The Ornament Rubric

two candles, rail, altar, lamp

Henrican Style: two candles, altar, single lamp, rail

Note: While this essay deals with the nuts-and-bolts of the Ornament Rubric, here is a more recent overview.

Perhaps the description of the Elizabethan Settlement, “protestant in doctrine, catholic in practice”, is  cliché? Anglican reformers treated worship (outside the sacraments and preaching) as ‘indifferent’, leaving England’s Christians to be governed by more general principles like ‘peace, unity, edification, and antiquity’ of her Church. However, in time, Hooker’s “four precepts” (distilled from the Prayer Book’s Preface) was eclipsed by the Puritan controversy against manual gestures, vestments, and various devotional customs. Evangelicals perhaps sympathetic to radical iconoclasm ought to reconsider the actual canonical standard which defined England’s catholic practice. Against extreme Presbyterian iconoclasm was the Prayer Book’s Ornament Rubric which, in her 1662 Morning Prayer, stated plainly,

“And here is to be noted, That such Ornaments of the Church, and of the Minister thereof and at all times of their Ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the authorization of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth”.

How was the Ornament Rubric to be understood? First, an Ornament is any furniture, vessel, art, vestment, fabric, or icon that otherwise might ordain worship in a church. Therefore, this prayer book rubric does much to delineate Anglican aesthetic.  There are two key phrases, ‘the Minister thereof and at all times of their Ministration”, meaning for all services (e.g., Matins, Vespers, Marriage, Communion, etc.), and “as retained, and be in use….in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI”. This date is the year 1549. What ornaments were ‘retained’ and/or “in use” in early 1548-1549?

The Victorian Reverend Percy Dearmer studied this question, and in 1897 drew up a list (in his Ornament of the Rubric paper). Since Edward’s monarchy began Jan. 28, 1547, his second year would have been between Jan. 28, 1548 to Jan. 27, 1549.  The Rev’d Dearmer makes a critical distinction between those ‘Acts and Articles’ from Henry VIII and Edward’s later Protestantism. The latter date, Jan. 27 1549, would have encompassed the first Prayer Book. Otherwise, with the exception of the Privy’s Council’s 1547 Injunctions, Henrican statutes defined aesthetic boundaries. The Prayer book says relatively little about ornaments (other than certain vestments to be worn during public prayer). However, the 1547 canons and Henrician articles say more.

Injunction Act 1547
Henry is known for flirting with Lutheran teachings but restoring old Roman Catholic usages in 1543.  Upon Henry’s death, the King’s protestant barons, namely Duke Seymour, on behalf of Edward’s minority passed an Injunction. Rev. Dearmer summed this Injunction, saying it removed,

“All relics, shrines, and everything connected with them were taken away, and all images which had been abused by offerings and other superstitious observances ; also all pictures which recorded ‘feigned miracles.’ Lights were no longer to be set before any such nor elsewhere in the church, except two before the Sacrament of the Altar… The Injunctions forbid certain uses of bells, and order the setting up in every church of a copy of the great Bible in some place where the parishioners could read it; and that a pulpit should be provided in every church that did not already possess one… The injunctions of 1547 order the provision of a chest with three keys near the high altar for alms”. (Ornaments of the Rubric 1893).

The 1547 Injunctions made important qualifications. Church steeple bells may be rung before the service. Processions were permitted, “in so far, at least, as they belonged to the service at the altar”. Percy also notes while Monstrances were in use during 1548, they were finally prohibited under both Edward and Elizabeth. Other rites like ‘stations of the cross’ (inside church) were introduced much later and are outside the 1549 cut-off date.

Despite these various restrictions, certain late-Henrican aesthetic lawfully continued into Edward’s early regency and was affirmed by Tudors. Permissible ornmanents included great stone and wood altars (vs. moveable tables of mid-1549); images of great saints;  rood screens; minor and portable altars; altar canopies, covers, and curtains; chancel carpets and tapestries; the pyx for reserves; lamps and candlesticks (given no more than two placed on altar); linens; the crucifix; the altar textus; chalice, paten, and spoons to serve communion; garlands; stools; organs; baptismal fonts; asperages, lavatories, along with washing basins; and pulpits plus lecterns, etc.. (Ornaments, 1893)   But these were canons not of greater authority than the prayer book rubric. Read about the nature of canons here.

