Sunday, June 13, 2010

George Washington's REAL Prayerbook

This is one piece of evidence Peter Lillback harps on to try and prove GW's orthodox Christianity. These were not "prayers written in GW's hand" like the debunked Daily Sacrifice supposedly was. Rather, it is the standard Anglican Prayer book (I believe the 1769 version was the most recently revised edition when GW wrote the following). From INVOICE OF GOODS TO BE SHIPD BY ROBERT CARY & CO. FOR THE USE OF GEO. WASHINGTON, POTOMACK RIVER, VIRGINIA, VIZ. July 18, 1771.

A Prayr. Book with the new Version of Psalms and good plain type, covd. with red Moroco., to be 7 Inchs. long 4� wide, and as thin as possible for the greatr. ease of caryg. in the Pocket.

Lillback's argument is this proves GW was an orthodox Christian because the contents of the prayer book taught orthodox Christianity. But James H. Hutson's page from the Library of Congress illustrates the problem with such reductive conclusions:

The American Revolution inflicted deeper wounds on the Church of England in America than on any other denomination because the King of England was the head of the church. Anglican priests, at their ordination, swore allegiance to the King. The Book of Common Prayer offered prayers for the monarch, beseeching God "to be his defender and keeper, giving him victory over all his enemies," who in 1776 were American soldiers as well as friends and neighbors of American Anglicans. Loyalty to the church and to its head could be construed as treason to the American cause. Patriotic American Anglicans, loathe to discard so fundamental a component of their faith as The Book of Common Prayer, revised it to conform to the political realities.

That is, the contents of the Book of Common Prayer were Tory and High Church (demanding loyalty to the Crown). It's really strange that so many Anglicans turned out to be Whigs. They rebelled against, not only England, but what their church taught. One wonders why there wasn't a massive exodus among them to other churches. And the answer is they valued their attachment to Anglicanism for social reasons. There were, at least in high places, more than a nominal number of deistic and unitarian minded Anglicans who were part of the church for club membership reasons but didn't believe in its official doctrines.


J. L. Bell said...

Is there any evidence that Washington used this Book of Common Prayer himself, rather than ordering it for another member of his family?

Phil Johnson said...

How did George Washington get to be tagged as the Sly Fox?
What was the common practice for such a leader of his contemporaries in regards to carrying a prayer book?
That's only two of the questions that come to mind thinking about this article.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mr. Bell,

I don't know of any evidence pro or con other than when he did order some prayer books for other family members, he specified that he ordered for them by name.

I'll have to reread Lillback and see if he offers anything other than the letter to which I linked above.

Anonymous said...

A side note: although Virginia's gentry remained loyal to the Anglican Church (at least during the colonial era) a massive exodus did occur among the commoners. Evangelical Presbyterians led by Rev. Samuel Davies, followed by Baptists and Methodists all but displaced the Anglican Church and subverted the social authority of that church and of the gentry. (I notice the interesting aspects of religion down here in the South are all but ignored by the bloggers at North American Creation!)

Anonymous said...

For the best account, See The Tranformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 by Rhys Isaac.

Brad Hart said...


Do you know if there were any major differences between the prayer books of the Anglican and Episcopal Church? I'm just wondering if much changed when the Episcopal Church broke onto the scene. After all, Washington becomes Episcopalian and not Anglican. I realize that the two churches were quite similar in almost everything, but it might be interesting to compare the prayer books of the two faiths...though I am guessing they are probably more similar than they are different.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Folks can read it for themselves.

[sorry, PDF]

Phil Johnson said...

My suspicion is that the Episcopal Church was populated by the landed gentry and up.
Am I wrong?