The Book of Common Prayer
United States England Scotland Ireland Wales Canada World

    History of the Prayer Book







by William McGarvey, D. D.

decorative "T"HE Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, as revised in 1661, was the liturgy in use in this country at the time of the Revolution. Immediately after the Declaration of Independence in 1776, it was altered by Rectors and vestries here and there, and in Virginia by the State Convention, in order to adapt it to the changed political conditions.1

Maryland Conventions, 1783.

But the first concerted action, looking towards an authoritative revision of the Prayer Book, was taken in a meeting of clergymen at Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland, on the 13th of May, 1783. As the Church in this State was still established by law, a memorial and petition to the General Assembly was drawn up praying "that the said clergy might have leave to consult, prepare, and draft a bill," enabling them "to make such alterations in the liturgy and service as might adapt the same to the revolution, and for other purposes of uniformity, concord, and subordination to the State." The memorial was signed by William Smith and Thomas Gates as a Committee.2 The petition having been granted, another meeting of the clergy was held at Annapolis, August 13th, 1783, at which there was drawn up A Declaration of Certain Fundamental Rights and Liberties of the Protestant Episcopal3 Church of Maryland, &c. In this document it was declared, "That as it is the right, so it will be the duty, of the said Church, when duly organized, constituted, and represented in a Synod or Convention of the different orders of her Ministry and people, to revise her liturgy, forms of prayer, and public worship, in order to adapt the same to the late revolution, and other local circumstances of America; which it is humbly conceived, may and will be done without any other or farther departure from the venerable order and beautiful forms of worship of the Church from whence we sprung, than may be found expedient in the change of our situation from a daughter to a sister church." 4

1 For an account of these alterations, vide Hoffman's Law of the Church, p. 31, and Perry's Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 100, et seq., also his History of the Amer. Epis. Church, II, p. 115.

2 Notices and Journals, &c. of the P. E. Church in the Diocese of Maryland, App. to Journal of 1855. See also Conventions in Maryland, 1780-1783, printed with Journal of 1878.

3 For the history of the use of the title "Protestant Episcopal," vide an article by the Rev. Dr Fred. Gibson in the Amer. Ch. Review, Jan., 1885, p. 5. See also Perry's Hist. of the Amer. Epis. Ch., II, p. 21, and the Report of a Committee of the House of Bishops in the Convention of 1883 (Journal, p. 334).

4 Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 22.


 Pennsylvania Convention, 1784.

After the meeting at Annapolis, we next have a Convention of the Church in Pennsylvania, which met at Christ Church, Philadelphia, May 24-25, 1784. There were present five clergymen and twenty-two laymen. "This was the first ecclesiastical assembly in any of the States consisting partly of lay members."1 Among the fundamental principles proposed as instructions by this Convention to a Committee "Empowered to correspond and confer with representatives from the Episcopal Church in other States or any of them, and to assist in forming an Ecclesiastical Government," the following is the third article: "That the doctrines of the Gospel be maintained as now professed by the Church of England; and uniformity of worship continued, as near as may be, to the liturgy of the said Church."2


1 So says Bp. White, Memoirs of the Church, 3d. ed., p. 94. But it has since been discovered that a Convention was held in Maryland, Nov. 9th, 1780, at which representatives of the laity were present along with the clergy. It was at this Convention that the title "Protestant Episcopal" was first adopted as the official designation of the Church.

2 Journal of the meetings which led to the institution of a Convention of the P. E. Church in the State of Pennsylvania.


 Convention at Boston, 1784.

A meeting of the clergy of Massachusetts, and Rhode Island was held in Boston, September 8th, 1784, when there were adopted the six fundamental principles set forth by the Pennsylvania Convention. A slight addition was made to two of the articles, but the third touching the doctrine and worship of the Church was accepted word for word as above. A copy of these resolutions was sent to the clergy of Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania, together with a letter urging the necessity of "adopting some speedy measures to procure an American Episcopate." "We are extremely anxious for the preservation of our Communion and the continuance of an uniformity of doctrine and worship, but we see not how this can be maintained without a common head."1 That such was also the view of the Connecticut clergy, will appear from the following extract, probably written about this time by the Rev. Mr. Jarvis in their name: "The clergy in Connecticut consider the Church in which they officiate as collected and formed upon the principles on which the Church was at first founded by her great Head. Therefore what they have to deliberate upon and endeavour to carry into effect, in the first place is, that she be settled in the full enjoyment of the spiritual powers and officers essential to her: viz., a Bishop, from whom alone all the other officers in the Ministry derive their commission. And when this is accomplished, and our Church thus completed in her members, then, 2. The clergy of this State will consider it as their duty, as that is ascertained by Scripture and primitive example, to revise the Liturgy and render as perfect, as they may be able, whatever shall be found needful for a pure and Scriptural worship for all Christians of her communion."2

