The Anglican Patrimony, Part II
by Maximilian Hanlon

First the Prayer Book. Despite the amount of dated rhetoric that one typically finds in Catholic circles regarding Anglicanism, any superficial perusal of the 1662 Prayer Book or one of its predecessors (e.g. the 1549 Book) or one of its pre-conciliar progeny (e.g. the 1928 American Book) will quickly surprise us with how Catholic it is. A history lesson is in order here. Catholics will typically say that Anglicanism began when Henry VIII led the English Church into open schism with Rome. That is only partially the case. While it is true that Protestants tried to use the schism to their advantage, the only thing Henry did to the Church in England was to declare himself the head of it and dissolve the monasteries. The rest of the Church’s medieval edifice, so to speak, was kept intact. Under the latter part of Henry’s rule, Lutherans and those who preached against mandatory clerical celibacy and monastic vows were often forced into exile or burned at the stake; those who preached against transubstantiation were tied, drawn, and quartered. The Latin liturgy remained officially unchanged for the most part (except that the Pope was no longer prayer for) and the iconoclasm which was to blaze under Bloody Bess (Elizabeth I) was officially discouraged except in a few rare instances. Things were so bad for the Protestant cause in England at the time that one Protestant remarked, “the King has gotten rid of the Pope, but not the popery.” Nevertheless, Archbishop Cranmer, who had come to power only by making the customary oath of allegiance to the Holy See, was able to implement two slight changes in the official liturgy. Three years before Henry’s death in 1547, Cranmer cum permissu regis published an English exhortation to prayer and an English litany to be used in processions.

Unfortunately, because the exhortation was novel, it was not included later in the Prayer Book. The litany, however, which was based on that used during Rogation day processions, was essentially the same as its medieval predecessor, except that the invocations of the saints at the beginning were significantly curtailed, although not altogether eliminated. In the first Prayer Book of 1549 the invocations were completely scrapped and in this truncated form the litany has endured as a standard feature of any Prayer Book.

All of this changed when Edward VI, the boy king, came to the throne. Cranmer, by now a full-fledged heresiarch, could at last openly implement his hellish and foul agenda against the old, medieval religion in an attempt to turn England into another Geneva, but the old devil proceeded craftily. He knew he could not impose upon the English people a new religion at once, for the peasantry and a significant portion of the nobility still held to the faith of their fathers. So he went about changing the faith of his countrymen gradually. The first major step was the first all-English Prayer Book in 1549, a glorious gem of English prose. In it, Cranmer and his minions translated, edited, and simplified the medieval Latin liturgy (primarily the Sarum Use to be more precise) with which they had all grown up. As with all of its later descendants, the 1549 Book includes the entire Anglican liturgy (except the Ordinal) and from it all future versions of the Prayer Book derive, chiefly the 1662 Book and the various colonial Prayer Books.

In my next installment, I shall consider the 1549 Prayer Book in some detail and take this history up until the death of Cranmer in 1556.


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