The Doctrine of the Prayer Book in the Pastoral Ministry

The Doctrine of the Prayer Book
in the Pastoral Ministry

by Ralph Ogden

First, it might be as well to define four terms that I shall have to use: they relate to the two major controversies which have always tended to recur in the Church, and which appear to show up, here and there, in comparing the old and the new Prayer Books.

One is the debate on the nature of Man between Pelagius and Augustine of Hippo—or, more basically, between Pelagius and Paul (see Romans 7:18/end.) In terms of modern psychology, Augustine (died 430 A.D.) contended that the determining factor in morals and ethics is always hereditary, whereby the inevitable universal bias, from birth, is towards wrong-doing. Pelagius, his British contemporary, rejected the idea of an in-born bias, holding that the dominant factors in character and behaviour were always and solely, example, teaching and environment.

Second, is the debate on the Nature of God between Arius and Athanasius — or, more basically, between Arius and John (see John 10:30-38). Arius (320 A D.) contended that Jesus, though the highest and best of created beings, was “made”. Athanasius replied that the unity between Father and Son is that of coeval existence and shared Life. He is “begotten, not made.”

I say this by way of foreword, because of the themes you gave me, from which I might choose. One of these was “The Prayer Book and Doctrine”; the other. “The Prayer Book and Pastoral Ministry.” Both are good and fruitful themes, even taken in isolation; but I propose to consider them (as indeed they are) simply as two sides of the same coin. And by that I mean that all Christian Ministry, whether it be Pastoral or Liturgical, is only true in so for as it teaches or displays in action, a true Christian Doctrine. That seems obvious enough — yet it is equally obvious, when one looks at Church history in all ages, that there is a strong urge for us to split the coin and use only our own favoured side — and in so doing (albeit all unconsciously) to stultify both sides, that is, both the Pastoral and the Doctrinal.

It is in fact the lesson of all Church History (human nature being what it is) that an over-emphasis on Doctrine as such, with corresponding indifference to practical pastoralia, tends to produce the Pharisee — the exclusive and cold Puritan. On the other hand, an indifference to the hard logic and cutting edge of Biblical Doctrine, and a corresponding over-stress on what one might call “do-goodery,” tends to produce the Pelagian. For instance, consider this example of a Pastoral rejection:— In the course of my Chaplaincy work at Concord Hospital [1], I once had to ask a priest of this Diocese, with some repute as a theologian, to go and break the news of a death to a family in his parish — they were not on the phone, and I was unable to go myself. He declined the task: he said, “I don’t know those people, and anyway, it’s a job for the police.” And so, the police it had to be — and I may add that the widow told me later how kind the constable had been. There was an ordained man who certainly knew, and in a sense accepted the relevant doctrine; yet he remained unmoved by its practical implications. He quite literally stayed put, seated in his study. Other examples will no doubt occur to you as they do to me (all too often to the disquiet af my own conscience) of the Pastoral rejection.

The contemporary Doctrinal rejection of the Biblical view of the nature of God and of Man, and of the God/Man relationship, may be seen within the Church on two levels — on the high intellectual plane, in the theories of the ultra-modernist theologians: e.g. “The Myth of God Incarnate;” the “God is Dead” school, etc. etc. Their particular and common target is always the historicity of the Gospel according to Saint John, and a typical phrase of theirs is “The writer of ‘John’ puts so and so into the mouth of Jesus”— or, “The writer of ‘Ephesians’ makes Paul say such and such.”

And at the grass-roots level, again among people who still “profess and call themselves Christians,” this same doctrinal rejection is seen in the proliferation of such Arian sects as the Witnesses and the Armstrong people — finally tapering off into the limbo of the Moonies, the esoteric, and the occult.

Outside the Church, the same rejection of Biblical doctrine has produced those who range from the complacent “reverent agnostic” to the aggressively dogmatic atheist. And also (and this in countries with a long Christian tradition) to a considerable growth of Islam — essentially an Arian religion. So much for the Doctrine of God.