1 Reprint of the Journals of Mass.

2 The Evergreen, Vol. III, p. 173, New Haven, 1846.


Convention at New York, 1784.

In accordance with the arrangement made at a meeting held at New Brunswick, New Jersey, May 11th, there assembled in New York, October 6-7, 1784, a Convention of fifteen clergymen and eleven laymen, from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. The Rev. Mr. Griffith from Virginia was present by permission but not as a delegate, as the Church in that State was not yet free from civil control. Connecticut, consistently with the principles it had thus far acted upon, sent no lay representative. The clergy there "thought themselves fully adequate to the business of representing the Episcopal Church in their State," and "the laity did not expect or wish to be called in as delegates on such an occasion; but would, with full confidence, trust matters purely ecclesiastical to their clergy."1
Among the fundamental principles adopted with a view to the future unification of the Church, and proposed to the Church in all the States, the following is the fourth article: "That the said Church shall maintain the doctrines of the Gospel as now held by the Church of England, and shall adhere to the liturgy of the said Church, as far as shall be consistent with the American revolution and the Constitution of the respective States."2 The declaration of this principle, writes Mr. Parker, is "disgusting to many of our Communion who neither like the doctrines held by the Church of England nor the liturgy as it now stands."3 At this Convention, formal action was taken towards uniting the Church under one legislative body, by inviting the Episcopal Church in each State to send deputies to a General Convention, consisting of clergymen and laity, to be held in Philadelphia the "Tuesday before the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels," 1785.

1 Letter of the Rev. Abraham Beach to Dr. White, Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 12.

2 Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 4.

3 Letter to Dr. White, Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 91.


Concordat of Bishop Seabury with the Scotch Bishops

At a meeting of ten clergymen in Woodbury, Connecticut, March 25th, 1783, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Seabury had been chosen to go to England to ask for consecration to the Episcopate. Compliance with his request not having been granted by the English Bishops, he proceeded to Scotland, and on the 14th day of November (the xxii Sunday after Trinity) 1784, was consecrated Bishop at Aberdeen by three of the Scotch Bishops. On the following day a Concordat was drawn up between them, of which the following is the fifth article: "As the celebration of the holy Eucharist, or the Administration of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, is the principal Bond of Union among Christians, as well as the most Solemn Act of Worship in the Christian Church, the Bishops aforesaid agree in desiring that there may be as little Variance here as possible. And tho' the Scottish Bishops are very far from prescribing to their Brethren in this matter, they cannot help ardently wishing that Bishop Seabury would endeavour all he can consistently with peace and prudence, to make the Celebration of this venerable Mystery conformable to the most primitive Doctrine and practice in that respect: Which is the pattern the Church of Scotland has copied after in her Communion Office, and which it has been the wish of some of the most Eminent Divines of the Church of England, that she also had more closely followed, than she seems to have done since she gave up her first reformed Liturgy used in the Reign of Edward VI., between which and the form used in the Church of Scotland there is no Difference in any point, which the primitive Church reckoned essential to the right Ministration of the holy Eucharist. — In this capital Article therefore of the Eucharistic Service, in which the Scottish Bishops so earnestly wish for as much Unity as possible, Bishop Seabury also agreed to take a serious View of the Communion Office recommended by them, and if found agreeable to the Genuine Standards of Antiquity, to give his Sanction to it, and by Gentle Methods of Argument and persuasion, to endeavour, as they have done, to introduce it by degrees into practice without the Compulsion of Authority on the one side, or the prejudice of former custom on the other side."1

1 Hawks & Perry, Church Documents of Connecticut, Vol. II.


 Virginia Convention, 1785.

