Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Article 35: More "Understanded of the People"

Today's article is one that the American prayerbook tradition has always either rewords or added some manner of Roger Maris asterisk to:    

XXXV. Of the Homilies
The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these tunes, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.
Of the Names of the Homilies
1. Of the right Use of the Church11. Of Alms-doing
2. Against peril of Idolatry12. Of the Nativity of Christ
3. Of repairing and keeping clean of Churches13. Of the Passion of Christ
4. Of good Works: first of Fasting14. Of the Resurrection of Christ
5. Against Gluttony and Drunkenness15. Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ
6. Against Excess of Apparel16. Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost
7. Of Prayer17. For the Rogation of Days
8. Of the Place and Time of Prayer18. Of the State of Matrimony
9. That Common Prayer and Sacraments ought to be ministered in a known tongue19. Of Repentance
10. Of the reverend estimation of God's Word20. Against Idleness
21. Against Rebellion
The Books of Homilies are two books that were 35 sermons that were intended to be preached verbatim by Anglican ministers over and over again. They were approved as theological topics and exegeses. During the Elizabethan era, most ministers were not allowed to write their own sermons unless they had express permission.

The First Book of Homilies was originally written by Thomas Cranmer, who compiled the first two prayerbooks. It contained in great detail his views on Justification by Faith and the character of God. The sermons are extremely long and boring. One can only imagine the sheer boredom parishioners had to endure when listening to the same sermons over and over.

The Second Book of Homilies were a bit more practical for preaching purposes, largely being written by Bishop John Jewel, a English Reformer of the Reformed theology Camp. Jewel is largely forgotten in Anglican history, though he was the foremost defender of the Elizabethan Settlement within the Church of England in the late 1500's.  Many of his sermons on such matters were compiled into a portfolio after his death, most of which evolved into the Second Book of Homilies.

For those so inclined, both Anglican Books of Homilies can be found online in their entirety here. The whole smash, including commentary and end matter, is over 700 pages long. Some are better than others. Some are actually pretty down to Earth in an Elizabethan sort of way. I mean, when was the last time you heard an Episcopal minister preach "against excess of apparel" or "against gluttony and drunkenness."

Given the atrocious and often vacuous nature of many an Anglican sermon these days, sometimes I wonder if it might be better for Episcopal ministers to actually go back and be forced to preach some of this over and over until they get the idea of what theology and biblical exegetical argumentation actually is. We've clearly forgotten.

In  my experience, most Episcopal existential sermons these days can be summed up using the following homiletic map: "In the Name of (insert some politically correct name for the Deity that does not include descriptors of 'He,' 'Father,' 'King,' or "Lord'): This is what I feel about (insert social justice/political hobby horse topic here, heavy on the emotive appeals), because (insert name of 20th Century author or pop psychologist here) wrote (insert some obtusely obscure work of literature or poem that is not really related to the Bible readings here), and (insert disclaimer about the Bible, the Church, and/or Creed not being authentic, relevant, or applicable to culture here); so instead I am going to segway into this internet or news article anecdote I found about (insert some inappropriate and/or unfunny anecdote or news story here, the sappier the better), and then I am going to (insert recap of steps one, two, and three, heavy emphasis on step one here, heavy on the emotive language, hold the mayo) and then talk about (insert some experienced based anecdote about finding God while mowing the yard or some such thing here) but it doesn't matter because we all come to the table for Communion. God is Great. Yea God. Amen."

This, frankly, just does not cut it. It did not cut it for me in Seminary. It does not cut it for me now. I am convinced this is why people leave the Episcopal church. We do not expect people to grow or change, and, thus, we largely do not teach or preach anything that changes people's lives or helps them to grow. This is just a pet peeve of mine. We do have an incredible preaching tradition in the Anglican tradition, I do not understand why we do not study it more in detail. We might actually learn something.

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