The Prayer Book in English was the centrepiece of an audacious cultural revolution. Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, was one of those critical of the scheme to introduce an English liturgy. He dismissed the argument that it was desirable for the language to be “understanded of the people” and the mode of conducting the services such as to render them audible. The bishop protested that “it was never meant that the people should indeed hear the matins or hear the mass but be present there and pray themselves in silence.” The barriers of language and audibility were actually conducive to genuine devotion.
This protest from one of the most intelligent conservatives of the day illuminates the radicalism of what was published as the First Book of Common Prayer. It was an audacious attempt to re-shape the culture of England by collapsing the distinction between private personal devotion and public liturgical worship in order to create a godly community in which all and not just the clergy had access to the “pure milk of the gospel”. The result would be a sense of English nationhood crystallising around the biblical narrative of God’s dealings with the children of Israel.
And what English!
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© 2014 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
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