Arthur Middleton returns to Bishop Cosin’s Collection of Private Devotions


The Devotions ‘in the practice of the ancient Church, called the Hours of Prayer’ were published in 1627 and are in Cosin’s Works, Vol. ii, in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. A modern version edited by P.G. Stanwood 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 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. 

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 contemplation 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 commemoration 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 Religion, which we now profess.’


He cites Augustine in the City of God, but it is a false reference, though in Book Eight ch. 27 Augustine emphasizes the importance of commemorating the major feasts of Our Lord, the Apostles, ‘the noble army of Martyrs, and the goodly fellowship of other God’s Saints.’ It sets our personal prayer in the larger context of time in the Christian centuries and in eternity in the communion of saints. The practice of prayer must include the discipline of fasting and the Church has provided fast days or days of special abstinence and devotion, in addition to the ancient custom to fast on all Fridays of the year except within the twelve days of Christmas. A list of these days is provided. Then there are instructions in the catholic faith as summed up in the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments that includes ‘The Duties Enjoined and the Sins Forbidden’ in each commandment.

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.


And, surely, so small a part of our time taken up from other common actions, if not perhaps from doing ill, or doing nothing; and so small a task, though but voluntarily imposed upon ourselves for God’s service, will never undo us nor ever prove to be an abridgment of our Christian liberty, who say, our delight is to be numbered with the saints of old, and profess every day that “God’s service is perfect freedom.”’ (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. 

What comes through is that behind this manual, as in Andrewes, Laud and Wilson, 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 realized 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, hated 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’ (John Cosin, A Collection of Private Devotions, ed. P.G. Stanwood (1967), no. 33, cited by J.H. Moorman, The Anglican Spiritual Tradition, London DLT (1983)). 


‘It is a pity that Cosin’s book came out at such an un-propitious time, for the Church of England would have been richer if it had passed into popular use. The devotions for the sick and dying particularly are among the best we have. Cosin’s mind was authoritative, orderly, and concise, and his book had the same characteristics. They were fatal to its success with the mass of English people, who, in religion, were fast repudiating all three. Among educated people, particularly those who could admire the good in the Catholic system without necessarily finding themselves drawn to Rome, the book was welcomed. The tenth edition was issued in 1719, and the eleventh in 1838. (C.J. Stranks, Anglican Devotion, pp. 68-69).