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The People's Book of Worship
A Study of the Book of Common Prayer

By John Wallace Suter and Charles Morris Addison

New York: Macmillan, 1919.

Chapter III. The Fundamental Principles

BY the Principle of Growth is not meant the fact of growth. The fact of growth is unquestioned. Our present Prayer Book has grown, through a process covering many years, into the book it is to-day. This fact really reveals a growing principle in the book itself, which makes it a living book. The Principle of Growth is based upon the fact that our American Prayer Book is the result of four processes of revision extending through three centuries. It is based upon the fact that the Book has gathered up, and contains within itself precious treasures out of the experience in worship of past ages. And this very fact is in itself an assurance of new treasures to come out of new experiences, and of formal and deliberate revisions, as in the past, so also in the future. The Prayer Book is not an historical relic. It is not a monument to the manners in worship and pious observance of a defunct religion. It is the continuing hand-book of a living religion. Its revisability, its adaptability, its readiness to absorb new material and to rediscover old, its inherent principle of growth, this it is which is the pledge of the Prayer Book's vitality.

The first of the four great revisions is the Prayer Book of Elizabeth in 1559, the Revision of the Reformation. The outstanding fact about it is that it is a Book of Worship in the English language. Henceforth the Prayer Book is to be the people's book, in their own tongue, and in their own hands. The five books which constitute it had been previously five Latin books. They had been the books of the priests, or of the technically "religious." They are now to belong to all Christ's people, all the Church's children. The first service to become Englished was the Litany, and rightly, as the most markedly of all services the people's service. This had been set forth in the reign of Henry the Eighth.

The other outstanding fact was that it was the book of a Reformed Church. It undertook to correct Roman abuses in worship and practice. It was not only a translation into the simplicity and understandableness of the people's spoken language; it was also a translation out of the accretions and remotenesses of a scholastic and sacerdotal system into the simplicity and immediacy of the Christian fellowship of primitive tradition, when the Church was the people's Church.

The book of Elizabeth was itself the final outcome of the Reformation process. There had been two books immediately preceding it in the reign of Edward VI. The first book of Edward VI had been the book of the more traditional or Catholic cast. The second book of Edward VI 'was the book of a more pronouncedly Protestant hue. The final book represented the completion of the task of revision. It became the book of the English church, and continues, in spite of some further revision, that Church's book to-day. We have spoken of the two outstanding facts of the Reformation Revision; but we are not to forget that it was a revision. We are not celebrating the creation of a new book. It was the old book, or books, with the genius of their services, in the main, preserved, and with their great utterances in prayer and praise, marvelously enshrined in the unequaled English of the period. For this we are indebted to the great translators of the Bible into English,--and especially are we indebted to the genius of Cranmer.

The second of the four revisions was the Book of 1662, the Revision of the Restoration. After the years of Cromwell, and the period of Puritan supremacy, upon the occasion of the return of the Stuarts and the rehabilitation of Episcopacy, a revision of the Prayer Book was undertaken and carried through. While the changes were very numerous, they were all minor changes, and the revision represents no fundamental principles, as was the case a hundred years before.

The third great revision is the revision of 1789, the date of our first American book. This is the Revision of the Revolution. In a new land, in the face of new conditions, the temper of the revision was radical. The revisers were willing to consider everything. It is true that the resultant changes were not very numerous or very great, but we are not to be misled into imagining that the business in hand was principally to substitute the word President for the word King. The Communion office was vitally altered. One of the Creeds (the Atha-nasian) was dropped. There was talk of dropping the Nicene Creed. The Apostles' Creed was amended. Nothing was sacrosanct. The needs of the people were paramount. Language was altered, to be more intelligent, or rhythmical, or more consonant with an American sense of humor. It happened that the two leaders in the movement were representative of the two elements, whose comprehension had been the supreme task of the Reformation book. These were Bishop Seabury, the Catholic-minded, and Bishop White, the Protestant-minded. To the former we are indebted for the splendid revision of the Communion Service, and to the latter for insistence upon the liberties and sanities that the hour demanded, and also for a fortunate ear for phrase and rhythm, comparable to Cranmer's great gifts along these lines.

