"Fiery toungues:" Language, liturgy, and the paradox of the English Reformation.
The ongoing debate over the nature and origins of the English Reformation has maintained an astonishing consistency over the last 460 years. One historiographical party, beginning with Cranmer, Tyndale, and Foxe, and most influentially argued in our own time by A. G. Dickens, has always maintained that the Reformation was an expression of popular as well as divine will, an organic and relatively swift realization of widespread evangelical sentiment in England. The other party, running from Gardiner and Bonner to current "revisionist" historians like J. J. Scarisbrick, Christopher Haigh, and Eamon Duffy, has resolutely argued the opposite view: that the English Reformation was essentially an expansionist exercise of state power, a piecemeal, contingent, and top-down imposition of an unpopular religious agenda on a populace largely happy with late-medieval Catholic piety. The longevity of this conflict, and the abundance of good arguments on both sides (to say nothing of the prior religious and ideological comm itments which tend to shape these sides), has resulted in a protracted historiographical stalemate. (1) But perhaps it also suggests the possibility of a way out. For surely both sides have something right: the Reformation in England was unquestionably enacted from the top with specific political objectives in mind (generally having to do with the extension and consolidation of national autonomy and state power -- though these objectives were certainly not consistent from monarch to monarch, or, in Henry's case, from year to year), and it clearly encountered significant resistance; but it was also, for many, religiously motivated, deeply supported, and tremendously empowering. This paradoxical dynamic of religion and politics, in which the relative authorities of both the hierarchical state/church and the individual were somehow simultaneously and reciprocally enhanced, seems to me to be at the heart of the English Reformation.
The present essay will attempt to illuminate this dynamic by focusing on the crucial role played in it by language itself. Its specific subject, which is intimately bound up with early modern England's emergent national identity as well as some of its more refractory implications, is the Reformation's emphasis on language, and particularly the vernacular, as a politically and religiously significant category. While the gradual rise to respectability of the English language in the sixteenth century is a widely recognized phenomenon, the pivotal role of mid-century events in this process has been relatively underappreciated. This essay will explore the English Reformation as an important religious and political component of this legitimation, focusing on the state-sponsored shift from Latin to English in the language of divine access. My treatment, while it is implicitly relevant to the broader linguistic shift, including its manifestation in scriptural translation, focuses on a less well-known but historically crucial instance of change -- the 1549 publication of a mandatory and nationally-uniform English liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer. (2) While most literary-critical notices of the Prayerbook treat it as an element of a relatively clear-cut religious or political agenda, I want to suggest that it was neither purely political nor purely evangelical, (3) but an internally conflicted attempt to stabilize a deep and growing rift in early modern culture. Specifically, I will argue that the Prayerbook's English was highly consequential for both national and individual identity. Viewing this text as a nexus of two potentially contradictory cultural impulses may shed some light on its role (and the roles of language and text themselves) in the reciprocal constitution of nation and subject in early modern England. For in this instance, the state's efforts to consolidate its power, and the nation's autonomous identity, through linguistic change paradoxically fostered -- and, indeed, were dependent upon -- an ideolog y less amenable to the interests of state power. The vernacular Prayerbook, in its religious and political functions, occupied the contentious cultural space, discerned by Robert Weimann, "at the very frontiers of the Reformation's division between official polity and the self-authorized exegesis of Scripture." (4)
"Why a God's name," Edmund Spenser wrote in 1580, "may not we, as else the Greeks, have the kingdom of our own language?" (5) Richard Helgerson has examined the feverish intensity of this cultural project at the end of the century. But the later-Renaissance instances he addresses are not the beginning of this endeavor; rather, they are a continuation of concerns foundationally visible in the English Reformation and its liturgy. Among its other concerns, the Book of Common Prayer is deeply involved in the establishment, in all its political, theological, and aesthetic complexity, of the godly "kingdom of our own language." Claire McEachern has effectively argued that genuine nationalism is discernible in the "performative ideal of social unity," the very desire for "social simultaneity" expressed in the Prayerbook and elsewhere. (6) But I would like to extend her introductory discussions by focusing more closely on language and this signally important midcentury text. These principles of national uniformity an d autonomy, in a context of plural sovereign states -- so important to Reformation political philosophy, and so congenial to the aims of Henry VIII and his evangelical heirs -- found an important further expression in the discourses of linguistic nationalism, and the close interrelations between language and politics played an important role in engendering the vernacular Prayerbook.
The intellectual and religious life of medieval Europe had existed almost exclusively in the medium of Latin, a "dead" language that lived powerfully on because of the claims that were made on its behalf: Latin was a sacred language, a truth-language, whose very deadness enhanced its mystical signification of the divine. Parr of the power of the Latin Mass was precisely its incomprehensibility; its linguistic expression of the gulf between God and humanity. For the Devon rebels in 1549, for example, it was, at least in part, the very accessibility of the English liturgy that caused them to liken it to a Christmas game" -- something trivial and mundane which failed to fulfill its essentially sacred purpose (and indeed, the etymology of sacred implies difference, separation, "setting apart") -- as well as to rebel against the centralizing state which sought to impose it on the nation. "We will nor receive the new [BCP] service," they announced to the government, "because it is but like a Christmas game; but we will have our old service of matins, mass, even-song, and procession in Latin, as it was before." (7) This cultural commitment to the privileged opacity of Latin resulted in the concentration of religious and cultural power in the tiny segments of the population which could understand and use it. And this road, of course, led ultimately to Rome and its extraordinary supranational authority. As Benedict Anderson has contended, "the astonishing power of the papacy in its noonday is only comprehensible in terms of a trans-European Latin-writing clerisy, and a conception of the world, shared by virtually everyone, that the bilingual intelligentsia, by mediating between vernacular and Latin, mediated between earth and heaven." (8)
Several of England's Reformers sensed that the Latin hegemony was part and parcel of the papal hegemony against which they struggled both theologically and politically. Martyr John Bradford wrote from prison in 1555 that "this Latin service is a plain mark of antichrist's catholic synagogue.... Moreover, this service and the setters forth of it condemneth the English service as heresy; thereby falling into God's curse, which is threatened to all such as 'call good evil and evil good."' (9) A better-known martyr, Hugh Latimer, clarified why the two languages operate under an opposition of evil and good: "[the Catholic priests] are the devil's ministers, whose end shall be according to their deeds. They roll out their Latin language by heart, and in so doing they make the poor people of Christ altogether ignorant.... But this is the matter, so long as the priests speak Latin, they are thought of the people to be marvellous well learned." (10) For the English Reformers, Latin was a damnable sham, an obfuscatory veil behind which the Church worked its corruption; the Latin Mass and the suppression of vernacular Scripture were means by which the papacy maintained its fraudulent stranglehold over the nations and people of Europe. And, in a less polemical sense, this was actually the case: as Anderson has persuasively and influentially argued, the authority of Rome was predicated on privileged and extremely limited access to the divine, and this was most clearly expressed in its linguistic and sacramental mysteries. In order to break the power of this hegemony, both of these grips had to be broken. And so, concurrent with the sacramental and other theological discourses of the English Reformation, there was a linguistic discourse: England, among other nations, and its language, among theirs, had to be elevated over Rome and its language.
