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 | 8 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.


Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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”.

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy | Leave a comment

Sunday Services and Church Vitality

I have a clergy friend who will remain nameless. He’s had difficulty finding employment in the church of late. Like M and myself, he’s a pretty active guy and is into running and biking. Now—a lot of running races occur on Sunday mornings, as do many more informal join-ups to run or bike. When we chatted last he said, “You know, on nice Sundays I’ll often just go running or riding if I’m not supplying. To be perfectly honest, if I weren’t a priest, I don’t think I’d spend my Sunday mornings in church…”

I was reminded of this conversation after seeing this post on the decline of the Sunday morning church moment.

I don’t question my friend’s commitment or faith. I know him better than that. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m taking these kinds of statements more seriously.

Attendance at church on Sunday mornings is seen as the primary index of faith by a lot of folks—like governing bodies, for instance. After all, one of our primary metrics is ASA: average Sunday attendance. As many people have said in various ways over the past several years, this number both is and isn’t important. On one level, it is not a measure of vitality; on the other, it is a starting place to get into questions of trends of growth or decline that may well be driven by vitality, energy, or lack thereof.

But you and I know that attendance on Sunday doesn’t cut to the heart of the matter. Some people still go to church out of a sense of guilt or obligation. Others don’t attend who are far more faithful than I. At the end of the day, this is the heart of the matter: are we living in such a way to be ever more deeply immersed in God? Are we “hid with Christ in God” and contributing to such an experience in others as well?

I won’t say that Sunday morning has nothing to do with this. As a sacramental Christian, Baptism into and lived out within an embodied community is an essential part of the faith. As I read the Scriptures and the Fathers, you can’t be a Christian by yourself! Too, we are together most fully who we are in the Eucharist. In the sacramental assembly we participate within the interior dialogue of the Trinity at Christ’s own invitation and the Spirit’s enabling.

We cannot dispense with the sacramental assembly. But is that the same as Sunday morning?

In my study of the Daily Office; of the liturgical, theological, and spiritual application of Scripture; of patterns of lay devotion in the medieval Church, I do wonder if we have not somehow become fixated on Sunday morning to the impoverishing of other aspects of Christian life and practice.

As one deeply committed to the importance of and convinced of the fundamental utility of a liturgical spirituality, I believe that there are answers within our tradition that will help us address the the situation we find ourselves in. But I don’t think we’ve even fully defined that situation yet!

The Church is called to be counter-cultural. We are expected to live and behave in ways that reflect our adherence to a different norm. However, insisting on the primacy of Sunday morning all too often feels less counter-cultural than an insistence on retaining the norms of the previous generations. Too often it feels less “revolutionary” and more “sour grapes.”

Still pondering…

Posted in Anglican, Random | 31 Comments

Generations in the Church

No thesis here, just some dot-connecting…

Something is pinging my brain about leadership, identity, who the Church is, who the movers-and-shakers in the Church are or ought to be, and generational vision. As you can see, this is a pretty amorphous mass! But I do want to put a few things in conversation with one another.

The first is Fr. Tim Schenck’s post Generation to Generation that fusses with generations in the Church and generations in leadership. It, too, seems to me to be an act of noticing rather than a thesis about the nature of generations and generational conflict in and around church leadership.

Another is today’s Daily Episcopalian from George Clifford on clergy as professional revolutionaries. I see this piece as an example of a certain deeply-held generational perspective of what it means to do and be Church. The opinions and perspectives expressed here exemplify a stereotype (well on its way to being a caricature) of an aging, politically liberal leadership that seems to hold creeds, theology, and spirituality loosely but holding politics tightly. (And, perhaps, a way to retain clericalism while stripping the role of anything clerical!)

And, of course, as I type this, I perceive my own bias in my reflection…

My sense is that, for Fr. Clifford and others of his ilk, they would heartily disagree with my phrasing and would insist that political action IS a spiritual act—indeed, is THE spiritual act.

Akin to this is the baffled Facebook post from the Cafe over the weekend that could not comprehend why a Cafe piece on Evensong was being shared multiple times but one on racism wasn’t.

Contrast that with Fr. Hendrickson on the eucharistic character of the Church. If I said that George’s piece represents a stereotype of a very visible perspective of a certain generational slice, I could say a similar thing about Robert’s… For Robert, Eucharist is THE spiritual act.

