The Secker Society



By Charles Bartlett

Percy Dearmer’s "Loyalty to the Prayer Book" is truly a manifesto for today’s Anglicanism. Loyalty can be read at Project Canterbury, but here I will share some highlights from Dearmer’s original tract. The select quotes are extremely relevant to both Anglican ecumenicalism and identity today as we encounter various external and internal pressures– e.g., the allure of Rome’s Apostolic Constitutions, or, perhaps contemporary “charismatic” practices that seem to further erode Anglican foundations.

Dearmer describes a problem facing turn-of-the-century England which sounds very true today– namely, an unchurched population grown ignorant to true religion. Dearmer’s typical brilliance is not apologizing for contemporary culture but fighting for catholic past. Dearmer points a ‘simple way out’. Rather than look far afield to foreign churches or embrace the dissonant forces of ‘postmodernism’, Dearmer asks anxious churchmen to take a gander at what lies under their nose– the Prayer Book. Percy’s message is straightforward. Revival is found in conformity to English church standards as laid by Anglican fathers. The intimacy of this fact is what makes our predicament so tragic,

"We do not realize the extent of our failure. With everything human in our favour–learning, position, wealth, lofty traditions, the possession of the church buildings, the schools, the universities–we have gradually let our people slip away from us. Goodly was our heritage: if we had but kept what our forefathers had won for us, the whole Anglo-Saxon race would to-day be united in one Church, devotedly attached to it, and most diligent in worship as our ancestors were 1,000 years ago, as they were 400 years ago, as, indeed, a great majority still were, in spite of many losses, 200 years ago."

For Dearmer, England’s crisis is a simple failure of discipline. Without this benefit, England lost her familiarity and love for religion. Dearmer reminds the reader how the daily lectionary, regular clerical visitation of homes, catechism on sunday and holy days, plus weekly (frequent) communion are all expected by BCP [Book of Common Prayer] conformity, giving the very instrumentation and means to deliver a people from apostasy. Dearmer seems to peg decline and waywardness from Prayer book discipline upon Hanoverian policy. Latitudinal laxity bred ignorance, but Dearmer’s anamesis is simply doing what the prayer book requires rather than ‘validating orders’ through Roman palliums, etc. (discussed further below):

"The curse both of our religious and our secular life is that we do not worship Almighty God, that we are so largely hearers and not doers of the word,–hearers of sermons, hearers of ornate music; and consequently sluggish, without initiative, without devotion, without the fire of intimate love. It is, I venture to think, obvious that, to restore the genius of worship (once an instinct of our people), we must stick to the Bible and the Prayer Book, and thus restore the Eucharist–the great Evangelical Service–to its lawful place."

The prayer book says ‘the chancels shall remain as in times past’– a clarion call for England’s historical continuity. The ornament rubric indeed has a ‘sticky’ interpretive aspect. Dearmer is indeed wary of both Prayer Book fundamentalism and liturgical anarchy. Yet he realizes in order to avoid such unsavory tendencies Anglicanism itself needs definition, keeping true to her historic and unique development... Notice the inclusion of Settlment standards as properly articulating English catholicity:

"The English Church happens to base herself in a special manner upon history–she appeals to the Scriptures and primitive antiquity for her theology, [* Articles VI., VIII., etc.] to the ancient Fathers for her ritual, [* The Preface Concerning the Service of the Church, Article XXIV., etc.] to Catholic tradition for her ceremonial; [* The Preface Of Ceremonies, Canon 30 (1603), Canon & (1640), etc.] she refers us to the second year of Edward VI for her ornaments, [* The Ornaments Rubric] and to the later middle ages for the arrangement of her chancels. [* "And the chancels shall remain as they have done in times past." (First inserted in 1552.)] Her formularies, therefore, cannot be understood without a good deal of historical knowledge. Some people may object to this, and may ask–Why should they be bound by documents that are two or three hundred years old? But the fact remains that they are so bound, whether they like it or not; and that the whole intention of the Reformers, as shown from end to end of the Prayer Book, Articles, and Canons, was to bind them to principles that are nearer two thousand than two hundred years of age. Nor will they be released from this bondage to historic continuity till the same authority that imposed it shall have removed it,–which will not be for a long time to come. The attempts that have been hitherto made at throwing off this light yoke have not been so conspicuously successful in their results as to encourage us to proceed. Therefore I ask Churchmen to renounce those futile experiments of private judgment, and to throw themselves into the task of realising in its entirety that sound Catholic ideal which the defenders of the English Church preserved for us through the most troublous period of her history."

The answer for modern-day Anglicanism is the same as it was at the turn of the century. The Prayer Book provides all the means necessary to rescue ‘this Church’. Without transparent standards backed by ecclesiastic authority, Anglicanism is like a wave on the sea, going this way and that. Indeed, the road to ‘autocephalousy’ and mutual recognition between sister churches is not conversion of our priests and people to a foreign church, but conversion to our own past (which is orthodox). Dearmer cogently outlines England’s predicament which is reminiscent of today’s trouble,

"If English Priests had stuck to their formularies as Romans and Easterns have to theirs, then the English Church would to-day be as marked as the Roman or the Eastern Churches are by such practices as frequent Services, fasting, the supremacy of the Eucharist, and the use of distinctive vestments for the Sacraments. Those who still fancy that obedience is insular would do well to consider seriously what alternative they have to propose. They will find that the only alternative is anarchy, under which each parson may set up his own ideas of Church order and worship; and these ideas have persistently differed, not in details only, but in essentials, from the principles of the Church Catholic. By this system; or want of system, you may have a pseudo-Romanism in one parish, a pseudo-Puritanism in another, and a decorated worldliness in another, but in few will you have Catholic worship and order. Nor will you gain the respect or trust of the rest of the Church or of the world at large… But loyalty to the Prayer Book disarms the enemies of the Church, at the same time as it restores the effectiveness of her friends. And if we set–as we should–the fortunes of the Church Universal above those of our own communion, we shall still do well to remember that the weakening of Anglicanism would remove the greatest agency which God in His providence has left in the world for the reunion of Christendom."

I am inclined to agree with Dearmer. Our best way toward a restorative Christendom is through Anglicana’s own Mother Church. This seems to be Dearmer’s thesis– conformity to the BCP as the starting point for rejuvenation?

Return to Articles