08 October 2016

Church History (Readers 2015-2017): 2 The Councils
of the Church and the shaping of the Creeds

An icon of the Council of Nicaea, with the Emperor Constantine and the bishops holding a scroll with the words of the Nicene Creed

Patrick Comerford

Readers’ Course Day Conference (2016)

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute

8 October 2016

3.45 p.m.: Church History

The Councils of the Church and the shaping of the Creeds


The Caroline Divine Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) summarises the Anglican understanding of doctrinal authority in memorable form: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”

In our last lecture we looked at the development of the Church from the Apostolic period to the reign of Constantine and the toleration that was ushered in for Christians throughout the Empire as the fourth century unfolded.

This afternoon, in the light of that summarisation by Lancelot Andrewes, I want us to look at what is meant by the three creeds and the four general councils, all of which are part of the story of the Church in those five centuries that Andrewes refers to.

The ecumenical creeds as we understand them within the Anglican tradition are three in number: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

These three Creeds have long been accepted as an integral part of Anglicanism. For example, Article 8 of the 39 Articles states: “The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture” (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 780).

The common focus in Anglican theology is based on an appeal to scripture, tradition, and reason. But this was expanded in that dictum by Lancelot Andrewes.

The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In effect, Lancelot Andrewes is saying the tradition of the Church in Anglicanism finds its foundations in the three creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed – the decisions of the first four General Councils of the Church:

● Nicaea (325)
● Constantinople (381)
● Ephesus (431)
● Chalcedon, 451)

and in the first five centuries of the history of the Church, and the corpus of Patristic writings.

In providing this succinct summary of the foundations of tradition, Andrewes was influential for all of Anglicanism. So, for example, after the Caroline restoration in the 17th century, John Bramhall (1594-1663), Archbishop of Armagh, declared that he would admit all to Communion, especially the Lutherans, but also Greeks, Armenians, Abyssinians, Russians, and all who confess the apostolic creed and accept the first four general councils, even Roman Catholics “if they did not make their errors to be a condition of their communion.”

In 1888, the third Lambeth Conference passed a resolution that led to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which states that Christian reunion could be based on a number of principles, including the acceptance of “The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.”

Apart from these three creeds, however, as part of the liturgical revisions of recent years, a corpus of common texts has arisen, giving us a collection of interlocutory creedal formulas used at baptism (see The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 365, for an interlocutory adaptation of the Apostles’ Creed), in Services of the Word (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 165), in services for the Renewal of Baptismal Vows (The Book of Common Prayer, pp 399-400), in other settings (see New Patterns of Worship, pp 163-166), and often with ecumenical application.

In recent years, other creedal statements have made ecumenical contributions and had ecumenical impact. These include, for example, the Barmen Declaration, drawn up by Confessing Christians in Germany in opposition to the claims of the Nazis in the early 1930s, and the Kairos Declaration, published in South Africa at the height of resistance to apartheid.

As we look at the Ecumenical Creeds, we can ask ourselves:

● How relevant are these Creeds for today?

● What we would put in or keep out if we were asked to join the first committees set the tasks of writing the Creeds?

● What are the reasons for some people objecting to the creeds?

● What about some modern expressions of our faith in parallel creeds?

The three ‘ecumenical’ Creeds

1, The Apostles’ Creed:

The Apostles’ Creed is used by Anglicans traditionally in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and for most Anglicans this is the Creed first memorised, as part of the preparation for Confirmation. Although we call it one of the “ecumenical” creeds, it is only used in the Western Church and it is not found in the Eastern or Orthodox Churches.

The Twelve Apostles ... but did they write the Apostles’ Creed?

This creed is first referred to as the Apostles’ Creed in a letter written by Saint Ambrose ca 390. By that time, there was a legend that it was written by the 12 Apostles, each writing a separate clause or phrase. It was first used as a baptismal creed in the West, and was introduced into the daily offices some time between the eighth and ninth century.

2, The Nicene Creed:

Although we know the creed used at the Holy Communion or the Eucharist as the Nicene Creed, this is not what it actually is.

The Church of Aghia Sophia in Nicaea

The Creed, which was approved at the Council of Nicaea in 325, was drawn up to defend the orthodox faith against Arianism, and includes the term homoousion (consubstantial, of one substance with) to express the relationship of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. Four anti-Arian anathemas were appended to the original Nicene Creed and came to be regarded as an integral part of the text.

But what we know and use as the Nicene Creed is a longer formula, used in the Eucharist in both the East and West. This is more accurately known as the “Niceno-Contstantinopolitan Creed.” It is said to have been adapted at the Council of Constantinople in the year 381, although it may have been endorsed rather than drafted at that council, using the baptismal creed then in use in the Byzantine capital.

From the time of the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, this Creed has been the defining creed of the church.

3, The Athanasian Creed:

The third of the so-called ecumenical creeds – the so-called Athanasian Creed or Quicunque Vult – is still included in The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (see pp 771-773) but has been omitted, for example, from Common Worship and New Patterns for Worship.

This creedal statement was traditionally ascribed to Saint Athanasius (ca 296-373), who succeeded Alexander as Patriarch of Alexandria. But it is a Western document, probably written around the year 428, and is used only in Western Christianity.

It sets out the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, adding a list of the most important events in Christ’s life. It also includes anathemas against those who do not subscribe to its creedal statements and definitions.

Saint Athanasius … but did he write the Athanasian Creed?

How do we know it was not written by Saint Athanasius?

It contains a number of doctrinal expressions that arose as a consequence of debates long after the time Saint Athansius, who died in Alexandria in 373. And its statements on the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son could not be accepted in any Orthodox tradition.

The Book of Common Prayer includes the Athanasian Creed (see pp 771-773), after the Catechism of 1878 and before the Preamble and the 39 Articles. But there are no rubrics about when and how it should be used. Can you imagine situations or occasions on which you would use it? Can you ever remember it being used?

And so, although we call three creeds “ecumenical,” in reality there is only one ecumenical creed, the Nicene Creed.

Some foundational assumptions

First of all, let us look at some of the presumptions we can bring to this evening’s discussion:

1, The Creeds are formative:

The Creeds help us to approach the essential importance of what we believe, as Christians, and why. They have served this purpose for most of us throughout our experience of worship, perhaps since early childhood. They are an expression of the faith of the Church, not of the individual Christian.

2, The Creeds are for use in worship:

The Vatican wants to return to using the words “I believe …” at the opening of the Creeds. The Nicene Creed as used in in Holy Communion I in The Book of Common Prayer 2004 opens: “I believe …” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 182). The Apostles’ Creed in Morning Prayer I and II and Evening Prayer I and II is also expressed as an individual statement of faith: “I believe …” (pp 95 and 112). But in the modern versions, the Nicene Creeds opens with the words: “We believe …” (p. 205).

The English language version is based on the Latin which opens in the singular, Credo in unum Deum … But the original Greek version opens with that statement in the first person plural, Πιστεύοµεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν …

In New Patterns of Worship you can find four ways in which the Creeds can be used disastrously, creatively, in a matter-of-fact mundane sort of way in worship, or to give life and meaning to worship and the liturgy in parish settings (New Patterns of Worship, pp 158-159).

The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are best spoken in communion with other Christians, and are only best understood within the context of an act of worship. At first glance they do not appear to be prayers. Who are they addressed to?

If we think of them as canticles, like Gloria or Magnificat, we can find ourselves using them in worship in new and surprising ways.

3, We can meditate on the Creeds:

Despite their primary place in worship, the Creeds are a mystical statement of our faith, and of course we can meditate on them, in the same way as we can meditate on a piece of spiritual writing, prayers from our favourite prayer books, psalms, canticles or readings from Scripture.

By meditating on them, phrase-by-phrase, we can bridge the historical and the contemporary, the popular and the ecclesial, the objective and the subjective.

In an exercise like that, we can bring together our catholic heritage (objective creed) with an evangelical response (its personal and communal meaning).

How relevant are the creeds today?

We all know how church reports are produced. If you were asked to join a committee drafting the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, what phrases or sayings would you keep in? What would you say is importance to a relevant and contemporary expression of the Christian faith today that has been omitted from the two Creeds most used in the Church of Ireland today?

This exercise is best done in small groups where we can look at the two Creeds, and compare and contrast them.

In small groups, draw up:

● three things you would delete;

● three things you would want to expand on;

● three things you would want to include that are not there now.

Difficulties with the Creeds

Can you imagine the different kinds of experience many have with the creeds:

● Some are suspicious of authority, and want to come to truth-claims in individualistic ways.

● Others are not yet prepared to make professions of faith, and have intellectual questions about issues arising from the creeds.

● Some individuals and congregations find the creeds to be irrelevant to daily life, and see little need for them in worship. I’m sure some of us are aware of a handful of parishes that can go Sunday-after-Sunday without using the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed.

How do we help people discover the connections between a profession of faith during Sunday worship in the parish, their intellectual struggle with issues that are in the Creeds or not in the Creeds, and their daily lives, the decisions, dilemmas and action they face each day?

Difficulties and possibilities in working through the phraseology:

Some of the difficulties people can have with the Creeds and phrases in them would never have arisen at the time they were drafted:

God as “Father” prompts questions about sexism.

God as “maker of heaven and earth” leads to reflections on faith and science. How does this relate to the Dawkins debate?

