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Lex orandi, lex credendi

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Lex orandi, lex credendi (Latin loosely translatable as the law of prayer is the law of belief) refers to the relationship between worship and belief, and is an ancient Christian principle which provided a measure for developing the ancient Christian creeds, the canon of scripture and other doctrinal matters based on the prayer texts of the Church, that is, the Church's liturgy. In the Early Church there were about 69 years of liturgical tradition before there was a creed and about 350 years before there was a biblical canon. These liturgical traditions provided the theological framework for establishing the creeds and canon.


The principle is considered very important in Catholic theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Church's faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles - whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, according to Prosper of Aquitaine [5th cent.]). The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition."[1]

At a symposium held in connection with the publication of a set of reproductions of the first editions of the Tridentine liturgical texts, including the Roman Missal and the Roman Breviary,[2] Archbishop Piero Marini, former Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, presented a paper entitled "Returning to the Sources", in which he said: "It is above all in the Liturgy that renewal cannot do without a sincere and profound return to the sources: sources of that which is celebrated and sources of that which is believed (lex orandi, lex credendi). Digging deep into the sources, the theologian and the liturgist aim simply to penetrate the profundity of the mystery of the faith as it has shown itself in the concrete life of the Church all through her history."

Traditionalist Catholics appeal to this principle, claiming that orthopraxis is threatened by the 1970 revision of the Roman Missal and by liturgical abuses.


Lex orandi, lex credendi is a fundamental character of Anglicanism. Its importance is due primarily to the fact that there is no distinctive Anglican theology as propounded in other traditions which take their name from their founding theologian (e.g., Calvinism, Lutheranism, Mennonite, or Zwinglianism). Furthermore, there is no established authority (such as the Roman Catholic magisterium) or extra-creedal summary of doctrine (such as the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterian Church).

Instead, Anglicans have typically appealed to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) as a guide to Anglican theology and practice. In this sense Thomas Cranmer, principal author of the prototypical 1549 BCP, could be said to be the first Anglican theologian. His theology is expressed in the selection, arrangement, and composition of prayers and exhortations, the selection and arrangement of daily scripture readings (the lectionary), and in the stipulation of the rubrics for permissible liturgical action and any variations in the prayers and exhortations.

Given its locus in the worship of the Church, Anglican theology tends to be pragmatic and strongly liturgical and ecclesiological, placing a high value on the traditions of the faith. It acknowledges the primacy of the worshipping community in articulating, amending, and passing down the Church’s theology; and thus, by necessity, is inclined toward a comprehensive consensus concerning the principles of the tradition and the relationship between the Church and society. In this sense, Anglicans have traditionally viewed their theology as strongly incarnational.

At the same time, the approach has its weaknesses. First, it is “text-centric,” creating a tendency to focus on the technical, historical, and hermeneutical aspects of the Prayer Books rather than the relationship between faith and life. Second, the emphasis on comprehensiveness often results instead in compromise or tolerance of other views. This can undermine Anglicanism’s evangelistic potential. Finally, while lex orandi—lex credendi helped solidify a universal Anglican ethos when the 1662 English BCP and its successors predominated, and while prelates of the United Kingdom enforced its conformity in territories of the British Empire, liturgical reform and the post-colonial reorganisation of national churches has led to a splintering of common worship since the middle of the twentieth century.


Eastern Orthodoxy's Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople quoted this phrase in Latin on the occasion of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, drawing from the phrase the lesson that, "in liturgy, we are reminded of the need to reach unity in faith as well as in prayer."[3]

Some traditionalist Catholics[who?] have claimed that the patriarch's homily showed he considered ancient liturgies like the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom, which he was celebrating, to be orthodox and catholic, while he considered the revised rite in force in the Latin Church since 1970 to be a break with Sacred Tradition and the historical aspect of the Roman liturgy and liturgy in general. They have cited no part of the homily in support of this claim that the Ecumenical Patriarch was thus speaking derogatorily of his papal guest's present-day liturgy.


  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124
  2. Monumenta Liturgica Concilii Tridentini
  3. Homily on the Feast of Saint Andrew on 30 November 2006


  • William R. Crockett, Eucharist: Symbol of Transformation. New York: Pueblo, 1989.
  • W. Taylor Stevenson, “Lex Orandi—Lex Credendi.” In The Study of Anglicanism, ed. by Stephen Sykes and John Booty. London: SPCK, 1988, pp. 174-88.
  • William J. Wolf, “Anglicanism and Its Spirit.” In The Spirit of Anglicanism: Hooker, Maurice, Temple, ed. by William J. Wolf. Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1979.
  • Paul de Clerck, “Lex orandi, lex credendi”: The Original Sense and Historical Avatars of an Equivocal Adage. In Studia Liturgica 24, 1994, 178-200

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