The Polyepiscopacy of the Early Church

An intriguing (and sensible) suggestion from Trevor Gervase Jalland’s The Church and the Papacy:

Though there are, as we believe, adequate grounds for rejecting the view that Clement formally identifies episcopi with presbyters, yet in the face of this evidence it appears equally impossible to deny that he refers to the episcopate in a way that suggests that it was held by more than one person in a single community. It may be pointed out further that we are bound to infer from Clement’s description that the function of the episcopate at this time was purely and solely liturgical. Thus it may well be that his frequent use of liturgical language, to which commentators on this document repeatedly call attention, is due to his deep sense of the outrage which has been committed by unjustly depriving ministers of the liturgy of their peculiar office.

If it be asked how this plurality of the episcopate arose, it is impossible to offer more than conjecture in reply. It is probable from the evidence in Acts, I Corinthians and Romans that the primitive basis of Christian liturgical organization was the ‘house church’, such as that of Prisca at Rome. It is equally probable on the same evidence that in large centres of population such as Rome and Corinth, more than one such ‘house church’ would be acquired at an early date by rapidly expanding community. Now when an Apostle was present, to him would properly belong the privilege of ‘Breaking Bread’, as in Acts XIX. But to whom would it be assigned in the Apostle’s absence? The natural inference from Clement, who evidently refers to established and recognized custom, is that it would be given to an episcopus, and thus a plurality of house churches would at first naturally lead to a plurality of episcopi. (p. 80)

Jalland goes on to describe how this polyepiscopate morphed into the “monoepiscopate” normative in Anglicanism (well, sort of,) Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  But his concept solves many of the problems in sorting out the leadership offices described in the New Testament and shortly afterwards.

What Jalland is describing is what has come back as a kind of cell group system.  And, when I read this, I said to myself, “Score one for those in the Church of God who wanted to call the highest ministerial rank ‘bishop’ and not just those who supervise a region.”

Jalland also assumes that these bishops had liturgical duties from the beginning, and the whole idea of liturgical worship in the New Testament church is a complete freak-out for much of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity.

Appeal for the Abaco Islands, and Mercy Chefs — Chet Aero Marine

Readers of this blog will know that my family goes back a long way visiting the Bahamas in general and the Abaco Islands in particular. We had some exciting times, almost sending our ship to the bottom and riding out a storm. This beautiful paradise, which looked like this when we visited: Now looks like […]

via Appeal for the Abaco Islands, and Mercy Chefs — Chet Aero Marine

Elevations on the Mysteries VI: On Original Sin — The Bossuet Project

This is the sixth journey of Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, the elevations are as follows: All men in one man. First foundation of God’s justice in original sin. The father rewarded and punished in children, second foundation of God’s righteousness in original sin. The original justice of which Adam was deprived for himself and […]

via Elevations on the Mysteries VI: On Original Sin — The Bossuet Project

Book Review: Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s Studies in the History of the Book of Common Prayer

For some reason, I’ve suddenly become the defender of things and people Anglo-Catholic.  I’ve always been ambivalent about Anglo-Catholicism, from the “unEnglish and unmanly” aspect to their implicit lack of confidence in their own sacraments.   I think what’s changed is the fact that I find myself locking horns with Reformed types both inside and outside of the Anglican/Episcopal world.  They’re like George W. Bush: you’re either with them or against them, and there’s no middle ground.  (They are having their problems these days…)

So it was with anticipation that I took up the reading of another Anglo-Catholic classic: Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s Studies in the History of the Book of Common Prayer.   I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a book of his before and this one was a delight as well, well written as the other.  It’s main focus is the history of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England from the Act of Supremacy until the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was issued in the wake of the demise of the Commonwealth.  The facts (and certainly the prayer books issued during the period) are generally not in dispute; their meaning certainly is, and Luckock definitely has a point of view that needs to be heard.

Luckock actually starts with the beginning of Christianity in Britain, and then its reintroduction with Augustine of Canterbury’s mission.  Same Augustine found the use of Gallican liturgies on the island, and he wrote to his superior, Pope Gregory I, asking permission to suppress these liturgies in favour of the Roman Rite.  He got a smack-down from the Pope, who wasn’t as zealous for the Roman way as Augustine was.  Eventually the Roman liturgy was adopted in Britain, but variations persisted right up to the time of the English Reformation.

