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Lectures on the First Prayer Book of King Edward VI.

by Morgan Dix
Rector of Trinity Church, New York

New York: Young and Co., 1881.


I CLOSED my last lecture with the death of Edward the Sixth and the accession of Mary, A.D. 1553. She was devoted to the Roman Catholic faith; she re-established that religion; for six years England was again, and for the last time, nominally Papal. They were dark years for those who, during the preceding reign, had "held their way without remorse," and ruled in State and Church alike. The title of "bloody "has been given to that parenthesis in the history of the mother land. The Roman type of Christianity being restored, it was a matter of course that persecution should follow. The reformers were scattered and dispersed; large numbers fled to the continent; many who were unable or unwilling to save themselves by flight, stayed at home, and of these some died a horrible death by fire.

Now, in an estimate of these Marian Martyrs, as they are called, we claim the right to distinguish between the men as men, and the principles for which they suffered. We may, without inconsistency, admire their courage, sympathize with their anguish, and deplore their untimely taking off, while rejecting their principles, and regarding as malignant error what they deemed to be divine truth. The system of persecution which made them its victims is a dark and horrid thing; as ugly now, when we see it throwing the English Ritualists into jail, as it was then when it hurried the English Zwinglians and Calvinists to the stake. But the fact that one suffers does not prove his views correct. False causes and lost causes have had their martyrs also; they have them to-day; and he who jumps at the conclusion that a man's creed must be orthodox because he actually dies for it will soon become inextricably involved in contradictory evidence. To suffer for one's faith, whatever it be, attests the strength of the martyr's conviction; but the question whether the substance of those convictions be false or time, cannot be answered merely by the news that he died for them.

This then we hold, and must hold are intelligent Catholic churchmen: that they who died bravely and calmly in the reign of Mary, died for a thing that was not worth dying for. They were not in the old paths; they had strayed from them, in some particulars, quam longissime; on some points, and notably as regards the Sacrifice of the Altar, they had practically renounced the faith of the Universal Church; they were the outcome of a movement in which, as has been well said, "opinions were perpetually fluctuating, and the tide was setting steadily and rapidly toward the denial of everything mysterious and sacramental." It was full time that the drift should be stopped. God stopped it; and the fiery trial through which some passed may have been, to them personally, a blessed purgation from the errors into which they had run. It is dark only on this side of the grave. When the light of the other world breaks at length upon the eyes, men no doubt see clearly what here, in these shadows, they fail to discern; and the conversion of many a soul from the low metaphysical notions which he once mistook for religion to the glorious truth which never changes, and which, in his invincible ignorance he denied, may be hastened by some sharp term of suffering in this earthly scene.

This estimate of the position of those ill-fated men is, not a mere individual opinion. It is confirmed by many considerations, and especially by observation of the conduct of those reformers who fled from England during those perilous days. There is a little book, now very rare, called the "History of the Troubles at Frankfort." It gives a perfect picture of a type of character which the six years of anarchy under Edward had stimulated prodigiously. The troubles at Frankfort were, in point of fact, a disgusting and disgraceful quarrel among those exiles whose friends and brethren Queen Mary was burning on the other side of the Channel. The thing was a scandal to religion; but it did good service in showing this, that no matter how radical a party may be, there will always be another party a little ahead, and even more radical than they. The refugees at Frankfort resolved to have a purer religion than that which the Second Book of Edward VI. allowed: they said, in justification of their cause, and perhaps with truth, that but for the death of Edward the book would have been still further improved and purified, and that they were only doing what the English bishops and divines would have done if they had had the chance; and so they proceeded to expunge, alter, and change, till, forbidding the use of the surplice, and leaving out the Litany, and agreeing that there should be no responses aloud, and still further degrading the Communion Office, they got something quite to their taste, and next called John Knox to be their minister. But these proceedings were too much for another set of English refugees in Zurich, Emclen, Strasburg, and elsewhere, who, less radical, thought that for them to change the English Book was to cast a slur on the people at home; and thus a general fight ensued. In the midst appears John Calvin as umpire, who, finding in the Prayer Book many blemishes, and "tolerable fopperies," advises all to seize the happy chance, cast their whole religion into the Genevan mould, be rid of the shreds of popery, and trust to their brethren in England to approve and follow. And then there are new battles, and the French magistrates are called in to keep¬ęthe peace, and John Knox withdraws in disgust. And we will also withdraw, sick of the untimely wrangle, but reflecting also. For the thing reveals the "true inwardness "of that temper which was at work; the captious, conceited, quarrelsome spirit, which, professing an immense love of the truth, despises dominion and speaks evil of dignities, and would compress the whole world into the narrow limits of its own conceits. Of this, by the end of Mary's reign, the better class seem to have become as thoroughly sick as they had a right to be.

