THis Office the Church confesses not, to be ancient, but appointed instead of an ancient godly discipline of putting notorious sinners to open penance, which being lost with us, holy Church wishes might be restored again.
Though it be not ancient, yet is it a very useful penitential service, either in publick or private, consisting of holy sentences taken out of Gods word, fit for the work of repentance; Gods holy Commandments, the glass wherein we see our sins; Holy penitential prayers taken for the most part out of holy Scripture: so that, he which prayes this form, is sure to pray by the Spirit, both for words and matter.
F. A commination.] Cum primis salutaris est ceremonia, saith Bucer, “a very wholesome ceremony it is.” Sed non video cur debeat exhiberi solum uno die et non sepius; “but I see no reason why it should be restrained to one day” (for so it was by the first liturgy of Edward VI.) “and not exhibited oftener.” Whereupon it was appointed to be used divers times in the year. In our Church before the Reformation, its antecessor, excommunication, or the great curse, was pronounced four times in the year; on the first Sunday in Advent, the first Sunday in clean Lent, on Trinity Sunday, and the next Sunday after the Assumption of our Lady. The appointment of these divers times is not settled by any precise rule of our Church, but in the visitation articles of archbishop Grindal for his province of Canterbury, anno 1576, as a learned collector informs me, it seems there are three days mentioned, as relating to this office. One of the three Sundays next before Easter, one of the two Sundays next befpre Pentecost, one of the two Sundays next before Christmas.These, I take it, were added to Ash-Wednesday, not exclusive of it, by cause the following preface seems to have a peculiar relation to it.
The occasion and design of this office. THE preface which the Church has prefixed to this office will supply the room of an introduction. It informs us, that in the primitive Church there was a godly discipline; that at the beginning of Lent, such persons who stood convicted of notorious sins were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend. How and in what manner this discipline was inflicted, I have formerly had occasion to shew; so that I have nothing further to observe in this place, than that it was anciently exercised in our own as well as in foreign churches. But in latter ages, during the corruption of the Church of Rome, this godly discipline degenerated into a formal and customary confession upon Ash-Wednesdays, used by all persons indifferently, whether penitents or not, from whom no other testimony of their repentance was required, than that they should submit to the empty ceremony of sprinkling ashes upon their heads. But this our wise reformers prudently laid aside as a mere shadow or show; and not without hearty grief and concern, that the long continuance of the abominable corruptions of the Romish Church, in their formal confessions and pretended absolutions, in their sale of indulgences, and their sordid commutations of penance for money, had let the people loose from those primitive bands of discipline, which tended really to their amendment, but to which, through the rigour and severity it enjoins, they found it impracticable to reduce them again. However, since they could not do what they desired, they desired to do as much as they could: and therefore till the said discipline may be restored again, (which is rather to be wished than expected in these licentious times,) they have endeavoured to supply it as well as they were able, by appointing an office to be used at this season, called A COMMINATION, or denouncing of God’s anger and judgments against sinners: that so the people being apprized of God’s wrath and indignation against their wickedness and sins, may not be encouraged, through the want of discipline in the Church, to follow and pursue them: but be moved by the terror of the dreadful judgments of God, to supply that discipline to themselves, by severely judging and condemning themselves, and so to avoid being judged and condemned at the tribunal of God.
§. 2. How often, and upon what occasions to be used. But besides the first day of Lent, on which it is expressly enjoined, it is also supposed in the title of it to be used at other times, as the Ordinary shall direct. This was occasioned by the observation of Bucer: for it was originally ordered upon Ash-Wednesdays only; and therefore in the first Common Prayer Book it had no other title but The first day of Lent, commonly called Ash-Wednesday. But Bucer approving of the office, and not seeing reason why it should be confined to one day, and not used oftener, at least four times a year, the title of it was altered when it came to be reviewed; from which time it was called A Commination agamst Sinners, with certain Prayers to be used diverse times in the Year. How often, or at what particular times, we do not find prescribed; except that bishop Cosin informs us, from the Visitation Articles of archbishop Grindal for the province of Canterbury in the year 1576, that it was appointed three times a year; viz. on one of the three Sundays next before Easter, on one of the two Sundays next before Pentecost, and on one of the two Sundays next before Christmas; i.e. I suppose the office was appointed yearly to be used on these three days, as well as on Ash-Wednesday. For that Ash-Wednesday was then the solemn day of all, and on which this office was never to be omitted, may be gathered from the Preface, which is drawn up for the peculiar use of that day. And accordingly we find that in the Scotch Common Prayer a clause was added, that it was to be used especially on the first day of Lent, commonly called Ash-Wednesday. However, in our own Liturgy, the title stood as above till the last review, when a clause was added for the sake of explaining the word Commination; and the appointing of the times, on which it should be used, left to the discretion of the Bishop, or the Ordinary. So that the whole title, as it stands now, runs thus: A COMMINATION, or Denouncing of God’s Anger and Judgments against Sinners, with certain prayers to he used on the first day of Lent, and at other times, as the Ordinary shall appoint. The Ordinaries indeed seldom or never make use of the power here given them, except that sometimes they appoint part of the office, viz. from the fifty-first Psalm to tne end, to be used upon solemn days of fasting and humiliation. But as to the whole office, it is never used entirely but upon the day mentioned in the title of it, viz. The first day of LENT.
