“And the Church of England is Protestant too” – William Laud, then Bishop of St. David’s, later Archbishop of Canterbury.
Before the mid-19th century, to regard the Book of Common Prayer as part of an explicitly “Protestant” narrative would have been accepted as self-evident by Episcopalians and Anglicans. A future Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Bancroft’s famous defense of Conformity in his 1588 sermon declared the Prayer Book to be “a verie perfect book, agreeable to Gods word, and the use of the reformed Churches,” affirmed by the judgment of “Cranmer, Ridley, Bucer, Peter Martir.” Amidst the political and ecclesiastical crisis of the early 1640s in the Three Kingdoms, petitions in support of the Prayer Book regularly invoked the Protestant Episcopalian martyrs of the Marian persecution: “compozed according to the Primitive Patterne by our blessed martyrs.” In the early 18th century, Daniel Waterland praised “our excellent Liturgy” for embodying the eucharistic teaching of “Protestant divines.”
While the 19th century brought Tractarian unease with, and then rejection of, the term “Protestant,” it continued to be commonplace for many Anglicans. This can be seen in, for example, episcopal charges of the 1840s by High Churchman Richard Mant (Bishop of Down and Connor, 1823-1848). The Church of Ireland’s 1926 revision of the Book of Common Prayer included the Declaration of 1870, with its statement that the Church of Ireland was a “Reformed and Protestant Church.” The title page of the 1928 revision in the United States declared that it was “According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church.” Such usage more faithfully reflected pre-1833 Anglican thought than the (at best) hesitation concerning “Protestant” introduced by the Oxford Movement.
Steven Wedgeworth’s recent Ad Fontes article rightly presents the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (referring to the excellent International Edition) as a liturgical expression of “the Magisterial Reformation”: “a Reformation document committed to Reformation principles of worship.” This claim, however, is not without some irony. Episcopalian and Anglican defenders of the Book of Common Prayer in the late 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries would heartily agree with Wedgeworth’s statement. But what of those Protestants who robustly disagreed with such an affirmation of the Prayer Book’s Protestantism? The Protestantism of the Prayer Book was anything but obvious to the authors of the 1572 “Admonition to the Parliament” and the 1603 Millenary Petition, or to the “Puritan” representatives at the Hampton Court and Savoy conferences.
The above quotation from Laud reminds us that “Protestant” was (and is) a contested term. What is meant when describing the Prayer Book as “Protestant”: the Protestantism of William Laud or the Protestantism of Richard Baxter? Baxter’s refusal to accept the revision of 1662 and his criticism that “the Common Prayer Book was more grievous than before” suggests that he would have been entirely unconvinced by Wedgeworth’s definition of the Prayer Book’s Protestantism:
We see a Protestant prayer book which emphasizes the centrality of the Word of God, the accessibility of that Word for teaching, a moderate attitude towards change, a preference for simplicity, a desire for national unity, and a defense of spiritual liberty.
How, then, should we define the Protestantism of the Book of Common Prayer? What are the liturgical characteristics of this Protestantism?
“Godly and decent order of the ancient Fathers”
The Protestantism of the Book of Common Prayer is not situated in opposition to patristic tradition but, rather, claims continuity with the liturgies of “the Primitive Church.” Thus Cranmer in “Concerning the Service of the Church” declares that the roots of “Divine Service” are to be found in the “godly and decent order of the ancient Fathers.” Likewise, in “Of Ceremonies,” he defends the retention of “some of the old ceremonies,” and urges “reverence” for them, on the basis of their “antiquity.” This echoes his claim elsewhere that “the manner of the holy communion, which is now set forth within this realm, is agreeable with … the old primitive and apostolick church.”
This was to become commonplace in defenses of the liturgy against those seeking its “further reformation.” In his 1604 Proclamation for the Use of the Book of Common Prayer, James VI/I declared that the Prayer Book’s “forms and rites … were justified out of the practice of the primitive Church.” Sparrow’s A Rationale described it as “the Ancient Form,” “agreeable to Primitive Usage, and so, not Novel.” John Cosin emphasized how the Prayer Book – against both Roman innovations and Puritan objections – embodied patristic practice:
We shall think it advantage enough to our cause, if we shew the points questioned in our order of service, to be of more ancient practice in the Church than the later corruptions of the Church of Rome which we have left; and that this Church of ours is not to forsake the primitive Church, to reform herself to other reformed Churches, where the orders in force have … the precedent of such ancient practice.
