Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England

By White, Stephen L. | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England


White, Stephen L., Anglican Theological Review


Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England. By Ramie Targoff. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001. xiii + 162 pp. $40.00 (cloth); $17.00 (paper).

A visitor from another country can often see things in our landscape, architecture, and customs that, notwithstanding our familiarity, we have not seen ourselves or perhaps once saw hut have forgotten. So it is with Ramie Targoff's hook on the relationship between public devotion using the Book of Common Prayer and devotional poetry in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We have had a plethora of books and articles over the last few years celebrating the introduction of the 1549 Prayer Book and many of them have been illuminating and helpful in their own way. This large corpus of hooks has largely been about the liturgical and ecclesiastical implications of the new Prayer Book and their authors have mostly been partisans-or sympathizers with one side or another-in various related debates within the church. But this new book by Targoff, a professor of English literature at Brandeis University, offers an approach to the subject that is, like that of a foreign visitor's, at once fresh, original, and stimulating.

She begins with a rehearsal of the history of the introduction of the Edwardian and Elizabethan prayer books that emphasizes the shift, radical at the time, from private devotions during the mass to public, shared-common-prayer. The move from the priest making petitions on behalf of the congregation to the congregation making their prayers together, with the people answering the priest or by joining in with the priest in prayer, required a comprehension that had been lacking in previous worship. Targoff goes on to show in a granular, textured, nuanced way exactly how the old saw "praying shapes believing" actually works in real life and was understood to work by Cranmer and other reformers.

Prayer, literature, and politics interact and are intertwined in complicated, but important, ways and this becomes clear when Targoff engages in an original discussion of Richard Hookers defense of the Prayer Book. Hooker, of course, saw common prayer as a means of shaping and redirecting the Hawed impulses of the person who reads the Prayer Book formulas aloud with others. …

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