It may help the reader to a better understanding of the subject which we have endeavoured to illustrate in this book if we notice briefly the conditions of Public Worship in the country before we arrive at the great epochs with which the Book of Common Prayer is more immediately concerned.
Notices of the Early British Church.
The materials from which the historian is able to draw for a description of the Church and everything connected with it among the Britons are so scanty that much uncertainty must necessarily prevail.
Tertullian, in the second century, says that |even those parts of Britain hitherto inaccessible to Roman arms had been subdued by the gospel of Christ;| and Origen, half a century later, testifies that |the power of God our Saviour is even with those in Britain who are divided from our world.|
At the beginning of the fourth century we find the British Christians governed by Bishops. In 314 A.D., at the Council of Aries in Gaul, among the signatures to the Canons then passed occur the names of Eborius, Bishop of York, Restitutus of London, and Adelphus of Lincoln (or perhaps, Caerleon).
Again, British Bishops are associated with the Councils of Sardica in Illyria, 343-4 A.D., and Ariminum in Italy, 359 A.D. Though not actually present at the former, they assented to its decrees, while, in connection with the latter, it is worthy of notice, as bearing upon the poverty-stricken condition of the Church in this land, that, when the Emperor offered to defray the expenses of the Bishops who attended, the offer was declined except by those from Britain, who were too poor to refuse.
The source from which they drew their Liturgy.
In 429 A.D. an event occurred which in all probability had an important influence upon the after-worship of the Church. The Britons, finding themselves unable to oppose the spread of Pelagianism, sent to Gaul for some learned men to come over to help them. A Gallic Synod was called, and Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus of Troyes, were sent as a deputation, and after completely refuting the errors of the heretics, whom they met in controversy at Verulam, they returned home, but only to be reinvited to establish the Britons in the Faith, and build them up in the doctrines of the Catholic Church. It is to the second visit of Germanus, 447 A.D., accompanied on this occasion by Severus, a disciple of his, former companion, that the introduction of the Gallican Liturgy and Ritual is most probably to be attributed.
The mission of St. Augustine.
And from this date, passing over a dark and obscure page in the Ecclesiastical history of the country, we come to the Mission of St. Augustine.
It is on his arrival with his forty companions, April 14, 597 AD, that for the first time we have any definite mention of the existence of particular Forms of Worship in the British Church. The Gallican Liturgy was then in use in St. Martin's Church, Canterbury, where Queen Bertha worshipped, and Bishop Luidhard ministered: not perhaps in all points in its original shape, for variations were common in the Primitive Liturgies, arising from a multiplicity of causes, such as the peculiarities of a people, their habits and tastes, or the wishes of the Bishop of the Diocese. One thing however is certain, that when St. Augustine landed in England, he found a congregation of Christian people using for their highest Act of Public Worship a Service which they had derived from Gaul.
We are almost surprised that he should have expressed so much anxiety to supersede it by the Roman. Had it been a Liturgy of the Oriental type, the variations from that to which he was accustomed would have been so numerous that his desire to substitute his own would have been quite intelligible: but between the Roman and the Gallican there were so many points of resemblance that he might well have been satisfied to leave the existing Forms undisturbed. But he was impatient of any divergence, and inquired of Pope Gregory |why one custom of Masses should be observed in the holy Roman Church, and another in the Gallican|? He hoped no doubt that he would receive authority to impose the Roman in all cases without hesitation, but he was doomed to disappointment.
The Pope, in his reply, showed him that there was no obligation to insist upon the Roman.Gregory's reply to his question. |You know,| he writes, |the custom of the Roman Church in which you remember you were bred up. But it pleases me that if you have found anything either in the Roman or the Gallican or any other Church, which may be more acceptable to Almighty GOD, you carefully make choice of the same, and sedulously teach the Church of the English, which as yet is new in the faith, whatsoever you can gather from the several churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Choose, therefore, from every Church those things that are pious, religious, and upright, and when you have, as it were, made them up into one body, let the minds of the English be accustomed thereto.|
How far the advice was followed is a disputed question. Perhaps the most probable explanation of the different views is to be found in the supposition that the two Forms of Liturgical practice continued side by side for a time: those Churches which owed their origin to the missionary adopting that of their founder, while such as used the Gallican before his arrival continued their worship unchanged.
