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Prayer Book Revision Series: The Ornaments Rubric.

By Archibald Robertson.

London: James Nisbet, 1910.

The Ornaments Rubric as it stands has the statutory authority of the Fourth Act of Uniformity (1662), being incorporated in the Book of Common Prayer annexed and joined to that Act. Its words are as follows:—

And here it is to be noted that such Ornaments of the Church and of the Ministers thereof—at all times of their ministration, shall be retained and be in use as were in this Church of England by the Authority of Parliament, in the Second Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth.

The structure of the sentence deserves careful attention. It is a defining clause, and its purport is [3/4] to define what ornaments shall be retained and be in use. It is framed as an answer to the question (not What is to be done with the ornaments? but) What ornaments are to be retained? “To retain” is (as may be seen from the Preface “Of Ceremonies”) the opposite of “to abolish.” The rubric has the effect of retaining certain ornaments, and thereby, by implication, abolishing others.

The definition, however, is not direct. Instead of specifying the ornaments to be retained and in use, it refers to the authority of Parliament and to a certain—year. This is what is called “legislation by reference,” a form of enactment sometimes inevitable, but apt to be a source of confusion even with the [4/5] more precise form of reference usual in modern legislation. The rubric does not (as a modern legal document would do) specify the exact Act and section indicated by the words “Authority of Parliament.” To supply this identification is the indispensable basis of any useful discussion of the Ornaments Rubric. But before taking this necessary and not difficult step we must trace the rubric to its origin. The rubric of 1662 was substituted for the rubric, to be referred to below, of the Prayer Book of Elizabeth, which stood in the same place from 1559 to 1662. The revisers of 1662 went back to the exact words of the Third Act of Uniformity (1559), inserting only, after “ministers thereof,” the words [5/6] “at all times of their ministration,” and omitting the words “until other order,” &c, which were no longer applicable.

The Third Act of Uniformity re-enacted the Second Act of Uniformity (1552) and the Prayer Book (the Second Book of Edward VI.) authorised thereby. The book was re-enacted subject to four alterations in its “order and form” (namely—1, the addition of certain Sunday lessons; 2, “the form of the Litany altered—and corrected”; 3 and 4, “two sentences only added in the delivery of the Sacrament to communicants”), and subject also to the following proviso:—

Provided always and be it enacted that such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof shall be retained and be [6/7] in use as was in the Church of England by Authority of Parliament in the Second Year of King Edward VI., until other order shall be therein taken by the authority of the Queen’s Majesty with the advice of her Commissioners appointed and authorised under the Great Seal of England for causes ecclesiastical or of the Metropolitan of the realm. And also that if there shall happen any contempt or irreverence to be used in the ceremonies or rites of the Church by the misusing of the orders appointed in this book, the Queen’s Majesty may, by the like advice of the said Commissioners or Metropolitan, ordain and publish such further ceremonies or rites as may be most for the advancement of God’s Glory, the edifying of his Church, and the due reverence of Christ’s holy Mysteries and Sacraments.

This proviso was carried into effect by the following rubric, which took the place of the Ornaments Rubric (see below) of 1552:—

And here it is to be noted that the Minister at the time of the Communion and at all other times in his ministration shall use [7/8] such ornaments in the Church as were in use by the authority of Parliament in the Second Year of King Edward VI., according to the Act of Parliament set in the beginning of this book. [The reference is to the Act of 1559 as quoted above.]

We are now in a position to ask what Act of Parliament was intended by the reference in the proviso contained in the Third Act of Uniformity; the rubrics of 1559 and of 1662 go back to this proviso as their source, and may for the time be dismissed from consideration. The reference was at the time universally understood to be to the First Act of Uniformity (1549), which authorised the first Prayer Book of Edward VI. This Act, in which for the first time Parliament dealt with the ornaments of Church and Minister, is [8/9] expressly referred to in the Second Act of Uniformity (1552) as “The Act of Parliament made in the second year of the King’s Majesty’ reign.” And in 1559 a paper act dressed to the Queen, showing cause “why it is not convenient that the Communion should be administered at an altar,” contains the words:—

Dr. Ridley, late Bishop of London, procured taking down of altars about the third year of the said King; and defendeth his doings by the First Book set forth Anno ii° Edward VI.

In 1566 the Puritan tract Certain Demands, &c, mentions—

The Book of Common Prayer of the Second of Edward VI., whereunto only (as we take it) touching ornaments, rites, and ceremonies the Book hath reference.

