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An essay by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Notes On The Book Of Common Prayer

Title:     Notes On The Book Of Common Prayer
Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge [More Titles by Coleridge]


A man may pray night and day, and yet deceive himself; but no man can be assured of his sincerity who does not pray. Prayer is faith passing into act; a union of the will and the intellect realising in an intellectual act. It is the whole man that prays. Less than this is wishing, or lip-work; a charm or a mummery. PRAY ALWAYS, says the apostle: that is, have the habit of prayer, turning your thoughts into acts by connecting them with the idea of the redeeming God, and even so reconverting your actions into thoughts.



The best preparation for taking this sacrament, better than any or all of the books or tracts composed for this end, is to read over and over again, and often on your knees--at all events with a kneeling and praying heart--the Gospel according to St. John, till your mind is familiarised to the contemplation of Christ, the Redeemer and Mediator of mankind, yea, of every creature, as the living and self- subsisting Word, the very truth of all true being, and the very being of all enduring truth; the reality, which is the substance and unity of all reality; THE LIGHT WHICH LIGHTETH EVERY MAN, so that what we call reason is itself a light from that light, lumen a luce, as the Latin more distinctly expresses this fact. But it is not merely light, but therein is life; and it is the life of Christ, the co- eternal Son of God, that is the only true life-giving light of men. We are assured, and we believe, that Christ is God; God manifested in the flesh. As God, he must be present entire in every creature;-- (for how can God, or indeed any spirit, exist in parts?)--but he is said to dwell in the regenerate, to come to them who receive him by faith in his name, that is, in his power and influence; for this is the meaning of the word "name" in Scripture when applied to God or his Christ. Where true belief exists, Christ is not only present with or among us;--for so he is in every man, even the most wicked;-- but to us and for us. THAT WAS THE TRUE LIGHT, WHICH LIGHTETH EVERY MAN THAT COMETH INTO THE WORLD. HE WAS IN THE WORLD, AND THE WORLD WAS MADE BY HIM, AND THE WORLD KNEW HIM NOT. BUT AS MANY AS RECEIVED HIM, TO THEM GAVE HE POWER TO BECOME THE SONS OF GOD, EVEN TO THEM THAT BELIEVE IN HIS NAME; WHICH WERE BORN, NOT OF BLOOD, NOR OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH, NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN, BUT OF GOD. AND THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US. John i. 9-14. Again--WE WILL COME UNTO HIM, AND MAKE OUR ABODE WITH HIM. John xiv. 23. As truly and as really as your soul resides constitutively in your living body, personally and substantially does Christ dwell in every regenerate man.

After this course of study, you may then take up and peruse sentence by sentence the communion service, the best of all comments on the Scriptures appertaining to this mystery. And this is the preparation which will prove, with God's grace, the surest preventive of, or antidote against, the freezing poison, the lethargising hemlock, of the doctrine of the Sacramentaries, according to whom the Eucharist is a mere practical metaphor, in which things are employed instead of articulated sounds for the exclusive purpose of recalling to our minds the historical fact of our Lord's crucifixion; in short--(the profaneness is with them, not with me)--just the same as when Protestants drink a glass of wine to the glorious memory of William III.! True it is that the remembrance is one end of the sacrament; but it is, DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME,--of all that Christ was and is, hath done and is still doing for fallen mankind, and, of course, of his crucifixion inclusively, but not of his crucifixion alone. 14 December, 1827.



First, then, that we may come to this heavenly feast holy, and adorned with the wedding garment, Matt. xxii. ii, we must search our hearts, and examine our consciences, not only till we see our sins, but until we hate them.

But what if a man, seeing his sin, earnestly desire to hate it? Shall he not at the altar offer up at once his desire, and the yet lingering sin, and seek for strength? Is not this sacrament medicine as well as food? Is it an end only, and not likewise the means? Is it merely the triumphal feast; or is it not even more truly a blessed refreshment for and during the conflict?

This confession of sins must not be in general terms only, that we are sinners with the rest of mankind, but it must be a special declaration to God of all our most heinous sins in thought, word, and deed.

Luther was of a different judgment. He would have us feel and groan under our sinfulness and utter incapability of redeeming ourselves from the bondage, rather than hazard the pollution of our imaginations by a recapitulation and renewing of sins and their images in detail. Do not, he says, stand picking the flaws out one by one, but plunge into the river and drown them!--I venture to be of Luther's doctrine.


In the first Exhortation, before the words "meritorious Cross and Passion," I should propose to insert "his assumption of humanity, his incarnation, and." Likewise, a little lower down, after the word "sustenance," I would insert "as." For not in that sacrament exclusively, but in all the acts of assimilative faith, of which the Eucharist is a solemn, eminent, and representative instance, an instance and the symbol, Christ is our spiritual food and sustenance.



Marriage, simply as marriage, is not the means "for the procreation of children," but for the humanisation of the offspring procreated. Therefore, in the Declaration at the beginning, after the words "procreation of children," I would insert, "and as the means of securing to the children procreated enduring care, and that they may be," &c.;



Third rubric at the end.

But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, &c.;

I think this rubric, in what I conceive to be its true meaning, a precious doctrine, as fully acquitting our Church of all Romish superstition, respecting the nature of the Eucharist, in relation to the whole scheme of man's redemption. But the latter part of it--"he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul's health, although he do not receive the sacrament with his mouth"--seems to me very incautiously expressed, and scarcely to be reconciled with the Church's own definition of a sacrament in general. For in such a case, where is "the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace given?"