The parallel contemporary rejection of the profoundly pessimistic Biblical Doctrine of the nature of “Unaided Man,” that is, Man-without-God, is obvious in most politico-social theory and practice; which ranges from the complacent to the starry-eyed in its view of unaided human nature. At its most optimistic it readily assumes the common human possession (and willing exercise) of a strong sense of moral obligation based on an acute moral judgment.

And yet, parallel with this unscriptural optimism in our society (which reflects a subconscious memory of a Christian ethic on the part of those who consciously reject that ethic’s enabling God), there is an equally wide-spread and unscriptural pessimism as to the nature of Man. I mean the common acceptance of those psychological theories which appear (to me at least) to reduce a man to a mere, though infinitely complex, electronic device. Hence one speaks no longer of “wicked persons,” but only of “mal-adjusted personalities.” The impression is given that, when same appropriately trained mechanic locates and twiddles the appropriate knobs, a well-adjusted personality will at once and inevitably appear. Indeed, where such concepts are fully and earnestly accepted, one is constrained to feel that to intrude such words as “immoral,” and above all, such God-centred words as “sinful,” is to commit a positive impropriety!

But how abysmally pessimistic this ultra-modern view of human nature is, compared with that of Scripture; it is sufficiently revealed, I think, by just one passage (and that from the Old Testament): “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.” There is something so right, responsible and reassuring in this simple, awesome picture of God, and of one made in His own image, in a rational discussion of the concept and problem of sin. (Isaiah 1:18).

To sum up this part of our study one may, I believe, quite reasonably assert that the state of our world as it now is, logically results from the passive ignorance or active rejection of the truth about God and Man and their mutual relationship. To an extent, of course, these destructive errors are coeval with humanity itself, but the deadly process is accelerating at so terrifying a rate in our own day as to produce extreme confusion in both Church and State (and that at all levels) as to what is the good and right and proper thing to do.

As an instance of confusion in the Christian ranks, one might cite the controversy over the World Council of Churches’ aid to various Communist regimes — regimes ex hypothese militantly atheistic and anti-Christian. I will not buy into that debate, save to suggest that it provides some pointer as to how far one may play politics in the kingdoms of this world without prejudice to the rights and responsibilities of the Kingdom of Heaven and at what point Christian charity might become something quite other.

Yet it is in this era of unprecedented change, confusion, perplexity and debate, that the Anglican Communion has elected to produce its various new Prayer Books (our own “An Australian Prayer Book” among them) and has, by and large, rejected the old Book in practice, while still paying it lipservice in principle. It is not surprising therefor that these new Books, and specifically A.A.P.B., reflect the era of their conception and birth in that they are, through and through, essays in compromise and mutual accommodation.

Whether or not the aim was to do so, it does in fact enable clerics of every conceivable school of thought in the Australian Church, through the Book’s infinity of alternatives, to construct “an acceptable Service” for their own use — and that at their own choice and pleasure. Apart from the provision (in itself inevitably and deeply divisive both doctrinally and pastorally) of two complete forms for all the major Services, the number of alternatives internal to each Service leaves the final product very much in the priest’s own hands. This “Rector’s Use” is further facilitated by the frequent soft directive “the Priest may.” Compare the B.C.P.’s imperative: “The Priest shall.”

Suffice it to say that, as a matter of pure mathematics, there are at least 16,384 possible ways of saying the Second Order of the Communion; such being the number of possible permutations and combinations provided by the rubrical either/or choices. In short, in that respect we are back in the medieval morass to which Cranmer refers in his Preface “Concerning the Service of the Church”: he writes, “The number and hardness of the Rules called the Pie, and the manifold changings of the Service was such, that to turn the Book only was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out.” What then, by contrast to the new, are the positive merits of the old Book? One cannot do better than to continue to quote its original editor, Thomas Cranmer. He says that he aimed to provide:—

  1. A plain and simple Calendar, to enable the reading of Scripture to be done in order, “without breaking one piece from another.”
  2. Keep Rubrics as few as may be; plain and easy to grasp.
  3. The Service itself short, plain, and easy to follow.
  4. Nothing to be read but Scripture “or that which is agreeable to the same, and that in such language and order as both hearers and readers shall find most easy and plain.”
  5. To eliminate “the great diversity in saying and singing in Churches within this Realm,” in favour of a single and uniform Use.

