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Gregory Dix

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Gregory Dix

Gregory Dix
Portrait of Dom Gregory Dix
Born 4 October 1901
London, England
Died 12 May 1952
Honored in
Church of England
Feast 12 May

Gregory Dix Nashdom Abbey, an Anglican Benedictine community. He was a noted liturgical scholar whose work had particular influence on the reform of Anglican liturgy in the mid-20th century.


Dix was born in Woolwich, south London. He was the son of a schoolmaster who became a priest and served as the first principal of the College of St Mark and St John, Chelsea. He was educated at Westminster School and became an exhibitioner at Merton College, Oxford. His modest degree did not reflect his real ability and from 1924 to 1926 he was appointed lecturer in modern history at Keble College, Oxford while studying at Wells Theological College. He was ordained priest in 1925. He entered Nashdom the following year and was sent to the Gold Coast as a novice until his health broke down in 1929.

Returning to Nashdom he became an intern oblate and took his final vows only in 1940. During the Second World War he lived for a while in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire and looked after the Anglo-Catholic daughter church of St Michael whilst his brother Ronald, who was the priest there, served as a military chaplain. With another monk he lived in the parsonage, kept the round of monastic offices and cared for the parish. On his return to Nashdom he was succeeded in Beaconsfield by Dom Augustine Morris, who was to become Abbot of Nashdom in 1948. Dix was elected to the Southern Convocation in 1945 and prior of his abbey in 1948.

Scholarly work

As a scholar, Dix worked primarily in the field of liturgical studies. He produced an edition of the Apostolic Tradition in 1935; but his most influential book is The Shape of the Liturgy, first published in 1945. In this book he argued that it was not so much the words of the liturgy but its "shape" which mattered. This was, he believed, even more fundamental than the inclusion of the Words of Institution ("This is my Body... This is my Blood"), which he believed had not always been included. To Dix, the entire liturgy of the Eucharist constitutes anamnesis — a commemoration and re-presentation of the one sacrifice of Christ.

His study of the liturgy's historical development, as seen in the writings of Justin Martyr, the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, and the Syriac Liturgy of Addai and Mari, among others, led him to formulate what he called the Four Action Shape of the Liturgy: Offertory, Consecration, Fraction, Communion. This was, he believed, even more fundamental to the rite than are the Words of Institution, which the Liturgy of Addai and Mari does not include and which may not have been part of the earliest celebrations of the Eucharist.

Dix's work heavily influenced liturgical revision both in the Church of England and in related rites of the Anglican Communion, along with that of the Church of South India. More recent scholars, however, have criticised it as lacking historical accuracy, and newer rites such as those in the Alternative Service Book and Common Worship represent a reduction of his influence.

In particular, Dix's claims for the "shape" of the liturgy, which laid emphasis on the significance of the offertory, have been argued to rest on weak evidence historically, and have been criticised on the theological ground that the offertory was in danger of Pelagianism: that is, it suggests a natural goodness in humankind who could give God anything. (This objection originated in a comment by Archbishop Michael Ramsey about the dangers of a "shallow and romantic sort of Pelagianism" but was taken up by Evangelical liturgical scholars, not as a warning, but as a prohibition of offertory processions of any sort.)

On the other hand, Dix's thesis was defended by members of the English Parish Communion movement, such as Gabriel Hebert and Donald Gray, who saw the offertory as representing the bringing of the world into the eucharistic action. This is also the traditional Eastern Orthodox perspective on the offertory.[1] Dix's thesis was also defended by scholars who noted ancient ideas of sacrifice particularly associated with the work of St Irenaeus.

