Daily Prayer for All Seasons, Again

I’ve been pretty heads-down on the GCW material and other, non-liturgical, projects since coming back from Toronto. In preparation for the SCLM’s meeting in New Hampshire next week, one of our instructions was to bring our copy of “Daily Prayer for All Seasons” (henceforth DPfAS). So, I picked it up again this morning and looked through it.

I’ve done that a few times now—I keep hoping that I have been looking at it while in a bad mood, and that if I get a fresh perspective on it, I’ll learn to like it better. No such luck.

I was not involved in DPfAS’s creation at all; it was completed before I was appointed to the SCLM. Part of me is sad about this. I wish I could have had a role in working with it and shaping it. But more of me is not sad. I’d rather have had no input into the process than to have had limited or disregarded input and yet still have my name attached to it. (That feels very harsh as I type it—and yet, that’s where I am right now.)

What makes me feel this way? Well, like I said, I’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now and this will not be a fully thought-out explication. (That may well come in its own time!) I cannot say I’ve given it a thorough evaluation, but I have looked through it on a number of occasions. Here are a few key points that have consistently come up as I have glanced through it.

1. It claims a continuity with the Tradition that it manifestly does not possess.

In the introductory material, the work makes reference to the tradition of “praying the hours” and “praying at set times” (p. VIII). It then makes reference to Benedictine monasticism: “For the inner structure, each set of seasonal prayers falls into eight ‘hours,’ which follows the pattern of Benedictine monks, who divided the day into a cycle of eight intervals, called ‘hours,’ that effected a rhythm between work (labora) and prayer (ora). . . . Each hour has a name, which also dates back to Christian monastic history and which we printed in italics after the hour’s “work” name [more on that in a moment...], for example, Praise (Lauds)” (p. IX).

Alright—what are we to make of this? I see this implying a connection between the eight monastic hours and the hours that will be found in the book. Indeed, the work moves beyond implication when it actually borrows the names of the hours in the text itself. But—the hours presented here have no connection with the traditional hours in their structure, their intent, or their content.

Structure: In a standard Benedictine configuration, Matins was the first office. This was the long Office that contained the main Scripture readings, sermons, homilies and the sung responsaries that broke these readings up. It was the monastic wake-up call and the start of the day. It ended the Great Silence that began at the end of Compline in it’s beginning citation of Ps 51: “O Lord, open our lips/And our mouth shall proclaim your praise…” Then you have Lauds that was a mid-sized office structurally balanced with Vespers so that the chief sunrise and sunset offices were consonant with one another. Prime immediately followed and balances with Compline (although not as directly as Lauds and Vespers); then Terce, Sext, and None were the mid-day little hours, identical in structure with one another.

DPfAS begins with Lauds. It’s a short office, one of the shortest in the book, and is structurally identical with Vigils, the last office of the day. (Classically, the names “Vigils” and “Matins” were used for the same office.) Then, the versions of Terce, Sext, None, and Compline are structurally identical with one another, but are mid-sized offices formed by adding more material to the pattern laid down in Lauds/Vigils. Lastly, Prime and Vespers are balanced together as the longest offices by adding still more.

In short, the way that the hours relate to one another has nothing whatsoever to do with the classical pattern of Benedictine monasticism to which the book’s introductory material refers.

Intent: The system of hours inherited and passed on by the Benedictines had a system of intentions built into it. As liturgical scholar Laszlo Dobszay writes:

The Lauds and Vespers was the regular morning and evening prayer of the church; it was also the continuation of the Old Testament prayer hours, furtheremore: of a basic religious institution of the mankind. The Vigils (Matins) was originally the time of occasional long prayers and meditation, connected to the feasts and the memorial days of the martyrs. The Terce, Sext and None was short stops during the daily activity, and also commemoration to three moments of the history of salvation. The function of the Prime and Complet was something to organize the daily c[o]urse of communities, to bless the start and close of the working day. (from here)

The notion of work and prayer (ora et labora) that grounds the Benedictine system is the idea that prayer (chiefly the psalms) and manual labor are complimentary with the additional notion that once one has internalized the prayer, than the work too can become an act of prayer as the psalms are continually recited and ruminated upon as one works. The mid-day hours in particular were brief moments of recollection—a monk could stop his work, go through these short (usually memorized) offices, then get on to it having been spiritually reoriented and having been explicitly reminded of some psalmic material to ponder as he labored. Confession in particular happens at Prime and Compline: the beginning of the work day (note that the liturgical day had already started hours before with Matins) and the end of the complete day, just before sleep.