That Jesus “suffered” surely relates to the sufferings of his followers too. How do we understand the suffering of Christ and the problems surrounding suffering in the world today? Why does God allow suffering? This is the problem we know in theology as theodicy.

His descent into hell forces questions about the impossibility of a godless world. There is a debate at the moment between Roman Catholic theologians about the descent into hell.

● Are there reaches in the depths of hell that Christ cannot descend to?

● If so, are there parts of me, or some people, that are beyond redemption?

● If so, then how can Christ be God incarnate if all things are not possible for him?

● If not, then what do we mean about salvation and redemption?

● Are there dangers of slipping into universalism?

● And why do we see them as dangers?

To believe in the Holy Spirit is to acknowledge the necessity of change in the individual and new creation in the community. Where does the Holy Spirit dwell today?

That the creed is completed with an affirmation of hope – “the life everlasting” – is surely a cause for gratitude and praise.

Our ancestors in the faith stood to say these words, they reflected on them, and they put them into practice. To claim this life, summarised in the Creeds, is to say yes to the riches of a glorious heritage from the past and also to the present life that is given to us, as well as to the future. Have you thought of life everlasting from that perspective?

Some other objections to the Creeds

Some of the other objections to the creeds that we might discuss include:

1, The filioque: this phrase was introduced into the Nicene Creed in the early Middle Ages in a series of unilateral decisions in the Western Church.

The words “and from the Son,” are a Western addition to the Creed as it was originally agreed on by a Council representing the whole Church, East and West.

They correspond to the Latin word filioque (fili = Son, -o = from, -que = and), and the controversy about them is accordingly known as the Filioque controversy.

If we are looking for a statement that can be taken as common ground by all Christians, East and West alike, it clearly cannot include the filioque. On the other hand, Western Christians will be unwilling to have it supposed that they are repudiating the statement that the Spirit proceeds jointly from Father and Son. Some would suggest that we print the Creed with the filioque either in brackets or omitted altogether, but with the understanding that, while assenting to the resulting statement does not commit anyone to belief in the Dual Procession of the Spirit, neither does it commit anyone to disbelief in the Dual Procession.

2, Sola Scriptura: those who hold to this principle, argue that the Bible is the only rule of faith, and nothing else should be imposed on believers. But in response, it could also be said that Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, would also agree with this principle. How do we protect and ring-fence what we regard as essential doctrines or beliefs found in Scripture?

3, Freedom of conscience: Some fear that any required confession of faith might usurp “a tyrannical power over the conscience.” But once again, what are the limits to the Christian faith beyond which a group or church loses its place within the mainstream Church? Are Non-Subscribing Presbyterians part of the Christian Church? What about Quakers? What about claims by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons to be Christians? Who decides, and what tools or aids help us to decide within an ecumenical context?

4, Creedalism: There are those who argue that “Creedalism” leads to nominal Christianity. They would say that a mental assent to the doctrines of the Creed has often served as a substitute for true conversion and has led to dead orthodoxy. But to even use a term like “dead orthodoxy” demands some definition of orthodoxy.

5, Limiting the bounds of knowledge: Some argue that the use of confessions or creeds could give a false confidence that the truth in Scripture is exhausted by that confession or creed and thus true growth in the knowledge of the Scriptures becomes difficult. They say there is a danger that someone could feel that knowledge of the confession is enough and will consequently isolate himself from the dynamic of the living Word of God.

6, Restricting inquiry: Still others might say a creed can be used to repress genuine searching, to give artificial answers to questions, and to threaten those who are in a stage of inquiry and so tyrannise the tender consciences of believers.

7, What they leave out: If, as the Reformers said, the Church is where the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly ministered (see Article 19, for example), where are these referred to in the Creeds? Apart from one passing reference to one baptism in the Nicene Creed, there is no other reference in the creeds to Baptism, the Eucharist, preaching or the mission of the Church; and there are no references to the implications of faith for discipleship, daily life and ethics ... there are no references to morality, sexuality, family life, slavery, sexism, business ethics, personal behaviour, because they are about Orthodoxy and not about Orthopraxis.

8, What they leave in: Does the Athanasian Creed say we believe in salvation (and damnation) by works? It says:

And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting:
and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

Some modern Creeds:

1, The Barmen Declaration

The Barmen Declaration (1934) is a statement of the Confessing Church opposing the Nazi-supported “German-Christian” movement. The “German Christians” were hostile to the Confessing Church and combined extreme nationalism with anti-Semitism.

The Barmen Declaration specifically rejects the subordination of the Church to the State. Rather, the Declaration states that the church “is solely Christ’s property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.”

The Declaration was mostly written by the Reformed theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), but was also crafted in part by other Confessing Church leaders, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).

2, The Kairos Document

The Kairos Document was a provocative theological statement issued by a group of black South African theologians mostly based in the black townships of Soweto, in 1985.

It challenged the churches’ response to what the authors saw as the vicious policies of the apartheid state under the State of Emergency declared that year. The Kairos Document evoked strong reactions and furious debates not only in South Africa, but world-wide.

The Kairos Document is a prime example of contextual theology and liberation theology in South Africa and went on to become an example for attempts to develop similarly critical writing at decisive moments in several other countries and contexts (Latin America, Europe, Zimbabwe, India, etc.).

It is widely thought though that Frank Chikane, a black Pentecostalist pastor and theologian, and Albert Nolan, a white Dominican theologian, were the key figures in drafting the Kairos Document.

When this fairly short document of about 11,000 words was first published in September 1985, it already contained over 150 signatures; it was subsequently signed by many more Church leaders and theologians in South Africa, although the amended list was never published. A substantially revised, second edition appeared in 1986.

The Kairos Document is structured in five short chapters (the second edition comes to less than 40 pages):

1, The Moment of Truth;

2, Critique of “State Theology”;

3, Critique of “Church Theology”;

4, Towards a Prophetic Theology;

5, Challenge to Action.

These are followed by a short conclusion.

Within the churches in South Africa, and worldwide, the Kairos Document led to intense and often heated debates.

The influence and effect of the Kairos Document was such that attempts were made in a number of contexts to create similarly documents to challenge the churches’ attitude to particular issues. None of these was remotely as successful as the KD. Several years later, some theologians in Europe tried to address global economics as “the new Kairos.”

Perhaps the most successful attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Kairos Document was the “Latin American Kairos Document,” called The Road to Damascus, written by Central American theologians and published in 1988.

Some questions:

● If you were to draw up a Barmen Declaration or Kairos Document for Ireland or Europe today, what would you include?

● Who would you want to involve in drafting and signing it?

● Who would you want to read it?

● Who would you want to be changed or transformed by?

The Nicene Creed and the Four Ecumenical Councils:

Like most doctrinal statements, however, the Nicene Creed was not written in one sitting, nor was it written in a vacuum. This creed was developed, worded, phrased and edited at the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), and the version we have in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is not the only and only, definitive, ecumenical version.

The First Ecumenical Council, Nicaea (325):

An icon of the Council of Nicaea

At the first draft of the Nicene Creed in 325, the principal problem to wrestle with was the heresy of the presbyter Arius of Alexandria, who taught, among other peculiar beliefs, that Jesus Christ, “The Son,” was a creation of the “The Father.”

A popular way of expressing this belief for those who agreed with Arius was: “There was a time when he [The Son] was not.” Arius taught that the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) the Son, who then, with the Father, created the world. For Arius, then, Christ was a created being; his “god-ness” was removed.

Alexander, the Patriarch of Alexandria, summoned Arius for questioning, and Arius was subsequently excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. In exile in Nicomedia, Arius wrote in defence of his beliefs. His following and influence grew to the point that the Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops in Nicaea (Νίκαια, present day İznik), where the first draft of what we now call the Nicene Creed was promulgated by a decided majority as a creedal statement of faith – and a firm rejection of Arius’ teaching that Christ was the “begotten” son of an “unbegotten” Father.

The principal argument for the full deity of Christ was made by Athanasius, a deacon in Alexandria who later succeeded Alexander as Patriarch. The Creed the bishops assented to in 325 is, for the most part, contained in the Nicene Creed as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer 2004, beginning with “We believe in one God . . .” and ending immediately after “in the Holy Spirit” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 205).

The purpose was clear: to refute the teachings of Arius and to affirm the orthodox doctrine of One God in Three Persons with specific attention to the Christology of the Son.

The Second Ecumenical Council, Constantinople (381):

However, the Council of Nicaea did not end the Arian controversy. By 327, the Emperor Constantine had begun to regret the decisions of 325. He granted an amnesty to the Arian leaders and sent into exile Athanasius, by now Patriarch of Alexandria, who continued to defend Nicene Christianity.

An additional heretical teaching by Macedonius – who was twice Bishop of Constantinople (342-346, 351-360) – denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The followers of Macedonius were referred to as pneumatomachians or “fighters of the spirit.” These pneumatomachians also believed that God the Son was a similar essence of substance as the Father, but not the same substance.

Macedonianism taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person – or hypostasis – but merely a power of God. The Spirit, then, was inferior to the Father and the Son.

Yet another group, led by Bishop Apollinarius who opposed the teaching of Arius, argued that Jesus did not have a human soul and was not fully human.

