The Book of Common Prayer
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    A New History of
The Book of Common Prayer



IN the foregoing chapters it has been necessary to pass very rapidly over great tracts of history, partly concerned with the Prayer Book as a whole, and partly concerned with the individual rites which it contains: consequently very little attempt has been made to discuss the broad questions involved or the general principles which appear in the course of the history. But in conclusion a short chapter must be devoted to calling attention to some of the main features of the history, and of their bearing upon the interpretation of the Prayer Book.

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Perhaps the most prominent feature of all is the representative character of the Book: it has drawn from many sources: apart from the Bible, the old traditional Latin services of the English Church have provided by far the greater part of the contents: this is not merely true of actual bulk, but it is still more markedly true of the whole spirit and method of the Prayer Book: it has drawn also from other sources — Greek, Gallican, Lutheran and Swiss, in their measure: but nowhere is the Catholic temper of the Book better shown than in the treatment of the matter which is adopted from 16th century sources, such as The Consultation or the suggestions of Bucer; and even when the borrowing has been most extensive, there are still the clear signs of careful editing, and the excision of what might sound out of tune with the old devotional temper preserved in the traditional prayers of the Church.1
Representative character of Prayer Book.
While thus the Prayer Book has combined 'things new and old,' it has also been comprehensive in another sense: it has attempted, and to a large extent been enabled, to combine together in common worship schools of thought, which, while united upon the fundamentals of the faith, differ, and even differ widely, on matters of theological opinion. This is no fortuitous result of the play of events, but was clearly the deliberate purpose alike of the original compilers of the Prayer Book, and of the Revisers who at the various stages carried on their work. It was no small testimony to the excellence of the First Prayer Book that it won acceptance and even some measure of approval from the leaders of the Old Learning.2 In 1552 the object of the revision was to comprehend the opposite extreme, and the insertion of the Black Rubric shows how the State was anxious to outstrip the Church in comprehensiveness, and even make room for those who were really contending for views which were antagonistic to the Catholic Faith.3 When the choice had to be made at the opening of Elizabeth's reign between the two Edwardine Books, it was a choice between two different forms of comprehension: but even when it was seen that the Second Book would command more support in the country than the First, it was not adopted without further attempts made to comprehend those who would like it least, e.g., by the omission of the Black Rubric and the petition against the Pope, and by the addition of the Ornaments Rubric.4
and comprehension.
The Conferences at Hampton Court and at the Savoy were still more obviously designed to facilitate comprehensiveness: it is true that they failed to a great extent in reconciling the malcontents, but this circumstance also is illuminating: for the failure shows clearly the limits that must be set to comprehensiveness: and these too must be recognised. Compromise is an attractive: way of dealing with difficult situations; but very rapidly compromise becomes compromising. The Church had to show that it would allow liberty of opinion and diversity of view and use, so far as such liberty and diversity did not prove dangerous: but also to show that it could draw a definite line of limitation, and refuse such compromises as would be derogatory either to the Catholic faith or to liturgical order and decency. Room could be made for considerable divergency of opinion, even on matters of so much importance as sacramental doctrine, so long as the minimum teaching of the Church as to the reality and efficacy of its sacraments was not denied5; ambiguous phraseology might (within the same limits) cover a good deal of divergence,6 but no toleration could be extended to attempts to tamper with the faith and discipline of the Church. Thus attacks upon the faith, such as those continualy made in the interests of arians and deists, and growing in power from 1689 onwards, were uniformly resisted. Similarly the attack upon the disciplinary power of the Church in liturgical matters, which really underlay all the complaints of the Puritans as to ceremonies and uses both great and small, was continuously resisted.7
The comprehensiveness of the Prayer Book therefore is distinguished not only by its large generosity in matters indifferent, but also by its clear limitations where matters of importance are called into question. The Church does not wish to overdrive the flock, but a clear distinction is maintained between the weak members who lag, and the wilful ones who stray.

The balance struck.