Epistle.--l Cor. xv. 1.

Brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you.

Why should the obsolete, though faithful, Saxon translation of [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] be retained? Why not "good tidings?" Why thus change a most appropriate and intelligible designation of the matter into a mere conventional name of a particular book?


- how that Christ died for our sins.

But the meaning of [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] is, that Christ died through the sins, and for the sinners. He died through our sins, and we live through his righteousness.

Gospel--Luke xviii. 14.

This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.

Not simply justified, observe; but justified rather than the other, [Greek text which cannot be reproduced],--that is, less remote from salvation.




- that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.

Rather--"that with that enlarged capacity, which without thee we cannot acquire, there may likewise be an increase of the gift, which from thee alone we can wholly receive."


V. 2. Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies; that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

To the dispensations of the twilight dawn, to the first messengers of the redeeming word, the yet lisping utterers of light and life, a strength and power were given BECAUSE OF THE ENEMIES, greater and of more immediate influence, than to the seers and proclaimers of a clearer day: even as the first reappearing crescent of the eclipsed moon shines for men with a keener brilliance than the following larger segments, previously to its total emersion.

Ib. v. 5.

Thou madest him lower than the angels, to crown him with glory and worship.

Power + idea = angel. Idea--power = man, or Prometheus.


V. 34. Ascribe ye the power to God over Israel: his worship and strength is in the clouds.

The "clouds," in the symbolical language of the Scriptures, mean the events and course of things, seemingly effects of human will or chance, but overruled by Providence.


This psalm admits no other interpretation but of Christ, as the Jehovah incarnate. In any other sense it would be a specimen of more than Persian or Moghul hyperbole, and bombast, of which there is no other instance in Scripture, and which no Christian would dare to attribute to an inspired writer. We know, too, that the elder Jewish Church ranked it among the Messianic Psalms.--N.B. The word in St. John and the Name of the Most High in the Psalms are equivalent terms.

V. 1. Give the king thy judgments, O God; and thy righteousness unto the king's son.

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, the only begotten, the Son of God and God, King of Kings, and the Son of the King of Kings!


V. 2. O think upon thy congregation, whom thou hast purchased and redeemed of old.

The Lamb sacrificed from the beginning of the world, the God-Man, the Judge, the self-promised Redeemer to Adam in the garden!

V. 15. Thou smotest the heads of the Leviathan in pieces; and gavest him to be meat for the people in the wilderness.

Does this allude to any real tradition? The Psalms appears to have been composed shortly before the captivity of Judah.

Ps. LXXXII. vv. 6-7.

The reference which our Lord made to these mysterious verses gives them an especial interest. The first apostasy, the fall of the angels, is, perhaps, intimated.


I would fain understand this Psalm; but first I must collate it word by word with the original Hebrew. It seems clearly Messianic.


Vv. 10-12. Dost thou show wonders among the dead, or shall the dead rise up again and praise thee? &c.;

Compare Ezekiel xxxvii.

Ps. CIV.

I think the Bible version might with advantage be substituted for this, which in some parts is scarcely intelligible.

V. 6.--the waters stand in the hills.

No; STOOD ABOVE THE MOUNTAINS. The reference is to the Deluge.

Ps. CV.


If even to seek the Lord be joy, what will it be to find him? Seek me, O Lord, that I may be found by thee!

Ps. CX.


V. 3. Understand--"Thy people shall offer themselves willingly in the day of conflict in holy clothing, in their best array, in their best arms and accoutrements. As the dew from the womb of the morning, in number and brightness like dew-drops, so shall be thy youth, or the youth of thee, the young volunteer warriors."

V. 5. "He shall shake," concuss, concutiet reges die irae suae.

V. 6. For "smite in sunder, or wound the heads;" some word answering to the Latin conquassare.

V. 7. For "therefore," translate "then shall he lift up his head again;" that is, as a man languid and sinking from thirst and fatigue after refreshment.

N.B.--I see no poetic discrepancy between vv. 1 and 5.


To be interpreted of Christ's Church.


V. 5. As the rivers in the south.

Does this allude to the periodical rains?

As a transparency on some night of public rejoicing, seen by common day, with the lamps from within removed--even such would the Psalms be to me uninterpreted by the Gospel. O honoured Mr. Hurwitz! Could I but make you feel what grandeur, what magnificence, what an everlasting significance and import Christianity gives to every fact of your national history--to every page of your sacred records!



XX. It is mournful to think how many recent writers have criminated our Church in consequence of their ignorance and inadvertence in not knowing, or not noticing, the contradistinction here meant between power and authority. Rites and ceremonies the Church may ordain jure proprio: on matters of faith her judgment is to be received with reverence, and not gainsayed but after repeated inquiries, and on weighty grounds.

XXXVII. It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the magistrate, to wear weapons, and to serve in wars.

This is a very good instance of an unseemly matter neatly wrapped up. The good men recoiled from the plain words--"It is lawful for Christian men at the Command of a king to slaughter as many Christians as they can!"

Well! I could most sincerely subscribe to all these articles. September, 1831.

[The end]
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's essay: Notes On The Book Of Common Prayer