The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography

Ashley Null | September 16, 2015

In The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography, Alan Jacobs has produced a useful overview of the Anglo-Catholic approach to Anglican liturgy and the history of its prayer books. The professor of humanities at Baylor University endorses without qualification the fundamental assertion that the prayer books, rather than the 39 Articles of Religion, define and disseminate Anglican doctrine: “There had perhaps never been a church to which the motto lex orandi, lex credendi—the rule of prayer is the rule of belief—has been more applicable than the Church of England” (122). While noting with respect that today’s leading authorities on Cranmer think the archbishop planned to revise his traditionalist 1549 Book of Common Prayer in a substantially more Protestant direction, Jacobs considers this conclusion “plausible but by no means certain” and does his best to argue to the contrary (50, 209–210). That Cranmer was satisfied with the 1549 Book of Common Prayer as his liturgical masterpiece, “striking a proper balance between traditionalism and reform” (51), has long been a key tenet of Anglo-Catholic liturgical scholarship.  

On the other hand, the Anglican evangelical tradition is mentioned only in passing, and then only from the negative viewpoint of the Oxford movement (127). No effort is made to explore 19th century…

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