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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: August 2016

V.7 - Lewis Bayly, The Practice of Piety (1613)

from PART V - Religion and devotion


About the author

Lewis Bayly (c. 1575 – 26 October 1631) held the office of Bishop of Bangor from 1613 until 1631. Having gained a reputation as a preacher, Bayly received several church and royal preferments. He was appointed as domestic chaplain to Prince Henry after the succession (and later became chaplain to King James) and as treasurer of St Paul's Cathedral in 1611.

About the text

Dedicated to Prince Henry, Bayly's great work, The Practice of Piety, Directing a Christian How to Walk that He May Please God, is one of the milestone Protestant texts of the seventeenth century. The date of publication of the first edition is unknown, but new editions appeared in 1612 and 1613 (from which our excerpt derives). The 1613 edition was enlarged by Bayly at ‘the importunity of many devoutly disposed’ who ‘prevailed with [him] to add some points and amplify others’. His book of catechetical instruction was an immediate success, with at least twenty reprintings and new editions issued before Bayly's death in 1631. The work consists of forty-four chapters, with Bayly dispensing practical advice and instruction about daily prayers and meditation, preparation for sabbatical worship, holy feasts and the sacrament of communion. Chapters 26–41 focus on preparations for ending this life properly, ranging from advice on ‘setting thy house in order’ to ‘the last speech of a man dying’. The bestselling work can be understood as a type of life-long practical divinity manual for the faithful, instructing readers in how best to remain true to a godly life (in the vein of Bayly's own conformist Calvinism), avoiding the errors of the Church of Rome's teachings. Bayly's work would continue to be influential in the spread of Protestant thought and practices (and, in particular, puritanism) through the next century, with translations appearing in French (1625), Welsh (1629), German (1629), Polish (1647) and a language of the Native Americans in Massachusetts (1665).

The arts of memory

In a subsection of chapter 18, Bayly advises on the most appropriate conduct of the faithful (‘duties…to be performed’) when they attend services (‘at the time of Holy assembly’). At the beginning of the service, they should leave aside their private meditations and let their ‘heart join with the minister and the whole church, as being one body of Christ’.

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meMcCullough, Peter E, Sermons at Court: Politics and Religion in Elizabethan and Jacobean Preaching (Cambridge University Press, 1998).
Green, Ian, Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Cambers, Andrew, Godly Reading: Print, Manuscript and Puritanism in England, 1580–1720 (Cambridge University Press, 2011), esp. pp. 243–6.