The Protestantism of the Prayer Book cannot be understood as opposing, standing apart from, or offering an alternative to the acceptance of patristic norms. What is more, defining Protestant characteristics – worship in the vernacular, communion in both kinds, exclusion of invocation of the saints, ceremonies and calendar reduced but retained – were routinely defended as retrievals of patristic norms. Hence Article 24’s insistence that the use of the vernacular in the liturgy was “the custom of the Primitive Church.” This was also the case with the apologia for the use of the Cross in Baptism in Canon XXX of the 1604 Canons:
And this Use of the Sign of the Cross in Baptism was held in the Primitive Church, as well by the Greeks as the Latins, with one Consent and great Applause.
The Protestantism of the Prayer Book was not a matter of “all things made new” but a national church’s exercise in ressourcement. In Cranmer’s description of the Prayer Book:
Here you have an order for prayer, and for the reading of the holy Scripture, much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old Fathers.
“Where Rome keepeth that which is ancienter and better”
Related to this, the Prayer Book’s Protestantism also does not entail a rejection of the catholic characteristics of the pre-Reformation and post-Reformation Roman liturgy. To put this another way, the Protestantism of the Book of Common Prayer is at ease with the significant features it shares with the Roman rite. These are, after all, what the Preface of 1662 terms the “laudable practice[s]” of “the whole Catholick Church of Christ.”
The Puritan critique in the 1572 “Admonition to the Parliament” was accurate: the Book of Common Prayer was indeed “culled & picked out” of the “Masse boke.” Hooker was explicit in defending this, referring to “our conformitie with the Church of Rome, as also of the difference between some Reformed churches and oures.” Where the Church of Rome “followed reason and truth, we fear not to tread the self-same steps wherein they have gone, and to be their followers.”
Indeed, a sense that Roman Catholic opinion was not hostile to the Book of Common Prayer was openly referred to in its defense. Jeremy Taylor pointed to (historically dubious) suggestions that Pope Paul IV offered acceptance of the English liturgy if Elizabeth returned to the Roman obedience:
But I do not remember that any man was ever put to it to justify the common prayer against any positive, public, and professed charge by a Roman adversary: nay, it is transmitted to us by the testimony of persons greater than all exceptions, that Paulus Quartus, in his private intercourses and letters to queen Elizabeth, did offer to confirm the English common prayer book, if she would acknowledge his primacy and authority, and the reformation derivative from him.
Taylor goes on to imply that such supposed papal acceptance of the Prayer Book was rational in view of the similarities shared with the Roman liturgy:
I cannot say but many of our prayers are also in the Roman offices. But so they are also in the Scripture, so also is the Lord’s prayer; and if they were not, yet the allegation is very inartificial, and the charge peevish and unreasonable, unless there were nothing good in the Roman books, or that it were unlawful to pray a good prayer.
The Prayer Book’s Protestantism, therefore, embraces without embarrassment significant continuity with the liturgy of the Roman tradition. Such texts and norms were widely adopted in the Prayer Book because they were, in Hooker’s words, “ancienter and better” than those proposed in “other reformed Churches.”
Which Protestants “beyond the seas”?
As previously stated, to describe the Book of Common Prayer as Protestant inevitably provokes the question “what sort of Protestantism?” The “Admonition to the Parliament” suggests an answer with its description of Prayer Book liturgies:
Holydayes ascribed to saincts, prescript seruices for them, kneeling at communion, wafer cakes for theyr breade when they minister it, surplesse and coape to do it in.
For the authors of the Admonition, such a form of worship was, of course, Roman. What the Admonition overlooks – and what Conformist writers regularly emphasized – was that this form of worship was also to be seen elsewhere in Protestant Europe, in the Lutheran kingdoms of Scandinavia and the Lutheran principalities of Germany. The priest in surplice, administering the Holy Sacrament to communicants kneeling, the words of administration addressed to each communicant, with the traditional collect, epistle, and gospel (in Sparrow’s words, “the use of them in the Christian Church was ancient”) having been read: this was a scene much more reminiscent of worship in the Lutheran kingdoms than the Reformed states. When the Conformist apologist Thomas Rogers defended kneeling to receive the Holy Sacrament, he pointed to how this was the practice of the churches of “Saxony, Denmark, and many in Germany.”
