Alan Jacobs – The Book Of Common Prayer: A Biography [Feature Review]

November 15, 2013 — Leave a comment


PAGE 2: Alan Jacobs – The Book Of Common Prayer:  A Biography

Now, the story of this venerable book includes, as Jacobs so helpfully reminds us, many detractors – some Catholic and many Protestant.  While Cranmer hoped that the prayers that he wrote and compiled would provide for a common faith, many fellow Protestants wanted to abandon written prayers altogether, demanding room for extemporaneous worship and prayer.  Thus, one of the major casualties of the Puritan reign in England was the Book of Common Prayer, which was outlawed by Oliver Cromwell.  To use the Book of Common Prayer was to risk imprisonment or banishment.  John Milton went so far as to call the Prayer Book tyrannical, and while the descendants of the Puritans lovingly recite the Lord’s Prayer, Milton counted the use of even this prayer as an expression of tyranny.  Some Puritans even considered the Book of Common Prayer Satanic.  Fortunately Cromwell’s rule was brief, and by 1662 a new version of the Book of Common Prayer was published under the authority of Charles II.  Those who couldn’t abide by this new book would become Dissenters or Nonconformists.
One of the factors in this story is that for the English Church the State determines the form of worship for the established church.  Because of this reality, the authorized Book of Common Prayer for the Church of England remains the 1662 version.  There are, as Jacobs describes for us alternative worship resources, but the 1662 remains official.
While the English Church must abide by Parliament’s final approval, such is not the case for the rest of the Anglican world.  The American Book of Common Prayer, for instance, descends from the Scottish Book of Common Prayer, first issued in 1637 and revised over time.  The Scottish Episcopal Church was disestablished by William and Mary, in favor of the Presbyterian Church that had a majority in Scotland.  After the American Revolution due to the requirement that recipients of ordination and consecration swear the oaths the English monarchs, Samuel Seabury was sent to Scotland for consecration, and he brought back with him the Scottish Book, which became the ancestor of the American Book of Common Prayer.
The Anglican tradition has often portrayed itself as a Via Media, a movement standing between the Roman Church and more radically reformed Protestant groups.  Over the years a variety of parties have emerged, and these parties, which would include today Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, and Liberal/Broad Church groups, have vied for influence over liturgical matters.  In England this spirit of party has prevented the issuance of a new BCP, but elsewhere these different groups have influenced further developments.  Globalization has also influenced developments, as churches in Africa and India and elsewhere have placed their own stamp on this venerable book.  What was intended to be the one book for the one church has become many books for a very diverse religious tradition.

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