The main result of Henry VIII’s takeover of the English church was the dissolution of the monasteries and the transfer of the headship of the church to himself; it was decidedly conservative, and even extended to the prohibition of the Bible in English, as Tyndale found out the hard way.  The need for reform was strongly felt, and with Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the way was cleared for that to take place.  A committee of revision was appointed (whose members had a spectrum of views,) the existing multiple service books inherited from Roman times condensed and simplified into one book, and, with both the need for reform and the desire for continuity in mind, in 1549 the first Book of Common Prayer was set forth to the Anglican world, with an Act of Uniformity to insure that it was followed.

That promulgation was not without controversy.  The most serious blow back came from (surprise!) a Celtic part of Britain, namely Cornwall.  In a reaction that would make Grady McWhiney proud, the Cornish decided that they wanted to start a Jihad like the Muslims did!  Part of the problem was that, in the committee’s zeal to produce a liturgy in a language the people understood, they overlooked the fact that the Cornish understood neither the old Latin nor the new English!  There were also controversies about the redistribution of the seized monastic properties, most of which went to noblemen and other already powerful people.  The English put the rebellion down in typically brutal fashion, which (here and elsewhere) helped accelerate the massive emigration the British Isles experienced over the next several centuries, filling up two continents with people who wanted or had to leave.

The 1549 Book should have put an end to the matter, but at this point the critical moment came in Anglican history.  That critical moment was encouraged by the three troublemakers from the Continent: John à Lásco, Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer.  Along with their domestic allies of a Puritan idea, they centred their objections to the 1549 Book with several points of doctrine and practice.

The first is their advocacy of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, which they embraced with varying degrees.  (The important thing about the Reformers is not only did they disagree with the Pope but with each other.)

The second is their horror of the prayers for the dead, which they believed perpetuated the doctrine of Purgatory.

The third was their dislike of the use of vestments in worship, which they thought were worldly.  That dislike extended to academic regalia, and the connection between the two is an interesting side note in the history of both academia and Anglicanism.

There were other points but the main result was that there was a push to revise the prayer book with the ink on the first one barely dry, and the result was the 1552 Book of Common Prayer.  Luckock is not entirely negative on the changes but is obviously not pleased either.  He notes the immense impact that the Continental troublemakers had on Cranmer’s mind (as do his Reformed counterparts.)  With the brutal interlude of “Bloody Mary” this book, with a few further revisions, became the cornerstone of the Elizabethan Settlement, which brought a relative peace to the Church of England for the rest of the sixteenth century.

The unravelling of that peace, which lead to the English Civil War and the Commonwealth, is something that Luckock surprisingly skips over.  That’s unfortunately; it’s a good example of how Anglicanism and the move of the politics and culture of the time were locked with each other, as they have been of late.  But there’s a lesson to be learned.  Reformed Anglicans insist that the 1552 Book and its immediate successors are part of the proof that true Anglicanism is Reformed.  The core problem with that thesis from a historical point of view is that many of the Reformed Anglicans of the time (especially the Puritans) didn’t think that it was enough!  They were happy to dispense with liturgical worship altogether, something they basically managed to achieve under Oliver Cromwell.

That’s a good way to bring us to the last part of the book: the promulgation of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  As was the case with the earlier Books, a conference was called.  Luckock admits that the Puritans/Presbyterians (the “discontents,” as Luckock delightfully refers to them) had the stronger position going into the conference, but they overplayed their hand,  ultimately setting forth a “Reformed Liturgy” which would have represented a sea change in Anglican worship.  Ultimately Parliament took the older Prayer Books and, with a few more revisions, made the 1662 Book the official Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, which it is (in theory at least) until this day.

One interesting feature of Luckock’s narrative are the extensive appendices, which include one on the Hampton Court Conference.  This one was the Puritans’ strongest attempt (unsuccessful at the moment) to move the Church’s worship in a more Reformed direction, but its most important result was the authorisation of what became the King James Bible.  He also discusses the “Scotch Liturgy” which, as noted elsewhere, became the ancestor of the “Whiskeypalians” own liturgy.

As always, Luckock puts forth a delightfully written narrative which is contrapuntal to a great deal of conventional wisdom in the Anglican/Episcopal world.  Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s Studies in the History of the Book of Common Prayer is an interesting narrative about a crucial part of Anglican history, and as such is commended.