King, John N., ed. Voices of the English
Reformation: A Sourcebook. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2004. xvi+394pp.
ISBN 0 8122 1877 9.
Booty, John E., ed. The Book of Common Prayer 1559: The Elizabethan Prayer
Book. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P for the Folger Shakespeare Library,
2005. xvi+427pp. ISBN 0 8139 2517 7.
Southern Methodist University
"Review of John N. King, ed. Voices of the English Reformation: A
Sourcebook, and Booty, John E., ed. The Book of Common Prayer 1559:
The Elizabethan Prayer Book." Early Modern Literary Studies 12.3
(January, 2007) 10.1-15<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-3/revking.htm>.
- Two recent books, edited by highly esteemed scholars of the English Reformation,
make important primary texts of the era available to students and scholars
in accessible, modernized form. Both are very good. Since they are so rich,
since I agree almost completely with their aims, and since I greatly admire
their execution, this review will be unusually exhaustive in its description
of contents (with some critical comments interspersed along the way).
- The first is John N. King's Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook,
which, as he announces in his introduction, "juxtaposes utterances by Protestants
and Catholics, laypeople and clerics, women and men, commoners and queens"
(1), ranging from the usual suspects (Tyndale, Bale, More, Foxe) to more
out-of-the-way though nonetheless significant writers (Allen, Gilby, Cancellar,
Tichborne). And this expansiveness is not limited to the persons of the
authors: many genres and types of writing are represented, including not
only religious polemic, theology, and sermons, but also satire, martyrology,
(auto)biography, drama, letters, poetry, allegory, historiography, and more.
Some of the texts are utterly canonical (Tyndale's Obedience, for
one), some "here edited for the first time, and virtually all of them are
inaccessible in standard collections"; I suppose that the accuracy of the
last claim depends on how one defines "standard collections," but surely
many of them could be found in a good library. At any rate, King has edited
most of them from early editions, modernized them, and provided useful introductory
headnotes to each; his notes are sometimes thorough, sometimes thinner,
but generally they're there when needed.
- The seven sections of the book are topically organized, and the first,
on Bible translation and commentary, starts things off cleverly by going
well beyond the standard Norton-Anthology method of simply presenting
parallel texts. Instead, King gives four versions of two passages of Revelation
with the various texts' commentary, thereby giving a sense of what
was at stake not only in the act of translating the Bible, but in the act
of reading it. Reading the efforts of Bale, Geneva, and Rheims at shaping
the meaning of the Bible (in radically different ways, obviously),
as well as the text itself, is quite revelatory. And while Tyndale's translation
is printed without notes, this is remedied in the second half of the chapter,
on translation theory, where King gives us choice bits of the Obedience
on vernacularism, allegory, and the "literal sense"; this is followed up
with More's familiar complaints. More compelling is Parsons' argument regarding
the dangers of untrammeled Bible-reading, and the advisability of expert
guidance in such a consequential pursuit, for the sakes of both unity and
- The second section, on selfhood and obedience, starts off conventionally
with Tyndale, Latimer, and the Book of Homilies; then balances these with
the Catholic counterviews of Hogarde and Parsons; and finishes with an exchange
between Cecil and William Allen that gives startlingly contrasting perspectives
on Elizabeth's policy toward Jesuits. A third unit, on literary allegories
of the Reformation, gives us condensed versions of not just Three Laws,
Lusty Juventus, and Beware the Cat, but also Crowley's refreshingly
anti-Henrician Philargyrie and Hogarde's dream-vision-cum-mini-epic
on the beleaguered doctrine of transubstantiation, The Assault of the
Sacrament of the Altar.
- The balance and variety of perspective suggested by these sketches continues
in the remaining four sections of Voices of the English Reformation,
which I don't have space to account for fully here: one on lay/clerical
tensions of various sorts, one on theatrical controversy, one on biography
and martyrology, and one on the texts and pageantry surrounding several
queens. King also provides a glossary, a select bibliography, and a "List
of Notable Persons" to assist the inexpert.
- I don't find the academic game of Good-heavens-what-was-the-author-thinking-when-he-left-out-X
particularly interesting: no book can contain everything it might have,
and every reader will have their own notions about what might have been
put in or done differently. Therefore, even though I was surprised by the
omission of the Book of Common Prayer (what more important confluence of
text, voice, and Reformation is there?), I shall not play that game here.
As far as what is here goes, I feel that John King has in some respects
paid off well on the promise of his title. Drawing from his formidably broad
reading, he has assembled and edited a conversation of voices that is illuminating
and interesting, quite varied, and, like all vigorous discussions, sometimes
a little untidy. It might be fairly said that this book is not an effectively
systematic introduction to Reformation theology; while one might inductively
gather up, or deepen, a sense of contemporary theological controversies
over grace and agency, or the Eucharist, the book doesn't appear to be designed
to lay out these fundamentals in any kind of organized way. And I think
that's fine, as King was under no obligation to do so.