An advocote for A.A.P.B. (the Rev. John Thorne, in a letter to Church Scene) quoted “a senior priest of this Diocese” as saying, “Cranmer had an easy job: he revised the Liturgy and secular authority imposed it —neither clergy nor laity had any say in it.”

Apart from the fact that this begs the question whether Cranmer did a better job, it ignores the facts of history. Cranmer’s basic format for the Book, and the ideals and doctrines which fixed that form, not only survived some 450 years of actual practical use; from the time of Edward Vl onwards it also survived endless debates on projected changes — debates by laymen in Parliament, by clerics in Synods and Convocations, and by both in Conventions and Conferences.

From 1645 to 1661, [The Prayer Book] suffered sixteen years of suppression and disuse — when, indeed, it was an indictable offence even to possess a private copy. The Book’s restoration in its present 1662 form was first debated for no less than four months on end at the Savoy Conference between the leading Anglican, Congregational and Presbyterian theologians of the day. The official Anglican comment on the lengthy argument is the Prayer Book Preface beginning, “It has been the wisdom of the Church of England . . .”, written by Bishop Sandersen of Lincoln, who himself took part throughout.

It is a long, but temperate and fair statement, and also an excellent example of formal and dignified English a century after Cranmer —when his language was already “old-fashioned.” The great point is that the Book was finally restored essentially as Cranmer left it, and that it continued in use, in the same form and despite further attempts at revision, for another three centuries down to our own day. This capacity for survival is the truest vindication of the quality and the utility of Cranmer’s work, as a compendium of Doctrine and as an instrument of the Pastoral Ministry.

The Book’s lasting appeal results, so I believe, from Cranmer’s constant stress on uniformity and ease of use on Scriptural content; on clarity; simplicity, and brevity: a brevity which has always enabled the Epistles and Gospels to be printed in full within the Book itself. Compare the verbose complexity of A.A.P.B., with its infinity of alternatives — a prolixity which necessarily reduces the Epistles and Gospels to mere notes of chapter and verse.

Perhaps one might digress here to quote some statistics on this matter of Scriptural content in the two Books?

I estimate that in my own pocket Prayer Book — on India paper, small Pica, Oxford edition of 652 pages (about 62,000 line-inches, or three quarters of a mile) 404 pages, or 62% of the whole, are actual words of Scripture. That is to say, the Psalter, the Canticles, the Decalogue and the Epistles and Gospels. By contrast, the much bulkier A.A.P.B. (635 pages and about 82,000 line-inches, or a mile and a quarter) has only some 200 pages of Scripture text, again including the Psalter, the Canticles, and the many brief Sentences, that is, about 31% of the whole Book. As a consequence, A.A.P.B. cannot be used as a study source in Doctrine, or as a hand-book of Pastoralia, without the addition of a Bible, whereas the B.C.P. contains within itself sufficient Biblical text to establish all the major doctrines formulated in the Creeds, and to illustrate both the pastoral purpose and the dynamic of the various Services.

As to Doctrine, the outstanding characteristic of the B.C.P. is crystal clear; it is deeply and uncompromisingly Trinitarian. That means that its ultimate Scriptural roots are Johannine. And that in turn is so, because its earliest liturgical roots are Ephesian and Gallican. That is to say, the earliest British liturgy, which Augustine of Canterbury found already in use (to his considerable surprise) when he arrived from Rome in 597 A.D., must have been derived, in the latter days of the Western Roman Empire, from Gaul. (By the time of Augustine it had become France). The first Christian missionaries to that country, and there to Britain, appear to have been Greeks from Ephesus (via Marseilles and Lyons), rather than Latins from Rome. The city of Rome, and indeed the whole of Italy, become very much a back-water in the century 450/550, by-passed by the continuing stream of sea-borne trade from the Middle East to Marseilles, France, and the British tin mines.