In 381, the Emperor Flavius Theodosius convoked the First Council of Constantinople, the second meeting of bishops (also known as the Second Ecumenical Council). Among the influential theologians at the time were Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Patriarch of Constantinople, who presided at the Second Ecumenical Council, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, two of the Cappadocian Fathers – the third being Saint Basil the Great.

The Cappadocian Fathers, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nazianus and Saint Gregory of Nyssa

At that council, the bishops reaffirmed and expanded the Nicene Creed of 325 to address further questions about Christ’s divinity and humanity. They added five articles to the Creed concerning the Holy Spirit: the Lord, the giver of life; who proceeds from the Father (see John 15: 26): who is worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son; and who has spoken through the prophets.

This expanded and modified Creed became the definitive document on the doctrine of the Trinity: one God in three persons or hypostases. Although more Councils and heresies followed, the Creed was essentially codified in 381 and received in 431 when the Council convened to discuss the Nestorian controversy.

However, a heavily disputed clause was added in 589 by the Third Council of Toledo primarily to counter Arianism among the Germanic peoples. Where the original Creed reads “We believe in the Holy Spirit . . . who proceeds from the Father,” the amended creed reads “. . . from the Father and the Son.”

Pope Leo III forbade the addition of the filioque clause (the words “and the Son”) and ordered the original Nicene Creed to be engraved on silver plates so that his conclusion would not be overturned in the future.

The filioque clause was one of the causes that eventually contributed to the Great Schism between East and West in 1054. The phrase “and the Son” still appears in the 2004 Book of Common Prayer, although a resolution of the 1988 Lambeth Conference called for its removal.

The Third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus (431):

Saint Mary’s Basilica … the Double Church where the Council of Ephesus met in 431 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Emperor Theodosius II called the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 to address the Nestorian controversy. Saint Cyril of Alexandria was a central figure in the Third Ecumenical Council as its spokesperson and president.

Nestorius, who was Patriarch of Constantinople, objected to the popular practice of calling the Virgin Mary the “Mother of God” or Theotokos. Nestorius taught that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God the Logos.

Nestorianism taught the Logos only dwelt in Christ, whose physical body provided a kind of temple for the Logos. Nestorius promoted the term Christotokos for Mary: the Mother of Christ.

Having summoned Nestorius three times to no avail, the Council condemned his teaching as erroneous and stripped him of his bishopric. The council declared Christ to be both a complete man and a complete God, and upheld the Virgin Mary as Theotokos because she gave birth not just to a man. The Council declared the text of the Creed, in its present form of 325 and 381, as complete and forbade any changes.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon (451):

The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451

Flavius Marcianus, Emperor of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire (450-457), called the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (Χαλκηδών, present-day Kadıköy), across the Bosporus from Constantinople and now a suburb on the Anatolian side of Istanbul.

Once again, this council was concerned with the nature of Jesus Christ. Monophysitism, from the Greek mono (one or alone) and physis (nature) argued the Christological position that Christ had only one nature, which was Divine. While Christ was human, they believed, his less-perfect human nature was dissolved into his more perfect divine nature.

The council condemned Monophysitism and reaffirmed that Christ has two and complete natures as defined by previous councils. These two natures, the Council argued, operate harmoniously and without confusion. They are not divided or separate, as the Nestorians argued; nor did they undergo any change, as the Monophysites contended.

The Council gave a clear and full statement of orthodox Christology in a document defining the union of the divine and human natures of Christ. This document, which concentrates specifically on the nature of Christ, reflects a very clear, final statement on the orthodox theology that Christ is at once man and God.

The statement declares that is the unanimous teaching of the Church that Christ is perfect in humanity and in divinity; truly God (an Alexandrian notion) and truly man (an Antiochian notion); consubstantial with God and with humanity. It established the absolute limits of theological speculation using words like “unconfusedly,” “unchangeably,” “indivisibly” and “inseparably.”

The 1888 Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not list the Chalcedonian Creed among the fundament doctrines for Communion based on scriptures, creeds, sacraments and the historic episcopate.

The Chalcedonian Creed does not appear to contain any doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, nor does it use the word Trinity. This is a single paragraph lifted from a larger document that speaks about the decisions reached at Nicea in 325 by the “318 Fathers” in attendance and at Constantinople in 381 by the “150 Fathers” in attendance.

Selected reading:

The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, 2004.

Alison, CF, The Cruelty of Heresy (London: SPCK, 1994).
Ayers, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy (Oxford: OUP, 2004).
Bettenson, H., and Maunder, C. (eds), Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford, OUP, 3rd ed, 1999).
Challenge to the Church: The Kairos Document (London: Catholic Institute for International Affairs and British Council of Churches, 1985/1989).
Geitz, ER, Gender and the Nicene Creed (New York: Church Publishing, 1995).
Gregorios, Paulos, Lazareth, WH, and Nissiotis, NA (eds), Does Chalcedon divide or unite? (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981).
Micks, MH, Loving the Questions: an exploration of the Nicene Creed (New York: Seabury, 2005).
New Patterns for Worship (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
The Road to Damascus: Kairos and Conversion (London: Catholic Institute for International Affairs and British Council of Churches, 1989).
Stevenson, J, and Frend, WHC, Creeds, Council and Controversies (London: SPCK, revised ed, 1989).
Young, Frances, The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM Press, 1991/2002).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture was delivered at the Readers’ Course Day Conference on 8 October 2016.

Liturgy 2016-2017 (Part Time) 4.2:
The nature and theology of sacraments

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year III-IV (Part-Time):

Liturgy 4 and 5: 8-9 October 2016

This weekend:

4.1, Creation, Trinity and theologies of worship and prayer;
4.2, The nature and theology of sacraments.

5.1, Baptism and Eucharist (1) from the early Church to the Reformers;
5.2, Baptism and Eucharist (2) liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century.

2.30 p.m., Saturday, 8 October 2016:

4.2, The nature and theology of sacraments.


Last weekend, we looked at sign, icon, ritual and symbol in domestic, civic and secular life.

We give tokens that have special significance to mark certain landmark days, events and anniversaries.

A red rose is an appropriate token to give to someone you love on Saint Valentine’s Day, but not appropriate to give to others. Who should throw a single red rose on a coffin?

Hopefully we all know who to send birthday cards, anniversary cards and sympathy cards, and when. They may only be mere tokens, but they mean more than that and so it would be more than a major social faux pas to do this for the wrong person, at the wrong time, not to know the difference.

And it would be a sad family that failed to:

Welcome a new child into the membership of the family.

Had no celebratory meals to mark the events that make us and hold us together as families, such as weddings and wedding anniversaries, birthdays and funerals.

The Church is a Mystical Body, the Body of Christ, into which we are incorporated by Baptism, which has been described as the foundational sacrament.

It is also made up as a collective of humans, who have the same social needs within the church as we have in other social structures that bind us together.

What is a Sacrament?

Some introductory quotations:

Thomas Cranmer ... ‘these elements ... do after a sacramental manner put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses’

For it is not true, as some say, that sacraments confer grace by themselves, without a good movement of heart on the part of their user; for when persons in their reason use the sacraments, the user’s faith must be present also, to believe the promises, and receive the things promised, which are conveyed through the sacraments.

– Thomas Cranmer, Of the Use of Sacraments (1538).

Our Saviour Christ hath not only set forth these things most plainly in his holy word, that we may hear them with our ears, but he has also ordained one visible sacrament of spiritual regeneration in water, and another visible sacrament of spiritual nourishment in bread and wine, to the intent that, as much as is possible for man, we may see Christ with our eyes, smell him at our nose, taste him with our mouths, grope him with our hands, and perceive him with all our senses. For the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears, so likewise these elements of water, bread, and wine, joined to God’s word, do after a sacramental manner put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses.

– Thomas Cranmer, Answer to Stephen Gardiner (1551).

Richard Hooker’s statue at Exeter Cathedral ... ‘these mysteries do as nails fasten us to his very Cross’

Richard Hooker describes a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,’ and says:

It pleaseth Almighty God to communicate by sensible means those blessings which are incomprehensible.

– Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.57.3.

The very letter of the word of Christ giveth plain security that these mysteries do as nails fasten us to his very Cross, that by them we draw out, as touching efficacy, force, and virtue, even the blood of his gored side, in the wounds of our Redeemer we there dip our tongues, we are dyed red both within and without, our hunger is satisfied and our thirst for ever quenched; they are things wonderful which he feeleth, great which he seeth and unheard of which he uttereth, whose soul is possessed of this Paschal Lamb and made joyful in the strength of this new wine, this bread hath in it more than the substance which our eyes behold, this cup hallowed with solemn benediction availeth to the endless life.

– Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.67.12.


The term ‘sacrament’ was first used to denote things that had previously been described in Greek as μυστηριον (mysterion, singular), or ‘the mysteries’, μυστηρια (mysteria, plural), although the two terms, sacrament and mystery, have completely different meanings.

To this day, the Eastern Church still uses the term ‘Mystery’ or ‘Sacred Mystery’ where we might use the term ‘Sacrament.’


We still use the word mystery too. It occurs at least three times in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) in reference to the Eucharist in ways that we continue to use it:

‘we … have duly received these holy mysteries’ – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 190.

‘so shall ye be meet partakers of these holy mysteries’ – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 200.

‘he hath instituted and ordained holy mysteries, pledges of his love.’ – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 200.

We think of the word ‘mystery’ in terms of a genre of novel or a problem to be solved.

