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The Book of Common Prayer:
A Biography
Alan Jacobs

Hardcover | 2013 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691154817
256 pp. | 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 | 6 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400848027 |
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While many of us are familiar with such famous words as, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here. . ." or "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," we may not know that they originated with The Book of Common Prayer, which first appeared in 1549. Like the words of the King James Bible and Shakespeare, the language of this prayer book has saturated English culture and letters. Here Alan Jacobs tells its story. Jacobs shows how The Book of Common Prayer--from its beginnings as a means of social and political control in the England of Henry VIII to its worldwide presence today--became a venerable work whose cadences express the heart of religious life for many.

The book's chief maker, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, created it as the authoritative manual of Christian worship throughout England. But as Jacobs recounts, the book has had a variable and dramatic career in the complicated history of English church politics, and has been the focus of celebrations, protests, and even jail terms. As time passed, new forms of the book were made to suit the many English-speaking nations: first in Scotland, then in the new United States, and eventually wherever the British Empire extended its arm. Over time, Cranmer's book was adapted for different preferences and purposes. Jacobs vividly demonstrates how one book became many--and how it has shaped the devotional lives of men and women across the globe.


"Mr. Jacobs has an obvious affinity for the prayer book, and doesn't seem to care much for recent attempts to 'modernize' worship. But his account is bereft of sentimental regret, and he is aware of the difficulties intrinsic to restricting religious expression to a set of prescribed texts. If only every archbishop had been so wise."--Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal

"[Readers] watch as the majesty of Cranmer's prose wins over generations of worshippers, spiritually nourished by its regal cadences and fiercely resistant to those who would revise it. Indeed, the repeated attempts to revise the Book--some successful--occasion tense drama, succinctly recounted here. Likewise chronicled are the international conflicts occasioned as the Book metamorphoses as the global empire Britain builds--then shrinks. This fascinating history, a strong entry in the Lives of Great Religious Books series, exposes the surprisingly taut life of a church-pew volume."--Bryce Christensen, Booklist

"Alan Jacobs offers a handy introduction to the cultural and social effects that the presence and promotion of this book provided for centuries of English-speaking worshipers."--John L. Murphy, New York Journal of Books

"[A] gem. With his usual elegance and wit, Jacobs describes Cranmer's political and religious aims, follows debates over the BCP between traditionalists who thought it too Protestant and Puritans who thought it too Catholic, and along the way explains the literary and liturgical qualities of the prayer book."--Peter J. Leithart, First Things

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Table of Contents:

Chronology ix
List of Figures xi
A Note on Texts xiii
Introduction The Archbishop in His Library 1
Chapter 1 One Book for One Country 7
Chapter 2 Revision, Banishment, Restoration 45
Chapter 3 Becoming Venerable 61
Chapter 4 The Book in the Social World 91
Chapter 5 Objects, Bodies, and Controversies 113
Chapter 6 The Pressures of the Modern 149
Chapter 7 Many Books for Many Countries 181
Appendix The Prayer Book and Its Printers 195
Acknowledgments 201
Notes 203
Index 231

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