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Formularies for What? Part 3 The Ordinal & Two Books of Homilies

Formularies? For What?

Part 3

By Revd Canon Chuck Collins

The Ordinal & Two Books of Homilies

Of the formularies, the most neglected is the Ordinal: The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons According to the Order of the Church of England. Archbishop Cranmer wrote the ordination services in 1550, the same rites that are substantially reproduced in the 1662 Prayer Book. Compared to the Medieval Catholic rites, the Reformation Ordinal was much shorter and simpler, recognising the historicity of the three orders of ordained ministry (bishop, priest and deacon), and emphasising the preaching of the Bible. “Above all, the English Ordinal is distinguished from its medieval precursors in the emphasis it places upon the Holy Scriptures as the norm by which the Ministry of the Church should teach the Faith and pattern both its own life and the lives of those committed to its charge” (Massey Shepherd, The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary). In the 1552 Ordinal, Cranmer refocused the nature of the ordained ministry by mandating that all three orders would be given copies of the Bible rather than the Medieval symbols of a sacrifice: chalice and paten (communion plate and cup) for a priest, and a ring and miter for bishops. The emphasis on preaching and proclaiming the word is again seen in the prayer that ends the service for the Ordination of a Priest (1662):

Most merciful Father, we beseech thee to send upon these thy servants thy heavenly blessing, that they may be clothed with righteousness, and that thy word spoken by their mouths, may have such success, that it many never be spoken in vain. Grant also that we may have grace to hear and receive what they shall deliver out of thy most holy Word, or agreeable to the same, as the means of our salvation; that in all thy words and deeds we may seek thy glory, and the increase of thy Kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

The Two Books of Homilies

The “Homilies” mentioned in Articles of Religion II and XXXV refer to the original 12 Homilies written in 1543 — were then forgotten — and then resurfaced to be published in 1547. The second book of Homilies, twenty-one of them, was published in 1563, and the 21st was added in 1571. The two books are usually published together. The Homilies are sermons of a topical nature that were written to be read (preached) in all the churches of England in sequence. It was not unusual for clergy in pre-Reformation times to be untrained preachers, and not at all uncommon for them to read a homily from an established collection. It was only with the Reformation that ministers rediscovered the power of the Word read aloud and preached. 

The purpose of the two books of Homilies was to provide sound teaching in churches for its re-formation of church and society, to compensate for the lack of skilled preachers in England, and especially to systematically and memorably communicate the gospel. “Despite the Protestant priorities, and even the subject of the first homily [Holy Scripture], the Reformers’ intention for the homilies was not to teach people the Bible itself, but instead to teach them a systematic doctrinal framework” (Tim Patrick, Anglican Foundations). It’s easy to see how God used the Homilies to help ordinary people understand what the Reformation was about, and to impart a theological mindset around the authority of the Bible and the central doctrine of justification by grace through faith. They weren’t originally written to be official doctrine or to serve as a “formulary,” but over time they were recognized as a sound source of Anglican teaching. They are not easily read today because the sentences in Elizabethan English are very long. Thomas Cranmer was the author of four of the original twelve homilies: Holy Scripture, Salvation, Faith, and Faith and Good Works. Historian Gerald Bray writes that the homily on Holy Scripture gives us the context for which Articles 6 and 7 of the Articles of Religion were written and is “the most extensive exposition of the doctrine of Scripture to be found in any official Anglican document of the Reformation era” (Gerald Bray, A Fruitful Exhortation).

This question is always before Anglicans and Episcopalians: if our tradition is not defined and guarded by traditional Anglican formularies as identified in the English Reformation, then where does innovation stop? Can we add a regulative principle to our worship to satisfy our puritanical tendencies? Or a sacramental theology or view of ordination that is closer to Roman Catholic than Anglican because it meets our aesthetic sensitivities? Or just announce that the Episcopal Church has three equal legs of authority (Scripture, tradition, and reason) or three streams (Catholic, Protestant, and charismatic)? Such innovations inevitably lead to wilder conclusions that are unbiblical and offensive to the creedal faith of the church. 

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