BCP in the News!

In a development that would have been shocking — nay, unthinkable — not many years ago, the Anglican Church of Canada has published not one, but two articles, both by Matt Gardner, on the history and spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer:

The Historic Heritage of the Book of Common Prayer (February 14, 2017)

The Book of Common Prayer in Worship Today (February 21, 2017)

I had the pleasure to be interviewed for both of them. But mine is far from the only voice. Worth checking out!


Upcoming Conference: Anglicanism—Catholic and Reformed

In a few days I will be travelling to Savannah, Georgia, where I have been invited to give a paper at a conference sponsored by the Prayer Book Society of the USA and the Elliott House of Studies, February 16–18, 2017:

Anglicanism: Catholic and Reformed; Revisiting the Reformation Legacy, 1517–2017


A fuller explanation of the purpose and themes of the conference is here. There is also a draft programme of sessions available, but I gather that there have been a few adjustments. I myself am now tentatively scheduled to speak on Friday, February 17, at 1:45pm.

I plan to speak on the Book of Common Prayer as a “catholic” liturgy, arguing that an irreducible (even aggressive) Swiss Protestantism discerned in the book by scholars ever since Bishop and Gasquet’s ground-breaking book Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer isn’t the only, or indeed the obvious, explanation of Cranmer’s work. Rather, a pre-Reformation Erasmian philosophia Christi, giving priority to the simple Gospel message of scripture, found expression in a re-presentation of the Catholic tradition limited by a “biblical compass.”

This made possible the characteristic (and sometimes incoherent) “comprehensiveness” of Anglicanism. But once the continuity of the Prayer Book with Catholic tradition is recognized, the interpretation of the book will depend absolutely on an”ecclesial” reading of Scripture within that tradition. The Prayer Book says no more and no less about worship and sacraments than what scripture says. But scripture, as interpreted by the Church’s collective mind, says a great deal about these things indeed!

UPDATE: An audio recording of my paper at this conference can now be heard here: https://anglicanway.org/2017/05/22/audio-drs-joan-odonovan-george-westhaver-jesse-billet-pbs-conference-2017/

Crouse Memorial Lecture


On January 15, 2016, I had the honour of delivering the inaugural Robert Crouse Memorial Lecture in the chapel of the University of King’s College, Halifax. (Gallery of photos.) I never met Fr. Crouse, but his writings have been a great help and inspiration to me in my own work and faith. It was a privilege to spend a few days in the community that was so profoundly shaped by his thought and example.

The title of my lecture was “A Spirituality of the Word: The Medieval Roots of Traditional Anglican Worship.” In it, I took issue with the consensus of modern liturgical scholarship that it was a “Reformation Fallacy” (as Robert F. Taft dubbed it), undreamt of before Martin Luther, to put the reading of scripture at the centre of the Divine Office. I argued that this characteristically monastic mode of prayer was integral to English liturgical spirituality for a thousand years before the Reformation, and that one of the Reformation’s aims was to make it possible for the laity to participate in it fully.

I suggested that the fundamental turning point was in the fourth and fifth centuries, when the psalter in particular ceased to be treated as readings to be listened to, and was transformed into a collection of prayers to be recited as one’s own. (This had a significant musical impact: a whole choir of monks chanting the psalms together as prayer needed a much simpler, more regimented singing style than had been used by solo cantor-lectors. I sang some examples to illustrate the difference.)

In this new understanding, reciting the words of scripture became the principal means both to learn how to pray, and also to be transformed into the kind of person who can pray these words—an insight later picked up by Richard Hooker in his defence of the Book of Common Prayer. As someone suggested to me afterwards, praying the scriptures in the Divine Office “offers all that is needed by the human soul for its ongoing conversion, sanctification, and ultimate deification.”

Apart from such serious considerations, it was great fun to go over some of the complaints by medieval bishops and preachers about clerical misbehaviour during the liturgy. The canons of Exeter in the fourteenth century seem to have been especially incorrigible!

I hope that the text of the lecture will be published in due course.

[UPDATE: A lightly revised and expanded version of my lecture has now appeared in Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology 27, no. 2 (Spring 2018): 157–79. Google Preview (alas, not including my article) here.]

A New Authority in Pontifical Studies

Parkes, Henry. The Making of Liturgy in the Ottonian Church: Books, Music and Ritual in Mainz, 950–1050. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 4th ser., 100. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. (Google Books preview)

Reviewed: Billett, Jesse D. Journal of the American Musicological Society 69, no. 3 (Fall s2016): 831–35

Outstanding and highly readable book, destroying the hitherto universally accepted theory that the so-called Romano-German Pontifical (as reconstructed by the brilliant Michel Andrieu) was created in mid-tenth-century Mainz. The “RGP” turns out not really to have existed as a clearly defined book, and the texts found in it were circulating well before Mainz only entered the story near the end of the tenth century. Mainz already had a clearly defined “use” of its own, which was undergoing fascinating development in the tenth century, as Parkes shows in a series of illuminating manuscript case studies.

See also

Parkes, Henry. “Questioning the Authority of Vogel and Elzes Pontifical romano-germanique.” In Understanding Medieval Liturgy: Essays in Interpretation, edited by Helen Gittos and Sarah Hamilton, 75–101. Farnham: Ashgate, 2016. (Google Books preview)

Parkes has created a website that makes it easier to see how the standard edition of the RGP makes use of the comparatively few manuscript witnesses on which it is based:

“PRG Database: A Tool for Navigating Le pontifical romano-germanique, ed. Cyrille Vogel and Reinhard Elze.” http://database.prg.mus.cam.ac.uk

Liturgical Convergence?

Last month, I had the pleasure of giving the concluding address at a one-day symposium at Trinity College, Toronto, entitled “Healing Chalcedon: The Quest for Restored Communion Between the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox Churches 25 Years After the Agreed Statements.” The talks were recorded (with unfortunately very bad audio), and here is mine:

I spoke on “Liturgical Convergence as a Path to Christian Unity?” The question mark was important: my studies of medieval and Reformation liturgy have led me to conclude that the modern fad of receptive ecumenism has been deeply damaging to the true ecumenism that can only arise when we seriously engage with our own traditions, as well as those of separated Christians.

I would here note my indebtedness to Fr. Daniel Findikyan of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, who kindly sent me a copy of his article “Liturgical Usages and Controversy in History: How Much Diversity Can Unity Tolerate?” St. Nersess Theological Review 1, no. 2 (1996): 191-212. We sadly do not subscribe to this journal in Toronto! Persons familiar with Fr. Daniel’s work will recognize that several of my more memorable examples were drawn from this paper.

Another section of the talk relied on John H. Erickson’s “Beyond Dialogue: The Quest for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Unity Today” (2000, here).

It was a marvellous occasion, and it is hoped that all the papers will be published in some form.