liturgical abuseWhy be liturgical? Garwood Anderson’s recent post draws attention to a faddish liturgical understanding that has taken hold, not just in some evangelical churches, but in the Episcopal Church as well (and, no doubt, other liturgical churches). This understanding claims that liturgy acts upon its participants in such a way that they become better Christians. Like Anderson, I loathe the erroneous assumption that liturgy necessarily produces some sort of salutary effect (I further loathe the application of this assumption to the Bible and to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist). Conversion is a conscious choice to live in accordance with a consciously chosen set of norms. Insofar as our understanding of liturgy does not drive us to choose Christian ideals, our understanding of liturgy is fundamentally flawed. But what if liturgy — or, a particular understanding of it — is itself inimical to the Church’s very wellbeing? In what follows, I propose that the Anglican Communion has become the home of a pervasively unhealthy liturgical anti-intellectualism. To cast out this spiritual malaise, we must return liturgy to its proper place: as one — but only one — of the activities that defines the Church of God in via.

Lex orandi, lex credendi?

What is liturgy? Let us first guard against a popular misconception. Liturgy is often defined with the simple Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi. This is sometimes translated, “the rule of praying is the rule of belief.”[1] Is this translation accurate? Most people do not know Latin and therefore cannot speak to the matter. But in fact, this popular translation is only half true. Unlike English, Latin is an inflected language. This means that word order does not matter. Instead, the case of a noun (e.g., whether it is the subject, the direct object, etc.) determines its meaning. Lex orandi means “the rule of praying,” and lex credendi means “the rule of believing.” In each phrase, lex is in the nominative case (and is therefore the subject), while orandi and credendi are gerunds in the genitive case. Importantly, no verb is technically present in the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi. How then have some people teased a propositional statement (“the rule or praying is the rule of belief”) out of this Latin phrase?

In Latin, no noun is needed when two words or phrases are in the same case. Rather, the verb esse (“to be”) is implied. Because the two halves of this phrase share identical cases, the two terms are shown to be equivalent (e.g., A = B). Consequently, one could just as accurately translate lex orandi, lex credendi as “the rule of belief is the rule of prayer.” Because the English language privileges word order, this second translation has a very different meaning than “the rule of prayer is the rule of belief.” But if we wish to be accurate (and there is no faithfulness without accuracy), we need to recognize both the richness and the difficulty of translation. One-sided translations do not inform: they mislead. Lex orandi, lex credendi does not claim that liturgy determines belief. Rather, it claims that liturgy and belief are both laws and that each law supports the other. The rule of prayer is the rule of belief, and the rule of belief is the rule of prayer. Subsuming one of these rules to the other actually renders meaningless the popular liturgical proof-text lex orandi, lex credendi.


Other, more recent books have translated lex orandi, lex credendi in even more erroneous fashions. Consider the following examples. In their co-authored volume The Hospitality of God, bishops Mary Gray-Reeves (USA) and Michael Perham (England) gloss lex orandi, lex credendi as “Our doctrine is derived from our liturgy,” and they further explain that “liturgical texts define doctrine.”[2] And yet, lex orandi, lex credendi contains nothing that might be used to so privilege liturgy over doctrine. Regrettably, this error is not unique to Gray-Reeves and Perham. Mark Earey writes in his recent monograph Beyond Common Worship that lex orandi, lex credendi is “usually freely translated as something like, ‘The law of praying establishes the law of believing’, or more simply as ‘Worship establishes doctrine.’”[3] Earey actually opposes this popular liturgical shibboleth, but here again we have inexcusable mistranslation, for lex orandi, lex credendi also contains no Latin verb that might be translated as “establishes.” It is clear that lex orandi, lex credendi has taken on an increasingly wayward life of its own.

On liturgical anti-intellectualism

What is gained by elevating liturgy to such an exalted status? The answer is bound up with Anglican historical ignorance — ignorance of ourselves but also of other Christians. In the popular essay collection The Study of Anglicanism, W. Taylor Stevenson opens his article “Lex Orandi—Lex Credendi” by writing:

There is not now, and there never has been, a distinctive Anglican theology. We have no Thomas or Luther, no Calvin or Zwingli. Nor is there any authority in Anglicanism which corresponds to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church or the theological themes which provided the touchstones of theological inquiry of the Protestant Reformation.[4]

The same view can be found in the recent volume Anglican Theology by Mark Chapman.[5] Anglicans, however, might be interested to know that none of these four figures ever held a position like that which Stevenson imagines. Zwingli was always marginal in the Reformed tradition; Calvin was just one authority among many others (and it is only neo-Calvinists of the last fifty years who seem to have become ignorant of this). The same is even truer of Luther’s relationship to Lutheranism. Many of Luther’s ideas — from his rejection of free will to his views on the sacraments — were rejected by his colleagues in his own lifetime. Reading Melanchthon’s 1559 Loci, as well as the Lutheran confessions collected in the Book of Concord, will rapidly resolve any lingering doubts on this matter. Finally, as far as Aquinas goes, his current elevation via Neo-Thomism occurred only in the late-nineteenth century; Neo-Thomism ceased being a matter of import at Vatican II. If having a “distinctive” theology depends upon having a major theologian who is the sine qua non of one’s tradition, then like Anglicanism, neither Lutheranism nor Calvinism nor Roman Catholicism have a “distinctive” theology.

