By Fr. Mark Perkins
In my last piece, I suggested that “the late Fr. Dix’s personal reputation may be a rather inconsequential question for us.” I nevertheless indicated my conviction that Fr. Ben Jefferies was right about Fr. Dix, whereas Samuel Bray was wrong. Briefly, here’s why:
In Bray’s telling, Dom Gregory Dix’s work had a pernicious influence on the liturgical renewal movements of the mid-20th century. Fr. Dix’s emphasis on a liturgical shape over a liturgical text gave cover to all manner of mischief. Though much of what Bray says is true, Fr. Jefferies rightly contends that Bray’s strident and unambiguous assault on Fr. Dix goes beyond what either the evidence or the current scholarly consensus (such as it is) can sustain. As Fr. Jefferies acknowledges, “Dix asserts his liturgical theses with a confidence and a certainty that historical data can never warrant.” Ironically, Bray’s own condemnation of Dix reflects just such an unsupportable degree of confidence and certainty.
Bray implicitly acknowledges that the liturgical renewal movements went beyond what Fr. Dix himself would have wanted, but he claims that these are the natural outworking of the Dixian emphasis on shape and action over text. [By contrast with the action-light and text-heavy 1662, “we could think of an ideal Dixian liturgy (not what the man Gregory Dix actually wanted, but rather a logical development of the liturgy-as-shape idea). That ideal might be all stage directions, with the words themselves being left to the players’ improvisation.”] Whether that is so I will leave to more competent scholars of Fr. Dix and the liturgical renewal movement, but it is certainly not the case that more attentiveness to uniformity in shape and structure of necessity requires less attentiveness to text.
Bray’s rejoinder perhaps concedes the point, as it entirely elides the questions around Fr. Dix’s legacy.
(For more on Fr. Dix and his detractors, see Fr. Gerry McDermott’s series providing an extensive outline of Fr. Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy and then a comparison of that work with Paul Bradshaw’s The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, cited by both Bray and Fr. Jefferies as a searing critique of Fr. Dix. Fr. McDermott ultimately argues that, despite Fr. Dix’s shortcomings, his work ultimately holds up better than Bradshaw’s.)
Fr. Mark Perkins is Curate at St. Alban's Anglican Cathedral in Oviedo, Florida and Assistant Editor of Earth & Altar.