It was also the case with the scene at Holy Baptism. The priest in surplice, a version of Luther’s “Flood Prayer,” the blessing of the water in the font (in 1662), the use of the sign of the Cross on the baptized: this was to be seen not in the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, France, or Switzerland but in the Lutheran kingdoms. What is more, the explicit declaration of the Book of Common Prayer’s Baptismal rite that “this Child is regenerate,” and the prayer of thanksgiving that “it hath pleased thee to regenerate this Infant,” is at one with the affirmation of the Lutheran 1592 Saxon Visitation Articles that “Baptism is the bath of regeneration,” contrasting with the depiction of the Reformed view that “Baptism is an external washing of water” which “does not work nor confer regeneration.”
The Prayer Book’s provision for “Receiving into the Congregation Children which have been privately Baptized” was also a feature shared with Lutherans and rejected by Reformed churches. Thus the Saxon Visitation articles articulate and condemn the Reformed error of rejecting such provision:
That salvation doth not depend on Baptism, and therefore in cases of necessity should not be required in the Church; but when the ordinary minister of the Church is wanting, the infant should be permitted to die without Baptism.
Private Baptism featured in the 1618 Articles of Perth, by which James VI/I sought to bring the Church of Scotland into greater conformity with the Church of England. (James had reintroduced episcopacy to Scotland in 1610.) The articles were condemned by Reformed opponents for introducing “idolatrous, superstitious, and ridiculous ceremonies.” The rejection of private Baptism was based on the assertion – which had been condemned in the Saxon Visitation Articles – that “there is no precept requiring baptisme, when it cannot be had orderly.” It is noteworthy that each of the Articles of Perth called for Prayer Book practices shared with the Lutheran churches: kneeling to receive the holy Sacrament; administration of the Eucharist to the sick in private; private administration of Holy Baptism when necessary; the rite of Confirmation; and the observance of festivals.
In his defense of the 1662 settlement, the Anglican apologist John Durel declared that the polity and liturgy of the Church of England and the Churches of the Augsburg Confession were “the very same.”
As for the public Worship of God, they have all of them set Forms of Prayer, not one excepted … They observe Holy days; they have set Times for fasting; they have very magnificent and stately Buildings very richly adorned for their Churches. They sing not only Psalms, but many Hymns and spiritual songs … And they sing them with Organs and other instruments of Music. They sing Anthems in the same manner that we do. In many places they wear Surplices and other Church-Ornaments. They use the Cross in Baptism; they receive the Communion kneeling. In fine, they have Conformity with us in all Rites of Divine Worship.
The rites and ceremonies of the Prayer Book were indeed Protestant: but it was the Protestantism of the northern Lutheran kingdoms, not of the Reformed states.
Excursus: what about eucharistic doctrine?
The fact that the eucharistic doctrine of the ecclesia Anglicana as expressed in the Articles of Religion was Reformed rather than Lutheran does not undermine this portrayal: in fact, it actually helps to emphasize the significance of the similarities in rites and ceremonies. We might also note that Conformist opinion, while consistently clear in its refusal to embrace “consubstantiation,” minimized the differences in eucharistic teaching. Jewel, for example, famously described the differences between Luther and Zwingli as “only about one Question, which is of no great moment neither.” Hooker echoed this with his view that belief in “consubstantiation” was not required in to order to affirm what was agreed upon:
Our participation in Christ in this sacrament dependeth on the cooperation of his omnipotent power which maketh it his bodie and blood to us, whether with change or without alteration wee neede not greatlie to care nor inquire. Take therefore that wherein all agree and then consider by it selfe what cause why the rest in question should be rather be left as superfluous then urged as necessarie.
Likewise, Thomas Rogers’ commentary on the Articles of Religion had no hesitation in pointing to the Lutheran confessions of Augsburg, Saxony, and Würtemberg as agreeing with the affirmation of Article 28, it “is the partaking of the body and blood of Christ.” This understanding was later enshrined in Burnet’s influential commentary on the Articles, when he described differences between Lutheran and Reformed eucharistic teaching as “a mere Point of Speculation concerning the manner in which Christ is present, [which] ought not to divide those who agree in everything else that relates to the Sacrament.”
“Consubstantiation,” in other words, did not – from an Anglican perspective – detract from the significance of the similarities in rites and ceremonies that the Prayer Book shared with the Churches of the Lutheran kingdoms. It was these similarities which led one early 18th century Anglican author to refer to “the two best Branches of the Reformation, I mean the Lutherans, and those of the Church of England.”