The Church in Virginia having been set free from civil control, a Convention of thirty-six clergymen and upwards of seventy laymen, gathered at Richmond, May 18-23, 1785. It was decided to send deputies to the General Convention, and a letter of instruction "concerning doctrine and worship" was framed for their guidance. In this letter the deputies were told that "from the Holy Scriptures rather than the comments of men, must we learn the terms of salvation. Creeds therefore ought to be simple: And we are not anxious to retain any other than that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed. Should a change in the Liturgy be proposed, let it be made with caution: And in that case let the alterations be few, and the style of prayer continue as agreeable as may be to the essential characteristics of our persuasion. We will not now decide what ceremonies ought to be retained. We wish, however, that those which exist may be estimated according to their utility; and that such as may appear fit to be laid aside, may no longer be appendages of our Church."1 A resolution was also passed directing "that until farther order of the Convention, the liturgy of the Church of England be used in the several churches throughout this Commonwealth with such alterations as the American revolution has rendered necessary."2

 1 Hawks' Contributions, Vol. I, Journals, p. 6.

2 Ibid.


 Convocation at Middletown, 1785.

On the 2d day of August, 1785, the clergy of Connecticut met at Middletown to receive Bishop Seabury but shortly returned from Scotland. Eleven clergymen were present together with the Rev. Mr. Moore of New York, and the Rev. Mr. Parker of Boston. A Convocation was afterwards held on August 4th and 5th, at which a Committee was appointed to act with the Bishop in making "some alterations in the liturgy needful for the present use of the Church."1 "Having the honour," writes Mr. Parker to Bishop Seabury some time afterward, "of being named in that Committee, in conjunction with the Rev'd Messrs. Jarvis and Bowdoin, you will recollect, sir, that we spent Friday and Saturday in that week upon this subject, and that most, if not all the proposed alterations were such as we were under obligation to you for, or such as you readily agreed to."2 The changes in the State prayers were set forth at once in an Injunction dated August 12th, 1785,3 but the other alterations were reserved to be reported at a meeting to be held at New Haven in September. A copy of them was transmitted "to the Rev'd Dr. Smith of Maryland, to be communicated to the Convention to be held at Philadelphia, in the month of October."4

 1 The Evergreen, New Haven, 1846, Vol. III, p. 152.

2 Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 364.

3 Appendix II, 1.

4 Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 365.


 Convention at Boston, 1785.

They were also laid before a Convention of four clergymen and ten lay deputies from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, which assembled at Boston, September 7th and 8th of the same year. The substitutes for the State prayers were received and adopted by this, Convention with the change of a single word, viz., the word "State," in place of which the word "Commonwealth” was used. The other proposed alterations, with two exceptions, were also agreed to and proposed to the churches in the States represented1 "You will see upon perusal of them," says the Rev. Mr. Parker writing to Bishop Seabury, " that those proposed at Middletown are mostly adopted, and some few others proposed. The only material ones we have not agreed to are the omitting of the second Lesson in the Morning Service and the Gospel and Exhortations in the Baptismal Office. The additional alterations in some of the offices are such as were mentioned at Middletown, but which we had not time to enter upon them."2 The text of the alterations drawn up at Middletown, other than those set forth in Bishop Seabury's Injunction, is unfortunately lost.3 But that they did not differ in their general character from those proposed at Boston would seem to be clear from a letter of the Rev. Mr. Parker to Bishop Seabury, in which he assumes the substantial identity of both sets of alterations, and expressly speaks of them as "these alterations suggested by yourself and adopted by this [i. e., the Boston] Convention."4 And writing to Dr. White, he says, "Certain alterations were proposed in the liturgy of the Church by the Bishop of Connecticut and at his request lay before the Convention at Boston for their approbation, and those were made the basis of our proceedings, but when approved were not to be adopted till the other churches had approved of them also, in order if possible to obtain an uniformity. And accordingly we have not yet made any alterations except a substitute for the State prayers."5

