Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"doctrine, discipline and worship. . . .of the church"

One of the hallmarks of the traditional prayer books is the phrase, "doctrine, discipline and worship." Most of us think we know what the Church taught or at least what it intended to teach before the current crisis. Why? Well, we found it in Holy Scripture which we either heard it as read in the offices or the lessons at the eucharist in Church or read it in the Bible; we said it the creeds and (mostly) from the pulpit. But now there are many of us who hardly know what to believe or what the standards of the Church really are. So where do we find and what is the authoritative source of the doctrine of the Church and of the Book of Common Prayer? Is it in the prayer book itself or the Articles or the Homilies? What do we tell people who ask?

My answer has always been a very simple one and one that I was surprised to find was incorporated into the English canons. I would point out that the Church taught what the Bible said as interpreted by those most likely to understand the meaning of disputed passages. The first Queen Elizabeth put it this way: "We and our people-Thanks be to God-follow no novel and strange religions, but that very religion which is ordained by Christ, sanctioned by the primitive and Catholic Church and approved by the consistent mind and voice of the early Fathers." Since we in the American Church express our believe in the Catholic Church in our recitation of the Apostles and Nicene creeds, we should not be surprised that we are supposed to hold and believe what the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught. Nor should we be surprised that the English Church incorporated this into her canons in 1571 ordering preachers to "See to it that you teach nothing. . .which you would have religiously held and believed by the people, save what is agreeable to the teaching of the Old or New Testament, and what the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from this self-same doctrine."

Now this is all well and good for those of us who have always seen the English Church and its daughter churches as the Catholic Church of the English speaking countries, but we must also be aware that there are and have been many of our co-religionists who despite what the prayer book requires us to say in the offices and in Holy Communion believe that they and the Anglican churches are essentially "protestant" in the same sense that Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches are "protestant." Indeed, when the priest who is rector or vicar of a parish or mission he tends to see it that the services of the Church are presented in a fashion that violates the plain teaching of the prayer book tradition by making the service of Morning Prayer with offretory and sermon the most prominent Sunday offering of the Church. As things now stand he may flip that service with Holy Communion on an every other Sunday schedule, but in the past one was lucky to find Holy Communion as the main service on more than one Sunday in the month. And these priests and their followers were much more likely to find the church's teachings in the writings of Calvin or Luther rather than in Holy Scripture as interpreted by the fathers, the creeds and the theological decrees of the universally accepted general councils. In fact, they were just as willing to attempt to pass off the writings of the latest non-Anglican theologian as what the Church "really meant."

So what do we do?

Rather than attempt to re-invent the wheel, I thought it would be a good idea to publish my list of books which I think offer the best summary of what the Church teaches and that we should believe. They may not be "high theology," but they are good theology for those who need the Church's teaching clearly stated. I do this because, unlike the time when I was growing up and going to college, the books which one is most likely to find on the shelves of your local book seller will not be written by orthodox Anglicans or even by Biblical Christians. And that means that is one wants a true Christian education one must haunt the used book stores or deal with folks like
The List:
Lewis, Clive Staples, Mere Christianity
Sayers, Dorothy The Mind of the Maker
The Man Born to be King
Bicknell A Theological Introduction to the Thirty Nine Articles
Moss, The Christian Faith
Mascall, E. L. Opera. (Latin for 'works' which would mean anything Mascall wrote)


Alice C. Linsley said...

A terrific reading list. I'm reading The Narnia Chronicles again. I always find new symbolism I had overlooked when reading before.

Have you read Sayers' Lost Tools of Learning? It is available here:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Dear Canon Tallis,

I remember now that you left a comment on this entry. Did you also read the Response to Sayers' Lost Tools? It is here:

Canon Tallis said...


I am very glad that you liked my theological kindergarten. To me it represents a sort of bare minimun list that should be read and re-read in order to begin to understand the grandeur of Christian Theology.

I, fortunately, went to a grade school in a small town in Oklahoma which in retrospect seemed to function on the basis of Sayer's Lost Tools. They could not teach us Greek or Latin so they make sure that we knew and understood English which surely was the Latin of the last century and maybe of this also. I had no idea how much classical logic they had taught us until I took two courses in it at university. They turned out to be like review work. I only wish that my own children had received something like the same education somewhere other than the dinner table.

Anonymous said...

"See to it that you teach nothing. . . which you would have religiously held and believed by the people, save what is agreeable to the teaching of the Old or New Testament, and what the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from this self-same doctrine."

How unfortunate that this Canon was never seriously enforced in the C. of E. Conforming Puritans, and in more recent times (1) Liberal and Liberation Theologians, and (2) Anglo-Catholic Theologians have either knowingly or reckless violated the Canon, which strives to enjoin the dogmatic (though not liturigical spiritual) minmalism and rectitude of the Undivided Church.

Were the Canon followed, no preacher would ever need to go beyond, or even deeply into, St John Damascene's Exposition or Vernon Staley's Catechism. And that is as it should be -- Christianity being a Faith, a Way of Life, not an occasion for intellectual indulgence or 'masturbation.' (Pardon my French, by I think this drives home the point against Scholasticism, Papal and Protestant alike.

Anonymous said...

Browne's commentary on the 39 Articles is also very good for explaining the PROBABLE motivation and intended meaning behind each Article, particularly in demonstrating how each Article differs from (Protestant) Continental or (Roman) Catholic thought.

Canon Tallis said...

Death Bredon,
I actually think that the canon was followed much better than we might be inclined to think. If it had not been Anglicanism would have collapsed much sooner and we would be left with even greater ruins that is now the case. Instead there are those of us who know what it was intended to be and some places where it comes close to being so.
I remember a time so very long ago when the rector of my church was teaching the faith to a class of seventh and and eighth graders. One of them surprised him with a very astute theological question which required more than a simple answer. He paused for a moment and then began quoting Hooker and Thomas Acquinas as if their words were his own. I was astounded at the reaction of the class whose heads nodded affirmatively as the explanation continued. At the end the qwestioner responded, "That makes sense; I am surprised I didn't think of it myself." And they went on with the class.
You may think this story extraordinary, but it seemed such an ordinary happening in such an ordinary place, a place where the Gospel as delivered by our Lord and Saviour was truly known and truly practised. But it was also a place where Morning and Evening Prayer were read in the church every single day and no prayer book holy day escaped without a celebration of the eucharist. We need so many more places to replace it for the new heresies have destroyed what it was albeit the building remains but the angels don't sing there anymore.