Things to like about Anglicanism

I have already blogged here about my inescapable Anglican identity. I would like to talk briefly about the things that consciously attract me in the Anglican church.

Historic liturgy

I love the Book of Common Prayer, as this blog can attest very well. Part of what I love about the BCP is the fact that it maintains more than a superficial link with tradition. It is a living part of the great tradition of liturgies that includes the Roman Mass, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the Divine Liturgy of St James, the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, and more. It was born in the midst of Reform and schism, yet it keeps all that is best of the weight of the tradition, such that Protestants can safely use it, and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox only tweak it just a little to make it their own.


We have sacraments! A whole two (2) of them! Even if we’re five short of Roman Catholics and a bazillion fewer than the Orthodox, these two (2) sacraments are at the heart of the communal Anglican encounter with God. Yes, we have historic liturgy to order our worship — but that could just as easily be Morning and Evening Prayer as the Lord’s Supper. But today, and growing up, most Anglicans celebrate the Eucharist on a weekly basis, which is how it was done for, like, 1500 years (until the Reformation, that is). Meeting together to meet Christ in the mystery of the bread and wine is important. This importance is difficult to articulate sometimes.

Protestant(?) theology

The official doctrine of the Anglican church is found in the 39 Articles of Religion. In their positive affirmations, they are for the most part fairly standard, western/Latin Christian orthodoxy: 1 God, Trinity, 2 natures in Jesus, 1 Bible with 2 Testaments, salvation only through Jesus, predestination, etc. It has some anti-Roman polemic, but if you remove the archaic pejorative adjectives such as “Romish”, these points are mostly ones where, frankly, if you disagree with the 39 Articles, you’d best convert to Roman Catholicism or maybe Eastern Orthodoxy. Except perhaps the bit about the saints.

Anyway, the theology of the 39 Articles is basic Protestantism, by and large: Scripture contains everything sufficient for salvation (Article 6); justification by faith (Articles 11-14); no Purgatory (Article 22); no praying to saints (Article 22); no transubstantiation (Article 28); no sacrifice in the Mass (Article 31). Fine with me.

The Fathers of the Church

That stream of the English Reformation that established what we call “Anglicanism” has always been friendly towards the Church Fathers. We may cringe a little at the idea that Archbishop Matthew Parker was helping Queen Elizabeth reset the church to how it was when St Augustine came to Canterbury in 597, but his earnestness and that of many other Anglican Reformers and divines was simply this: A lot of bad stuff has gone down, but most of it was fairly recent. Cut our losses with Rome, keep what is good from before, and rediscover the ancient Church.

Remember that the era of the Reformation was also a time when large quantities of editions of the Church Fathers were being printed. English clerics were purchasing them. The Protestant Reformation, especially Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican, was in many ways a rediscovery and appropriation of St Augustine of Hippo (not the guy who went to Canterbury). Anyway, the Fathers and the dogmatic definitions of the ancient councils are used by Anglican theologians from Parker and Hooker to Wesley through, of course, the Oxford Movement, and up to today in the likes of Rowan Williams, Oliver O’Donovan, and Sarah Coakley.


John Donne. Sir John Davies. George Herbert. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. William Wordsworth. C. S. Lewis. W. H. Auden. T. S. Eliot. Luci Shaw. Malcolm Guite. Need I say more?

Loving the Book of Common Prayer 1: Catholicity

Baskerville_titleBy 10:30 last night, I was completely bushed. So put down The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, turned off the light, and went to sleep. This meant that this morning I was awake at 7:30 and smelling the rich aroma of incense by 8:30 at the nearest Anglican Church. Like many Anglican churches, this congregation relegates the Book of Common Prayer to its early service — a fairly simple affair, said not sung, although with a bit of incense and clerical kneeling.

I wanted the Prayer Book this morning, most certainly, especially after the beautiful Book of Common Prayer service of Holy Baptism & Holy Communion I Skyped into in the middle of Easter Even last weekend! I realise that we now live in the midst of an international Anglicanism with a plurality of liturgical books called The Book of Common Prayer, so let me say that what I mean by ‘Prayer Book’ or ‘Book of Common Prayer/BCP’ is the Canadian BCP of 1962, the 1662 BCP, or the Scottish BCP of 1912.

I am not acquainted with other Prayer Books.

These Prayer Books, along with those of the reign of Edward VI and the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637 and some from the early twentieth century, are the ‘historic’ Prayer Books. These BCPs maintain the historic content and language of the majestic and glorious 1662 (unless, of course, they pre-date it). When I worship using one of these Prayer Books, as opposed to The Book of Alternative Services or Common Worship or something your priest made up over a dram of whisky the night before, I feel a connection with the centuries-old tradition of Anglican worship.

The BCP is catholic, Protestant, and beautiful.

In other words, Anglican.

I’m going to write three wee posts on the BCP. Today, I’ll quickly look at how The Book of Common Prayer is catholic.


Let us take the traditional words of the Sursum Corda:

Priest: Lift up your hearts.
Answer. We lift them up unto the Lord.
Priest. Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
Answer. It is meet and right so to do.
¶Then shall the Priest turn to the Lord’s Table, and say,
IT is very meet, right and our bounden duty …

These words not only connect us with the Roman Missal and the Use of Sarum, but to the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great (Eastern Orthodox) and the third-century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, a liturgical use that probably contains many traces of second-century liturgical prayers and actions. It is present in the ancient Liturgy of St James (Jerusalem & Syrian Orthodox), the Divine Liturgy of St Mark (Coptic), and something similar appears in the ‘Nestorian’ liturgy (Church of the East).

The Sursum Corda is not the only aspect of the Eucharistic liturgy in the BCP that ties to this historic, international body of liturgies. Anything that has a Latin name is present in the Roman liturgy — ‘Sanctus’, ‘Gloria’, ‘Gloria Patri’, ‘Pater Noster’, ‘Credo’, etc. Many of these elements are also present in the other traditional liturgies of the world, such as the ‘Sanctus’.

The twofold structure of the BCP Service of Holy Communion, of the Liturgy of the Word and then the Anaphora/Canon of the Mass (can’t think of a Protestant name for it!) is also held in common. The liturgical recitation of the Nicene Creed we hold in common with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, a ritual action dating back to the later sixth century; although glancing at some liturgical texts online, I see that the Coptic Orthodox and Church of the East also recite it.

The Prayer Book is shot through with prayers and ritual actions taken from the ancient liturgical books and practices available to Thomas Cranmer. It maintains the ancient structure and rhythm of Christian worship as it had already been practised for centuries not only in the British Isles but in Christ’s Church militant throughout the earth. Besides the Use of Sarum, Cranmer also made use of the Gelasian Sacramentary, the Gregorian Sacramentary, and the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (at least). The result is an English-language Prayer Book that stands in rank with the historic liturgies of world Christianity, linked to the wider and deeper tradition. Indeed, its catholicity is so strong that, with a few modifications, it was easily adapted for Eastern Orthodox use as the Liturgy of St Tikhon, and there are Roman Catholic parishes that use it as well.

The Prayer Book is a strongly catholic book. I think the point has been made, if briefly. Although Cranmer made some unsurprising changes to the texts for a Protestant, he maintained the essential Christocentric, Scriptural core of the liturgical texts he used, a core that links them in history as far back as the second or third century, and in geography to historic liturgies not only in Europe and the Mediterranean but the Middle East and India as well.

The Prayer Book is not simply a Protestant, vernacular liturgy for England. It is an attempt to reform the liturgy, but an attempt that seeks to stand within the tradition that gave it birth. For this, I love it.

Next time: The Prayer Book is Protestant.