Let us turn now to Anglican self-understanding (and the lack thereof). Bishops Gray-Reeves and Perham concisely explain their elevation of liturgy by writing, “we have never been a confessional church.”[6] Patrick Malloy, Associate Professor of Liturgy at General Theological Seminary, argues the same but elaborates:

[W]e Anglicans do not have confessional documents that define who we are and what we believe (like the Presbyterians, for example, who have the Westminster Confession) or a magisterial hierarchy (like the Roman Catholics, who have the Pope and the various related officials and curial bodies); our liturgy is our agreed-upon self-definition. What we do in the liturgy and how we do it declares what we believe and impresses an identity upon us. The liturgy is foundational for us.[7]

It is not clear why Malloy thinks that we have no confessional documents. By elevating the Book of Common Prayer to the status of uncontestable theological authority, it becomes a confessional document. More importantly, Anglicans have historically relied upon a number of theological texts. The most well known of these are the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which were used for nearly three hundred years as a way of preventing non-Anglicans from attending and graduating from Oxford, Cambridge, and other Anglican institutions of higher learning in the British Isles. No eighteenth-century Dissenter would have believed that Anglicans lacked confessional documents! But other texts have also been important, such as the canon law, the two books of homilies, and the Paraphrases of Erasmus of Rotterdam.[8] Let us not forget the legal realities that defined most of Anglican history; all of these confessional documents were established and maintained by Crown, Parliament, and Convocation.

Let us also not forget the history of Anglican educational curricula. Here in the United States, Bishop White set in place a theological curriculum that lasted into the late nineteenth century.[9] Furthermore, a study of the print history of Anglican texts would reveal that a number of works were of abiding import for centuries, such as Bishop John Pearson’s Exposition of the Creed, Richard Allestree’s The Whole Duty of Man, Robert Nelson’s A Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England, and Bishop Butler’s The Analogy of Religion. Each of these works was reprinted dozens of times for centuries, and Butler’s works entered Anglican curricula in the nineteenth century.[10] Contemporary ignorance about these texts reveals much about the present state of Anglican/Episcopal education, but nothing at all about our tradition’s past.


Today, the liturgy is to Anglicans what the Bible is to evangelicals: a debilitating intellectual crutch used to excuse indifference to — and even hatred of — the ecclesial commitments borne and sustained by rigorous and thus humbling study. In our laziness, we cast off accountability both to our fellow Anglicans and to the wider body of Christ. We cannot teach what we do not know; we cannot defend what we do not understand; we cannot give what we do not have. And thus we shuffle off to mumble prayers to an unknown God, convinced that our inarticulate incoherence is an effectual sign of uniquely privileged grace. We defraud other Christians — but we deceive only ourselves.

Christian liturgy is one of the few facets of Christian existence that neither begins with nor belongs to the Church. Liturgy directs us beyond the early Church and back to ancient Israel, but it also directs us beyond ancient Israel to the God who transcends both time and space. In Exodus, it is written: “In accordance with all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle…so you shall make it” (25:9). This revelation is the beginning of liturgy. Whether one reads the third-century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus or the sixteenth-century Lawes of Richard Hooker, the revelation of divine worship has always been both the ideal and the norming norm of Christian worship. This is true throughout the New Testament; the earliest Christians participated in the Temple’s liturgy and the same liturgy formed the backdrop of later New Testament works, notably the Letter to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse of St. John. But none of these texts portrays the liturgy as the font of Christian identity — and how could liturgy be thus, when liturgy did not and does not begin with Christianity? Liturgy is one of the great aids of discipleship. Liturgy is the Church’s inspired emulation of heavenly worship. Liturgy is not a first principle from which we deduce all doctrine. Liturgy is not and cannot be a substitute for discipleship. Liturgy does not and cannot exhaust the Church of its many other duties. In the words of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: “In wisdom, let us attend!”


[1] See W. Taylor Stevenson, “Lex Orandi—Lex Credendi” in John E. Booty, Stephen Sykes, and Jonathan Knight (eds.), The Study of Anglicanism, second edition (SPCK and Fortress Press, 1998), pp. 187ff.

[2] Mary Gray-Reeves and Michael Perham, The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church (SPCK, 2011), pp. 13–14; ch. 2 as a whole is concerned with liturgy.

