Reformation of Prayerbooks: The Humanist Transformation of Early Modern Piety in Germany and England by Chaoluan Kao
This book began as a doctoral dissertation at the School of Theology of Boston University. The author uses seventeen English Anglican and Puritan and seven German Lutheran prayerbooks to explore the transformation of the prayerbook from the medieval era and its influence on Protestant piety in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The author's interest is in the piety of laypeople rather than in the public prayer of the churches.
Chapter one surveys the emergence of early Protestant prayerbooks, noting that an important purpose early in the Reformation was to communicate Reformation theology. The author asserts that once Protestantism became rooted in Germany and England, the mission of early Protestant prayerbooks shifted away from a focus on theology and demarcating confessional differences toward promoting laypeople's spiritual welfare. She pays particular attention to English prayerbooks designed to shape women's piety and other English prayerbooks designed for children. Chapter two examines the sources for the content of prayerbooks, in particular, the modification of the medieval lectio divina and the use of humanist (including ancient) sources. Chapter three seeks to show how the Lord's Prayer shaped both perceptions of God and practices of earthly piety. The fourth chapter discusses the move from the medieval emphasis on love to the Reformation emphasis on faith and how it redefined how to approach God. Chapter five examines how Protestant prayerbooks reframed holy living by teaching readers "to pray for themselves by asking for humility and growth in various virtues" (117), promoting a positive view of the world, and instructing people to pray for others. Chapter six seeks to examine women's piety in early prayerbooks. Chapter seven highlights transnational influences, describing the translation of German Lutheran prayerbooks to English in the sixteenth century and then of English puritan material into German in the seventeenth century. A concluding chapter attempts to tie it all together, remarking on the [End Page 112] study's attempt to integrate social-religious history and the discipline of spirituality. Protestant prayerbooks "regarded a right concept of faith, spiritual transformation, and social commitment and fellowship as critical to spirituality . . ." (164). Early Protestant prayerbooks turned their readers away from a "routinized or mechanical piety" toward "a wholehearted, sincere approach focused on the biblical understanding of prayer" (164–65).
Only in recent years have scholars focused closely on prayer in the early modern period. Much work remains to be done and the available sources are rich. This study opens up important areas of inquiry and points to transnational influences. But it disappoints in some respects. Some examples: The author does not explain how she selected the works she did from all the English Anglican and Puritan and German Lutheran prayerbooks available. In some places the author offers little support for the assertions made. Sometimes the evidence offered seems to bear only a tenuous relationship to the conclusions drawn. Chapter six uses mostly secondary literature to support its assertions, rather than primary source material from the prayerbooks. Generally, this work devotes more attention to English than to German prayerbooks; it would have been helpful to read the reasons for that choice. Finally, this book needed a skilled editor. Numerous errors in English expression mar the study, sometimes leaving the reader uncertain as to the author's meaning.
We can be grateful for the author's interest in prayer and piety and hope that this work spurs further research.
Saint Paul, Minnesota