Ten Articles 1536
The 1547 Injunction basically returned England to Henry’s Ten Articles as adopted by Convocation and Parliament in 1536. The Ten Articles, somewhat similar to the Lutheran, was England’s first confession, moving her in the direction of Wittenberg until 1552 whereupon Cranmer veered toward the Swiss (sic., Martin Bucer). Nonetheless, there is an appeal to primitive practice. The Ten Articles are interesting because they detail the rites which the 1559 Preface judges beneficial:

Art. IX. Of rites and ceremonies: “As concerning the rites and ceremonies of Christ’s church; as, to have such vestments in doing God’s service as be and have been most part used: as sprinkling of holy water, to put us in remembrance of our baptism, and the blood of Christ sprinkled for our redemption upon the cross: giving of holy bread, to put us in remembrance of the sacrament of the altar, that all Christian men be one body mystical of Christ, as the bread is made of many grains, and yet but one loaf; and to put us in remembrance of receiving of the holy sacrament and body of Christ, the which we ought to receive in right charity, which in the beginning of Christ’s church men did more often receive than they use nowadays to do: bearing of candles on Candlemas-day, in memory of Christ the spiritual light, of whom Simeon did prophesy, as is read in the church that day: giving of ashes on Ash-Wednesday, to put in remembrance every Christian man in the beginning of Lent and penance, that he is but ashes and earth, and thereto shall return, which is right necessary to be uttered from henceforth in our mother-tongue always on the Sunday: bearing of palms on Palm-Sunday, in memory of the receiving of Christ into Jerusalem a little before his death, that we may have the same desire to receive him into our hearts: creeping to the cross, and humbling ourselves to Christ on Good-Friday before the cross, and there offering unto Christ before the same, and kissing of it in memory of our redemption by Christ made  upon the cross: setting up the sepulture of Christ, whose body after his death was buried: the hallowing of the font, and other like exorcisms and benedictions by the ministers of Christ’s church…” (Fuller, the Church History of Britain, p. 165)

By approving of these ancient customs, Article IX likewise approves their instruments, e.g., candles, processions, crosses, pyxs, and apserages likewise implicated.  Of these rites their antiquity, Article IX concludes,

“[of them]… and all other like laudable customs, rites, and ceremonies, be not to be condemned and cast away, but to be used and continued, as things good and laudable, to put us in remembrance of those spiritual things that they do signify, no suffering them to be forgotten, or to be put in oblivion, but renewing them in our memories from time to time; but none of these ceremonies have power to remit sin, but only to stir and life up our minds unto God, by whom only our sins be forgiven.” (ditto)

The 1559 Ornament Rubric, if interpreted by other Anglican canon, is strikingly Elizabethan. The Rubric is exemplary of the Elizabethan s“media via”—fencing off the errors of both Radicals and Rome, reforming church teaching along protestant lines but retaining catholic sensibility and heritage. It was a Lutheran confession of worship. In fact, Elizabeth might be accused of Lutheran preference, rejecting the Calvinist 42 articles prepared by Arch-Bishop Whitgift while approving Parker’s Lutheran 29th Article (objectivity of the sacrament). At least doctrinally speaking, behind the Elizabethan settlement is the Augsberg family of confessions– the Tudor’s Erastian counterparts. But pertaining to ritual aesthetic, Elizabeth restored indeed reached back to her father, i.e, Henrican piety. Interestingly, this was in keeping with her personal devotions upon which Puritans ridiculed Queen Elizabeth’s conservatism of praying by candles, images, and the altar crucifix.

