Book of Common Prayer (1662) Language

Discussion in 'Liturgy, and Book of Common Prayer' started by PDL, Feb 28, 2021.

  1. PDL

    PDL Active Member Anglican

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    I would like to ask if anybody knows the correct name for the form of English in which the Book of Common Prayer (1662) of the Church of England is written. I have heard it called Elizabethan but the 1662 edition was published during the reign of Charles II, fifty-nine years, three monarchs and the interregnum since the death of Elizabeth I.

    If you are able to tell me a correct name for the form of English I would be most obliged if you could also cite a source for your information.

    Thank you!
     
  2. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The language of the 1662 is actually comparable with the language of the first prayer books a hundred years earlier, from the 1540s and 1550s. They made the effort to ensure that the language would not be drastically altered. The Family Prayers written in the 1740s and added into the 1789 American BCP have a similar style and feel. Even the 1928 Prayerbook, with some new collects, feels materially unchanged from the 1662, or from the 1550s.

    Therefore I’m of the view that the BCP does not fit into the normal English currents and labels of the era. It’s certainly not at all like the typical literary product of the era. Plus, the style of the language purposefully remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

    Therefore I think we should just call it’s style, “ecclesiastical English”. It seems to be the highly elevated and the lofty version of English which was used in the devotional works, sermons, and other related compositions. It was also meant to be spoken, as much as to be inwardly read.
     
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  3. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    I have heard it referred to as Cranmerian English, as Prayer Book English, and as Liturgical English. What is clear is that 1549, 1552, 1558, 1628, and 1662 all share a common thread of English, and that the changes between those liturgies represent changes in stance, posture and theological positioning, rather than what might be understood as development of language. The language was never 'street speak', nor even the language of the court.

    XXIV. Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth.
    It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.​

    Whilst it might sound nice to talk about liturgy in the vulgar tongue, I don't believe that that was quite the intent of the various rites, nor indeed of the 39 articles. It was a language that was intended to stretch and lift people beyond the common place. Sir Basil Spence, architect of New Coventry Cathedral spoke of the purpose of the liturgy being to engage people in the dialogue between the transcendent and the immanent. It was intended that people might understand the language, however it was dignified, formal, and at times a little anachronistic (I plight thee my troth), and intended to instil a sense of the holy, and inspire people to aspire to greater Christian faith and action.

    Encyclopedia Britannica suggests BCP has been a major influence on the liturgical language English Speaking Protestant Churches.
     
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  4. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    The Church of England has a list of translations of the Bible that it considers suitable to be used in public worship.

    That implies that it also has decided that there are translations of the Bible that the Church of England does not want heard in public worship in C of E churches.

    I agree with this discriminating policy, for both Bible readings and liturgy. If anything the current policy is a little too slack.
    .
     
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  5. Fr. Brench

    Fr. Brench Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Generally speaking, one can refer to the language of the 1500's and 1600's as Early Modern English.

    Middle English covers post-Norman-conquest to the late 1400's, and what you see as the linguistic difference between 1549 and 1662 BCP's is really the last vestiges of Middle English spellynge giving way to Modern English. Elizabethan, or Shakespearan, English is really the beginning of the Modern era for our language.
     
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  6. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the early modern English period follows the Middle English period towards the end of the fifteenth century and coincides closely with the Tudor (1485-1603) and Stuart (1603-1714) dynasties.

    Alternatively, Edinburgh University Press's An Introduction to Early Modern English suggests a period from the Tudors (1485) to the Restoration (1660).

    So, on the one hand, you have a period of early modern English being written from 1485 to 1714 and, on the other, 1485 to 1660.

    If you go with the OED, the 1662 BCP is firmly in the late early modern English period - but if you go with An Introduction, the 1662 BCP is early in the modern English period. Neither is entirely satisfactory.

    As Stalwart said, by 1662 the BCP was edited into a hybrid Tudor-Elizabethan-Jacobean-Stuartian style that is perhaps best classified as ecclesiastical English or, as some refer to the style of the KJV, "Biblish."

    If you absolutely must have a classification, look to the orthography - which is early modern by any standard.
     
  7. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Yes the 18th century additions to the BCP also exhibit this style, and even the 20th century additions do. And finally even the 2019 BCP attempts to return to this style of ecclesiastical English. It seems to be a style unto its own, unaffected by the currents of an era. The writings of period authors like Shakespeare have little in common with the 1662 BCP, for instance.
     
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