Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Tractarians and the Liturgy

The Oxford Movement or Tractarianism often gets the blame for certain things which were not part of their original programme. One of these is the profusion of Missals and other unofficial devotional manuals that grew up in the late nineteenth cnetury. These are really products of the second phase of Ritualism than of the Oxford Movement proper. Tractarianism was first and foremost a theological, not a liturgical, movement. Keble, for example, never introduced Eucharistic vestments, or even the use of the stole, at Hursley in his thirty-odd years of ministry there. Like any other Church of England clergyman of the time of his ordination (1816) he stood at the north end in surplice, tippet, and hood. On the whole, liturgical innovation beyond what had already been done by the Caroline Divines and the Non-Jurors belongs not to Tractarianism, but to Ritualism.

The whole of the liturgical programme of the Oxford Movement could be encompassed by a single phrase - "taking the Prayer Book at its word." Thus the goals of the Oxford Fathers in terms of liturgy were to follow the Book of Common Prayer faithfully in their parishes. The acid test of Tractarianism in te early days was public recital of the Daily Offices. This never completely died out in the Church of England, but by the 1830s very few parishes took the title of the offices in the literally. As you will doubtless recall, it says "The Office of Morning/Evening Prayer daily throughout the year." The first Tractarian to reintroduce the daily Office was the Rev. Thomas Keble, John's younger brother, at Bisley c.1836. This was a completely inoffensive innovation - except perhaps to the parish clerk, who suddenly found himself much busier - and a sign that the Tractarians were serious about the liturgy.

The Tractarians also wanted to reintroduce weekly Communion, and fasting Communion. To do this, they picked up an idea that had already been introduced by Daniel Wilson, the Evangelical Vicar of Islington, who had introduced a regular 8.00am celebration of the Lord's Supper for the 'serious' members of his congregation. The Tractarians embraced this with some enthusiasm, and it soon became a characteristic of 'High Church' worship as understood by them. So much so that it became identified with them to the extent that folks thought they invented 'the early celebration.' It should be noted that the Tractarians did not encourage non-communicating attendance at Holy Communion, and as a result Tractarian parishes tended to retain Morning Prayer, Litany and Ante-Communion as the main Sunday service. The non-communicating High Celebration (few Anglicans used the word Mass in the 19th C.) was another Ritualist innovation.

Another aspect of Tractarians and the liturgy was its architectural setting. Although they were essential conservative in their attitude towards the dress of the clergy and the forms of service, they did want to see the architectural setting of Anglican worship improved. From about 1840 onwards, they put into practice the less controversial recommendations of the Cambridge Camden Society or Ecclesiological Society as it was later called. The tall box pews of the 17th and 18th centuries were abolished. The three-decker pulpit was split up into pulpit, reading desk, and lectern, all copied from the 'proper' mediaeval forms. Chancels were fitted up with choir shalls, and low walls or full blown rood screens to separate them from the nave of the church. By the 1890s there was hardly a church in England that had not had its proper Ecclesiological Society inspired restoration. Some were extremely sympathetic, others were rebuildings in disguise, but no matter how extensive they were they tended to result in what we think of as the proper Anglican/Episcopal church interior. The pews consist of several low islands divided by a centre alley and possibly alleys along the walls or side aisles. The pulpit and lectern stand left and right at the front of the nave. Beyond them is the chancel containing choir stalls, and a very prominent altar at the east end of the building raised on several steps and railed off. This plan was very successfully adopted in the USA where architects tended to feel less bound by mediaeval proportions even when using the Gothic style. They tended to widen the central nave and the chancel, thus making the building more of a hall, which fitted in with the requirement of Prayer Book services to be heard as well as seen.

The final aspect of Tractarian liturgics I want to look at is the hymn. The old High Churchmen had been a bit suspicious of hymns, which were then mainly an Evanglical thing, and tended to be rather subjective in their content. As a result, the High Churchmen stuck with metrical psalms, only slowly adopting hymns. The first locally printed hymnal used in the parish church in my home town had the whole of the New Version of the Psalms (Tate and Brady) but only a few dozen hymns. However, the Tractarians had a more positive attitude to hymns, mainly because they produced a lot of poets. The best selling book of religious verse in the nineteenth century, with around one million copies sold, was John Keble's 'The Christian Year' which provided a poem for every Sunday and Holyday in the BCP, and as meditations on other topics, such as Baptism and Holy Communion. Isaac Williams and John Henry Newman also wrote poetry, as did William and Fanny Alexander. Fanny Alexander was also a skilled translator of old Irish texts, whilst J. M. Neile did the same service for many Latin texts. The natural result was that the Tractarians began to compile hymnals, the best known of which was the original version of Hymns Ancient and Modern, first published in 1861.

