Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
On Set Forms of Liturgy
By Jeremy Taylor (16131667)
From An Apology for authorized and set Forms of Liturgy
AND here I consider that the true state of the question is only this, Whether it is better to pray to God with consideration, or without? Whether is the wiser man of the two, he who thinks and deliberates what to say, or he that utters his mind as fast as it comes? Whether is the better man, he who, out of reverence to God, is most careful and curious that he offend not in his tongue, and, therefore, he himself deliberates, and takes the best guides he can; or he who, out of the confidence of his own abilities or other exterior assistances, [Greek],1 speaks whatever comes uppermost.
And here I waive the advice and counsel of a very wise man, no less than Solomon, Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven and thou upon earth; therefore, let thy words be few. The consideration of the vast distance between God and us, heaven and earth, should create such apprehensions in us, that the very best and choicest of our offertories are not acceptable but by Gods gracious vouchsafing and condescension; and, therefore, since we are so much indebted to God for accepting our best, it is not safe ventured to present Him with a dough-baked sacrifice, and put Him off with that which, in nature and human consideration, is absolutely the worst; for such is all the crude and imperfect utterance of our more imperfect conceptions: Hoc non probo in philosopho, cujus oratio, sicut vita, debet esse composita, said Seneca; A wise mans speech should be like his life and actions, composed, studied, and considered. And if ever inconsideration be the cause of sin and vanity, it is in our words, and, therefore, is, with greatest care, to be avoided in our prayers, we being, most of all, concerned that God may have no quarrel against them, for folly or impiety.
But, abstracting from the reason, let us consider who keeps the precept best, he that deliberates, or he that considers not when he speaks? What man in the world is hasty to offer anything unto God; if he be not, who prays extempore? And then add to it but the weight of Solomons reason, and let any man answer me, if he thinks it can well stand with that reverence we owe to the immense, the infinite, and to the eternal God, the God of wisdom, to offer Him a sacrifice which we durst not present to a prince or a prudent governor, in re seriâ, such as our prayers ought to be.
And that this may not be dashed with a pretence it is carnal reasoning, I desire it may be remembered that it is the argument God Himself uses against lame, maimed, and imperfect sacrifices, Go, and offer this to thy prince, see if he will accept it; implying that the best person is to have the best present, and what the prince will slight as truly unworthy of him, much more is it unfit for God. For God accepts not of anything we give or do, as if He were bettered by it; for, therefore, its estimate is not taken by its relation or natural complacency to Him, for, in itself, it is to Him as nothing; but God accepts it by its proportion and commensuration to us. That which we call our best, and is truly so in human estimate, that pleases God; for it declares that if we had better we would give it Him. But to reserve the best says too plainly that we think anything is good enough for Him. And, therefore, God, in the law, would not be served by that which was imperfect in genere naturæ2 so neither now nor ever will that please Him which is imperfect, in genere morum, or materiâ intellectuali, when we can give a better.
And, therefore, the wisest nations and the most sober persons prepared their verses and prayers in set forms, with as much religion as they dressed their sacrifices, and observed the rites of festivals and burials. Amongst the Romans, it belonged to the care of the priests to worship in prescribed and determined words. In omni precatione qui vota effundit sacerdos, Vestam et Janum aliosque deos præscriptis verbis et composito carmine advocare solet.3 The Greeks did so too, receiving their prayers by dictate, word for word. Itaque sua carmina suæque precationes singulis diis institutæ sunt; quas plerumque, ne quid præposterè dicatur, aliquis ex præscripto præire et ad verbum referre solebat.4 Their hymns and prayers were ordained peculiar to every god, which, lest anything should be said preposterously, were usually pronounced, word for word, after the priest, and out of written copies; and the magi among the Persians were as considerate in their devotions: Magos et Persas primo semper diluculo canere diis hymnos et laudes, meditato et solenni precationis carmine; The Persians sang hymns to their gods by the morning twilight, in a premeditate, solemn, and metrical form of prayer, said the same author. For, since in all the actions and discourses of men, that which is the least considered is likely to be the worst, and is certainly of the greatest disreputation, it were a strange cheapness of opinion towards God and religion, to be the most incurious of what we say to Him; and in our religious offices it is strange that everything should be considered but our prayers. It is spoken by Eunapius, to the honour of Proæresiuss scholars, that when the proconsul asked their judgments in a question of philosophy, they were [Greek]they, with much consideration and care, gave in answer those words of Aristides, That they were not of the number of those that used to vomit out answers, but of those that considered every word they were to speak. Nihil enim ordinatum est quod præcipitatur et properat, said Seneca; Nothing can be regular and orderly that is hasty and precipitate; and, therefore, unless religion be the most imprudent, trifling, and inconsiderable thing, and that the work of the Lord is done well enough when it is done negligently, or that the sanctuary hath the greatest beauty when it hath the least order, it will concern us highly to think our prayers and religious offices are actions fit for wise men, and, therefore, to be done as the actions of wise men use to be, that is, deliberately, prudently, and with greatest consideration.
Note 1. [Greek], etc. = I would seem to be like those who heedlessly, ignorantly, and at random, say whatever occurs to them. [back]
Note 2. in genere naturæ = in the way of nature, in genere morum = in the way of conduct; materia intellectuali = in the matter of understanding. [back]
Note 3. In omni precatione, etc. = In every prayer the priest, who utters the petitions, is wont to call upon Vesta and Janus and the other gods in prescribed words, and after a settled form. [back]
Note 4. Itaque sua carmina suæque precationes, etc. = Therefore their proper forms and prayers are fixed for each of the gods; and, in order that nothing might be said out of its due order, it was usual that some one should lead in these prayers after the prescribed ritual, and keep them strictly to the set words. [back]