This essay was originally written for River Thames (along with Supremacy in the Offices) and, while I normally do not cross-post, this entry is part of a longer series discussing authority in a church where the Crown is absent. It forms a whole together with Reversing Desuetude and Fighting Bishops.
The faldstool in English ceremony was the movable seat otherwise reserved in the chancel as the chair for the visiting Bishop. From the faldstool, an Ordinary passed authority by laying on hands of both confirmed laity and clergy. But the faldstool also doubled as a prayer desk upon pentitential occasions where the bishop rested his arms upon the faldstool’s cushion while kneeling before it. The idea of the bishop’s faldstool representing a throne of authority in the church is embedded the BCP’s litany. From it we learn the peculiar order of authority within the Church of England.
Though today the prayer desk has replaced the faldstool, nevertheless, in the Parson’s Handbook the Rev. Dearmer explains the Litany is to be be given in the old position of the fladstool, namely, in the midst of the church. According to Dearmer, the Litany should be recited regularly, normally Wednesdays and Fridays as well as between morning prayer and ante-communion on Sundays. But it is especially said upon penitential seasons.
However, these many details likely escape the majority of parishioners who rarely recite the Litany, and, perhaps they never do unless it be at Lent. Infrequent exposure to the Litany probably leaves more specifically Anglican features to pass unnoticed. The prayer book Litany differs from the Latin in a number of places. But perhaps the most conspicuous difference is the absence of heavenly saints of whom Romans and Eastern Orthodox commonly invoke. Instead, the Anglican emphasis is upon an earthy kingdom, or church militant. This ought to be an interesting point for Anglicans since our suffrages beg the Church of England instead of the heavenly hosts. The 1559 version of the litany lists the estates of the church [in bold] which are thus mentioned:
“We synners do beseche the to heare us (O Lord God,) and that it may please the to rule and governe thy holy Churche universally, in the right way…That it may please the, to kepe and strengthen in the true worshipping of the in righteousnes and holynes of lyfe, thy servaunt James our most gracious Kyng and governour…That it may please the, to rule his harte in thy faith, feare, and love, that he may evermore have affiaunce in the, and ever seke thy honoure and glory. That it may please the, to be his defender and keper, geving him the victory over al his enemyes. That it may please thee to bless and preserve our gracious Queen Anne, Prince Henry, and the rest of the King and Queen’s Royal issue… That it may please the to illuminate all Byshoppes, Pastours, and ministers of the Church, with true knowledge, and understanding of thy words, and that both by their preaching and livinge, they may sette it furth and shewe it accordingly…That it maye please thee to endue the Lordes of the Counsayle, and all the nobilitie, with grace, wisedom, and understanding…That it may please thee to blesse and kepe the Magistrates, geving them grace to execute justice, and to maynteyne truthe… That it may please the to blesse, and kepe al thy people.”
From the litany we can list the estates pertaining to England’s church militant. After the church universal, measured from greatest to least, these might be: 1. the Gracious King, 2. the royal issue, 3. the Bishops and ministers, 4. the Lords in council, 5. the lesser magistrates (governors and parliament), and 6. all thy people. Anthony Sparrow, commissioner to the 1662 BCP, while speaking of the litany’s deprecations and petitions, divided the petitions into two parts:
“The like good Order is observed in our Petitions for Good. First, we pray for the Church Catholick, the common Mother of all Christians; then for our own Church, to which next the Church Catholick, we owe the greatest Observance and Duty. And therein in the first Place for the principal Members of it, in whole Welfare the Church’s Peace chiefly consists. After this we pray particularly for those Sorts of Men that most especially need our Prayers, such amongst others, as those whom the Law calls miserable Persons.” (p. 61, A Rationale)
Thus, the litany immediately divides between catholic and national parts. Keeping in mind the part is never greater than the whole, the petition for the church cahtolik naturally comes first. But after the prayer for our universal body, the 1559 litany moves to the provincial or national domain. The national church, of course, begins with England’s supreme head, the Crown. Descending from there, the suffrage pleas for his seed, often both those nearest in birth and marriage to the throne. The litany then continues downward to the Bishops, likewise greater nobility, who were next to adjure for the church. Alongside them were then the Lords of Council who could likewise be regents or protectorates to the King either his absence or by immaturity. Then came the magistrates (judges, commons), and, last, the faithful.