[3] Earey, Beyond Common Worship, p. 100.

[4] Stevenson, “Lex Orandi—Lex Credendi,” p. 187.

[5] Mark Chapman, Anglican Theology (T & T Clark, 2012), p. 4.

[6] Gray-Reeves and Perham, The Hospitality of God, p. 13.

[7] Cited in the May 2011 pastoral letter by the Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk: Accessed September 10, 2014.

[8] For Erasmus’ extensive influence in England, see Gregory D. Dodds, Exploiting Erasmus: The Erasmian Legacy and Religious Change in Early Modern England (University of Toronto Press, 2013).

[9] See Robert W. Prichard, The Nature of Salvation: Theological Consensus in the Episcopal Church, 1801 – 1873 (University of Illinois Press, 1997).

[10] For the later influence of these authors and their writings, see the respective entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

30 Responses

  1. Benjamin Guyer

    To clarify the argument:

    In paragraph 1, I raise the possibility that one popular understanding of liturgy is a.) wrong, and that b.) it leads to a form of liturgical anti-intellectualism.

    In paragraphs 2 – 4, I note the ways that liturgical anti-intellectualism depends upon various mistranslations of the Latin phrase “lex orandi, lex credendi.”

    In paragraphs 5 – 7, I note the ways that liturgical anti-intellectualism also depends upon a twofold neglect of historical data, both by way of misreading other Christian traditions and by way of simply ignoring our own tradition.

    In paragraphs 8 and 9, I conclude the argument, first by summarizing (paragraph 8) and then by briefly proposing a Biblical and thus more constructive alternative, which treats liturgy as fundamentally transcendent. This transcendence, however, need not lead to the neglect of other Christian duties.

  2. Charlie Clauss

    A quite excellent post, but before I get to my positive engagement, I must take exception to one minor part of the early discussion on liturgy.

    James K.A. Smith is perhaps the current center of thinking about the role of liturgy in formation. But he uses the word liturgy in a somewhat technical sense, meaning (just about) any habitual practice. I think he would agree with “… I loathe the erroneous assumption that liturgy necessarily produces some sort of salutary effect.” What he would say is that liturgies produce *some* effect – salutary or otherwise.

    His more recent work has sought to redress one of the very issues you raise: liturgies are *chosen*. You pick the liturgy, whether in law, commerce, education, or religion, that suits your prior commitments to the same. There are some liturgies we get trapped by – the “liturgies of the Mall for example – that have formed the modern Western consumer. But there is still choice.

    It would be worth pondering how the *poorly* executed, little thought through liturgies of the Episcopal world actually contribute to the downward slide of Episcopal theology.

    “It is clear that lex orandi, lex credendi has taken on an increasingly wayward life of its own.”

    “lex orandi, lex credendi” is like its cousin via media (hum…another misused Latin phrase) – both are used to beat down certain viewpoints associated with good theological thinking. rather than engage any given perspective, I can use “via media” to label that perspective as extreme or fanatical.

    The logical construction of “if and only if” (iff) might be useful here. (A iff B) -> ((A -> B) AND (B -> A)).


    “Today, the liturgy is to Anglicans what the Bible is to evangelicals: a debilitating intellectual crutch used to excuse indifference to — and even hatred of — the ecclesial commitments borne and sustained by rigorous and thus humbling study.”

    is too broad brush. A modifier word like “some” or “many” must be placed before Anglican and Evangelical. I know too many Evangelicals who hate indifference to ecclesial commitments and who love rigorous and humbling study.

    • Benjamin Guyer

      Thanks so much, Charlie, for your kind words. I don’t know the volume by Smith that you refer to; what is the title? As for liturgies being chosen, yes, if liturgy refers to any consciously repetitious act. But is not liturgy bound to ceremony? The Reformed historically opposed such ceremonies without opposing set order in a church service. Does Smith mention this?

      Maybe you are right about painting with too broad a brush; I should specify that for Western Anglicans, liturgy is generally an intellectual crutch. Does that help?

  3. Walter Knowles

    While I share Guyer’s concerns, and support much of his conclusion, it founders on the same rocks of of liturgical anti-intellectualism, or possibly on the similar, and equally uncharted liturgical pseudo-intellectualism.

    Guyer gives a literate and correct exegesis of the oft-repeated patristic dictum “lex orandi, lex credendi.” However this catch-phrase of ill-informed liturgical groupies is no more real patristic Latin than is “ethay uleray ofway ayerpray isway ethway uleray ofway aithfay.” A minor functionary in the curia of Pope Celestine, Prosper of Aquitaine, made an argument in De Vocatione, a not particularly well-written refutation of late semi-pelagianism, and excerpted in Capitulum de gratia, 8, of Celestine, that because his opponents prayed the same prayers for conversion of the heathen on Good Friday as he did, that the way that they prayed must be established by the way that they believed. (QED, they didn’t really believe their semi-pelagianism). The actual Latin is

    … quae ab apostolis tradita, in toto mundo atque in omni catholica ecclesia uniformiter celebrantur, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi.
    Or in the vulgar tongue
    … which was transmitted by the apostles, and celebrated likewise in the same way throughout the whole catholic world, so that the rule of faith might be undergirded by the rule of prayer.