English worshippers were confronted by this politicoreligious imperative -- whether by design or coincidence is unknown, though it seems too perfect to have been mere chance -- on the very first day of Uniformity, Whitsunday (Pentecost) 1549. Although the Prayerbook service for this day never explicitly refers to Rome, Catholicism, or Latin, these referents clearly form its immediate polemical subtext. To clarify this, a short excursus may be useful. One of the corresponding narrative pairs which help structure the Bible is that of the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 (which is not in that day's service) and the Pentecost story in Acts 2 (which is). Each is a story of linguistic proliferation as a key moment in human-divine relations. The Babel narrative begins by noting that "the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech." (11) The people decide to build a gigantic tower which reaches to heaven; God, angry at their pride and their presumption, confuses their languages and scatters them over the ea rth -- in other words, creates an order of multiple linguistic (and by implication sociopolitical) groups. This plurality is thus both an act of punitive fragmentation and a corrective remedy to the excessive pride and presumption of a linguistically-unified humanity. It is an example of divine justice in the classic Old Testament style, where sin results in punishment, pride in alienation.
In this context, the New Testament story of Pentecost takes on an enhanced meaning, in which it recoups the damage inflicted by Babel. The first proper Epistle of the day tells the story:
When the fiftie dayes were come to an end, they were al with one accorde together in one place. And sodenly there came a sound from heaven, as it had bene the comming of a mighty wind, and it filled al the house where they sate.
And there appered unto them cloven tonges, like as they had bene of fyre. and it sate upon eche one of them; and they were al filled with the holy gost, and began to speake with other tonges, even as the same spirite gave them utteraunce. There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jewes, devout men out of every nacion of them that are under heaven. When thys was noysed about, the multitude came together and were astonied, because that every man heard them speake with his owne language. They wondred all, and merveiled, saying among themselfes; behold, are not al these, which speake, of Galile? And how heare we every man his owne tong, wherin we were borne? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the inhabiters of Mesopotamia, and of Jewry, and of Capadocia, of Pontus and Asia, Phrigia and Pamphilia, of Egipte, and of the parties of Libia, whiche is beside Siren, and straungers of Rome, Jewes and Proselites, Grekes and Arrabians, we have heard them speake in our owne tongues the great weorkes of God. (12)
The Gospel is essentially about the redemption of God's sin-stained creation, the reclamation of a fallen world and its reconstruction into an eternal new kingdom. And here, the divinely inspired linguistic profusion is not a punishment but a work of recuperation, the beginning of international evangelism, through which the whole world would eventually be brought back into God's kingdom. This is presented as a properly and necessarily multilingual process -- a fact underscored not only by the symbolic "tongues" of divine fire but also by the extensive list of regions/languages (and that close association is itself critically important) provided by the author. The model of God's redemptive plan here is not a world dominated by any one political andlor linguistic group as sole accessaries to His truth: Babel and Pentecost provide negative and positive demonstrations of this point. Rather, it is a world composed of many nations and languages (similar to the political world of Marsilius, Luther, and Henry), each to be taught and saved in its own native tongue. (13) This is reinforced and made an even more explicitly national affair in the day's proper preface (one of only five for the year, found in the Communion service), which remembers the coming of the Spirit
in the likenes of fiery toungues, lightyng upon the Apostles, to teache them, and to leade them to all trueth, gevyng them bothe the gifte of diverse languages, and also boldnes with fervent zeale, constantly to preache the Gospell unto all nacions, whereby we are brought out of darkenes and error, into the cleare light and true knowledge of thee, and of thy sonne Jesus Christ. (14)
Truth is, here, by God's own manifest desires, to be pursued and spread through the vernacular of each separate nation, dispelling the "darkness" not only of unbelief but of the tyrannous opacity of Latin. This line of thought contains two notable implications. First, it makes possible (indeed, is necessary for) the ideal congruency of realm and language -- each externally distinct and internally unified -- essential to a sense of national identity. Second, it alters the relationship of truth and language, sundering any necessary co-presence. In place of the inherent and exclusive truth-claims of Latin, it proposes a model in which language is a malleable and multiform vehicle for the supralinguistic principle of Gospel truth. In all the vast complexity of its implications, the new English liturgy had its debut on a symbolically auspicious day; this inaugural service concretely announced that -- and obliquely explained why -- henceforth, "al thinges shalbe read and song in the churche, in the Englishe tongue, to thende yt the congregacion maie be therby edified." (15)
This elevation of England/English/Protesrantism over Rome/Latin/Catholicism was intimately bound up with the contemporary struggle to justify the English language rhetorically and aesthetically. In a cultural milieu where the classical languages were seen as the towering repositories of truth and eloquence -- a linguistic ideology which of course served very well the interests of those in control of those languages -- English seemed a barbarous and guttural tongue, and England spent much of the century struggling with the sense of linguistic and literary inferiority16 that accompanied its sudden political autonomy, as the newly-fledged nation strove to define and create itself on a number of levels. This struggle is often addressed in late-century, when the anxieties of Sidney and Spenser were answered by the great literary flowering of the century's end. But it is also important to emphasize the Reformation -- that is, religious and political -- roots of the century's vernacularism. Much of the impetus for t he legitimation and elevation of English, the self-conscious reflection on its deficiencies and its excellencies, stems from the Reformation transition from Latin to English in religion. The Prayerbook's discourse on language and identity suggests that Christianity is an inherently multinational and multilingual phenomenon, in which demarcated geographic space, linguistic and liturgical uniformity within that space, and communal/political identity are closely related (both to one another and to salvation itself). The Tudor crown's efforts to consolidate its power over the church, and to extricate itself from papal bonds, liturgically assert a linguistically, religiously, and politically autonomous England -- a unified and coherent identity manifested in the national conformity the Book of Common Prayer demanded.
