Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Living Prayer Book: A Review of Alan Jacobs The Book of Common Prayer

A Biography

By Jacob Stubbs
Special to Virtueonline
April 30, 2014

Alan Jacobs’ The Book of Common Prayer: A Biographyserves as a fascinating introduction to the often contentious life of the Book of Common Prayer. Jacobs handles many years of complex British political relations and party politics as they manifested themselves in the established Church of England. Additionally, Jacobs demonstrates a deep knowledge of the theological implications of the English Reformation and the historical development of the Book of Common Prayer.

This review of Jacobs’ work will focus primarily on the Book of Common Prayer in its historical contribution to the faith and practice of Anglicans rather than on Jacobs’ scholarship and methodology. In looking at Jacobs’ work in this light, I hope to illustrate the importance of the Book of Common Prayer for defining the faith and practice of the Anglican Communion today.

While the stage for the development of the Book of Common Prayer was set by the rule of King Henry VIII, the actual writing of the BCP came during the rule of King Edward and his council of regents. According to Jacobs, this council allowed Cranmer to make changes to the “doctrine, worship, and structure of English Christianity as he saw fit to make” (p. 12). Jacobs describes the outcome as seen in the BCP and in theBook of Homilies, written by Cranmer to improve the poor preaching found in the Reformational church:

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