From these propositions for the revision of the Prayer Book, drawn up by New England Churchmen, the Proposed Book of 1786 immediately derived not a few of its most characteristic features. It is here that we first meet with the omission from the Te Deum of the clause, "thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb" and the substitution of, "thou didst humble thyself to be born of a pure virgin." Here also we meet with the omission of the article on the Descent into Hell from the Apostles' Creed; the disuse of the Athanasian Creed; the permission to omit the Nicene Creed; the omission of the second Lord's Prayer and the Kyries in Morning and Evening Prayer, and likewise of the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of the Communion Service; the saying of Gloria Patri but once; the doing away with the interrogative Creed in Baptism; the permission to omit the Sign of the Cross in Baptism; the change in the formula of Committal in the Burial of the Dead; the omission of the Churching office; the omission of the form of private Absolution; the reducing of the exhortation in the Marriage Service to one sentence; the permission to omit the Collect for the day from one service when Morning Prayer is followed by the Communion; and the permission to read the Communion Service in the desk.6 It needs only the most cursory examination of the Proposed Book to convince anyone of the positive influence exercised by these suggestions in shaping the revision of the Prayer Book in the General Convention held a few weeks afterward. Moreover we have the express statement of Dr. William Smith, in a letter to be cited hereafter, acknowledging his indebtedness to the work of the Committee appointed at Middletown and the Boston Convention.

1 Appendix II, 3.

2 Church Documents of Connecticut, Vol. II, p. 284.

3 It is to be regretted that, while the records of the early Conventions of the Church in the other States have been preserved and are accessible in print, those of Connecticut, prior to 1790, have not yet been discovered. That they were known to the Rev. Dr. S. F. Jarvis is evident from the fact that in the Memoir of Bp. Jarvis his father, printed in the Evergreen, be quotes them, and refers to them in his Voice from Connecticut. These precious documents belonging to tho diocese of Connecticut may still be among the papers of Dr. Jarvis, although a letter of enquiry written by the Editor of the present work to the Rev. S. F. Jarvis, of Brooklyn, Conn. (in whose possession they are said to be), met with no response.

4 Notes and Doc., p. 365.

5 Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 295.

6 If we are to believe Mr. Parker, as cited above, Bishop Seabury was chiefly responsible for suggesting these alterations. Yet we know that after the action of the General Convention of 1785 he exerted himself to the utmost to have the Apostles' Creed restored to its integrity, and to have the two other Creeds replaced in the Prayer Book.


 Convocation at New Haven, 1785.

These proposed alterations, although most of them, according to Mr. Parker, were either suggested by Bishop Seabury, or such as he readily agreed to, did not commend themselves to the general body of Church people in Connecticut, and at the Convocation which met at New Haven on the 14th of September, 1785, they do not seem to have been even presented for discussion. The result of this Convocation, so far as the revision of the Prayer Book was concerned, may be given in the words of Bishop Seabury writing to Mr. Parker. "Between the time of our parting at Middletown and the clerical meeting in New Haven, it was found that the Church people in Connecticut were much alarmed at the thought of any considerable alteration being made in the Prayer Book; and upon the whole it was judged that no alterations should be attempted at present, but to wait till a little time shall have cooled down the temper and conciliated the affections of the people to each other."1

 1 Church Doc. of Conn., Vol. II.


General Convention of 1785.

In accordance with the recommendations of the Convention held in New York, May, 1784, the first General Convention assembled at Christ Church, Philadelphia, on September 27th, 1785, and continued in session until the seventh of the following month, under the presidency of the Rev. Dr. William White. There were present sixteen clergymen and twenty-six laymen, representing seven States, viz.: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. No delegates were sent from the New England States. On the second day a Committee was appointed, of which the Rev. Dr. William Smith of Maryland was Chairman, "to report such alterations in the liturgy, as shall render it consistent with the American revolution and the Constitutions of the respective States: and such further alterations in the liturgy as it may be advisable for the Convention to recommend to the consideration of the Church here represented." As this Committee was also directed to "report a draft of an ecclesiastical Constitution," it divided itself into two sub-divisions, one of which took charge of the revision of the Prayer Book, the other prepared the draft of a Constitution. Dr. Wm. White was assigned to the latter, and so had no hand in the work of liturgical revision.