Tyndale, in the preface to his Obedience of a Christen Man, polemically promotes the validity of English by asserting its continuities with the original languages of Scripture:
Thei wil saye [the Bible] can not be translated into our tonge it is so rude. It is not so rude as thei are false lyers. For the Greke tonge agreeth moare with the englysh then with the latyne. And the properties of the Hebrue tonge agreeth a thousand tymes moare with the englysh then with the latyne... A thousand partes better maye [Hebrew] be translated in to the english then into the latyne.... (17)
The soundness of Tyndale's philological assertions is certainly open to criticism. What is interesting, though, is the similarity of his rhetorical strategy to that of Cranmer in the Prayerbook Preface and "Of Ceremonies." In those essays, a complex of values is constructed which leapfrogs over the entire Catholic/Roman/papal middle ages as a time of corruption, and asserts its own liturgical, scriptural, and linguistic continuity with the authentic pre-corrupted past of the early Church. Note the persistent association of liturgical and linguistic corruption (both opposed to scriptural edification) in the Preface:
There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which (in continuance of time) hath not been corrupted as (emong other thinges) it may plainly appere by the common prayers in the Churche, commonlye called divine service.... But these many yeares passed this Godly and decent ordre of the auncient fathers, hath been so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertein stories, Legendes, Respondes, Verses, vaine repeticions, Commemoracions, and Synodalles, that commonly when any boke of the Bible was begon before three or foure Chapiters were read out, all the rest were unread.... And moreover, whereas s. Paule would have suche language spoken to the people in the churche, as they mighte understande and have profite by hearyng the same; the service in this Churche of England (these many yeares) hath been read in Latin to the people, which they understoode not; so that they have heard with theyr eares onely; and their hartes, spirite, and minde, have not been edified thereby. (18)
Similarly, Tyndale skips backward over a millennium of Latin ascendancy in conjunction with that entire complex to assert a more genuine connection between English and the original languages of Scripture. Historical and linguistic arguments combine here into a claim of authenticity and purification (at once of church, language, and nation); Latin is again seen as part of a vast and tyrannous conceptual complex which had to be broken in the name of the emerging church and nation of Reformed England.
John Foxe, decades later, combined the thrust of the Pentecost service with Tyndale's rejection of charges of barbarism. Some, he wrote, "have judged our native tounge unmet to expresse Gods high secret mysteries, being so barbarous and imperfecte a language as they say it is. As though the holy spirite of truth mente by his appearing in cloven tounges, to debarre any nation, or any tounge, from uttering forth the magnificent majestie of God's miraculous workes." (19) In a plural order of sovereign nations and sovereign languages, each equally viable in the pursuit and maintenance of God's truth, the privileged truth-claims of Rome and its language vanish under a maplike conception of the world. Foxe was of course a great admirer of Tyndale and his efforts to supply the English people with religious texts in their own language. "These works of William Tyndale," he wrote, "being compiled, published, and sent over into England, it cannot be spoken what a door of light they opened to the eyes of the whole Englis h nation, which before were many years shut up in darkness." (20) Foxe utilizes an established idiom of light, vision, and reading (even to the curious extent that it "cannot be spoken") in opposition to the darkness and blindness of the old ways (recall the "darkenes and error" of the Whitsunday preface), borne out by his report of Tyndale's last words: "Lord! open the king of England's eyes." (21) The essentially textual nature of this vision is further elaborated by Foxe's well-known presentation of the advent of printing as a new Pentecost: "By this printing, as by the gift of tongues, and as by the singular organ of the Holy Ghost, the doctrine of the gospel soundeth to all nations and countries under heaven." (22) Once again, as in the Pentecost service itself, we see the connection of multiple vernacular languages to the new order of multiple independent nations and their churches. But furthermore, it is in some sense these languages, these texts, which constitute these nations. In the quote on Tyndale above, Tyndale's texts collectively opened the eyes of "the whole English nation." But Foxe's correlations of vision, reading, and light, along with his offhandedly idiomatic dismissal of speech, suggest certain delimitations on what that nation is. By implication, it is the aggregate of those who read (or at least share in the reading of) these texts. This in turn implies, first, a linguistic uniformity which is constitutive of the nation, and second, collective textual engagement as a further essential element of that community. (23) This ideal of the inspired, textually-uniform, worshiping body suggests just how crucial the liturgical vernacular was to the imagination and constitution of the Reformed English nation. (24)
The Reformation impulse toward the vernacular is thus, in its correlation of a territorial national identity with its indigenous language, clearly a politically significant phenomenon: the move to English (among other languages, elsewhere) helped both to break the papal hegemony over Europe and to linguistically define England as a separate, sovereign and coherent political entity. It imagined an England that was at once distinctly autonomous and defined in a relational context of Continental churches and nations. (25) And it did so, in part, by means of a state-appointed liturgy that was not only vernacularized but nationally and coercively uniform. But this is only half the story. Contemporary vernacularism also helped to shift the very bases of the English religion.