    It’s crucial to recognize that the rhetorical force of Prosper’s argument is that because the semi-pelagians pray the same prayers as the catholics, they must, prior to the prayers, hold the same faith and not the other way around.

    Lex orandi, lex credendi wasn’t touched again until Prosper Guéranger re-invented it (without attribution) in his writings, and then it goes away until it is used in Pius XII’s Mediator dei, where it is used to buttress some rather sloppy historical arguments about liturgy. From there it gets blown entirely out of proportion, much as American fundamentalists claim to base their faith on John 3:16, without, for example, reading the next verse—or any of John 6. (For a more “balanced” and definitely more complete reading of lex orandi, take a look at Paul De Clerck’s “‘Lex orandi, lex credendi’: The Original Sense and Historical Avatars of an Equivocal Adage.” Studia Liturgica 24 (1994): 178–200.)

    Exegeting lex orandi is a waste of time. It’s a s/shibboleth, with no intrinsic meaning whatsoever.

    And while I’m picking nits, a great deal of the nonsense that has been foisted upon Anglican liturgy comes from the phrase “the third-century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.” That’s a very apt description of a fourth- and fifth-century Egyptian document tradition, except that its not very much third century, nor apostolic, nor Hippolytus, and probably has nothing at all to do with a third-century bishop of Rome (see Max Johnson’s and Paul Bradshaw’s work on this).

    After all this whining, I do have to affirm

    Liturgy is the Church’s inspired emulation of heavenly worship. Liturgy is not a first principle from which we deduce all doctrine. Liturgy is not and cannot be a substitute for discipleship.

    but I’d go one step further: Liturgy is theology and service in their doxological mode, and if they do not rise to “heavenly worship” theology is just intellectual self-pleasuring and service is little more than the works which drag us down to hell (to paraphrase Luther).

    Walter Knowles

    • Benjamin Guyer

      Thank you so much for the response and for the comments about the history of the phrase. I have learned much from your post! I will check out your suggested reading, too, when I get the chance.

      Allow me, however, to briefly play the devil’s advocate. In your second paragraph, you point out that “this catch-phrase of ill-informed liturgical groupies” is hardly Patristic (and you argue the point admirably). But I wonder: does this matter? If poor understanding or sheer misunderstanding are widely disseminated, does that not become part of the story of the Church’s theology? In other words, erring occurs sometimes at a deeply catechetical level. We can ignore the bogus stuff, but the bogus stuff won’t ignore us (not least because we have to keep it together during those prayers on Sundays…). What is more, if we wrote a history of Anglicanism/Episcopalianism in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century, we would have to pay attention to these erroneous but very popular understandings. The same is true when writing the history of popular devotion in the 16th century. Blessed Erasmus teaches us that popular devotion is far removed from the philosophia Christi. Bravo! *But* for most people they were one and the same.

      Liturgy in via is not liturgy in se. The latter is the Really Real, but the former is what we currently have. How is the former made more like the latter? I use the passive voice intentionally here; liturgy is not technology or a product of the will (to point toward a future post…).

      Thanks again for your wonderfully insightful comments!

      • Walter Knowles

        I wouldn’t want to posit a Patristic golden age either, and were someone to counter me by asserting that the maxim is a long standing part of tradition, I would feel well put down. However, the earliest Anglican mention of the maxim that I can remember, off the top of my head, is in (Roman Catholic, but former Episcopalian and University of the South alum) Aidan Kavanagh’s (of blessed memory) 1981 Hale lectures at Seabury Western, published in 1984 as On Liturgical Theology.

        For those counting, that’s 33 years ago, and five years after the BCP 1979 had been essentially finalized. Frankly, that’s such a short time that I think we do ourselves a disservice by thinking it to be part of the story of the Church’s theology, rather than, as you seem to be doing, seeing its use as a mistake, sufficiently propagated, that needs to be corrected.

        The reason that I think the correction is so important is that (as De Clerck implies, but doesn’t come out and say) lex orandi‘s introduction into RC theological discourse was to support a modern functional hegemonic understanding of the place of the bishop of Rome in contemporary society. Bluntly, because the Pope and curia had control of the Roman Missal, they had control of the theology of the church. Translated to our environment, because the clergy control the printing of the Sunday leaflet (lex orandi), they have control of the community’s relationship with its Lord (lex credendi). And that goes against an understanding of the church, which I see as central to Anglicanism, from Augustine’s totus christus to the BCP 1979’s Baptismal ecclesiology.

