by Rev T.W. Gilbert
The last revision took place in 1662. In the interval since 1604 England had passed through a very troubled half-century. Both James I and Charles I had combined a hatred of Puritanism with an exalted idea of their own rights as kings, and in conjunction with such men as Archbishop Laud had united the powers of Church and State to crush out the opposition of those who opposed their political or ecclesiastical views. The result was the drawing together of those who were called Puritans with all who wished to see constitutional rule restored in the sphere both of the Church and of the State, and there were many loyal Churchmen, such as Lord Falkland, in the Long Parliament of 1642, who desired to see some restriction placed upon the autocratic rule of the Bishops. In the upheaval of the Civil War and of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, however, the voice of moderation was lost, and the Anglican Church had to pay by proscription for the unconstitutional attitude of the king and his supporters. The use of the Prayer Book was proscribed, and although throughout the country faithful clergy still read the Prayer Book services, they did so at a great risk. Charles II, however, was invited to return to England in 1660, and as his return had been facilitated by many of the English Presbyterians, the latter hoped that their services would be requited by some concessions to their views. A Conference was therefore called at the Savoy in 1661. There the Presbyterians urged the omission of such ceremonies as making the sign of the Cross in Baptism, and wanted the use of the surplice to be optional, and permission either to sit or to kneel at the Holy Communion. A largehearted concession to some of the requests of the Presbyterians would no doubt have kept many of them from seceding later from the Anglican Church, but unreasonableness on both sides prevented anything in the way of an accommodation.
The resulting revision, therefore, did very little to appease the Presbyterians. It did not in any way profess to be a doctrinal revision, as the Preface of our Prayer Book (inserted in 1662) reminds us, but it was intended to make clear that the Church of England was an Episcopal Church. This was emphasised by the alteration in the Litany of “Bishops, Pastors and Ministers” into “Bishops, Priests and Deacons,” and by the substitution of the term “Priest” for “Minister” in the rubric before the Absolution in Morning and Evening Prayer. On the other hand there were one or two
alterations which did something to clarify misconceptions on one or two points. The Black Rubric or declaration about kneeling at the Holy Communion, which was omitted in 1559, was now re-inserted with a small variation of phrase. Also in order to meet an objection about Absolution in the Visitation of the Sick the words “if he humbly and heartily desire it” were added, thus throwing the onus upon the sick person.
Of the many other small alterations the following at least are to be noted:
1. Morning and Evening Prayer.
State Prayers added after the Third Collect. The following Prayers and Thanksgivings added, i.e., Ember Collects, Prayer for Parliament, Prayer for all sorts and conditions of men, the General Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving for restoration of peace at home.
2, Baptismal Service.
Declarations added about baptised infants, and about the Sign of the Cross. Service for adults added.
The Catechism separated from the service, and the present question and answer added.
4. Holy Communion. Thanksgiving for the faithful departed added to the Prayer for the Church Militant. Rubrics ordering the breaking of the bread, etc., in the Prayer of Consecration inserted at the request of the Puritans, who wished the service thus to approximate more to the service in the Upper Room. Rubric added ordering any consecrated bread and wine remaining over to be “reverently eaten and drunk” at the
close of the service.
The sum total of the revision of 1662, therefore, was to stamp the Anglican Church not only as Protestant and Reformed, but also as Catholic and Apostolic. The course of events in the 16th century had centred mainly in the break from Rome, and this had been most clearly marked in the Prayer Book of 1552. The essentially Protestant character of the 1552 book is undeniable, and the subsequent revisions have done nothing to modify that character. The trend of events in the 17th century, liowever, made it necessary to emphasise, what was also emphasised by the Anglican divines of Elizabeth's reign, that the Church of England traced her ancestry to the days of the Apostles, and that she had in no way departed from primitive teaching. In other words she asserted that she was not only Protestant and Reformed, but also Catholic and Apostolic. And that particular Claim is enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer.
From 1662 onward there have been occasions when further revision of the Prayer Book has been suggested, and further attempts may yet be made in this direction. What has been written here will show something of what revision has meant in the past. It may mean a doctrinal change as it did in 1549 and 1552, or it may mean changes to determine more clearly the Anglican position as in 1662. Whatever the future may have in store, however, the story of our Prayer Book reminds us that we have in that book a possession of priceless value. It embodies the treasures of early Christianity with the sterling devotion of the 16th and 17th centuries, it marks the development of our Church from the days of the Roman occupation of Britain to modern times, whilst its pages are stamped with the blood of the martyrs who died for the truths it contains. May we in our day and generation learn to love and cherish the book which has been given to us at such great cost.
>> Appendix - Revision since 1662