Project Canterbury

A Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer
by Anthony Sparrow, D.D.

London, 1672.

Of Chancels, Altars, Fashion of Churches.

ANd the Chancels shall remain as they have done in times past.

That we may the better understand the intent of this Rubrick, it will not be amiss to examine, how CHANCELS were in time past both for the fashion and necessary furniture; for as they were then, so they are to continue still in the same fashion, and with the same necessary Appendices, Utensils, and Furniture. All this may be, and for ought appears to me, must be meant in these words, The Chancels shall remain as they have done in times past.

In times past, the fabrick of the Church, as to the Nave or Body, was built somewhat in the form and fashion of a Ship, which very figure might mind us thus much; that we were in this world as in a Sea; tossed and hurried with the troublesome waves and boisterous winds of divers temptations, which we could not be carried safely through, to our haven of rest and happiness, but only in the ship of the Church.

The Church of old was parted into two principal parts. Navis the NAVE or body of the Church; and Sacrarium, the CHANCEL. The first, the Nave, was common to all the people that were accounted worthy to joyn in the Churches Service: the Chancel was proper and peculiar to the Priests and Sacred persons. The Nave represents the visible world, and the Chancel typifies heaven, or as Symeon Thessal. applies it.

The whole Church is a type of heaven, Gen. 28. 17. the house of God is heaven upon earth; the Nave represents the visible or lowest heaven or Paradise; the lights shining aloft, represent the bright Stars; the circling roof, the Firmament; the Priests within the Quire beginning the divine Hymns, represent the first order of Angels that stand before God; the Deacons with the Readers and Singers orderly succeeding, the middle order or quire of heaven; the whole company of true believers joyning with the Priests and Deacons in heart and affection, saying Amen to the divine Hymns and prayers, and so inviting and alluring the mercy of God, resemble the lowest rank of Angels, with whom no prophane Heretick, or unclean notorious sinner is suffered to assemble; for, what fellowship hath light with darkness? thus the whole Church typifies heaven, but the Chancel, parted and separated from the Nave or body of the Church, so as, that it cannot be seen into by those that are there, typifies the invisible heaven, or things above the heaven, not to be seen by the eye of flesh.

The Nave or body resembles the lowest visible heaven or Paradise: and as man for sin was cast out of Edens Paradise into the earth, accursed to briars and thorns, there to eat his bread in sorrow and not suffered by the flaming sword to enter again, Gen. 3. till, after much affliction and sorrow in this troublesome world, he shall be reconciled to God by repentance, and so, his peace being made, be received, as the thief upon the Cross was, to our Lord Christ in Paradise; so in like manner notorious sinners were by the sentence of excommunication cast out of that Paradise the body of the Church, abroad into the Church porch, which represents the earth, not to be received in again to the society of the faithful, till after a wearisome attendance there in a place, call'd of old Narthex or Ferula (because those that stood there, were under the Churches Ferula or censure) begging the prayers, entreating the tears, hanging upon the knees of all that entred into the Church, by much spiritual affliction and castigation they had made their peace and were reconciled.

In the Nave, we shall mention but two things as observable here; First, the Doors, called wraiaV the beautiful Doors or Gate, Acts 3. 2. because those that had entred them, might see the whole beauty of the Church; and the Pulpit Ambwn, which stood in the midst or side of the Nave, Sym. Thess. This signifies the stone rolled away from the Sepulchre; and because the Angel sitting upon it, preacht the Gospel of the Resurrection of Christ to the women, S. Matth. 28. 6. the Priests and Deacons, imitating the Angels pattern, from this Pulpit, publish and proclaim the glad tidings of the Gospel.

The Chancel was divided from the Body of the Church, Cancellis, whence it is called the Chancel. This was, as was said, peculiar to the Priests and sacred persons. In it were, at least in some principal Churches, these divisions; Chorus Cantorum, the Quire; where was an high Seat for the Bishop, and other Stalls or Seats for the rest of the Quire: yet perhaps this Chorus, as also the next, called Soleas, might be more properly reckoned a part of the Nave; and the Chancel properly that which of old was called agion bhma, the Sanctuary, which was separated from the rest of the Church with rails, and whither indeed none but sacred persons entered: whereas the Laity entred into the other, as will appear after; but account it to which you please, such a place there was, and immediately beyond it, divided from the Quire with boards on the one side, and from the Sanctuary by the rails of the Altar on the other side, was a place called Soleas, from the Latine Solium or Throne, because this was Christs lower Throne; his higher or upper Throne was the Altar, where the precious body and blood of Christ was consecrated and offered: And this was his lower Throne, where the Bishop or Priest in Christ his stead, stood and distributed the holy Sacrament to the people. Beyond this is agion bhma, the Sanctuary, rail'd in of old, as you may see plainly Syn. Calc. Acts I. that it might not be prest upon by the multitude, Euseb. Hist. l. 10. c. 4. At the upper end of this Sanctuary or Chancel is a large Arch or Absis; within that a Seat called sunqronoV, a Seat or Seats built for the Bishop and his assistent Priests in the Celebration; the middle of which is the highest, where the chief Bishop sate, which S. Chrys. in his Liturgie calls thn anw kaqedran. Of this Seat is the 56. Can. of Laodic. to be understood, The Priests ought not to go into the Church and sit in Tribunalibus, before the Bishop be entred, unless he be sick, and cannot come. The Bishop sitting in this Seat by the Altar (having his assistent Priests sitting with him,) resembles Christ (with his Apostles by him) instituting the holy Sacrament, and blessing the prayers offered up at the Altar by the Priest; Right under this Seat stood the Altar or holy Table, the Propitiatory, Christs Monument, and the Tabernacle of his glory. The Shop of the great Sacrifice, Sym. Thessal.