The struggles which have historically surrounded the English liturgy might usefully be approached as a history of conflict between two polar approaches to worship. (26) One pole, which we might call the "intellectual" approach to worship, is ultimately predicated on the conviction that worship is a means by which humans can and must come to know God better. It is necessarily demystificatory in its approach, and it finds its natural expression in preaching, reading, and other modes of intellectual accessibility. This perspective is exemplified by evangelical Protestantism, with its hostility to transubstantiation, vestments, set liturgy and all things which savored of the mystical, and its overwhelming emphasis on preaching, instruction, and individual initiative. The other pole exists in stark opposition to the first, and long predates it: the "aesthetic" approach is founded upon the gulf between God and humanity which finds its primary expression in the ineffability of the aesthetic; its natural medium is in the elevated strains of high liturgy, and its corollary effect is the elevation of the mediating institution which renders the gulf crossable. The traditional Roman Catholic Mass, in which the divine is screened not only by the aesthetic but by the limited participation of the congregation (a liturgy performed primarily by celebrant and choir, and observed by the laity) and above all by the mystical opacity of hieratic Latin, epitomizes this position. Intellectual and aesthetic, epistemological and mystical, human and divine -- though they rarely occurred in pure form, these poles defined, often contentiously, the universe of early modern worship and theology. (27) Contemporary religious conservatives might well have seen Reformed worship as a damnably cheapened mockery of the holiness of God, even as Protestants accused Catholics of superstition, deliberate ignorance, and blind subservience to fraudulent tradition. Though the Book of Common Prayer staked out a complex mediatory position within these possibi lities -- from its birth, there has been a critical current opposed to its theological and aesthetic traditionality -- the present analysis will focus on some foundational differences between Catholic and Prayerbook worship, and on the role played by language in them. As I hope to demonstrate, this transition had profound theological, hermeneutic, and epistemological consequences for early modern English culture.
I suggested earlier that Catholic Latin was the expressive mode of a Truth which exceeded the competence of the individual. Its opacity enabled it to function as a system of pure signs in the Deleuzian sense, (28) a discourse which essentially signified absolute difference -- the incomprehensible boundary between the human and the divine. Latin presented the inaccessible mystery of divine Truth, which was unreachable for the individual, known and guarded only by the institutional Church, and expressed in a language which appropriately veiled its occulted truths. Paradoxically, this linguistic wall was the self-authenticating guarantee of access (albeit indirect) to the divine: the inability of the average medieval worshiper to fully understand what was being said in church was presumably an important part of his or her assurance that something important and otherworldly was in fact happening (the intersection of the political, theological, and experiential aspects of liturgy is especially striking here). (29)
If Latin's claims to truth were ultimately based on its opacity, the claims of English to this same eternal truth were, in contrast, based precisely upon its clarity. If Latin was a linguistic curtain, English was intended to function as a window, through whose transparency salvific truth could be seen clearly by all. (30) Although this drive toward the vernacular had a number of historical sources (nearly and notably Erasmian humanism), (31) it received its immediate impetus from Reformation theology: if salvation is a matter of personal disposition and Biblical authority rather than of institutional mediation, then individuals interested in heaven had better set to learning about it. This renewed stress on accessibility and comprehensibility is clearly exhibited in the 1549 Prayerbook. Not only is the liturgy now in English, but the clergy are specifically commanded by rubric to enunciate this English "distinctely with a loude voice, that the people maye heare...standing and turnyng hym so as he maye beste be hearde of all suche as be present. . . after the maner of distincte readyng." (32) Furthermore, the theology of access even assumes an economic dimension: by royal proclamation, the Prayerbook was to be kept affordable, not exceeding 2s2d unbound, 2s1Od bound in forel, 3s3d bound in sheepskin, and 4 shillings bound in calves' leather. (33)
This shift from Latin to English, in both its theological underpinnings and its implications, was thus part of a profound refocusing, a massive devolution of religious authority from institutions to persons. This redistribution, relatively egalitarian in its insistence on individual religious access and competence, ran in many cases against the grain of prevailing ideologies of hierarchical order. In part, to be sure, this was a deliberate political strategy aimed at undermining papal authority. Foxe reports Tyndale's brazen assertion that "I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than [a learned divine] doest." (34) In a similar but less politically pointed vein, Cranmer's preface to the Great Bible of 1540 expresses a comprehensive vision of English Bible readers: "For the Holy Ghost hath so ordered and attempered the scriptures, that in them as well publicans, fishers, and shepherds may find their edif ication, as great doctors their erudition.... In the scriptures be the fat pastures of the soul.... Here may all manner of persons, men, women, young, old, learned, unlearned, rich, poor, priests, laymen, lords, ladies, officers, tenants, and mean men, virgins, wives, widows, lawyers, merchants, artificers, husbandmen, and all manner of persons, of what estate or condition soever they be, may in this book learn all things." (35) Cranmer's expansive portrayal of a realm of religious subjects is almost breathtaking in its inclusivity (indeed, even to the point that the grammatically-scrupulous Archbishop's syntax gets away from him); it traverses English society from top to bottom along nearly every conceivable axis of class, gender, and profession, promising unrestricted access to knowledge of "all things."
The levelling effects which take place at the linguistic intersection of scripture and worship can be seen in Anthony Scoloker's 1548 A Goodly Dysputatyon Betwene a Christen Shomaker and a Popysshe Parson, (36) one of many contemporary tracts aimed at influencing public religion in England after the death of Henry VIII (and as the wholesale liturgical revisions which would produce the BCP were underway). At the beginning of the dialogue, the "popysshe parson" enters to greet the shoemaker, explaining that he has been not in church but "yonder behinde in the gallerye and there have I mumbled." To the shoemaker's question of clarification -- "What saye yowe master Parson? Have ye mombled?" -- he responds, "Yea, I have said my divine service" (79). Having identified Latin worship as opaque, concealed, essentially meaningless "mumbling," the dialogue then moves on to cover a wide range of contemporary hot-button issues: papal and royal supremacy, the right to reprehend the Pope, popular access to Scripture, praye r to saints, the value of tradition, the role of good works, and so forth. Throughout, the lowly shoemaker dominates the argument with his compendious knowledge of the vernacular Bible (at one point driving the parson to an exasperated aside: "Howe do these horeson Lutheryans rejoice and laughe in theyr fyst, when they can fynde some sayings out of the Scripture, they trouble and vexe one therwith, withoute ceasyng" (85-86)), ignoring the parson's recommendations that he attend to his work and family rather than spend time "meddl[ing] with the Scripture." At times, the clerical/lay hierarchy the parson invokes mutates into social class; he asks at one point why so few great lords follow Luther, but rather "onely a heape of rude and unlearned people" (101). The shoemaker defuses this by recalling the common quality of Christ's followers, and his joy that God had revealed his truth not to the great but to the "lyttel flocke." Eventually the shoemaker leaves, clearly victorious; the parson's servant marvels "tha t the laye people are so learned" (108); and the parson is left longing for the day when papal authority will be reasserted and the pyres re-lit. The dialogue as a whole asserts the superiority of the Bible, and the authority that reading it confers upon individuals regardless of rank, over the ignorant, unscriptural (the parson has to instruct his maid to "swepe of[f] the dust and cobwebbes" from his Bible), restrictive, reactionary; and violent authority of the institutional Church. It destabilizes both the social and religious hierarchies by trumping them with a radically individual truth, an authority given to all members of the "lyttel flocke." This tract, which affirms the royal supremacy among a constellation of standard evangelical beliefs, also voices the radical egalitarianism implicit in Protestant theology.