It is the case that “the Book of Common Prayer is a Reformation document committed to Reformation principles of worship.” Reformation principles of worship, however, were contested amongst the Churches of the Reformation from the outset. The debates within the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline Church of England over the Book of Common Prayer were testimony to this. The “Admonition to the Parliament” and the Millenary Petition, the Hampton Court Conference and the Savoy Conference highlighted the extent to which there was a lack of consensus on what “Reformation principles of worship” entailed. The robust and sustained nature of the Conformist defense of and commitment to the Book of Common Prayer – a defense and commitment which, we should note, survived nearly two decades of official suppression of the Prayer Book during the 1640s and 1650s – indicated that this expression of Protestantism was substantive and, for many, much more compelling and attractive than opposing Protestant accounts. As John Morrill and Judith Maltby have convincingly demonstrated, it had deeper roots and greater popular resonance than the Prayer Book’s opponents and their alternative liturgical practices.
To say that the Book of Common Prayer is Protestant is to begin, not to end, a conversation. In doctrinal terms – as Jewel had indicated in his Apology – the Prayer Book became an expression of the Elizabethan Settlement’s commitment to a broad magisterial Reformation consensus, seeking to hold together the teaching of Zurich and Wittenberg (as did the Articles of Religion). In its rites and ceremonies, however, the Prayer Book stood apart from the Reformed Churches shaped in the tradition of Geneva: as a Scottish Reformed opponent of the Articles of Perth declared, Scottish rejection of “worship of God defiled with superstition and idolatrie” had “the acclamation of other reformed Churches (the Church of England … only excepted).”
This is because, in its rites and ceremonies, the Prayer Book embodies a Protestantism more alert and committed to the liturgical norms of the patristic churches than was the case in many of the Reformed churches of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Prayer Book has significant elements of continuity with pre-Reformation Roman liturgies, recognizing in such continuity expressions of the Great Tradition which nourished Christian prayer, worship, and sacramental life over centuries. And the Prayer Book does share many similarities with Churches of the Reformation “beyond the seas”: if, that is, we are looking in a northerly direction, towards the Lutheran kingdoms.
The Book of Common Prayer does therefore offer a means of renewing a historic Protestantism. It will, however, be a Protestantism having more in common with Laud than with Baxter; eager to emphasize its debt to the patristic churches; unembarrassed about what is held in common with the Great Tradition of the Latin West; and offering a reformed catholic vision, shared with the Churches of the Augsburg Confession, of liturgical and sacramental life.
- Laud on eucharistic doctrine in A relation of the conference between William Laud, late Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mr. Fisher the Jesuite. He continues, “So Protestants of all sorts maintain a true and Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” ↑
- Episcopalian is here taken to refer to Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline Conformity: Anglican is used to refer to the post-1662 context. ↑
- “A Sermon Preached At Paules Crosse the 9. of Februarie, being the first Sunday in the Parleament, Anno. 1588. by Richard Bancroft.” Bancroft was Archbishop of Canterbury 1604-1610. ↑
- See Judith Maltby, Prayer Book and People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England (1998), p.114-116. ↑
- See Waterland’s A Review of the Doctrine of the Eucharist, as laid down in Scripture and Antiquity (1737). ↑
- For the origins of this Tractarian unease, see Peter B. Nockles The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship 1760-1857 (1994), p.122-127. ↑
- See Mant’s episcopal charges of 1842 “The Laws of the Church, the Churchman’s Guard against Romanism and Puritanism” and 1845 “Horae Ecclesiasticae; The Position of the Church with Regard to Romish Error.” The latter, for example, referred to “our reformed protestant church.” ↑
- The Church of Ireland’s Declaration of 1870 is, in many ways, a statement of Old High principles: the claim to be “Catholick and Apostolick”; standing in continuity with the faith “professed by the Primitive Church”; pledging to “maintain inviolate the Three Orders”; receiving and approving the Articles of Religion, the BCP 1662, and the Ordinal; and understanding all this to be entirely compatible with the Church of Ireland’s identity as “a Reformed and Protestant Church.” ↑
- Steven Wedgeworth, “The Reformation Character of the 1662 BCP,” Ad Fontes, 25th October 2021. ↑
- On the Hampton Court Conference, see Charles W. A. Prior, Defining the Jacobean Church: The Politics of Religious Controversy, 1603-1625 (2005), p.83-85. While the treatment of the Savoy Conference in Robert S. Bosher in The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians, 1649-1662 (1951), p.226-230, has unsatisfactory aspects, it remains a significant account ↑