[10] In 1584 Beale, a Puritan, in controversy with Whitgift,

goeth about to prove that divers ceremonies which were used in the second and third year of King Edward the Sixth, which he termed superstitious and absurd and not meet to be observed, are by law in force, and yet now omitted contrary to law.

In 1605 a Puritan tract, The Abridgement, asks:—

What Bishop is there that in celebrating the Communion and exercising every other public ministration doth wear beside his rochet a surplice or albe and a cope or vestment, and doth hold his pastoral staff in his hand, or else hath it borne by his chaplain? To all which, notwithstanding, he is bound by the First Book of Common Prayer made in King Edward VI. his time, and consequently by authority of the same Statute whereby we are compelled to use these ceremonies in question.

And in the same year, a similar tract, Certain Considerations:—

We set down the words of the Statute and of the parish book and of the Book of [10/11] the Second of King Edward the Sixth, unto which Book of King Edward for the use of ornaments the ministers be referred both by the parish book and the Statute of I Elizabeth, Chapter 2.

This catena of positive proof, all within fifty years of 1559, has been given in view of the importance of the point to which it relates. To begin a discussion of the Rubric without identifying “the Authority of Parliament” referred to in it is to waste words. And the authority was clearly identified at the time when the rubric was framed. The only exception, more apparent than real, is that of Sandys, afterwards Archbishop of York, who writes to Parker, à propos of the proceedings in Parliament (April 1559):—

The Parliament draweth towards an end. The last book of service is gone through [11/12] with a proviso to retain the ornaments which were used in the first and second years of King Edward, until it please the Queen to take other order for them. Our gloss upon this text is that we shall not be forced to use them, but that others in the meantime shall not convey them away, but that they may remain for the Queen.

This letter, written “Hastily at London, April ult. 1559,” purports, in the above-quoted words, to state what was being done in Parliament. The Bill was passed on the 28th of April, two days before Sandys wrote, but had still to receive the Royal Assent.

Sandys gives an incorrect account, of the terms of the Proviso, and, in particular, omits any mention of its reference to “the Authority of Parliament.” He cannot therefore be appealed to [12/13] on the question before us, namely, To what Act “were the words “Authority of Parliament” intended to refer?

Sandys was not in Parliament, and there were no public reports of its proceedings; he had to rely on hearsay, and was probably not careful to distinguish between the first Book and the first year of Edward, the ornaments of the first Book and those of the first year being no doubt equally distasteful to him.

In any case, Sandys’ words are a mere misquotation of the Proviso, and there is nothing to suggest that the misquotation was other than accidental.

The “Authority of Parliament” referred to in the Proviso (and [13/14] consequently in our present Ornaments Rubric) is the First Act of Uniformity, which authorised the First Book of Common Prayer. The ornaments of the Proviso (and consequently the Ornaments of the Rubric) are the ornaments of the First Prayer Book.

We have still to consider what these ornaments are, and whether the terms of the Proviso had the effect of limiting its effect, and consequently that of the Rubric, by the operation of the power there reserved to the Queen.

But first it is necessary to notice, if only for summary rejection, two theories, put forward from opposite quarters, but having much in common.

According to the first theory, [14/15] maintained by the late Canon MacColl and others, the ornaments authorised by the rubric are those which were in use before the First Act of Uniformity, i.e. in the year 1548, the greater part of which year fell within the second year of Edward VI. (Jan. 28, 1548-Jan. 28, 1549). This view reads the Ornaments Rubric as if the words “by the Authority of Parliament” did not stand part of it; the effect being to construe it as authorising the whole of the vestures and church ornaments in use immediately before the Reformation.

The second theory, put forward by Mr. J. T. Tomlinson, construes the Proviso of 1549 as providing for the confiscation of all pre-Reformation ornaments; they are [15/16] to be “retained” i.e. impounded for the “use” (i.e. occupation or possession) of the Crown, until “further order” is taken as to their disposal.

Neither of these views takes due account of the structure, and defining purport, of the Proviso. The reference to “the Authority of Parliament in the Second Year of King Edward VI.” is its main defining point. On either of the assumptions under notice the reference lacks meaning and purpose.

A word must be added, at the risk of wasting time upon unsubstantial points, with reference to certain pleas brought forward on either side.

The First Act of Uniformity is deferred to the second year of King [16/17] Edward’s reign in virtue of the rule in force down till 1792:—

Every Act of Parliament in which the commencement thereof is not directed to be from a specific time doth commence from the first day of the session of Parliament in which such Act is passed. (33 Geo. III. c 13.)