Such divergence, however, ceased in the eighth century, when by a decree of the Council of Cloves-hoo, 747 A.D., it was decreed that the Roman Missal should be adopted throughout England.
But in addition to the Worship of the Altar with which alone the rare notices hitherto have been concerned, we now meet with daily worship and more frequent services. During that stage of Church history which reaches from the Mission of St. Augustine to the Conquest, all our interest gathers round the Monasteries.
The rise and spread of monasteries in England.
These had existed before in different parts, to which the numerous |Bangors| are said to testify. At Bangor Iscoed, at Bangor Wydrin (or Glastonbury), and |the great Bangor over Conway,| and in other places, Monastic Colleges were built and formed centres of religious study and worship; but the system took no real hold of the country till the beginning of the seventh century. From this time forward it spread with marvellous rapidity.
It was the monks who converted the heathen. The austerity and stern duties which marked their manner of life seemed to be possessed of attractions for the rude Anglo-Saxon; and when the thanes and nobles with their crowds of retainers were drawn in, and then finally Kings and Queens lavished their treasure upon the Monastic Houses, the country became literally overspread by them. All the most beautiful spots in the land were assigned for their settlement, and in |every rich valley, and by the side of every clear stream, arose a Benedictine Abbey.| England became |a nation of monks.|
The Benedictine Rule of Life.
A consideration of the Benedictine Rule of Life will enable us to realise what an impulse the worship of God received from the extension of the Monastic system. The day was divided between |opus Dei, labor et lectio:| or the service of GOD and manual and intellectual work. For the regulation of the first, the day was divided mto what were called |Canonical Hours| The Hours.There is some variety, but the ordinary arrangement gave seven in addition to the midnight Service viz., Matins, or Lauds, at day-break; Prime, at six A.M.; Tierce, at nine A.M.; Sext, at noon, Nones, at three P.M.; Vespers, before sunset; and Compline, at bed-time.
In the |Excerpta| of Ecgbright, we read, |These seven synaxes or assemblings we ought daily to offer to GOD with great concern for ourselves and for all Christian people.| Divers conjectures have been made as to the grounds upon which they have severally been observed.
The night-services probably originated in times of persecution. Prime and Vespers, at sunrise and sunset, would naturally suggest themselves in connection with the Sun of Righteousness. The observance of the three |Lesser Hours,| which received their names from the third, sixth, and ninth hours with which three of the four divisions of the day terminated, was probably regarded as a continuance of the Jewish custom. Compline, from Completorium, was the gathering up of the day's devotions, the Service in which the worshipper fully commended himself to God's care for the coming night. These services combined Were called |Divinum Officium.|
The Reforms of Pope Grepory VII.
The next epoch opens with the Reforms of Gregory VII. and Bishop Osmund of Sarum.
The former, who occupied the Papal Chair from 1073 to 1086 A.D., re-arranged and abbreviated the Divine Services which had been used at |the Hours,| and brought them out under the title of, |The Breviary,| which was generally imposed to the exclusion of the existing Forms. It consisted of four parts, for Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn respectively, and each part had four or five subdivisions, viz. : -- 1. Kalendarium; 2. Psalterium; 3. Commune Sanctorum; 4. Proprium de Tempore; 5. Proprium Sanctorum. Sometimes the second and third of these were combined, as containing those parts which did not vary with days or seasons. In England the favourite title for the Book was Portiforium, which in its English form had many equivalents, -- portfory, portuisse, and poituary.
The Reforms of Bishop Osmund.
