Arthur Middleton on Bishop Cosin’s Devotions

John Cosin was born at Norwich and educated at the Grammar School, and Caius College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow. He was successively Secretary and Librarian to Overall, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, till 1619, when he became Chaplain to Bishop Neile of Durham. In 1624 he was Master of Greatham Hospital and Prebendary of Durham, Archdeacon of the East Riding of Yorkshire, 1625 and Rector of Brancepeth in 1626, Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, 1634, Vice-Chancellor, 1639. In 1640 he became Dean of Peter borough and Chaplain to Charles I. After being sequestrated from all his livings in 1641 and ejected from Peterhouse, 1644, he retired to Paris and officiated in the household of Henrietta Maria. Restored to the Deanery of Peterborough in 1660, he was consecrated Bishop of Durham in the same year and in 1662 was a leading reviser of the 1662 Prayer Book.


The Hours of Prayer

The Devotions ‘in the practice of the ancient Church, called the Hours of Prayer’ were published in 1627 and are in his Works, Vol. ii, in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. A modern version edited by P. G Stanwood, No 33, was published in 1967. Cosin, like others in his own time, did much to encourage people to devote time to personal prayer and provided practical aids. It is believed to have been written for Anglican women at the court of Henrietta Maria to discourage them from succumbing to Roman devotional practices and to demonstrate that the Church of England was able to provide a book of devotions, equal to, if not better than Rome. The Preface reminds readers of the centrality of prayer in Our Lord’s life and the Lord’s Prayer as being the basis and pattern of all prayer. Four reasons are given for The Daily Devotions and Prayers that follow for set times of the day. First, to continue and preserve the ancient laws, and old godly canons of the Church that not only encourage people to pray but also set before them the words of prayer in order to avoid ‘all extemporal effusions of irksome and indigested prayers … that are subject to no good order or form of words’ (Preface, p. 89). Secondly, they are to demonstrate that the Church of England is not a new Church or a new Faith. It has not taken away all the religious exercises and prayers of our forefathers nor ‘cast away the Blessed Sacraments of Christ’s catholic Church’ (Ibid p.90). Thirdly, to provide a daily and devout order of Private Prayer in God’s holy worship and service. Fourthly, the hope is that the example of those who so pray might inspire those disinclined to pray.


A Primer

This book is more of a primer, in that there is instruction in the faith and behaviour as well as in prayer.  It opens with the Calendar:

The Calendar of the Church is as full of benefit as delight, unto such as are given to the due study and contem plation thereof … But the chief use of it in the Church (saith St. Austin), is to preserve a solemn memory, and to continue in their due time, sometimes a weekly, and sometimes an annual com memoration of those excellent and high benefits, which God, both by Himself, His Son, and His blessed Spirit, one undivided Trinity, hath bestowed upon mankind, for the founding and propagating of that Christian Faith and Reli gion, which we now profess.


Ancient and Canonical

There is an explanation of why we should pray the ancient and canonical hours of prayer, morning, noonday, evening or seven times a day in the spirit of Scripture’s injunction to pray continually.

Such are these hours and prayers that hereafter follow; which be not now set forth for the countenancing of their novelties that put any trust in the bare recital only of a few prayers, or place any virtue in the bead-roll, or certain number of them, at such and such set hours; but for the hearty imitation, of that ancient and Christian piety, to whom the distinction of hours was but an orderly and useful, no superstitious or wanton performance of their duties. (Ibid, pp.128-129)

Quotations are given from Scripture and the Fathers commending the frequency of prayer and devotion, some short prayers to memorise, an explanation of the antiquity of Mattins from Scripture and the Fathers, and some preparatory prayers to be used before all the hours of prayer that follow. The Hours of Prayer are for Mattins, The Third Hour, The Sixth Hour or Noon, The Ninth Hour, Vespers or Evensong, Compline. The Penitential Psalms are included for use in times of penance, fasting and times of trouble followed by The Litany and Suffrages. The Collects for the Sundays and Holy-Days throughout the year are there, Devout Prayers that may be used before and after receiving Christ’s Holy Sacrament, and various forms for making Confession. There are prayers for the King and Queen, Ember Weeks, the Sick and Dying and sundry Prayers and Thanksgivings.


Discipline of Prayer

What comes through is that behind this manual, as in Andrewes, and Laud, lies the author’s own discipline of prayer, and there is much in this that must have been compiled for his own use that he realised would be helpful to others seeking a serious life of prayer. To the Puritans, who nursed an irrational fear of anything that looked Romish, it had the look of a Catholic system of devotion and so headed by the learned but unreasonable William Prynne who cited quotations from unreformed manuals, it was condemned for looking like a Popish publication, even though it wasn’t. It exhibited the ancient pattern of devotion found in Primitive Christianity with which the Church of England always claimed to be in continuity. His book was meant to be used as ‘an integral and homogeneous private complement to the Common prayer of the Church’