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crossref-it.info - AS/A2 English Literature Study Guides - texts in context.

 

Influence of the Book of Common Prayer on the English language

The Book of Common Prayer: A Social Review

The first edition: 1549

The Book of Common Prayer was the title given to the book of forms of Christian worship imposed by parliament on the English church in 1549. The Council of King Edward VI (1547-1553) wished to advance the Reformation and so made it illegal for any minister to vary from the prescribed form by an Act of Uniformity.

More on the imposition of the BCP: In Tudor times (i.e. the 16th century) there was no concept of ‘freedom of religion'. The nation was viewed as a single religious entity and the people of England were the Church of England without remainder. To be free thinking was dangerous, and Henry VIII (1509-1547) burned papist and protestant alike. Religion was bound up with political realities – papists in Edward VI's reign might well be plotting to get his Roman Catholic sister Mary, next in succession, onto the throne; while extreme reformers might well be seeking popular revolution, such as had occurred in places on the continent.Reformers aimed to permit and encourage the population to read and understand the Bible by making it available in English, but this required:
  • tight control on the speed of reform
  • the necessity of carrying the people with it.
Persuasion could be supported by force, but the real goal was capturing the minds of the people by the sheer impact of reformed ideas. The BCP was a vital part of this programme.

An English liturgy

The major characteristic of the Book of Common Prayer was that it was all in English, a complete change from the Latin forms of liturgy which had remained in use even when Henry VIII (1509-47) had thrown Book of Common Prayeroff the authority of the Pope in 1532-34. At the same time, many medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices were softened or eliminated in the services.

In 1549, one copy of the Book was sufficient for most parishes, as the large proportion of the population was not expected to be able to read – and the BCP was large and expensive. It was a book for the people to hear, read aloud to them by the minister. Where there was a part for the people to say (as, for instance, in the Lord's Prayer), they would repeat lines read to them by the minister (as still happens with the vows in the marriage service).

Authorship

The main hand drafting the services was that of Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had been involved in various ways in providing the Bible in English in Henry VIII's time, and had also translated the Litany and other prayers in preparation for the enormous change the new book was to usher in. During Edward VI's reign Cranmer presented a unique combination of protestant theological conviction, political power, and a brilliant ability to write English prose. The 1549 Book was the result of that combination.

The 1552 edition

Just like translations of the Bible, the BCP underwent further textual revision.

In 1552 Cranmer put through a new Book which:

This was abolished in the reign of Mary I (1553-1558), but restored by Elizabeth I (1558-1603). James I (1603-1625) made only small changes, despite the more radical reformers being unhappy with simply set prayers, and wanting more scope for extemporary thanksgivings and intercessions.

The 1662 edition

The BCP was banned by the Puritan Parliament in 1645. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the Book was again revised and imposed by a new Act of Uniformity in 1662. References in England to the Book of Common Prayer refer to the 1662 Book, unless some qualification is added to indicate a different version.

The 1662 Book remained the only officially authorized Book in the Church of England until 1966; and, although alternatives to it have been lawful since then, it remains a foundation document of the Church of England and is cited in the Church's formularies as a secondary source of doctrine after the Bible and the Creeds.

The spread of literacy

From the 16th century to the 20th, literacy spread, particularly in the 19th century. The King James Bible was found in every literate home, and taught in school, as well as in the Sunday Schools which developed from the latter half of the 1800s. For members of the Church of England (one third of the nation at the religious census in 1851), the Book of Common Prayer was the partner of the Bible, being read and learned at home, and very often also carried to church. Often the BCP collect, epistle and gospel set for each Sunday were read at home the previous night, the young learning the collects by heart through the year.

Musical involvement

As cheaper printing emerged, every church pew carried copies of the Book, though much of the service was still designed to be listened to. Only in the second half of the 20th century was the amount that the congregation read aloud increased.

With the advancement of church music, those who had previously recited a psalm line by line after the minister, now sung parts of the liturgy, led by a choir. The provision of hymn-books increased, which were deliberately edited to match the Prayer Book's festivals and main seasons of the church's year.

