“Old Dudes with Beards”
by the Rev. Jimmy Abbott
At St. Alban’s in Waco we are taking on a bold study of our historical identity as Episcopalians. This course, entitled “Old Dudes with Beards: A Five Week Dash through Anglican Theology, History, and Prayer,” is designed to provide a basic introduction to our Anglican forefathers’ (and foremothers’) contributions to Christianity. We are taking the thoughts and methods of Richard Hooker, Jeremy Taylor, F.D. Maurice, N.T. Wright and others and applying them to our individual and corporate spiritual lives.
The first old dude with a beard is Thomas Cranmer. Born in 1489 and a product of Cambridge University, Cranmer was ordained in 1520. During a diplomatic tour of Europe, Cranmer became enamored with the Lutherans in Germany and with a certain German Luthera, Margaret Osiander, whom he illegally married in 1532. With these Protestant sympathies, Cranmer’s consecration as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533 set the stage for his reforming influence on the English church.
The “Old Dudes with Beards” class became familiar with two of Cranmer’s most important written works. First, we looked at the Preface to the 1540 Great Bible, the earliest authorized English Bible. Cranmer emphasizes the need for Christians to read the Holy Scriptures in their own language so that they can glean from it meaning, hope, and instruction. We also looked at Cranmer’s Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. Here, among other things, he stresses the need for the people to pray in their own language.
After this historical foray, the students of old dudes with beards asked the most important question of all: so what? Our study of Cranmer turned from academic query to spiritual formation. First and foremost, we must read the Bible for our own sake. As that famous collect of Cranmer so beautifully says of all Holy Scriptures, we are to “hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them” (Book of Common Prayer, 236). The Bible is not something to have on a bookshelf; it should be an indelible part of our lives. In response to the Holy Scriptures, we need to pray both corporately and publicly using the Book of Common Prayer. Yet these liturgies are not just words to be repeated by rote. Rather, our prayers should well up from within our hearts and spring forth from our lips in the language we know. Perhaps these old dudes with beards have something to teach us after all.