- But problems do arise when I think about how I might use this book in
my literature courses -- a question clearly encouraged in the introduction
(and no doubt by the marketing department at the press!). Simply put, I
think that the miscellaneous nature of the book's organization (with some
units devoted to ideas, some to literary forms, some to topics or phenomena
or cultural acts or conflicts) would make it difficult for me to use fully
in a course. Certainly, both individual texts and some entire units could
be brilliantly useful, and I think a history course on the English Reformation
would find Voices comprehensively beneficial. But when I teach courses
on the Reformation and Renaissance literature, I tend to think topically:
in a unit on grace and agency, for example, before tackling Hamlet
or Doctor Faustus or Donne, I like to spend time on important primary
texts of theology (Erasmus/Luther, Calvin, etc.) to establish a history
for the ideas and conflicts that continue in the literary texts. Of course,
the theologians of my example aren't English, but King's book doesn't provide
an analogous set, and though he, again, wasn't working under a mandate to
supply the reading needs of my courses, the nature of the book he has produced
would make my using it in those courses rather challenging. One might object
that that's a failure of my own imagination or flexibility, and maybe it
is, but consider the claims made in the introduction about this book's illumination
of Doctor Faustus: "the play's Vatican scene invokes iconoclastic
attack on the papacy that pervades the Book of Martyrs and other
polemical texts. In the play's closing scene, Faustus enacts a Protestant
theological position when he speaks, without intercession by saints or the
Virgin Mary, of the yawning breach between himself and heaven" (12). That
strikes me as a pretty meagre argument for the usefulness of this particular
book in teaching Renaissance literature, and of course I chose the most
effective example -- his Bale/Spenser pairing is much more persuasive --
but it's not atypical of the often-vague assertions made in this regard.
I agree totally with King's conviction that the Reformation has much to
add to our understanding of Renaissance literature, and absolutely, I could
put some of this book to very good use in my teaching; I'm just not sure
if it's enough, or sufficiently focused, to justify making my students purchase
it for this purpose.
- This aside, though, Voices of the English Reformation is in many
ways a marvelous book. King has assembled a luminous, discordant group of
written voices here that are both engaging and fascinating, varied and thoughtfully
interrelated. Reading it has enriched my own thinking about the era, and
provoked some new ideas for my own teaching and scholarship. And it's always
useful, and here very convenient, to remind ourselves -- or to be reminded
by one of this field's great scholars -- that there was nothing monological
about the sixteenth century.
- Of course, the inconvenient fact of multivocality doesn't mean that the
era didn't give univocality its best shot, and this brings me to my second
book, which is not new at all, but a reissue of John Booty's classic 1976
edition of the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer. But while the only new
thing about it is a short foreword by Judith Maltby, and though that foreword
highlights the different states of the art in 1976 and 2005, I'll simply
talk about Booty's text as if it were new.
- The Book of Common Prayer is (still) startlingly under-treated and under-known
by literary scholars. It has attracted some notice, but thirty-six years
elapsed between the two monographs dedicated to it in recent memory--Stella
Brook's The Language of the Book of Common Prayer (1965) and Ramie
Targoff's Common Prayer (2001). As I argue in my forthcoming book
(Liturgy and Literature in the Making of Protestant England, Cambridge
UP, 2007), though, and as Booty recognized thirty years ago, one can hardly
understand early modern England without understanding the Prayerbook. This
is a text backed by a penal statute, which held a monopoly over English
public worship for centuries. It was clearly regarded from the start as
being a fundamental part of England's national identity, both religiously
and sociopolitically. It is perhaps the only book that one can confidently
say was intimately familiar to virtually every English subject. It, more
than any other book, formed the foundation and the texture of England's
public religious life through very complicated times, and it collated personal,
collective, and spiritual experience and time into a rich and complex harmony.
And its language is second only to that of Tyndale and his Bible-rendering
heirs as a deeply embedded model of English style and sound. So the re-introduction
of Booty's text is a welcome event.
- But why read the 1559 BCP, rather than 1549, 1552, or 1662? One frequently-heard
explanation is that 1559 formed the basis of all subsequent Prayerbooks.
But this argument is silly, and Booty fully recognizes that: every authorized
BCP formed the basis of its successor. Of course, the revisions of 1604
and then 1662 derive from 1559, but 1559 is based on 1552, which was in
turn based on 1549. Booty makes the more interesting case that 1559 deserves
attention because of its
checking of a forceful movement in a Protestant or Genevan direction
and a settling down to that via media which has become characteristic
of Anglicanism. This book is, then, more clearly representative of Anglicanism
than either of the earlier books. Furthermore, the 1559 Book was chosen
because of the importance of the Elizabethan Age. Shakespeare and Donne,
Elizabeth and Essex, Raleigh and Jonson, Coke and Bacon, Hooker and Andrewes
all worshiped with the Book of Common Prayer of 1559. (p. 330)
One might take issue with some of the assumptions embedded in this, but
it is at least a credible set of reasons. Still, by 1559 the BCP had a decade
of history behind it, and had in that time been at the center of a major
rebellion, a prophetic quarrel among the Protestant exiles at Frankfurt,
and virtually every major rethinking of England's religious and political
identity. Booty covers this briefly but expertly and well in an appended
essay on the history, nature, and use of the 1559 Prayerbook.