When the alterations in the Prayer Book were brought by the sub-Committee into the General Committee on the fifth day, "they were not reconsidered; because the ground would have to be gone over again in the Convention." "Even in the Convention there were but few points canvassed with any material difference of opinion."1 With regard to the Service for the Fourth of July, an office which Dr. Smith had compiled from the State services then in the English Prayer Book, Dr. White objected to its adoption on the ground of the inexpediency of requiring the use of such an office. "To his great surprise, there was but one gentleman, and he a professed friend to American independence, who spoke on the same side of the question; and there were very few, if any, who voted with the two speakers against the measure."2 Only on two points does the opinion of him, who was afterward the first Bishop of Pennsylvania, seem to have had any modifying influence in the Convention on the report of the Committee. The one was with regard to the Article on Justification, in place of which he succeeded in having the English Article restored; the other was with regard to the Article on Original Sin, the phraseology of which he induced the Convention to amend.3 So little did he have to do with the revision of the Prayer Book at this time. The facile princeps in this work, both in the Committee and in the Convention, was Dr. William Smith, of Maryland. And the Convention formally recognized the important part he had taken, by extending to him a vote of thanks "for his exemplary diligence and the great assistance he had rendered this Convention as Chairman of their Committee, in perfecting the important business in which they have been engaged," and asked him to preach the sermon at the close of the session. It was also resolved "that the service be then read as proposed for future use." Which last resolution Bishop White speaks of as a 'capital error which helped to confirm the opinion that the proposed alterations were to be introduced with a high hand.'4

A few quotations from the sermon preached before the Convention, on this occasion, will set before us the aim had in view by Dr. Smith in the work of revision. Speaking of the changes made in the Prayer Book, he says: "Ardent and of long continuance, have been the wishes of many of the greatest, wisest and best Divines of our Church, for some alterations and improvements of this kind. Among these we have a Whitby, Tillotson, Sanderson, Stillingfleet, Burnet, Beveridge, Wake, Tenison, Hales, and innumerable others of venerable name among the Clergy, and among the Laity a multitude more, at the head of whom may be placed the great Lord Bacon, the father of almost all reformation and improvement in modern philosophy and science . . . . . . The greatest and most important alterations and amendments were proposed at the Revolution, that great æra of liberty, when in 1689 commissioners were appointed . . . . . . . At the commencement of a new æra in the civil and religious condition of mankind in this new world, and upon another great revolution about a hundred years after the former, all these proposed alterations and amendments were in our hands, and we had it in power to adopt or even improve them . . . . . . . It is our duty, as it hath been our great endeavour in all the alterations proposed, to make the consciences of those easy who believe in the true principles of Christianity in general, and who, could they be made easy on certain points no way essential to Christianity itself, would rather become worshippers, as well as labourers, in that part of Christ's vineyard, in which we profess to worship and to labour, than in any other . . . . . . . Let us not, therefore, repeat former errors, nor let the advantages now in our hands slip from us."5

The alterations accepted by the Convention were set forth under two general heads, viz: "Alterations agreed on and confirmed in Convention, for rendering the Liturgy conformable to the principles of the American revolution, and the Constitutions of the several States,"6 and "Alterations in the Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the use of the Church of England, proposed and recommended to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."7 It will be observed that the first of these two sets of alterations was "agreed on and confirmed" by the Convention, the second is not said to be adopted, but only "proposed and recommended." An editing Committee, consisting of the Rev. Dr. White, the Rev. Dr. Smith, and the Rev. Dr. Wharton, was appointed "to publish the Book of Common Prayer with the alterations, as well as those now ratified, in order to render the Liturgy consistent with the American revolution and the Constitutions of the respective States, as the alterations and new Offices recommended to this Church; and that the book be accompanied with a proper Preface or Address, setting forth the reason and expediency of the alterations, and that the Committee have the liberty to make verbal and grammatical corrections, but in such manner, as that nothing in form or substance be altered." The Committee was also "authorized to publish with the Book of Common Prayer, such of the reading and singing Psalms, and such a Kalendar of proper lessons for the different Sundays and Holy-days throughout the year, as they may think proper." With these ample powers the Committee set about their work. The occasional letters which passed between them during the winter and spring of 1785-1786 bring before us the ideas of liturgical revision prevalent at the time, and are among the most valuable of the documents illustrative of the history of the Prayer Book in America.8

