Prayer Book Society USA Conference 2018



Baptism from an 1810 English Book of Common Prayer (image source)

It was once again my pleasure to address the annual conference of the Prayer Book Society (USA), held in Savannah, Georgia, January 24–26, 2018, at Saint John’s Church. The theme of the conference was “The Prayer Book: Doctrine, Liturgy and Life.”

I was invited to speak on the Prayer Book and Baptism. The liturgical renewal movement of the twentieth century placed particular emphasis on what it regarded as a “recovery” of the full meaning of Christian initiation in baptism. In the Episcopal Church (USA), there has even been what has been described as a “baptismal revolution,” including a new “baptismal ecclesiology” that sees baptism and the “Baptismal Covenant” (as given in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) as the fundamental generative reality of the Church’s life. Such a view has important implications for other aspects of the Church’s life and liturgy: the rite of Confirmation is seen as entirely redundant; and Ordination is not a conferring of grace for a special ministry, but the setting aside of persons for a particular function who, by virtue of their baptism, already possess the fulness of grace. (The “baptismal ecclesiology” of the Episcopal Church is helpfully analysed in Colin Podmore, “The Baptismal Revolution in the American Episcopal Church: Baptismal Ecclesiology and the Baptismal Covenant,” Ecclesiology 6, no. 1 (2010): 8–38.)

My paper’s title was “The Twentieth-Century Baptismal Revolution: Is the Classical Prayer Book Really Obsolete?” Rather than directly tackling the very weak foundations of contemporary assumptions about the meaning of baptism, I turned to two historic defenders of the Prayer Book—Richard Hooker (1554–1600) and Frederick Denison Maurice (1805–1872)—to see how they had used contemporary criticism and controversy about baptism as an occasion to uncover deeper meaning in the classical Prayer Book tradition of baptism. I noted that, rather than minimizing or glossing over aspects of the Prayer Book’s baptismal liturgy that had been found problematic, these two writers offered rich, positive defences. This, I suggested, ought to serve as a model for how we interpret and defend the Prayer Book in our own time.

I hope that an audio recording of the paper will eventually be available, and also that the paper will be included in the published Proceedings of the conference. In the meantime, I copy below a handout that was distributed to the audience for my paper, containing a series of quotations, largely from Hooker and Maurice, that were the foundation of my remarks.

1. The “Toronto Statement” (1991) of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation

The renewal of baptismal practice is an integral part of mission and evangelism. Liturgical texts must point beyond the life of the church to God’s mission in the world. . . . Baptism is complete sacramental initiation and leads to participation in the eucharist. Confirmation and other rites of affirmation have a continuing pastoral role in the renewal of faith among the baptized but are in no way to be seen as a completion of baptism or as necessary for admission to communion. . . .

Baptism affirms the royal dignity of every Christian and their call and empowering for active ministry within the mission of the church. . . A true understanding of baptism will bring with it a new expectancy about the ministry of each Christian. . . . Baptism gives Christians a vision of God’s just order; it makes the church a sign and instrument of the new world that God is establishing; it empowers Christians to strive for justice and peace within society.

2. Opening exhortation of Prayer Book Baptism (1662 = USA 1789/1892, Canada 1922)

Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin, and that our Saviour Christ saith, None can enter into the kingdom of God except he be regenerate and born anew of water and of the holy Ghost; I beseech you to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his bounteous mercy he will grant to this child that thing which by nature he cannot have, that he may be baptized with water and the holy Ghost, and received into Christs holy Church, and be made a lively member of the same.

England Proposed 1928 USA 1928 Canada 1959
Beloved in Christ Jesus,

seeing that all men are from their birth prone to sin, but that God willeth all men to be saved, for God is love:

and that our Saviour Christ saith,

None can enter into the

kingdom of God,

except he be

born anew of water and

of the Holy Ghost;

I beseech you to call upon God the Father,

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

that of his bounteous mercy

he will grant to this child,

that thing which by nature

he cannot have,

that he may be baptized with water

and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ’s Holy Church, and be made a living member of the same.

