A controversial Good Friday collect from 1549

In his 1549 Book of Common Prayer, Thomas Cranmer included a collect for Good Friday that was reprinted up to 1662. I don’t know about the early 20th-century attempts to re-shape the Prayer Book, but in Canada’s 1959/62 edition, this third collect is gone, while the other two are present.

Here is the 1549 spelling, as found here:

MERCYFULL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothyng that thou hast made, nor wouldest the deathe of a synner, but rather that he should be converted and live; have mercy upon all Jewes, Turkes, Infidels, and heretikes, and take from them all ignoraunce, hardnes of heart, and contempt of thy word: and so fetche them home, blessed Lorde, to thy flocke, that they maye bee saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one folde under one shepeherde, Jesus Christ our Lord; who lyveth and reigneth, &c.

Since I received a 1662 version of the BCP for Christmas, today was the first time I read this collect. I think it is says something important about Good Friday that we lack in the other two collects.

The first of the two collects is a prayer for the congregation there gathered, focussed on Christ’s Passion, and the second is for the entire Church. The third takes the focus beyond the Church to the world, to those who do not yet know the Gospel. The four groups listed are Jews, Turks, Infidels, and heretics. I can see why this prayer would be controversial in the 1960s and not precisely ‘PC’.

However, let us look at these four groups in turn. First, the Jewish people. We get well over half of our Bible from the Jewish people. Jesus was a Jewish man, as were the Apostles. It is in fulfillment of prophecies made to the Jewish nation that Christ came, died, and rose for us. Therefore, that so many Jewish persons have not embraced Jesus as their Messiah, Saviour, and Redeemer, is something that should concern us. Christ died both for Jew and for Gentile. They are worthy of our prayers.

Second, we have Turks. This is probably a catch-all phrase for Muslims. Here we have the other of what people term ‘Abrahamic faiths’. Here we have a very large portion of the world’s population, whose holy book teaches many things contrary to our faith, yet many things cunningly similar — so close, yet so far away. In the minds of people in 1549, the ‘Turks’ were primarily to be found as the inhabitants of the Holy Land, as well. Should not the salvation of those who live where Our Lord walked and died be a concern for us? Did Christ not die for the Muslim Turk as well? They are worthy of our prayers.

I am not sure about the Infidel. Is this all unfaithful, ie. all un-believers, or a different circumlocution for Muslims? I do not know. But this I do know — Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. They are all worthy of our prayers.

Finally, heretics. The common view until recently is that heretics imperil their souls by their twisted belief. This may be true. Whether or not heretics are all going to Hell, they are certainly mistaken about the character of God and His action in the world, and as persons thus mistaken, they are not able to enjoy the love and fellowship of God as closely as the orthodox. Otherwise orthodoxy is meaningless. If you take offence to that, consider this: If someone thinks I am a Communist or a basketball player or only five-foot three, that person clears does not know me very well at all. That person has not entered very deeply into love and fellowship with me. So also when we think of God and heresy. Christ died for the heretics. They are worthy of our prayers.

Christ died on Good Friday, spilling out his blood for the sins of all of humanity. If we do not pray for the unsaved today, then we have lost the plot. If we pray only four ourselves and our churches, if we pray only for a better understanding of the cross, if we only meditate upon what this violent, glorious event means for us as Christians — we have lost the plot.

The Second Article of Religion states:

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Are we bringing this truth to bear to others? Are we praying for the salvation of the whole world this Good Friday? Are are we navel-gazing and ignoring our mission as followers of the Crucified God?

6 thoughts on “A controversial Good Friday collect from 1549

  1. It should be pointed out that the 1979 American BCP does have a corresponding section in the Solemn Collects, though it does not mention specific groups of non-Christians and also includes the apostate and lapsed in the same prayer.

  2. I think you mean that we get all of the Bible apart from the books of Luke and Acts from the Jewish people.

    This collect is controversial because it was frequently used as a precursor to attacking Jewish people, which (unsurprisingly) led Jewish people to be very resistant to this perverted version of the gospel. There are today, as in every previous age, those of us who were born Jewish but have chosen to follow and serve Yeshua (the Hebrew word for the Greek Jesus). In this, we should not be surprised as the early church was full of Jews and virtually no Gentiles. However by the Council of Nicea in 325 Jewish people had become a minority in the church and so we were saddled with the pagan Easter rather than continuing to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection at Passover. Most Gentile believers would do well to read or re-read Romans chapter 9 to 11, especially Paul’s warning in Romans 11 about the dangers of being arrogant.

    All of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, owe our salvation to Yeshua / Jesus being willing to die for our sins so that we might be saved. Let us therefore pray that Jewish people, the majority of whom do not yet know Yeshua, may be drawn by our Father to His Son.

    • Yes, all but Luke and Acts.

      I still fail to see how the specific wording of this actual collect is actually wrong? Jew-hatred is wrong. One hopes that if you pray for the salvation of anyone, you do not hate them. How precisely does this collect promote a “perverted version of the gospel”? Or is more that, prayed in the midst of a Jew-hating culture, it serves the opposite effect upon hearts already hardened? I could see that. Not living in such a culture, I do hope that if I were to pray this prayer every Good Friday it would, rather, kindle the affections of my heart into greater love for the Jewish, Muslim, unbelieving, and heretical people around me.

      As for the date of Easter, I hope it is not controversial to state that it is simply factually wrong that Easter is “pagan”. The Lord’s resurrection has always been calculated with reference to 14 Nisan, but there have been issues about sorting out where Nisan begins as well as whether it is to be celebrated directly on 14 Nisan or on the Sunday following — and then all sorts of varied questions and complications that come from ancient computus that I forget at this precise moment. The majority tradition decided before the year 200 that it should fall on the Sunday following since it was on a Sunday Jesus rose from the dead. Due to these calculations, the western/Latin rite often varies very widely from the Jewish date of Passover, whereas the eastern/Orthodox rite almost always celebrates it on the Sunday immediately afterwards. I suspect we Latins have got our math wrong at some point, but that has nothing to do with paganism.

      The ecclesial celebration of Passover is, moreover, not pagan in any meaningful sense of the word. English and German are about the only languages where it is not descended from the Greek word for Passover, Pascha. The traditional celebration of this, the chief feast of the Church, involves a very long worship service of vigil, the celebration of Holy Communion, and the baptism of new believers. Much of the pre-Reformation worship of the West and the existing worship of the East, moreover, includes a variety of elements that were present in Temple and synagogue, so I fail to see any meaningful connection between Easter and paganism except for Bede’s possibly false etymology of the name from the alleged pagan spring goddess Eostre. To say that it is pagan because of etymology is to ignore how the church through the ages has celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ.

      As far as Easter is concerned, this is just me being precise not polemical, I hope you understand.

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