The Preface for the new Prayer Book was written by Dr. Smith. The Tables of Lessons and the Easter Tables were prepared by Dr. White. The Psalter the most original feature of the work seems to have been the joint work of all three members of the Committee. In its preparation the Psalms were very freely handled; those portions which for one reason or other were thought to be unsuitable for Christian worship were omitted, and new Psalms were made by the combination of verses gathered out of two or more of the Psalms of David. The result was a series of sixty centos, two of which were assigned to each day of the month, one for the Morning, the other for the Evening service. Some of the verses of this new Psalter were taken from the Prayer Book version, others were from the Authorized Version, and still others were original renderings of the compilers.

The guiding principles of this revision as a whole were those which characterized the work of the Commissioners of 1689. It is exceedingly doubtful however that anyone in the Convention of 1785 was acquainted with the original records9 of this attempted revision in the reign of William III.10 The Preface of the Proposed Book probably indicates the chief sources from whence the knowledge Dr. Smith possessed of the " great and good work" of 1689 was derived. Bishop Burnet,11 and Dr. William Nicholls12 are there credited by name, and a quotation is made from "other certain account," which, although the Preface does not say so, is probably taken from the Puritan Calamy,13 who had gathered together all the exceptions made against the Prayer Book. Besides these, we learn from a letter of Dr. Smith's14 that Warner15 was consulted, who had given an account of the alterations prepared by the royal Commissioners, and may have had access to the original documents, for in one instance at least, in his notes on the Athanasian Creed, he quotes them verbatim.

Other suggestions were gathered from what was known as Benjamin Franklin's Prayer Book,16 and from the editing Committee's own sense of the fitness of things. Whatever was novel in the Articles "was taken from a book in the possession of the Rev. Dr. Smith. The book was anonymous, and was one of the publications which have abounded in England, projecting changes in the established Articles."17 But the document which directly exercised the greatest influence in determining the general character of the Proposed Book, was the series of alterations prepared at Middletown, and afterward proposed by the Boston Convention. The Rev. Mr. Parker of Trinity Church Boston writing to Bishop Seabury before the meeting of the first General Convention, says: "We have voted not to send any delegates to the Convention at Philadelphia, but only to acquaint them with our proceedings; and I flatter myself that no other alterations will be adopted by them than those we proposed at Middletown and have agreed to here. If they are so prudent as to pursue the same steps, the desired object of a general uniformity will thereby be obtained."18 Dr. Smith was desirous of doing whatever would contribute to the unification of the Church, and accordingly exerted himself to have suggestions of the New England Churchmen adopted by the General Convention, as he acknowledged in a letter to Mr. Parker written sometime after the adjournment of General Convention. "I trust that after a serious and candid consideration of what we have done, it will have the approbation of the worthy body, clergy as well as laity, who are to meet you in Convention; or that if there be some things which you may judge could have been done otherwise, or better, we can in future editions come to an easy agreement on this head, as would certainly have been the case had we been so happy as to have had your advice and assistance as we expected at the last Convention. I think there are few alterations which you did not wish. As Chairman of the Grand Committee for revising, etc., I had the Alterations which you had proposed in your last meeting put into my hands the first day of our sitting, and you will see that I paid full attention to them, and that we have agreed with you almost in every matter, except only respecting the Nicene Creed, and our Convention in Maryland which met last week have recommended the restoring of that Creed also."19

The first General Convention besides revising the Prayer Book and framing a Constitution addressed a petition to the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England requesting them "to confer the Episcopal character on such persons as shall be recommended by this Church in the several States here represented." In a letter dated February 24th, 1786, the English Bishops expressed their desire to use their best endeavours to comply with the prayer of the address, but asked to be first advised as to the alterations which the Convention proposed to make in the Prayer Book, lest they "should be the instrument of establishing an ecclesiastical system which will be called a branch of the Church of England, but afterwards may possibly appear to have departed from it essentially in doctrine or discipline."20 The Committee appointed to edit the Proposed Book had sent the printed sheets to England as they came from the press, but through some miscarriage they had not reached the Bishops at the time of their writing. "Hence arose the caution with which the Convention was answered by the right reverend bench."21

