It may have been thought that, in treating of the crises through which the Book of Common Prayer has passed, we might have added a fifth epoch, and drawn out the details of its history at the beginning of King James I.'s reign. The reason which has prompted, us to relegate this to a brief and supplementary page against our inclination (for no episode could be found which lends itself so readily for description), is the consciousness that, in estimating the importance of its results, this period is found to be wholly unworthy of the attention which the rest are entitled to.
The hopes of the Puritans revived on the accession of James I.
Inasmuch, however, as it did leave its mark upon the contents of the Service-books, we have placed before our readers a summary of the proceedings of the Council, drawn in the main from original documents. Upon the accession of James I. in 1603 A.D., the Puritans were full of hope that their grievances against the existing Forms and Ceremonies of Worship would receive a favourable consideration. Accordingly a Petition purporting to be signed by |a thousand of His Majesty's subjects and ministers,| hence called |the Millenary Petition,| in which they embodied their objections, was presented to him shortly after his arrival in England.
It was couched in these terms: --
|MOST GRACIOUS AND DREAD SOVEREIGN,
|We, the ministers of the gospel in this land, neither as factious men, affecting a popular parity in the Church, nor as schismatics, aiming at the dissolution of the state ecclesiastical,The Millenary Petition. but, as the faithful servants of Christ and loyal subjects to your Majesty, desiring and longing for the redress of divers abuses of the Church, could do no less, in our obedience to God, service to your Majesty, and love to his Church, than acquaint your princely Majesty with our particular griefs.
|Our humble suit, then, unto your Majesty is that these offences following, some may be removed, some amended, some qualified: -- In the Church service: that the cross in Baptism, interrogatories ministered to infants, Confirmations, as superfluous, may be taken away: Baptism not to be ministered by women, and so explained: the cap and surplice not urged: that examination may go before the Communion: that it be ministered with a sermon: that divers terms of priests and absolution and some other used, with the ring in marriage, and other such like in the book, may be corrected: the longsomeness of service abridged: Churchings and music moderated to better edification: that the Lord's day be not profaned: the rest upon holidays not so strictly urged: that there may be an uniformity of doctrine prescribed: no popish opinion to be any more taught or defended: no ministers charged to teach their people to bow at the name of Jesus: that the Canonical Scriptures only be read in the Church.|
Subsequently the Puritans asked for a Conference of representatives to discuss the disputed questions. Such a course was vigorously opposed by the Universities as well as by the rest of the Episcopal Clergy, but the King, confident in his powers of controlling the debate, and thinking it prudent to yield to the wishes of so large a body, granted their request.
The constition of the Conference.
The Conference was summoned to Hampton Court, where the King resided, for its first session on January 14th, 1604 A.D.
The Divines selected to represent the discontents were Dr. Rainolds or Reynolds, and Dr. Sparkes, with Mr. Knewstub and Mr. Chaderton.
The advocates of the Church invited to take part were Archbishop Whitgift, eight Bishops, of whom Bancroft of London, Matthew of Durham, and Bilson of Winchester were chief, six or seven Deans, embracing Andrewes, Overall, and Barlow, two doctors of Divinity, and one Archdeacon.
The first meeting.
On the first day the King did not invite the attendance of the Puritan representatives, but held a consultation with the Bishops and Deans on these subjects, Confirmation, Absolution, and Private Baptism, upon which he required information.
The second meeting.
Two days afterwards, January 16th, the aggrieved party were admitted to a discussion with a portion of their opponents. The King opened the proceedings by expressing his readiness to hear any objections which they had to bring forward. These were reduced by Dr. Reynolds to four, the last of which was aimed at the unfitness of the Book of Common Prayer to promote true piety. Judging from the following admonition of the King, the Bishops were disposed to take advantage of their position and not conduct the debate on fair terms. It was the conduct of Bishop Bancroft which called for his Majesty's interposition.
|My Lord Bishop, something in your passion I may excuse, something I must mislike. I may excuse you thus far, that I think you have just cause to be moved in respect that they traduce the well-settled government, and also proceed in so indirect a course, contrary to their own pretence, and the intent of this meeting. I mislike your sudden interruption of Dr. Reynolds, whom you should have suffered to have taken his liberty; for there is no order, nor can be any effectual issue of disputation, if each party be not suffered, without stopping, to speak at large. Wherefore, either let the Doctor proceed, or frame your answer to his motions already made, though some of them are very needless.|
One of the objections which received much attention, as indeed it has done in other times besides, was the use of the Sign of the Cross in Baptism.