  4. Matthew Dallman

    If liturgy is the Church’s “inspired emulation” of heavenly worship, then Jesus Christ is the “inspired emulation” of the Father and not a first principle from which we deduce all doctrine.

    If the latter is offensive (and it should be, because it is heretical), then the former is likewise offensive. Liturgy gathers Christ’s Body, at least five ways:

    1. The gathered baptized, incorporated into Christ’s Body
    2. The proclaimed Word from scripture
    3. The person(s) of the ordained clergy
    4. The offered bread and wine, recapitulating all creation generally, which become,
    5. The Body and Blood of Jesus, in the Eucharist.

    These are not Christ “emulated;” these are Christ himself, in his mysterious abundance. And it is through Liturgy — which is properly both Mass and Office, which overflows into Devotional life; what Martin Thornton calls the threefold regula — that God’s seeks to make Himself intelligible to us. For as David Fagerberg writes, “Liturgy is God’s theology.”

    • Sam Keyes

      I think you’re equating “liturgy” too easily with “sacraments” here, but that’s not the usage implied above.

      I’m entirely with you on “Christ himself, in his mysterious abundance” being given in and through the divine liturgy, and therefore yes, in that sense, the liturgy contains the summit and source of Christian life.

      But to say that the liturgy “contains” that, because it contains the most holy sacrament of the altar, does not allow us to say that the liturgy is itself first principle.

      Insisting on the Real Presence does not allow us, in other words, an escapist mysticism. Yes, Jesus is really there in all his abundance; he is there to be worshiped, praised and adored; he is there to make us one with his Body. But the Blessed Sacrament does not teach, from the throne… does not catechize, or make canon law, or render discipline.

      • Matthew Dallman

        Liturgy most certainly teaches. As do Sacraments. They teach through encounter. All of the Christian faith begins with being confronted by Jesus, that encountering. Liturgy is the way we do that today. Theology, and all the rest, come out of that encounter, that praying; and through that reflection that we call theology, we are called back to prayer, to encounter again.

      • Sam Keyes

        Matthew, please forgive the criticism. My first reaction to this post was very similar to yours. I am entirely in agreement with what you say above.

        But (this is important), again, to say that the liturgy “teaches” in the way you say above, through “encounter,” is a bit vague, isn’t it? I firmly believe it to be true, but “encounter” is a bit slippery, because it is entirely experiential, and doesn’t necessarily lead us to the real Jesus. Yes, Jesus is there, but saying he’s there, metaphysically, doesn’t mean that everyone will “encounter” him.

        So sure, liturgy teaches, liturgy catechizes, it even maybe makes rules in some instances, but it doesn’t do so in a way that properly stands all on its own. Yes, we encounter Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and he may speak to us, “heart to heart,” but this speaking, this encounter, is entirely different (even if it is more “real” on a substantial level) from the discursive, temporal encounter that necessarily accompanies human temporal existence. We just don’t, as human beings, learn merely by “encounter.” We learn and are formed by all manner of things, and pure substantial encounters do not, in the present age, substitute for words and human decisions and so on.

        I really believe that the mission of the Church is to “make the whole world a Eucharist” (à la Sam Wells, with a deep nod to Schmemann), but I think it is naïve to imagine that this mission is merely liturgical, or that liturgy just magically does all of the wonderful stuff it’s supposed to do. Even if the liturgy is the most really real and authentic thing we can do as human beings, we have an incredible capacity to be distracted from reality. Practically, historically, on the ground, beautiful, faithful liturgies do not automatically form people as Christians. They just don’t. Nor do they solve ecclesiastical disputes or moral quandaries. The liturgy is not the only gift that the Lord gave his Church. Other gifts may orient towards the liturgy (e.g. we have bishops precisely for the purpose of preserving and furthering the Church’s eucharistic/doxological identity), but that doesn’t mean we have to reduce everything to the liturgy, to decry doctrine and discipline as merely unnecessary add-ons.

      • Matthew Dallman

        Because liturgy expresses doctrine and requires discipline, and from liturgy we are given bishops, and to remedy disputes and quandaries, we begin with prayer (which means Devotion, which means Regula, which means Liturgy), then the issue here is not that I am suggesting we reduce everything to liturgy (which I have never done). The issue here is expanding what liturgy means, and what it involves. Liturgy is God’s theology: it is His work of making Himself intelligible to us.

        If the biblical account is accurate (and I believe it to be), then even encoutering Jesus in his earthly flesh did not fully teach, either. Encounter must be reflected upon, with the full attention born by body, mind, and soul: that is the way of the early Church, which was liturgical from the first. And that is the way of now: encounter -> reflection -> encounter; the cycle of mystagogy. “Encounter” is hardly too vague: it precisely expresses the dynamic relationship between activity and reflection which can never be dissociated.

