Uniformity, Acts of
UNIFORMITY, ACTS OF
A series of statutes enacted to regulate the uniformity of public worship and the administration of the sacraments in the Church of England. The first statute enacted for such a purpose was 1 Edward VI, c. 1 (1547), which, after reciting the king's anxiety for religious concord, provided penalties for persons who should contemptuously revile the "Sacrament of the Altar" and enacted that it should be administered under both kinds. However, the first Act of Uniformity to be called by such a name was the act of 1548 (2 & 3 Edward VI, c. 1), which gave statutory authority to the prayer book of Edward VI (which was wholly in English) and prohibited all forms of worship not in accordance with that book; but prayers in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew were permitted to learned men and in universities. Shortly afterward certain alterations were made in the prayer book, and in its amended form it was given statutory authority by the Act of Uniformity of 1551–52 (5 & 6 Edward VI, c. 1). This act made attendance at public worship compulsory, prescribed the revised prayer book as the prayer book required by the act of 1548 to be used in all places of public worship, and imposed penalties for attendance at any unauthorized form of worship. On the accession of Queen Mary the foregoing acts were repealed by the statute 1 Mar., sess. 2, c. 2 (1554), and a further statute of 1555 (1 & 2 Phil. & Mar., c. 8) repealed all acts passed against the papacy since 1528, including the acts establishing the royal supremacy. With the accession of Elizabeth I, the royal supremacy was again imposed. The Elizabethan church settlement was founded upon the Acts of Supremacy (1 Elizabeth I, c. 1) and of Uniformity (1 Elizabeth I, c. 2) of 1559. The Act of Supremacy repealed Mary's repealing act of 1555 and revived a number of statutes of the reign of Henry VIII and the 1 Edward VI, c. 1. All foreign spiritual jurisdiction was abolished, and the royal supremacy reestablished. The Act of Uniformity repealed the repealing act of 1554, revived the repealed acts, and reimposed the second prayer book of Edward VI as modified by the act of 1559. Ministers were required to perform services in accordance with this prayer book, and every person was required to attend his parish church on Sundays and holy days; penalties were provided for failure to comply with the act. The act also provided that the ornaments of the church and its rites and ceremonies were to be regulated by the Queen and her ecclesiastical commissioners. The next statutory alteration was made in the reign of Charles II. On Oct. 25, 1660, the king issued a commission to certain bishops and divines to review the prayer book and to prepare such alterations and additions as they thought fit to offer. The work of this commission resulted in an altered and much expanded prayer book, which received statutory authority by the Act of Uniformity of 1662 (14 Car. II, c. 4) to which it was annexed (this act was one of the series of four statutes known as the Clarendon Code). The act required this prayer book to be used in all places of public worship, and required every beneficed minister to read in his church on some Sunday before Aug. 24, 1662, a prescribed declaration of assent to the prayer book and all its contents; failure to do so incurred the penalty of deprivation. The act prohibited the use of any form of "common prayer, administration of sacraments, rites or ceremonies" except those in the prayer book, and the heads of all colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, and of Westminster, Winchester, and Eton were required to subscribe the Thirty-nine Articles. It was provided, however, that the act should not extend to aliens of foreign reformed churches, and there were savings for Latin prayers in the college chapels of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and in the convocations of either province. The bishops of Hereford, St. David's, St. Asaph, and Bangor were required to cause the prayer book to be translated into Welsh. All former Acts of Uniformity were confirmed, and it was provided that they should stand in full force for all purposes for establishing and confirming the Book of Common Prayer authorized by the act of 1662. In 1663 there was passed a further statute (15 Car. II, c. 6) for the relief of those persons who, because of sickness or other impediment, were disabled from subscribing, within the time limited, the declaration required by the act of 1662, and clarifying certain parts of that act.
In 1791 some relief for Catholics from the penalties and disabilities to which they were subjected by the Acts of Uniformity and other acts was provided by the statute 31 Geo. III, c. 32 (given the short title "The Roman Catholic Relief Act, 1791," by the Short Titles Act, 1896), but advantage could be taken of this act only by those who had subscribed the oath of allegiance and abjuration and a simple declaration prescribed by the act; this act was repealed, as to the taking and subscribing of any oath, by the Promissory Oaths Act, 1871 (34 & 35 Vict., c. 48). In 1846 the statute 9 & 10 Vict., c. 59 (given the short title "The Religious Disabilities Act, 1846," by the Short Titles Act, 1896) provided further relief for all dissenters from the Church of England with respect to their religious opinions. This act repealed (in so far as such dissenters were affected) so much of the Act of Uniformity of 1551–52 as required all persons to resort to their parish church at the prescribed times, and so much of the Act of Supremacy of 1559 as made it punishable to defend a foreign ecclesiastical jurisdiction. (It may be noted, in passing, that attendance at public worship is still theoretically enforceable under the Act of 1551–52, except with regard to persons dissenting from the Church of England.) The Book of Common Prayer remained unaltered until the second half of the 19th century. In 1869 royal commissioners were appointed to consider, with a view to securing uniformity, the differences in practice that had arisen as a result of varying interpretations of the rubrics regulating public worship, and to consider the proper lessons to be read on the Sundays and holy days throughout the year. As a result of the reports of this commission two statutes were passed. The first, the Prayer Book (Table of Lessons) Act, 1871 (34 & 35 Vict., c. 37), substituted in the Book of Common Prayer a new Table of Proper Lessons in place of the existing table; and the second, the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act, 1872 (35 & 36 Vict., c. 35), amended the Act of Uniformity of 1662 (the term "Act of Uniformity" was defined as meaning the Act of 1662, and as including the enactments confirmed by that act and applied by it to the Book of common prayer). The act of 1872 permitted the use of a shortened form of morning and evening prayer, the use of a special form of service approved by the ordinary on a special occasion, and additional services for Sundays and holy days. An alternative lectionary was provided by the Revised Table of Lessons Measure, 1922 (12 & 13 Geo. V., No. 3), and the Vestures of Ministers Measure, 1964 (1964, No. 7), regulating the vestures worn by the ministers of the Church of England, amended the Ornaments Rubric of the Prayer Book and s. 13 of the Act of Uniformity of 1559 (or 1558 as cited in the Measure). Finally, the Prayer Book (Alternative and Other Services) Measure, 1965 (1965, No. 1), authorized the experimental use of approved alternative services deviating from the Prayer Book annexed to the Act of 1662, and certain other forms of service not provided for therein. Meanwhile, in 1874 there had been passed the Public Worship Regulation Act, 1874 (37 & 38 Vict., c. 85), which established a unified procedure for enforcing the law relating to the form of services and ornaments as declared by or pursuant to the various Acts of Uniformity.
Bibliography: Statutes of the Realm; Statutes at Large; Statutes Revised (all published by authority).
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Uniformity, Acts of
Revd Dr William M. Marshall