Loving the Book of Common Prayer 2: Protestant

What follows is likely to be less popular than discussing the catholicity of the Prayer Book. But I am a Protestant, so it only follows that liturgy I love would also be Protestant.

220px-Thomas_CranmerThinking on this proposed series of 3 posts about loving the BCP, I’ve decided to add a fourth after catholic, Protestant, and beautiful, and that is theological. This is because, as I think on the ‘Protestant’ aspects of the BCP, I realise that many of the theological moments that I love and that come to mind are actually simply sound theology, and could easily be embraced by the Church catholic outside our small corner of Protestantism. Nevertheless, I think it is important to point out that the BCP is, in fact, Protestant.

So is Anglicanism.

It seems to have become fashionable in many Anglican circles these days to deny our status as a Protestant church. This, I think, is related to the use of the word Protestant by evangelical, dissenting churches such as Baptists, the Alliance Church, varieties of Methodism/Wesleyanism, varieties of Reformed, etc. There is also a long and strong tradition within the Anglican Church of seeing connections with the past in theology and liturgy, especially with the Church Fathers but also, to a degree, our forebears in the English Middle Ages and the best of mediaeval theology and devotion on the Continent, such as Sts Thomas Aquinas and Thomas a Kempis.

Nonetheless, by strict definition Anglicans are Protestant.

And so, as I said, is the BCP — hence its modification by both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics when they use it.

Now, it could easily be said that the BCP is Protestant because it tends to be a one-volume compendium of Anglicanism, containing the orders of service, the Psalter, and the doctrinal documents of our faith. The Articles of Religion, containing such words as ‘popish’ are obviously Protestant. What about the liturgy, though? When we consider the idea of lex orandi, lex credendi, we would expect to find Protestantism in the BCP.

Justification by faith is the most important Protestant doctrine that sets us aside from the Church of Rome. Does the Prayer Book teach justification by faith through grace alone? Yes it does, but more by aggregation than any single articulation. It is a doctrine that undergirds the BCP’s understanding of grace and sin. Here are some excerpts from Canada’s 1962 BCP, starting with the Communion:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him …

And although we are unworthy, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences.

…most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy

Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

…although we are unworthy, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences

Morning & Evening Prayer:

He [God] pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.

Evening Prayer:

Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord.

As I say, it is the aggregate of passages, combined with what they do not say. If you read the Litany, for example, while it is not perfectly, explicitly justification by faith all spelled out, and while much of it is common to Anglicans, Catholics, and the Orthodox, there is a vein of such doctrine running through it. It would be tedious (albeit profitable, I have no doubt!) to go through all of Cranmer’s collects as well as the Exhortations, but I think you get the idea.

Justification by faith alone through grace alone is a rich vein of theology running through The Book of Common Prayer.

More easily spotted is the fact that Protestants do not believe in the sacrifice of the Mass:

who [Jesus Christ] made there [upon the Cross], by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memorial of that his precious death, until his coming again.

You will not find the following (from the English translation of the Sarum Use of the Roman Rite):

But after the offertory, let the deacon hand the cup with the paten and the sacrifice to the priest; and let him kiss his hand each time. But let him, receiving the cup from him, place it carefully in its own due place above the middle altar, and with bent head, for a little while, let him elevate the cup with both hands, offering the sacrifice to the Lord, saying this prayer:

Receive, O Holy Trinity, this oblation, which I, an unworthy sinner, offer in honour of thee, of the blessed Virgin and all the saints, for my sins and offences, and for the salvation of the living, and the rest of all the faithful dead. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let this new sacrifice be acceptable to the omnipotent God.

Or this:

Therefore most merciful Father, suppliant we beg and beseech thee, through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.

    Here let the priest rising kiss the altar on the right hand of the sacrifice, saying: that thou wouldst receive and bless these cross gifts, these cross presents, these cross holy unspotted sacrifices.
And the sins being made over the chalice, let him elevate his own hands, saying thus…

Likewise, the Prayer Book has cut this:

Here again let him look upon the Host, saying: Which oblation do thou, O Almighty God, we beseech thee, vouchsafe in all respects to make cross hallowed, cross approved, cross ratified, reasonable, and acceptable, that it may be made unto us the cross body and cross blood of thy most dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

I think you get the idea. In pre-20th-century Prayer Books, the Canon of the Mass ended with the words of institution. In the Canadian Prayer Book of 1962, things have been rearranged, and we come dangerously close to offering a sacrifice:

And we entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, most humbly beseeching thee…

That prayer was intended for after Communion. Indeed, besides Christ’s sacrifice once offered for the sins of the whole world, the only other sacrifice, in a prayer after Communion, is:

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.

Now, you may not be a Protestant. You may be Orthodox or Roman Catholic. You may believe that the Eucharistic sacrifice is an integral part of the service of Holy Communion. You may not think there is a sharp difference between justification by faith as represented by the Prayer Book and the concept of condign merit.

I’m not condemning you.

But I am praising The Book of Common Prayer. In this small, maroon-coloured book, the wisdom of the Church has been distilled, bringing us a beautiful book that is not only Protestant but catholic. Not only catholic — connected with the church universal throughout time and space — but Protestant, connected to the reform movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sure, there are problems with a lot of what Protestantism has got up to since 1517.

The Book of Common Prayer is not one of them.

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Silvester

The Council of Nikaia, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus. My photo.

Re-post from 2008.

Overseer Silvester (bottom right, nearest Constantinus), Father of the Assembly at Roma, was a little surprised to find himself amidst the gathering at Nicaea. But then, that’s what happens when you leave your travel arrangements in the hands of Byzantine fresco-painters on Cyprus.

