The Anglican Spiritual Tradition

The Anglican Spiritual Tradition. By John R. H. Moorman. (Illinois: Templegate Publishing, 1983. Pp. 228. Cloth, $15.05).


Reviewed by James Booker

The Anglican Prayer Book has been at the center of worship within the Church of England since the first edition was published in 1549. The Anglican Spiritual Tradition (by John R.H. Moorman) is a chronological-historical account of how the Prayer Book came into being, its evolution and struggles over its contents – that has led up to the Twentieth Century. Moorman clearly states, “This book is an attempt to tell the story, from the time of the First Prayer Book onwards, to show how people loved and served God with deep devotions” (forward). In doing so, the Prayer Book is a reflection of English politics. Whenever state politics is involved, it will inevitably affect the established church and how that church should function.

Moorman, in the prologue, used an unusual technique for a nonfiction book. He used a fictional character (James Whyte) to show the real struggles within English politics that had wide-spread changes that affected the Church. According to Moorman, the birth of the Anglican Spiritual tradition occurred within ten years (1549-1559). Edward VI, Mary I (bloody Mary), and Elizabeth I reigned during this ten year period. During these ten years, the tension to bring the Church of England closer to the continental Protestants and between those who wanted to bring it back towards Roman Catholicism, was pronounced. It was bloody. At the center was the Prayer Book. From this point onward, Moorman covers the major centuries and highlights major changes in the Church and society, with Common Book of Prayer in context.

In the first chapter, Moorman briefly covers why the Authorized Version of the Bible was established. In 1549 the first English Prayer Book was published. The Prayer Book was to inform the priest and laymen on how to worship; on the rituals of the Church, on the meaning of the Eucharist, etc. The Prayer Book was essential because King and Parliament established the Church by law, thus, the Prayer Book had to be approved by the government. Within this frame work lay the key to understanding Moorman’s book. For example, the 1927 Prayer Book was made illegal, to the extent – Parliament “threw it out” (199).

Another overriding theme of the book is how Moorman showed the bitter conflicts within the Church itself. The Church of England did not want the “extremism” of the continental Protestants, neither did they want to adhere to the See of Rome. And this is all reflected within and over what was to be placed in the English Prayer Book. In fact, Moorman called it a “compromise,” (26) and that “The book was intended to be something of an eirenicon, an attempt to help both sides, Catholic and Protestant, to worship in accordance with the will of God” (28). Aside from the fact the Prayer Book was meant to be a compromise, however, it became an uncompromising tool to quite dissenters and nonconformists.

The Anglican Spiritual Tradition is full of details. Moorman brings to bare a whole list of Bishops who were highly educated. Moreover, he mentions some major movements with the church: the Oxford movement and Cambridge Platonist, for example. In addition, he did a fairly good job explaining major differences between Anglicanism and Puritanism. Moorman also went into depth over the controversies over introducing hymns within the Church opposed to the singing of Psalms.

Nonetheless, there are some technical issues with this book. First, Moorman seems to assume the reader knows English history. Although the book is chronological, sometimes it lacks clarity when referring to dates. On the other hand, it would help the reader if she/he had an outside source while reading, such as a list of the Kings and Queens that reigned in England during these periods. Another technical problem Moorman used too many block quotes. Too many interruptions in the narrative can make the reader pause too often. For example, from page 85-91 (9 pages) there are seven block quotes. In addition, Moorman is bias, but that is understandable because he is writing from the Anglican perception. Furthermore, without really making the point, Moorman established that the Church of England is a legal institution and that the Prayer Book is a legal document. This would have helped the reader understand the battles and conflicts within the Church – not just within the scope of it being purely religious. Moorman only briefly mentions the U.S.A.

I have a couple of comments regarding the backdrop to Moorman’s book. After reading The Anglican Spiritual Tradition it is not difficult to understand the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is clear that the Church of England is established by law, making it a legal and public institution. And the Prayer Book is a legal document, because it had to be passed into law by Parliament – therein was the source of England’s internal conflicts. By the time the First Amendment was added into the Constitution, the States did not want such conflicts. The states had too many different religious institutions, many of which fled from English persecution.

This is the sum total of the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” [1] In other words, the central government would not establish a particular religion, but it could not stop people and religious institution from partaking in politics. In England, non-Anglicans could not hold office or participate in the public square. Non-conformist were second class citizens. But in the U.S.A. all Christian religions were tolerated, nothing more nothing less.

Aside from these issues, I would recommend the Anglican Spiritual Tradition to anyone who is interested in the history of the Anglican religious history. In fact, this book is a good primer for students and scholars alike. The overall themes of this book is the creation and evolution of the Prayer Book, and how politics played a major role in its authenticity.

[1] US Constitution, amend, 1.


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