G. The priest shall go into the pulpit.] But why not rather go into the desk. Answer, because at the beginning of the reformation and establishment of our liturgy, there was no such thing as a desk known in the church; not a syllable of this reading-pew in the Injunctions of either King Edw. VI. or Queen Elizabeth, none in any order of advertisements set forth by the supreme authority, none in any canons ecclesiastical, and to the best of my enquiry, none in any visitation articles until the year 1603, when by the eighty-second canon it is ordained, “that a convenient seat be made for the minister to read service in.” Indeed the pulpit was at first designed not only for preaching, but also for other things tending to the edification of the people; there, even before our liturgy was established, and while the Romish mass stood entire in practice, was the epistle and gospel, and one chapter of the New Testament in the forenoon, and one chapter of the Old Testament in the afternoon, as also the Pater Noster, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, appointed to be read. All these in the time of Edward VI., and the three last in the time of Queen Elizabeth.
This being thus, it will be worth the enquiry, what it was that did first dictate to us the necessity of the reading-desk. The satisfying of which doubt will reside in reminding you of what I discoursed upon the rubric before morning prayer, viz. that the service was to be said in the accustomed place of the church or chancel: that this place, regularly, was the choir or chorus: now because in some churches, a belfry interposing, or over great distance impeding the voice, the people would bear too slender a part in those orations, it was therefore in such cases left to the ordinary’s discretion to vary from the former course, and to assign such a place as he should think meet “for the largeness and straightness of the church and choir,” for so are the words of the advertisements. Now this liberty was as readily taken as freely indulged: the ordinaries, flexible at the solicitations of their subordinate ministers, allowing them in several places to supersede their former practice, settling the morning and evening service in the church, as a place more edifying, and in order to it tolerating the frame of a reading-desk ; which dispensation, begun at first by some few ordinaries, became in process of time to be recommended from one to another, until it amounted to a general and universal practice.
H. In the stead.] This office being erected in default of public and solemn penance, it may here seem pertinent to give an account of the ancient practice, and the most material concernments thereof, viz. by declaring what it was, upon whom, by whom imposed, how long, by what degrees, and with what ceremonies, persons in that state were restored to the communion of believers, and received absolution.
First, it was an ecclesiastical censure, by which some persons were ordered ἔξω βληθῆναι, “to be cast out of the Church,” that is, interdicted not only the participation of the Lord’s Supper, but all sociable converse in divine offices, being not admitted to common prayers. Imposed it was upon such as apostatized in the times of persecution, were convicted of heresy, schism, contumacy, adultery, drunkenness, or such notorious crimes. They who inflicted this censure, were the of προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι in St. Paul, 1 Tim. v. 7: the ruling elders, the probati seniores, in Tertullian; the majores natu in St. Cyprian; not lay elders, as some most erroneously suppose, but those elders gui baptizandi et manum imponendi, et ordinandi habuerunt potestatem, “who had power to baptize, to confirm, to ordain,” as the same father assureth us, no one whereof was ever pretended to by lay elders. Nor were they mere presbyters, as distinct from bishops, but both bishops and presbyters. Bishops in chief, and presbyters in a fraternal consociation. For though some words in St. Cyprian sound in favour of his acting alone, and exercising a sole power in excommunication, yet when I hear him profess to his presbyters, a primordio episcopatus mei, statui nihil sine consilio vestro privata sententia gerere, “I resolved from my first instalment in episcopacy, never to act any thing of my own presbyters were admitted joint commissioners with him, though the definitive sentence passed, it is like, in his name when he was present.
As for the time how long this penance was to continue, as the Greek and Latin differed each from other, so was neither at unity without itself, but varied with the times in an arbitrary course, protending and contracting it κατὰ τὴν dvadoγίαν τοῦ ἁμαρτήματος, “ according to the rate and the assize of the office,” as the Constitutions have it. In the Greek Church at first, the party censured was separated from the congregation κατὰ τὸ ἁμάρτημα ἑβδομάδας δύο, ἢ πέντε ἢ ἑπτὰ, “two, three, five, or seven weeks, according to the nature of the office.’ A very gentle and mild procedure, if the severity of after times be considered, which instead of those weeks appointed years, nay, and more than so, extending the censure sometimes even to twelve years, as shall be seen anon. The time once perfixed and determined, the bishop or his penitentiary, upon evident token of sincere contrition, had power notwithstanding to abbreviate and shorten it at pleasure. So the council of Ancyra decreed, τοῦς ἐπισκόπους ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν τὸν τρόπον τῆς ἐπιστροφῆς δοκιμάσαντας φιλανθρωπεύεσθαι : “that bishops examining the demeanour of penitents, shall have power to use more clemency towards such as shall deserve it.” So in the Nicene council liberty is given likewise to the bishop, where he observes men truly penitent, φιλανθρωπότερόν τι περὶ αὐτῶν βουλεύσασθαι, “to deal more favourably with them.”