The Act accordingly “commenced” in 1548, and is correctly referred to in the Act of 1559 and in the rubric. It is therefore beside the mark to object that the Prayer Book was not used till after the “second year” was over. This was doubtless the case; but the fact would only become relevant if the words “by the Authority of Parliament” were absent from the Proviso and Rubric. [It is sometimes erroneously said that the Prayer Book was not used till Whitsuntide 1549, when its use became universally binding. It was in use some months before.]

[18] Again, advocates of the “confiscation” theory lay stress on the verbal differences between the Elizabethan rubric of 1559 and the proviso in the Act. The question-begging title “fraud rubric” has been invented to cover the assumption, refuted by the clear construction of the Proviso, that the rubric, instead of giving effect to the Proviso to which it makes appeal, substituted an alien meaning for that intended in the Act. But according to its clear, straightforward reading, the Proviso overrides the Ornaments Rubric of the Second Prayer Book, and the Elizabethan rubric give’s effect to this. To assume “fraud” in the action of public authorities, when a more obvious explanation lies on [18/19] the surface, is contrary alike to legal and to historical instinct.

It is difficult to say which of the two theories we have been noticing is more burdened with paradox and improbability. The “confiscation theory” is certainly more in keeping with the actual course of the events of the period; on the other hand, it is, in common with the other, Unable to account for the reference to “the Authority of Parliament in the second year” of Edward, and it does more signal violence to the order o£ the words of»the Proviso. But the advocates of the other theory, beginning without serious attention to the reference to “the Authority of Parliament,” have made long (and doubtless correct) lists of ornaments in use [19/20] “in the second year” of Edward VI. previous to the First Prayer Book, have assumed that these are “the Ornaments of the Rubric,” and then, reminded of the neglected words, have sought, first here then there, for some Act of Parliament, anterior to the “second year,” which will serve their purpose. In this rather frivolous quest they have shunned what stared them in the face, namely, the clear contemporary evidence that the Third Act of Uniformity was held to re-enact the Prayer Book of the Second Act, with the ornaments of the First. This view of the effect of the Act of 1559 has been deliberately held by every Court of Justice that has had the question before it, and no plea likely to secure the serious [20/21] consideration of any court has been advanced in favour of any other.

Queen Elizabeth, on coming to the throne, was determined to revive the Book of Common Prayer. Her desire was to effect the Reformation of Religion with the minimum of necessary change in its externals. With all recognition of variation in her policy as regards detail, there can be no doubt as to her thorough conviction of the necessity of Reform, nor as to her desire to secure the concurrence of her subjects by moderation and conservatism in its execution. Her first wish was to take the First Book of Edward as the basis of a revised Prayer Book. The party of Reform, upon whom the Queen had to rely for indispensable support, were too strongly [21/22] opposed to this; and the Second Book, instead of the First, was taken as the basis. But the Queen secured certain changes in the text, especially in the words of Administration, and to her influence the Proviso was unquestionably due. So that, instead of a revised First Prayer Book, we have, as a middle course, the revised Second Prayer Book with the Ornaments of the First.

The latter were retained provisionally, and the actual result differed from what the Act laid down. The First Prayer Book had directed the following ornaments of the minister:—

1. For Holy Communion, a white albe plain with a vestment [i.e. chasuble] or cope for the celebrant, and “albes with tunicles” for the assistant ministers.

2. For ante-communion service on [22/23] Wednesdays and Fridays, if there were no communicants, a plain albe or surplice, with a cope.

3. For matins, evensong, baptising, and burying, a surplice. In cathedrals and colleges, hoods “may” be worn by graduates; also in preaching. Apparently the surplice was not obligatory, but allowed, at other services and in places other than cathedrals, colleges, parish churches, or chapels.

4. Bishops in celebrating Holy Communion, or executing other public ministrations, were to have, beside the rochet, a surplice or albe and a cope or vestment, with a pastoral staff in the hand or borne by the chaplain.

In the Second Book the following rubric was substituted for the above directions:—

And here it is to be noted that the minister at the time of the Communion and at all other times in his ministration shall use neither albe, vestment, nor cope, but being Archbishop or Bishop he shall have and wear a rochet; and being a Priest or Deacon he shall have and wear a surplice only.