- Quoted in Bosher, p.249. ↑
- Cranmer in A Defence of the true and Catholick doctrine of the Sacrament of the body and blood of our Saviour Christ, V.XVIII. ↑
- James VI/I, “Proclamation for the Use of the Book of Common Prayer,” 5th March 1604. ↑
- Anthony Sparrow, A Rationale Upon The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (1655), “Preface.” ↑
- From Cosin’s “Third Series of Notes” on the BCP in The Works of the Right Reverend Father in God, John Cosin, Volume V (1855), p.400. ↑
- In “Concerning the Service of the Church.” ↑
- Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.28.1. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Jeremy Taylor, The Preface to the Apology for Authorized and Set Forms of Liturgy, 15. ↑
- Ibid., 17. ↑
- Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.28.1. ↑
- Sparrow op.cit., “Of Holy-dayes.” ↑
- Thomas Rogers Two dialogues, or conferences Concerning kneeling in the very act of receiving the sacramental bread and wine, in the Supper of the Lord (1608), II.5. ↑
- “The Visitation Articles For the Electorate and Provinces of Upper Saxony, published A.D. 1592.” The Articles were often published with the Book of Concord. It should be noted that in contrast to the Book of Common Prayer, the Order of Baptism in Knox’s 1564 Book of Common Order has no reference to the gift of regeneration bestowed in the Sacrament, instead giving thanks for “markinge” the baptised with “a singuler token and badge of thy love.” ↑
- David Calderwood, A re-examination of the five articles enacted at Perth anno 1618 (1636), “To the Reader.” ↑
- Ibid., “Of the Administration of the sacraments in privat places.” ↑
- John Durel, A view of the government and publick worship of God in the reformed churches beyond the seas wherein is shewed their conformity and agreement with the Church of England (1662),Section I., p.5. On the matter of ecclesiastical polity, while noting that the Lutheran kingdoms retained episcopacy, described the German Lutheran systems of superintendents as episcopacy in all but name: “Superintendents have the power of Ordination, as the Bishops of the Church of England have; and they are accounted for no other then Bishops.” This view had been expressed by Laud himself: “For in Sweden they retain both the Thing and the Name; and the Governours of their Churches are, and are called Bishops. And among the other Lutherans the Thing is retained, though not the Name. For instead of Bishops they are called Superintendents”: see The history of the troubles and tryal of the Most Reverend Father in God and blessed martyr, William Laud, Lord Arch-Bishop of Canterbury. ↑
- John Jewel, The Apology of the Church of England, Part III. ↑
- Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.67.6-7. ↑
- Thomas Rogers, The Catholic Doctrine of the Church of England (1586/1607). ↑
- Gilbert Burnet, An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1699), “The Preface.” ↑
- The Lutheran Liturgy (1715) by “a late Gentleman-Commoner of Magdalen College in Oxford,” probably the Church of England cleric Theophilus Dorrington. ↑
- See John Morrill “The Church in England 1642-9” in Morrill (ed.) Reactions to the English Civil War (1982), p.104: whereas “the Prayer Book was widely used” despite possession of it being an offence in law, and an ordinance requiring churchwardens to surrender all copies, “less than 25 per cent” of parishes recorded purchasing the Westminster Directory. Also, Judith Maltby, op.cit., p.60, referring to the Directory: “there is more evidence for the continued clandestine use of the Book of Common Prayer than even for the purchase of its intended replacement.” ↑
- Note how Jewel’s Apology, Part IV – in what would become a characteristic of Conformist apologetics – included the Lutheran kingdoms and principalities in his list of jurisdictions in which the Reformation had been received: “the Kings of England, Denmark and Sweden, the Dukes of Saxony, the Counts of the Palatinate, the Marquesses of Brandenburgh, the Lantgraves of Hessia, the Common-wealths of the Switzars, the free Cities of Strasbourgh, Basil, Frankfort, Ulm, Augsburg, and Norimburg.” Torrance Kirby points to how a significant number of the Articles of Religion are clearly taken from Augsburg: “This influence of the Augsburg Confession can be discerned particularly in Art. I, II, IV, IX, XIV, XVI, XXIII, XXIV, and XXV.” See Kirby, “The Articles of Religion of the Church of England (1563/71), commonly called the Thirty-Nine Articles” (2009). To this list of the Articles influenced by Augsburg should be added Article III, on the descent into hell, which Kirby himself notes is “based on Augsburg, Art. 3,” mindful of the “violent controversy” between Lutheran and Reformed on this matter. ↑
- Calderwood, op.cit., “To the Reader.” This, of course, entirely ignored the Lutheran Churches. By contrast, the Conformist understanding was summarised by Durel, op.cit.: “we take for Reformed Churches those which follow the Confession of Augsburg, as I see no reason but we should.” ↑