Dearly beloved,

forasmuch as


our Saviour Christ saith,

None can enter into the

Kingdom of God,

except he be regenerate and

born anew of Water and

of the Holy Ghost;

I beseech you to call upon God the Father,

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

that of his bounteous mercy

he will grant to this Child (or Person)

that which by nature

he cannot have;

that he may be baptized with Water

and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ’s holy Church, and be made a living member of the same.

Dearly beloved in Christ,

seeing that God willeth all men to be saved from the fault and corruption of the nature which they inherit, as well as from the actual sins which they commit, and that our Saviour Christ saith,

None can enter into the

kingdom of God,

except he be

born anew of Water and

of the Holy Spirit,

I beseech you to call upon God the Father,

through our Lord Jesus Christ,


he will grant to this Child

that which by nature

he cannot have;

that he may be baptized with Water

and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ’s holy Church, and be made a living member of the same.

3. Pierre Berton on the Canadian Prayer Book Baptismal Liturgy (1922)

Twelve years after this incident, the Anglican Church finally published a revised prayer book. In addition to spelling English words like “publick” in the modern manner, there were some other notable changes and omissions. The phrase “conceived and born in sin” is gone forever. That and certain other significant events and portents suggest that the Church may be struggling to make a genuine and honest effort to join the twentieth century, that, indeed, it may be on the verge of a fundamental revolution as earth-shaking as the Lutheran Reformation.

But I wonder if that revolution will come in time?

(The Comfortable Pew, 25)

4. The Admonition to the Parliament (1572) on Baptism

The publique baptisme, that also is full of childishe & superstitious toyes. First in their prayer they say that God by the baptisme of his sonne Jesus Christ, did sanctify the floude Jordan and all other waters, to the mysticall washing away of sinne, attributing that to the signe which is propre to the worke of God in the bloud of Christe, as though vertue were in water, to washe away sinnes. Secondly, they require a promisse of the godfathers and godmothers (as they terme them) which is not in their powers to perform. Thirdly, they prophane holye baptisme, in toying folishly, for that they aske questions of an infante, which can not answere, and speake unto them, as was wont to be spoken unto men, and unto such as being converted, answered for themselves, & were baptized. Which is but a mockerie of God, and therefore against the holy scriptures. Fourthly, they do superstitiously and wickedly institute a newe sacrament, which is proper to Christe only, marking the childe in the forheade with a crosse, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confesse the faith of Christ. We have made mention before of that wicked devorse of the worde and sacramentes. We say nothing of those that are admitted to be witnesses, what ill choise there is made of them, howe conveniente it were, seeing the children of the faithfull only are to be baptized, that the father should and mighte, if conveniently, offer and present his child to be baptized, making an open confession of that faithe, wherein he would have his childe baptized, and how this is used in well ordered churches.

(Frere, Puritan Manifestoes, 26–27)

5. Directory for Public Worship (1645) on Baptism

That the water, in baptism, representeth and signifieth both the blood of Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and actual; and the sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the dominion of sin, and the corruption of our sinful nature: That baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifieth the cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ. . .

That the promise is made to believers and their seed; and that the seed and posterity of the faithful, born within the church, have, by their birth, interest in the covenant, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the church. . . . That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized: . . . and that outward baptism is not so necessary, that, through the want thereof, the infant is in danger of damnation.

6. Hooker on the Church’s spiritual parentage in baptism

Be it then that baptism belongeth to none but such as either believe presently, or else being infants are the children of believing parents. . . . It is the Church which doth offer them by the ministry of presentors. . . . Were it not against both equity and duty to refuse the mother of believers herself, and not to take her in this case for a faithful parent? It is not the virtue of our fathers nor the faith of any other that can give us the true holiness which we have by our new birth. Yet even through the common faith and spirit of God’s Church, (a thing which no quality of parents can prejudice,) I say through the faith of the Church of God undertaking the motherly care of our souls, so far forth we may be and are in our infancy sanctified, as to be thereby made sufficiently capable of baptism, and to be interessed in the rites of our new birth for their piety’s sake that offer us thereunto.