But the word mystery in Greek is μυστήριον (mysterion, but usually as the plural μυστήρια, mysteria).

It comes from the Greek word μυο (muo), to shut the mouth, or even to cover the eyes. Some say this word is the root of the Greek μωρός (morós, dull), which also gives us the English word ‘moron.’ But in this afternoon’s context, it is a word that relates therefore to a secret teaching, the kind of revelation that is passed on in whispers, or revealed only to the initiated.

In the Old Testament, God is the ‘revealer of mysteries’ (Daniel 2: 47).

The Wisdom literature talks about ‘the secret purposes of God’ (see Wisdom 2: 22).

In the Gospels, the word μυστήριον (mystérion) is used to refer to the secret meaning of parables (see Matthew 13: 11; Mark 4: 11; Luke 9: 1-10).

This noun had originally been used in reference to the secrets of ancient mystery cults, but it is generally used in the plural in the New Testament to refer to a number of doctrines not known in the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul uses it in a technical, theological sense, setting forth the notion that Christ is the mystery, the secret plan of God that has always been implicit in creation but is now made explicit in Christ. Christ is the predestined mystery of God revealed within the fullness of time. In receiving him, people receive salvation.


In Roman society, a sacramentum was a pledge of money or property, deposited in the temple by parties to a lawsuit or contract.

This sacramentum was forfeited by the party who broke the contract or lost the lawsuit.

It then came to mean an oath or pledge made by new recruits to their commander and to the Roman gods.

Modern usage:

Around the year 210, Tertullian began a tradition of Latin Christians of using the word sacramentum to refer to the acts or rites described in the Greek-speaking Church as μυστήρια.

Tertullian preferred the term sacrament because it was free of any association with the mystery cults.

The sacraments were, as the Latin term implied, sacred pledges of allegiance to God.

Some Biblical foundations:

All religions have been marked by special rites and rituals associated with particular days, events and commemorations.

Old Testament:

From your Old Testament studies, consider the appropriate and continuing rites associated with:

● Passover
● Pentecost
● Sukkoth
● Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)
● The Sabbath Evening

Gospel rituals:

Christ celebrated the major festivals of the Jewish calendar, he was a regular participant in the weekly worship of the synagogue, and he was a frequent visitor to the Temple, and not only on High Holy Days.

There are significant ‘sacramental’ moments in the life of Christ:

1, His baptism in the Jordan

2, His meals with others:

● the Feeding of the Multitude
● meals with Pharisees and Tax Collectors
● the Last Supper
● the meal with the Disciples in Emmaus
● the post-Resurrection breakfast on the shore.

3, His anointing of others (the sick, Mark 6: 13), and his anointing by others, especially women, both at meals and in the grave.

4, What about:

● The Wedding at Cana?
● The Signs in Saint John’s Gospel?
● The Transfiguration?


New Testament developments:

The Apostles and the early members of the Church continued to worship, as all Jews of the time did, in the three places that were the focus of worship:

● the Temple (see Acts 3: 1, 5: 12, &c)
● the Synagogue
● the home

But, while the Apostolic Church continued to engage in the Temple, Synagogue and domestic liturgy they had inherited, we also find the beginnings of the sacramental life of the Church, built on their experiences of the worship life they shared with Christ:

● Baptism (Acts 8: 38, &c).
● The shared meal of the Church (see Acts 6: 1, &c).
● The Laying on of Hands (see Acts 6: 6, Acts 8: 14-17, &c).
● The anointing of healing and forgiveness of sins (see James 5: 14-15).

The Apostle Paul talks about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in sacramental language.

Saint Paul uses the term μυστήριον no fewer than 21 times … although he never refers to either Baptism or the Eucharist as a ‘mystery’.

Anglican Sacramental theology

In our next lecture, tomorrow morning [Sunday 9 October 2016], I hope we can look at the early development of the sacramental life of the Church.

But what do we mean by Sacraments in Anglican life and liturgy today?

At Disestablishment, the Church of Ireland stated, as part of our core self-understanding, that we ‘will continue to minister the doctrine, and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded; and will maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry.’ – The Preamble and Declaration (1870), I.2.

So, we are not just a liturgical church, but we express that self-understanding as a sacramental church. And our Liturgy is complete as Liturgy of Word and Liturgy of Sacrament.

Anglican sacramental theology contains elements shared by churches of both the Catholic traditions and of the traditions of the Reformations.

Anglican sacramental theology emphasises the sacraments as a means of grace, sanctification, and forgiveness.

You may have already found that Anglican sacramental theology encompasses a full range from those whose beliefs are in accord with Christians of the early centuries to those who accept Tridentine teachings of the sacraments, and those who reject the need (as concerns one’s salvation) for sacraments when it comes to one’s salvation.

When the Thirty-Nine Articles were accepted as the norm for Anglican teaching, it was commonly taught that Anglicans recognised two sacraments – Baptism and the Eucharist – as ‘Sacraments ordained of Christ,’ or ‘sacraments of the Gospel’ as they are described in Article 25. – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 784.

There are five other liturgical acts that the Thirty-Nine Articles say are ‘commonly called Sacraments’ although they are ‘not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel.’ These five are variously as full sacraments by Anglo-Catholics, as ‘sacramental rites’ by Evangelicals, and with a variety of opinions in between among other Anglicans.

Article 25 states that these five ‘are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.’

According to the Thirty-Nine Articles (Article 25, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 784), the seven are:

Two ‘Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel’:

● Baptism;
● The Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper.

Five ‘commonly called Sacraments … not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel’:

● Confirmation
● Penance (Confession and Absolution)
● Orders
● Matrimony
● Extreme Unction (Anointing of the Holy Spirit)

What are the characteristics of sacraments?

As defined by the 16th century Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, a sacrament is ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.’

A sacrament, therefore, has the effect of conveying sanctification to the individual taking part in the sacramental action.

Sacraments have both form and matter.

A form is the verbal and physical liturgical action.

The matter includes any material objects used.

These include water and chrism in Baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist.

Not all the ritual and objects used in sacramental worship can be defined as the form and matter – the necessities are articulated in the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer.

A rite that has the intended sacramental effect is a valid sacrament.

Who is the minister of a sacrament?

Initially, it may appear that many Anglicans hold that only a priest properly ordained by a bishop or a bishop consecrated by other bishops can perform valid sacramental actions.

But Baptism may be performed by a layperson in cases of emergency.

Who ministers Holy Communion?

If there are no recipients, can there be Holy Communion?

Who receives?

Who distributes?

Matrimony may be performed by a deacon. But who are the true ministers at matrimony?

Who may administer Confirmation?

What about the sacraments administered by clergy who are not ordained in the tradition of tactile apostolic succession?

What about the conditional administration of sacraments?

What is the status of the ‘re-ordination’ of Anglican priests and bishops who in recent years joined the Ordinariate?

What about Baptism?

Where there is case of uncertainty about whether someone has been baptised at an earlier time, he or she may receive the sacrament conditionally. In principle, no one can be baptised more than once. In a conditional baptism, the minister of the sacrament, rather than saying ‘I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ says ‘If you have not already been baptised, I baptise you …’ (see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 368).

Introduction to the sacramental theology of Baptism:

Baptism is the sacrament by which we are initiated into the Christian faith. The sacrament thus has the effect of receiving the individual into the household of God, allowing him or her to receive the grace of the other sacraments.

The matter consists of the water (and chrism, if used) and the form includes both the words of Baptism, the Trinitarian formula.

The intention of baptism is three-fold:

● a renunciation of sin and of all that is opposed to the will of God, articulated in vows;
● a statement of belief in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, articulated in the words of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed;
● and a commitment to follow Christ as Lord and Saviour, expressed in vows.

The effect of baptism is:

● Adoption as a child of God;
● Incorporation into the Body of Christ;
● the reception of the Holy Spirit.

While infant baptism is the norm throughout the Anglican Communion, services of thanksgiving and dedication of children are sometimes celebrated, especially when Baptism is being deferred.

People baptised in other traditions may be confirmed, but they are not baptised again unless there is doubt about the validity of their original Baptism. Already confirmed Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians are simply received into an Anglican Church.

Introduction to the sacramental theology of The Eucharist:

The Eucharist ... the matter consists of bread and wine, and the form is the Eucharistic Prayer

The Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Mass, or the Lord’s Supper), is the means by which Christ becomes present to the Christian community gathered in his name.

It is the central act of gathered worship, renewing the Body of Christ as the Church through the reception of the Body of Christ in the sacrament, his spiritual body and blood.

The matter consists of bread and wine, and the form is the Eucharistic Prayer.

In this sacrament, Christ is both encountered and incorporated. As such, the Eucharistic action looks backward as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, forward as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and to the present and the presence of Christ in the lives of the community and of individual believers.

New Testament narratives of the Last Supper:

There are four New Testament accounts or narratives of the Last Supper, and scholars differ over which is the earlier account:

● Matthew 26: 20-29.
● Mark 14: 17-25;
● Luke 22: 14-20;
● I Corinthians 11: 23-26.

[Handout of passages, and discussion:]

You note, of course, that we have no institution narrative in Saint John’s Gospel. By now, you have got used to the idea of the two different traditions, the Synoptic and the Johannine traditions.

Within these four narratives of the Last Supper, we find not one Synoptic tradition, but two traditions.