The key witness to this ancient Gallic link with Ephesus (and so with St. John) is Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. In his old age, c. 200 A.D., in a letter to his friend Florinus, he tells of his Ephesian boyhood and the good Polycarp. He writes: “I recall the events of that time better than those of recent years (for what we learn in childhood keeps pace with the growing mind and becomes part of it), so that I can see the very place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit; his manner; his appearance; how he used to tell us of his talks with John and others who had seen the Lord; how he would relate from memory their account of Christ’s teaching and mighty works — in exact accord with the written Gospels.” Irenaeus was in fact defending “John” from the heretics then in vogue.

And here is something for us! Irenaeus continues: “If that blessed and apostolic Elder had heard what is being taught today, he would have cried aloud, “Good God! for what sort of times hast Thou kept me, that I should endure these things’.”

Certainly among the things I myself find hard to endure in A.A.P.B. is the replacing of “Sundays after Trinity” by the vapid and meaningless “Ordinary Sunday;” supinely following Rome in this, as in the lame greeting “And also with you” and much else. Nothing more painfully reveals the lack of historical imagination and sense of tradition of A.A.P.B.’s compilors! I say this, without reserve or apology, because the naming of Sundays “after Trinity” is the most ancient distinguishing mark of Anglicanism. It is found in the very earliest Office Books and is shared only by the German Church, which acquired the custom from Winfred of Crediton, the Devonshire man who became the first Archbishop of Mainz in 743 A.D. and for many years worked in Germany assisted by other English missionaries: Germany was in fact the first Anglican mission field. Winfred is better known as Boniface, his name “in Religion.”

The custom deliberately directs constant attention upon Trinity Sunday itself, as the pivot of the Christian Year. And as we shall see, the Trinity Collect bears a significant mark of very ancient Gallican origin. As to the scheme of the Year itself, the first half, from Advent to Trinity, is primarily Doctrinal. That is to say, the Collects, Epistles ond Gospels combining to present a memorial of primary truths; before God in acts of worship; before men in words of instruction. Trinity Sunday marks the climax of worship and is therefore illustrated, in the passage from Revelation, by the worship of Heaven itself.

And the Sundays after Trinity, far from being Ordinary, form a similar and complementary system, which is primarily Pastorol in intent. That is, they set out Christian character and service as loosed upon and motivated by the truths already revealed, and the example of Christ Himself. The theme of this latter half-year is: “This is the victory that overcomes the World, even our Faith.”

While on this subject of Trinity, note the verbal force and precision of the B.C.P. over against the slackness of A.A.P.B. The first ends the Trinity Collect with: “Who livest and reignest, one God, world without end.” That foreshadows the hammer-like Ones in the Trinity Preface: “Who art one God, one Lord . . one Substance”— and shows why “the words Holy Father must be omitted on Trinity Sunday.” A.A.P.B., while having the gall still to call it “the B.C.P. Collect.” replaces the above final phrase by “Through Christ our Lord,” and dispels the solemn obscurity (appropriate to the theme) of “In the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity,” by intruding two personal pronouns! One wonders who made this possibly Arian suggestion, and on what grounds the suggestion was adopted. Note also how A.A.P.B. (bracketting a more Trinitarian alternative) deliberately snubs the B.C.P. by opening its own Trinity Collect with the word “Father.”

Note also how, in the Consecration Prayers of both its Communion Orders, A.A.P.B. inserts a personal pronoun which is in none of the relevant Greek texts. These all use the one word “ eucharistesas” which the B. C. P. correctly renders as “when he had given thanks.” A.A.P.B. gratuitously adds “to You.” If one may reverently say so, this intrudes God the Father at the very moment when one’s whole concentration should be on the action and purpose of God the Son. It tends to divide the Trinity, again in an Arian direction.