Like Scoloker's dialogue, and with far greater cultural significance, the Book of Common Prayer positions itself, in the midst of a highly unstable discursive situation, at the intersection of vernacular scripture and worship. One of the cardinal features of the new liturgy was its restoration of Scripture to a central place in worship. Whereas the scriptural continuity of medieval worship had been frequently interrupted by saints' days and other festivals, the new Calendar reduced these drastically and provided for a steady and complete cycle of Bible reading in worship. Under the new order, the Psalter was read completely through every month, the New Testament (not including the Apocalypse) three times a year, and the Old Testament once a year. This renewed focus on Scripture is the central concern of Cranmet's Preface, where he asserts its origin with the "auncient fathers" of the Church, and its medieval contamination by "uncertein stories, Legendes, Respondes, Verses, vaine repeticions, Commemoracions, a nd Synodalles," by which the Word had been gradually displaced and neglected. Now, however, the Church of England has the advantage of
The new English service is (not inaccurately) presented as a purgation of traditional material, and a restoration of a regular diet of Bible reading; scripture and service are deliberately linked more clearly and consistently in the new order.
an ordre for praier (as touchyng the readyng of holy scripture) muche agreable to the mynde and purpose of the olde fathers, and a greate deale more profitable and commodious, than that whiche of late was used. It is more profitable, because here are left out many thynges, whereof some be untrue, some uncertein, some vain and supersticious: and is ordeyned nothyng to be read, but the very pure worde of God, the holy scriptures, or that whiche is evidently grounded upon the same. (37)
The grounds of this strengthened link are closely tied to the new use of the vernacular: Protestant worship is in an important sense the delivery of the Word to the people, and the restoration of the Word to centrality would make little sense if it didn't entail a more extensive reception. The Preface asserts that the scripturality of patristic worship "was not ordeyned, but of a good purpose, and for a great advauncement of godlines," (38) and Cranmer gives two sets of reasons why this was so. First, it stirs up the clergy to godliness, and enables them to exhort others in wholesome doctrine and to effectively refute heresy. Though the definitions of these categories were of course intensely debated, this rationale seems quite in keeping with contemporary conservatism (the Devon rebels, for example, demanded the re-restriction of scripture to Latin so that the clergy could accomplish these tasks more effectively). The second set of reasons, however, affirms something very different, and changes the entire te nor of scriptural access: "And further, that the people (by daily hearyng of holy scripture read in the Church) should continuallye profite more and more in the knowledge of God, and bee the more inflamed with the love of his true religion." (39) The "knowledge of God" is presented not as something institutionally possessed, but individually pursued, a horizon of faith to be searched out through individual contact with the Word of God.
In declaring the Prayerbook's content to be "evidently grounded upon [the 'very pure word of God']", of course, the English Church maintained its prerogative of defining the boundaries of [il]legitimate interpretation. In this instance, this prerogative, and the unifying claim to truth which authenticates the entire liturgy, is presented rhetorically as a non-decision -- a simple presentation of the obvious. But it also makes these claims matters of evidence and discernment; in typical evangelical fashion, all is judged in relation to the foundational truth of the Bible. Here again we can see the tension of authority and interiority at the heart of the Prayerbook (and the English Reformation itself), which the new liturgy sought to recast into a stable dialectic. The primary force of "evidently," which suggests a manifest and incontestable truth, does not wholly exclude its secondary meaning, and this second sense implicitly challenges the religious subject to weigh and judge the material, to make evaluative distinctions in pursuit of salvation.
All of this, of course, implies individual comprehension of the Word. And the vernacularizing rhetoric in the Prayerbook insistently stresses the edification, understanding, and illumination -- categories only truly meaningful on the individual level -- that only the vernacular communication with God can provide. To return to a previously-cited passage:
And moreover, whereas s. Paule (40) would have suche language spoken to the people in the churche, as they mighte understande and have profite by hearyng the same; the service in this Churche of England (these many yeares) hath been read in Latin to the people, whiche they understoode not; so that they have heard with theyr eares onely; and their hartes, spirite, and minde, have not been edified thereby.... [This liturgy makes available the pure Word] in suche a language and ordre, as is moste easy and plain for the understandyng, bothe of the readers and hearers. (41)
Scripture and service both depend on clarity and comprehensibility -- a logic decisively different from the experience of contemporary Catholicism -- to accomplish their common goal of individual spiritual enlightenment, the unobstructed contact of the religious subject with the divine Word and will.
Cranmer's casual reference to the understanding "bothe of the readers and hearers" is doubly significant. First, it invokes the newly-inclusive community of clergy and laity, performers and active audience, coequals in the act of worship. Second, and equally important, it suggests two subsets of the laity: the literate and the illiterate. Much has been made, both then and now, of the advent and availability of printed English Bibles, and rightly so, but direct, constructive access to the printed Word was of course limited to the literate -- a distinct minority in mid-Tudor England. (42) It was the Prayer-book, and the programmatic structures of worship it created, which made possible for everyone -- uneducated "hearers" as well as "readers" -- genuine access to the entire Bible via its systematic oral transmission in the vernacular. The "knowledge of God" through the Scriptures was no longer reserved for the clergy, nor the bilingual, nor the literate; it was the right and the obligation of "all manner of per sons."