Persons lapsed lying under the censure of the Church thus and so long, it will not be amiss to enquire how they spent their time in this interim, and by what degrees they were repristinated and rendered in their former state. The most clear and most satisfactory account whereof is given us by Gregorius Neocesariensis, commonly called Thaumaturgus: upon their first expulsion, saith he, they were assigned their stations, ἔξω τῆς πύλης τοῦ εὐκτηρίου, “without in the churchyard,” where they were enjoined, as saith St. Basil also, τῶν εἰσιόντων δεῖσθαι πιστῶν ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν εὔχεσθαι, “to beseech the prayers of the faithful as they entered.” This place therefore was called πρόκλαυσις, from their weeping, mourning, and howling; there most commonly they spent three years. Their next step was into the porch, ἔνδοθι τῆς πύλης ἐν τῷ νάρθηκι; this place was called ἀκρόασις, because there they stood amongst the audients to hear the sermon preached and holy Scriptures read; where they tarried three years more. Their third remove was ἔσωθεν τῆς πύλης τοῦ ναοῦ, “into the very nave” and body of the church, close up to the catechumenium. This place was called ὑπόπτωσις, “substration,” because there they did ὑποπίπτειν, throw themselves down to receive the priest’s blessing, πρηνεῖς ἑαυτοὺς ῥυπτοῦντας, καὶ τῷ μετώπῳ THY γὴν τύπτοντας ἃ, “casting themselves all along prostrate, and even knocking the floor with their foreheads,” whilst the priest prayed, and, holding his hand over them, gave them his benediction. And from this very familiar custom of prostration, penitential incurvation, at length the word μετάνοια came after to be usually applied to adoration, as in the liturgy ascribed to St. Chrysostom μετάνοιαν ποιεῖν imports the doing of reverence by adoration.
He who was in this classis, St. Gregory tells us, was to go out with the catechumens, μετὰ τῶν κατηχουμένων ἐξέρχηται: by which there seems an evident difference betwixt the practice of this time, being about 260, and that of the times succeeding the council of Laodicea; for by that council it was expressly ordered that the catechumens and penitents should be dismissed apart, for the words are, μετὰ τὸ ἐξελθεῖν τοὺς κατηχουμένους, “after the catechumens are dismissed,” τῶν ἐν μετανοίᾳ τὴν εὐχὴν γίνεσθαι, “the prayer of the penitents must succeed.” And here give me leave to note further to you, that the οἱ ἐν μετανοίᾳ, so often mentioned in the Greek Church, are properly to be understood only of those penitents in this third degree, and not in a general notion, of all such as were under the Church’s censure. And this is manifest by St. Basil, who, setting down the order to be observed in the four years’ excommunication imposed upon fornicators, saith, χρὴ δὲ τῷ πρώτῳ ἐκβάλλεσθαι τῶν προσευχῶν καὶ προσκλαίειν αὐτοὺς τῇ θύρᾳ τῆς ἐκκλησίας' τῷ δευτέρῳ δεχθήναι εἰς ἀκρόασιν τῷ τρίτῳ δεχθήναι εἰς μετάνοιαν, “the first year the fornicator must be turned out of the Church, and lie howling at the door; in the second, he shall be admitted to hear the word; in the third, he shall be received among the order of penitents.” In this condition, the censured persons, according to St. Gregory, were to continue other three years.