In DPfAS, the hours that feel the most like the quick, “redirectional” hours vis. the classical Terce-Sext-None are assigned to Lauds and Vigils. The mid-day hours are now longer instructional things, and Confession happens at Prime and Vespers. But the chief thing about intent in the new system is that there are specific themes given to each office. Invoking the principle of ora et labora, DPfAS uses terminological sleight of hand to suggest that there is particular “work” that ought to be done at each hour. But this intent has little to do with the classical pattern, and when it does it is a cause for concern—the office with the work/intention of “Praise” (Lauds) is the most meager office offered!

Content: The heart of the Benedictine Offices is the psalms. Period. End of story. The ceaseless recitation of the psalter is the crucible of monasticism. The character of psalm-shaped prayer is absent from DPfAS.

How this work can claim to be in continuity with the hours of Benedictine prayer given the omission of any kind of discipline of psalmody is beyond me.

2. The character of the DPfAS feels disjunctive from the character of the Book of Common Prayer.

The BCP is a product of a Reformation-minded Church that was, nevertheless, strongly formed by the traditional cycles of prayer. The ’79 BCP remains in continuity with this formative heritage despite complicating matters by the inclusion of the “4th century agenda.” The ’79 Offices retain the fundamental grounding of the psalms.

DPfAS feels different. The use of prompts and leading questions, among other things, gives a very different feel to the liturgies. There is a certain amorphous quality that may be intended to offer room for meditative freedom lacking in the prayer book.

If one were to praying Morning and Evening Prayer from the prayer book, then use the DPfAS hours for the other hours, there would be a striking difference between the BCP offices and the DPfAS offices. Whatever it is, DPfAS lacks a certain complementary character. Its hours are not of a piece with those in the prayer book.

There’s more to be said here; it relates to what DPfAS is trying to do and be vs. what the prayer book is trying to do and be. I do get that they’re not trying to do/be the same thing. And, yet, I perceive a fundamental discontinuity between the two to be teased out at greater length some other time.

3. The tone of the prayers is didactic. 

To my ear, prayers have certain tones to them. I’ve never tried to categorize these or make a systematic study of them—perhaps I should one day! The prayers of DPfAS strike me on the whole as what I characterize as rather “didactic.” There’s an intrinsic self-awareness where the prayer knows that one of its functions is to make you aware that you need to think more about the big-ness of God.

Having said that, let me back up and say a few things to provide context for this label.

First, prayer is first, last, and always speech to God. Whenever it loses that character, something about it has profoundly failed.

Second, God doesn’t need our verbal prayer; thus, our verbal prayer has an inherently formative quality. We say certain things for a reason knowing that the words matter to and for us rather than God. Our praying shapes us.

Third, our recognition and awareness of the formational aspect of prayer must be considered carefully in the compositional act. That is, knowing that prayer forms people and communities, prayer must yet in spite of that be first and foremost speech to God lest it lose the fundamental character of prayer. To my mind, prayer that is too aware of its own role in this regard can crosses a fundamental line where it ceases to be speech to God and becomes an exercise in consciousness-raising or becomes merely didactic. I recall some Presbyterian pastoral prayers that I’ve heard that felt more like a second run at the sermon than the assembled community’s prayer!

Fourth, I don’t have an issue with expansive language for God in prayer. After all, I pray the psalms!  There is all kinds of expansive and non-gendered language for and about God tucked away in there. I do have an issue with it when it 1) it feels overly contrived or overly didactic (see above) or 2) when it is offered as replacement language. That is, expansive language offers us deeper ways of looking at God by expanding us beyond the traditional metaphors. We are offered new metaphors that help us round out our notion of God. The path of catholic orthodoxy recognizes the wisdom of both the cataphatic and apophatic traditions. We can say “God is Father” and recognize that we are borrowing a metaphor. At the same token we can equally affirm “God is not ‘Father'” because no metaphor of human language is capable of containing and conveying the true nature of God to humanity. Good expansive language helps us to not get trapped in certain metaphorical boxes. But when expansiveness starts becoming impressed with its own openness, it heads back into didactic territory…

I do know that I saw some regular prayer book prayers in it as I flipped through, so not all of the prayers are of this character—but many of the new compositions do feel this way to me.

