7 September 2023

The 1928 Anglican Prayer Book

Happily, the House of Commons in 1928 showed a lamentable lack of interest in the great project to Byzantinise the Anglican Eucharistic Prayer by adding to it an Orientalising Epiclesis of the Spirit; they threw the proposed rite out. That left the C of E with the 1662 Consecration Prayer and, officially, none other; this Prayer has a lot wrong with it, but in notable respects remains soberly and austerely Roman: action is humbly sought of the Father without arrogantly insisting that he is obliged to employ the Spirit to do it; and the old Roman concept - which also suited the Tudor mind - of stating a 'legal basis' for what is done ("according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ's holy institution") is retained. 

My recollection of the time forty years after 1928 is that in all the propaganda of the 1960s, advocating liturgical reform in the C of E, much was made of the 'deplorable' lack of mention of the agency of the Spirit in the Cranmerian rite. Quietly superior people murmured 'Tut tut tut, we know so much better now'. In other words, identical mischief was afoot in both communions. It is not always to be taken for granted that ecumenical convergence is convergence on the truth. It may be convergence on an identical error.

A basis for this disastrous ecumenical convergence was the high prestige of an old liturgical book which, in the 1960s, everybody believed was the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, and thus an early liturgical rite from Rome itself. It contained an Epiclesis of the Spirit. Current consensus has now abandoned this identification of authorship and place of origin, but it was so compelling half a century ago that all the committee-generated products of that decade which still clutter up Catholic and Anglican rites have got pneumatic epicleses all over them, like all those prickles on a Texan cactus. A very prolific, a thoroughly ecumenical, cuckoo was indeed at work! 

Dom Gregory Dix's role here is interesting. He had opposed the Anglican shenanigans of 1928 and remained strongly opposed to the silly game of introducing Oriental epicleses into Western liturgies. But, like everybody else, he had fallen victim to the 'Hippolytus' identification. His canny and accurate instincts told him that there could not have been an epiclesis in a Roman rite of the date then attributed to 'Hippolytus'; so, in an edition of 'Hippolytus' which he produced, he omitted the Epiclesis (to be fair to him, there was some textual evidence that justified this omission).

This sad tale of intrusive epiclesiphilia has an important moral: It is a bad idea to put all ones eggs into one basket. Academic fashions can change fast; it is an act of supreme historical arrogance for one decade to gamble on its own fads being Permanent Truth. It ends up with Cuckoo worship.

Another and very sinister motive for this fad has been suggested: to sabotage the inherited Western Catholic practices around the Consecratory Words of the Lord and thus to attack belief in Transubstantiation.

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