Their fourth advance was into the congregation of the faithful, which caused a change of posture as well as place; ὑπόπτωσις, “ prostration,” being turned to σύστασις, “standing,” and to a standing with the faithful, joining prayers with them, and being present at the celebration, but ἀπεχόμενοι τῆς προσφορὰς, “abstaining from the oblations,” where the word προσφορὰ hath a double signification; first, the Eucharist itself is intended by it, whereof they were not to participate, though they were present at the receiving it. This was anciently called κοινωνία χωρὶς προσφορᾶς, “communicating without the Eucharist,” or the communion εὐχῆς μόνης, “of prayer only,” and therefore Zonaras, upon the words of the fifth canon of the council of Ancyra, κουινωνησάτωσαν χωρὶς προσφορᾶς, saith, κοινωνίαν évταῦθα οὐ τὴν μετάληψιν τῶν ἁγιασμάτων λέγει, ἀλλὰ τὴν μετὰ τῶν πιστῶν σύστασιν, “the council calls here communication, not the participation of the consecrated elements, but only a standing together with the faithful.” And so it must be, for the canon adds, iva τὸ τέλειον τῇ τετραετίᾳ λάβωσιν, “that in the fourth year they may come to the sacrament of perfection ;” where, by the way, take notice, that the edition of Balsamon reads τριετίᾳ instead of τετραετίᾳ, evidently false; and though the edition of Zonaras presents it right in the Greek, yet it erreth as much in the Latin, translating τετραετίᾳ, triennio, instead of quadriennio, as that of Dionysius Exiguus hath it more truly. But though they did not participate of the blessed Eucharist itself, yet was there bestowed upon them the ἀντίδωρον, or “blessed bread,” which being consecrated by prayers, though not for the service of the Eucharist, was given, saith Balsamon, to persons μὴ δυναμένους μεταλαβεῖν τῶν ἁγίων μυστηρίων, “which might not participate of the blessed mysteries.” The second import of the word προσφορὰ is, as Dr. Hammond truly observeth, the very offerings whereof the Eucharist was constituted, and so the sense of the place must be, that they were in no capacity, neither to offer themselves, nor partake of others’ oblations.
In this state they abode their last three years, at the determination whereof they were admitted to μέθεξις, “participation.” This is the description which St. Gregory hath delineated as the usage of his days. After him, following councils, as that of Nice and Ancyra, present us with a different scheme, limiting penitents to three years’ continuance in the porch, and seven years in subtraction, observing no uniformity in all cases, but varying as the quality of the crime directed.
Hitherto I have insisted only upon the eastern custom, now I come to the western, where we must meet with no such gradation, no medium betwixt the porch and the chancel. This notwithstanding, we may observe, they, the Africans especially, proceeded more severely against offenders than did the Churches of the east ; uniform rule amongst them of the earlier time there is none to be found; for before general councils stated and determined the practice, every bishop ordered as he thought meet in his own diocese; actum suum disponit et dirigit unusquisque episcopus, saith Cyprian; and again, statuit quod putat unusquisque prepositus, “ every president establisheth what he please.” Whence it is that some of Cyprian’s predecessors dandam pacem mechis non putaverunt, et in totum penitentie locum contra adulteria clauserunt, “decreed that adulterers should never be received into the place of the Church, but for ever shut out of her communion.” And though St. Cyprian disliked this discipline as over rigid, yet was his own clemency to such as proved apostates to idolatry little more visible, only dispensing in evitu subveniri, “ absolution to them at the last gasp,” nay, in some cases not then neither; viz., “if they did not exhibit evident tokens of contrition before they were cast upon their death-beds.”
So that if the Greek Church be thought severe, the African may be called cruel. The truth is, the Africans being kept in awe by the faction of Novatus and Novatianus, were forced to carry a stricter hand in discipline than otherwise they would, and therefore when their adversaries declined in their reputation, they relaxed and grew gentler towards delinquents, tendering the peace of the Church to all indefinitely, who did on their death-beds desire it; as did the clergy of Rome also in the vacancy of that see determine, cum spes vivendi secundum hominem nulla substiteret, caute et sollicite subveniri, “then to afford absolution, when the offenders are given over as dead men.”
As the Latin Church outwent the Greek in protracting absolution, so was her procedure more austere in the very act of exclusion and excommunication. Her mode, as Gratian represents it, was this: “upon Ash-Wednesday all penitents were to present themselves before the bishop, at the church door, clothed in sackcloth, their feet bare, and visages dejected to the ground. Then were they by the arch-presbyters or penitentiaries (who were to proportion their penance) led into the church: the bishop, with the whole clergy, lying prostrate on the floor, and bewailing their offences, sung the seven penitential psalms. Then the bishop raising himself from prayer laid his hands upon them, sprinkled holy water and cast ashes upon their heads, covering them with sackcloth, with sighs and sobs: denounced against them, that as Adam was expelled out of paradise, so were they thrust out of the Church for their iniquities; then he commanded the door-keepers to drive them out, all the clergy pursuing them with this responsory, ‘in the sweat of thy brows shalt thou eat thy bread.’” Thus Gratian, from the council of Agatha.