        And, “metaphysically” — I hope you don’t really mean that. I do not believe Jesus is present in any such way. Sounds heretical; perhaps an example of sacramental Virtualism. No, He is present, actually. When two or three are gathered in his name, all of Jesus is there, in full presence: Matthew 18.20 is surely the simplest explanation of liturgy we could hope for. Acts 2.42 the fuller, trinitarian version. For regula is the ascetical application of trinitarian dogmatic: Office (“the prayers”) associates with the Father, Mass (“the breaking of bread”) with the Son, and Devotion (“apostles’ teaching and fellowship”) with the Spirit.

        I take it you have not studied the theology of Martin Thornton, then?

      • Sam Keyes

        Ok, I don’t want to belabor this, but you seem to want a much expanded notion of “liturgy” (as, really: liturgy=Church) which may be fine. I’m not sure. I guess I don’t really see what the point is, for example, of saying that the liturgy “gives us bishops.” Huh? How does that help us understand anything, much less to counter the kind of anti-intellectual escapism that Benjamin warns us about above.

        No, I haven’t studied Thornton, sorry. Nothing against him. (I know, I know, how could I possibly not have? Well, I spend a great deal of time reading things from the 13th century and earlier. Not a total excuse, but it’s the one I have.)

        I think you misread my use of “metaphysically.” Perhaps it was ill-phrased… I probably should have said, substantially, which is using metaphysical terminology. Anyway it is not opposed to “actually.” I am not sure what “actual” is without employing metaphysics. In fact, in some readings of “actual,” St. Thomas himself would be deeply disturbed by the imposition of some kind of superstitious “fleshly” interpretation.

    • Benjamin Guyer

      No, Christ is not inspired; rather, Christ is the divine substance united with neither division nor confusion to the human substance. Among the five things you mention, the first three are not substantially identical with Christ. The gathered baptized share the same human substance, but they are not themselves incarnations; the Word is inspired and thus not consubstantial in any way; the ordained clergy signify the priesthood of Christ. The gathered baptized and the clergy are indeed emulations – and if we are not thus, what are we? The priest is in persona Christi – and persona means precisely persona (a role taken on), and not person. The ecclesial body of Christ is not itself an incarnation but a sign of the incarnation. Otherwise, one is either a pantheist or a panentheist. Signs are not substances.

      Whether the Eucharist is substantially Christ or not is a very interesting matter upon which much ink and some blood have been spilled over the course of Christian history. I have no interest in debating the matter, to be honest. Liturgy is God’s theology in se, but it is also humanity’s act in via. Your argument holds that the liturgy somehow not only maps Christ but becomes Christ. I don’t understand how this is possible. The Church’s liturgy is an emulation of something that Christ has done and does eternally – but that does not make it consubstantial with Christ.

      • Matthew Dallman

        Then we are not actually incorporated into Christ by baptism, nor actually eat and drink Him, nor is “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” anything but a nice sentiment.

        I take the opposite view on all fronts. Our sin prevents our fully becoming in this life what God wants us to be; but by committing fewer sins, we can grow in holiness and become more like Christ.

        And, yes, catholic and orthodox Mass means Christ is present in all ways, because Christ is an event and activity and a person who IS the sacrament; and Mass is a sharing in all of it, a continuation and extension of the Incarnation, made possible by the Church, itself the Sacrament of the Risen Christ.

  5. Sam Keyes

    Hi Walter! Good to see you here.

    I’m glad that some of the more substantial history of lex orandi has been brought out. I agree that the phrase is nearly useless, though perhaps we can avoid burning anyone at the stake who uses it, since it has become so very common. For what it’s worth, most of the time I have heard it used, it means something more basic and innocuous like “prayer and belief are intimately related to one another.”

    Pace Charlie, the first sentence of the Conclusion was my favorite line in the whole post. But that is because I share Benjamin’s tendency towards polemical overstatement.

    It is true that liturgy is not the “foundation of doctrine.” But it has at times been intimately involved in the shaping of doctrine. I’m thinking of the way Khaled Anatolios describes the doxological habits that shaped Christian thinking leading up to Nicaea (in Retrieving Nicaea). But that’s a good example of how relying on the liturgy cannot be an escape from hard theological work.

    Anyway, I appreciate the sense here that just because liturgy is important (even central) to Christian existence, it is very dangerous to collapse everything else into it.

    • Benjamin Guyer

      Yes, liturgy has been use to shape doctrine – but has not the doctrine (or at least the doctrinal conviction) been the foundation? In other words, Basil uses baptism in On the Holy Spirit – but baptism itself does not establish the doctrine of the Holy Spirit’s divinity so much as offer an apologetic for it.