In my own view, the use of plural personal pronouns in addressing the Deity is a defect in A.A.P.B., and that for two reasons. It is wrong theologically since God is One; it is a blemish also, in the same sense and for the same reason, as is the endless repetition of “Yahweh” in the Jerusalem Bible. Of course the Tetragrammaton (the Four Letters) outlines the Personal Name of God! Of course it may have been pronounced “Yahweh!” And of course You, Your, Your’s are universal practice in a modern English grown imperfect and imprecise by losing its singular personal pronouns!

But just as, for three thousand years, some profound instinct has impelled both the Hebrews and the Universal Church not to pronounce that Name at all, but rather to veil it by honorifics (Adonai, Kyrios, Dominus, Lord), so, surely, a similar instinct of awe and propriety has led the Anglican Communion to continue until now this ancient usage? It is essentially correct in theology and grammar and, with its disappearance from common speech, it provides an exclusive form of address to the One Who is wholly Other and Unique. See the excellent discussion of this matter in the Preface to the R.S.V. Bible.

Consider also the significant fact that, when the men of the Savoy Conference debated the form of the new Prayer Book literally word by word, nobody suggested changing the pronouns. Yet Thou, Thee, Thy and Thine were already, in 1662, provincial and obsolescent. Indeed, when the first Quakers, some twenty years later, revived the use of the words in their ordinary conversation, it was regarded as an amusing oddity of the sect. But even so, as late as 1928, when the Prayer Book was again examined and debated both by clergy and laity, I cannot recall that there was any suggestion to alter the pronouns. Instead it was left to Pelagian self-assurance of an age so informally at ease in Zion as we are today.

Any future editions of the B.C.P. should certainly have a similar explanatory Preface to that in the R.S.V., vindicating its claim to be, on this point as on others, doctrinally more correct thon its successor.

While on this point of appropriate language — consider the B.C.P. Psalter! If I had my own time over again as a parish priest, I would make infinitely more use of that wonderful mine of teaching and preaching material, and I would stick as close as I could to the Psalter’s strong, terse, basic English. How few words really need changing! “Fie” is one, and “naughty” another. “The congregation of naughty men” can only raise a laugh today: it is kid-stuff. But it was once a fighting word, which I remember hearing as a boy in its old sense. Still vivid is the wrath and contempt in the deep Lancashire voice crying, “He’s as nowt as can be!”. An Australian might put it, “He’s a right bastard!” And of course “Leasing” is now all real estate, and “the noise of the waterpipes” pure plumbing — but it is hard to think of other completely “lost” words in this most wonderful compilation, which speaks so timelessly to all humanity of human need, pain, and perplexity; of rescue and renewal; of the exaltation of the praise of God.

In particular, I have used the Psalms more and more in my long ministry to the sick and bereaved; the very hopelessness of some of the Psalms about death and the Here-after, provides a useful foil and lead-up to the Christian assurance.

The stuff of the Imprecatory Psalms is in every daily paper: the terrorist; the guerilla; the demented Christian Irishman, demonstrating so tragically that corrupt nature that “doth remain, yea in them that are regenerate.” You need not sing these passages in Church — but you can teach and preach from them as never before, in today’s mad world.

So what are the B.C.P.’s main doctrinal bases? First, it is most strongly Trinitarian, as shown by the prominence of the Athanasian Creed. This is another Gallican feature, ascribed by same to Victricius, Bishop of Rouen, c. 400 A.D. (It was not used in Rome until the 10th century and comes in A.A.P.B. after the Copyright Acknowledgments). But not only does the old Book display this Creed; it orders its frequent recital. That was not so hard as today’s Church folk might think. I once attended a working-class Manchester church which sang it, with full choral honours, on every specified Sunday. It deeply impressed my young mind; those sonorous reiterated phrases, defining what God is and what He is not, stay as clear to me as Polycarp’s voice did to old Irenaeus.

In pastoral work, a clear Trinitarian faith is of the essence; investing the words and acts of our blessed Lord with all the authority, wisdom and compassion of Almighty God. That is, of “the Son Almighty.” At a funeral for example, the very first word, “I,” introduces Him: the next word, “am,” opens His ultimate statement on the nature and source of Eternal Life. Point to the infinite knowledge and compassion of that Person; that Man speaking to a bereaved woman just after a burial (to correct the inadequate idea of the Hereafter she already had), and there is a pastoral theme full of that sublime confidence of triumph in Christ, of which Bishop Renfrey speaks in this context.