Confessed it is this canon is very justly suspected for an imposture, nor do I further urge this testimony than as authors of unquestionable credit furnish us with most of the same parcels scattered here and there without method. To begin with the last, the comparing persons excommunicated with Adam’s expulsion out of paradise; Epiphanius, speaking of the Adamiani; εἰ δὲ δόξειε τινὰ ἐν παραπτώματι γινέσθαι οὐκέτι τοῦτον συνάγουσιν. φάσκουσι γὰρ αὐτὸν τὸν Addy τὸν βεβρωκότα ἀπὸ ξύλου, καὶ κρίνουσι ἐξεῶσθαι, ὡς ἀπὸ παραδείσου, τουτέστι τῆς αὐτῶν ἐκκλησίας : “if any man chance to be taken in an offence, they suffer him not to assemble with them; for they call him Adam, as one that hath eaten of the forbidden fruit, and therefore adjudge him to be cast out of paradise, meaning thereby their Church.” Now though true it is these Adamiani were accounted heretics, yet Epiphanius mentions this as their opinion, not as their heresy. Heresy it could not be which was embraced by the orthodox fathers of that Church, who looked upon their penitents under the same notion. Prevaricati sunt pactum Det in Ecclesia; sicut Adam prevaricatus est in paradiso, sic isti ejiciantur de Ecclesia, saith Jerome of the excommunicated persons of his days; “they have broken the covenant of their God in the Church, as Adam transgressed in paradise, and declare they are his followers, that as he out of paradise, so are they thrust out of the Church.” Augustine to the same purpose: in hoc paradiso, id est Ecclesia, solent a sacramentis Altaris visilibus homines disciplina ecclesiastica removeri: “in this paradise, I mean the Church, ecclesiastical discipline is wont to shut out some men from the visible elements of the Altar.” A thing so clear, as some derive the very institution of ecclesiastical censure from that precedent.
Now if any shall say that this expulsion was only a sequestration of the person excommunicated from the outward communion and society of the faithful in sacris, and though these testimonies firm the comparison betwixt such persons and Adam, yet speak they short of the rite mentioned by Gratian, viz. “the driving them out of the Church,” as it denoteth the place of God’s worship ; I answer, that there is no absolute necessity to limit the interpretation to one which is applicable to both, especially considering that the one so naturally results from the other. And did these passages speak short, yet others there are home enough, that especially of St. Jerome, who speaking of his Fabiola’s not entering the Church, saith, sacerdos ejecerat, “the priest had cast her out ;” where is full evidence both for the act of expulsion itself, from the Church, and for the person expelling, the priest, which according to the idiom of antiquity always imported none inferior to the bishop. As for the restraint of his solemn exclusion to Ash-Wednesday, Gratian’s word must be taken ; and for ought I see, well it may, considering nothing can be urged against it, as labouring of any irrational absurdity. As concerning penitents presenting themselves at the church door, it is undoubtedly true, there they were to stand during the time of divine service. Fabiola before mentioned, non est ingressa ecclesiam, “ did not enter into the church.” So the Roman clergy writing to St. Cyprian in the vacancy of that see; adeant ad limen ecclesie sed non utique transiliant, “the penitents may come to the threshold of the church, but step beyond they must not.” And this helps us to the reading of Tertullian’s adgeniculari caris Dei, where it was aris Dei before. If penitents might not set so much as a foot over the threshold of God’s house, they could not properly be said adgeniculari aris, “to kneel at the Altar.” There was indeed a great enmity between altars and persons of that state, so great, as he who was absolved was said to be reconciled “to the holy Altar,” divino altari. And this reconciliation was not to the Altar itself neither, but to the sacramental symbol consecrated at the Altar, and then his postliminiation gave him liberty to approach no nearer the Altar than Altars indulged to the very faithful themselves, and if not to them, much less to penitents.
Their stations being then assigned them without doors, there did they adgeniculari caris Dei, “ supplicate the dear saints of God as they entered the church ;” there did they beg patrocinium sancte plebis ad Deum obsecrandum, “ the assistance of the holy congregation to entreat God in their behalf,” according to the Greek form mentioned before. As for the ceremonies related by Gratian, which were indicative of interior humiliation, and as it were, silent confessions, cause I have to think they were rather spontaneous compliances with the received fashions of those times, than the result of any ecclesiastical canon ; but whether so, or not so, certain it is in use they were. St. Cyprian, describing penitents in their splendid formalities, sets them out thus, that they did, stratos solo adherere cineri, in cilicio et sordibus volutare, (or, as Tertullian, solo de cineri incubare,) “cast down upon the floor, wrap themselves up in filthy and coarse sacking.” So St. Jerome, Fabiola saccum induerat, ut errorem publice fateretur, “had put on sackcloth, that she might testify to all the world she had fallen.” Nor is this all; he addeth, she stood in ordine panitentium, “in the row of penitents ;” discalceatis pedibus, “ barefoot, with her shoes off ;” which Gratian maketh another rite appendant to solemn penance. In this posture and habit, éJdlotz, et sordulenti, et extra letitiam, to use Tertullian’s phrase, “nastily defiled with dirt, abandoning all signs of joy,” continued they all the time of sacred offices, until that of the Eucharist was finished, which being done, and the congregation risen, as they were coming forth out of the church, the penitents, Sozomen tells us, “with howling and great lamentation fell grovelling before them, and the bishop coming up to them, cast himself prostrate also, with great mourning, the congregation all be-drenched with tears : then the bishop, rising up first, and the rest after him, he sent up his prayers to God for them, and so dismissed them.”
