Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is there a "one-book" solution for American Anglicans?

Once upon a time, unity around a common liturgy was a "given" for Anglicans... and then came the 1979 BCP of the Episcopal Church (USA), which, for many Anglicans, marked the end of "common worship" as a distinctive characteristic of the Anglican tradition, and the beginning of the end for Anglican unity overall. The end.

At least that's how many traditionalists tell the story. Those who support the new BCP contend that the inclusion of traditional "Rite One" services is enough deference paid to the old BCP to lay claim to continuity with it, and to satisfy traditionalists at the same time. Obviously, the detractors do not see things this way, and have ever since waged open warfare against it, and against modern rites in general, which makes the recent introduction of the AMiA's new Trial Liturgy (henceforth called "the Green Book") all the more intriguing.

However, do not think for a moment (despite my recent remarks) that the Green Book -- essentially the 1662 BCP in modern idiom -- necessarily represents a significant concession of defeat, or an acknowledgement of the need to modernize the idiom of worship, on the part of Dr. Peter Toon (the guiding hand behind the Green Book) and his followers. It is not even an admission that traditional and contemporary rites could (or even should) exist together within the same cover of some future BCP. Indeed, Dr. Toon has gone on record many times that, at most, the move to contemporize Cranmer should be viewed as an interim measure -- what I like to call the "bait and switch" solution. The ultimate goal is merely to wean contemporary Anglicans away from the 1979 BCP (and other "defective" modern rites). The beauty and the theological soundness of the Cranmerian liturgy, even as found in the Green Book (the "bait"), will do its magic by eventually winning the hearts of modern Anglicans and others back to Cranmer's liturgy and to its traditional Elizabethan era idiom as well (the "switch"). But will this tactic work? I think not, and here's why:

(1) The Green Book is not the first attempt to contemporize Cranmer's liturgy. In fact, many such projects have been attempted, and each one has produced less than stellar results -- ranging from the banal to the sophomoric. Simply put, the strategy to woo folks back to the classic BCP by introducing a contemporary version of it does not seem to work, at least not very well. This begs at least two questions: first, why hasn't it worked? And, second, why add one more alternative liturgy to the plethora of alternatives already out there?

(2) In part, the first question can be answered by noting that the strategy is built on two faulty premises: first, that taking the "thees, thous, and vouchsafes" out of the Cranmerian rites will remove a stumbling block to those Anglicans who, due to years of disuse and/or non-exposure to proper Prayerbook language, are put off by such archaic words. Second, the assertion is made that modern Anglicans only use the 1979 BCP because no better alternative is available to them. Provide a Cranmerian alternative in modern English (e.g. the Green Book), or so it is argued, and modern Anglicans will drop the '79 Book like a hot potato. Both premises are faulty if only for the fact that the "thees, thous, and vouchsafes" are not the only archaicisms, and probably not even the most imposing ones, in the traditional BCP. Issues of lengthiness, cadence, complex sentence structure, complicated parallelisms, rubrical rigidness, inflexibility, overdone didacticism, dearth of celebration, and obscure terminology certainly play their roles in the general lack of appeal to the modern liturgical palate. Yet these issues are typically ignored in attempts to contemporize Cranmer's liturgy.

(3) But there is another, more important reason: many Anglicans, even conservative ones, actually like the 1979 BCP, despite some of its flaws, even if they are somewhat hesitant to admit this to the more vocal opposition. For years we've been hearing about how baaaaad the 1979 BCP was, that folks have been somewhat hesitant and intimidated to defend it in the face of fierce verbal assault. But in actuality, as the practice of many Anglicans bears out, the '79 Book turns out to be a very versatile liturgy with many laudable features. The scholarship behind it is really quite outstanding, even if it is also quite broad. There is much in it that is appealing to modern Anglicans: its "shape," the restoration of ancient forms and rites, its "patristic eclectisim," and its pastoral tone. I'm not suggesting for a moment that the Book doesn't have flaws and deficiencies; only that the '79 Book does not come close to being the demon-possessed tome that its detractors make it out to be.

Finally, let me end by humbly suggesting that the future course of American Anglicanism should strive to achieve two worthy goals. First, I firmly believe that it is a good, right, and appropriate thing for Anglicans to seek to preserve Cranmer's liturgy, and to promote the frequent use of it, in its original idiom no less. (Despite what my readers may unduly conclude from this article, I defy anyone to demonstrate a love for Cranmer's liturgy that surpasses my own. After all, I would never dream of dishonoring Cranmer's liturgy by "translating" it into contemporary idiom.) The second worthy goal is to preserve what has proven to be laudable and edifying in the contemporary Anglican liturgical experiment, many of the features found in the 1979 BCP. Can this be done? And can it be done within one cover? Is there a "one-book" solution? I don't know. But I will lay out for my readers some idea of how a "one-book solution" might look in my next two installments.

Until next time.


axegrinder said...

Dr. D,

I am definitely looking forward to the next 2 installments. I hope you include details of what you take to be the deficiencies of the '79.


Marshall said...

It's an interesting question. At te same time, since we've been living with at least two books (1979 for the majority and 1928 for earlier splinters) and possibly three (is someone out there still using the old Anglican Missal as if it were the 1928 book?), adding another book will take quite a selling job. Indeed, I think it would be easier to pitch as a unifying alternative in and of itself rather than as the "bait and switch" tool.

People rise to the expectations we present to them. Where it is taught, folks learn the 1979 Prayer Book. Where is has been taught, people have learned the 1928 Book, along with all the glosses that folks have used to make it "sort of fit" within (or perhaps in contrast with) contemporary culture and usage. If this book circulates well and is taught well, folks will certainly learn it; but, having learned it, I don't know how well they'll be prepared to then move on to the 1662 book in 1662 English.

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Yes, the Missal is still used. There's a contingent in the Philly area where it's alive and well.

I'm personally a Rite I guy. I started with Rite II but after a time, Rite I simply felt more natural and was more fitting for my practice than Rite II. It never would have hgappened it if they had been different books, though...

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

As a Roman Catholic and a traditionalist within my own church, I have to say too that there are many good qualities to the liturgy coming out of the Second Vatican Council. People in particular like to point out the Patristic richness of the Office of Readings.....

They are missing the point. Liturgy is not about reading. It's not even about clarity. Granted, maybe the Ecclesia Anglicana as it exists now was conceived in liturgical original sin with Cranmer's book, but what you have in the pre-1979 Prayer Books is a tradition if there ever was one.

Liturgy often has very little to do with theory, and sometimes (if not most of the time), the better can be the enemy of the good. That is why what you had is probably going to be much better than anything you could concoct, no matter how clever you deem yourself to be.

lexorandi2 said...

Just to be clear, Pseudo-Iamblicus, my proposal, yet to be unveiled, is not a re-invention of the wheel.

Derek's remark about Rite 1 and Rite 2, and how he wouldn't have become a "Rite 1 guy" if the two didn't happen to be in the same book is remarkably close to what I had in mind.