What is the Book of Common Prayer? (Continued #4)
It is interesting to note that in the 1970’s the “Protestant Episcopal Church” removed the word “Protestant” from the Book of Common Prayer and most legal documents, effectively renaming itself “The Episcopal Church.” This was done for the same reason that the word was placed in the title in the first place: to make it clear that the “Protestant Episcopal Church” and the “Episcopal Church” was not the same as the other reformation churches, such as the Presbyterians or Lutherans or even the Roman Catholic Church – which as we know it today is a product of the reformation. After 1830, or so, the word “protestant” began to be used in its current meaning, “non Catholic.” “Protestant” did not mean “non-Catholic” when it was carefully chosen to be part of the name of our Church. “Protestant Episcopal” when it was chosen to be the name of our Church really meant the “Non-Roman, Catholic Church ruled by Bishops, not the Pope.”
What all this means is that we believe – hopefully, in all humility – that we are not like the other churches. Primarily this means that we do not have a core document detailing what we believe – such as the “Confessions” that most of the other denominations (including the Roman Catholics); it also means that we have a ministry that can be traced back in direct laying on of hands to the earliest moments of the Church’s corporate life. We share this ministry with the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Christians of the East – but Protestant clergy do not share in this form of the ministry.
Thus it is that if a Roman Catholic priest wishes to become a priest in The Episcopal Church, he does not need to be ordained. He may be sent to seminary (and usually is) for a while to get the Anglican ethos, but no ordination. He does, however, need to take the oath to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church, and to obey the Bishop and other lawful authorities. A Protestant Minister, on the other hand, must be ordained. A protestant minister most often will be sent to seminary, and then confirmed (or have those parts of our Baptismal Liturgy that were not in the form used when they were baptized administered by a priest or Bishop) and then they are ordained. The second paragraph on page 510 requires ordination; the third paragraph on page 312 refers to the Baptism.
This matter of ministry and ordination is far from a dead issue. Even though the Episcopal Church agreed to suspend the requirements of paragraph 2 on page 510 in the recent Concordat with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it was this issue of the meaning of the ministry that led the ELCA to vote against the Concordat. The very recently signed agreement (1999) called Consultation on Church Unity (COCU) refused to admit the Episcopal Church(and we refused to join, although we agree in principle) because of this matter of the ministry.
Behind all of this is the great Anglican priest and theologian Richard Hooker who died in the year 1600. His greatest work, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was a defense of the Church of England against the Puritan onslaughts. His basic philosophy was based on Aristotle (as was that of Thomas Aquinas), instead of Plato, as was the practice of the reformers and especially the puritans. It is Hooker’s discussion of the nature of The Church that ends up on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer. It is worth quoting.
“The Church is always a visible society of men; not an assembly, but a Society. For although the name of the Church be given unto Christian assemblies, although any multitude of Christian men congregated may be termed by the name of a Church, yet assemblies properly are rather things that belong to a Church. Men are assembled for performance of public actions; which actions being ended, the assembly dissolveth itself and is no longer in being, whereas the Church which was assembled doth no less continue afterwards than before.”
Pope Clement the Eighth is reported to have said that Hooker’s work “had in it such seeds of eternity that it would abide until the last fire shall consume all learning.” – quoted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, November 3rd
For better or worse, non Catholics seem to despise Hooker; and Catholics love him.
Hooker’s other great contribution to our Anglican thinking has to do with Reason. Hooker places Reason at the same level of authority as Holy Scriptures and Tradition (Ministry, Sacraments and Creeds). (For the size of the Anglican Communion, we seem to have more theologians and scholars par capita than any other denomination.) The placing of Reason right up there with the Bible and Bishops and Creeds and Sacraments is another characteristic of the earliest Church.
Again, it makes us different from the other denominations. It is possible, however, to place such trust in reason that one will lose, or diminish, the place that belongs to faith. No amount of Reason can provide one with faith, although it can provide tremendous support after one has shown or experienced faith. But one of the temptations provided by the modern Satan is the temptation to intellectualize away all the means and expressions of faith. Some of this is visible currently in the “Great Debates” about Jesus.
Of course it is essential that we use our minds to the fullest and study to understand everything we can about Jesus, the Church and we Episcopalians. But the temptation here is that the study alone, or even the fruits of that study, are sufficient for a reasonable and healthful and helpful religion.
This just is not so. It was the intellectualization of God’s command that made Eve decide to violate that command. The source of sin is in our greatest gift from God: the gift of intellect/reason. It is often easier – not to mention more convenient – to think and be intellectual than to be faithful and generous and loving. To be faithful and generous and loving requires always keeping God at the center of life. This begins in worship.
That, most likely, is the reason that the Fifth Book of Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is devoted to a defense of the Book of Common Prayer against its Puritan detractors. All his life long, Richard Hooker was a faithful parish priest, not a courtier or a lecturer or professional theologian. He writes as a parish priest, concerned to assist his people in their quest to know and love God in Jesus through the Church and Sacraments and Offices of Praise. All his writing is serene and calm and written for all to read and learn from. (The Faithful Skeptic is written for the people of the parish where this priest is located, and for the same purpose.)
If one sees the Book of Common Prayer as a book of Directions on How to Worship, one will miss its real purpose: to produce loving and generous members of Christ – the Family of God. This was the tragedy of the “Conformist” “Non-conformist” (and later, high Church/low Church) compromise: it gives the blessing of the Church to the practice of lying about faith.
Now we shall turn to the real purpose of the Book of Common Prayer: the nurture of Christians.