Modern Anglican liturgies

The 1662 Book went to the ends of the earth as the Anglican Communion spread. Until the 1950s any revised forms of worship in different provinces still retained the BCP Tudor language in English editions and only marginally altered its contents. However, after the Second World War there was a great cultural shift into twentieth century language. This was due to:

The most significant change was no doubt the addressing of God as ‘you' rather than ‘thou' (‘thou' was the intimate form of address when the BCP was compiled but had gradually lost this meaning). Modern liturgical texts, such as the Anglican Common Worship, read very differently from those in the BCP.

The linguistic influence of the BCP

Memorable English

The BCP is generally reckoned a masterpiece of writing, as Cranmer's use of idiom, cadences, imagery, repetition, contrast and general rhythm made doctrine, devotion, and the sheer use of English both memorable and exemplary. In this way, the language and indeed the whole culture of the BCP came to be a major ingredient in not only the religion of England, but in the thought-forms and speech of a large proportion of English men and women.

Faith expressed in the vernacular

While the Authorised Bible reflected not only the wording, but also the sentence structure, of the Hebrew and Greek originals, the BCP expressed belief in a thoroughly English tongue, the language its hearers were instinctively attuned to. Although it might at intervals echo a Latin liturgical original, it frequently took its style directly from Thomas Cranmer.

Learning by listening

Whether the BCP liturgy was exhortation, or prayers, or the reading of the Bible, or the reading of a set authorized homily (or sermon), the part of the lay people was (as the ‘Prayer for the Church Militant' put it):

‘that, with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear and receive thy holy Word; truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life.' (Editor's emphasis)

In Cranmer's famous collect of the second Sunday in Advent listening also comes first:

‘...who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them...' (Editor's emphasis)

Even these examples reveal their nature as liturgical material to be read aloud and taken aboard simply by hearing.

An aural text

To aid the process of understanding, there are frequent repetitions and balanced phrases, such as:

Not only does the rhythm of these sentences make them more memorable, but also at the very time when they are read within the services, their meaning goes deeper because the repetitions slow down to manageable speed the conveying of new thoughts to the hearers. In political terms, the ‘top-down' management of the Reformation, of which the BCP was a tool, depended upon one category of persons giving direction, and a lower category ‘hearing and receiving' it.

How Cranmer's language works

Contrast and balance

The Advent collect makes sense through a series of interlocking contrasts:

‘Almighty God, give us grace that
we may cast away                       the works of darkness
and put upon us               the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
                                 in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us
                                                                             in great humility
that in the last day
                                 when he shall come again
                                                                             in his glorious Majesty
to judge both the quick    and the dead
we may rise to the life      immortal;
through him who (liveth and reigneth) with (thee and the Holy Ghost), (now and ever). Amen.'

The contrasts here, marked by colour, demonstrate both the skill and the originality of the author; they make the text memorable, and help fix its teaching into the minds of those praying with it. The prayer then ends with a series of balanced phrases ([bracketed]).

Paired phrases

In the Prayer of St. Chrysostom Cranmer is translating from Greek quite closely, but the liturgical pairings suggest a pattern distinctly his:

‘Almighty God,
        who hast given us grace
                                             ...with one accord
                                                                            ... common supplications
...and dost promise
                               ...two or three are gathered together
                                                                                          ...their requests
fulfil
                                           ...the desires
                                             and petitions
...as may be most expedient
...in this world knowledge of thy truth
...and in the world to come life everlasting.
Amen.'

Cumulative repetition

The 1662 prayer of General Thanksgiving (regularly attributed to Edward Reynolds) uses balanced synonyms (bracketed) and one contrast (coloured) to build its effect:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most {humble and hearty} thanks for all thy {goodness and loving kindness} to {us and to all men}.

We bless thee for our {creation, preservation, and all the blessings} of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, {for the means of grace and for the hope of glory}.

And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our {hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise}, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by {giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee} in {holiness and righteousness} all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with {thee and the Holy Ghost} be all {honour and glory} world without end.

The Lord's Prayer

BCP Lord's Prayer (1662, virtually 1549)

Common Worship Lord's Prayer (2000)

OUR Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever.

Amen.

