Chesterton on our Anglican Prayer-Book

I found some great remarks earlier today by Chesterton on the BCP: “…it is necessary to say a word about the Anglican Prayer-Book itself. The Book of Common Prayer is the masterpiece of Protestantism… It is the one positive possession and attraction; the one magnet and talisman for people even outside the Anglican Church, as are the great Gothic cathedrals for people outside the Catholic Church. I can speak, I think, for many other converts, when I say that the only thing that can produce any sort of nostalgia or romantic regret, any shadow of homesickness in one who has in truth come home, is the rhythm of Cranmer’s prose…”

While he here says the BCP is a masterpiece of Protestantism, he later goes on to articulate his view that it is great, among other reasons, “not in so far as it is the first Protestant book, but in so far as it was the last Catholic book.” Chesterton, asking “why has the old Protestant Prayer-Book a power like that of great poetry upon the spirit and the heart”, also states “it has style; it has tradition; it has religion…” and that “The most moving passages in the old Anglican Prayer-Book… are moving, or indeed thrilling, precisely because they say the things… which only Catholics still say. Anybody who knows anything of literature knows when a style lifts itself to its loftiest efforts; and in these cases it is always to say strongly what we still endeavour to say, however weakly; but which nobody else ever endeavours to say at all. Let anyone recall for himself the very finest passages in the Book of Common Prayer, and he will soon see that they are concerned specially with spiritual thoughts and themes that now seem strange and terrible; but anyhow, the reverse of common; “ … in the hour of death and in the day of Judgment.” Who talks about the hour of death? Who talks about the Day of Judgment?…”

We Anglicans in the Catholic Church, especially those of us who entered it prior to 2009, know well that “shadow of homesickness”, the power of that magnet and talisman that is the Anglican liturgical and musical culture. But we have not just “in truth come home”, but have had our original home restored to us, re-founded on rock. What a historical gift Pope Benedict gave us!

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2 Responses to Chesterton on our Anglican Prayer-Book

  1. Mike says:

    FWIW, Chesterton also wrote an article on the King James Version of the Bible (though from a literary point of view).The Great Translation

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  2. EPMS says:

    I think you speak for many North American converts. Those of the Anglo-Papalist tradition in the UK, which includes many now in the OOLW, have no use for the BCP. And of course Chesterton was writing this article to condemn the proposed revised prayer book of 1928, a volume which is part of the same process of revision which produced the American BCP of 1928 and the Canadian BCP of 1959, both fondly regarded by many former Anglicans now in the Church.

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