The emphasis on interpretation as a highly personal and active interface with the Word is displayed in the collect for the second Sunday of Advent:
Blessed lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to bee written for our learnyng; graunte us that we maye in suche wise heare them, read, marke, learne, and inwardly digeste them; that by pacience, and coumfort of thy holy woorde, we may embrace, and ever holde fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast geven us in our saviour Jesus Christe. (43)
The essential process of learning from the Bible is figured as an intensely subjective "inward" encounter from which one derives life-sustaining nourishment -- a vigorous process of receiving, reviewing, mastering, and finally internalizing the truth contained therein. (44) Cranmer's focus in this collect is illuminating. Typically, his collects tie together the central ideas in the day's proper readings. For this day, Psalm 120 is a despairing call to God from one surrounded by enemies; Romans 15 focuses on Gospel truth as a unifying force; and Luke 21 contrasts Christ's vision of apocalyptic "despayre" with an assertion of the permanence of the Word. These ideas exist only as traces in the collect (the Word as comfort, unity in the ambiguous syntax of "we may embrace," and the final permanence in Christ through the Word), and Cranmer focuses instead on one sentence of St. Paul's to emphasize above all the importance of the subjective task of interpreting Scripture. While one might reasonably expect him to c arry through to Paul's larger point of unity and consensus -- "all agreeyng together" -- he does no such thing, and this collect fixates on the active individuality of Bible-reading for the purpose of our learnyng."
This point is further made in the collect for Whitsunday (Pentecost), a service considered above as an important instance of self-validating linguistic nationalism.
God, whiche as upon this daye haste taughte the heartes of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the lyght of thy holy spirite; graunte us by the same spirite to have a righte judgement in al thinges, and evermore to rejoyce in hys holy coumforte; through the merites of Christ Jesus our saviour; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unitie of the same spirite, one God, worlde without ende. (45)
A close reading of this prayer suggests that the service as a whole is self-validating in ways that go beyond a broad sense of linguistic and national autonomy. The first set of clauses focuses on the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost - a spiritual advent inseparable from its manifestation in the cloven tongues of fire, and the subsequent enlivening of vernacular tongues in the mouths of the Apostles. It also treats this singular event as paradigmatic for a continuing historical process of education and illumination. The coming of the Spirit is thus a multiplied and repeated act of vernacular teaching and learning. The second cluster, the business of which is the active petitioning, raises the stakes somewhat: it asks, as a further and resulting gift of that Spirit (and language), for "right judgement in al thinges." This request for broad and implicitly individual powers of evaluation and discernment suggests a heightened sense of interiorized authority as a result of spiritual enlightenment clothed in comprehensible language. The remainder of the collect justifies the request through Christ and re-addresses it to the Trinity.
In general, then, the logic of the collect, which is structurally similar to that of 2 Advent, runs thus: the work of the Spirit, both as event and as process, operates in (and inseparably from) the vernacular; this enlightenment generates the further possibility of responsible individual wisdom in religious matters; this in turn enables subjects to address and embrace the divine. As I argued earlier, the Pentecost service asserts that vernacular religious expression is not merely viable but imperative for the various nations. Here, though, we can see that the ultimate basis for this necessity is the individual, illuminated and imbued with subjective legitimacy through the historical workings of the Spirit in language. Although the "us" may imply a corporate discernment of truth (in conjunction with the discrete pursuits of particular subjects), even this activity seems inescapably consensual in nature - an ideal convergence of individual understandings of truth rather than an institutionally-defined norm. Th e Prayerbook had its debut on this auspicious day in 1549, and this service announces a self-authorizing new enhancement through the vernacular of both the English nation and the English individual.
The Prayerbook's vernacularism is thus fundamentally linked to the Reformation's theological insistence on the participation and comprehension of individual subjects. The general significance of this correlation may be underscored with a final observation. We saw in Scoloker's Dysputatyon that traditional Latin worship was derogated by evangelicals as meaningless "mumbling." After the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, when the linguistic barrier was removed from English worship, mumbling actually seems to have become a mode of conservative clerical resistance to the new order. With English now mandatory, conservative clergymen did what they could to preserve the sacred separateness of the old service, and mumbling was a way to keep the linguistic curtain drawn shut. Bucer wrote to Calvin that "many of the parochial clergy so recite and administer the service, that the people have no more understanding of the mysteries of Christ, than if the Latin instead of the vulgar tongue were still in use." (46) Hooper, writing to Bullinger, was characteristically more blunt: "And that popery may not be lost, the mass-priests, although they are compelled to discontinue the use of the Latin language, yet most carefully observe the same tone and manner of chanting to which they were heretofore accustomed in the papacy; God knows to what perils and anxieties we are exposed by reason of men of this kind." (47) Deliberate obfuscation functions as conservative resistance; theology and language are, again, inseparable, due to the fundamentally differing logics of Catholic and Protestant, Latin and English, worship. The Reformation's shift to the vernacular had momentous implications in its appeal to the newly-significant masses of English individuals.
The English language thus proved to be something of a double-edged sword for the Tudor state; if the state's efforts at vernacularization were originally attempts to establish a uniform and autonomous identity for the English church-state, and to consolidate its power over a newly reorganized social structure, these efforts also had other, more refractory implications. For though the move to English was clearly a means of hierarchical national unification, its theological underpinnings insisted that it was also, and primarily, a means to fuller and more authentic individual religious experience. It refocused religious authority, in other words, on the individual rather than the institution, and this initially proved rather unsettling to a state which had only recently accomplished the seizure of the English Church. The Henrician state's predicament is made clear in Henry VIII's last speech to Parliament:
bee not Judges your selfes, of your awne phantasticall opinions, and vain exposicions, for in suche high causes ye maie lightly erre. And al though you be permitted to reade holy scripture, and to have the word of God in your mother tongue, you must understande that it is licensed you so to do, onely to informe your awne conscience, and to instruct your children and famely, and not to dispute and make scripture, a railyng and tauntyng stocke, against Priestes and Preachers (as many light persones do). ... I am very sory to knowe and here, how unreverently that moste precious juel the worde of God is disputed, rymed, sung and jangeled in every Alehouse and Taverne, contrary to the true meanings and doctrine of the same. (48)
One senses in Henry's words the bewildered frustration of one who has unleashed something that now exceeds all efforts to restrain and channel it. Now, in the king's account, public religious discourse has overflowed its banks, been soiled by the casual use of the low, and even turned against the clergy. Perhaps more importantly, it has reversed the flow of religious authority: the vernacular scripture, graciously given by the king for personal and familial edification, has now, in effect, overauthorized some individuals, who now presume to judge matters formerly reserved for public and hierarchical authority (and then properly handed down to private subjects). Claire McEachern has incisively observed that "the founding paradox of 'this England' lies in a state seeking to secure a universal compliance with its hierarchical imperatives through the medium of a common language diversely disseminated," (49) and David Scott Kastan has traced these paradoxical tensions with regard to the English Bible; my contentio n in the present essay is that the Book of Common Prayer represents a complex and enormously significant effort to synthesize and stabilize precisely these potential, and fundamental, conflicts.
