Monday, December 4, 2023

85. The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography

The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography. Alan Jacobs. 2013. 256 pages. [Source: Library] 

First sentence: The Book of Common Prayer came into being as an instrument of social and political control. There will be much else to say about its origins, but here we must begin: the prayer book was a key means by which the great lords who ruled on behalf of the young King Edward VI consolidated English rule of the English church. In making one book according to which the whole country would worship, Cranmer and his allies were quite consciously dismantling an immense and intricate edifice of devotional practice. They had both theological and political reasons for doing this, but the immediate effect was political and was widely seen as such.

This book is a biography not of a person but of a book--a religious book, The Book of Common Prayer. The chapters are as follows:

One Book for One Country
Revision, Banishment, Restoration
Becoming Venerable
The Book in the Social World
Objects, Bodies, and Controversies
The Pressures of the Modern
Many Books for Many Countries
The Prayer Book and Its Printers

Many chapters are chronological--focusing on the history of the book--religious/theological, political, social, and actual history. But the later chapters focus less on history and are more thematically arranged. I really found the first half engaging and fascinating. It was packed with so much I didn't know but wanted to know. The later chapters were more on changing times and the falling apart of the church. Well, that is an exaggeration I'm sure. It isn't so much falling apart of "the church" as it is the falling apart of the "British Empire" and the "Church of England." The book does not particularly "hold" like-minded individuals together as "one" worshipping body. There is no "one" book of Common Prayer, each country, each denominational break off can publish their own revision of the prayer book. If it sounds like I have a problem with that, I don't. [My personal favorite is the 1928 American revision of the Book of Common Prayer.]

I enjoyed this one for the most part. It probably can come across as a bit dry if you do not bring an interest in the subject. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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