March 17, 2019

“Statutes for the Observation of Lent”, and Thomas Becon’s “A Fruitful Treatise of Fasting” (1551), now online

The Several Statutes in force for the observation of Lent; and Fish-days, at all other times of the Year.

The subject of Lent is a perennial favorite, and indeed keeps growing each year. We hope to shed some light on the historic Anglican observance by republishing this curious little pamphlet, which in the year 1661, shortly after King Charles II’s return and the end of the Great Rebellion, had collected all statutes regarding Lent or the observance of fish-days, as passed through a succession of prior monarchs, primarily in the sixteenth century.

This may be a small but valuable addition to the discussion of historic observance of Holy Days, as well as that of feasts and fasts in the Church of England, and the English society as a whole. In particular, the banning of meat on Fridays/Saturdays of every week, and an additional banning of it on Wednesdays under Q. Elizabeth, gives us a different picture of Anglican civic and ecclesiastical life than has often been represented.

Thomas Becon, A fruitful treatise of Fasting, wherein is declared what the Christian fast is, how we ought to fast, & what the true use of fasting is. (1551)

We gratefully present for you here what may be the greatest treatise on the subject of fasting (especially in the context of Lent) that has been written anywhere in Christendom in the sixteenth century. As with most works on this site, Thomas Becon’s Fruitful Treatise of Fasting (1551) remains completely inaccessible to a modern audience, and we hope to make it available here for the first time in several ages.

Thomas Becon, the prebendary and chaplain to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, has written here a little masterpiece wherein he represents the subject in such a reverent, godly, Scriptural, and Patristic manner that the subject (in its broad outlines) becomes utterly exhausted. One wonders if there is anything left to be said. Furthermore the subject of fasting is discussed and described in such a winsome language, that the reader cannot help but be swept into the spiritual patterns Becon describes, making this an unequaled spiritual work of that kind, in that era.

Of especial value in this book are several items: for seasons of Lent this remains a spiritual classic about the correct approach to the fast, and the spiritual orientation that makes fasting meaningful in the eyes of God. Additionally eyewitness accounts of Roman Catholic patterns of behavior in the 16th century shed extra light on the doctrinal and moral corruption and the necessity of the Reformation. Finally Becon’s deeply patristic spirituality provides insights into the methods of Anglican dogmatic theology, and scriptural interpretation, such as his gloss of the New Testament by appealing to several church fathers. In all, we hope this treatise helps you orient your mind fruitfully toward the holy fast.

God’s blessings.