1, The first tradition is represented by the more Semitic style presented in the texts from Mark and Matthew, and is thought to stem from Jerusalem.

2, Luke and Paul represent the second tradition, which is a more Hellenistic form that might be traced to Antioch.

When it comes to comparisons, we can see:

1, Matthew and Mark share the opening clause ‘as they were eating,’ the parallel sayings over the bread and the cup, and the use of the verbs ‘bless’ over the bread and ‘give thanks’ over the cup.

2, Matthew, however, inserts the command ‘eat’ over the bread and the command ‘drink of it all of you’ over the cup, which replaced Mark’s observation that ‘they all drank of it.’ Matthew also adds the phrase ‘for the forgiveness of sins.’

3, In contrast, Paul and Luke do not have the opening phrase ‘as they were eating.’

4, Instead, Paul and Luke separate the actions over the bread and the cup with the phrase ‘after the supper.’

5, Paul and Luke both use ‘give thanks’ instead of ‘bless’ over the bread as well as (at least by implication) over the cup.

6, Paul’s and Luke’s sayings over the bread and the cup are asymmetrical (‘body/new covenant in my blood’).

7, Paul and Luke are alone in quoting the command to ‘do this in my remembrance.’

In addition, we might note the following characteristics:

8, Luke emphasises the eschatological.

9, The Pauline account, despite many arguments for it being the earliest, is more liturgical.

We should not forget that apart from the Last Supper we can approach many other Gospel stories with a Eucharistic interpretation or insight. These include, for example:

● the many meals Jesus had with his disciples
● the meals he had with Pharisees and tax collectors
● his feeding of the multitude
● his meals with the two disciples he met on the road to Emmaus.

The Adoration of the Lamb on the Throne ... the main panel in the Ghent Altarpiece

There are other New Testament insights that are important when it comes to understanding how the Early Church received and interpreted the Eucharist. Scott Hahn (The Lamb’s Supper) is prominent among a group of scholars who read the Book of Revelation as a key to understanding the mysteries of the Eucharist.

Our liturgy on earth not only anticipates but joins in the heavenly worship before the throne of the Lamb:

Then the twenty-four elders who sit on the thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God, singing: ‘We give thanks [to you], Lord God Almighty ...’ (Revelation 11: 16-17).

The translations force a particular sacramental and sacredotal interpretation that remains ambiguous in the original Greek:

(καὶ οἱ εἴκοσι τέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι [οἱ] ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενοι ἐπὶ τοὺς θρόνους αὐτῶν ἔπεσαν ἐπὶ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν καὶ προσεκύνησαν τῷ θεῷ λέγοντες, Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, κύριε ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ.

Here we might translate πρεσβύτερος in verse 16 as priest rather than elder and Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι not merely as ‘We give thanks [to you],’ but with its Eucharistic emphasis.

In addition, we have other accounts of the Last Supper in the early writings of the Church. For example, Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, writes:

Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, ‘This do ye in remembrance of me, this is my body,’ and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, ‘This is my blood,’ and gave it to them [the apostles] alone. – Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66.3

Compared to the New Testament accounts, this account by Justin Martyr is very brief indeed.

Apart from its length, we could note also the place of the command to do in remembrance, which comes before the words ‘this is my body’ or ‘this is my blood.’

The ‘five commonly called Sacraments’:

What about those ‘five commonly called Sacraments’ that are ‘not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel’?

Confirmation: the word Confirmation is derived from the Latin word confirmare – to strengthen. In this sense, Confirmation involves the reaffirmation of faith through the strengthening and renewal of one’s baptismal vows accomplished through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.

Historically, Baptism and Confirmation were, at one time, one unified rite, with the bishop performing both activities. With the spread of Christianity in Europe during the early Middle Ages, the rites became separated.

In recent centuries, Confirmation has been seen as an opportunity for those baptised as infants to make an adult profession of faith, and to reaffirm the vows made on their behalf by witnesses.

Until very recently, it was also a precondition for participation in the Eucharist throughout the Anglican Communion.

The charges in Baptism in the Church of Ireland included these words: ‘Ye are to take care that this Child be brought to the bishop to be confirmed by him, as soon as he can say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and be further instructed in the Church Catechism set forth for that purpose.’ (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 351.)

Now we also say that baptism allows those who are baptised ‘to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church’ (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 361).

If Baptism admits us to the life and worship of the Church, can we exclude those who are baptised from participation in the Eucharist?

Some Anglican provinces now view Baptism as sufficient for accessing the grace of all the sacraments, since it is the means of initiation into Christianity and the Church.

Many who have been baptised as adults still present themselves for Confirmation as a way of completing the ancient rite of initiation, or because they have been received into the Anglican Communion from other denominations.

Penance (Confession and absolution, sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is the rite or sacrament by which one is restored to God when one’s relationship with God has been broken by sin. The form is the words of absolution, which may be accompanied by the sign of the cross.

Confession and absolution are normally experienced corporately (the congregation invited to confess their sins, a moment of silent prayer while the congregation does so, a spoken general confession, and the words of absolution). Individuals, however, can and do take part in aural confession, privately meeting a priest to confess sins, during which time the priest can provide both counselling, urge reconciliation with parties that have been sinned against, and suggest certain spiritual disciplines or penance.

One of the specific provisions for individual confession is expressed beautifully in Exhortation One at Holy Communion One (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 197-198), especially in these words:

‘And because it is requisite, that no man should come to the Holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word, he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with spiritual counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness.’ (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 197-198).

There is no approved ceremony for a private confession of sins, the event being provided for in the Anglican tradition only in uncommon instances where an individual cannot quiet his conscience or find consolation in the General Confession that is part of the liturgy.

Anglican clergy do not typically require acts of penance after receiving absolution; but such acts, if done, are intended to be healing and preventative.

The phrase ‘all may, some should, none must’ is often taken as the Anglican attitude towards the sacrament, though there are provinces and parishes where participation in the sacrament is expected for the forgiveness of post-baptismal sin.

The priest is bound by the seal of confession. This binds the priest to never speak of what he or she has heard in the confessional to anyone.

What do you think of the legal implications?


Orders: Ordination is the setting aside of individuals to the specific ministries in the Church of deacon, priest and bishop. The matter and form are the laying on of hands by a bishop and prayers.

From the beginning of the Church, two orders were recognised – those of bishop and of deacon. The bishop is the chief pastor of a diocese. Priests are essentially delegates of the bishop to minister to congregations in which the bishop cannot be physically present.

Deacons have always had the role of being ‘the church in the world,’ ministering to the pastoral needs of the community and assisting the priest in worship – for example, in proclaiming the Gospel and preparing the altar.

Who may the recipient of the sacramental rite of ordination?


Matrimony: Matrimony is the blessing of a union between a man and woman, acknowledging the presence and grace of God in the life of the couple. The form is manifested as the vows, and not, as popular belief sometimes has it, in the blessing and exchanging of rings, which is customary but not necessary for the rite of matrimony to be valid.

In marriage, the husband and wife seek God’s blessing, and through the mediation of the priest, the prayer is answered. Although the couple are thus generally regarded as the ministers of the sacrament through their voluntary exchange of vows, the sacrament must be celebrated under the presidency of a bishop, priest or deacon who witnesses and mediates the prayers.

Matrimony was the last sacrament added to the sacramental tradition of the Church. This arose because of civil necessity in the Middle Ages in order to regularise intimate relationships and legitimise children.

In the Church of Ireland and many other parts of the Anglican Communion, provision is made for the blessing of civil marriages, on the understanding that a couple cannot be married twice.

Although some Anglican provinces allow divorced people to marry, some do not or require the permission of the bishop of the diocese.

Who can be married?

If matrimony is not a sacrament, what are we disagreeing about?


Extreme Unction (the Anointing of the Sick) is an act of healing through prayer and sacrament, conveyed on both the sick and the dying. The matter consists of the laying on of hands and/or anointing with oil; while the form consists of prayers. In this sacrament, the priest acts as a mediator of Christ’s grace, and will frequently administer the consecrated bread (and sometimes wine) as a part of the sacramental action.

But this form of blessing is used not only for Preparation for Death (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 454 ff) and in the Ministry to those who are Sick (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 441 ff), but also at services of penitence and reconciliation (p 446).

What are the appropriate times and places for anointing with oil (see pp 448-449)?


Supplemental reading:

Andrew Davison, Why Sacraments? (London: SPCK, 2013)


5.1, Baptism and Eucharist (1) from the early Church to the Reformers;
5.2, Baptism and Eucharist (2) liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 8 October 2016 was part of the MTh module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality with part-time MTh students, Year III-IV.