The Sign of the Cross objected to.
The King consulted with his Divines, and was satisfied of its antiquity from the learned testimony of Dean Andrewes, who appealed to the authority of the Primitive Fathers. But such evidence was of no value in the eyes of the objectors: even allowing that it had been in use, it had been abused, and that of itself was sufficient argument against the continuance. Dr. Reynolds called upon the King to follow the example of Hezekiah, who had crushed the brazen serpent to powder, because it had been perverted to idolatrous purposes. The King's reply is highly characteristic: --
|Though I be sufficiently persuaded of the cross in baptism, and the commendable use thereof in the Church so long, yet, if there were nothing else to move me, this very argument were an inducement to me for the retaining of it, as it is now by order established; for inasmuch as it was abused, so you say, to superstition, in time of Popery, it doth plainly imply, that it was well-used before Popery. I will tell you, I have lived among this sort of men, (speaking to the lords and bishops,) ever since I was ten years old, but, I may say of myself as Christ did of Himself, Though I lived amongst them, yet since I had ability to judge, I was never of them; neither did anything make me more to condemn and detest their courses, than that they did so peremptorily disallow of all things, which at all had been used in Popery. For my part, I know not how to answer the objections of the papists when they charge us with novelties, but truly to tell them, that their abuses are new, but the things which they abuse we retain in their primitive use, and forsake only the novel corruption. By this argument, we might renounce the Trinity, and all that is holy, because it was abused in Popery: (and speaking to Dr. Reynolds merrily) they used to wear hose and shoes in Popery, therefore you shall now go barefoot.|
|Secondly,| quoth his Majesty, |what resemblance is there between the brazen serpent, a material visible thing, and the sign of the cross made in the air?|
Thirdly, he was informed by the Bishops, and found their account true, that |the Papists themselves never attributed any spiritual grace to the sign of the Cross in Baptism.
|To say, that in nothing they may be followed which are of the Church of Rome, were violent and extreme.|
|Some things they do in that they are men, in that they are wise men, and Christian men; some things in that they are misled and blinded with error.|
The next scruple was the wearing of the surplice: this, it was pretended, was a habit worn by the priests of Isis.
|This objection,| the King said, |was somewhat new, because it was usually called a rag of Popery.' But granting the supposition, we do not live now amongst heathens, and therefore there is no danger of reviving Paganism.|
The third day of meeting.
On the third day of the Conference, January 18th, the Bishops laid before the King the result of their deliberations upon the points on which he had consulted them when they first met. Thereupon his Majesty decided what alterations should be made in the Prayer-book, the exact wording being left to a small committee of the Bishops and Privy Council.
The following may be regarded as concessions to the Puritans, though they were quite insignificant compared with the changes which were asked for.
A few unimportant points conceded to the objectors.
The Apocryphal Lessons were modified, and the title |Confirmation| was explained by the additional words, |or laying on of hands upon children baptized and able to render an account of their faith.|
Otherwise the Prayer-book strengthened.
The grievances against vestments, the ring in Matrimony, and the Cross in Baptism were left unredressed. An explanation of the Sacraments from the pen of Overall, which must have been far from acceptable, if they rightly understood it, was added to the Catechism. Further, the title of the Absolution was enlarged by the addition of the words, |or Remission of sins.| With all these decisions the Puritans who were present at the Conference expressed their concurrence, though their conduct in doing so was a disappointment to the body whom they represented.
Forms of Prayer added.
An additional Prayer for the Queen, the Prince, and other King's and Queen's children, with corresponding insertions in the Litany, was introduced, together with numerous Thanksgivings for diverse Benefits, -- For Fair Weather, For Plenty, For Peace and Victory, and For Deliverance from the Plague.
The new translation of the Scriptures.
By far the most important however of the results of the Conference was the appointment of a Committee of Divines to make a new translation of the Holy Scriptures. The suggestion was made by Dr. Reynolds, but some years elapsed before the plan was matured. On July 22nd, 1604 A.D., the King writes to Bishop Bancroft that fifty-four translators, to meet in various companies at Oxford and Cambridge and Westminster, had been nominated, and would shortly be prepared to proceed with their work. There was still further delay before the companies met, and the Translation was not given to the world till 1611 A.D. How far it became at once connected with the Services and worship of the Church is a disputed question. There is a statement on the title-page that it is |appointed to be read in Churches,| but there is an entire absence of testimony to its having ever received any public sanction from Convocation or Parliament or the Privy Council or the King.