The Tractarians were also enthusiastic about the choral service. Books containing the Psalms and Canticles pointed for Anglican Chant, and collections of Chants appeared. The old plainsong setting for the responses was also revived, and slowly but surely, the sung service was introduced into parish churches, even, eventually, making its way into Evangelical circles. In my home church our copies of the Parish Psalter were very dog-earred, especially in the section containing the canticles. Merbeck's setting of the Communion Service was rediscovered and adapted to the 1662 BCP, and was sung at the monthly late Communion service in many a parish, even sometimes at 8.00am on special occasions.

Lastly, I would note that singularly little liturgical, as opposed to theological, controversy attached itself to the Tractarians. They were conservative about the Prayer Book fearing that further revision would be in the wrong - i.e. a rationalist direction, though they did occasional suggest that improvements in the correct direction could be made. On the other hand, it seemed to be generally understood that their programme was simply one of obedience to the Book of Common Prayer even if it was not exactly popular with everyone. My home parish developed much along the same lines as many another parish with a Tractarian incumbant. When the Rev. George Hogarth arrived in 1858 he found Morning and Evening Prayer estaloshed at 10.30am and 3.30pm respectively; Holy Communion celebrated once a month, and a morning service every Thursday. He increased this immediately by establishing daily Morning and Evening Prayer; moved Sunday Evensong to 6.30pm; introduced Sunday School and Catechism at 2.30pm on a Sunday afternoon; gradually introducing a weekly Communion service, and improving the standard of music in the parish. By the time of his retirement some twenty-four years later, the parish had daily Matins and Evensong, and Communion on Sundays and Holydays, weekly Sunday School and Catechism, and a new organ. His successor introduced regular midweek Communions and a surpliced choir, continuing the Tractarian trajectory started by Hogarth. What my home parish never had was the late morning non-communicating High Mass. The 10.30am slot was occupied by Mattins, and briefly alternated with a Sung Eucharist before both Matins and the Sung Eucharist became weekly events in the early 60s.

One thing that is slightly disconcerting today is the number of parishes with elaborate services with ceremonials and rites not authorized in he BCP, but do not even observe the appointed Holydays, never mind have daily Morning and Evening Prayer. The structure of daily Offices and Sunday and Holyday Eucharists is one that we inherited from the Early Church, and we should do our utmost to sustain and restore it. I know this is often difficult to do today as many Continuing Anglican priests are bi-vocational, but difficulty should not exempt us from at least trying. At the very least, we should have Morning Prayer before our Sunday morning Eucharists, then move slowly forward restoring the full pattern as our parishes and missions develop. Remember that this pattern of sustained and regular worship, praise, prayer, and sacrament is the great powerhouse of the Church, and we should teach our eople to love the Daily Offices as well as the Eucharist.


  1. I don't know if this is accurate or not but I tend to think of Anglo-Catholicism as the marriage of Tractarianism and Ritualism. I think what you're advocating here is moderate Tractarianism, there were Tractarians who were more "advanced" and looked to Rome for answers. But the overall aim of the early Tractarians was good because it sought to live out the Prayer Book.

  2. I would tend to say that Ritualism is a mix of Oxford and Ecclesiological Movements, then Anglo-Catholicism is a further development from that as the movement matured. Anglo-Catholicism itself divides between what I rather loosely call Prayer Book Catholics, mainstream Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Papalists. All three have their roots in Tractarianism, and I guess that if you were going to put names to each faction in terms of philosophy I would say Thomas Keble for the former; John Keble and Pusey for the middle group; Ward and Newman for third grouping.

  3. It is somewhat ironic that the Old High Church suspicion of hymns and preference for Metrical Psalms resembles the attitude of the most conservative Presbyterians, Scottish, Irish and American. Sometimes extreme opposites resemble each other!

    In a much earlier period, the Roman Mass differed from the EO liturgy in that the Western Rite used only psalmody for its Introit, Gradual, etc (known to us as the "minor propers"). The Byzantines were more liberal in the various hymns of their liturgy. If you want to annoy a hyper-Presbyterian "Exclusive Psalmodist," tell him he is showing a Romish tendency.