The revised Prayer Book was published in April, 1786, and almost immediately was referred to as the "Proposed Book," a name by which it has ever since been known. In the preface it was declared that, "It is far from the intention of this Church to depart from the Church of England, any farther than local circumstances require, or to deviate in anything essential to the true meaning of the thirty-nine Articles." Notwithstanding the many departures from the English Book, there is no reason whatever for doubting the perfect sincerity of this declaration. The omissions made by the Convention were prompted by a desire to remove whatever might seem to be a stumbling block in the way of persons otherwise disposed to enter the Church, and not from a wish to deny any doctrine held by the Church of England. It was thought that certain terms and statements could well be spared with great advantage to the Church, and without her doctrinal position being thereby weakened; to use the words of the General Convention of 1786, the omissions made were "such as were calculated to remove objections which it appeared to us more conducive to union and general content to obviate than to dispute." "I wish to God," writes the Rev. Dr. West, a member of the Convention, "that no construction may be put on any of the late Convention proceedings, by which a departure from what some of the Church of England may deem essential to its doctrines may be inferred ! . . . . . . . The next thing we may probably hear, is that the Convention at Philadelphia have rejected the Nicene and Athanasian Creed! The truth is, they omitted, but did not reject them; and could the motive inducing that body to omit them, have been made as public as the actual omission, I trust no ill-natured reflexions would have been made."22 But however excellent were the intentions of the Convention of 1785, the Proposed Book had no sooner issued from the press than it was at once the object of bitter attack. So many were the objections to the book, and so determined was the opposition stirred up against it, that the Rev. Mr. Provoost writing from New York shortly after its appearance, says, "Such a strong party has been raised against the alterations that I am afraid we should not be able to adopt the book at present without danger of a schism—the ostensible object is that they were made without the sanction of a Bishop, but the Thanksgiving for the Fourth of July in all probability is one principal cause of the opposition. The sale of the books has been very dull—only thirteen have been disposed of."23

1 Bp. White's Memoirs of the Church, p. 116.

2 Ibid., p. 118.

3 Ibid., pp. 119, 120.

4 Ibid., p. 121.

5 Life and Correspondence of the Rev. William Smith, D. D., by Horace W. Smith, Phila., 1880, Vol. II, pp. 134-139.

6 Appendix II, 4.

7 Appendix II, 5.

8 These letters have all been printed in Bp. Perry's Hist. Notes and Doc., pp. 125-200.

9 They are now accessible in a Return to an Address of the House of Commons, March 14, 1854, and ordered by the House to be printed, June 2, 1854. They have also been set forth in The Revised Liturgy of 1689, being the Book of Common Prayer interleaved with the alterations prepared by the Royal Commissioners in the first year of the reign of William and Mary, edited from the copy printed by order of the House of Commons, by John Taylor, London, 1855.

10 For an account of this revision vide Cardwell's Conferences, p. 392, Lathbury's History of Convocation, chap. XI, and Bp, Patrick's Brief Account of my Life, Works, Oxford, 1858, Vol. IX. See also "The Attempted Eng. Revision of 1689 and the Prop. Bk. of 1785," The Churchman, Dec. 20, 1873.

11 The History of my own Times, bk. V.

12 Gulielmi Nicholsii Presbyteri Defensio Ecclesiæ Anglicanm, in qua vindicantur omnia, quæ ab adversariis in Doctrina, cultu et Disciplina ejus, improbantur. Præmittitur Apparatus, qui Historiam Turbarum, e secessione ab ecclesia Anglicana, exortarum continet. Londini, 1707, p. 92 et seq. (A copy of this book is in the library of the General Theological Seminary, New York.)

