The Book of Common Prayer
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    The Book of Common Prayer for Scotland (1637)


The 1637 Scottish Book of Common Prayer

Title Page of the 1637 Scottish Book of Common Prayer
King Charles I, and his father King James before him, had throughout their reigns wished to prescribe fixed forms of liturgy and prayer (as had long been in place in England) to their native Scotland.
    This was, as any student of history should know, a time of great religious upheaval and controversy. In Britain the forces of the Anglican Church were striving to maintain their relatively traditional liturgy against the rising tide of the Puritans in England and Presbyterians in Scotland, who both wished a state religion which was much more "Protestant" in character. In the background there was the always-present danger of a return to the Papacy.
    King Charles was firmly of a mind to extend Anglican forms to Scotland, particularly as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer, and the great majority of the Scottish people were equally determined to resist. Charles was not one for compromise, and so had the Scottish Bishops, with the approval of Archbishop William Laud, draw up a Book of Common Prayer for Scotland. This Book was promulgated in 1637 and was immediately denounced by the Scottish people; it was never even put into use.

Prayer Book riot

Riot which ensued when the 1637 Prayer Book was first used at St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh

Plaque in St. Giles Cathedral
Plaque in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, which commemorates the tradition that Jenny Geddes threw a stool at the Dean of the Cathedral when he attempted to begin a service from this 1637 Book (see above picture)
(photo by web author)

    This was one of the more important of the events which led to the Puritan Revolution of 1645, and Charles' overthrow and eventual beheading.

A 1712 reprint of the 1637 Scottish BCP.
    If that was all there was to this book, it would likely be only an historical curiosity. However, after the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 which overthrew James II and brought William and Mary to the throne, the Church of Scotland was delivered firmly into the hands of the Presbyterians, leaving those who preferred Anglican forms with no home. These formed the Scottish Episcopal Church, and began to take as their Prayer Book the old 1637 Scottish Book of Common Prayer. It was reprinted several times in the 1700's, and by the mid to late 18th century forms based on this book were in common use in the Scottish Episcopal Church. So when Samuel Seabury came in 1784 to the Scottish Church to be ordained the first American bishop, he was urged to take these Scottish forms as the basis for the American Episcopal liturgy. He did, and as a result this book can be seen as a direct ancestor of the American Book of Common Prayer - particularly with regards to the Communion Service. We have online the 1764 Communion Office of the Scottish Episcopal Church - the successor to the one in this book, and the predecessor of the one in the first U. S. Book of Common Prayer, and also Seabury's nearly identical Communion Service, which he used as Bishop of Connecticut.

The book is basically a moderate revision of the then-current Prayer Book: the Book of 1559, as revised in 1604. There were a large number of changes, but the vast majority of them are quite minor. The more significant changes include:

  • Most (but by no means all) of the scripture readings from the Apocrypha were removed as a concession to the Presbyterians.
  • Another concession was the use of the term "Presbyter" to replace "Priest" or "Minister".
  • The Communion Service was rearranged significantly to bring it to be more in line with the original 1549 Book.
  • The water of the baptismal font was directed to be changed at least once a month, and a form of blessing provided for the new water.
  • Biblical texts were taken for the first time from the Authorized, or King James Version of the Bible.
  • The general tone of the book, particularly in its rubrics, is more prescriptive.

These changes may be seen by comparing this text with that of the 1559 Book. This book is listed in David Griffiths' Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer as 1637/9. The Internet Archive has two copies (both from the Benton Collection at the BPL) available as PDF graphics: copy 1; copy 2.

The Communion Service is also online in modern spelling. Two identical reprints (from 1904 and 1909) of this book (Griffiths 1904/6) with a lengthy introduction by James Cooper are available from Google Books in PDF graphics and plain text formats. Google Books also has the 1712 reprint pictured above as PDF graphics (Griffiths 1712/7). We also have online Scottish Liturgies of the Reign of James VI, which presents a very different and much earlier draft of this book, along with an extensive historical introduction and commentary.

King Charles I
King Charles I
Notes on the text:
The basic text was first taken from either a reprint of the 1559 BCP, or from Liturgiae Britannicae, by William Keeling (Pickering, London, 1851). This text was then compared with an actual copy of the original, and changed to agree with the original wherever necessary. My copy of the original 1637 text has three or four pages missing; in those cases, the comparison was made instead with a 1712 reprint (title page above, Griffiths 1712/7). The original text used Roman type for headings and the rubrics, and blackletter ("Old English") for the basic text of the services. Since blackletter is not a font commonly found on computers (and isn't particularly readable anyway), we have replaced the blackletter of the original with Roman, and replaced the Roman font of the rubrics with italics. The original spelling and punctuation has been maintained throughout (the 1712 reprint updates the spelling, but not punctuation or capitalization). There are several pictures of pages of the original so you can see just what it actually looks like.

Additionally, a PDF graphics version is available from the Internet Archive.

It is to be expected that this edition, which is nearly 400 years old, uses some archaic English words. What might not be expected is that certain words used here have entirely different meanings nowadays than they did in the 1600's. The meanings of any particularly unusual words, or words whose meaning is very different today, are given in the text.

The Contents of This Book

1. A Proclamation for the authorising of the book of Common Prayer
2. A Preface
3. Of Ceremonies, Why Some Be Abolished and Some Retained
4. The Order How the Psalter Is Appointed to Be Read
5. The Order How the Rest of Holy Scripture Is Appointed to Be Read
6. Proper Psalms and Lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, for Sundays and Certain Feasts and Days
7. The Table for the Order of the Psalms to Be Said at Morning and Evening Prayer
8. An Almanack
9. The Table and Calendar for Psalms and Lessons, with Necessary Rules Appertaining to the Same
10. The Order for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer throughout the Year
11 The Litany
12. The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels to Be Used at the Ministration of the Holy Communion throughout the Year
      Advent through Holy Week
      Easter through the Sundays after Trinity
      Saints' Days

13. The Order of the ministration of the Holy Communion
14. Baptism, Both Public and Private
15. Confirmation, Where Also Is a Catechism for Children
16. Matrimony
17. Visitation of the Sick
18  The Communion of the Sick
19. Burial
20. The Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth
21. A Commination against Sinners, with Certain Prayers to Be Used Divers Times in the Year



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