It is too much to expect that a generous temper such as this will not be abused: of this abuse the Prayer Book history shows at least one long and continuous instance. The Puritan party from the days of Elizabeth to the present time has never honestly accepted the Prayer Book: its members have been too much of Churchmen to leave the Church, but too little of Churchmen to value its principles: they have thus remained in it false position, attempting to subvert the system to which they nominally conformed. It has been pointed out how openly the attempt was made in Elizabethan times8; and, though it has in God's good Providence failed all along to win any substantial recognition, it has been able at times to establish an evasive and false tradition of Prayer Book interpretation which has practically popularised and sought even to justify a system of disloyalty to the Prayer Book. The party has had its conflicts with the more loyal and whole-hearted churchmanship, and the issues have hitherto not been finally decisive. The failure of the Elizabethan attempt to puritanize the Church inaugurated the period of loyalty of the early Stuart times: the success of this recovery was too rapid and too injudicious, and so the revenge came speedily; for a while sectarianism and puritanism had their way, until a short experience of their results under the Commonwealth produced a fresh reaction. The failure of the Puritans at the Savoy inaugurated another period of loyalty under the later Stuarts, but, when Church life was systematically, crushed in the 18th century by Whig politicians and Latitudinarian bishops, the reign of the false tradition, and the evasive, disloyal or merely torpid attitude to the rules of Church worship again set in; and those who tried to be loyal to the Church system, whether early followers of Wesley, Clapham Evangelicals or Oxford Tractarians, were all alike in turn charged with innovation, disloyalty, and even with Popery. The contest still survives: the Puritan party still works for a system, which is not the system of the Catholic Church or of the English Prayer Book, and defends its disregard of plain rubrics (e. g., as to fasting or daily services), and its want of sympathy with the system (e. g., as to the frequency and discipline of Communion) by appealing to the evasive tradition, which in the dark days of the history it has been able to form, and would like to fasten permanently upon the Church. Thus there is no feature more marked in the history of·the Prayer Book than this contest between the Church system of worship expressed in the Prayer Book and the false interpretation which has grown up through a continuous tradition of evasion and rebellion.


The Puritan rebelliousness.


Their evasive interpretation.




has set up a false tradition.

Contest between Puritanism and loyalty;

still surviving.






In more recent times further confusion has been introduced into the question by a legal system of interpretation. The result of the attacks made in these last fifty years upon the more active and progressive side of Church life has been that law courts have been invoked to decide as to the meaning of the rubrics, partly as to doctrine and partly as to ceremonial. It might have been foreseen that the result would not be encouraging. Rubrics in their nature are not like statutes, which have one definite ascertainable force: they are merely a body of directions, varying greatly in lucidity, authoritativeness and completeness. Moreover, as has been shown, the Prayer Book is meant to be comprehensive, and many phrases and rules are designedly vague and patient of several interpretations. Thus the most characteristic features of rubric are just those which legal acumen cannot undertake to recognise. The tradition of the ecclesiastical courts differed from civil courts in this respect and their whole method of interpretation differed: they were therefore better able to deal with the circumstances of the case: and in old days the civil courts, when invoked in such matters, referred the interpretation at issue to the ecclesiastical authorities, and decided the legal consequences in accordance with the interpretation which the ecclesiastical authorities supplied.9 But the anomalous position of the Privy Council, adjudicating in ecclesiastical matters, has apparently made such a wise procedure impossible; and the anomaly of the position has spread from the disputed jurisdiction of the Court of the Privy Council to
the undisputed ecclesiastical courts, which are subject to it. The result is that the interpretation of the Prayer Book is a matter of great difficulty: not only are its provisions more than two hundred years old, and their application to present circumstances therefore very difficult, but the difficulty has been intensified by the unsatisfactory character both of the old traditional and of the new legal system of interpretation.
Another disastrous system of interpretation.
Against these forces, which, to say the least, make for stagnation and rigidity in days when progress and orderly freedom are most necessary, another great force is to be set, which also forms a conspicuous feature of' the history, viz., the power of rapid formation of liturgical custom. The rapidity with which usages are formed and fixed, often independently or even in defiance of express order, is seen conspicuously throughout. The rapidity with which Puritan customs overpowered the rules of the Prayer Book in Elizabeth's reign is paralleled by the rapidity with which the Prayer Book rules were recovered and additional unrubrical customs arose, and became general, under the earlier or the later Stuarts. Some of the unrubrical, but not necessarily unauthorised, restorations or innovations of the Caroline divines became part of the rubrical directions of the book of 1661, e. g., the manual acts or ceremonial of the offertory10: while others, such as turning to the east in the Creeds or the response before the Gospel,11 have continued in use, though still unrubrical.