- Even a newcomer to the BCP needn't read far into this book to get a sense
of how important it was culturally. The Elizabethan Act of Uniformity printed
at the beginning of this edition makes very clear, by its determined and
harshly penal (with penalties ranging from one hundred marks to life imprisonment)
drive toward nationally uniform weekly worship, and by its protectiveness
of the liturgy against any "derogation, depraving, or despising," how important
this book was felt to be by those who oversaw its use. The same is true
of those who rebelled against it, those who used it happily, those who despised
its theology, and those who muttered their way sullenly through it. After
the Act, the table of contents goes as follows:
2. A Preface
3. Of Ceremonies, Why Some Be Abolished and Some Retained
4. The Order How the Psalter is Appointed to Be Read
5. The Table for the Order of the Psalms to Be Said at Morning and Evening
6. The Order How the Rest of Holy Scripture is Appointed to Be Read
7. Proper Psalms and Lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, for Sundays
and Certain Feasts and Days
8. An Almanac
9. The Table and Calendar for Psalms and Lessons, with Necessary Rules
Appertaining to the Same
10. The Order for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer throughout the Year
11. The Litany
12. The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels to Be Used at the Ministration
of the Holy Communion throughout the year
13. The Order of the Ministration of the Holy Communion
14. Baptism, Both Public and Private
15. Confirmation, Where Also Is a Catechism for Children
17. Visitation of the Sick
18. The Communion of the Sick
20. The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth
21. A Commination against Sinners, with Certain Prayers to Be Used Divers
Times in the Year
That's a lot of stuff--most of it derived originally from Latin Catholic
sources, translated into English, and interestingly revised for theological
effect. There are thousands of things to talk about here, but as my allotted
space is rapidly dwindling, I'll limit myself to just one.
- In the 1549 Communion service, the bread is administered to the communicants
with an ambiguous sentence: "The body of our Lorde Jesus Christe whiche
was geuen for thee, preserue thy bodye and soule unto euerlasting lyfe."
As Gardiner would point out to Cranmer's consternation, this formula could
be read as consonant with a variety of theological positions, including
Roman Catholic transubstantiation. So in 1552, it is radically rewritten
to exclude this possibility, and virtually any other but Swiss-style Protestantism:
"Take and eate this, in remembraunce that Christ dyed for thee, and feede
on him in thy hearte by faythe, with thankesgeving." Then in 1559, after
the death of Edwardian reform, the alarmingly successful Marian retrenchment,
and the extremism manifested on both sides, the Elizabethan BCP does something
very canny with these doctrinal formulae: it mashes them both together.
"The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy
body and soul into everlasting life: and take and eat this, in remembrance
that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving."
Here was a form that virtually (though of course not quite) anyone could
read themselves comfortably into, from one near-extreme end of the spectrum
to the other. Does the bread become Christ's physical body, as Person A
would have it? Sure. Or is it, as B believes, just a memorial symbol? Yep.
Or is it some Calvinist synthesis of spiritual presence that C likes better?
Yes! The nature of the sacrament is thus both authoritatively codified and
individually, interpretively inscribed into that codification.
- This revision demonstrates to some extent Booty's claim about the Anglican
via media, and 1559's rejection of 1552's aggressive Swissness. But
I'd suggest that it also is a crucial return to ambiguity, perhaps more
cleverly handled than it had been in 1549; this purposeful, "big-tent" broadness
formed one of the pillars of the Elizabethan Settlement. The other was the
Queen's ferocious assertion of her ecclesiastical headship. And this two-pronged
political strategy mirrors even deeper tensions within the Book of Common
Prayer itself, between the coercively hierarchical claims of the centralizing
early modern nation-state and the diffusive, interpretive authority attributed
to the Protestant individual. This conflict was built into the BCP from
the very beginning, and it was both muted and sharpened by its Elizabethan
- Booty's book is wonderful, beautifully edited, printed (including quite
a lot of red-letter text!), and annotated. It's also quite affordable for
a hardback. Highly recommended, as is King's book, for anyone interested
in the religious life of early modern England.
Brook, Stella. The Language of the Book
of Common Prayer. New York: Oxford UP 1965.
Targoff, Ramie. Common Prayer: The Language
of Public Devotion in Early Modern England. Chicago: U of Chicago P,
Responses to this piece intended for the
Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
2007-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).