The Christian's ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England C.1530-1740

By Ian Green | Go to book overview

The Lord's Prayer

THE Lord's Prayer was not only the shortest but also probably the most frequently reproduced of the staple formulae of early modern English catechizing. It was short enough, and deemed sufficiently important, to be inscribed or printed on hornbooks, abecedaries, and battledores; used as an exercise in handwriting, and embroidered on samplers; and, together with the Apostles' Creed and the Ten Commandments, painted on boards or directly onto the walls of many, perhaps most, early modern churches.1 As a prayer, it was also repeated in the regular morning and evening services of the church and in holy communion, and in the rites of passage and the churching of women; and it was almost certainly used regularly in school prayers and in those households which held domestic worship.2 It would be surprising therefore if a high proportion of children and adults in Elizabethan and Stuart times had not at some stage been taught the English version of the Lord's Prayer or grown familiar with it through some other means, just as many of their predecessors in England or peer groups in contemporary Catholic states had learnt the Paternoster. Many authors of short or medium-length catechisms, including a few in our sample, did not even bother to include the full text of the Lord's Prayer. The great majority of catechists were, however, very anxious that their charges should understand what this prayer meant and how it should be used, and so most forms contain a few questions and answers or a few pages (according to size) on the purpose of prayer in general and the Lord's Prayer in particular.

To pray was to call on God, said a wide variety of the authors in our sample,3 though a few used more evocative terms in their initial definitions: 'a familiar speech with God', 'a pouring out of the soul before the Lord', a 'humble, hearty and holy

____________________
1
A. W. Tuer, The History of the Horn Book ( 2 vols.; 1896); V. E. Neuberg, Popular Education in Eighteenth Century England ( 1971), 58-9; A. Colby, Samplers Yesterday and Today ( 1964), 106, 112, 170; A. Sebba , Samplers: Five Centuries of a Gentle Craft ( 1979), 52-5; and on ABCs and Commandment boards, see above, pp. 172-8, 253. I propose to return to this subject in more detail in Religious Instruction in Early Modern England.
2
Brightman, English Rite, i. 132-3, 146-7, 156-7, 162-3; ii. 705-7, 743-5, 872-3, 882-3. Relatively little is known about the content as opposed to the existence of school and domestic devotions, but on the use of the Prayer Book catechism (which included the Lord's Prayer) in both locations, see Ch. 4 above.
3
Calvin, Catechisme, 92; Egerton, 'Briefe method', 13; Cartwright, 'Catechisme', sig. Aa8r; Ball, Catechisme, 76; Nicholes, Catechisme, 45; Marshall, Catechism, 32; Wake, Principles, 128-9.

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