The position of the Crown, then, was a complex and difficult one, which demanded the recognition and stabilization of the Reformation's tense double logic (itself part of an even larger early modern divergence of authority and interiority). If we take the central goal of state liturgical reform (and other vernacularizing religious measures, especially under Henry) to be the consolidation of an autonomous national church under state control, then, as Henry's lament suggests, the state paid a considerable price for it. Politically dependent upon the discourses of Protestant theology for its justification, the state deployed a fundamentally theological logic in its efforts to break from Rome and unite the realm linguistically; in the process, it implicitly enfranchised the evangelical subject, conferring religious authority and discretion upon individuals rather than the institutional church. Theology authorizes state power; the state institutes linguistic and theological change to consolidate this power; in so doing, the underlying logic of this chain of authority recognizes a dispersed competence of individuality which challenges the centralizing claims of the state.
This process generates enormous possibilities of both conflict and synthesis. But whereas Henry's surprise and dismay at the process he initiated are palpable, the Edwardian architects of the Book of Common Prayer seem to have not only understood and anticipated this dialectic, but to have woven it into its very fabric. The great genius of the Prayerbook's solution, I think, is that it liturgically holds the two discourses of order and individuality in positions of mutually-sustaining tension, each simultaneously legitimating and contesting the other. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to see Prayerbook worship in English as a regular and institutionalized site of ideological struggle, in which the competing claims of structure and subject are constantly renegotiated; out of this process, crucially and daily enacted through the performance of liturgy, emerges the dynamic identity of Reformed England and its subjects. (50) The Tudor state's promotion of vernacular religious texts enhanced its own power, to be sure, but it also engaged the Protestant individual in a sort of permanent dialectic. And it is on this ground of ideological negotiation between church and state, individual and community, that the identity and the future of England and its subjects would be ceaselessly recreated.
(1.) Major recent statements in this debate include Dickens, Haigh (1987 and 1993), Scarisbrick, and Duffy. For a useful summary of its long history, see O'Day.
(2.) The various Acts of Uniformity which governed liturgical conduct required the regular and exclusive use of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) by all subjects of the realm -- an enforcement apparatus that not even the English Bible enjoyed (though it was of course regularly used in Prayerbook worship). Consequently, the Prayerbook is one of two (and perhaps only two) texts that were genuinely familiar to everyone in sixteenth-century England. This cultural centrality makes the widespread critical neglect of the BCP in literary-historical circles rather astonishing.
(3.) Critical examples of the former view include Duffy, chap. 13, which sees even the compromise 1549 Prayerbook as an "attack" of "radical discontinuity" on majority sentiments, and Helgerson, chap. 6, which treats the BCP (via Hooker) as a relatively straightforward monument of order and conformity; Booty, chap. 3, exemplifies the latter view (albeit with political ramifications). As the diversity of these figures suggests, the impulse to untangle, clarify, or resolve the Prayerbook's notorious ambiguities into a static unity is also prevalent in historiographical, liturgiological, and theological treatments. See MacCulloch's excellent biography of Cranmer (especially chap. 9-11) for an account of the Prayerbook's complex genesis and reception.
(4.) Weimann, 1996, 61.
(5.) Cited in Helgetson, 1.
(6.) McEachern, 5, 15. Though her general focus on the significance of the "prosopopoetic gesture" in the construction of cultural unity diverges considerably from my pursuits here, her book is full of perceptive and challenging insights into the relations of church, state, text, and language in post-Reformation England which have valuably influenced some of my own thinking.
(7.) As cited in Cranmer, 179.
(8.) Anderson, 15. Anderson goes on to argue (37-46) that print-capitalism was largely responsible for the Reformation's unparalleled explosion of both print and the vernacular: once the relatively small market for Latin texts was saturated, the print economy turned to the vast vernacular market. This, in turn, served to both desacralize Latin and authorize (as well as uniformize) vernaculars. This contention has some natural links with what I am about to argue, but it seems to me a mistake to credit Reformation vernacularism predominantly to economic forces, at the expense of political and theological causes.
(9.) Bradford, 202, 201.
(10.) Ridley, 109.
(11.) Genesis 11.1 (KJV).
(12.) Ratcliff, ed., 131.
(13.) See also, in an apocalyptic context, the book of Revelation's repeated references to "every tribe and language and people and nation" (5:9, 7:9, 11:9, 13:7, 14:6).
(14.) Ratcliff, ed., 220.
(15.) BCP Preface (Ratcliff, ed., 5.)
(16.) See, for example, Jones; King, chap. 3; and Helgerson, chap. 1, for discussions of this topic which I needn't rehearse in depth here.
(17.) Russell, 1:188; this original-spelling version from Jones, 55. Ironically, Thomas More, certainly no friend of Tyndale's, nevertheless shared his support of vernacular translation by virtue of his humanist commitment to education. He argued that translating out of Latin could be no worse in principle than translating into Latin from the originals: "For as for that our tongue is called barbarous, is but a fantasy; for so is, as every learned man knoweth, every strange language to another" (Jones, 56).
(18.) Ratcliff, ed., 3.
(19.) Jones, 57-8.
(20.) Foxe, 5:119.
(23.) Ibid., 5:127.
(22.) Ibid., 3:720.
