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The Anglican prayer book controversy of 1927-28 and national religion

By John Maiden


This is a study of religious national identity in Britain during the 1920s. The focus of the thesis is the Prayer Book controversy which engulfed the Church of England in 1927 and 1928 and climaxed with the House of Commons rejecting the Church’s proposals for an alternative liturgy on two occasions. The purpose of the revised book was to incorporate moderate Anglo-Catholicism into the life of the Church. It is asserted that the main factor behind the revision controversy, largely overlooked in previous studies, was a conflict of different models of national religion. While the dominant ‘Centre-High’ (sometimes referred to as ‘liberal Anglican’) faction in the Church, which included the English Catholic section of Anglo-Catholics, favoured a broadly Christian national religion and a tolerant, comprehensive established Church, many Protestants, in particular conservative Evangelicals, understood religious national identity to be emphatically Protestant under the terms of a Reformation settlement. The bishops’ revision proposals challenged the Protestant uniformity of the Church and so brought into question the constitutional relationship between Church and State. Thus the issue of national religion played a pivotal role in the revision controversy.\ud Chapter one gives the background to the liturgical project in the Church, assessing the balance of power between the Anglican parties in the 1920s and explaining the purposes of revision. It is argued that the new Prayer Book reflected the reigning Centre-High orthodoxy of the House of Bishops and was moderately Anglo-Catholic in nature. This underlying agenda led many Evangelicals and advanced Anglo-Catholics to reject the new book. Chapters two and three describe the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic responses respectively and argue that both parties were divided over revision, with large sections of both opposed to revision. Chapter four explains the attitude of the conservative Evangelical, Centre-High and ‘Western’ Catholic groupings towards the constitutional, cultural and moral dimensions of religious national identity. It argues that these understandings of national religion were a key cause of identity conflict within the Church and so determined the responses of each Church faction towards revision. Chapter five enlarges on the idea of Protestant national religion during the period by assessing the important role of the Free Churches and non-English mainline Churches in the crisis. It argues that the involvement of Protestants in these denominations was significant and that the ideologies of anti-Catholicism and national Protestantism motivated this. Finally, chapter six further emphasises the ‘national’ dimension of the revision controversy by explaining the attitude of the House of Commons to revision. It is asserted that the Commons’ debates on revision were in fact discussions on the role of national religion in 1920s Britain and that the rejections of the bishops’ proposals demonstrated the resilience of parliamentary Protestantism in British politics.\ud Overall, the thesis concludes that, while Protestant national identity certainly weakened from the mid nineteenth century, this decline should not be exaggerated. Indeed the 1920s may have seen an upsurge in anti-Catholicism, as Protestants, in particular Evangelicals, reacted to the rise of Anglo-Catholicism in the Church and the post-war successes of Roman Catholicism. The idea of Protestant Britain remained a strong alternative to the conceptualisation of a broadly Christian Britain during 1920s

Topics: Anglican, identity, national identity, Englishness, Church of England, national religion, Identification (Religion) Great Britain Nineteen twenties, Church of England, National characteristics Great Britain
Publisher: University of Stirling
Year: 2007
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