Ok—I’ve spent way more time on this than I intended to. I’m still pondering.

One good thing that I do see in it, though, is that it makes more of Mary than most Episcopal resources, if only a tentative step. We could do with more Mary. Indeed, I think there’s a Roman Catholic Captivity of the Blessed Virgin that we in the Episcopal Church are well positioned to speak against. I don’t know that DPfAS does this, but even including the Blessed Virgin at a few points is a step in the right direction.

Posted in Anglican, Daily Office, Spirituality | Tagged | 8 Comments


M and I got home without incident from the Society of Catholic Priests conference in Toronto. As always, it was a great experience! We reconnected with old friends, met people we’d only known online, and made new friends. My talk was well received. Usually I post them here—I won’t this time because I don’t actually have the substance of it. Fr. David Cobb and I presented on the new revision of the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. I talked a bit about the historical background of devotional books for the laity (also used by clergy) and went through the psalters, books of hours, primers, and later devotionals to provide some context for the SAPB. I decided to work from bullet points rather than a manuscript ; hence the lack of material to post here.

I’m desperately trying to get work on ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’ (GCW) done before the SCLM meets in person to finalize our Blue Book submissions for General Convention. I’m pulling together the efforts of various members of the committee and giving it a final once-over. As I do so, I find more tweaking to do…

Look—it’s pretty clear. If you trouble to turn to page 357 of your ’79 BCP you’ll see a section of the Eucharist entitled “The Collect of the Day.” Under that is a rubric: “The Celebrant says the Collect.” (This is also exactly what appears on p. 325 in the Rite I Eucharist.) Ergo, whatever prayer is inserted there ought to be a Collect. A Collect is a particular kind of prayer. While the Prayer Book itself doesn’t give a definition, it certainly gives us enough examples so that we ought to be able to recognize one when we see it!

So many of the prayers in HWHM being reworked into material for GCW simply aren’t collects! I’ve written sufficiently on the topic of definition to not bore you with it here, but at least the notion bears frequent repeating. The blame, if blame there even needs to be, belongs at the feet of the 1980 revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. This edition signaled the move to the “biographical ‘collect'”—an approach tried and rejected in the first trials towards the Calendar in the ’50s and ’60s. What we see in HWHM is an extension of what was already done there.

Vatican II and the Liturgical Renewal Movement made much of the phrase “noble simplicity.” Typically, I’ve not been a fan of it because in its usual application, it means an attempted return to imagined 4th century liturgical norms and removal of “medieval accretions.”  However, it keeps forcing itself to the forefront of my consciousness as I work on these materials; I guess I’ve been more formed in this way than I thought. In particular, it means an instinctive desire to trim the vast thickets of relative clauses currently littering the new compositions appearing in HWHM.

Oh well—at the very least it’ll be interesting to see how these efforts get received at the SCLM meeting and beyond…

Posted in Saints | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Shifting Directions

Things Being Wrapped Up

After a very busy season, it’s time for an update…

The revision of my dissertation is done and has been sent off to Liturgical Press. The title I believe we’re going with is Reading Matthew with Monks: Liturgical Interpretation in Anglo-Saxon England. The first part focuses on early medieval monastic biblical interpretation centering on the role of the liturgy. In particular, I’m focusing on the Old English sermons and interpretive materials of Ælfric of Eynsham and his situation in the 10th century English Benedictine Revival. In the second part, I take four passages from Matthew, look at how four modern commentators have treated them, then look at Ælfric’s reading as illuminated by his liturgical context. Often, there is some really interesting interplay between the issues raised by the modern readers and the insights coming from Ælfric’s material. I don’t know exactly when it will be coming out, but I believe they’re looking at a late Spring 2015 release date.

I also just concluded a wonderful parish retreat at St. Andrew’s in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, at the invitation of Fr. Jeff Queen that focused on the background, spirituality, and use of the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. We had participants from around the Cincinnati metro area (including some readers of the blog!); I had a great time, received a lot of thoughtful questions and feedback, and I think we achieved what we wanted to do. That was capped off by a gracious invitation to preach at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, and got to meet and spend some time with Fr. Manoj Zacharia and Mthr. Sherilyn Pearce.

My work on this presentation is going to largely feed into my part of the address that David Cobb and I will be presenting at the North American Society of Catholic Priests Conference in Toronto in the next couple of weeks.