(Laws 5.64.5, ed. Keble, 2:315)

7. Hooker on being in Christ eternally vs. actually

We are therefore in God through Christ eternally according to that intent and purpose whereby we were chosen to be made his in this present world before the world itself was made, we are in God through the knowledge which is had of us, and the love which is borne towards us from everlasting. But in God we actually are no longer than only from the time of our actual adoption into the body of his true Church, into the fellowship of his children. For his Church he knoweth and loveth, so that they which are in Christ are thereby known to be in him. Our being in Christ by eternal foreknowledge saveth us not without our actual and real adoption into the fellowship of his saints in this present world.

(Laws 5.56.7, ed. Keble, 2:249)

8. Hooker on the necessity of water in baptism

Unless as the Spirit is a necessary inward cause, so Water were a necessary outward mean to our regeneration, what construction should we give unto those words wherein we are said to be new-born . . . even of water? [John 3:5] Why are we taught that with water God doth purify and cleanse his Church? [Eph. 5:26] Wherefore do the Apostles of Christ term baptism a bath of regeneration? [Tit. 3:5] What purpose had they in giving men advice to receive outward baptism, and in persuading them it did avail to remission of sins? [Acts 2:38]

(Laws 5.60.1, ed. Keble, 2:265)

9. The Admonition to the Parliament (1572, 2nd ed.) on Confirmation

As for confirmation which the papists and our men say was in times past Apostolical, grounding their opinion perhaps upon some dreame of Hierome, yet as they use it by the bishop alone, to them that lack both discretion and faithe, it is superstitious & not agreable to the word of God, but popish & pevishe. As though baptism were not already perfect, but neded confirmation, or as though the bishop coulde give the holy ghost.

(Frere, Puritan Manifestoes, 28n1)

10. Hooker on the distinction between baptism and confirmation

[We make] a distinction of grace infused into Christian men by degrees, planted in them at the first by baptism, after cherished, watered, and (be it spoken without offence) strengthened as by other virtuous offices which piety and true religion teacheth, even so by this very special benediction whereof we speak, the rite or ceremony of Confirmation.

(Laws 5.66.9, ed. Keble, 2:347–48)

11. Hooker on Holy Communion as the true “completion” of baptism

Yet then doth baptism challenge to itself but the inchoation of those graces, the consummation whereof dependeth on mysteries ensuing. We receive Christ Jesus in baptism once as the first beginner, in the eucharist often as being by continual degrees the finisher of our life.

(Laws 5.57.6, ed. Keble, 2:259)

12. “Regeneration” in the Prayer Book baptismal service

We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church. . . .

13. E. B. Pusey on “regenerate”

The plain letter of Scripture says, “We are saved by baptism”, and men say, “We are not saved by baptism”: our Lord says, “A man must be born of water and the Spirit”; man, that he need not, cannot be born of water: Scripture, that “we are saved by the washing of regeneration”; man, that we are not, but by regeneration, which is as a washing: . . . Surely they have entered into a most perilous path, which, unless they are checked in pursuing it, must end in the rejection of all Scripture truth which does not square with their own previous opinions.”

(Tracts for the Times, vol. 2, Preface, pp. v–vi)

14. Frederick Denison Maurice: a catena of quotations on baptismal regeneration

To be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is, it seems to me, to be admitted into that kingdom, which Christ said was at hand. (Sermons 1:124)

By your baptism you have been admitted into the family of God; the right of calling God your Father has been conferred upon you; the right of believing that he has redeemed you and reconciled you to himself; the right of approaching him at all times and in all places through his well-beloved Son. (Christmas Day, 28)

By your baptism God hath given you a portion in him who was made flesh.” (Christmas Day, 17)

He [the infant] does not by Baptism, faith, or by any other process, become a new creature, if by these words you mean anything else than that he is created anew in Christ Jesus, that he is grafted into Him, that he becomes the inheritor of His life and not of his own. (The Kingdom of Christ 1:119)

