discipline Act of 1840. “This Act instituted legal tests of orthodoxy and obliged all clergy to ‘assent and consent’ to the Book of Common Prayer and to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.” (p. 384) It may be that the Articles were in some sense obligatory for Church of England clergy before 1840; but the requirements that shaped many other Provinces of the Communion were not in that form until long after the formation of the Episcopal Church.

I am quite happy to appreciate the Articles of Religion and, to a lesser extent, the 1662 Book as “foundational” for the Communion and for the Episcopal Church. On the other hand, I can’t accept that they are essential, nor so “foundational” as to be separated out from other important documents in our history. On that basis, I could not agree that they should be more “authoritative” in the Episcopal Church than they are at present, important and formative documents in our history. They have been tools that the Churches of the Anglican tradition have used to bear witness to Christian truth, under the guidance of the Spirit. They were not the first, nor will they be the last; and I could not recognize them as essential for the Episcopal Church.


Jon said...

The footnote you cite worries me more than the claim in the body of the text, since the claim in the body of the text almost sounds like it's saying "The Anglican Communion has borne witness to Christian Truth, and here are some highlights from our past." I wouldn't want to deny that 1662 and the Articles of Religion are expressions of Christian truth, but there's a more than a little bit of a jump between identifying them as expressions of Christian truth and insisting, against history in this case, that they are the foundations of Anglicanism.


Anonymous said...

You make some excellent points, but the quotation about the Scottish books being identical to the 1552 BCP of Edward VII is puzzling to me. I thought the 1552 went more, indeed too far, in a "Reformed" direction than the 1549, and that the Scottish books (at least of the 17th century) were more high-church Laudian in Eucharistic doctrine. They also have more of an epiclesis, I believe, than the English books of those days. I should really get around to reading the "Oxford Companion to the BCP" I bought...which also emphasizes the many variations in Prayer Books across time and space.

Marshall Scott said...


Exactly: it is one thing to say these are "foundational" in the sense of significantly formative; and another thing to say they are the foundation.


The quote is, of course, the opinion of those 18th Century Scottish bishops. I think, though, they were referring in fact to the 1549 Book as the "first reformed liturgy," and not the 1552. As I recall (and I'd have to do more digging in Hatchett and Shepherd to make the argument) the 1549 Eucharistic prayer was shaped in part by Orthodox liturgies, and in part by Lutheran sentiments. I think those would certainly have been more pleasing (or less displeasing, as the case may be) to Bishop Laud. In any case, I do think the Scottish bishops meant "first reformed" in the sense of the first significant chance, and not with reference to theology from Geneva.

Thanks to both of you for your responses.

Marshall Scott said...

Err, that's "first significant change.