"The Book of Common Prayer"

"The Book of Common Prayer": A Biography

Alan Jacobs
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    "The Book of Common Prayer"
    Book Description:

    While many of us are familiar with such famous words as, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here. . ." or "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," we may not know that they originated with The Book of Common Prayer, which first appeared in 1549. Like the words of the King James Bible and Shakespeare, the language of this prayer book has saturated English culture and letters. Here Alan Jacobs tells its story. Jacobs shows how The Book of Common Prayer--from its beginnings as a means of social and political control in the England of Henry VIII to its worldwide presence today--became a venerable work whose cadences express the heart of religious life for many.

    The book's chief maker, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, created it as the authoritative manual of Christian worship throughout England. But as Jacobs recounts, the book has had a variable and dramatic career in the complicated history of English church politics, and has been the focus of celebrations, protests, and even jail terms. As time passed, new forms of the book were made to suit the many English-speaking nations: first in Scotland, then in the new United States, and eventually wherever the British Empire extended its arm. Over time, Cranmer's book was adapted for different preferences and purposes. Jacobs vividly demonstrates how one book became many--and how it has shaped the devotional lives of men and women across the globe.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4802-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION The Archbishop in His Library
    (pp. 1-5)

    The archbishop’s palace at Croydon, south of London, sat amid low-lying woods. King Henry avoided it: of another palace belonging to the archbishop he commented, “This house standeth low and is rheumatic, like unto Croydon, where I could never be without sickness.”¹ But it was here that Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, kept a great library; it was here that he sifted through his vast treasure-store of biblical commentary, theology, and manuals of worship. Many of his books were very old and reflected the forms of Catholic liturgy and teaching that had dominated Europe for centuries; these had generally been...

  7. CHAPTER 1 One Book for One Country
    (pp. 7-43)

    The Book of Common Prayer came into being as an instrument of social and political control. There will be much else to say about its origins, but here we must begin: the prayer book was a key means by which the great lords who ruled on behalf of the young King Edward VI consolidated English rule of the English church. In making one book according to which the whole country would worship, Cranmer and his allies were quite consciously dismantling an immense and intricate edifice of devotional practice. They had both theological and political reasons for doing this, but the...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Revision, Banishment, Restoration
    (pp. 45-59)

    The employment of the Book of Common Prayer was made mandatory through England by the Act of Uniformity, passed by Parliament in early 1549. It declared

    that all and singular ministers in any cathedral or parish church or other place within this realm of England, Wales, Calais, and the marches of the same, or other the king’s dominions, shall, from and after the feast of Pentecost next coming, be bound to say and use the Matins, Evensong, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, commonly called the Mass, and administration of each of the sacraments, and all their common and open prayer,...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Becoming Venerable
    (pp. 61-89)

    The “sombrely magnificent prose” of the prayer book remains its single most striking feature. It is highly rhythmical and consistently reliant on Latinate structures, but it borrows from biblical Hebrew a deep allegiance to parallelism. Some of Cranmer’s most memorable phrases involve doublings, often alliterative: we have already noted the twin alliterations of “make speed to save us” and “make haste to help us,” but there are many more, and almost every imaginable way to present parallel clauses either for reinforcement or for contrast. Consider—as one example among many possible—the “general confession” of sin that first appeared in...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Book in the Social World
    (pp. 91-111)

    An unintended consequence of the Restoration was the creation of Dissent, or Nonconformity, as a permanent category, a fixed point on the religious landscape of Britain. Of course, there had always been people who rejected the Church of England, from Roman Catholics to Quakers and Diggers, but at the Restoration their legal situation came to a point of crisis. It proved, though, to be a wavering sort of point. Charles II, at least at the outset of his reign, showed a good deal of forbearance toward the Dissenters, whom he knew to be still a powerful interest in English society,...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Objects, Bodies, and Controversies
    (pp. 113-147)

    Many stories, few of which are demonstrably true, describe the adventures of that great Elizabethan Sir Francis Drake. One that has been told since Elizabeth still sat on the throne goes like this: Throughout the first half of 1579, Drake’s ship the Golden Hind pirated and plundered its way up the Pacific coast of South America. Killing and stealing from Spaniards was hard and dangerous work, so by the time the Hind reached California the ship and its crew were rather battered. On June 21, the crew found a safe and quiet harbor where they could anchor the ship, perform...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Pressures of the Modern
    (pp. 149-179)

    As the Victorian era drew to a close, the Book of Common Prayer was at or near the height of its career, something that was widely understood at the time. Even as early as 1865, in a scholarly edition of the prayer book, the Reverends W. M. Campion and W. J. Beamont note that “probably at no period, since the Reformation, has the national Church occupied the attention of intelligent men in foreign lands and of all classes in our own land, to so large an extent as she does at the present day”—a situation for which much of...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Many Books for Many Countries
    (pp. 181-194)

    Among those who treasured the old prayer book, the poet W. H. Auden offered a typical response. When his parish in Greenwich Village, St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, tried out the new rites in the late 1960s, Auden wrote a letter to the rector that began, “Dear Father Allen: Have you gone stark raving mad?”

    The poet went on, in only slightly less vivid language, to make arguments many traditionalists would repeat in the coming years, though rarely with Auden’s incisiveness.

    Our Church has had the singular good-fortune of having its Prayer-Book composed and its Bible translated at exactly the right...

  14. APPENDIX The Prayer Book and Its Printers
    (pp. 195-200)
    (pp. 201-202)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 203-230)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 231-240)