      Liturgy, like Scripture and the Sacraments, is both an inspired and a limited (re: particular kind of) good. We could put this all teleologically; all three have particular ends, but these ends are not the same. Liturgy is divine worship; Scripture is divine pedagogy; Sacraments are divine union. This is not to say that each does not intersect or strengthen the other. Theology is ecological. However, even within the ecosystem, particular things do particular things and not other things. Otherwise the system itself collapses. In making liturgy the metacategory, we watch the system collapse.

    • Walter Knowles

      I’m not interested in burning anything on a stake (except maybe very, very slowly doing it to a pork shoulder in a very smokey auto-de-fé!) I’m entirely happy with “prayer and belief are intimately related to one another” and it’s been a long-standing debate in liturgical theology on the place of liturgy as a locus theologiae. Anatolios is good stuff, isn’t he, and I think that glorifying God is that which stands behind both formal communal worship (liturgy, if you will) and theology (my favorite definition comes from Alejandro Garcia-Rivera: “Saying good things of God”).

      And, pace Matthew, I think you misread Thornton if you see him as asserting that liturgy (even the divine office) is prior to ascesis rather than an expression of ascesis.

      • Matthew Dallman

        Completely wrong about Thornton. Liturgy — more precisely, regula — is not prior to, nor an expression of, but actually is the ascetic activity. It is the response on the part of the called to Almighty God. Regula is threefold as an ascetical application of trinitarian dogmatic, as I wrote above. He rejected the dualism you are suggesting.

      • Benjamin Guyer

        Is liturgy coterminous with regula? They don’t necessarily seem so. Benedict’s regula presupposed liturgy, for example, but was also distinct from it. Of course, I have not read Thornton. But there is no obvious reason why liturgy and regula would be one and the same.

  6. RFSolonJr

    I’m afriad I have a quibble regarding the origins of “lex orandi, lex credendi.” The phrase is actually a shorthand phrase for a longer phrase, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. Literally each word means:
    Ut conjunction = “as, as being, so that”
    Legem noun accusative masculine singular of lex = “law”
    Credendi noun gerund genitive neuter singular of credo
    = “of belief”
    Lex noun nominative masculine singular = “law”
    Statuat verb present indicative 3rd singular of statuo = literally
    “causes to stand, set up” or “establishes, settles”
    Supplicandi noun gerund genitive neuter singular from supplicare =
    “[of] kneeling, beseeching, entreating, praying to the gods.”

    Therefore, the actual*full* phrase means “so that the law of praying establishes the law of believing” and the famous shorthand is “law of praying, law of believing” or “law of prayer, law of belief.” Note that the verbal form shifts in the shorthand from supplicare to orare, possibly because the phrase lex supplicandi, lex credendi” isn’t quite as felicitous. As you note, the shorthand phrase does not contain a verb and the cases are in the nominative and genitive, so that grammatically the phrase could imply that either component, prayer or belief, leads to the other. *However,* the more complete phrase is clear in its direction: prayer establishes belief and not, at least grammatically, the other way around.

    So strictly from a lexical perspective, the full phrase, which the shorthand implies, is clear, especially from the Latin of Prosper’s writings. In terms of the idea itself, i’m not sure how the phrase “anti-intellectualism” fits your phenomenom at all. The entirely of the liturgical movement, and your own citation of sources, argues for rather than against a robust, honest, and wide-ranging engagement of what it means to worship publically, how we do it, how others do it, what it does or doesn’t do. I’d argue, in fact, that this very article and thread are an prime example of liturgical theology of a rather intellectual sort!

    • Benjamin Guyer

      This is all very fascinating and I thank you for it. Having not read Prosper on this matter, I can’t offer much comment. I do, however, wonder whether we might not be placing a bit too much upon this single statement. On the one hand, what precedes thus ‘ut’? On the other hand, particularly in the Church Fathers, it is difficult – in my mind – to justify reading them for signs of some sort of theological method. That wasn’t their interest or their concern. The scholastics were certainly concerned with it, and sixteenth-century patristics wrangling too often projected this scholastic concern back upon earlier ages. But this or that statement, whether in Prosper or whomever, was probably not written to function as a stand alone prooftext (and unlike many, I think that prooftexts have an important and necessary function). So, was Prosper seeking to set forth an absolute principle? That is perhaps the question.

      In this regard, I suppose that we could turn to Vincent of Lerins, who was concerned with that which had been believed – not that which had been prayed. Of course, he doesn’t say that he was concerned with one at the expense/exclusion of the other. He just says that he is concerned with belief. We have to be careful not to make statements appear more absolute that they are. Otherwise, we might as well follow in Luther’s less astute footsteps of translation (sola, anyone?).

      Thank you, though, for your comment that this post and its discussions are prime sites of what liturgical theology can and should be. They are, if I may say so, all rather more interesting than the popular approach to ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’.

