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One Book, several editions - by Dr. Peter Toon

One Book, several editions
The BCP in over 150 editions - and several counterfeits

by Peter Toon
September 17 2005

We are all familiar with the publication of one book in a USA edition with one form of spelling and punctuation, and then a British edition with another form of spelling and punctuation.

What applies to books applies to a host of things - e.g. cars and computers, where there is adaptation of engines and operating systems to local conditions. Then books are also translated into other languages, and so there are editions in those languages.

In this activity, the translators sometimes have to change an illustration or a form of words because if translated literally they would or could give the wrong impression in a different culture. Further, we are familiar with certain types of books - e.g., guide-books and encyclopedias - which have to be updated and so come out in new editions every so often.

Here I want to suggest that there has been, and is really and truly, one and one only Book of Common Prayer [BCP] and this has been produced in, and is available in, a variety of editions across the world. Also I want to suggest that since the 1970s there have been four books, called The BCP, which should not have been so called for they are not clearly and really editions of the one BCP.

First, back to the beginning. The BCP first appeared in 1549 in England and went through new editions in 1552, 1559, 1604 & 1662. Anyone looking at these editions can tell immediately that they are editions of one book and not four separate books that merely have a family likeness.

This one BCP in its 1662 edition was translated either in whole or part into 150 or more languages for use in the expanding British Empire. Further, there were editions of it prepared for use in Scotland, Ireland and the U.S.A. The latter edition of 1789 sought to edit the 1662 text so as to make it to be acceptable in a Republic (in contrast to a Monarchy) and to incorporate several changes in content based on the Scottish BCP; however, it retained the language, structure and basic content of the English edition of 1662 (see the Preface to the 1789 edition).

The point is that Liturgy is a living reality and thus the Rites used in any jurisdiction may over time and with wisdom be minimally improved or changed, as occasion requires, experience teaches and the Holy Ghost leads. Further, the way they are "used" may vary from place to place according to the local possibilities and circumstances (e.g., type of building and availability of musical instruments).

However, it is one thing gently to edit a Rite/Text/Service in the spirit of its structure, content and doctrine, and it is yet another thing to force it into a new structure and impose a new doctrine into it. In the 1970s the leadership of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. made a massive mistake - it decided that it could retain the Name of The BCP while changing the shape, content and doctrine of the Liturgy. Other Churches also produced new Prayer Books in the 1970s but they did not call them "The BCP." Rather, knowing full well that the new rites were wholly or very different from the classic BCP, they called their new books by appropriate titles such as Book of Alternative Services or A Prayer Book for Australia or the like.

In 1979 the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A, set aside The BCP it had known since 1789 and created as its Formulary a wholly new form of Prayer Book but retaining the old title (See further, Peter Toon, An Act of Piracy, from www. anglicanmarketplace.com). Regrettably, the Church in Wales did something similar in the 1980s, the Church of the West Indies in the 1990s and the Church in Ireland in 2004. So we have now at least four Provinces of the Anglican Family that have publicly engaged in an act of piracy by stealing the revered title of a much-used and much-loved and doctrinally authoritative Prayer Book for a new composition, which itself will probably be set aside for yet another type of book very soon.

This piracy is regrettably but one major illustration of what has been causing the present upheaval and crisis in the Anglican Way. Local autonomy and little respect for tradition and truth in provinces are causing the creation of centrifugal forces that cause disintegration, disarray and dissolution. Respect for the unity of the Anglican Way in basic Liturgy and doctrine is hard to find.

It may be too late to arrest these destructive centrifugal forces by the wise and fervent employment of unifying centripetal ones. It is possible that the Anglican Way in the West will cease to exist as a meaningful whole very soon, for it is breaking-up fast.

But let us not be too pessimistic.

One thing could be done immediately as a rescue attempt and as a starter to renewal. Those who want to be orthodox Anglicans and who are sickened by what is happening to the Anglican Way in the West could resolve together to be honest and work for unity. This would at least, for example, in the U.S.A. mean calling the 1979 prayer book by what it is - a Book of Varied Services, a book that is due for total replacement within the next few years by the ECUSA - and by restoring The BCP (1928 edition, via the 1662, 1789 & 1892 editions) to its rightful place as the Primary Formulary of the Anglican Way in the U.S.A.

If a modern-language service is desired and required alongside it, then why cannot that simply be a genuinely contemporary version of The BCP, so that there is unity in content and doctrine through the use of One set of Rites (available in traditional and contemporary English), with the original text being the Formulary?

Such an arrangement could easily allow for varieties of churchmanship and special, local circumstances. Why do there have to be in the ONE Anglican Way "Alternative Services" with a wholly different shape and structure and with a different doctrinal emphasis in competition with The BCP? What is wrong with a basic unity in Liturgy, with due allowance made for varied churchmanship and local conditions? Why not have comprehensiveness around one common center?

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford) is presidetn of the Prayer Book Society. He resides in Seattle, Washington.

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