Having thus laid down the several schemes and fashions of both primitive Churches, during the time of penance, it will be now proper to survey how they recovered those rites from which they fell. For which work, it is very probable in both Churches, one peculiar day, though not in both one and the same, was set apart; what that day was in the Greek Church I am not yet satisfied, what in the Latin, all those ancient ritualists published by Hittorp, with Durandus, Durantus, and others of later edition, who constantly fix it precisely upon Maundy-Thursday, seem to put it out of question; which possibly was exactly true in reference to the times wherein they wrote, and not very wide from the more ancient limitation ; for St. Jerome, giving us an account of Fabiola’s reception into the communion of the faithful, saith, it was sub diem Pasche, “very near Easter,” and must consequently fall into the holy week ; but St. Ambrose is most express in his epistle to Marcellina, who sending her a kind of journal of that great tumult about his not delivering up of the Church, he giveth it this date, erat autem dies, quo sese Dominus pro nobis tradidit, quo in Ecclesia penitentia relaxatur, “ now it was the day whereon our Lord delivered Himself for us, whereon public penance is released in the Church.” Nor was this a day of general release, but restrained only to such as had gone their full time of penance, and had completed it, as it was prefixed. As for the rites belonging to this reconciliation, they were in both Churches conformably two, one proper to the absolved, the other to the absolving person: the absolved being produced in the face of the congregation, made there public confession of his sins, then called exhomologesis, whereupon he was absolved with imposition of hands ; in which the bishop, as he ought, did preside. And this is that very imposition of hands intended by the Apostle, 1 Timothy v. 22, where he commands him “to lay hands suddenly upon no man,” as the learned Annotator of late, and Tertullian of old hath observed, to my apprehension, most truly.
Thus stood the discipline of the ancient Church for the first six hundred years, she keeping therein a decent medium between two extremes. To cut off lapsed persons from all hope of one single pardon, would have abetted the rigid humour of Novatus. Again, on the other side, medicina vilis minus utilis esset egrotis; “a medicine too cheap and easy to be come by, would make it the less effective in operation.” To avoid therefore that contempt, which an over frequent and too familiar lenity would create, this indulgence once, and but once she granted, there being, sicut unum baptisma, ita una penitentia que publice agitur, “as but one baptism, so but one public penance in the Church.”
That this, the most laudable, most edifying way of Christian reformation by ecclesiastical censures, should, in a Church assuming the style of reformed, be so almost totally abandoned ; that a discipline, so apostolical, so primitive, should, in a Church justly pretending to be the very parallelogram and true representation of those excellent copies, be so very near invisible ; that the restoration thereof should hitherto become the vote of so many, and endeavour of so few; is to me avery great wonder. Perhaps some will say, that this strict discipline seemed rather to magnify the power of the keys, and authority of the clergy, than the mercies of God: mercies so inexhaustible, as all our sins are in comparison of them but ὅσον σπινθὴρ πρὸς πέλαγος, “as a drop to the ocean.” To which it may be returned, in excuse of those rigorous proceedings, first, that Christianity was but then in the bud, the profession thereof thinly dispersed in the crowd of pagans, where the least moral scandal would have been a great blemish to the whole party, and consequently impeded the gaining of proselytes. For it is a rule infallible, that no sect whatsoever can thrive and prosper, whose professors do not exhibit a fair front of moral virtues in their outward actions. Upon this account it was expedient, that the Church, under the penalty of the deepest of her censures, should require, from all her subordinates, such a practical and exemplary purity, as might render her most resplendent, even in the opinion of her greatest enemies. Again, emperors and supreme magistrates had not then embraced Christianity, and consequently, no laws established to punish such crimes as were of mere ecclesiastical relation; and, in default of such laws, the Church had all the reason in the world to exercise that spiritual jurisdiction Christ had empowered her with, to those intents for which it was given. And though since Christian magistrates have taken the Church to nurse, political laws take cognizance of, and punish all notorious offenders, and so her censure now less necessary, yet considering that coercive power operates most upon the outward act, and really reforms the inward habit, I question not but this spiritual discipline might be used still in some degrees, to the greater advancement of piety and a holy life. Sure I am with learned Casaubon, huic revocande in usum operam impendisse, res futura sit Deo gratior, quam de fidei dogmatibus subtiliter disputare extra Scripturas, et omnes dissentientes ferro, et flamma persequi, in quo hodie summus pietatis apex ponitur ; “the endeavour of recalling this discipline into practice, would be time better spent, and to God much more acceptable, than, without Scripture, to dispute nicely about points of faith, and to prosecute with fire and sword all contrary judgment, which is now-a-days made the great point of Christian piety.”
