Home  »  Volume III: English RENASCENCE AND REFORMATION  »  § 4. The Book of Common Prayer

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

II. Reformation Literature in England

§ 4. The Book of Common Prayer

The history of The Book of Common Prayer, like many other parts of the English reformation, shows curious likenesses to the course of affairs abroad, mingled with features peculiar to itself. With the greater sharpness of national divisions and the stronger coherence of national languages, the use of the vernacular in the services of the church was more and more demanded. Not only among Lutherans and among Calvinists in France or Germany, but, also, among Catholics, the wish for it was felt. At the council of Trent, this concession was urged both by the emperor and by the king of France. Hymns, litanies and purely personal devotions such as The Primer provided, were insufficient; a widespread feeling existed that both the mass and the daily offices would be more serviceable and better appreciated in the vulgar tongue. This feeling gradually strengthened, and led to the evolution of the prayer-book. A Venetian ambassador, visiting England in 1500, was struck with the simple piety of the English people, and by their frequent attendance at church: not only at mass, but at the daily offices, they were very regular, and their deep-rooted love of the parish church with its services had marked effects upon the coming changes. In England, moreover, the course of revolution left the parish churches standing, although the monastic churches suffered; and this peculiarity of the English reformation made reform more conservative.