The fourth revision is that of 1892, the Revision of Enrichment,--which we may write en-Richment, in order to secure the four R's of the four revisions. Here again was a revision of details, as in 1662, rather than a revision of radicalism. It was a period of hesitancy and timidity. There was a great and widespread fear that doctrine might be undermined, or the precious heritage of the great book impaired. The outstanding figure in the work was that of Dr. Huntington, who brought to the task great enthusiasm and wisdom, and who won, through his generous tactfulness, and parliamentary prowess, the confidence of the whole church. His controlling thought and desire was for the unity of the Church, the unity of American Christianity, and he believed that the Prayer Book, if revised to meet present day needs, would prove a potent influence to bring about the sought-for end. He possessed, furthermore, that indispensable quality for the task of revision, a keen liturgical sense, and a sensitive ear and unerring touch, combined with the necessary facility and yet reticence in expression. It has been said that after the careful labors of twelve years, from 1880 to 1892, the result was, after all, insignificant. There is truth in this, but when we remember the difficulties of the undertaking at that time, and look to the effect of having accomplished revision at all, rather than to specified results, the work is to be recognized as highly significant, not only for our own Church, but for the whole Anglican communion. Moreover, the detailed changes have more than justified themselves.

It will be noticed that the four revisions are almost exactly a hundred years apart, and also that they alternate as between radical and detailed revisions. Because of the time periods, probably, it came to pass that after 1892, it was freely prophesied that the business of revision was over for a hundred years at least. Subsequent events have not verified this prophecy. Times and occasions change rapidly in these later years, and instead of a century, a generation only marks the beginning of a new process of revision. If we count a generation as thirty-three years, it is exactly that between the inauguration of revision in 1880 and the appointment of the present Commission on Revision in 1913. Moreover, it looks as if the principle of alternation were to hold, and as if a radical revision were in contemplation. The temper of the Church is manifestly to the effect that everything is open to consideration, and possible amendment or revision, and this temper is encouraged and strengthened by the lessons of the Great War. It is not meant by this that the faith of the Church is shaken, or to be altered. Nor is it meant that the services of chief moment, the great services of the congregation, are to be changed in their general outline or content. It is meant, rather, that the needs of the religious life of men are paramount, and that they must be met by a flexibility in forms never even contemplated before, by new expressions in prayer to meet new requirements and aspirations, and by radical revision of the special offices, for Baptism, Marriage and Burial and the like, where the demand for change is insistent and universal.

The record of the great revisions is the record of such formal or official changes as illustrate the principle of growth. But that principle is realized even more clearly in a larger outlook, which remembers how the book has gathered up into itself the religious forms and prayer and praise utterances of the ages. All the Christian centuries have left their marks upon it. Phrases and prayer utterances go back to the Fathers of the first centuries, and liturgical forms like the "Sursum Corda," the "Lift up your hearts" of the Communion Service, are derived from the very earliest times. The terse and pregnant clauses of the collects reflect the Latin genius of the centuries when the church of Rome dominated. The devotional utterances of the Reformation time, with the freshness of its religious awakening, find a place. There are reminiscences, sometimes ancient, sometimes more modern, which rejoice in a method of repetitional phrases, for emphasis or elucidation. There are suggestions of the impress of later devotional thought and expression, from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and even to our own times.

More than this, there lie imbedded in the book the religious influences of the synagogue, as well as all the wealth of Jewish devotion, especially in the Psalms, or in the derivations or suggestions which spring from them. And what is good in approaches to worship or methods of expression in heathen rites, the Eleusinian mysteries, or other forms, has left its impress. Still further, there is formal adoption, and sanctification of those attitudes and gestures of the worshiping soul, which antedate all formal religions, and whose remote sources we cannot even guess. Such are the bended knees of prayer, the erect pose of praise and of prayer too, and the hands of blessing upon the head, with their downward palms. It is good to remember these things. The book testifies, indeed, upon its every page, to its inherent principle of growth.

And this principle, as we look back, teaches us to turn about, and to look forward. This, its fundamental principle, is a pledge to us that is to take up into itself in times to come, sufficing expression of the newer aspirations of religion, the developing needs of worship. To-day, religious experience finds common expression in the realization of God in nature, in the enthusiasms for education and philanthropy and social reform, in the expanding and soul-stirring activities of missionary zeal and world federation. These must find fuller utterance in the people's book of worship. We may rest assured that they will find such utterance, and that other forms of expression in prayer and praise, which our present-day imagination cannot compass, will find their place within the Book of Common Prayer.