‘Trespass' vs. ‘sin'

Personal pronouns

Verb ‘to be'

Layout

Punctuation and capitalisation

The change of punctuation results in a change of emphasis:

The use of capitalisation effects a similar shift in emphasis:

Word order

The order in which words are placed also affects where the emphasis of a sentence lies:

Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
1. Doing homage and giving honour and respect, especially to God. Acts of devotion. Human response to the perceived presence of the divine. 2. The part of the Christian liturgy usually consisting of sung material and prayers of thanksgiving.
1. Term for a worshipping community of Christians. 2. The building in which Christians traditionally meet for worship. 3. The worldwide community of Christian believers.
Term given to the movements of church reform which in the sixteenth century resulted in new Protestant churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
Middle French menestre, ministre 'servant'. Someone who serves God and other people; used of those who hold office and lead worship in the Christian Church. Also verb form, to minister
The 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
English Renaissance king famous for having six wives and for his part in the English Reformation
Christians whose faith and practice stems from the Reformation movement in the sixteenth century which resulted in new churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
Member of a worldwide Christian church which traces its origins from St. Peter, one of Jesus' original disciples. It has a continuous history from earliest Christianity.
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.
The language of the ancient Romans which gradually became the language of the part of the Christian Church which owed allegiance to Rome.
A set form of a worship service in church, usually written down. This includes set prayers and Bible readings for certain weeks of the year.
The supreme governor of the Roman Catholic Church who has his headquarters in Rome, in Vatican City. In certain circumstances, his doctrinal utterances are deemed infallible.
Member of a worldwide Christian church which traces its origins from St. Peter, one of Jesus' original disciples. It has a continuous history from earliest Christianity.
The teaching on the beliefs of a religion, usually taught by theologians or teachers appointed by their church.
Area with its own church, served by a priest who has the spiritual care of all those living within it.
A prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples.
The title given to the bishop who oversees the other bishops within his province.
Litany is a form of prayer, which alternates words said or sung by a priest/minister with responses by the congregation.
Communication, either aloud or in the heart, with God.
Related to theology, the study of God.
Written prayers for certain times of the day or days of the year, according to the Book of Common Prayer or other liturgy.
Something that is spoken or done without previous thought of planning.
The act of intervening or mediating between differing parties. Making peace between people. A form of prayer for others.
Originally, a sixteenth and early seventeenth century Protestant, usually a Calvinist, who wished to reform the Church of England of all its Catholic characteristics.
The 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
Concise, authorised statement(s) of central Christian beliefs declared at services of Christian worship.
1. Movement which began in the eighteenth century to teach poor children. 2. Now mainly used for classes organised by church congregations to teach children (and sometimes adults) about the Christian faith.
A short prayer used in church services after a period of individual silent prayer to 'collect' all these prayers together, offering them to God.
A letter, often created to be published as a literary text. Much of the New Testament takes the form of letters, written to various early churches about Christian teaching and behaviour.
Gospel - Literally 'good news' - used of the message preached by Jesus recorded in the New Testament. 1. The central message of the Christian faith 2. Title given to the four New Testament books which describe the life of Jesus Christ
The Anglican church is the 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
The central act of Christian worship in which bread and wine are consumed in the way that Jesus demonstrated at the Last Supper before his betrayal and death.
The papal state in Rome, the headquarters of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
Figure of speech in which a person or object or happening is described in terms of some other person, object or action, either by saying X is Y (metaphor); or X is like Y (simile). In each case, X is the original, Y is the image.
The musical effect of the repetition of stresses or beats, and the speed or tempo at which these may be read.
Homilies are addresses to congregations, usually directly related to the biblical readings being used at the service in which the homily is given.
A talk which provides religious instruction and encouragement.
A short prayer used in church services after a period of individual silent prayer to 'collect' all these prayers together, offering them to God.
In the New Testament Christians began to meet together on the first day of the week (the day on which the Resurrection took place).
The season which marks the beginning of the Christian year. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and lasts until Christmas Eve.
Set apart, sacred.
Sacred writings. The New Testament uses the term to refer to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). In time, the Christian Church recognised the Old and New Testaments as both containing God's authoritive written word.
Respect and veneration for a person, place or thing regarded as sacred.
The quality of being holy, set apart, devoted to God.
Morally right, or virtuous - in a Christian sense, made so with God through Jesus' death on the cross.
1. An act of duty and devotion. 2. By extension, a religious ceremony offering obedience and worship to God.
Term given to the movements of church reform which in the sixteenth century resulted in new Protestant churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
The season which marks the beginning of the Christian year. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and lasts until Christmas Eve.
A short prayer used in church services after a period of individual silent prayer to 'collect' all these prayers together, offering them to God.