However, what caused particular scandal and uproar on the publication of The Shape of the Liturgy was Dix's conclusion that "Cranmer in his eucharistic doctrine was a devout and theologically founded Zwinglian, and that his Prayer Books were exactly framed to express his convictions."[2] Dix had earlier affirmed that if Cranmer's doctrinal statements are examined minutely with one possible exception in his earliest work there is "no flicker of inconsistency from 1547 right down to his final disputations at Oxford in 1554-5... The 'meaning' of the Prayer Book of 1549 was certainly 'explained' much more clearly in that of 1552 but ..... this was the purpose of the new book".[3] As to how far this is true, it was certainly taken up by Ratcliffe and Couratin, although it greatly upset old fashioned Anglo-Catholics who revered the Prayer Book of 1549.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Cranmer's most recent biographer, agrees with the thesis that the eucharistic theology of the two Prayer Books is the same, but refuses to class Cranmer's theology as Zwinglian, placing it nearer to that of Bullinger and Calvin[4] than understanding the eucharistic action as "a vivid mental remembering of the passion as the achievement of 'my' redemption in the past" which is how Dix summarises Zwingli's thought.[5]

Ecclesiastical politics

Dix was not just a liturgical scholar, he was also an able ecclesiastical politician. A convinced Anglican Papalist, he sought reunion with the Holy See and was against any developments which might make such a union impossible. He therefore campaigned vigorously against the projected church union in South India, which he saw as a possible model for similar schemes in England, and which in his view equated Anglican and Free Church ordinations. "If these proposals were to be put into practice, the whole ground for believing in the Church of England which I have outlined would have ceased to exist."[6] A by-product of his campaign was the book of essays entitled The Apostolic Ministry, published in 1946 and edited by Kenneth Kirk with a contribution by Dix. However, he remained on excellent terms with those, including William Temple, who opposed his views.

In addition to writing a defence of the practice of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, Dix also found time in 1944 to defend Anglican orders against Roman Catholic critics. Firmly believing that "Unless we are 'Catholics' inasmuch and because we are 'Anglicans', then we are not being 'Catholics'",[7] he strongly defended the Church of England. "For three centuries the C. of E. taught the essentials of the Catholic Faith and ministered the essential Catholic Sacraments to the ordinary English people, when no one else could, or would have been allowed by the state to do. That is her title to exist, and I think a man could and should love her for that, even if he felt that he must leave her now."[8]

A busy confessor and spiritual director with many penitents, Dix was also an irrepressible wit and raconteur. When Hugh Ross Williamson once remarked to him how strange it was that the Anglican episcopate seemed determined to betray their principles in their dealings with South India, he remarked "I really don't see why you should be surprised at the conduct of your fathers-in-God. After all the sign of a Bishop is a crook and of an Archbishop a double-cross." In explaining his oft repeated description of the bishops as Edwardian, he commented "Strictly Edward VI in theology; strictly Edward VII in mental equipment and strictly Edward VIII in their views on marriage."[9]


Dix died of cancer in 1952, described by Kenneth Kirk, Bishop of Oxford, as "my closest and oldest friend, and the most brilliant man in the Church of England".[10]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Dix (1948). Dixit Cranmer Et Non Timuit. Dacre Press. p. 2. 
  3. ^ Dix, Gregory (1945). The shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press. p. 646. 
  4. ^ MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Thomas Cranmer. Yale: Yale U.P. pp. 614;629. 
  5. ^ Dix, Gregory (1945). The shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press. p. 632. 
  6. ^ Dix (1944). The Question of Anglican Orders. Dacre Press. p. 92. 
  7. ^ Question. p. 91. 
  8. ^ ibid. 91
  9. ^ Williamson, H. R. (1957). The Walled Garden. Macmillan. p. 144. 
  10. ^ Kemp, EW (1959). The Life and Letters of Kenneth Escott Kirk. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 204. 
  • Dix, Dom Gregory (1945). The Shape of the Liturgy. 
  • Hebert, A.G. (1951). Liturgy and Society. Faber. 
  • Gray, Donald (1986). Earth and Altar. Alcuin. 
  • Buchanan, Colin (1978). The End of the Offertory. Grove. 
  • Arguile, Roger (1986). The Offering of the People. Jubilee. 

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