Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cranmer's Genius

I was using the 1662 Prayer Book this evening for Evening Prayer. I always enjoy using the 1662 Book, although I do not use it exclusively. Using this book again led me down a series of thoughts related to the nature of the problem(s) of the Anglican Communion, as always, as I see them.

The genius of the Prayer Book is that it is so much more than a collection of prayers, although it is that, and a good collection at that. The Prayer Book is a theological book at its heart. It is theology woven into liturgy. The 1662 Book is a better example of this than the American books (because they tend to emphasize some things that were not emphasized much by Cranmer), which is the culmination of the English Protestant Reform, which originates with Cranmer, yet adds to his work in some significant areas. This is a fact that is perhaps ignored by some, however, I think it is important to acknowledge this, even though the title of this post is "Cranmer's Genius". The 1662 BCP stems from Cranmer's work in 1552, yet it has the experience of a hundred years of prayer woven into it as well. Given that, we can now return back to Cranmer. His genius lay in the fact that he truly grasped that (ever so) popular, Latin phrase, lex orandi, lex credendi, which roughly translates to "the law of prayer is the law of believing," meaning that what we pray is what we believe. However, this cycle is not so neatly defined, sometimes our beliefs influence our prayers equally. Let us consider the Office of Evening (or Morning) Prayer in the 1662 BCP. This is a theology of justification by faith alone woven into the traditional structure of the daily prayers of the Church. The daily offices have their root in the first adaptations of monasticism in the 4th century, when monks began to recite the Psalter regularly, first every day, but as time progressed they settled on an easier once a week. Cranmer took this tradition and simplified it, eliminating the "office" of monk, destroying the distinction between "religious" and "secular". He took the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone and bathed it in the structures of the Middle Ages. His liturgy starts with a call to repentance by acknowledging our own sins and faults. We then confess and repent of our sins and are pardoned by Christ through his ministers. We then praise God by offering to Him the Lord's Prayer. We respond to God in praise through the Psalms. It is only after we have confessed and been forgiven of our sins that we can approach and hear God's Word. We respond in praise to His Word to us by praising Him with the songs of Scripture. The whole of the liturgy portrays in traditional language and structure the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone and also the sufficiency of Scripture as the whole of the rite is saturated with the Scriptures. It is in these simple, daily services that Cranmer's genius shines through, for in these services Cranmer was able to expose the English people to God's grace in Christ Jesus and re-awaken the knowledge of his sacrificing death for all mankind.

However, where Cranmer succeed by God's grace, modern Anglicans have miserably failed. Where Cranmer saw the necessity of unifying doctrine and theology, it seems that modern Anglicans have forgotten this vital connection. Many seem to be using a liturgy that does not support that which they believe or seem to believe something that their liturgy does not reflect. Take the example of the Anglo-Catholic using his beloved 1928 BCP every day. The problem is that his theology is directly and explicitly condemned by that book. It makes no sense to believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation and use the Prayer Book, those doctrines are not compatible with the theology of the Prayer Book as it is expressed in the liturgy. This is the problem of using the liturgy of the Prayer Book but not believing the theology of the Prayer Book. In some places it is common to hold to the theology of the Prayer Book but neglect to use the liturgy of the Prayer Book, this is common in places such as the Diocese of Sydney. Unfortunately, this is equally a problem, although to a lesser extent. The theology of the Prayer Book was specifically designed to be expressed by the liturgy of the Prayer Book. To reject this is to reject a glorious tradition of common prayer, bathed in the truths of Scripture and the unfailing doctrine of Christ.

This is one of the key problems that I see. We have created a false dichotomy. We have created a situation where we have to choose between the theology of the Prayer Book and the liturgy of the Prayer Book. The problem is this is a lie, they are one and the same. You cannot believe in purgatory, transubstantiation, or praying to the saints and truthfully follow the theology of the Prayer Book. The question might linger in your minds... how do we know the theology of the Prayer Book? Isn't Anglicanism a complicated system of muddy, theological waters, rather intended to confuse, rather than edify? No, it is not, to know the theology of the Prayer Book, one must read the Prayer Book an take it at its plain meaning (as the Declaration to the Articles plainly states). A certain type of exegesis has developed whereby a man looks for the exception rather than the mainstream when approaching the Prayer Book, therefore we end up with alien theology because there is one word in the third paragraph on page 300 or a semicolon over on page 420. If you read the Prayer Book and something remains unclear, go to the Articles, if it remains unclear check out the Divines, and other authorized catechisms, such as Nowell's Catechism. I assure you, nothing will remain unclear at that point (except cases where there is genuine comprehensiveness, such as predestination, the necessity or non-necessity of bishops, etc.).

If we can simply follow the theology of the Prayer Book, which is really the theology of the Bible and Christ Himself, and use the liturgy of the Prayer Book, I think we can overcome this present calamity.

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