Now that no man take offence at the word Altar, Let him know that anciently both these names Altar or holy Table were used for the same things, though most frequently, the Fathers and Councils use the word Altar. And both are fit names for that holy thing: For the holy Eucharist, being considered as a Sacrifice, in the representation of the breaking of the Bread, and pouring forth the Cup, doing that to the holy Symbols, which was done to Christs Body and Blood, and so shewing forth and commemorating the Lords death and offering upon it the same Sacrifice that was offered upon the Cross, or rather the commemoration of that Sacrifice, S. Chrys. in Heb. 10. 9. may fitly be call'd an Altar, which again is as fitly call'd an holy Table, the Eucharist being considered as a Sacrament, which is nothing else but a distribution and application of the Sacrifice to the several receivers.

To put all out of doubt, it is questionless lawful and safe to speak the language of the New Testament, and to give this holy thing the name, which is given it there; now there it is called an Altar, Heb. 13. 10. We have an Altar: S. Paul in the verse before had perswaded that they should not be carried away with strange doctrines of Jewish and carnal observances, which are grown unprofitable to those that walk in them. For we have an Altar now, whereof they that serve at the Tabernacle, the Jewish Priests, have no right to eat, unless they will receive the Faith of Christ; our Altar is better than theirs, and theirs was but a shadow of ours; the Sacrifices of their Altar, but types of ours; theirs are vanished and ours only continue. And for this reason, do you leave strange doctrines of legal observances, and Jewish Altars, and continue in the grace of the Gospel, whose Altar is to continue; for we have an Altar. Again S. Mat. 5. 23. When thou bringest thy gift to the Altar. That precept and direction for Offerings is Evangelical, as is proved at large. p. 258, [in the office for the Communion,] and if the duty there mentioned be Evangelical, then Altars are to be under the Gospel; for those gifts are to be offered upon the Altar, so that I hope, we may go on and call it Altar without offence.

To return then to the appendices of the Chancel: On each side or Wing of the Altar, in the Transverse Line, which makes the figure of the Cross, stand Two Side-Tables. The one Mensa propositionis, trapeza proqesewV a by-standing Table, appointed for the Peoples offerings, which the Bishop or Priest there standing received from the people, offered upon that Table in their name, and blessed; and though the oblations there offered were not yet Consecrated, yet were they there fitted and prepared for Consecration, and were types of the body and bloud of Christ sayes Sym. Thess. The other was skeuofulakeion Sacristae Mensa, The Vestry where the holy books and Vestments were laid up and kept by the Deacons, who also sat there at the time of the Communion-Service, at least, as many of them as were necessary to assist the Bishop or Priest in his ministration. Thence was the same place call'd also Diaconicum. These several places, and this furniture some principal and Cathedral Chancels had; which I have named, not that I think this Rubrick does require them all in every Chancel, but because I conceive the knowledge of them may serve to help us in the understanding of some ancient Canons, and Ecclesiastical Story. But though all Chancels of old had not all these, yet every Chancel had even in Rural Churches an Altar for the Consecrating of the holy Eucharist, which they always had in high estimation. The Ancients, sayes S. Chrysost. would have stoned any one, that should have overthrown or pull'd down an Altar, Hom. 53. ad pop. Antioch. S. Gregory Nazianz. commends his Mother for that she never was known to turn her back upon the Altar. Orat. 28. in Fun. Patr. And Optat. l. 6. accuses the peevish Donatists of the highest kind of Sacriledge, because They broke and removed the Altars of God, where the peoples prayers were offered, Almighty God was invocated, the holy Ghost was petitioned to descend; where many received the pledge of eternal life, the defence of faith, the hope of the Resurrection. What is the Altar, but the seat of the Body and Bloud of Christ? and yet your fury, hath either shaken, or broken, or removed these: every of these is crime enough, while you lay sacrilegious hands upon a thing so holy. If your spite were at us, that there were wont to worship God, yet wherein had God offended you, who was wont to be there call'd upon? What had Christ offended you, whose Body and Blood, at certain times and moments dwelt there? In this you have imitated the Jews, they laid hands upon Christ on the Cross, you have wounded him in his Altars. By this doing, you are entred into the list of the Sacrilegious. You have made your selves of the number of them that Elias complains of, 1 Kings 19. Lord, they have broken down thine Altars. It should have sufficed your madness that you had worried Christs members, that you had broken his people, so long united, into so many Sects and Factions, at least you should have spared his Altars. So he, and much more to the same purpose.

Many more testimonies to the same purpose might be brought; but this may shew sufficiently the respect they had to the Altar; First, the Epithets they gave it, calling it the Divine, the Dreadful Altar: Secondly, their bowing and adoring that way, turning their faces that way in their publick prayers, as towards the chiefest and highest place of the Church: Lastly, placing it aloft in all their Churches at the upper end, the East. For so both Socrates and Niceph. l. 12. c. 34. tell us, the Altar was placed Ad Orientem, at the East, in all Christian Churches, except in Antiochia Syriae, in Antioch. And so they stood at the East in the Church of England, till Q. Elizabeths time, when some of them were taken down indeed, upon what grounds I dispute not; but wheresoever the Altars were taken down, the holy Tables, which is all one; were set up in the place where the Altars stood, by the Queens Injunctions, and so they continued in most Cathedral Churches; and so ought to have continued in all; for that was injoyned by Queen Elizabeths Injunctions, forbidden by no after-Law, that I know, but rather confirm'd by this Rubr. For the Chancels are to remain as in times past.

Project Canterbury