Of course, I couldn’t be in the area with touching base at Forward Movement, and successfully met the height requirement to enter Scott Gunn’s office, Home of the Golden Halo(TM). Work is ramping up on the manuscript I finished earlier in the year on the spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer; I’ve been assigned editors and we’re currently talking about a possible April 2015 publication date, assuming no substantial delays. I’m very excited to work with both Richelle Thompson and Mthr. Melody Shobe on this project!

Of my major writing obligations for this season, that’s all but one… We’re still hard at work on A Great Cloud of Witnesses and have to get all of the revisions to collects and tags completed by the end of October when the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will meet to finalize our Blue Book submission. As a subcommittee, we’ve revised 75 collects and I’m still going through more. Once that work is off my plate I’ll be able to breath a big sigh of relief!!

Now—M has informed me that writing a book is like doing a full Ironman triathlon, but not necessarily for the reason you might think. You might think that she’s referring to the fact that’s a long difficult haul that involves a lot of focus and sustained effort in multiple disciplines like research and writing. While that’s true, that’s not what she has in mind. No, she’s thinking of something else… What you may not realize if you don’t participate in these sports is the huge volume of training time necessary just to complete an Ironman, which is compounded if you actually want to be competitive in one. For instance, it’s entirely normal to do a 50-mile bike ride immediately followed by a 10-mile run on a weekend. (And that’s a fairly moderate workout.) Activities like this take a while…  Due to the time and energy demands that this kind of training takes, most Ironman families & spouses insist that their favorite athlete can only compete every two or three years—because family life can’t sustain them more often than that! Thus, I’ve been banned from writing books for the next year or two in the interest of family harmony.

 Things Ramping Up

Instead of writing books, I plan to head back over to the digital side for a while. Over there, we’ve got a couple of big things on the horizon.

  • More Attention to the St. Bede’s Breviary! The SBB has languished a bit while I’ve been doing all of this writing. I’ve been trying to fix the occasional errors as they pop up, but haven’t done a lot of work with it otherwise. I am now in the final stages of a custom edition for the Companions of St. Luke, an Episcopal Benedictine group. Up next is fulfillment of a request from a good friend of the breviary to include the Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures. I also have some ideas around some new visual elements and an overhaul under the hood. (For my fellow coders out there, I’m moving to a fully object-oriented design.)
  • More Energy to the Anglican Breviary! Although I’ve not said much about it, the Anglican Breviary Online site is up and material is slowly being added. I drafted both Lil’ G and H as editorial assistants and put them to work entering psalms. Since our family vacations hit in August and with the commencement of school, this work has been on hold. I’m ready to pick that up again. I’ll be issuing a call for volunteers shortly once I’ve worked out MediaWiki’s edit permissions. Donations towards this work are gratefully accepted, and names will be listed on the Benefactors page. Gifts can be made in honor and memory of loved ones as well.
  • More Items To Be Added to the Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary! David White, the editor and architect of the Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary has completed his corrections to the files. I’ll be uploading these to the yet-rather-rudimentary page soon. I do intend to put them all into a PDF format, but I don’t see that happening until the beginning of 2015.

So—that’s where we stand on things. Lots to do; only 24 hours in a day to get them done! With help and lots of prayer, I’m confident we’ll get there…

Posted in Administrative, Anglican, Breviary | 6 Comments

On General Seminary

The news out of New York over the last several days has been difficult to hear. M and I love GTS deeply—it’s where she did her Anglican Year and earned an STM in Liturgics. I never went to school there, but I lived in 422—right across from The Close—and participated in community life and worship to the degree that I was able.

It’s always been my dream to teach there someday.

Now, however, the dream may be dying…

After having been in and around several seminaries, General seemed to me to have the proper blend of knowledge, wisdom, and piety needed by the modern Church. Seminarians were formed as people of prayer—and the prayer book—as well as people who knew stuff. I’ve seen some comments on Facebook/social media suggesting that the problems at General are a sign that it’s time to retire an obsolete 19th century way of doing seminary. I wouldn’t agree at all. When M and I were there, the community gathered for Morning Prayer, Daily Mass, and Evensong. Meals and classes were fit in around the chapel schedule. It offered an intentional liturgical community as the bedrock of priestly formation.