This office to be said after the Litany ended. The Litany, when properly ended. THIS rubric was, in all our former Common Prayer Books, expressed a little differently from what it is now: After Morning Prayer, the People being called together by the ringing of a Belly and assembled in the Church, the English Litany shall be said after the accustomed manner; which ended, the Priest shall go into the pulpit, and say thus, [the People sitting and attending with reverence.*] This I have formerly had occasion to shew was owing to the Litany’s being a distinct service by itself, and so used sometimes after Morning Prayer was over. But it now being made one office with the Morning Prayer, and so both of them read at one and the same time, the rubric only directs, that after Morning Prayer, the Litany ended according to the accustomed manner, this office shall ensue; i.e. after the whole Litany has been concluded as usual, with The general Thanksgiving, the Prayer of St. Chrysostom, and The Grace of our Lord, &c., and not (as I have observed some to bring it in) immediately after the Collect, We humbly beseech thee, O Father, &c. For till the three forementioned prayers have all of them been used, the Litany is not ended according to the accustomed manner. For the Thanksgiving being to be used before the two final prayers of the Litany, must certainly make a part of the Litany. And if the prayer of St. Chrysostom, and The Grace of our Lord, &c., be the two final prayers of that office, then sure this office cannot be concluded without them. But what I think clearly puts this matter out of doubt, are four words that immediately follow The Grace of our Lord, &c., viz. Here endeth the Litany; from whence, one would think, any man might conclude that it is not ended before.
§. 2. To be said in the reading-pew or pulpit. The name of a reading-pew was never mentioned in our Liturgy till the last review, (the reason of which I have largely given before;) for by this rubric, till the Restoration, the Priest was to go into the pulpit, and say the following Preface and Exhortation. And indeed that is a place not improper for the office, since the Denouncing of God’s Judgments is as it were preaching of his word. And it is certain that the pulpit was at first designed, not only for preaching, but for any thing else that tended to the edification of the people. There the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, were formerly appointed to be read to the people in English on every holy-day in the year, when there was no Sermon to hinder it: and there also at the beginning of the Reformation, whilst the Romish Mass was continued till the English Liturgy could be prepared, the Epistle and Gospel for the day, with a Lesson out of the New Testament in the morning, and another out of the Old Testament in the afternoon, was read to the people in the English tongue. However, reading-pews having been generally brought into use before the Restoration, it was not then thought proper to confine the use of this office any longer to the pulpit, but to allow it to be said as the Minister should think proper, either there or in the reading-pew.
I. The Preface. To bring the minds of the congregation into a serious composure, the office is introduced with a grave and solemn preface; by which the Church informs them, in the first place, of the ancient discipline, and then proposes to them the best means to supply it. The ancient discipline, she tells them, was to put those to open shame, who by any notorious sins had given public scandal and offence. By which means both the souls of those that sinned were often rescued from damnation, and others also, being admonished by their example, were deterred from incurring the same danger or punishment. But as this discipline is now lost through the degeneracy of the times, and even beyond retrieval as affairs stand now, she proposes that the congregation would supply it to themselves, by hearing the curses which God has denounced against impenitent sinners; by which means, as in a glass, each one will be able to discern his own sins, and the curses he is exposed to; the serious prospect of which will be apt to awaken them from their thoughtlessness and security, and to put them upon flying from such imminent danger, by having recourse to a speedy repentance.
After Morning Prayer, the Litany ended according to the accustomed manner, the Priest shall, in the reading Pew or Pulpit, say,
Nothing in it seems to need exposition, but the AMEN, which is to be said after the Curses, which being commonly used after prayers, may perhaps here be accounted by some, a wish or prayer; and so the people be thought to curse themselves.
For the satisfying of which scrupulosity, it is enough to say, that God himself commanded these Amens to be said after these Curses. Deut. 27. and therefore good there may be in saying of them, but harm there can be none, if men when they say them understand them. Now that we may understand them when we use them, let us consider, that Amen is not always a wish or prayer. For, it signifies no more but verily or truly, or an assent to the truth of that to which it is added. If that to which it is added, be a prayer, then this must needs be a joyning in the prayer, and is as much as so be it; but if that to which it be added be a Creed, or any affirmative proposition, such as these curses are, then the Amen is only an affirmation, as that is, to which it is annexed. In this place therefore it is not a wishing that the Curses may fall upon our heads, but only an affirming with our own mouthes that the curse of God is indeed due to such sins, as the Church here propounds it. The use of it is to make us flee such vices for the future, and earnestly repent of them, if we be guilty: since, as we acknowledge, the curse and vengeance of God doth deservedly follow such sins and sinners.