To that year let us pass on. She died, A.D. 1558, and Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne of England.

From that hour began a work of reconstruction which has gone slowly on ever since. It is, as yet, far from complete; but no steps backward appear; whatever has been done since that day, has been in the interest of restoration and the direction of recovery. It may not always look so; but a careful analysis of loss and gain will show, I think, that my statement is true.

On the accession of the new sovereign the Papal rule passed away forever. The exiles flocked home; no desirable acquisition, for they came back deeply corrupted by the influence of Continental Protestantism, and desiring to carry on the work which was interrupted five years before. But they found that to be impossible; the hour had gone by. The first question was, what the English Prayer Book should be. Of the two Books known as the First and Second of Edward VI., the question was, which should be chosen? Unfortunately, the decision was against the First, that noble Catholic liturgy, and for the Second, its degraded shadow; still it would have been a miracle, had other choice been made, so great had been the lapse since 1549. Yet the mischief of that inevitable choice was neutralized to some extent. Unlike the Frankfort Knoxians, who deemed even that Second Book popish and dangerous, it was regarded as too bad to be accepted just as Cranmer and Hooper had left it. They took it, but only as a basis on which to build a better thing. And so to the Foreigners' Book, as it was appropriately called, we may bid a long and glad farewell. Its life was brief, only six months; it was never authorized by the Church. It remains without merit or honor; it was too bad to be revived; it passes in disgrace from the scene; let it be cast into dust and darkness forever.

Queen Elizabeth was a strong church woman, a Catholic at heart. She believed in the Real Presence; to her it is said that we owe that ingenious verse expressing her view of the meaning of the words, "This is My Body, This is My Blood."

"Christ was the Word that spake it:
He took the Bread and brake it;
And what that Word did make it,
That I believe and take it."

She would have been called to-day a Ritualist. She had a proper altar in her private oratory, with a crucifix above it, and candles, which were duly lighted when they ought to be. She hated Puritans, and was well-read, and knew how to treat the noisy agitators who still swarmed up and down. It was well for us that the Church of England had so staunch a member in its Queen.

And what was the new Prayer Book? In aspect like the one which it superseded, but in substance vastly improved. First, the flat denial of the Real Presence was struck out, by expunging what is commonly called "the Black Rubric;" black indeed, as it contradicted the uniform faith of the Holy Catholic Church. There was, attached to the Foreigner's Book, on a fly-leaf, a declaration, probably composed by Cranmer, to the effect that the posture of kneeling at the Holy Communion must not be regarded as implying any adoration of a "real and essential Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ." This was struck out in the revision.

And, next, an important step was taken to restoring the old truth of the memorial before God. The "tables" were to be put again into the ancient places, whence they had been torn away: again they stood altar-wise, and again the altar was seen.

And, thirdly, the rubric was restored, prescribing the use of the vestments and ornaments, as in the second year of Edward VI.

And, fourthly, the words to be used in delivering the consecrated species were restored: "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.," after which was allowed to stand the later addition, "Take and eat this, etc."

And, fifthly, provision was made for a celebration of the Holy Communion at funerals.