One of the points of controversy regards the current Dean’s approach to the liturgy and his alteration of this fundamental schedule. Apparently in the name of relevance he has cut this schedule back: there’s no Morning Prayer on Monday and Thursday, there’s no Eucharist on Wednesday or Friday (or Saturday or Sunday). Medievalists and those with a grounding in classical Anglican liturgy will, no doubt, note the irony of skipping Eucharists on Wednesday and Friday…

What’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that this pattern teaches our future clergy that their spiritual obligations can be altered and shifted if they conflict with more important things. Of course, as time goes by, life interferes more and more until the very idea of an obligation is dispensed with in the name of efficiency and—I suppose—relevance.

I won’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say, there’s likely a lot going on here that external participants don’t know. It seems that the Dean is being “bold and decisive” but not collegial or collaborative. It seems that the professors are making broad appeals to community support, but the history and timing on some of this seems curious and tactical. It seems that the Board is out of touch, but I wonder what sort of messages they were getting from various sides at various times. Suffice it to say it seems like a mess all around. Sadly, situations like this make me feel better about my decision to stay in the corporate world rather than subjecting my family to the vagaries of the academic sphere.

Two final notes. First, I can’t help but see this crisis in light of the upcoming presentation on Thursday from TREC. Bold and decisive leadership sounds great—until it happens to you, and the bold and decisive decisions aren’t something that you like.  What will the Church and TREC learn from GTS? Second, seminary faculty need and deserve support and a just working environment. Unionization may well be one way to accomplish that. But it would be so much easier to get behind those noble motivations if the whole “adjuncting” situation weren’t a factor. The adjunct trap is a soul-crushing system of servitude. To advocate for justice and equity for the tenured, and silence for the rest strikes me as a bit off.

We’ll continue to follow the news as it comes out, but I pray that all sides will sit down and figure out a solid way to move forward. General as an institution and as a model for clerical formation is too important to lose over personality squabbles.

Posted in Academia, Anglican, Formation | 4 Comments

Quick Updates

I’ve been away for a while, figuratively and literally, but the Fall and its demands advance with a relentless intensity…

  • Finished up the bulk of two short-term contracting gigs
  • Hard at work on collect revision for “A Great Cloud of Witnesses”
  • the book-length revision of my dissertation is due mid-month
  • At the end of the month, I’ll be doing a weekend at a parish in Kentucky on the roots and spirituality of the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book
  • At the beginning of October, I’ll be presenting on the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, along with Fr. David Cobb at the North American Society of Catholic Priests meeting in Toronto
  • Towards the end of October, I’ll be meeting with the rest of the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music to hash out our Blue Book resolutions for General Convention 


  • Nutcracker auditions are tonight at the new ballet studio where the girls will be going
  • and the school year starts tomorrow!

More posts will be coming soon on:

  • Anglo-Saxon Monastic Education & Formation
  • Books of Hours and the Primer tradition
  • Daily Prayer for All Seasons: this is the latest official product of the SCLM that is now in print and is being advertised by Church Publishing. All of the work on it was completed in the previous triennium—I had nothing to do with it. In short, I think I see what they were trying to do, but the lessons of liturgical history suggest that they were going about it the wrong way. A more complete review to follow…
Posted in Administrative | 9 Comments

Early Medieval Monastic Education, Continued

This post builds on my previous post on the topic and is most definitely a work in progress… There are probably a number of changes that I need to make ranging from points of fact to broader issues of structure.


Basic grammar was taught through the study of Donatus, the pagan grammarian who instructed the young Jerome. While Donatus might be studied directly, many of the authors of the English church produced grammars of their own, mostly working off Donatus. We have grammars written by Tatwine (around 700), Alcuin, the missionary Boniface (around 716), and other anonymous English authors. Ælfric himself wrote an English-language grammar based on Donatus and an excerpted edition of Priscian that covers topics like the cases and endings of Latin nouns and verbs and the various parts of speech. As with other Christian authors, he frequently provides examples of Latin usage directly from the Psalms and liturgy. For instance, his discussion of adverbs is reinforced by the phrase “But thou, O Lord, have mercy on me and raise me up” which is simultaneously a quotation from the Psalms (VgPs 40:11) and the response to the readings in the Night Office.

