Episco-Fact #54
July 23, 2017

The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, has a section called the Historical Documents. What are the Historical Documents and why are they in the Book of Common Prayer?

The Book of Common Prayer is such a precious document to the Anglican Communion, especially here in the United States, because it provides us with reasonably continuous record of worship, pastoral care, prayer forms, and our history.

Part of that history is the theological development of the Church that we have inherited and live out. This theological tradition is found in the Historical Documents of the Book of Common Prayer which begins on page 863. The documents included in this line-up are: Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ, Council of Chalcedon (Chalcedonian Definition), 451 A.D., Act V; The Creed of Saint Athanasius (Athanasian Creed); Preface, The First Book of Common Prayer (1549); Articles of Religion, 1801; and The Chicago–Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886, 1888.

Granted, these documents are probably not to be considered light reading, and they are even more difficult to understand without context. But they are central to the development of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church, and to lose them and their theological insights would dramatically change who we are as a people of faith.

Over the next few months I am going to delve into these documents, one at a time, and briefly explain how they affect what the church and its members think about God. But, to carry us on until a deeper explanation, here are some quick summaries for those who wish to read what is going on for themselves.

  1. Chalcedonian Definition—The product of that last of the agreed upon universal councils which explains who the Christ is in relationship to being both human and divine.
  2. Athanasian Creed—Athanasius was a Bishop in the Church during 4th Century and sided with the Trinitarians of the Nicene variety. His creed is consistent with the Nicene Creed but does not role off the tongue quite as well.
  3. Preface—The preface of the First Book of Common Prayer, written by Thomas Cranmer and published in 1549. It becomes the standard for all other Prayer Books, and Cranmer's eloquent theological and practical apologia for the book has been unmatched in the 450 years since.
  4. 39 Articles of Religion—From the reign of Henry and his break with the Roman Catholic Church through the reign of Elizabeth I and the true founding of the Church of England decisions were made on doctrine and practice for the English Church. The 39 Articles were approved by Parliament in 1571.
  5. Chicago—Lambeth Quadrilateral—A document to promote ecumenism. Establishes the basic doctrinal areas that churches need to agree on to come together in faith.

Check these documents out, a great time is when thoughts are floating in the service.


 The Rev. David Lucey