However, this order of estates did not belong to the older Sarum which gave priority to the church before the state. Frere comments upon the transposition from ecclesiastical to royal offices in the Anglican litany of 1544:
“After the suffrage for the Church, [in the Sarum] those for the ecclesiastical orders usually came first, and were followed by those for the prince and for Christian people. Yet the intercessions for rulers of the Church and of the State were occasional-ly transposed, and in 1544 the series of petitions for the King was set next after that for the Church [catholik]: and this order remains” (p. 416, A New History)
England’s Church militant: The litany’s emphasis on the terrestrial Church, and its structure is especially interesting from the stand point of authority. In England, the ‘church’ not only was composed of clerics but also included privileged rankings of secular society. In his 1547 Homily ‘Concerning Good Order’, Cranmer gives an enlightening comparison of the celestial to earthy hierarchies that all men must obey:
“Almighty God hath created and appointed all things in heaven, earth, and waters, in a most excellent and perfect order. In heaven he hat appointed distinct and several orders and states of Archangels and Angels. In earth he hath assigned and appointed Kings, Princes, with other Governors under them, in all good and necessary order… Every degree of people in their vocation, calling, and office, hath appointed to them their duty and order: some are in high degree, some in low; some Kings and Princes, some Inferiors and Subjects; Priests and Laymen, Masters and Servants, Fathers and Children, Husbands and Wives, Rich and Poor: and every one hath need of the other: so that in all things to be lauded and praised the goodly order of God; without the which no house, no city, no commonwealth, can continue and endure, or last.” (p. 72, Sermons or Homilies)
I believe the homily gives some insight toward Cranmer’s alteration of the Sarum litany. For Cranmer, and especially the Anglican divinity of the 17th century, the church doesn’t absolutely stand apart from the commonwealth but is a peculiar estate within. Yet, all estates are ruled by the Prince, “The King’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil (Article #37).
Likewise, Hooker describes the church as “society”, assigning features of order normally associated with earthy kingdoms. It might be noted this description was contrary to the Puritan one which treated the church as a heavenly or invisible “mob”,
“By the Church…we understand no other than only the visible Church. For preservation of Christianity there is not any thing more needful, than that such as are of the visible Church have mutual fellowship and society one with another. In which consideration, as the main body of the sea being one, yet into a number of distinct Societies, every of which is termed a Church within itself. In this sense the Church is always a visible society of men; not an assembly, but a Society. For although the name of the Church be given unto Christian assemblies, although the name of the Church be given unto Christian assemblies, although any multitude of Christian men congregated may be termed by the name of a Church, yet assemblies properly are rather things that belong a to a Church. Men are assembled for performance of public actions; which actions being ended, the assembly dissolveth itself and is no longer in being, whereas the Church which was assembled doth no less continue afterwards than before.” (Book III, i, s. 14, Laws)
Thus, Anglican divines give a conservative order that more or less meshes laity and clergy together in a single yet ordered politic. While this sort of provincial structure for the church is not immutable or absolutely commanded either by the Apostles or God, Hooker and Cranmer both credit an ordering by the Christian king’s supremacy. Cranmer conveys the historical raison d’etre for a Christian king’s authority in the church:
“For it is out of all doubt that the priests and bishops never had any authority by the gospel to punish any man by corporal violence; and therefore they were oftentimes moved of necessity to require Christian princes to interpone their authority, and by the same to constrain and reduce inobedient persons unto the obedience and good order of the church: which the Christian princes, as God’s ministers in that part, and for the zeal they had to establishing of Christ’s religion, not only did gladly execute, but did also give unto priests and bishops further power and jurisdiction in certain other temporal and civil matters…” (p. 113, Sermons or Homilies)
Hence, the duties of Crown are not just for the material good but also the the cure and salvation of subjects. We might note the faldstool concept in Cranmer’s history. The bishops delegated powers to the Crown. Hence the Crown claims its own kind of faldstool– if not directly, then through appointed ministers. Cranmer continues describing the grand ministry of the Prince,
“And unto them of right, and by God’s commandment, belongeth, not only to prohibit unlawful violence, to correct offenders by corporal death or other punishment..to procure the public weal, and the common peace and tranquility in outward and earthly things; but specifically and principally to defend the faith of Christ and his religion, to conserve and maintain the true doctrine of Christ, and all such as be true preachers and setters forth thereof, and to abolish all abuses, heresies, and idolatries, which be brought in by heretics and evil preachers, and to punish with corporal pains such as of malice be occasioners of the same; and finally to oversee and cause that the said priests and bishops do execute their said power, office, and jurisdiction truly, faithfully, and according in all points as it was given and committed to them unto Christ and his apostles” (p. 121)
Revolution and Apostasy: The American revolution changed the English transposition of church-state. The prayer book blames the absence of royal Supremacy upon American ‘circumstances’ (p. vi, The Book of Common Prayer). Episcopalians properly attended these ‘circumstances’ by omitting those prayers touching Crown and nobility. However, the American bcp revision of 1928 went further than baring mention of royalty from the book. Instead, the U.S. Presidency was inserted and curiously placed in the old rank of the Crown. This is wrong for a couple reasons.