Liturgy 2016-2017 (Part Time) 4.1:
Bible Study (2): Matthew 3: 13-17

A modern icon of the Baptism of Christ

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Saturday 8 October 2016

Liturgy (2016-2017) Part Time 4.1: Bible study (2):

Matthew 3: 13-17

13 Τότε παραγίνεται ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰορδάνην πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάννην τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ' αὐτοῦ. 14 ὁ δὲ Ἰωάννης διεκώλυεν αὐτὸν λέγων, Ἐγὼ χρείαν ἔχω ὑπὸ σοῦ βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ σὺ ἔρχῃ πρός με; 15 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν, Ἄφες ἄρτι, οὕτως γὰρ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡμῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην. τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτόν. 16 βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εὐθὺς ἀνέβη ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν [αὐτῷ] οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδεν [τὸ] πνεῦμα [τοῦ] θεοῦ καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν [καὶ] ἐρχόμενον ἐπ' αὐτόν: 17 καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’


The story of the Baptism of Christ is the first revelation of the Trinity to the creation and is like the story of a new creation. All the elements of the creation story in the Book Genesis are here: we know we are moving from darkness into light; the shape of the earth moves from wilderness to beauty as we are given a description of the landscape; there is a separation of the waters of the new creation as Jesus and John go down in the waters of the Jordan and rise up from them again; and as in Genesis, the Holy Spirit hovers over the waters of this beautiful new creation like a dove.

And then, just as in the Genesis creation story, where God looks down and sees that everything is good, God looks down in this Theophany story and lets us know that everything is good.

Or as Saint Mark says: And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1: 11).

God is pleased with the whole of creation, God so loved this creation, κόσμος (cosmos), that Christ has come into it, identified with us in the flesh, and is giving us the gift and the blessings of the Holy Spirit.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This Bible study was part of a lecture/seminar on 8 October 2016 as part of the MTh module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality with part-time MTh students, Years III-IV.

Liturgy 2016-2017 (Part Time) 4.1:
Bible Study (1): Genesis 18: 1-15

A modern icon in the style of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Saturday 8 October 2016

Liturgy (2016-2017) Part Time 4.1: Bible study (1):

Genesis 18: 1-15

1 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on – since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

9 They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ 10 Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ 13 The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ 15 But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’


Jürgen Moltmann, Gerald O’Collins, and other theologians across the traditions have written about Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity placing the Eucharist at the centre of the life of the Trinity. The three figures in the icon surround a “chalice on the table, which links the scene with the Eucharist, and hence with the saving and revealing story of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.” [Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God (London: SCM, 1981), p xvi; Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God: Understanding and Interpreting the Trinity (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999), p 11.]

The three figures form a sort of mystic circle and they seem to say to us: ‘May you all be one as we are one.’ (cf John 17: 21). The communion of the Holy Trinity is lived out in prayer, above all in the Eucharist.

This icon speaks of the Eucharist and the Church as if the mystery of Christ in the broken bread is immersed in the ineffable unity of the three divine Persons, with the Church itself an icon of the Trinity.

The Trinity denotes that ‘God, who is one and unique in his infinite substance or nature is three really distinct persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ Or as the Athanasian Creed states: ‘We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.’ [see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 771.]

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This Bible study was part of a lecture/seminar on 8 October 2016 as part of the MTh module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality with part-time MTh students, Years III-IV.

Liturgy 2016-2017 (Part Time) 4.1: Creation,
Trinity, and theologies of worship and prayer

Baptism and Eucharist … celebrations of Creation and worship in communion with the Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year III-IV (Part-Time):

Liturgy 4 and 5: 8-9 October 2016

This weekend:

4.1, Creation, Trinity and theologies of worship and prayer;
4.2, The nature and theology of sacraments.

5.1, Baptism and Eucharist (1) from the early Church to the Reformers;
5.2, Baptism and Eucharist (2) liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century.

1.30 p.m., Saturday, 8 October 2016:

Liturgy 4.1: Creation, Trinity, and theologies of worship and prayer.


It is the total gift of oneself to the beloved that is the ideal of love, of human love in this life, and that is only a faint image of the total self-giving which is the Love of God. For ever in the Holy Trinity, the Father gives Himself to the Son and the Son to the Father in a torrent of love which is the Holy Ghost. The whole perfect Being of God passes eternally from one to another and returns in an unending dance of love – the perfect love of the perfect lover for the perfectly beloved, perfectly achieved and perfectly returned for ever. That is the life of God himself in the eternal abyss of his own being. It is love, and it is joy, illimitable joy. Self-sacrifice in this world and the joy of God’s own being are one and the same thing from different worlds.

– Dom Gregory Dix, God’s Way with Man (London: Dacre Press, 1954), p 76.

All our liturgical prayer is expressed in the plural, and not in the singular.

All our liturgical prayer is the prayer of the Community of Faith, not merely of the gathered congregation, but the prayer of the whole Church:

In Holy Communion 2 (Great Thanksgiving, Prayer 1), the preface states we pray not on our own but with the whole Church, visible and invisible: “And so with all your people, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven …” [The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 209].

And that prayer goes on to ask “that we may be made one in your holy Church” [The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 211].

Or, in Prayer 2, we pray: “… bring us with all your people into the joy of your eternal kingdom” [The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 215].

Similarly, in Prayer 3, we state: “with your whole Church throughout the world we offer you this sacrifice of thanks and praise …” [The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 217].

And because our faith is incarnational, those Great Thanksgiving prayers are connected both with the whole groaning creation, and with God as Trinity.

This afternoon, I first want us to consider the Trinitarian foundations and underpinnings of the liturgical worship of Church, and to relate that in an incarnational way to the celebration of God’s creation and the anticipation of the fulfilment of God’s plans for creation.

In looking at the Creation, the Trinity and theologies of worship and prayer, I shall draw particularly on the Eucharist (the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Prayer). The Book of Common Prayer (2004) speaks of the Eucharist as “the central act of worship of the Church.” [The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 75].

“Because this is the case,” Bishop Harold Miller says, “we will find that the Holy Communion Service gives us a window in to all that is most vital in our regular worship.” [Harold Miller, The Desire of Our Soul (Dublin: Columba Press, 2004), p 115.] But I hope from this that we can move on to interpret what we do as the Church in our other forms of public prayer.

Part 1: Liturgy, prayer and the Trinity:

A modern icon in the style of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham

Bible study (1): Genesis 18: 1-15.

[See separate handout]


The Trinity and the Eucharist in the Fathers of the Church

What do early writers in the Church have to say about the intimate link between the Eucharist and the Trinity? (Photomontage: Patrick Comerford)

Saint John’s Gospel in particular provided a great deal of material for the Fathers of the Church to indicate the intimate link between the Eucharist and the Trinity.

For example, Saint Cyprian of Carthage (died 248) teaches that our union with Christ in the Eucharist “unifies affections and wills.”

But, while the unity of the three persons in the Trinity is substantial, our unity with Christ and the Trinity is accidental. So while nothing outside of us can separate us from God’s love, if we turn away from God through sin, we lose this communion with Christ and hence with the Trinity.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (ca 315-387) speaks of our union “with Christ through the Eucharist by comparing it to two volumes of melted wax: when brought together, they become one. Hence, in Communion, Christ is in us and we in him.”

His Western contemporary, Saint Hilary of Poitiers (ca 300-368), in his De Trinitate, written to counter the Arians, speaks of the Eucharist as the bond of unity between God and us. He begins by citing Christ’s words: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6: 56).

He then summarises this, saying that when we receive the Eucharist, “we are in Christ and Christ is in us,” and by being united to Christ, who is the second person of the Trinity, we are united to the Trinity, including the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Saint Hilary of Poitiers says the Eucharist has been understood in light of the mystery of the Trinity from the inception of the early Church, presents the Eucharist as the bond between God and us, and shows how it is possible to have access to the mystery of the Trinity through the living reality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria (died 444) is one of the great patristic teachers on the Eucharist. Quoting John 6: 35 (“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”), he links our participation in the Eucharist with receiving the Holy Spirit, and participating in God’s own nature.

Trinity and Eucharist in the writings of the saints

The Basilica of San Domenico, or Basilica Cateriniana ... Saint Catherine of Siena says “to be placed within love is foremost to find oneself in the Trinitarian life of God,” and speaks of a unity between the Trinity and the Eucharist when she talks of “the Holy Trinity as food for our souls.” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later, Saint Catherine of Siena (ca 1347-1380), generally recognised as one of “Doctors of the Church,” says that “to be placed within love is foremost to find oneself in the Trinitarian life of God,” and speaks of a unity between the Trinity and the Eucharist in a short prayer in which she talks of “the Holy Trinity as food for our souls.”

What we can see in the Patristic writings and the writings of the saints is an understanding of the Eucharist as a union with Christ that expands into a union with the Godhead in the Trinity.

Liturgical prayer and the Trinity:

In recent years, theologians in general and liturgists in particular have rediscovered the practical importance of the doctrine of the Trinity for Christian worship and human life.

In 1989, The Forgotten Trinity, a report by an ecumenical theological commission of the British Council of Churches, declared: ‘A fresh awareness of the doctrine [of the Trinity] and its implications can lead to a renewal of worship and a deeper understanding of what it means to be a person, since the fulfilment of human beings is to be found in relationships in community and not in self-assertive individualism.’

God’s covenant people have always worshipped a God who is named, a God who is self-identifying. That God reveals himself as ‘the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Exodus 34: 6).

As Christians, we have confessed the name of God in our worship for centuries, forming our understanding of God in the context of praise. For the early Christians, worship of the Lord God took place ‘in the name of Christ,’ in the lived experience of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and through the experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

And so they could only talk about that God, and talk to that God through Christ and in the Spirit.

There is a Monty Python sketch in The Meaning of Life (1983), in which a sanctimonious chaplain, played by Michael Palin, leads a large assembly in a public school chapel in prayer:

Let us praise God. O Lord,

O Lord , ooh, you are so big, …
… ooh, you are so big, …

… so absolutely huge.

