The Nationalism of the Protestant Reformation: The English Church's Nationalist Liturgy

26 October 2023

By Dr Adi Schlebusch

This October marks 506 years since Martin Luther initiated the Great Reformation of the Church of Christ. In celebration thereof Pactum will be publishing a series of blog posts on the nationalism of the Reformation in the run-up to Reformation Day on October 31st. Today, in our seventh entry in this series, we'll be looking at how English nationalism was reflected in the liturgy of the Anglican Church.

In 1606, on the 5th of November a group of Roman Catholics led by Robert Catesby tried to assassinate King James I. This failed attempt famously became known as the Gunpowder Plot. The Church of England even commemorated the plot by instituting an official liturgical holiday on November 5th. In 1662 they added a special service of thanksgiving for this particular day to the Book of Common Prayer, which included the following prayer:

We yield thee our unfeigned thanks and praise for the wonderful and mighty deliverance of our late gracious Sovereign King James, the Queen, the Prince, and all the Royal Branches, with the Nobility, Clergy, and Commons of England ... We confess, it was thy mercy, thy mercy alone, that we were not then consumed [by the plot]. For our sins cried to heaven against us; and our iniquities justly called for vengeance upon us. But thou hast not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us after our iniquities; nor given us over, as we deserved, to be a prey to our enemies; but didst in mercy delivered us from their malice, and preserved us from death and destruction. Let the consideration of this, thy goodness, O Lord, work in us true repentance, that iniquity may not be our ruine. And increase in us more and more a lively faith, and fruitful love in all holy obedience, that thou maist continue thy favour, with the light of thy Gospel to us and our posterity for evermore; and that for thy dear Sons sake, Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

As pastor Steven Wedgeworth from the Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana comments:

as can be seen from the form of the prayers and the combination of the scripture readings, the intent was to model Protestant England after the Old Testament kingdom of Israel, a nation in covenant with God, though it never suggests that only England is in covenant with God, nor that its national blessing is anything other than a free gift of God.

That the prayer was intended as being offered by a covenant nation is furthermore evidenced by the fact that after thanking the Lord for national deliverance, a supplication is made for continual national repentance which is understood to be conditional for the continued survival and prosperity of the nation. Covenantal Protestant Nationalism was adhered to by not only the Reformers but also the Churches established during the Reformation.