I keep promising that substantive writing will return. I’ll stop promising and just give you this which is far more preliminary than substantive.
I’m becoming convinced that I’ve been approaching the Prayer Book from a slightly off angle; there’s a factor that had escaped me that I’m working on fitting back into place.
I was reading Christopher’s recent piece at the Cafe when this paragraph struck me strongly and clarified something I’ve been gnawing around in one branch of my recent research:
It has often been remarked that Thomas Cranmer intended to remake the Isles peoples into a vast monastery. I think this romantic notion gets Cranmer’s intent backwards. Rather our Prayer Book reforms the basic pieces of monastic piety and life precisely because in the first instance these matters should concern all Christians, not just monastics: Daily prayer and a life lived toward God and for neighbor in all the cares of daily and national life, including disputes over gentry seizures of commons and political intrigues at court. In other words, he intends to remake the Isles peoples into more well-formed and single-hearted, that is, praising Christians at work, in their home, and in their everyday community. It is within this generous framework that the particular dedications of our monastics should be placed, not vice versa.
Christopher hits the nail on the head, and a big part of it has to do with the origins of our prayer book.
Yes, the Offices that we have inherited as the larger part of Anglican spirituality are monastic in origin and are greatly shaped by Benedictine practice. I’d be the last to deny that. However, we over-simplify and misunderstand if we think that the relationship between breviary and prayer book is overly direct. We tend to conceptualized it as: (Sarum Breviary->Payer Book Office). Sure, if we want to be more precise then we tend to sketch it this way: (Sarum Breviary->Quignonez/Hermann Revisions->Prayer Book Office). While this does get us closer, there’s one more mediating step that we’re leaving out. I think it really works more like this: (Sarum Breviary->Prymer->Quignonez/Hermann Revisions->Prayer Book Office).
The prymer’s the key. The Prayer Book isn’t a cut-down breviary with a missal added, it’s a jumped-up prymer.
Why does this matter? It’s all about audience and in whose hands what books were found. Breviaries and missals were books for religious professionals—professed religious and the clergy. The prymers were the books of the laity, that formed, shaped and directed lay spirituality along classic monastic patterns. Cranmer didn’t try and turn the Isles into one big monastery, rather, he sought to take the monastic-flavored piety already at work among the laity and broaden its Scriptural content.
Coming at it from this angle, we realize that the prayer book even at its start had strong roots in lay practice—and that changes quite a bit for me, at least.
At this point these are claims. I have hard evidence, but it’s not assembled yet to the point where it’s fully deployable. It’s on the to-do list…