Saturday, July 14, 2012


C S Lewis had a great interest in the cultural values, folklore, and traditions of the various northern European peoples, and he asserted that there were some basic qualities that united the folks of the North. He referred to this as 'northernness.' However, I want to talk about a different sort of 'Northernness' - the 'High church Lutheran' liturgical tradition that prevailed throughout northern Germany, Denmark-Norway, and Sweden-Finland until the third quarter of the eighteenth century when the prevailing rationalism of the age began to erode traditional liturgical uses.

Luther was the quintessential conservative radical. Although his return to St Paul, St Augustine and the Early Father's marked him out as a radical - in the best sense of the word - his liturgical ideas were conservative. Firstly, he retained much of the old Mass either in Latin in the Formula Missae; or in metrical German paraphrases in the Deutsche Messe of 1526. Also he allowed a certain amount of freedom over liturgical forms, so although some churches stuck very close to the Wittenburg norms, others veered in a more or less traditional direction. Generally they tended to be more conservative in Northern Germany, and less so in the Southwest - Wurttemburg, etc..

Luther also encouraged the retention of the traditional vestments, the Eastward position, and chanting. He also sought to simplify, not eliminate, the ceremonial of the Mass. The typical North German Lutheran Mass tended to be made up of the following elements

Prayer for the Church
Lord's Prayer
Agnus Dei and Communion
Final Collect
Aaronic Blessing

The German language version omitted the Preface and the Sanctus, and usually the Introit and Gradual were only sung where there were choristers used to singing in Latin. As time passed the service was increasingly prefaced with a general confession and absolution. This type of service was also the common service of the Church in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and their possessions, though in Scandanavia the Formula was the usual model for divine service even for vernacular liturgies where one would have expected the Deutsche Messe to be the pattern.

Gunther Stiller in his book "J S Bach and the Liturgical Tradition in Leipzig" has compiled a huge amount of material about the orthodox Lutheran liturgy in Saxony in the 1730s. It is clear that Leipzig enjoyed public worship on the grand scale. Though usually there were only two or three ordained ministers taking part, the setting was splendid. Mass vestments in the form of cassock surplice and chasuble were worn, Latin was used for the ordinary of the Mass, the Collect, the Proper Preface, and the Sanctus. On great feasts there were two cantatas sung; one before the Creed, the other during Communion - and there were often several hundred communicants who had made their private confession to one of the clergy when supplying their names to the curate as intending communicants for the next Eucharist. Even the Sanctus Bell was in use! It also points to the vitality of the orthodox Lutheran tradition in Saxony, presenting a picture far removed from that presented by Pietist and Rationalist propagandists.

The Thomaskirche in Leipzig represented the Lutheran liturgy at its most splendid, but cities like Lubeck, Hamburg, Roskilde, Copenhagen, Trondheim, Stockholm, Uppsala had similar large scale "high church" liturgies which survived late in the 18th century. Although Rationalism was ultimately triumphant in Germany, the Danes, Nowegians and Swedes all resisted its encroachments preserving the orthodox Lutheran liturgy into the modern age. This "High Church" Lutheranism presented the Lutheran version of the Cathedral tradition found in England, and like England, the parish church service was much simpler. However, the Deutsche Messe of Luther, and the Agendas used in other local Lutheran Churches retained the Mass as the main service, and in principle that Mass was to be a Sung service. England due to the Puritan aggression had lost much of it sunging tradition in its parish churches, but it is evident from the Rubrics of the 1559 and 1662 Books of Common Prayer that that had not been the intent of the Reformation and Restoration Convocations and Parliaments. They intended to preserve something of the solemnity of the old forms, whilst embrace a thorough reform of the Church Service.

The message that I am trying to get across here is that there is nothing against the Prayer Book, or unprotestant about having a beautiful Church service with fine music and colourful traditional vestments. However it is uncatholic to use a liturgy not allowed by the Church. I hope that over the next few years an increasing number of Anglican clergy will quit fooling around with the Missals and return to the Book of Common Prayer. I also hope that when they do so, they will return to the ornaments and the ceremonial of 'the second year of King Edward the Sixt' and put into effect the liturgical intentions of our Reformation.


  1. Excellent thoughts. I do hope you give this a once-over to correct the typos, because it is worthy of meditation and sharing widely.

  2. This is excellent; I do hope you clean up the typos and give it a once over, it is really deserving.

  3. Informative and interesting post. It is also useful in providing examples of churchman rooted in the Reformation who respect catholic tradition and promote high views of the sacraments. Thank you.

  4. I attended a Lutheran service in the cathedral at Trondheim back in the early 1980s - very close to what Archbishop Robinson describes here.

  5. As a Lutheran pastor, I commend you for a well done synopsis. Reforms were needed, but were very conservative to retain what was best in the Western catholic tradition.

  6. Via Charles @ Anglican Rose link... This is an encouraging post for Anglicans of the reformed stripe. As the saying goes, from your mouth to God's ear. Rev. Peter, may the Lord bless you and your ministry, in the hope of a resurgence of the Reformation testimony of faith and practice of the Church of England as put forth in the 1662 BCP.


  7. My earlier comment, for some reason, didn't post. Suffice to say, Amen to your vision.


  8. It is great to see one's point-of-view of what Anglicanism is up against. Yes, Luther retained the Mass, albeit with changes, as well as the traditions associated with Rome. Only until Professor Phillip Jakob Spener, with the "Pia Desideria" in the 17th Century and the reign of the Calvinist Prussian king, Frederick Wilhelm I, did the Lutheran Churches throughout the German states were subject to Calvinist rule; unless your Church was in a German state ruled by a Catholic prince who accepted the Augsburg Confession. As an American Lutheran, I'm appaled with the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book (ELCA/ELCIC), and the denomination I'm training to become a Pastor, the Independent Lutheran Diocese, uses the 1941 Hymnal, plus retains everything Martin Luther retain, plus the FULL Roman vestments (sans cincture of course, as it represents the imposed clerical celebacy).

  9. I am coming to this discussion four years late, but I find this very helpful. I have always been uncomfortable with the direction the Anglo-Catholic movement took, but I didn't want to embrace Puritanism either. I think this gives me language to define where I think Classical Anglicanism should go.