As the young oblates learned the grammar of the texts that they were singing in choir, they were instructed in the music they were singing as well. The Cluniac customaries from the time of Ælfric and in the century after lay out the heavy liturgical demands on the oblates:

[They] pronounce the versicles of each psalm at all the canonical hours, intone the antiphons on ferial days, and intone whatever is sung at the morning mass, unless it is a major feast day; at Lauds and Vespers, they sing a responsory and say the versicles; in the summer at Matins they say the single short lesson; they always read in chapter, never in the refectory.[1]

In a time when music notation was still in the process of development, the chief mode of learning was still oral. Monastic customaries from Cluny during the period describe the oblates sitting in the chapter house, learning the chant from a teacher singing it to them. These records also describe the cantor coming by and checking up on the learning process. Each day, he would listen to the oblates to be sure that they had learned the music correctly from their instructor before they sung in the services, and he was the one responsible for disciplining the boys if they made any errors in the singing as well. If learning the psalms was a long and complicated affair, learning all of the music was even moreso; Guido of Arezzo mentions that it took roughly 10 years to master the entire musical corpus of the Mass and Office.

Memorization of the psalter and its music leads naturally into the study of its meaning. As the students gained literacy, they would not only grasp the meaning of the Latin words, but would begin to pick up insights about what the text meant to them and for them. As the marginal interpretive glosses in the Regius Psalter indicate, monastic students usually began their search for meaning through the commentary of Cassiodorus.

Cassiodorus was a fifth century monastic teacher who achieved a synthesis of Classical and Christian edification at his Southern Italian monastery, the Vivarium.  This synthesis is reflected in his commentary. On one hand it draws from traditional Christian readings of the psalms, predominately from St Augustine’s sermons. On the other, he takes care to point out the figures of speech and thought as he sees them, demonstrating that—as he saw it—David prefigured the schoolmasters’ flowers of rhetoric and that sound rhetorical knowledge was an advantage in mining the deeper meanings of Scripture. While Augustine’s On Christian Teaching recommends a knowledge of these techniques, the African saint does not offer it there; what Augustine failed to convey, Cassiodorus provides. Thus, the schemes and tropes of Classical wisdom are important for true monastic literacy because of their primary function in making the meaning of Scripture—and particularly the Psalms—more available.

Once the Psalter was well in hand, other works would be added. Ælfric’s Colloquy would have been part of this late primary education. By describing the world and society about them, the young monks were gaining a facility in describing events and activities for which the Psalms offered no vocabulary. While the psalms speak wonderfully about the soul’s various emotions towards God or about the travails of the Israelites, the vocabulary for negotiating an average medieval day in the monastery was lacking and required this additional supplement.

In addition, the students were now ready for the five core texts of the Anglo-Saxon monastic curriculum: the pseudepigraphal Distiches of Cato, Prosper of Aquitaine’s Epigrams,  Juvencus’s Books of the Four Evangelists, Caelius Sedulius’s Paschal Song, and Arator’s On the Acts of the Apostles.[2]

The proverbs ascribed to Cato are not explicitly Christian, but contain brief wise sayings reminiscent of the biblical book of Proverbs. Prosper’s work was similar, but explicitly Christian. Prosper of Aquitaine was a dedicated student of Augustine, and his epigrams are brief distillations of Augustinian thought in a neatly packaged, easily memorized format.  The glosses written into the surviving editions of these works from the Anglo-Saxon period are largely grammatical—helping to identify what part of speech various words are or clarifying what a clause refers to—showing that these books were still used relatively early in the learning process.

The other three books are poetic paraphrases of New Testament Scripture. Juvencus was a Spanish Christian poet of the fourth century who wrote the earliest surviving paraphrase of the Gospels in Latin epic verse. His treatment is a fairly straightforward harmonization of the four Gospels in metered hexameter verse. Caelius Sedulius likewise composed a Latin epic in hexameters based on the Gospels and the life of Christ, but where Juvencus stays fairly close to his source material, Caelius Sedulius goes farther afield. Sedulius uses miracles and the miraculous power of God as the orienting theme of his work. Of the five books of the Paschal Song, the first describes miracles from the Old Testament that either point to or show the power of Christ before launching into the story of Christ with a particular focus on his miracles in the other four books.

The readings from the Gospels in the Mass and the Night Office are disjointed; they appear in the form of brief several-verse excerpts that are arranged to follow the liturgical year and its cycles, not the narrative stream. As a result, Juvencus was probably a monastic student’s first presentation of the whole story of the Incarnation, life, crucifixion, resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. Sedulius, then, would be a student’s first introduction to the interpretation of the Gospels.