Similarly the black gown has come and gone again, and it is only one instance out of many ceremonial observances, which have come and gone in independence or even in defiance of the rubrics.

Even the recent legal decisions. have not prevented this free and rapid play of liturgical custom; for example, the directions of the Privy Council as to vestments are disregarded in nearly every church in England, from cathedrals downwards,12 and even by those who profess to accept the ruling of the Court.

The power of liturgical custom acting independently of rule.
It is important to see the meaning of this fact: ceremonial observances are only relative things, and they depend upon time and place and character and even fashion. Liturgical customs are therefore always and of necessity in a state of flux: and attempts at enforcing uniformity, whether Anglican or Tridentine, have served to bring this fact out into prominence. It could hardly be otherwise: for worship that has no freedom is in imminent danger of becoming formalism.
This is necessary liberty, not lawlessness.
On the other hand, there must be some check to prevent liberty from becoming licence, and to ensure that worship shall be orderly and intelligible: the controlling force must rest in the hands of the Living Church, for otherwise it will be a case of 'new wine in old bottles.' To secure this control is the object of the episcopal jus liturgicum: the Bishop is finally responsible for the discipline of worship, just as he is for all other parts of discipline in his diocese: and here, as in other respects, exercising his office constitutionally, that is with due regard to the rights of his clergy and laity on one side, and on the other side to those of his comprovincials, his metropolitan, his national synod, it may be, and ultimately to the whole Catholic Church, he is the appointed safeguard and the efficient authority in all matters liturgical.
To be under living ecclesiastical control

It may be true that this method of liturgical order offers no ultimate finality in inveterate disputes, but that is true of all episcopal government: that bishops have made mistakes in the past or been untrustworthy, or that they are so now, or that they may be so in the future, is no valid objection to their liturgical authority. Such considerations, misgivings and fears will not justify either the people in refusing to obey the bishops' legal and honest commands, or the bishops in refusing the responsibility of making and enforcing them. But they necessitate a deep-seated belief in the reality of the Providence of God directing His Church, and in the guidance of the Holy Spirit as a power transcending all questions of ecclesiastical organization or policy, and overruling the administrative efforts of alike the best and the worst of human agents. And certainly few tracts of history can supply more cogent reasons for such a belief, or show more striking instances of the action of the Divine Providence in bringing order out of confusion, and truth out of conflicting errors, than the History of the English Book of Common Prayer.


Security lies in that Divine Government of the Church.

Which the history of the Prayer Book conspicuously exemplifies. 




1 For instances of such care see above, pp. 368, 488, 662-667.

2 See p. 49.

3 See p. 83.

4See p. 102.

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5 Thus the book contains both the Prayer of Humble Access and the modified Black Rubric. But Zwinglian views are expressly excluded, implicitly by the whole service, and explicitly by the Catechism inter alia.

6 For examples, see the word 'oblations' (p, 482), or scrutinise the change of language in the closing section of the first Exhortation in the Communion Service.

7 The Puritan wished (in theory at least) for nothing to be imposed for which there was not an express direction of Scripture: his modern descendant still argues in the same fashion, but the Church will have none of such narrow and crude reasoning.

8 See pp. 110 and ff.

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9 The history of the case of Eliza Shipden, or of the varied fortunes of the attack on Bp. John Cosin at Durham are very illuminating. See for the former p. 639, and for the latter Parker's Introduction. Cp. in later days the action of the Queen's Bench in the S. Paul's reredos case. There has been no difficulty when civil courts have kept in their own proper spheres.

10 See p. 481.

11 See pp. 152, 391, 479.

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12 In most cathedrals copes are not worn, and in most parish churches stoles are.
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