  7. Fr. J. Wesley Evans

    I understand the concerns expressed in this article, as well as the accusation of liturgy “not working” (or at least as much as we would like it seems) articulated in Garwood Anderson’s blog. However I have a few comments.

    First though I would like to point out some of the embrace in liturgy per se is honestly a reaction from us ex-evangelicals who found a certain profound truth in Anglo-Catholicism and from those evangelicals who added to their theology a more important role for liturgy. For some of us the years of anti-ritual embedded in American evangelicalism has made us somewhat defensive.

    My thoughts:

    1: Not part of your main point, but the sacraments I believe to (even automatically) have a salutary effect. The grace can be resisted of course, but the sacraments themselves provide the grace regardless of the person. This seems particularly true in Baptism where the soul is regenerated.

    2: Perhaps to claim ritual and ceremonial have no automatic salutary effect is accurate, but they certainly have an effect of some sort. Outside of the anthropological research done on the power of ritual in human society there is evidence of the power of group ceremony and ritual in cognitive science as well.

    There appears to be evidence that doing things as a group in unison increases group cohesion.

    Also there is a growing theory of “embodied cognition”, most notably in a study on how what we wear effects how we act subconsciously.

    Both could be combined with the traditional emphasis on ritual as the theological fact that we are embodied creatures, and the attempts at a spiritual life outside of ceremonial and ritual is in a way an attempt at connecting with God via bypassing who he created us to be. With this is mind I would say liturgy not only has an importance in itself but for most people most certainly precedes their theology.

    3: When liturgy breaks down it is because the liturgy is question was not true. So yes theology matters (Heaven forbid I say otherwise!) it seems just as inaccurate to claim doctrine determines liturgy as to state the extreme of liturgy determines doctrine. They are interrelated. Perhaps we could even say that liturgy IS doctrine. On historical example would be the Deity of Jesus. The clarifications of the Council of Nicea happened after the Christian tradition of worshipping Jesus. The early Church worshiped this God-Man who was the Son and David. But how much of that did they understand? How could it be justified? It appears they worshipped Jesus first (think of the disciples in the Gospels) , later the Gospel writers reflections on this act of worship lead to new insights (like the prologue of John), then in defense of heresy this act of worship had to be defended theologically. Now, of course, there is a cyclical relationship of forming our liturgy on the basis on Nicea (ideally).

    4: The issue is then really, “how is it that liturgical Christians seem no better then non”? To this I’m not convinced. Anecdotes can be found on both sides but as far as I know there is a lack of actual data either way. The liturgy of the Church, at least, provides a better framework for everything else on principle, so I think we have a better stance in potentia if not actuality. It communicates a truth about us as embodied creatures, as well as something about the organic continuity of the Church for the past 2000 years. Also, to point out, as Fr. Keys did above, there is a distinction between liturgy and sacrament, the sacraments being the actual means of grace which restores the soul. In that case even Bible Churches have baptism, which regardless of their denial, is the reason they have forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit a la Acts 2.

    • Benjamin Guyer

      I agree with your first two points. The sacraments are effectual signs of grace. Perhaps this should lead to a larger discussion about what it means for liturgy to “work” – and liturgy is not a form of technology. But that is a discussion for another day.

      As far as your third point: what would it mean for a liturgy to not be true unless there were a criterion of truth external to the liturgy? There is no hr-liturgy that we know of, so it must be something other, yes? But what is it?

  8. RFSolonJr

    It occurred to me today in the middle of my sermon on Phil. 2 that possibly the soi-disant “Christ Hymn” that scholars think Paul quoted from existing, possibly Phillipian, liturgy might very well be one of the first examples of lex orandi, lex credendi: an existing liturgical text was used to make a post-hoc theological point. FWIW.

    • Benjamin Guyer

      Well, yes – but assuming it was liturgical. It is a fascinating speculation, but without some other external evidence, it can only remain a fascinating speculation.

  9. heatherington

    Faithful and steadfast God,
    nourish your people in this wicked world,
    and, through prayer and the Scriptures,
    give us our daily bread;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  10. Fr Thomas Reeves

    I am late to the dance on this article, but this is well said and a true encouragement to this priest who sees our Liturgy being treated like an optional and easily manipulated entity to be changed or used in worship as we see fit (and the Holy Spirit gets blamed for it).

    Even to those who believe our central beliefs are found in our liturgy, would it not be true, then, that this same liturgy was shaped by God’s faithful covenant people in community regarding their theological understandings of God’s character and salvation before a word of the prayers of worship were ever written down? How can we so easily cast this reality aside, unless, we have given ourselves over to the childish individualism and subjectivism of our age, thinking that we, in our present understandings and experiences are so much superior?

    Help us Oh, Lord, and have mercy upon us.


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