The Nineteenth Century Liturgical Revival: Evolution and Devolution of Worship in the Kirk

Author: 
Bryan D. Spinks

This article is based on Professor Spinks’ Sesquicentennial Lecture to the Society delivered on 17th October 2015 in New College, Edinburgh. In it, he offers a new perspective on the dramatic changes brought about in patterns of worship in Scottish Presbyterian Church life in the nineteenth-century. ‘Devolution’ and ‘evolution’ are the key terms here. After describing the pattern of traditional worship, Spinks notes some early attempts to ‘devolve’ good practice to ministers and argues these attempts are good examples of the organic development of liturgical ideas. The rather more revolutionary innovations of Robert Lee and others are charted, leading indirectly to the founding of the Church Service Society in 1865. The wide liturgical ‘gene pool’ promoted by the Society is noted, the Euchologion offering a new species of liturgy which was adapted, in a process of devolution, in many parishes throughout the Church of Scotland. The founding of the high church party’s Scottish Church Society in 1892 and the influence of the ‘Scoto-Catholicism’ of James Cooper are described, as is the influence of liturgical renewal on other Scottish Presbyterian churches. The changes in practice in praise in song, while not universally accepted, are detailed. Using modern evolutionary theory, Spinks suggests that these liturgical revivals might be compared to Hox genes which switch on to adapt and evolve to conditions that are changing. As in nature, these new liturgical forms co-existed and were inter-bred with the older forms, creating hybrid forms. The immense cultural and social changes brought about by the Victorian age were the trigger for this evolutionary shift. Spinks closes by suggesting that the CSS has a role to play in the liturgical evolution currently underway, triggered by the profound changes witnessed in our own time also.

Reference: 
Volume 50 2015, p2