It will be noted that the [23/24] vestment or chasuble is not directed absolutely in the First Prayer Book, but always with the cope as an alternative. The revival of the Edwardine ornaments under Elizabeth in no known case extended to the chasuble; we meet with albes very occasionally, copes more frequently; the chasuble was universally discarded. [One was retained for a few years at Barnstaple in this diocese, but I have no evidence as to its use.] The tide of reaction against Rome was running very strongly, and it was not easy to enforce even the wearing of the surplice. The Ornaments Rubric did not contemplate its use at Holy Communion, but it was soon apparent that to insist on anything beyond a surplice at any service was quite impracticable. The Bishops, who [24/25] were responsible for carrying out the law, were themselves averse to the older ornaments, and even had they been in sympathy with their revival they would have found the task hopeless. Even the cope lingered on precariously, a last relic of the programme of the Proviso.

Such was the situation dealt with by the Advertisements of 1566. These articles deal with very many matters of general church order (including the font, and the Communion Table and its coverings), and prescribe the following vestures for the clergy in church:—

For the “Principal Minister” of the Holy Communion in Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches, a cope, “with Epistoler and Gospeller agreeably;” “at all other prayer [25/26] at that Communion Table to use no copes but surplices.” Deans and prebendaries in choir to wear surplice and hood; hoods to be worn by them in preaching in Cathedral or Collegiate Church, surplices by all other ministers in saying public prayers, or ministering sacraments or other rites of the Church, the surplices to be provided at the charges of the parish.

It is still under discussion whether, as held by the Courts, these Advertisements were “further order” taken by the Queen under the Proviso of 1559. The question is intricate, and arguable on either side; the canons of 1604, which repeat the same regulations, expressly cite the Advertisements as authoritative, and it is, I think, impossible to say confidently that they were not covered by the Proviso.

Another question, still more [26/27] difficult, is whether, by ordering the surplice, the Advertisements by implication forbid the vestments of the Elizabethan rubric (i.e. of the First Prayer Book); another is whether the re-enactment of the rubric (as stated at the beginning of this essay) by the Fourth Act of Uniformity does not override the (assumed) prohibitive force of the Advertisements, and of the Canons of 1604. The Purchas and Ridsdale judgments reject this view; but there seems to be room for a re-argument of the question.

The case for the Edwardine vestments turns on the superiority of Statute to Canon; the case against them—or at least against the chasuble—turns on its total disuse since the Third Act of Uniformity, [27/28] a fact which the courts will regard as establishing a strong presumption against its legality. It should be noted that the Advertisements and Canons do not deal with the ornaments of Bishops, except when the Bishop happens to be the “Principal Minister” at Holy Communion in a cathedral.

The above discussion has dealt with the ornaments of the minister; brevity has compelled me to say little as to the ornaments of the church.

With respect to these, the Advertisements do not purport to make any change. The ornaments of the church legal to-day are those of the First Book, together with any further ornaments directed or implied in our present book. [28/29] Only such ornaments of the First Book as were necessary for purposes now superseded are excluded from the scope of this general principle. Such would be vessels for chrism and oil; and a pyx for carrying the consecrated Sacrament to the sick. Ornaments, such as the pax, the censer, and the lavabo-bowl, for which the First Book had no use, are clearly not authorised by this rubric. On the other hand, the rubric contains express or implied authority for all the usual ornaments of a well-appointed church.

The term “ornaments,” it should be added, is technically applicable only to things used in connexion with divine worship, and not to articles merely decorative.

[30] In conclusion, it will be apparent from what has been said that, even after ascertaining the authority referred to in the Rubric, there remain not a few points of doubt, furnishing ample scope for diversity and controversy. Moreover, the customs of the present day do not fully accord with any reasonable interpretation of the rubric. The stole, now nearly universal, is only covered by the rubric if the word “vestment” be taken to include it (a very dubious point), and then only at Holy Communion. The scarf seems hard to include at all. The bishops’ chimere, again, though clearly implied in the Consecration service, has no express written sanction.

As a result, there is too much [30/31] room for “private venture” in the matter of liturgical dress. The essence of dignity in official dress is that it should be not matter of fancy but of regulation. In order to secure this it would be well worth the while of all to make sacrifices of private predilection; of High Churchmen to allow the prohibition, of Low Churchmen to consent to the authorisation, of vestments, if only we could get back to clear authority.

Without laying hands on the rubric itself, could we not agree upon a schedule of ornaments to be held to be covered by it, some obligatory, some optional at the discretion of the minister and people, subject to the approval of the ordinary for their first [31/32] introduction? Till we get this, I would suggest the recognition in each church, within the limits of the terms of the Ornaments Rubric, of what has been in use there for, say, the past five years. This would narrow the present overgrown province of personal taste, and tend to quiet suspicion and unrest by a reasonable modus vivendi.

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