13 An Abridgement of Mr. Baxter's History of his Life and Times, by Edmund Calamy, D. D., London, 1713.

14 Hist. Notes and Doc., p 173-175.

15 An Illustration of the Book of Common Prayer, by Ferdinand Warner, M. A., London, 1754.

16 "I have omitted in this Table all the Holy Days besides Easter; because that being known, the next Table shows the others. In all other respects I shall print the said Table, agreeably to Dr. Franklin's Book which has them in the neatest way of any I have seen." (Letter of Dr. White to Dr. Smith, printed in Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 159.) The book here referred to as "Dr. Franklin's" is entitled, Abridgement of the Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England: together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, printed as they are to be sung or said in churches. London. Printed in the Year MDCCLXXIII. (A copy of this book is in the library of the Divinity School, Phila., and in the Library of Congress.) Vide note in Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 159.

17 Memoirs of the Church, p. 120.

18 Church Documents of Conn., Vol. II.

19 Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 199.

20 Journal of 1786.

21 Memoirs of the Church, p. 125.

22 Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 307.

23 Church Doc. of Conn., Vol. II, p. 297.


State Conventions subsequent to the First General Convention.

The first State Convention in which the new Prayer Book came up for consideration was that of Maryland, which met at Annapolis, April 4th, 1786. A majority of the clergy were present, but not many of the laity. Among other things, it was recommended that the Nicene Creed should be restored to the Prayer Book, and printed as an alternative with the Apostles' Creed, and that a prayer for the sanctification of the bread and wine should be inserted before the words of institution.1 This last proposition, Dr. Smith tells us, "perfectly reconciled Mr. Smith2 to our service, and will prevent any further division between us and the numbers of clergy coming among us from Bp. S[eabury] and the Scots Church."3 These emendations seem to have fallen in with the views of Dr. White, of Pennsylvania, for writing to Dr. Smith he remarks, "I think the proposed alterations of your Convention will render our service more compleat."4 The Church in New Jersey met in Convention on May 19th, at Perth Amboy, and addressed a Memorial to the General Convention, strongly deprecating many of the proposed alterations and the manner in which they had been made.5 The Convention of Pennsylvania, which met at Philadelphia, May 22d, proposed a number of amendments to the Proposed Book, chief among which were the restoration of the Nicene Creed, the introduction into the Prayer of Consecration in the Communion Office, of the same clause as that proposed by the Maryland Convention, and the putting back of the Apostles' Creed in the offices of Baptism.6 There is every probability that these amendments were suggested by Dr. White. On the 29th of the same month a Convention met at Richmond, Virginia. Its chief objection to the new Prayer Book was with regard to the rubric which directed the Minister to repel notorious evil livers from the Holy Communion. "The offensive matter was not the precise provisions of the rubric, but that there should be any provision of the kind, or power exercised to the end contemplated."7 It drew up a detailed criticism of the new Articles of Religion, and framed a letter of instruction for the delegates to the next General Convention.8 At the same time a Convention of the Church in South Carolina was being held at Charlestown. A committee, which had been appointed a month before, presented a carefully prepared report on the proposed changes in the Prayer Book, in which were embodied a number of propositions for still further alterations.9 The report was adopted, and 'the Deputies to the General Convention desired to use their endeavours to have its propositions adopted.' It was evidently from the suggestions of the South Carolina Convention that not a few of the features which distinguished the Prayer Book of 1789, not only from the English Book, but also from the Proposed Book, were derived, e. g., the following omissions: the word "again" from the Apostles' Creed, the versicle "O God make speed to save us," with its response, and the three Evangelical canticles. The Convention of New York, which assembled on June 14th, deferred the consideration of the Proposed Book to a future time.10 No Convention met in Delaware.


1 Appendix II, 6.

2 A relative of Dr. Smith who speaks of him as " My learned but zealous high church little Friend and relation (as he says), Mr. Smith, of Somerset," Maryland. He afterward went to Connecticut and became Rector of Norwalk, where he drew up the Institution Office. For an account of his life, see Annals of the American Pulpit, Vol. V, p. 345; also, The Churchman, New York, Sept. 8th and 15th, 1883.

3 Hist. Notes and Doc., p. 190.

4 Ibid., p. 191.

5 Appendix II, 7.

6 Appendix II, 8.

7 Memoirs of the Church, p. 127.

8 Appendix II, 9.

9 Appendix II, 10.

10 Appendix II, 11.


Next Section


Web author: Charles Wohlers U. S. EnglandScotlandIrelandWalesCanadaWorld