15. Maurice on the “problematic language” of the baptismal service for Infants

The Baptism for Infants, it is said, uses large, dangerous, unqualified language respecting the regeneration of little creatures incapable of repentance or faith; and then, by the awkward device of sponsors, tacitly confesses that these are necessary conditions to the attainment of the blessing. The Service for the adult assumes that repentance and faith have preceded the desire for Baptism, and yet it prays that the man then baptized may receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Now if it is not true that the proper constitution of man is his constitution in Christ, I acknowledge that nothing can be more strange than to claim that constitution for an infant. If our repentance and faith give us this constitution; if they make us that which God does not intend us to be; I admit that one who is conscious of nothing to repent of, who is incapable of faith, cannot, without the most fearful outrage of language and truth, be said to be made a child of God. . . . But . . . if it is needful to declare that repentance and faith whenever they shall appear proceed from God and not from the creature; . . . then I claim the Service for the Baptism of Infants as one of the great witnesses which God has provided for us of a truth which we are every hour in danger of losing. . . .

(The Church a Family, 46–47)

16. Maurice on the “problematic language” of the baptismal service for adults

So again, the Service of Baptism for Riper Years is false in its whole conception, if a man by his repentance and faith has already obtained what he wants, or if all which God promises to give him is a certain amount of security that he shall not be punished hereafter, a certain amount of hope that he shall be rewarded hereafter. If this be what the Scripture means by entering the kingdom of Heaven, doubtless the prayer that a man who has given that which is demanded of him may receive the Holy Ghost, is the idlest of all prayers. But . . . if what scripture does assume is that the penitent man claims the promise that God will be his Father, and will receive him into his family, and will enable him to take some place in that family, as the servant and helper and dispenser of God’s grace to his brethren; then it surely is most desirable that he, penitent and believing, should be assured that he has that grace which he seeks, that he is received as a member of that body in which the Spirit of God has promised to abide.

(The Church a Family, 47–48)

17. Two separate gifts of the Spirit in 1662 Baptism

Before Interrogatories (both infants and Riper Years) Before Interrogatories (reception after private baptism) After Water Baptism

(Riper Years)

Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we give thee humble thanks, that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace, and faith in thee: Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give thy Holy Spirit to this Infant, that he may be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we give thee humble thanks, that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace, and faith in thee: Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give thy Holy Spirit to this Infant, that he being born again, and made an heir of everlasting salvation, through our Lord Jesus Christ, may continue thy servant, and attain thy promise, through the same our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son,who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. We yield thee humble thanks, O heavenly Father, that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace, and faith in thee. Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give thy holy Spirit to these persons, that being now born again, and made heirs of everlasting salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, they may continue thy servants, and attain thy promises, through the same Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same holy Spirit everlastingly. Amen.

18. Maurice: Confirmation an act of God

Evidently the name points to a blessing already conferred. That which is not yet given to us, cannot be confirmed. Evidently also the Confirmation must correspond in its kind and character to that which has preceded it. If the Baptism has been merely an act of faith on the part of the parents, or as a formality on the part of the Church, the other Service [i.e. Confirmation] will be so likewise. If the first act claims to be an expression of the Divine Will, the other must put forth something of the same pretension. . . . Confirmation can never be merely, what some of its recent apologists would make it to be, an act of conscious faith, on the part of the child, in God’s promises. To be that, it must be more. A living God must be the foundation of all our services, not only the end of them.

(The Church a Family, 72, 79–80)

19. Maurice: Confirmation does not “complete” baptism

If Confirmation raises itself to the level of Baptism, it simply sets aside its own meaning. . . . But there may be something in the nature of Baptism which demands another act to carry out and fulfil its intention. There may be the greatest danger of an act which imports a spiritual relation, being supposed to belong to a single moment of our existence, when it should stretch its power and mystery over the whole of it. . . .We want something not to make baptism more complete, but to shew how complete it is; not to explain away or mitigate the idea into which it had led us of the child’s glory and blessedness; but to prevent the idea from being changed into a very low, poor, ungodly conceit of our own.

