Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Tradition in the Anglican Liturgical Movement 1945-1989*

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Tradition in the Anglican Liturgical Movement 1945-1989*

Article excerpt

One of the most striking changes in Anglican thinking about liturgy around the middle of the twentieth century was the dramatically greater authority which came to be ascribed to tradition. Those who had created the Book of Common Prayer in the 1540s and 1550s had been suspicious of all human traditions, by which they meant rules of worship, devotion, discipline, and order not found in or capable of being inferred from Scripture. In their view, however essential it was to have traditions of various kinds, there was always the danger that they would begin to attract an excessive devotional dependence and an excessive theological credit that were described in such words as superstition, idolatry, and abuse. The proper function of tradition was to support and teach scripture, which according to Article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles was the only authority for articles of faith. Through the centuries, even though the Book of Common Prayer itself became a tradition, and even though, if truth be told, it sometimes attracted an alarming devotional dependence of its own, few Anglican thinkers strayed far from Article VI. Evangelical Anglicans, high-church Anglicans, liberal Anglicans, and anglo-catholic Anglicans alike agreed in rejecting the independent theological authority of tradition.

Things were changing by the middle of the twentieth century, under the influence of the Anglican branch of the Liturgical Movement. This ecumenical movement for the restoration of the liturgical tradition of early Christianity had originated in the Roman Catholic Church in the nineteenth century and gathered energy from a pastoral statement of Pope Pius X in 1904. It conceived of liturgy as the "summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed" and "the fount from which all her power flows";1 and it sought to re-cast the practice and theology of contemporary worship according to norms found in the preConstantinian period. Anglicans were involved in the movement by the 1920s, but it was the publication of The Shape of the Liturgy by the Anglican Benedictine Gregory Dix in 1945 which launched the Liturgical Movement as a vital force in the Anglican world.2 The liturgical revisions of the 1970s and the 1980s were the most conspicuous fruit of the Liturgical Movement. In support of these revisions, influential Anglicans in the Englishspeaking world did indeed cite early Christian tradition as a theological and liturgical authority independent of scripture, and as a standard against which received practices should be tested.

The last hurrah of the Anglican Liturgical Movement was the Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1985,3 although several academic studies in the same spirit followed. While the forms of worship produced by the Liturgical Movement remain in wide use and while its perspectives continue to be taught, by the late 1980s Anglican confidence in the authority of liturgical tradition had been eroded. Two reasons for this development are notable. One was a postliberal or postmodern understanding of history, which recognized that our institutional memories, like our personal ones, are reconstructions rather than simple descriptions of the past. The historical justifications which liturgical revisers had confidently advanced only a decade or two earlier for their various decisions now looked more like a pseudo-scholarly sleight of hand than a true recovery of past norms. second, a revived interest in the inculturation of the liturgy began to break the spell of the third- and fourth-century Mediterranean world.

I

For the English Reformers, the two great enemies of the true word of God were the papacy and the mass. The authority of the papacy in England was abolished between 1529 and 1534, and the papal mass was abolished between 1547 and 1552. The problem with popes was that they were seen to have usurped the authority of Christ and to be, therefore, anti-Christ. The problem with the mass, it was declared, was that it was a cesspool of corrupt human traditions designed to support the authority of popes. …

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