Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Rage of Caliban: The Common Service, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Catholic Revival

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Rage of Caliban: The Common Service, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Catholic Revival

Article excerpt


In his "Preface" to the 1888 Common Service [CS], Beale Melanchthon Schmucker described the genesis of the service, which was the product of four years of effort by representatives of the General Council, the General Synod, and the General Synod of the South,1 and which remains a central document in the history of Lutheran liturgical renewal, and of the drive toward unity which produced the contemporary Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Schmucker made a number of audacious claims. First, he claimed that the Common Service was not a new creation, but the English translation of an almost Platonic "form" of pure liturgical expression, previously revealed by Lutherans of the sixteenth century:

The Order of Service here presented is not new. Its newest portions of any consequence are as old as the time of the Reformation. In the order of its parts, and in the great body of its contents, it gives the pure Service of the Christian Church of the West, dating back to very early times...It can lay claim, as no other order of Service now in use can, to be the completest embodiment of the Common Service of the pure Christian Church of all ages, and may be tendered to all Christians who use a fixed Order, as the Service of the future as it has been of the past.2

Second, he drew direct comparison to the Book of Common Prayer [BCP], a masterpiece of Reformation liturgy, and not incidentally a central criterion in the definition of Anglican identity:

The Lutheran revision of the Communion Service...had been fully tested by more than twenty years of continuous use before the revision of the Service made by the Anglican Church, first issued in the Prayer Book of Edward VL, 1549.

Between this first Prayer Book of the Church of England and the Lutheran Service, there is an extremely close agreement. The causes whence this resulted are clearly traceable. The Sarum, and other Anglican Missals, from which translations were made, agreed almost entirely with the Bamberg, Mainz, and other German missals, all alike differing from the Roman use.3

He went on to sketch out, briefly, the many connections between Lutheran and Anglican theologians of the Reformation era: Cranmer's travel in Germany, his "intimate terms" with Osiander while Osiander and Brenz were preparing the Brandenburg-Nurnberg order of 1532; Martin Bucer's contribution to the 1549 BCP after having collaborated with Melanchthon on the 1543 Revised Order of Cologne; and the "constantly-recurring embassies...between the Anglican and Lutheran rulers touching these matters, as well as unity of faith on the basis of the Augsburg Confession."4

Building upon the claims of antiquity and purity, Schmucker now claimed that the Common Service not only paralleled the 1549 BCP but-as if by time travel!-exerted an influence upon its creation. But most startling, perhaps, was his offer to present-day Anglicans:

It was natural, therefore, that the first and best Service Book of the Church of England should closely resemble the Lutheran Service, and present but few divergencies from it. And should the Anglican Church, and her daughters, return to the use of the first Book of Edward VL, as many of her most learned and devout members have ever wished, there would be an almost entire harmony in the Orders of Worship between these two daughters of the Reformation.5

Schmucker concluded with a claim likely to startle both Lutherans and Anglicans:

Beyond question, the Lutheran Service deserves to be placed alongside of the Confession of Augsburg: the one being the central Service, as the other is the Central Confession, of Protestant Christendom. Happy the day when the One, Holy, Catholic, Christian Church, shall unite in the use of One Common Order of Public Worship, and join in One Confession of the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all...6

Schmucker claimed, in essence, that the Joint Committee on the Common Service had uncovered a previously hidden treasure, a "pure Service of the Christian Church of the West," from which other presumably less-pure services had been derived; he named a treasured liturgical artifact as an example of such a service; and he offered his own liturgy as a substitute, for all Christians and especially for Anglicans. …

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