He listened as overseers waxed eloquent about the dual nature of the Anointed, declaring that Jesus was fully man and fully God, and that any other formulation of his personhood would make him incapable of redeeming mankind. As one overseer clad in a flaming stole and glistening golden garments spoke, Silvester looked to Arius and was surprised to see the heresiarchus literally shrinking before his eyes! And so, he thought, is the fate of the enemies of truth. He sincerely hoped that he would never fall into heresy.

And then the fiery overseer turned to Silvester, ‘What say you, Father?’

Silvester stood up and opened his mouth, ‘Lord, hear my prayer.

And he was in a basilica, somewhere in Nicaea, celebrating the Lord’s Supper in Latin. At a conference full of Greek overseers.

He heard the response, ‘Et clamor meus ad te veniat.

He was impressed that the Greeklings knew the response and ploughed on through, ‘The Lord be with you.

‘And with your spirit.

‘Hear us, holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God; and send your holy angel from heaven, who guards, favours, protects, attends, and defends all who dwell in this habitation. Through our Anointed Lord.’

‘Amen.’

And Silvester continued through the prayers for the Lord’s Supper. And then, suddenly, after the Liturgy of the Word was over, he found himself, rather than preaching a homily, making a declaration along with the other overseers. Together, they were declaring a formula of belief, not dissimilar to Roma’s baptismal formula, only with notable changes, declaring Jesus to be ‘God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father,’ all things that Arius would never consent to.

And then Silvester awoke. He found himself to be in Lateran Palace in Roma, in his own bed. He rose from his straw-filled mattress and went to get dressed. As he dressed himself in a black cassock, he wondered what exactly his dream would signify. He was asked by a flaming, resplendent overseer his opinion as Arius shrunk. His response to the questions of doctrine had been the Lord’s Supper — but no ordinary Lord’s Supper, for this time, they recited a statement of faith that kept Arius’ teachings out of the Assembly and also included the word he had spent much time considering, consubstantialis.

Having tied his cincture tight, he stepped from his chamber to go to the new basilica to pray before his duties began. It was still early as the successor of the Rock walked through the passages of the emperor’s former palace. No one was about, and he made his way to the basilica and knelt before the holy table, praying to the Lord for guidance, for purity, and for right understanding.

Having prayed, he stood, and was a little surprised to see an elder named Julius standing at the back of the house of the Lord. He approached him and smiled.

‘Good morning, Julius,’ said Silvester.

‘Good morning, sir,’ responded Julius. ‘Is there any news yet about the proceedings in Nicaea in Bithynia?’

‘You are awake this early and come to find me simply to ask this?’

‘No, sir, I was simply in the area. I go for walks each morning after my prayers to see the city and the people who live here. Ah, how beautiful Roma is! How delightful to live in her light! And to visit here, the house you have built for God, is also a great blessing. That I have met with you is simply coincidence; the council is much on my mind, you see, and I have been praying hard for right thinking and right worship to prevail. Have you any news?’

‘Nothing conclusive yet,’ replied the old man. ‘Your fervour for the truth is admirable, as is your concern for Jesus’ flock. One of the blessings of my time so far as successor to the Rock is that the yeast of Arius has not yet come to Italia, to Roma. It is the sort of dispute one would expect philosophy-loving Greeks to come up with — it is dangerous to ask too deeply the questions of “How?” when discussing the Godhead. We are best to say that Jesus is Lord. As Lord, He must be God, for God will contend with no rivals, nor can a creature save creatures. That He is the incarnate God shows forth the fullness of God’s love in a way that no incarnate spirit-creation ever could. But how is He the God-man? Ah, I dare not tread in mysteries so deep.

‘I am opposed to Arius’ teachings, for they are contrary to the plain teachings of the Holy Books as well as to the traditions handed down to us from the earliest days. Nevertheless, these days I am more worried that I might find a Donatist schism coming up behind me than I am about an Arian falsehood on the streets of Roma. I do not envy our brothers in the East, in Alexandria, Antiochia, Nicaea who have to deal with these pernicious teachings.

‘To answer your question, there is little news from Nicaea. Last I heard from Vitus and Vicentius, Nicholas of Myra got in a dispute with Arius and struck him, but had some sort of miraculous gift-giving from Jesus and His Mother. The account was a bit muddled, unfortunately. A few other things have been dealt with, such as the date of the Christian Passover. They say that they have spoken with Macarius of Aelia and Eustathius of Antiochia who are discussing what sort of statement the overseers will have to make and how to anathematise Arius’ teachings.’

‘Thank you, sir. I shall leave you now.’

‘Wait, Julius, I had a strange dream last night, and I wonder if you could shed light on it.’

‘I am no Joseph or Daniel, sir, but I shall try.’

Silvester recounted the dream in detail, reciting the statement of faith precisely. Julius looked at him. He looked up at the ceiling for a bit. He stroked his beard.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘all I can think is this. There is a possibility that the West shall be a guardian of the truth, and that many will look to you and other vicars of the Rock in settling their theological disputes. But more important than that, I would say that perhaps it is the act of worship itself that is the safeguard of our theology. We will keep the Assembly safe and pure and holy only from drawing near to God, only by celebrating the sacred mysteries. Theology is to be embodied in our worship, in our prayers, in our lives, and not simply in our words and thought life. Why else would you be found answering a theological question with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and a form thereof including a statement of the true faith?’

‘Thank you, Julius. I shall remember you in my prayers. Do pray for me as well.’

‘I do, every day, Father.’ Having kissed Silvester’s ring, Julius disappeared into the streets of Roma, the greatest city in the world.