  4. I believe the council of Trent briefly entertained the idea of eliminating all forms of music except the psalmody due to the influence of secular music on the sequences in the minor propers. I might be off historically there though.

  5. As always, a thoughtful and interesting post, filled with good information and providing a sound basis for reflection. Thank you.

    Although these are not new points, I find the following two distinctions very useful: 1) Tractarians and Ritualists are different, and 2) there are different streams of Tractarianism. In our time, almost all traditional Anglicans have been influenced by both Tractarians and Ritualists (even those who think of themselves as Evangelicals). The differences among us depend upon where we are on the spectrum. For me personally,the Book of Common Prayer always remains a dominant and essential element in any Anglican mix.

  6. I wuld say that if we had not already lumbered ourselves with the blessed thing 'just say NO' would be the best policy. Really all that needed to be done in 1977 was to reaffirm the Traditional High Church POV. Simply stated:

    1. This Church affirms that Holy Orders of deacon, priest and bishop are, according to Scripture, to be conferred only on suitably qualified men.
    2. The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are to be interpreted in accordance with the first six Ecumenical Councils of the Church.
    3. This Church accepts as its standard of worship only those editions of the Prayer Book conformable to the Book of Common Prayer, 1662.
    4. This accepts the traditional moral teaching of the Church affirming in particular the sanctity of human life from conception to natura death; and the sanctity and indissoluability of the marriage vows between one man and one woman.

  7. Interesting post! There is a lot here I did not know.

    When did Ritualism come into popularity?

  8. I do not think that Ritualism was ever popular in the accepted sense of the word. In England there was perhaps one parish in five that embraced the Catholic Movement in some form or another, and perhaps one in fifteen were strongly Anglo-Catholic. Ritualism first came a phenonomen c.1850-5, as the Cambridge Camden Society's liking for mediaeval ceremonial cross-pollenated with Oxford Movement theology. The well-know Ritalist parishes in London were very generally new churches erected at that time. Where I am from in northern England perhaps one parish in three was significantly effected by the Oxford Movement, but only one in thirty by Ritualism. In the USA, the influence of Ritualism and Anglo-Cathoicism varied by diocese. New York and the Midwest Biretta belt were definitely strongly influenced. OTOH, the Diocese of AZ only had one parish where the chasuble was used as recently as the mid to late 1950s. Ireland was, of course, pretty much innocent of Ritualism apart from St John's, Sandymount and St Bartholomew's, Clyde Road - both 1850s foundations in the Dublin area - and to a far lesser degree All Saints' Grangegorman, which was a slightly earlier foundation. The first two named spent a lot of time in the Ecclesiastical Courts after disestablishment.

  9. I recently left the ACC to return to the United Methodist Church in which I grew up. There were many reasons that aren't appropriate for discussion here. There was however one reason that is worth discussing here. I returned to the UMC so I could once again receive Holy Communion using Archbishop Cranmer's service from the Book of Common Prayer. The congregation of the UMC where I now attend still uses the BCP service taken from the 1662 BCP by John Wesley. The use of this traditional service is still an option that UM congregations can use. When the UMC autorizes new liturgy, all of the former liturgy is still maintained.

    In the ACC, it was nearly impossible to find a parish that uses the 1928 BCP. The Anglican Missal is their standard, though they claim otherwise. Most ACC parishes have only "Mass" as they call it, and no Morning Prayer or Evensong. I have heard many of their priests condemn the 1928 BCP as "not catholic enough."

    There isn't a UECNA close enough to my home to attend or I would attend the UECNA. Thankfully, I was still able to find a UMC congregation that still respects Archbishop Cranmer's beautiful service.

  10. In the period in which I was regularly making two or more trips to the UK a year I happened on a delightful parish in the West of England. The church building was erected in 1831 or '33, just before the beginning of the Oxford Movement, but it might just has well been built in the 13th century. The local architect and builder had copied those parts of standing churches in the county which he thought particularly fine and the result was one of incredible beauty and elegance. Its rectors were early followers of both the Tracts and the early ritualist movement and as a result had suffered their own Church Association riot in which a particular vestment set was shredded. The ladies of the parish reconstructed it from the pieces and now (or at least then) it enjoys almost the status of a greater relic.