... so absolutely huge.

Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you.
Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you.

Forgive us, O Lord, for this, our dreadful toadying, and …
And barefaced flattery.

But you are so strong and, well, just so … Super. Fantastic.

Amen. Amen.

But our worship is not a human activity directed towards a God “out there” – it is our entry into the περιχώρησις (perichoresis) of the Trinity, the dance of the Trinity.

Trinity and Eucharist in the Liturgy

The liturgy as the prayer of the Church is filled with Trinitarian references, right through to the final blessing at the end of the liturgy, so that the Trinity is an integral part of the public prayer. The Eucharistic Prayers are addressed to the Father [see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 186, 188, 209, 212, 216.], and all our Eucharistic prayers end with similar Trinitarian doxologies:

‘By whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.’ [Holy Communion 1, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 189.]

‘Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom, and with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.’ [Holy Communion 2, Prayer 1, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 211.]

‘… through Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom and in whom, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship you, Father almighty …’ [Holy Communion 2, Prayer 2, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 215.]

The exception is Holy Communion 2, Prayer 3 [Holy Communion 2, Prayer 3, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 216-217], which is phrased throughout in an integrated Trinitarian language.

And so, the Eucharist becomes the action of the entire Trinity and provides a glimpse of what will be experienced in the Beatific Vision. We remember and enter into the one complete and all sufficient sacrifice to the Father, where the Son offers himself, and we remember his saving action, by the power of the Holy Spirit; and so this action cannot be separated from the action of Trinity.

The Trinity in the other prayers of the Church:

The Sacraments are signs of how we are brought into the life of the Holy Trinity. Our Baptism brings us into the Family of the Trinity, draws us closer into the life of the Trinity.

Baptism is not in the name of Christ, but in the name of the Trinity. Yesterday [12 October 2015] was the Feast of Saint Philip the Deacon. Saint Philip’s baptising in the name of Jesus Christ in the Samaritan city (Acts 8: 12, 16) was supplemented later by the prayers of Peter and John. Although we are baptised into Christ, we are baptised, in accord with the Great Commission, in the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit [Matthew 28: 19; see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 350, 365.]

Some concluding remarks:

Some prayers I have heard:

I have heard prayers here and in other places that could be paraphrased like this:

‘Lord Jesus, we come before, grateful for all your saving acts. May our worship this morning be to your praise and glory. And this we ask for the sake of your son, our Saviour, Amen.’

Some things that have been done

In the Kyrie during the prayers of the people [Morning and Evening Prayer [The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 112], I have heard people say ‘Lord have mercy,’ heard the response ‘Christ have mercy,’ and then not heard the third refrain: ‘Lord have mercy.’


We have all heard someone add Gloria or a doxology to the canticle Te Deum. Why do we add Gloria or a doxology at the end of the Psalms at times, or at the end of some Canticles, but not others?

[Discussion; see Harold Miller, The Desire of Our Soul (Dublin: Columba, 2004), p 68.]

In our prayers, when we fail to think and prepare, we often betray some of the age-old heresies, including Modalism, Monarchianism, Sabellianism and Arianism. But there is no true Christology without a true Trinitarian theology.

Part 2: Liturgy, prayer and creation:

Bible study (2): Matthew 3: 13-17

A modern icon of the Baptism of Christ


Creation and the Mission of the Church

In the Egyptian Liturgy of Saint Mark, we find the following prayer:

‘Bless, O Lord, the fruits of the earth, keep them for us free from disease and hurt, and prepare them for our sowing and our harvest … Bless now also, O Lord, the crown of the year through thy goodness for the sake of the poor among thy people, for the sake of the widow and the orphan, for the sake of the wanderer and the newcomer and for the sake of all who trust in thee and call upon thy Holy Name.’

This is the time of the year for Harvest Thanksgiving Services throughout the Church of Ireland. And traditionally, in Anglican worship, we have prayed for the harvest, for seasonable weather, for an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for protection in the case of natural disasters. The blessings for natural elements – fields, vineyards, first fruits, wheat, etc. – show how the Church recognises the transformation of all aspects of creation through the salvation and glorification of humanity and thus of all creation.

However, we have been slow to explicitly express the reality that our worship takes place within Creation, is offered on behalf of Creation, and looks to the fulfilment of God’s promises for all of Creation.

The four marks of the Church’s mission were first agreed at a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nigeria in 1984.

Two meetings later, in Wales in 1990, the ACC declared in a report, Mission, Culture and Human Development: ‘We now feel that our understanding of the ecological crisis, and indeed of the threats to the unity of all creation, mean that we have to add a fifth affirmation: “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”.’

It took us as Anglicans until 1990 to articulate responsibility for nature, for the environment, for the life of this planet, and to acknowledge that this is an integral part of the mission, and therefore, the worship of the Church.

Why did it take so long? And why, when we Anglicans were working out our mission statement over quarter of a century ago in 1984 did we just stop at four? Why did it take six more years and two more meetings of the ACC before Anglicans realised we all share the responsibility “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”?

Some explanations that have been offered include:

1, A mentality that if Christ is coming again soon, we need not worry about the state of the world or the environment – perhaps we might even can help history along and encourage his return.

2, The Church withdrew from engaging with science after the bruising it received in the debate about creation. As the late Professor Owen Chadwick, the historian of Victorian Anglicanism who died last year, says: ‘They drew up the drawbridge and boiled the oil.’

3, A negative view of nature and the environment: that the creation is to be prayed about because we fear storms, floods, earthquakes, the sea, the mountains, all seen as hostile.

4, An even deeper problem is the idea that we are created to have dominion over the earth and all of creation. This idea is enhanced by traditional readings of passages such as the creation account in Genesis 1, including: ‘and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth, an over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’ (verse 26; c.f. verse 28); and of passages such as Psalm 8: 5-8:

You have made them [human beings] a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given us dominion
over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

The traditional interpretation is that the rest of creation was made for us, that we are at the top of the pile and that it was all made by God just for us, so we can do what we like with creation.

In Genesis 1, God brings all life into existence, declares it is all good, and puts it in an harmonious ecosystem. We are God’s representatives, made in God’s image, and are called to act in the same way. We are God’s deputies, God’s stewards. The dominion that God seeks is one that protects the defenceless and gives justice to the oppressed. So dominion over creation implies the call to protect it.

Meanwhile, in the last 20 or 30 years, as Anglicans, we have started praying in words such as:

Awaken in us a sense of wonder for the earth and all that is in it. Teach us to care creatively for its resources. [New Zealand Prayer Book, p 413.]

We remember with gratitude your many gifts to us in creation and the rich heritage of these islands. Help us and people everywhere to share with justice and peace the resources of the earth. [New Zealand Prayer Book, p 416.]

We thank you for your gifts in creation – for our world, the heavens tell of your glory; for our land, its beauty and its resources, for the rich heritage we enjoy. We pray for those who make decisions about the resources of the earth, that we may use your gifts responsibly; for those who work on the land and sea, in city and in industry, that all may enjoy the fruits of their labours and marvel at your creation; for artists, scientists and visionaries, that through their work we may see creation afresh. [New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 463.]

Prayers like this are absent from New Zealand’s 1966 and 1970 revisions, and only begin to appear in the 1984 revision. They begin to appear in The Alternative Prayer Book of the Church of Ireland that year, and were developed in The Book of Common Prayer (2004), as in the weekday intercessions and thanksgivings for Monday, on the theme of ‘Creation in Christ: Creation and Providence’ [Alternative Prayer Book (1984), p 97; The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 139.]

So what happened between 1984 and 1990?

These were times when we were becoming increasingly aware of how fragile this world is. A series of major environmental disasters in these decades included the Torrey Canyon spillage (1969) and the leaks at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986).

In a ground-breaking initiative in 1989, the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I of Constantinople called for ‘prayers and supplications to the Maker of all, both as thanksgiving for the great gift of creation and as petition for its protection and salvation.’ He invited Christians everywhere to observe 1 September, the Ecclesiastical New Year in the Orthodox tradition, as the annual Day of Prayer for Creation.

It is a fundamental dogma of our faith that the world, the cosmos, was created by God the Father, who is confessed in the Creed to be ‘maker of heaven and earth and of all things, seen and unseen.’

So our worship conveys this profound understanding of creation. Our liturgical worship is an expression of the faith and the hope that the whole of the universe worships and offers gifts to the Creator.

To return to the theme of liturgical space and place, in Orthodox churches, the very shape of the churches, including the place of icons, mosaics and frescoes within them, are seen as a microcosm of the universe that illustrates the role both of humanity and of the rest of creation in relation to God. But this it is not only an expression of what is on earth today. It is an expression too of what exists in heaven and what is to come – the eschatological promise and redemptive transformation of all creation through the salvation wrought by Christ [see Romans 8: 22-24].

Our prayers and our psalms tell us of the sanctification of all creation. Psalm 103 says: ‘Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul’ (Psalm 103: 22).

Good public worship includes the celebration and the use of all aspects of the human senses: it engages sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.

At the Eucharist, we offer the fullness of creation and receive it back as the blessing of Grace in the form of the bread and the wine, to share with others, a sign or a sacrament that God’s grace and deliverance is shared not just with us but with all of God’s creation. As humans, we are simply yet gloriously the means for the expression of creation in its fullness and the coming of God’s deliverance for all creation.