And to teach and preach about God the Holy Spirit as a Person; as a living, loving Guide, Friend and Enabler; can infuse Confirmation, Marriage, and indeed Ordination itself, with a sense of purpose, partnership, and power; in short, with a confidence which is the reverse of self-confidence. For me the profoundest word in this connection, which has checked me on the edge of many a sin and folly, is “Grieve not the Holy Spirit.” What but love is more personal than grief — and how inextricably the two can mingle!

This intense unquestioning conviction of the Personal participation and purpose of God the Holy Spirit inspires the B.CP.’s triumphant invitation: “Seeing that this Child is by Baptism regenerate, let us give thanks to Almighty God.” That is, to “the Holy Ghost Almighty.” Thanks for incorporation into His family is specifically and correctly addressed to God the Father. That is, to “the Father Almighty.” “Yet not three Almighties: but one Almighty.”

Compare the old Gallican Baptismal Office, like the Liturgy already mentioned, in the Trinitarian tradition of Polycarp and John: “Let us humbly pray our Almighty Creator and Restorer to transfuse efficacy into this Water, and by the presence of the Majesty of the Trinity, give power to effect the most holy Regeneration.” Compare the “Majesty” in the B.C.P. Trinity Collect, which suggests a common source. Again it seems to me that, preached and taught pastorally, B.C.P.’s Baptismal doctrine is strong, clear, concise “and full of comforts.”

But it is “comforting” solely because of the truth of the second great doctrine of the B.C P. That is, the fallen nature of Man, whereby a universal Hereditary Factor is the true fount and origin of sin and error; the primary reason why “there was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time has not been corrupted.” The pithy and pungent Anglican summary of this Johannine, Pauline, Augustinian doctrine is Article 9 of the Thirty-nine.

A real grasp of the implications of this trenchant Article would, I am convinced, produce more perceptive points, more compassionate pastors and even, perhaps, more proficient politicians. It should be had by heart for it is most true to Life, even in its glum admission that “this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated”— as every parish priest knows to his sorrow. The point of this Article is certainly the “point of entry” of the B.C.P. Baptismal Offices, both of which open with the blunt statement, “all men are conceived and born in sin.” And you find something similar at or near the opening of all the other Services, including the Litany.

But notice how A.A.P.B. drops “miserable Sinners” from the opening of its own Litany, and any reference to a hereditary factor in its Baptismal Services. The fact that we are “born with a sinful nature” is admitted in its Catechism — an example of the ambiguity and divided counsels of this Book which, with its euphemistic language and soft doctrinal emphases, is all too likely to appeal to the Arian and Pelagian temper of the age in which we live. And that is essentially why the robust Johannine/Pauline stress of the B.C.P. Services provides (as Article 35 puts it) “a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times.”

How many have longed to remould the old Book closer to their own hearts’ desire! Ultramontanists, Modernists, Calvinists*, Leftists, Sentimentalists, and yet others moved seemingly by the sheer restless, changeful, hyper-critical spirit of the age. In any event: we Australians have now to cope with the tangible product of a drastic re-drafting carried out amid so many diverse, direct and indirect pressures, motives, theories, interests and desires. A mess it is, and it looks like the end of the old Book and the old ways.

Which is just what Richard Hooker thought as he sat down in 1595 to write the Preface of his great exposition and defences of the Anglican ethics and practice “The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” He was convinced (rightly as it proved) that the ardent Calvinist party within the Church would eventually abolish the Prayer Book, and perhaps also the Episcopate. He therefore wrote (and I end with my own precis of his words):—

“Let us put on record the present state of this Church of England so that, come what may, posterity at least may know the ideals we followed, and how far our efforts have achieved that ideal.”