(23.) Helgerson (266) has described Foxe's invisible church as an "imagined community" of readers, which is undoubtedly true. What I'm arguing, though, is that this community is not just the invisible, inherently oppositional community of Helgerson's account (a model that muddles the specificity of religious and political alignments -- is the true church really a suffering opposition under a godly monarch?), but rather, at least in potential, the "whole English nation" -- something Helgerson is reluctant to acknowledge vis-a-vis Foxe. I further disagree with Helgerson's suggestion that the Prayerbook ideology was distasteful to Foxe; in fact, Foxe appears to have looked with substantial approval on the Book of Common Prayer and the principle of uniform adherence to it. The 1548 Communion service, he wrote, was a "godly and uniform order," the "true and right manner of administering the sacrament," produced by the "long, learned, wise, and deliberate advices" of learned men; the BCP itself was the result of fu rther "godly and learned conferences" and the "most godly travail of the king's highness" (Foxe, 5:719-25).
(24.) The speed with which this ideal took root, and the closeness of its identification with the BCP, may be inferred from a conflict among the Marian exiles in Frankfurt in 1554 (for a brief account, see Dickens, 344-49). Against a growing tide of progressive reform which sought to discard the Prayerbook, a party led by Richard Cox insisted that "they would do as they had done in England, and that they would have the face of an English Church" (ibid., 346). Ultimately, the Prayerbook party prevailed, securing the expulsion of the radical reformers, and perhaps saving the BCP for its resurrection under Elizabeth.
(25.) See, for example, the cheerful pluralism expressed by Cranmer in "Of Ceremonies "in these all our dooynges wee condemne no other nacions, nor prescribe anye thyng, but to oure owne people onelye. For wee thinke it conveniente that every countreye should use such ceremonies, as thei shal thynke beste to the settyng foorth of goddes honor, and glorye" (Ratcliff, ed., 288).
(26.) The distinction I propose here is admittedly, and inevitably, reductive: it simplifies complex theological systems, flattens their contradictions, and frankly doesn't account for such things as negative theology (or, for that matter, a good deal of Scholastic theology). However, I do think it's useful as a way of thinking generally about the competing logics of Catholic and Protestant worship.
(27.) Paradoxically, Protestant and Catholic sacraments seem to invert this logic: the Catholic elements make God immediately and physically present, while Protestant theology generally denies the accessible contact of such presence. But these sacraments ultimately make sense in their respective contexts. In the Catholic sacrament, the mediating institution (alone) actualizes the opaque and immanent manifestation of the divine; conversely, the Protestant elements are reconceived as spiritually effective representational signs which require the thoughtful and faithful interpretation of the individual believer.
(28.) See for example, Deleuze, chap. 1-4. Pure signs refer to nothing but other signs, or themselves, and ultimately to their own sign-ness -- an untranscendable and uninterpretable boundary of absolute difference. Essentially, a pure sign shouts, "I'm a sign! For heaven's sake, don't read me!!"
(29.) The significance of Latin in the popular religious experience can be inferred from the demands of the Devon rebels in 1549: three of their fifteen articles -- the third (which demands the restoration of Latin services), eighth (which refuses the new English services), and tenth (which demands the withdrawal of scripture in English on the grounds that "we be informed that otherwise the clergy shall not of long time confound the heretics" -- in other words, that the clergy would no longer monopolize scriptural interpretation [Cranmer, 16387]) -- focus on the restoration of Latin scripture and service, and the extirpation of the English, which they compare to a trivial "Christmas game" (ibid., 179) against the numinous obscurity of the old language. When they demand that "we will have the mass in Latin, as it was before, and celebrated by the priest, without any man or woman communicating with him" (ibid., 169), the related senses of sacramental and linguistic communication are clearly both at issue.
(30.) Eamon Duffy and other revisionist historians have argued that the Catholic experience was in fact not exclusionary, and that the Mass, for instance, was rather experienced fully and meaningfully by the average parishioner. In this they have valuably qualified a reductively evangelical historiography of the Reformation; surely the Catholic laity did not sit dumbly in their pews, oblivious to the significance of what was going on in front of them. But it seems to me that the revisionists have not successfully disproven the basic distinction which I invoke here. One might explain away the repeated evangelical references to issues of accessibility (linguistic, sacramental, etc.) as a mere propagandistic topos (though I think one would be wrong to do so), were it not for the fact that religious conservatives, from Bonner to the Devon rebels, appeal to the very same distinction between the essential logics of Catholic and Protestant worship.
(31.) Dickens, 89-90.
(32.) 1549 Mattins service (Ratcliff, ed., 22).
(33.) Hughes and Larkin, 1:464. The 1549 Whitchurch edition prints a slightly different price list (2s unbound, 3s4d bound "in paste or in boordes") after the colophon.
(34.) Foxe, 5:117; I follow Greenblatt (106) et al. in presenting this as direct discourse.
(35.) Cranmer, 120-21.
(36.) Short Title Catalogue number 21537.5; edited in Spurgeon. Scoloker's tract is itself a translation of a 1524 Lutheran dialogue by Hans Sachs (Ibid., xxiv). In the following citations of Scoloker's text, page numbers refer to Spurgeon.
(37.) Ratcliff, ed., 4.
(38.) Ratcliff, ed., 3.
(40.) See, for example, I Corinthians 14 -- Paul's instructions on speaking in unknown languages -- which seems highly appropriate to this discussion: "[H]e that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God for no man understandeth him... Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.... [I]n the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue" (vv. 2, 11, 19 [KJV]). Linguistic difference in worship, whether inspired or not, is figured as obfuscation, mystification, and division, while a common language brings understanding and edification.
(41.) Ratcliff, ed., 3-4.
(42.) David Cressy (176-7) estimates midcentury literacy rates at only five percent for women and twenty percent for men.
(43.) Ratcliff, ed., 34.
(44.) This consumption of the Word is perhaps what supersedes the transubstantiated elements of the Catholic Mass -- a spiritually beneficial act of intellectual rather than physical, and individual rather than institutional, manducation.
(45.) Ratcliff, ed., 131.
(46.) Robinson, 547.
(47.) Ibid., 72.
(48.) Cit. in Weimann, 1996, 63.
(49.) McEachern, 32.
(50.) Under Elizabeth, for example, the Prayerbook is marked on one hand by deliberate theological vagueness (and hence an implicitly broad range of acceptable individual belief), and on the other by the regime's determined enforcement of liturgical uniformity under the Queen. In this regard, it might also not be an exaggeration to see the Prayerbook as the book of the English Reformation--a stablizing counterweight to the energies unleashed by the English Bible whose continuous balancing and renegotiation of these forces made the establishment of a semi-stable Church possible.
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