The vocation of humanity, as shown in our liturgy, is not to dominate and to exploit nature, but to transfigure and to hallow it. In so many ways – through the cultivation of the earth, through crafts and through the arts, but especially in our liturgy – we give material things a voice and render the creation articulate in its praise of God.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware lecturing in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ... he points out we bring to the altar not sheaves of wheat but loaves of bread, not bunches of grapes but wine poured out; fruit of the earth and work of human hands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is significant that in the Eucharist, when we offer back to God the first fruits of the earth, we offer them not in their original form, but reshaped by our hands. As Metropolitan Kallistos [Ware] of Diokleia has said, we bring to the altar not sheaves of wheat but loaves of bread, not bunches of grapes but wine poured out – ‘these gifts of your creation’ [The Book of Common Prayer, p 214]; fruit of the earth and work of human hands.

In our Eucharist, we acknowledge and praise God a Creator: The word Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving.’ Our Eucharistic liturgy is first and foremost about giving thanks for God’s work for us, which begins with creation. To bless is to give thanks. In and through thanksgiving, we acknowledge the true nature of things we receive from God and thus enable them to attain the fullness God intended for them. We bless and sanctify things when we offer them to God in a Eucharistic movement of our whole being.

And as we stand before the cosmos, before the matter given to us by God, this Eucharistic movement becomes all-embracing. We are defined as a ‘Eucharistic’ animal because we are capable of seeing the world as God’s gift, as a sacrament of God’s presence and a means of communion with him. So we are able to offer the world back to God as thanksgiving: ‘for all things come from you and of your own we give you’ [The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 208]. We are able to bless and praise God for the world and his creation:

‘Blessed are you Father, the creator and sustainer of all things …’ [Holy Communion 2, Prayer 1, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 210].

‘For he is your eternal Word through whom you have created all things …’ [Holy Communion 2, Prayer 1, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 212].

‘Merciful Father, we thank you for these gifts of your creation, this bread and this wine …’ [Holy Communion 2, Prayer 2, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 214].

‘Father, Lord of all creation, we praise you for your goodness and your love.’ [Holy Communion 2, Prayer 3, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 216].

And in the shared Post-Communion Prayer:

‘May we … who drink this cup bring life to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.’ [Holy Communion 2, Prayer 3, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 220].

These liturgical expressions reflect the vision and understanding of our relationship both with creation and with the Creator. We are the free agents through whom creation is offered to the Creator. The Eucharist is the most sublime expression and experience of creation transformed by God the Holy Spirit through redemption and worship. In the form of bread and wine, material from creation moulded into new form by human hands is offered to God with the acknowledgment that all of creation is God’s and that we are returning to God that which is his.

The primordial relationship of Adam to both God and Creation is restored in the Eucharist, and we have a foretaste of the eschatological state of Creation. But when we look today at our world, we see a very different picture. Humanity’s rebellion, pride and greed have shattered the primordial relationship of Adam. It has ignored the Church’s understanding of our role as priest of creation. By doing so, our world is facing a crisis of death and corruption to a degree never before experienced.

We must attempt to return to the proper relationship with the Creator and creation in order to ensure the survival of the natural world. We are called to bear some of the pain of creation as well as to enjoy and celebrate it. That means to perform Liturgia extra muros, the Liturgy beyond or outside the walls of the church, for the sanctification of the world.

An understanding of Creation in Baptism:

As we have seen in our second Bible study, the baptism of Christ a new creation, or a renewal of creation.

Baptismal water represents the matter of the cosmos, and its blessing at the beginning of the baptismal rite has a cosmic and redemptive significance. God created the world and blessed it and gave it to us as our food and life, as the means of communion with him.

When the water is poured into the font, we recall the waters of creation that cleanse and replenish, nourish and sustain us, all living things and the earth, the waters of freedom in the Red Sea and the Jordan that brought the promise of new life, the waters of Christ’s baptism, the waters of Christ’s death and new life, and our new birth in the Church through the waters of life. [The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 363.]


There is an inseparable link between the Triune God we worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the God who is the Creator of all.

This God we worship together and collectively in the public worship, the Liturgy of the Church, and this understanding is foundational for our understanding of liturgy and the prayer life of the Church.

Some resources:

(1) Confession

From Common Worship (Church of England):

We confess our sin, and the sins of our society,
in the misuse of God’s creation.

God our Father, we are sorry
for the times when we have used your gifts carelessly,
and acted ungratefully.
Hear our prayer, and in your mercy:
forgive us and help us.

We enjoy the fruits of the harvest,
but sometimes forget that you have given them to us.
Father, in your mercy:
forgive us and help us.

We belong to a people who are full and satisfied,
but ignore the cry of the hungry.
Father, in your mercy:
forgive us and help us.

We are thoughtless,
and do not care enough for the world you have made.
Father, in your mercy:
forgive us and help us.

We store up goods for ourselves alone,
as if there were no God and no heaven.
Father, in your mercy:
forgive us and help us.

(2) Intercessions:

Let us pray for the Church and for the world.

Grant, Almighty God, that all who confess your Name may be united in your truth, live together in your love, and reveal your glory in the world.


Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Guide the people of this land, and of all the nations, in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honour one another and serve the common good.


Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honour and glory.


Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as he loves us.


Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them the joy of your salvation.


Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We commend to your mercy all who have died, that your will for them may be fulfilled; and we pray that we may share with all your saints in your eternal kingdom.


Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

The celebrant adds a concluding collect.

The Book of Common Prayer (TEC) pp 388-389.

(3) Collects:

Almighty God,
you have created the heaven and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

The Book of Common Prayer (2004) p 256 (The Second Sunday before Lent).

Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
Give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Book of Common Prayer (2004) p 283 (The Third Sunday after Trinity).

See also the collects of Trinity XX, Trinity XXI, the Sunday before Advent.

(4) A creation focused preface:

God of all power, Ruler of the Universe, you are worthy of glory and praise.
Glory to you for ever and ever.

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.

From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another.
Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight.

Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent you only Son, born of a woman, to fulfil your Law, to open for is the way of freedom and peace. By his blood, he reconciled us.
By his wounds, we are healed.

And therefore we praise you, joining with the heavenly chorus, with prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and with all those in every generation who have looked to you in hope, to proclaim with them your glory, in their unending hymn:

Holy, holy, holy Lord …

The Book of Common Prayer (TEC) pp 370-371.

The Canadian Book of Alternative Services has adapted this prayer, changed ‘rulers of creation’ to ‘stewards of creation’ and inserted a regular refrain ‘Glory to you for ever and ever.’ It has no cue for this refrain, so you either need the text in front of you, or the text must be sung with a musical cue for the sung refrain.

A suggested option is to use a set cue and response such as:

God of all creation
we worship and adore you

(5) Calendar

An autumn rainbow between Lambay Island and Portrane ... the Season of Creation is celebrated in many churches in September and October (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Season of Creation calendar has this basic pattern:

● 1 September: Day of Creation (as in Orthodox traditions).
● Four Sundays: four domains of creation, eg, Forest, Land, Ocean and River Sundays.
● Saint Francis of Assisi Day (4 October).
● Blessing of the Animals.
● Special Sunday – appropriate to the country or community.
● Final Sunday of the Season, normally the Second Sunday in October (tomorrow).

The Season of Creation 2016 (Series C): Wisdom in Creation.

● 1 September: Creation Day.
● 4 September: 1st Sunday in Creation, Ocean Sunday.
● 11 September: 2nd Sunday in Creation, Fauna and Flora Sunday.
● 18 September: 3rd Sunday in Creation, Storm Sunday.
● 25 September: 4th Sunday in Creation, Cosmos Sunday.
● 4 October: Saint Francis of Assisi Day, Blessings of the Animals.

The Season of Creation 2017 (Series A): The Spirit in Creation.

● 1 September: Creation Day.
● 3 September: 1st Sunday in Creation, Forest Sunday.
● 10 September: 2nd Sunday in Creation, Land Sunday.
● 17 September: 3rd Sunday in Creation, Wilderness/Outback Sunday.
● 24 September: 4th Sunday in Creation, River Sunday.
● 1 October: Saint Francis of Assisi Day – Blessing of Animals Sunday 1.

The Season of Creation 2018 (Series B): The Word in Creation.

● 1 September: Creation Day.
● 2 September: 1st Sunday in Creation, Planet Earth Sunday.
● 9 September: 2nd Sunday in Creation, Humanity Sunday.
● 16 September: 3rd Sunday in Creation, Sky Sunday.
● 23 September: 4th Sunday in Creation, Mountain Sunday.
● 30 September: 5th Sunday in Creation, Blessing of the Animals.
● 4 October: Saint Francis of Assisi Day.

In many parts of the world, the churches celebrate ‘Creation Day’ on 1 September, and mark the period from 1 September to 4 October, the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi, or the Sunday after 4 October as ‘Creation Time,’ marking the priceless gift of the Creator who made us into his own image and likeness.

This ecumenical celebration dates from the initiative by Patriarch Dimitrios I of Constantinople in 1989, when he invited all Christians to observe 1 September as the annual Day of Prayer for Creation.


4.2, The nature and theology of sacraments.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 8 October 2016 was part of the MTh module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality with part-time MTh students, Year III-IV.