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Episcopalians Deceived. 1928 vs 1979 - Deception revealed

Episcopalians Deceived. 1928 vs 1979 - Deception revealed

by Roberta Bayer
September 29, 20o9

Those who wonder why the Episcopal Church Church accepted such a radical revision

of the historic Book of Common Prayer in 1979 might profit from reading an article archived

at episcopalnet.org: "How Episcopalians were Deceived", by Francis W. Read , written for the New Oxford Review in 1981. He reveals that the authors of the new book resorted to deception in order to introduce a new theology into the church, ignoring their critics and lying about their true intent.

Read's evidence comes from an essay written by Urban T. Holmes in the book Worship Points the Way - a celebration of the life and work of Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr. Holmes, one of the architects of the new prayer book, was aware that the new book had replaced the classical Anglican theology with changed ideas about the relation of Man to God. But fearing opposition from lay and ordained members of the church, he and the Stand- ing Liturgical Committee, chose to lull people into thinking that it was a gentle revision of the older liturgy, rather than address their critics head on.

Urban T. Holmes was one of a group of mid-century theologians who wanted to incorporate a new understanding of the Christian 'experience' of God into the liturgy. Holmes named Heidegger, Husserl, Rahner, and Ricoeur, as influences on his work, and adopted their thinking even though he was aware that their theology and philosophy could not be reconciled with that of Classical Anglicanism. He thought that liturgical revision was the way to open up the church to this new understanding of Man and God, what he called 'Logos Christology'.

It alone, he claimed, could reach the 'new breed of clergy' of the late twentieth century. The "church has awakened to the demise of classical theology," he wrote. Classical Anglican theology was outdated and could not speak to our contemporary world as could this new theology. It captured our experience, as Cranmer had captured the experience of the men of the 16th century.

This meant that he held what might loosely be called 'post-modern' ideas about the relativity of truth, ideas that can also be called 'historicist'. Holmes was convinced that classical theology was bankrupt because the passing of history made it irrelevant, because our self-understanding and faith in God is shaped by our time and culture, not by a transcendent and universal truth. This is a contentious idea.

Nonetheless Holmes cited the eminent German theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar in his defense: "As Hans Urs von Balthasar stated, we discovered that 'man has attained a new stage of his religious consciousness'." (In von Balthasar's defence, he had argued for a renewed philosophical and theological approach to historical theology, his intent being to restore interest in the Church Fathers in contemporary terms, not to dismiss it.)

But for Holmes, von Balthasar's learned defense of the idea that consciousness and reason are culturally embedded was an excuse to argue that liturgy must be brought in line with the latest theological innovations.

What should have occurred with the introduction of the new liturgy was open discussion within the Episcopal Church, among Bishops and leading theologians, as to whether or not this new theology was something that should or could replace the 'classical theology' of the Book of Common Prayer. Or even better, whether or not consciousness is culturally embedded, and truth relative. But instead Holmes, and one supposes all the other members of the Standing Liturgical Committee, closed down discussion because they sensed that such a discussion would go against them, and opposition would be intractable. Consequently they employed subterfuge.

Deception was needed to introduce the new Confirmation Rite. Holmes remarked that he thought that the "old understanding of Confirmation was theologically, historically, and psychologically untenable." But as they had neither the time nor the patience to educate the Bishops who were to approve the new Prayer Book, when there was vocal opposition, the SLC claimed that there was no theological change. The alternative to facing difficult questions was "to make the Confirmation rite as ambiguous as possible." In this way the lit- urgy could also take a step towards a new 'theological clarity.'

When the Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer (SPBCP) as it was then called, challenged the theological underpinning of the new book they were ignored. Urban T. Holmes rather rejoiced in their failure:

They were correct when they said, as they did repeatedly and sometimes abrasively, that the theologies of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and STU (Services for Trial Use. i.e., what was to become the 1979 book) were different. The SLC probably was strategically wise in not affirming this too loudly, but its members knew that the SPBCP was correct. There is a clear theological change.

The liturgists succeeded because Episcopalians did not understand what was happening. The 1979 Prayer Book is a liturgy pioneered by epigones of Heidegger, Husserl, and Ricoeur. Francis W. Read concluded that in Denver in 1978 Episcopalians were sold a bill of goods.

---Roberta Bayer is the Editor of MANDATE magazine the official organ of the Prayer Book Society

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