It needs no long argument to show how important were these changes. At a glance it is perceived that they implied and constituted a new beginning, a facing about from the outer wilderness of false doctrine, schism, and heresy, a falling back on the Avails and bulwarks of the City of God. It was a great work, already. The Altar is replaced; the Priest, properly vested, reappears; the Presence of Christ is confessed once more. That is the beginning of life and light. It has been so always, when Baal and Jehovah are in conflict; the God of Truth who is One, the gods of this world who are many. When Elijah the Prophet commenced his work of reformation and reconstruction, he knew where to begin and what first to do. The ruined shrine of the Divine Presence must be set up at once. "He repaired the Altar of the Lord, that was broken down "(I. Kings, xviii., 30).

And here let me say a word, by way of explanation, on the origin of one of the oddest pieces of formalism ever known in the Church. If it be asked whence came that incongruous, unmeaning habit of standing at one end of the altar, quite round the corner, and sideways to the people, in celebrating the divine mysteries, the answer is that it is a relic of the dark days of Edward's reign. While Zwinglianism was in full sweep, the altars were thrown down, as we saw, and tables were placed lengthwise in the body of the Church, and at the long side of the table stood the minister commemorating the "Supper." In Queen Elizabeth's time, the tables were put back in their old site, altar-wise. But the clergy, with that habit of compromise which is the bane of Anglican practice, either would not or dared not take the proper position, in front of the holy table. They kept the place which they used to occupy out in the nave of the church; they had the altar again, and were glad of that, but they did not venture to stand at it where the priest, ought to stand; and that is the explanation of a practice without precedent and without meaning, a practice which mars the unity of the great Christian Rite, obscures its sublime intention, and sometimes casts the intelligent observer into reflections on that time of rebuke and blasphemy, of which, though it long since passed away, we shall always have cause to be ashamed. [When once an Englishman makes up his mind about things, he does not mince matters. I have a pamphlet on this subject which is well worth reading, notwithstanding its crushing and terrific title: The North End, Unhistorical, Unrubrical, Unmeaning, and Irreverent towards Almighty God. By the Rev. J. R. West, M.A. London: Masters, 1872. That appears to cover the ground! Still, the case is well put, and the pamphlet is worth getting, reading, and keeping.] But meanwhile, what of our Continental malcontents? Imagine the dissatisfaction with which they looked on this revival of popish errors and superstitions, for such does that school style whatever we regard as orderly, decent, and beautiful in religion. Mortified, disgusted, indignant, they kept up such agitation as they dared, till, finding it of no avail, they hardened into a school of permanent malcontents. This slowly took the outline of a party, political and religious, to which at length the name of Puritan was affixed. It drew off from the Church, it waxed ever sourer, it became dangerous, a perpetual menace to State and Church. It threatened mischief; and in time, as we know, it accomplished all, and more than all, that was on its original programme. But years had yet to pass till all that was in that bitter mind was fulfilled.

I must pass rapidly over a long period. The work done in Elizabeth's reign was chiefly a State work: there is no evidence that the New Prayer Book was sanctioned by the Church in Convocation; still, it became the established use of the realm. Things ran smoothly till the end of the reign, but when King James I. succeeded to the throne, the Irreconcilables again imagined that their opportunity had arrived. He was a Scotchman, and had been trained in the straitest sect of Scotch Presbyterianism. Could not this truly evangelical person help the struggling cause? Could they not get a revision of the Prayer Book, with improvements, illustrations, and purifyings after the manner of the Pharisees and Scribes of the Christian system? Fond hopes of this were entertained, and so the notable Hampton Court Conference was held, at which the radical party stated their modest requests. Not an iota of their old pretensions was abated; not a wrinkle in the hard old features had been smoothed away. Among the things they asked, as the price of their support and help, were the following:

The disuse of the Surplice and Eucharistic Vestments;

The abolition of Lent, Saints' Days, and the Kalendar;

The disuse of the sign of the Cross in baptism and the ring in marriage;

The expunging of the words, "Priest," "Altar," "Absolution," and the like;

No more bowing at the Name of Jesus, and no more kneeling at the Holy Communion;

The order of Confirmation to be treated as superfluous.