(The Church a Family, 75–77)

20. Richard J. Bernier: Confirmation a ritual Pentecost

For a baptized Christian, what is new at Confirmation is not the gift of the Holy Spirit, not even the mission of the Holy Spirit, but the visible mission of the Holy Spirit—where hand-laying and chrism stand in for the dove, the tongues of flame, and the apostolic hand-laying—to inaugurate one’s mature mission in the Church to the world, one’s call to be a persuasive witness. By extension, what is new at Confirmation is the identity—the character—of having partaken of the visible mission of the Spirit and thus having received the commission to witness persuasively.

(Richard J. Bernier, “The Sacrament of Confirmation in Roman Catholic Tradition: A History of Interpretations and a Proposal for Integration” [PhD diss., McGill University, 2014], 271.)

21. William Temple: Two stages of receiving the Spirit

At present it is rather in the apostolic company than in the individual disciples severally that the power is at work—he abideth with you. He will later indwell each one—he shall be in you. That is the necessary order. We are brought to Christ and received by Him into the fellowship of His Church; in that company we find the Spirit at work; as we are shaped and moulded by His influence thus diffused and exercised, we begin to find it within ourselves; this individual experience of the Spirit is normally subsequent to, and consequent upon, our experience of His activity in the Church or Christian fellowship. The two stages are marked ritually by Baptism and Confirmation.

The coming of the Spirit is in a sense a coming of Christ Himself; so the Lord can pass in His teaching from one to the other. For St. John, as we shall see more clearly later, the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection is the Day of the Advent of the Spirit. It is not true that the Risen Christ and the Spirit are identified; but it is true that the appearance of the one is the occasion for the full bestowal of the other ([John] xx, 22). That is not at all inconsistent with the record of Acts that there was a signal manifestation of the power of the Spirit at the ensuing feast of Pentecost: indeed the picture of a period of ‘waiting’ after the initial bestowal of the gift, while it worked in the apostolic band like yeast in the dough, till at last it broke forth in a vast release of energy, is psychologically most probable.

(Readings in St. John’s Gospel, 2nd ser., 241–42)

22. Bonus Quotation: Roland F. Palmer on Baptism

The question arises in some people’s minds, “What good can a little water do to a baby?” Little things often do matter very much. A little ink in the signature on the bottom of a cheque makes a great difference to its value. Baptism starts with a ceremony, but that is not the end. Baptism is a stream which never ends short of the throne of God in Heaven. A little water bubbles up in a spring back in the hills. It is hardly noticed. It flows on to become a stream, a river, and finally reaches the ocean. Baptism is the stream of God’s love and favour. We place our beloved child in that stream and, unless he deliberately climbs out of it by wilful and unrepented sins, he ill be carried through life and the gate of death on to a glorious resurrection. A fish breathes the water through its gills. If it fails to do so, it dies and floats to the surface to be cast upon the bank. The Christian lives constantly through the life and strength of Christ, helped along by that stream and using his own energies to swim. The means by which he uses the grace of his Baptism are constant repentance and constant faith all his life long.

Repentance and faith are the requirements for receiving Baptism. These requirements do not cease with the Service, as though a person could repent and believe once for a short time, and then cease to do so. Just as the stream of God’s grace and favour, which is Baptism, never ceases in this life, so the requirements of repentance and faith never cease. The Ceremony, with the use of the outward and visible sign of water, is the necessary beginning. The promises of repentance and faith are also part of this necessary beginning. They are not the end. The gift of God, eternal life through Jesus Christ, goes on for ever. It is made available to the person in Baptism, and Baptism is a pledge to assure him that he has possession of that life. But it is one thing to possess a gift, and another thing to make use of it. A miser may possess great riches, and yet starve to death.

