In her study Chaoluan Kao offers a comprehensive investigation of popular piety at the time of the European Reformations through the study of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant prayerbooks. It pursues a historical-contextual approach to spirituality by integrating social and religious history in order to yield a deeper understanding of both the history of Christian piety and of church history in general. The study explores seven prayerbooks by German authors and seventeen English prayerbooks from the Reformation and post-Reformation as well as from Lutheran, Anglican, and Puritan traditions, examining them as spiritual texts with social and theological significance that helped disseminate popular understandings of Protestant piety. Early Protestant piety required intellectual engagement, emphasized a faithful and heartfelt attitude in approaching God, and urged regular exercise in prayer and reading. Early Protestant prayerbooks modeled for their readers a Protestant piety that was a fervent spiritual practice solidly grounded in the social context and connections of its practitioners. Through those books, Reformation could be understood as redefining the meanings of people’s spiritual lives and re-discovering of a pious life. In a broader sense, they functioned as a channel of historical and spiritual transition, which not only tells us the transformation and transmission of Reformation historically but also signifies the development of Christian spirituality. The social-historical study of the prayerbooks furthers our understanding of continuity, change, and inter-confessional influence in the Christian piety of early modern Europe.
V&R have provided a review copy.
The volume contains a series of examinations of various English and German prayer books. The purpose of the volume, then, is quite straightforward: to investigate the form and purpose of these kinds of texts in their 16th and 17th century contexts. Along those lines, the author writes
… the study will mainly explore seventeen English texts from Anglican, early Puritan groups in addition to seven German texts from the Lutheran group for consulting or for reference.
In the course of the work, which is carefully written, we learn the following:
In the seventeenth century, German prayerbooks slightly changed their focus and methods of expression to better sustain their readers’ spiritual growth.
The first women’s writing for female readers can be found in Prayers or Meditations, a text published under the name of Queen Katherine Parr (1512– 1548) and was printed by Thomas Bertheletin in Londonon June 2, 1545.
This latter fact is one of many interesting snippets which bring to our awareness the fact that both women and children were not only engaged by prayerbooks but in the case of women, were instrumental in their composition. The old notion that the Reformation was man’s work is debunked thoroughly not just here but in much recent Reformation scholarship.
Prayerbooks served another purpose besides enabling piety: they also served as doctrinal instruction:
In addition, since the Protestant reformers believed that wrong doctrines of prayer led to wrong exercises and directed people to wrong practices, their prayerbooks emphasized the importance of correct doctrine.
But according to the author, the most important aspect of the new prayerbooks was the fact that…
… early Protestant prayerbooks moved people’s prayer schedule from the traditional seven or eight times a day to a more flexible pattern.
In all, the book is seriously significant and provides really important insights into the practices of the earliest generations of Protestants and Reformed.
It does, however, have one minor issue which I wish had been noticed at some point in the editorial process: it lacks a native English speaker’s eye. For instance, in several places where the definite article is needed, it is absent. And grammatical oversights like this one are not overly common, but they do occur:
Although Luther and Calvin kept a slight different concept of private confession,
they did open up a way for self-examination to their followers.
A native speaker will notice right away that ‘slight’ should be ‘slightly’ and ‘kept’ is rather odd sounding and should probably be replaced with ‘held’. Non-native readers will probably not find the sentence as it stands odd or unusual, but native speakers will.
This isn’t meant as an overt criticism; rather, it should be understood as a constructive comment- i.e., something to keep in mind in future volumes.
The volume’s table of contents and other front matter along with samples are available here. For that reason, the TOC is not reduplicated here. Interested readers of this review are encouraged to check there for the minute details of the work.
I enjoyed this book. And I learned from it. Accordingly, I’m quite comfortable with recommending it to you.