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Certainly not. No where are works of Art estimated without reference to their necessary relations. A production of Art, devoted to the purposes of the Church, is therefore to be considered eminent or otherwise just in proportion to the fitness of its relation to those purposes. There are chief, and there are subordinate ends—the general relation to religion, with particular reations to every thing with which the work must stand in connexion — all which form the prescribed sphere wherein the creative power of Art must confine its exertions. As the painter, when commending to Eternity“ a moment caught from fleeting time,''* brings himself, by the steadfast contemplation of each circumstance and condition, to the full conception of the situation and to the power of reacting upon it, — 90 the Church-artist, in every department, must awaken his genius by studying the position which bis work, in all its aspects, is meant to occupy. A prime condition of eminence, therefore, in any production of mind devoted to the church — supposing the maker to possess the essential qualifications of an Artist — is, that it proceed from a spirit thoroughly imbued with a sense of its religious bearings. Surely, if music, for instance, is the true utterance of peculiar states of mind, that melody by which the composer conveyed, in his way, his sense of the situation of a pair of lovers in an opera, can never be transferred to the Church, so as to stand equally well for states of mind strictly religious. Another and minor condition of bigh excellence in such production arises from its bearing on a subordinate end of all Church services. That end seems to us to be a sanctification of every thing connected with them- that is, according to the meaning of the Hebrew word, to separate and set them apart from common and worldly things. So the day for regular public worship was set apart by God himself. In the same spirit, churches have always been made to differ in form from the dwellings of man.f Religion,
WORDSWORTH. + It is very true, indeed, (as we must allow,) that many good people are disposed to make the difference the other way. They prefer, it would seem, to have the House of God rather worse built, worse furnished, worse swept, and worse heated, than their own; and whereas plate is particularly becoming to their table, there is something - in the “association of ideas," we suppose - th gives to bas metal (or even, God help us! to a decanter and tumblers) a very peculiar fitness for the Table of the Lord.
too, a matter of every day's business, with its daily services of private devotion, and a subject for every day's discussion and study, still has its peculiar mode of treatment on that day, in the midst of all its sanctities. When brought then within the walls of the Church, it is no longer treated like a topic of familiar conversation, but one man alone is set apart to discourse upon it, after solemn study and careful preparation. This end, it would seem evident enough, must be kept in view in the form of every
ritual element, were it only out of mere good taste. We take notice, finally, of another condition of excellence, which arises from the special purpose and bearing of each ritual feature by itself. As in sacred poetry, for instance, besides its general religious bearing, it must remain to be considered, whether it should be addressed to the Great object of praise, or whether, like a sermon, it may contain doctrinal reflections and pious exhortations apparently directed to others, or solely to our own hearts.*
We have thus given a general answer to the question, What each and every element of Rituals should be in order to perform their proper office? We must now proceed to examine each one of those elements in reference to the standard established. No one of them will need to detain us long, except Prayer. We proceed to that, in the first instance.
Is the Liturgy of our Church — is the Order of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer - such a production of mind as we have described ? Does it eminently fulfil the conditions laid down? We answer this question, first, so far as the Liturgy is a precomposed Form merely, and, then, as it is a Form displaying certain characteristic qualities.
Recurring to the principles, which we have endeavored to settle, there would seem to be a strong presumption, that on a day and in a place set apart, where even our fellow-men are to be addressed in the best, well-prepared efforts of a cultivated mind, a precomposed form of prayer is that form which makes public prayer a thing separate from common addresses, and best preserves the uniform, harmonious character of Church services. We say precomposed form emphatically; for it must not be for
This principle of separating and setting apart, which it has pleased the Deity himself to act upon, is doubtless deeply grounded in the universal nature of man. It might be explained upon the theory of the “ Association of Ideas,” — “or (to use Scou's words) by whatever other theory has now been substituted for that once universal solvent of all metaphysical difficulties.”