“Maybe I shall incur the common fate of all who gainsay this revisionist party of ours, yet since they are fellow-Christians, beloved in Christ and born of Him, let our own love be impervious to all gall and bitterness — rather may the God of peace enable us to suffer all things quietly, for the sake of the work we covet to perform.”

“It was indeed the very zeal and fervour of this party in our Church which moved me to this study and issued in this defence. It seemed to argue a very strong case when so many sincerely devout men so strongly insisted that we were dutybound to join them in the system they call ‘the Lord’s Discipline.’ And so, I studied their case against us as thoroughly and objectively as I knew how. Yet, for all my care and labour to see their point, I remain convinced that neither Scripture nor their own Book proves our Anglican position in error. Rather, on Paul’s principle of ‘holding fast what is good,’ I believe we are right in resisting as best we may any departure from that position since it is our critics who, in our view, stand on a weaker Scriptural basis.”

Replacing “The Lord’s Discipline” by “An Australian Prayer Book” would certainly appear to extend the great Elizabethan’s Apology, even to cover the hard situation of present-day lovers of “The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments according to the Use of the Church of England.”

The Rev’d Ralph Ogden was a retired priest of the Archidiocese of Sydney and died on the 8th July, 1993.

He was a serious Scholar, Teacher and Examining Chaplain to three Archbishops of Sydney (1956-68) as well as a Rector, Army Chaplain (Active Service) and Hospital Chaplain.

This address was given in 1980 at Moore Theological College, Sydney, New South Wales. Fr. Ogden’s close friend Dr. Llewellyn Wheeler has kindly supplied the following biographical note on the life of a quite extraordinary priest.

The Rev. Ralph OGDEN was born in Manchester and educated at the Cheshire High School, where he received a splendid classical education (the students even replied in Latin at roll-call:”adsum”!). The London “strikes” and industrial unrest after World War I destroyed his father’s automotive business — a car which reached a speed of 20 mph. on the flat! was produced — so the family migrated to Western Australia but again failed in attempting to re-develop closed gold mines. The next venture was a success (an electric welding business near Broadway, Sydney). Ralph sold his share to pay for his fees at Moore College whence he was made Deacon in 1939 and ordained Priest in 1940. He served his Title at St Matthew’s, Manly and then was appointed Rector of Wallerawang. He served as Chaplain (A.I.F) in N. Queensland, Papua, New Guinea and Borneo. Before the Borneo Landings he would celebrate on a barge and many would receive the Sacrament. He often told a happy story of what happened after the landings — many families, especially Chinese, had children awaiting a Christian priest to baptise them. At the Baptism all would sing “O come all ye faithful” at Ralph’s suggestion — the only hymn they all knew, although in varying languages!

Ralph had a profound theological knowledge and was a very clear tutor. He made a modern translation of Athanasius (296-373) “Cur Deus Homo?” (“Why did God become Man?”) and wrote “Ladder of Time” (1970) with “suggested answers to some notorious problems in Old Testament History, Statistics and Dating”. He was also a certain authority on the early history of the Church in Sydney and especially the early years of the Church in Sydney.

His “passion for souls” was shown in his eagerness to give assistance at churches quite different from those of the Sydney tradition, including the Church of King Charles the Martyr, Padstow, N.S.W. where he would travel to celebrate at 9 am. each Sunday until the Rev. John Keep (Deacon) was ordained Priest and took over the parish.

He was a friend of Bishop Albert Haley for whom he would frequently celebrate at 8 am.(l662) at All Saints’, Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, when Bishop Haley was Rector there, before he became Bishop for the “Continuum”. He was also a life-long friend of the late Albert Pitt-Owen, a “Rat of Tobruk,” with whom he had shared similar army chaplaincies.


1. The Repatriation Hospital for ex-servicemen in suburban Sydney built on the Estate of Sir Thomas Walker, and Dame Edith his daughter. Sir Thomas built St. Luke’s Concord, and he and his daughter were very generous benefactors of religious, educational and philanthropic enterprises in New South Wales from the 1840’s to the 1930’s.

* In recent years there has been a rather hardline recrudesence of Calvinism in the Archdiocese of Sydney.