In so far as we might view the suffrages of the church militant to be an outline a consecrated order for the English church, the American 1928 revision seems to wrongly conflate the estate of Christian king with that of a constitutional President. In other words, the U.S. revision makes the quality of these two estates indifferent, suggesting no substantive gap between a republican system (where the public head officially rejects a role in religion) vs. a christian monarch (where the king actively and sometimes aggressively intervenes and defends the faith). In the American system, the order is really reversed because the true sovereign is not a king but the people of each respective state who establish the pact of Union. Compare this to the litany which organizes authority in a descending where the people are the last voice in consultation. It also ignores the ancient nature of the English Crown as an anointed, quasi-sacramental office. The U.S. Presidency is more like a prime minister over a federal ‘parliament’ than an anointed king. If the 1928 was more consistent with the English 1662 litany (or even the earlier 1892 bcp), the U.S. Presidency would remain underneath the bishops, at the petition for wise magistrates. A more correct rendition would either be:
1. re-use the1789 or 1892 versions.
2. simply re-edit the American 1928 suffrages by moving the Presidency back to its original place with common magistrates as found in the 1662 (or older bcp’s). In effect, this would make the American more ‘ catholic’ returning more or less to the same order (minus the Pope) as the Sarum where the state is below the church rather than the other way around.
Consequently, a revised 1928 might read:
“O Lord God; and that it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church universal in the right way…That it may please thee to illuminate our Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth, and show it accordingly… That it may please thee so to rule the heart of thy servant, The President of the United States, that he may above all things seek thy honour and glory…That it may please thee to bless and preserve Christian Rulers and Magistrates, giving them grace to execute justice, and to maintain truth…That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people“.
While AR has no overwhelming interest in using the state prayers for monarchy, the idea of regency within Supremacy needs to be preserved. There is no question among conservative Anglicans today that the English Crown has become irresponsible in church responsibilities. It is also very apparent the the Primates and Archbishoprics follow a similar path. Nonetheless, the litany’s faldstool (as a symbol of authority within the church) shows that Anglicans have a chain of command, and when the stool is abducted, their is a proper order by which a lower estate ought to function as regent or “defender of faith” until a better day.
Perhaps continuing Anglicanism have a certain excuse in their departure for the sake of a ‘free church’. Response to apostasy can only go down the Erastian ladder. John Keble outlines this ‘ladder’ in terms similar to the litany,
“It is very possible that I may overlook something which materially affects this question, and which may be plain enough to other persons; but it does seem to me that in the case supposed (of a public censure, and dispensation, refused), loyalty to the Church, her Creed or her Order both, could only be maintained by one of the two following courses: either we should continue in our ministry, respect, fully stating our case, and making appeal to the Metropolitan, or as Archbishop Cranmer did, to the Synod, and that publicly–which course one should be slow to adopt except in a matter which concerned the very principles of Faith and of Church Communion;–or else we should tender to our superiors our relinquishment of the post which we held under them in the Church, and retire either into some other diocese, or, if all our Bishops were agreed into lay communion. The objections in point of scandal to these two courses would be, that the former might sound under present circumstances more as a way of talking than anything else: the latter, unless the case were very amply and openly explained, would appear as if one conceded the notion of the Articles being incapable of a Catholic sense…We might be excommunicated, but we could neither join ourselves to any of the uncatholic communities around us, nor form a new communion for ourselves. We could not be driven into schism against our will. We could only wait patiently at the Church door, wishing and praying that our bonds might be taken off, and pleading our cause as we best might from reason and Scripture and Church precedents.” (The Case of Catholic Subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion”)
Obviously, Keble isn’t despairing prelacy in the Church but the danger catholicism faced after by two democratizing events: 1) parliamentary supremacy after 1700 which always threatened the church; and 2) electoral emancipation in 1833 allowing non-Anglicans to sit in parliament.
Some thoughts: Anglicanism today is likely in worst straits than at Keble’s time. The question of authority whether in the Lambeth Communion or amongst Continuing Churches is endemic. Continuing clergy over the last forty years have manage to secure (sometimes irregular) bishoprics so laity might roost in relatively safe dioceses. Meanwhile, Canterbury-aligned churches are breaking traditional diocese boundaries by forming parallel dioceses on the basis of theological affinity rather than territory. Though we are not at the point of needing a lay communion, the Litany instructs where Anglicans might go after estates successively fail. We might also consider the rare and in extremis powers an estate may employ in lieu of another’s abduction. Thus we have a chain of command, and it might be traveled either downward or upward according to contingency. The crisis of authority is not so much that Anglicanism can’t work, but what respective estate will step-in vis-a-vis Anglicanism’s historic ‘chain of command” now that the Archbishops and Crown have created a vacuum of authority, ruling in their stead? We might call this ‘regent theory’.