II. The Sentences. The original of repeating the curses, in the manner we now use them, was a positive ana divine institution, which twice enjoined it by Moses, and in obedience to which we find Joshua afterwards most religiously observed it. And Josephus also reckons it amongst those things which the Jews always used to perform. And though the circumstances in the Jewish manner of reciting these curses were purely ceremonial, yet doubtless the end for which this duty was prescribed was truly moral. For to publish the equity and truth of God, and to profess our belief that his laws are righteous, and the sanctions thereof just and certain, is an excellent means of glorifying God, and a proper method for converting of sinners. So that it cannot be unfit for the Gospel-times, nor at all unsuitable to our Christian worship; especially when the necessities of the Church require the sinner should be warned and brought to repentance. Christ indeed hath taken away the curse of the Law, by being himself made a curse for us; but this is only with respect to those that truly repent; for as to all others the curse stands in full force still. It is therefore fit, that all should declare their belief of the truth and reasonableness of these curses: the good man, to own what his sins had deserved, and to acknowledge his obligation to our Lord for redeeming him; the bad man, to awaken him from his security and ease, and to bring him to repentance before it be too late.
§. 2. Amen, what it signifies at the end of these sentences. For this reason all the people, as those sentences are read, are to answer and say, at the end of each of them, Amen. The end of which is not that the people should curse themselves and their neighbours, as some have foolishly imagined; but only that they should acknowledge they have deserved a curse. For it is not here said, Cursed be he, or may he be cursed; but, Cursed is he, or he is cursed, that is guilty of any of these sins. And consequently any one that answers Amen, does not signify his desire, that the thing may be so, as he does when he says Amen to a prayer; but only signifies his assent to the truth of what is affirmed, as he does when he says Amen to the Creed. It is used in this place in no other sense than it is in several parts of the New Testament, where it is translated Verily, and signifies no more than Verily it is true. The man that says it, verily believes that idolaters, and all those other kinds of sinners that are mentioned in these sentences, are all exposed to the curse of God; and his believing this is the cause of his repentance, and begging pardon for his sins; since he must be a desperate sinner indeed, that will not fly from such vices, for which he affirms with his own mouth so great and heavy a judgment to be due. In short, these curses, and the answers that are made to them, are like our Saviour’s woes in the Gospel; not the causes or procurers of the evil they denounce; but compassionate predictions of it in order to prevent it. And one would indeed think, when we consider that this manner of answering was originally appointed by God himself, people should be cautious how they charge it with being a wicked or foolish institution. But to proceed.
And the people shall answer and say, "Amen."
III. The application. Having heard to what sins the curse of God is due, the Church has too much reason to conclude, that we are all of us guilty of more or fewer of them, and consequently all of us in danger of God’s wrath, except we repent. To excite us therefore to so necessary a duty, that so we may escape those dreadful judgments, she hath collected a pious and pathetical discourse, to set home the foregoing denunciations to our conscience. It is all of it gathered from the holy Scriptures, that it may be more regarded, as coming directly from the word of God; and is so methodical and apt to the occasion, that the fault must be in the hearers, if the delivery of it be not attended with a happy effect.
I. Psalm 51. AFTER so serious and rational a discourse, the Church may justly suppose that we are all resolved to repent; and therefore, to assist us in so necessary a duty, she hath prepared such penitential devotions, as will be very suitable to our pious resolutions: and that they may be said with a greater humiliation and reverence, all the people are to kneel upon their knees, and the Priests and Clerks to kneel in the place where they are accustomed to say the Litany. And here they are to begin with David’s Litany, viz. Psalm 51, the most solemn and penitential one of all that he composed.
Then shall they all kneel upon their knees, and the Priest and Clerks kneeling (in the place where they are accustomed to say the Litany) shall say this Psalm.
II. The Lord's Prayer, &c. After this follow the lesser Litany, the Lord’s Prayer, and Suffrages, of which we have often spoken before.
III. The first Collect. And because the Minister may know it to be time to bind up the wounds of true penitents, he in the next place addresses himself solemnly to God for their pardon and forgiveness.
IV. The second collect. And knowing also that now he cannot well be too importunate, he subjoins a second Collect to the first; the more pathetically to press our most merciful Father, by phrases well suited to the desires of penitents, and mostly selected from holy Scripture.
V. The general supplication. And the people being now prepared and revived by these importunate addresses, are allowed to open their lips for themselves, and to plead for their own pardon in so moving a form, that if it be presented with a suitable devotion, it cannot miss of prevailing; but will admirably fit them for...
Then shall the people say this that followeth, after the Minister.
VI. The blessing. The following blessing,* which, being to be pronounced in the name of God, is taken from a form of his own prescribing: so that all who are prepared to receive its benefit must humbly kneel, and firmly believe that he who prescribed it will be sure to confirm it to their infinite advantage and endless comfort.
Then the Minister alone shall say,