The second fundamental principle of the Prayer Book is the Principle of Comprehension. By comprehension is meant neither comprehensibility, nor yet comprehensiveness. It connotes something special. It is based, this principle, upon the happenings out of which the English Prayer Book issued. It represents that great experiment in the life and worship of the church which specifically characterizes the historic church of English-speaking peoples. It consists, where there are two differing and divergent, even to all appearance contradictory views, in the refusal to choose the one or the other, or to compromise between them, and in the insistence upon embracing both, each in its fullness. It is the pledge of catholicity.

The problem which faced the Church of England at the time of the Reformation was the problem of maintaining a national church for the people of England, and a church which should include all the people. It must embrace within itself the Catholic-minded and the Protestant-minded,--the two sides, which were represented in the great struggle. There must be room, and ample and satisfying room, for those who loved and held by the ancient traditions, and forms and usages of the past, and for those who keenly resented the errors which had crept into the ancient church, and whose minds and souls were strongly set against the perversions in truth and practice which characterized, they believed, a corrupted order. The Church of England set itself resolutely to the task with a conscious determination, and with a will to be fair and to succeed. There were leaders of the people, to whose patience and wisdom the success of the great experiment was in large measure due. The resultant Prayer Book of the reign of Elizabeth, which had been preceded by the Catholic-minded book of Edward VI, the first of that reign, and by the' Protestant-minded book, the second, is an eloquent tribute to the genius of those to whom the task was entrusted, and to the purpose and will of the people of the land, which sustained them. For that book remains substantially, after all, the book of to-day. It continues, after four centuries, the book alike of Catholic-minded and Protestant-minded worshipers,--used and loved by all. In practically every service, one might almost say on every page, it bears its witness to the great experiment, or rather to the great success, to the triumphant principle of comprehension.

In the unfolding of the Church Year, those Catholic-minded people, who would find there days of Mary, may find them in the Annunciation and Purification, while those same days are to the Protestant-minded, days of our Lord, as indeed they are. In the Baptism offices, the Catholic doctrine of regeneration, and the Protestant insistence upon repentance and faith stand side by side; and the sign of the Cross, or its omission, are equally recognized. In the Confirmation service are to be found both the Catholic-minded emphasis upon the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Protestant conception of the renewal of vows. In the Ordination of Priests, there are two sentences of ordination provided as alternates, one for the Catholic, the other for the Protestant. Formerly there stood in the Litany the ultra Catholic suffrage: "Saint Mary, Mother of God, all holy patriarchs and prophets, Pray for us," and the ultra Protestant prayer:--"From the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome, and all his detestable enormities, Good Lord, deliver us." Both have now been happily eliminated by mutual and glad consent, since they contravened rather than exemplified the principle.

The central and all sufficient example of the principle lies at the heart of the book, at the solemn moment of the distribution of the elements in the Holy Communion. The Catholic-minded book of Edward VI had the Catholic-minded sentence of distribution: "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life." The Protestant-minded book of Edward VI had the Protestant-minded sentence, "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart, by faith, with thanksgiving." The solution was to say both (as they stand in both sentences to-day), one after the other. There was no decision of choice. There was no compromise, by so much as an iota. There was perfect application of the Principle of Comprehension. We have here its complete exposition. And the great double sentence stands in the book of worship as the final justification of the principle, and as the enduring monument to the genius of the book.


The two principles, of Growth and Comprehension, have obviously an intimate relation. In their interplay is the guarantee of the book's endurance, and the indication of the possibility for growth through successful revision. When it is urged, in any consideration of the book's revision, that doctrine must not be touched, it is to be remembered that what is meant is, that the sacred and fundamental principle of comprehension must not, by so much as a jot or tittle, be impaired. There must continue to exist, within the book's scope, for Catholic-minded and Protestant-minded alike, the fullest opportunity for freedom and satisfaction in worship. Nothing must be done to cause either to feel less at home. The long-maintained union in the common worship of the Church must not be jeopardized.

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