For much of last week, I was working hard on a talk which I delivered to the Prayer Book Society on Saturday morning. I have not previously been a member of that body, and (to be honest) would not have previously considered joining. However, I was invited to speak to them on the strength of some remarks I made in a talk at Oak Hill College in 2009, and agreed to elaborate on what I said then.
As a precis of the content of my address, I sent them the following, which pretty much sums it up:
Have we an anchor? Reasserting the doctrinal rôle of the Book of Common Prayer
The Declaration of Assent requires all Anglican clergy at their ordination and their admission to a new post to recognize that the “historic formularies”, which include the Book of Common Prayer, have a special place in witnessing to the Christian faith.
Today, however, we have rather lost touch with the Prayer Book, and even where it is used, there is often little awareness of its doctrinal foundations and signficance. The result is that whilst lip-service is paid to the Declaration of Assent, many people do not realize the liturgy of the Prayer Book is designed to express and teach a particular point of view, and sometimes to contradict other points of view. Indeed, one suspects that many clergy today are quite ignorant of the Prayer Book, and therefore of its doctrinal heritage.
Beginning with the Declaration of Assent, my talk will reassess the position of the Prayer Book in shaping the Anglican church, and ask whether and how we can reassert its doctrinal rôle.
One of the contentious points in this, it is often argued, is what commitment of belief is required by the Declaration of Assent. Are we declaring thereby that we believe what the formularies teach (the question goes), or are we simply affirming the teaching of the formularies as a witness to the historic (but not necessarily contemporary) faith of the Church of England?
Browsing through the PBS bookstall at the weekend, however, my attention was drawn to Canon C 7, of whose contents I must admit to be culpably unaware, but which seems to have considerable bearing on the issue. It reads as follows:
C 7 Of examination for holy orders
No bishop shall admit any person into holy orders, except such person on careful and diligent examination, wherein the bishop shall have called to his assistance the archdeacons and other ministers appointed for this purpose, be found to possess a sufficient knowledge of Holy Scripture and of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church of England as set forth in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal: and to fulfil the requirements as to learning and other qualities which, subject to any directions given by the General Synod, the bishop deems necessary for the office of deacon.
This would seem to settle one question and to raise another. As to the status of the formularies, Canon C7 states clearly that there is “doctrine” specific to the Church of England which is “set forth in” the formularies, and it further requires that candidates should have “sufficient knowledge” of this doctrine to suit them for holy orders.
Now it would clearly be a nonsense for a Church to require candidates to have knowledge of doctrines belonging to that Church, only for them to be free to reject those doctrines.
It is surely hard, therefore, to avoid the conclusion that Anglican clergy under the authority of the Canons are required both to know and to hold the doctrines set forth in the formularies — the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.
But this brings me to the second question, which is quite simply, “Do they?”
And for an answer we must look in particular to what the colleges and courses teach in this regard (and, of course, to whether the examing bodies who review those colleges and courses are concerned about what they teach).
One would expect, at very least, that candidates would be taught about, and assessed in their knowledge of, the formularies. In my address to the PBS, I argued that it would also represent ‘good practice’ for the colleges and courses to make regular and frequent use of the Prayer Book, especially given that many candidates would have little experience of this resource.
I would be very interested, therefore, to hear of the experiences people have had in this regard. In my day, we were superbly taught by Colin Buchanan, whose infectious enthusiasm for English liturgy was absorbed by many of his students. But then I was also of that generation which grew up on the Prayer Book (albeit the 1928 version). With most people now exposed almost exclusively to Common Worship, DIY liturgies or something closer to Rome, at very least it should be recognized that the colleges and courses have a job to do in this regard.
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20 September 2010
20 September 2010