Just as Sedulius issued an improved and interpreted edition of what Juvencus wrote, Arator’s epic treatment of Acts is itself an imitation and elaboration of Sedulius. Arator’s central focus is the mystical interpretation of the events of Acts; he weaves allegorical interpretation and moral exhortation in to the fabric of his paraphrase. Again, this text would have been an early example for monastic students on the art of the spiritual reading of the Bible.

Doubtless other Scripture would be studied at this point. The youths of the monastery participated within its liturgical life as soon as they were able, and once they were ordained to the grade of lector were expected to read in the services and refectories. As a result, the young students would begin to be exposed to a variety of Scripture texts as they were able to read them.

A look into further learning comes through a more advanced set of colloquies. Ælfric’s own Colloquy is clearly intended for introductory students gaining basic fluency in Latin. We also possess intermediate and advanced colloquies from one of Ælfric’s students named Ælfric Bata. While the master’s colloquy presents us with a scene of several village boys sitting at the feet of their master learning, Ælfric Bata provides a colorful set of colloquies that walk through the monastic day with a rambunctious set of boys who alternately cheat on their homework, get threatened with beatings by their angry teacher for failing their lessons, and break monastic rules in a variety of ways. Indeed, one dialogue consists almost entirely of Latin words for the different kinds of agricultural manure used as insults traded between master and teacher!

For this point, it becomes more difficult to trace the direction of monastic instruction. We can say for certain that works like Aldhelm’s On Virginity in both its prose and poetic form were studied at centers of learning like Winchester,  but whether monks at smaller houses would have encountered it is another story altogether. The question has to shift from what was read to what was available. When we picture a medieval monastic library in our mind’s eye, we probably think of a building or tower filled with books—like the great library depicted cinematically in Name of the Rose. The reality, though, was far more basic. The library of the average monastery of the time contained no more than fifty books. Instead of a building, or even a set of large rooms, we should picture a modestly sized cupboard. The great libraries of Benedictine Reform England—like Winchester and Ramsey—probably had twice that number. As a result, the state and shape of intermediate to advanced education depended entirely upon situation and placement of the monastery.

Working from surviving booklists  and manuscripts, there seems to have been a core of roughly 20 titles from the Church Fathers that served as the heart of the monastics’ theological education grouped around four central figures: Gregory the Great’s Dialogues, Forty Gospel Homilies, Morals from Job, and the Pastoral Care; Isidore of Seville’s On the Church Offices, On the Nature of Things, Etymologies, and Synonyms; Jerome’s Letters and Commentary on Matthew; and Augustine’s City of God, On the Trinity, Narrations on the Psalms, Enchiridion, and selected Letters and Sermons. Additionally John Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences, Benedict’s Rule, and Rufinius’s translation of Eusebius’s Church History rounded out the list.[3]

It’s only after considering the realities of what the monastics did and didn’t have that the true importance of the homiliaries can be appreciated. By excerpting sermons and homilies from a wide range of orthodox teachers, homiliaries like that of Paul the Deacon played an essential role as a patristic anthology, and exposed the monastics to a breadth of Christian thought and teaching that would have been otherwise

[1] Susan Boynton, “Training for the liturgy as a form of monastic education,” pages 7-20 in Medieval Monastic Education, edited by George Ferzoco and Carolyn Muessig (London: Leicester University Press; 2000), 8.

[2] For a much deeper discussion of these five works and their use in Anglo-Saxon England, see Michael Lapdige, “The Study of Latin Texts in late Anglo-Saxon England,” pages 99-140 in Nicholas Brooks, ed., Latin and the Vernacular Languages in Early Medieval Britain, (Leicester University Press, 1982).

[3] Lapidge’s work on Anglo-Saxon libraries lays out the evidence for these conclusions and should be consulted for a honest appraisal of the state of monastic book collections.


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Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary Back Online

As I wrote previously, I am going to be hosting the files/content for David White’s Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary. For more information on this resource, check out that initial post.

I have an index page up from which the current and corrected files can be downloaded. For the time being, it’s functional rather than pretty—pretty will come later. That page is located here.

Particularly pertinent for the present time, the propers for Corpus Christi are located in the sections labeled “Temporal Cycle–>Moveable Feasts after Pentecost”.

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