It is well to study these demands; they are the price at which Puritanism would have become loyal. It need hardly be said, that the price was not paid, and that the bargaining was abruptly brought to an end. Nay, more than that: the Prayer Book, already so obnoxious, was made more so; it was toned up still more. Far from diluting it with an infusion of the "old leaven" of 1552, they made it stronger by reaffirming the sacerdotal and sacramental teaching of the Book of 1549; they added the latter part of the Catechism, wherein Baptismal Regeneration and the Real Presence are taught, and passed Canons greatly strengthening the position of the loyal children of the Church. And thus the work of restoration and recovery went on.

And what was the answer of the Radicals? We know well what it was; how emphatic, and how frank. Years rolled by; James the First of England was gathered to his fathers, and Charles the First reigned in his stead. And in that fated reign came the thorough and complete triumph of the Puritan over his traditional opponents. "Clarendon's History of the Rebellion, and other writings of this disastrous period, tell how this consummation was arrived at; how the tide of Puritan Dissent," of Calvinism and Zwinglianism, and similar heresies, "which flowed from Switzerland and Germany, gradually rose in England, until the ancient landmarks of both Church and State were completely swept away."

The principles of the Continental Reformation at length had full swing; and the real mind of the movement was made clear. The Church was swept from sight. Her priests were put under the ban; her churches and cathedrals desecrated; her solemn services were heard and seen no more. It was even made a penal offence to use the Book of Common Prayer in a man's own house, and in his private devotions. The prison doors yawned; the scaffold was dressed in black; heads the most venerable and noble were shorn off, and blood flowed amain. The Lord Protector sat in the seat of the King, and the Lords Brethren, innumerable popelets, ruled and reigned in Zion. But the Church felt no harm; persecution helps her; the madness of the people rages in vain. It was peril and threatening of death to our religion when they tried to recast it after sectarian patterns and models; but it was life, and health, and strengthening, when, despairing of remodelling it to suit their tastes, they lifted sword and axe against it, struck at the heart that they could not change, and cried, "Down with it, down with it even to the ground!" Do you doubt that this was so? Pass on fifteen years. The tyranny is at an end. Sick of Dissent, in religion and politics, England is once more under a King, and the Church is free from the oppression. And in the year of grace, 1662, in the Bishop of London's Palace, in the Savoy, a Conference is held. They are met to hear, once more, and for the last time, the Irreconcilables, who still have hope, though faint, of carrying their point. I shall not detain you by reciting their stale and stereotyped objections, their demands for an alteration of the Prayer Book of a most radical character, after which they further demand that the minister may have liberty to add and leave out what he pleases. But I point you to the grave and wise reply of the Bishops and Doctors of the Church to these impertinent requests, and further call you to observe how alterations and additions were made, every one in the direction of old Catholic Faith and Practice, and each a new step in the process of restoration and recovery. Thank God, the story goes on, ever in the same strain, ever without a break. And now this Book, a vast improvement on any that had been seen in England since that of the year 1549, is sanctioned, not by Parliament only, but by Convocation also, and for the second time the Church has a Liturgy, Sacramentary, and Office Book to which her own authority has been given, and which, therefore, must be taken as an official exponent of her Principles, if question be made what those principles are.

I shall detain you but a very little longer, and only to mention two or three facts which corroborate this general view.

The history of what is known as the Scotch Prayer Book has a special interest for Americans. It was prepared and issued, A.D. 1637, by the Scottish Bishops, in the reign of King Charles I. They refused to adopt the English Prayer Book, desired one much more like the Book of 1549, and accordingly arranged one which greatly resembles it, especially in the Office for the Celebration of the Holy Communion. The "dislocated" canon was reset; the Oblation and Invocation were restored; and so were the commemoration of the Saints and the Prayers for the holy departed. This Book is still used in Scotland; it flourished at first like a rare sweet flower of piety, in the midst of the briers and thorns of Calvinism, and under the fire of the anathemas of John Knox. And in the Providence of God that Book gave us American Churchmen our own stately Canon; for when Samuel Seabury was consecrated, by the Bishops at Aberdeen, a solemn compact was made that he should strive to have the Scottish Office adopted in the American Church. Seabury kept his word, and, God helping him, it was done as they wished. Whatever may be the defect of our Prayer Book in some other particulars, the gain over the English Book in that one thing balances all the rest. Our Canon is conformed substantially to the ancient liturgies; our office teaches not merely the Real Presence, but also the vital truth, that in the Holy Communion there is a true Oblation, and that it is, first of all, a Memorial before God, showing forth to the Almighty Father the death of Christ for the benefit of all the whole Church, here and beyond. And thus have we also repudiated the principles of the rebellion, and reasserted those of the ancient and Catholic reformation in the beginning of King Edward's reign.

