Academic journal article Bunyan Studies

'Differing Spirits': Jeremy Taylor on Prayer and Poetry

Academic journal article Bunyan Studies

'Differing Spirits': Jeremy Taylor on Prayer and Poetry

Article excerpt

In Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England, Ramie Targoff calls Sidney's Apology for Poetry a 'significant intervention in England's reception of the Psalms'. As Targoff argues, Sidney's Apology 'participated in, and probably helped to provoke, a widespread rethinking of the distinction between poetry and devotion at the end of the Elizabethan period'. Sidney's identification of the Psalms as 'heavenly poesy' does not merely affirm the sanctity of scripture, but defends 'poetry as a legitimate devotional practice'.1 As Sidney contends, the 'end and working' of poetry, 'being rightly applied, deserveth not to be scourged out of the Church of God'.2

Targoff argues that Sidney's brief remarks on the Psalms provided an impetus for a poetics of common prayer. The impetus culminates in George Herbert's The Temple, published in 1631, which achieves a 'perfect fusion of personal and universal voice that common prayer sought to achieve'.3 Her study does not, however, address the subsequent abolition of the Book of Common Prayer by Parliament in the 1640s, and the Anglican reaction to this rejection. In the 1640s, the Book of Common Prayer was scourged out of the church, and Jeremy Taylor invites attention as an apologist in this later context. If Sidney touches on prayer in order to defend poetry, Taylor incorporates poetry into his defence of liturgy. In An Apology for Authorized and Set Forms of Liturgie against the Pretence of the Spirit, published in 1649, Taylor identifies poetry with the human capacity for art as a phenomenon that manifests rather than inhibits the operation of the Spirit. If Sidney constructs a complementary relationship between sacred and secular literature, Taylor views the poetic as a collaborative, edifying, and civilizing foundation for public prayer. He sets these qualities in polemical opposition to the divisive consequences of extemporaneous prayer he sees in his Puritan opponents. In a close reading of Taylor's polemic against the abolition of set forms of liturgy, I will set the poetics and the politics of this liturgical controversy in relief. Taylor's polemic against the abolition of set forms of prayer discovers common ground between poetry and liturgy. Far from controlling or confining the inspiration of the Spirit, liturgy, no less than poetry, is imaginative writing that complements scripture and sustains community.

The historical background may be familiar. In January, 1645, Parliament abolished the Book of Common Prayer and replaced it with a Directory of Public Worship. One week later, Archbishop William Laud was executed, adding a traumatic underscore to the abolition of the official liturgy. Much of the preface to the Directory rehearses criticisms of the Book of Common Prayer that were familiar from years of contention. Thus, in reminding the people of their sinful natures, or in petitions for rulers, the minister should 'Call upon the Lord to this effect' in words perhaps inspired by the Holy Spirit.4 The proscription of the prayer book masks a range of Puritan views of prayer, ranging from a more positive view of scripted prayers to radical rejections of any product of human invention or tradition. Supporters of the Book of Common Prayer, the preface insists, speak as if 'there were no other Worship, or way of Worship of God amongst us'.5 The mere reading of common prayer discourages knowledge of true doctrine and the practice of piety, making the service book 'no better then an Idol by many Ignorant and Superstitious People, who pleasing themselves in their presence at that Service, and their Lip-labour in bearing a part in it, have thereby hardened themselves in their ignorance and carelessnesse of saving knowledge and true piety'.6 The preface also reflects an ongoing sensitivity to continental views of the English Reformation: 'Papists' boast 'that the Book was a compliance with them in a great part of their Service', while 'Reformed Churches abroad' take offence at the service book. …

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