gotten that whatever prayers the people are to follow is for them a form, whether made at the moment or beforehand. The decision is therefore to be made only between the kind of form which they may choose to follow. Let the man, who would settle the mode of performing all public Christian exercises, consider simply their general religious bearing — their relation to the awful, invisible Majesty in Heaven - and would he, guided by any such considerations, direct that prayer should be made as each minister's “extemporal wit,” as old Hooker says, should give him taste, judgment, knowledge — not to say sense of propriety and decency? But let us refer, briefly, to the special purpose and bearing of public prayer. It is a most obvious, yet very important, distinction, that Christian services consist of two main parts:- in the one, the preacher, standing under circumstances of peculiar solemnity and responsibility, declares and illustrates religious truth, and enforces it upon his fellow-men there present; in the other, the congregation, (in some way, whether taking part with the minister or simply altogether by deputy, so to speak,) offer prayer, praise, and thanksgiving directly to the Deity himself. Such is the admitted force of the former relation, that it modifies very essentially the character of the intellectual effort so made. To convince and persuade men being the main object, we not only tolerate, but we demand illustration, argument, eloquence — every thing (not interrupting the sacred relations of the discourse) that can adorn and recommend the subject presented. We expect the preacher (the more sacred conditions being fulfilled) to stand before us as an Orator. Hence, even a Christian sermon may not differ materially, in its external features - in its characteristics as a work of Art — from those finished orations, which originally swayed to and fro the cultivated population of Athens, and now live on an immortal page — the wonder and study of all time. But it is perfectly obvious, that the minister, in addressing solemn prayer to God in bebalf of a Christian congregation, has no end of conviction or persuasion in view, and therefore does in no respect stand before them as an Orator. Not a single grace that is proper to an oration or sermon has any place here. Though the preacher must present himself personally in a sermon — though he appears then (so to speak) as an Author, yet the slightest token of authorship in the devotional service, is felt at once to be out of place, if not profane. Yet he who prays extemporally in public is particularly apt to provoke us to think of him as an author, either by almost inevitable looseness in the
structure of his effusion, by blunders in language, by stumbling and hesitating, and by giving us half sentences, now and then, which we perceive to be an unmeaning but forced completion of a beginning too hastily ventured upon; or else by his evident playing the orator - by his recognising himself as, in some sense, a proper subject for those frequent but profane commendations: “What an eloquent prayer !” “What a splendid effort!'' Now this would be much less likely to happen were the minister to pray from a precomposed form even of his own making. In his closet, while he would write under circumstances more favorable to profound meditation, he would be free from that impulse to oratory and authorship, which one is always apt to feel when he is thrown entirely upon the power and readiness of his intellect before an audience. He kindles as he goes
but too often, we suspect, with the excitement of composition; and it is with that feeling, we may therefore reasonably judge, that a congregation, who prosess to have “enjoyed the prayer," have all along been unconsciously moved in sympathy. But if any minister's precomposed form would be better, for these reasons, than extemporizing — if it would be more truly a high and appropriate work of mind, and therefore produce a corresponding, insensible effect, as a mere agent of culture much better would that form bid fair to be, which should be composed by the united meditation, judgment, wisdom, and devotional spirit of many holy men, and subjected to repeated revision at various subsequent periods.
Coming now to our own particular Form of Prayer, we can say of it, that it was composed by such men and in such a manner. They were competent in learning; for they had been brought up in a Church, in which Rituals had received a disproportionate share of attention, and had been refined upon to the greatest extent. They had been trained in a school of philosophy and theology that could not but accustom the mind to the nicest and most discriminating examination of every subject within their sphere. Withal they had been led, as Protestant controversialists, to a diligent study of the earliest Fathers and the primitive liturgies, — thus enabling them to apply the standard of that ancient simplicity to the later refinements and subtilties with a liveliness of knowledge never since possessed. As to their competency as men of piety and prayer, the reader needs not surely to be reminded, that the faith and devotion which breathe through those pages had been cherished in the midst of the dangers of dissent from Rome, and were finally tried in fire. Hence the directness, the filial freedom and earnestness, the resolute and simple faith, of which we are so sensible, - the characteristics of men whom daily dangers brought into peculiar closeness of communion with God.
Here, then, if any where and ever, we have the prime qualifications in the most eminent degree. We have the soundness in Gospel truth, the firm religious character, and the earnest devotedness of martyred Reformers, with high gifts of mind, cultivated under peculiar advantages, and familiar with the ancient and later models. Do we find in the work produced an answerable fulfilment of the necessary and desirable conditions?
We find this, at least, at the outset — that our English Ritualists had an idea to work out sufliciently comprehensive to admit of the employment of the higher powers of production. They had a sphere in which something could be done. Mind could be called forth in power and extent enough to produce some effect upon the mind that should come fairly into contact with it. They had — what no one could ever have derived from acquaintance with the Directory alone — they had a conception of Prayer as a Serrice - a wide and comprehensive whole, full and complete in itself. Such a conception had its difficulties, of course. A great variety of distinct elements were to be properly blended in an order that should still preserve a fitting simplicity; the relations to be considered and adjusted were numerous and delicate ; the occasions for stepping out of their true position, of giving the judgment place before the heart, and of appearing as authors and orators, were proportionably increased ; and in such multifarious subordinate exertions of mind, the preservation of the higher feelings and wider views, on which the unity of the work depended, became a harder task. But a triumph over these difficulties, although never showing itself proninently as such, would, of course, impart a higher worth to the result, that would in some way make itself felt. Indeed, the mere bestowing so much exertion of superior minds upon the work could not fail of securing one valuable quality, at least — that so necessary setting apart and separating from things common and worldly; just as a like effect is produced, with respect to the church-edifice, itsell, and the sacramental vessels, when peculiar pains and expense have been bestowed upon them, although without answerable perfection in style and form. But besides this, by giving the prayers a proper extent, and by making them the result of such previous care and study, the proper keeping is preserved with the other parts