Since the Conference in the Savoy, two efforts have been made to deprave the Book of Common Prayer. First, there was an abortive attempt at revision, in the reign of William and Mary, under the inspirations of that Latitudinarian School of which Archbishop Tillotson was one of the most respectable examples. It was another instance of a desire, which seems to be the passion of a certain class of men, to conciliate the sects and bring them into close and vital relations with our Church. The effort is vain; it never can succeed, except on our abandoning our principles, forsaking our standard, and going over to a body who will not be satisfied save by our surrender of the distinctive features of the Catholic religion and the Catholic worship. Royal Commissioners prepared for adoption by Convocation what is known as the Revised Liturgy of 1689. The book was printed by order of the House of Commons. It fell, still-born, into the tomb of failures. [1]

But a shadow of it reappeared, a century afterward, in Philadelphia.

When, in one of the most depressed eras of the history of the Church of England, the American colonies asserted their independence, and the members of the Church of England in the new nation were forced to organize as a separate branch of the Holy Catholic Church, it became necessary to provide a Prayer Book; and a volume evidently modelled after the Liturgy of 1689 made its appearance. It has been known ever since as "THE PROPOSED BOOK;" who first proposed it is not quite certain; but one thing we know, that the proposal was promptly declined. And so, the last attempt to eviscerate the Book of Common Prayer fell through. God grant that the effort may never again be made. That Proposed Book, like the model from which it was copied, may be regarded as an awful warning, in which light only it is of value. Ours, now nearly a century in use, contains the Sacerdotal and Sacramental System in full, sets forth the doctrines of Baptismal Regeneration and the Real Presence, retains the form of the Memorial Sacrifice, asserts the Apostolic Succession, and preserves to us the most venerable traditions of Christianity. In one striking particular it is superior to the English Liturgy: it is much nearer to the Primitive Liturgies than the Roman Mass; and it is destined, in time, we trust, to be cleared of some blemishes, mended as to some defects, and enriched from the ancient storehouses of the treasury of the Ancient Church. A Joint Committee of Bishops, Clergy, and Laymen, was appointed by the last General Convention to consider whether alterations should be made in the Book of Common Prayer by way of adding to its treasures, and giving flexibility in its use. In my closing lecture I shall speak of the responsibilities of the members of that Commission, and of the hopes and fears with which men watch the progress of their work.

[1] Not to speak of the very serious changes in this Book affecting doctrine, let me call the reader's attention to the shockingly bad taste displayed in the alteration of the collects; they seem to have had a perfect mania for tinkering. Take as samples of this intelligent and graceful work these two specimens of proposed improvement; note the perfect simplicity of the old, the verbosity and heaviness of the new:

"Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen,"

"Almighty God, who hast hitherto preserved us in safety this day, by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; pardon whatsoever we have done amiss; and settle our holy purposes to do better for the time to come; that laying ourselves down to sleep with these godly resolutions in our hearts, they may awaken with us in the morning, and we may daily grow more watchful in all our ways; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen."

''Almighty and Everlasting God, who dost govern all things in Heaven and Earth; mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

"Almighty and Everlasting God, who dost govern all things in Heaven and Earth; mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and so rule and guide us that we may do our duties faithfully in the several places and relations; constantly abhorring that which is evil and cleaving to that which is good; being fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, and continuing so instant in prayer, that we may enjoy thy peace all the days of our life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

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