The coherence of Anglicanism has suffered terribly under  “broad church” . Rather than seeking unity in her Reformed Catholic standards– Scripture, ecumenical councils, aesthetic, articles, bishops, king, canons, homilies, authorative apologies, and prayer book– she avoided discipline by entertaining a diversity which breached standards and process. The Ornament Rubric is one standard amongst many needed for reclaiming Protestant Catholicity. Specifically, for Anglicanism it brackets ritualism, canonically defining the aesthetic boundaries of our worship, delineating what is ‘adaiphora’ while articulating what we may call ‘Anglican’.

ABC Williams discusses the divergence of traditions, especially those which  impact the marks of the church, namely her gospel and sacraments, but to an extent this applies to aesthetic as well:

When a local church seeks to respond to a new question, to the challenge of possible change in its practice or discipline in the light of new facts, new pressures, or new contexts, as local churches have repeatedly sought to do, it needs some way of including in its discernment the judgement of the wider Church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers

Williams is discussing ‘recognizability’ between churches-in-communion. What is permissable depends upon episcopate canon and rules like the Prayer Book. Sadly, arugments over Common Prayer  have been doggedly polemicized. But Pery Dearmer’s Rubric of the Ornament gives a studied answer. When Ritualism arrived in America (a generation after the founding of English Tractarianism), John Hopkins wrote an answer how high-church worship fits within the the lawful boundaries of both Prayer Book and royal injunction, The Law of Ritualism (1866). Also, read Percy’s Loyalty to the Prayer Book.

4 responses to “The Ornament Rubric

  1. How odd. Edward’s reign lasted until 1553. But you think the 1662 BCP endorses the pre-reform views of the first year and half while the last four years are irrelevant. That is some brilliant dissimulation and outright revisionism. But let’s give it the pejorative term it deserves. “Lies.”


    • Dear Charlie,

      It boils down to the 1538 canons. But it is not this simple. The restoration in general restored the 1604. So, one must judge by the latter. What you are missing is the nature of canon. It’s not divine law. They may be more or less severe according to the godliness of the public and its ministers. Canons tighten up when ministers abuse. Nonetheless, the Anglican church has established the Second year of Edward VI as the standard for ornaments in the churches. When enormities are sufficiently extirpated, then various bans may be lifted– but only so far as very late Henrician would allow. If we want to eviscerate the Henrician ornament we must change the prayer book. The lifting of canon once “sound” public habit is established was the logic behind the reforms found in the Articles of Perth. And, I don’t think the 1662 ignore the reform views of 1552 anymore than 1559 and 1571. We are only talking about ornaments and these were regulated in a specific way by canon. I reiterate,

      “Edward’s later Protestantism which did not officially begin until mid-1549. Until that date, with the exception of the Privy’s Council’s 1547 Injunction, Henrican statutes defined aesthetic boundaries.”

      My only regret with this old posting is I quoted Rowan Williams and not articles 34 and 37.


  2. I think the Ornaments Rubric originally did provide for the 1548-9 vestments and ornaments, however, I think it implied until an injunction was released to clarify the issue. Elizabeth’s later injunctions require the familiar surplice for parish priests and copes for cathedral deans and collegiate chapels. As time went on the specifics of the rubric were hammered out. I have a book called, “The High Church Party from 1688-1718” which has a picture of a Communion service at that time which shows the minister at an altar/table against the east end but on the north end of the table in surplice. There are paten, chalice, flagon, and two candles (unlit) on it and the fair linen cloth. The communicants are kneeling at the communion rail.


  3. I think the young high Churchman does a good job with the rubric, namely, giving priority to the context of the rubric’s reissue or the 1662 Savoy Conference. Obviously, I’ve changed my position on the value of High Churchmanship in America, instead, focusing on American experience. So, I’d now argue there’s no Ornament Rubric in the American BCP, rather emphasizing how Americans celebrated public prayer before the Ritualist movement. The Answer is much lower than what was given by canon in England. Here’s Young Churchman’s essay. Very smart guy and recommend his blog:


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