Why baptize small children who cannot understand? Baptism is a gift from God, and you do not have to understand in order to receive a gift. No parent would say “You cannot give my baby a hundred dollars because he does not understand money,” but rather “Thank you, we will take care of the gift and teach the child to use it as he has need of it.” Christian parents want their children to be in God’s family from the start, not to wait until they have wandered away and fallen into great sin, and then win them back. They can receive the gift, and then can be taught that they possess that gift, and how to use it by repentance and faith. We older folk should ask ourselves how well we are using our baptismal gift. Make a fresh start in repentance and faith now. It is not “I was baptized a long time ago,” but “I am baptized. I am a baptized person right now.”

Roland F. Palmer, His Worthy Praise: On Worship According to the Book of Common Prayer (Canada 1959) (Toronto: Anglican Church of Canada, 1959; rev. 1963), 106–107

The Stars at Night…


Last month (October 20, 2017) I was delighted to speak at a one-day Colloquium sponsored by the Prayer Book Society of the United States at the Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas, where we were kindly hosted by the rector, the Rt. Rev. Anthony Burton (formerly Bishop of Saskatchewan), himself a learned and sensitive student of the Prayer Book tradition.

The title of the event was “Revising the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church: Can a Thousand Flowers Bloom?” The title was a cheeky reference to Chairman Mao’s 1956 invitation to Chinese intellectuals to voice any criticisms they had of communism: “Let a hundred flowers bloom, and let a hundred schools of thought contend.” (Of course, the following year he promptly squashed all “rightists” who had voiced dissent.) The current conference asked, by contrast, whether a motion passed by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention asking the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to prepare options for a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer might lead to the permissive authorization of an even greater variety of liturgical rites in the Episcopal Church than currently exists—or, on the contrary, whether this might spell the end of more traditional liturgical options.

This was rather a daring event for the Prayer Book Society to sponsor, since its focus has been on the preservation and promotion of the 1928 American Prayer Book, not the 1979 compilation that laid claim the title “Book of Common Prayer.” (One of the points raised in the colloquium was that other provinces of the Anglican Communion had not, in fact, replaced their classical Prayer Books as the Episcopal Church did: rather, they authorized official alternatives.) I gather that it is hoped that the Prayer Book Society might make common cause with those who love and use the traditional-language “Rite 1” in the 1979 BCP. Initial surveys taken by the PBS suggest that this rite is in fact very, very widely used. Any attempt to delete it from the 1979 BCP, or to dilute its contents, would probably meet with considerable resistance.

My own contribution was itself a bit cheeky. My title was “The Mysterium Anglicanum and the New Puritans.” I compared the assured certainty of twentieth-century liturgical scholarship (founded on what has proved the shifting sand of the [Pseudo]-Hippolytan Apostolic Tradition) to the assured certainty of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Puritans, who despised the Book of Common Prayer and looked to the liturgical model of Calvinist Geneva, which they believed had recovered a truly scriptural and apostolic form of worship. The great Puritan divine Richard Baxter famously composed a complete liturgical book (known as the Savoy Liturgy), which he proposed should be added as an alternative to the classical Book of Common Prayer—just like Rite 1 and Rite 2 in the 1979 American BCP.

The ground has fallen out from under both “Puritan” claims, and this leaves us free to evaluate the classical Prayer Book tradition (what I have dubbed the Mysterium Anglicanum, borrowing a twelfth-century description of the medieval Milanese liturgy as the Mysterium Ambrosianum) on its historical, theological, and pastoral merits. As I always hammer away to my students at Trinity College, the Book of Common Prayer is “the Tradition of the Church (what the Church has always done) expressed within the compass of Scriptural language (which limits what the Church can say).” This, I suggest, is the true basis of Anglican comprehensiveness. It may aggravate some Evangelicals (who are suspicious of tradition) and may frustrate some Anglo-Catholics (who want to say more than scripture lets them); but it is, for all that, as Nicholas Ferrar said, “The right, good old way.”

A lightly revised version of my paper should appear in a forthcoming edition of Anglican Way magazine.