The other reformer of Service-books was Osmund. After the Conquest the Anglo-Saxon clergy were in some cases forcibly ousted, in many succeeded at their deaths by men of Norman blood.
Among these was a Count of some distinction as a statesman, who was consecrated to the See of Salisbury on the death of Herman, 1087 A.D.
He at once set himself to put an end to the great diversities of Rites and Ceremonies, which prevailed in different parts of the country, and even in different parts of the same Diocese. He revised the Service-books, and set forth a reformed Breviary, Missal, and Manual for adoption in all the Churches and chapels over which he had jurisdiction.
These, which constituted what was known as |the Sarum Use,| became generally popular, and were introduced into many parts of England, and held their ground down to the Reformation.
Religion confined in the main to the Monasteries.
So far we have looked at the worship of GOD mainly as it was offered in the Monasteries, but it would have been almost useless to look elsewhere, for nearly all the religion of the country was gathered within their walls. The people who derived so much benefit from them would naturally be drawn into sympathy with their religious life. The Benedictine monks were the chief missionaries, for as they spread over the land they associated the work of evangelisation with the labours of agriculture, and while they were turning uncultivated wastes into productive and luxuriant farms, and bringing plenty to the homes of the people, they superseded ignorance and blind Paganism by the blessed knowledge of the Gospel of Christ.
Results of the rivalry between the secular and regular Clergy.
But in lapse of time their popularity waned, and a rivalry grew up between the secular clergy and the monks. And inasmuch as the former wore in the main idle and incompetent, religion flagged, and in the Church, outside the Religious Houses, the worship of GOD was suffered to fall into neglect.
There was a brief resuscitation in the thirteenth century, when the country clergy were roused from their apathy by the enthusiasm with which the preaching Friars carried on their mission.
But the good influence was only short-lived: the mercenary spirit of the Roman religion, so rife at that era, was infused into the new Orders, and the preaching of indulgences supplanted the preaching of the Gospel.
In the Monasteries, as soon as they openly repudiated the authority of the English Bishops, the door was opened for the admission of endless innovations, and the Service-books became more and more tainted with Roman errors.
The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were so notoriously evil that for them as well as for the ninth and tenth the dark ages has been regarded as the most fitting designation. This period has been described in these striking terms, |the epoch was an eclipse -- a very Egyptian darkness; worse than chaos or Erebus -- black as the thick præternatural night, under cover of which our Lord was crucified.|
State of Public Worship in the Cathedrals in the 14th and 15th centuries.
And though all this refers to the general condition of the Church, the decay of Public Worship was one of the most marked of its features. If we may judge from what we read of the Mother Churches, then we may well doubt if it was ever nearer to total extinction. As a single illustration, in the great Metropolitan Cathedral, at the close of the fourteenth century, where there was every facility from rich endowment and benefactions to maintain the beauty of holy worship in her services and ritual, we are quite appalled at the revelations of history. Where the worship of the Altar and the Daily Services had been for many generations offered with becoming dignity and splendour, the sacred vessels and ornaments were pilfered or sold, and the building profaned |by foul and abominable acts.| The House of GOD became a place of merchandise; and while the Services were suspended or driven into obscure corners, men and women, not on common days merely, but especially on the Festivals of the Church, exposed their wares, buying and selling with no thought whatever for the sanctity of the place.
Then if we leap over a gap of a hundred years we find scarcely any improvement, and we realize to the full the appropriateness of the title which those centuries have received. When Dean Colet in 1505 A.D. found himself the guardian of St. Paul's, with all his religion he made hardly a visible eeffort to purge the Church of the profane uses to which it had been abandoned. The degeneracy of the times was such that it may well be doubted whether he could have reinstated the worship of GOD; but a brighter era was about to dawn, and with it the shadows of the past were to flee away.
In the following pages we have endeavoured to show how the interest of the Reformation centred round the re-establishment of a pure worship with the Service-books revised and the Ritual regulated with a due regard to the edification of the worshippers.