    I think that people have to draw out a time line in which various event occurred and those associated with them to realize the distinctions between the Tractarians and the various ritualist parties which followed them. It also helps to have a list of the publishing dates of the first office books (Sarum or Roman derived) as well as missals that came to be used. That, too, helps to put these events in perspective. Another thing which helps, at least for me, is the recognition that the Anglo-Papalist wing never produced a single first rate liturgical scholar, while their major theologian was Eric Mascall.

  11. The Tractarians did have a great love of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and also wanted to preserve it without external changes, as Samuel Leuenberger observes in Archbishop Cranmer's Immortal Bequest. However, they did misinterpret the 1662 Prayer BCP "in a Catholic sense" and their misinterpretation of the 1662 Prayer BCP was contrary to the received opinions of the Church of England regarding the interpretation of the 1662 BCP.

    The Tractarians also did a great deal of damage to the interiors of English parish churches, replacing authentic Medieval architecture with the Ecclesiastical Society's idealized notions of Medieaval architecture.

    The Medieval monastic church with choir stalls seperating the chancel from the nave and rood screens hiding the Holy Table from the people is ill suited for Prayer Book services. They were designed for a time when the monks who sat in the choir were the congregation and the priest said Mass hidden from profane eyes. The people came to hear the monks sing the offices and to gaze upon the consecrated host when the priest elevated it for adoration before immolating it by consuming it and thereby repeating Christ's sacrifice. Or so the Medieval Catholic Church believed.

    The ideal Prayer Book church is the auditory church, which the Tractarians disliked so much. The pulpit was often placed behind the Holy Table, and the table was in full view of the congregation.

    The Tractarians were also responsible for suppressing West Gallery music, which included the hymns of Isaac Watts, John Newton, and Charles Wesley, as well as metrical versions of the Psalms, canticles, and other Prayer Book texts. These texts included the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the three Creeds. West Gallery music was sung by the congregation, led by the parish "quire," consisting of local singers and musicians from the parish, and often using tunes and arrangements composed by local musicians. West Gallery music has a lot in common with the shaped note music in Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp tradition here in the southern United States. It was the music of the people, and had its roots in the traditional melodies of the English country side. The Tractarians would, with their "reforms," take the music of the service away from the people of the parish and drive the local singers and musicians into the Non-Conformist chapels.

  12. I wonder if Robin C. Jordan has actually read the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in its totality? Or walked around various English cathedrals and even some of the greater parish churches reading the dates upon the monuments? I think he would be shocked to discover that some which he would have believed to be medieval were actually from the late 17th or early 18th centuries. And then there is the church who building got its builder sent to a death in the Tower under Cromwell. It was definitely built on the medieval pattern and not the auditory and that a great deal before either the Oxford Movement or the Cambridge Camden Society.

    As someone who loves shaped note singing and knows that some of the words are from great Anglican writers, I also recognize that have very little in common with Cranmer's The Prayer Book Noted and that the great musicians of Elizabeth's Chapels Royal were of quite a different tradition.

  13. I took AB Peter's High Church POV, which I thought was excellent, and massaged it into a Solemn Declaration.

    Sincerely, Charles
    United and Reformed Episcopalian

  14. I suggest that you read my bio on my own web log Anglicans Ablaze. I have not only read the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in its totality on numerous occasions but also studied extensively the history of the development of the English Prayer Book, its doctrine, and its liturgical usages. I am also well acquainted with the history of English church architecture. I was also born in England, lived there a number of years, and worshiped in its churches with my family. My mother was a school teacher trained in a teachers' training college operated by the Church of England. My summer holidays were always very educational and included tours of cathedrals and other historic church buildings.

  15. Amen, my brother! In Cathedral and Collegiate churches only MEN/BOYS were permitted to sing in the chancel-choir, but local parish churches were never _de jure_ bound to exclude women from their choirs until the Tractarians came along and endeavoured to introduce surpliced choirs of men/boys and move the choir into the chancel. The surplice, cassock & cotta were all traditionally seen to be MALE apparel, and women were NEVER allowed to wear surplice, cassock & cotta - nor join the chancel choir. (The idea of women singing in chancel choirs and wearing the same surplices as the male choir members is a modern innovation contrary to the unbroken tradition of the ancient Popish and Orthodox Churches; but happily for us, we are not bound by that tradition as a rule of faith & conscience, but only by the expressly written laws found in the Holy Scriptures.) Mixed choirs only sang either in galleries or at the eastern end of the nave.

    The last bastion of exclusion of women from the church choir consisted in the Cathedral and Collegiate choirs until the Tractarian movement.