It’s easy to take these positions, harden them, and oppose them to one another. I don’t want to do that. I think we will be making a grave error for the Church if we do it or let others do it to us. What I am seeing here are two different theologies with their own spiritual implications. And there need not be as much distance between them as some would try to create. See, for instance, Robert’s reflection on the Harvard Black Mass that touches on matters near and dear to the political. And yet to say that they’re just two sides of the same coin doesn’t feel right either.

Two theologies, two generations. I don’t think they’re necessarily correlated, but I do wonder what the trend balance is.

Posted in Anglican, Random | 10 Comments

Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary

Some projects are planned and thought out; others just drop in your lap…

It was brought to my attention a short while ago that the Anglican Gradual & Sacramentary had disappeared from its former online home. For those not familiar with it, the AG&S is a independent work created by David Allen White that offers Minor Propers and other material for use alongside the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It’s a very handy resource for Anglo-Catholic Episcopal clergy who would like to use the Minor Propers and contains contemporary Rite II material paralleling the current Roman use, traditional Rite I material paralleling classic Roman use, and Spanish-language material as well.

Here are the editorial principles from which it works:

This book is a revision of the Anglican Missal for use with the 1979 Prayer Book. Unlike the earlier work, the text of the Eucharist is not printed so as to be used for the celebration, but only as a guideline. . . .

In selecting the proper anthems, this book uses a general pattern as follows: Introits and Communions generally agree with Missale Romanum cum Lectionibus, 1977, when that use was compatible with Anglican use; otherwise they generally agree with Martens, Traditional Anthems of the Eucharist, 1975. Offertories nearly always agree with Martens, because modern Roman use does not appoint an offertory. Graduals, alleluias, and tracts usually agree with Martens in Rite I, but in Rite II they agree with Gradual Psalms and Alleluia Verses, 1980-1990, published by the Church Hymnal Corporation. Where this latter source suggested only “ad lib.” alleluias, or fails to suggest any at all, Missale Romanum cum Lectionibus was normally used as the source, since an “ad lib.” option is not in keeping with the format of this book. For propers which do not appear in these sources, anthems have been selected from other sources, including some unfamiliar anthems found in missals from Ireland, England, and Spain which include supplements for local communities. This was done to avoid repetition of the same anthems for various propers. Finally, it should be emphasized that this is a general guideline, and there are a number of variations from it. . . .

Rite I English anthems use the 1928 Prayer Book as the form for psalms and canticles, and any text derived from them. For texts from other parts of the Bible, the King James version was used. For texts from non-scriptural sources, the Anglican Missal was preferred, but other sources have also been used.

Rite II English anthems use the 1979 Prayer Book for psalms and canticles, and The Common Bible for texts from other parts of the Bible. For texts from non-scriptural sources, the Roman Sacramentary was often the source.

Spanish anthems use Libro de Oración Común, 1989 for material from the Prayer Book, and the Nácar-Colunga translation of the Bible for other Scriptural texts. For non-Scriptural material, Misal de la Comunidad, 1976, was the preferred source. The Spanish-language material is the equivalent of English Rite II, and anthems which appear only in Rite I texts do not have a Spanish form.

Thus, it is solidly rooted in current traditions of use. My only real beef with it is the format in which it travels…

It has circulated in three different formats: WordPerfect files, MS Word Documents, and PDFs. In each case, each occasion or week is its own discrete file. As a result, the collection is massive; an extant printed version runs over twenty volumes! The paradigm under which they were created was fundamentally that of print—which makes sense as the original preface is dated 1991. As an internet resource in an age of digital media, it is crying out for a new format.

The original source documents are the WordPerfect files. The Word docs and PDFs were created by Glenn Hammett, the former online host of the resource, in 2000. As I delved into the question of where the files were, I learned that Fr. Hammett had passed away as had his service provider: that’s why the web site has gone down. However, the former custodian of the site gave me contact information for David Allen White.

In the interest of getting the material circulating again, he has given me permission to host the AG&S files. He adds these three caveats:

  1. First of all, it predates the Revised Common Lectionary and Holy Women, Holy Men, therefore you will not find these uses here. It remains for someone else to adapt it to those sources.
  2. Second, in order for these pages to display properly you will need the following fonts installed in your computer: Garamond, Antique, Cataneo, and Ceremony. Ceremony was designed by Fr. Tobias Stanislas Haller. Most people who would be interested in this book know who he is and how to contact him. [The Ceremony font is available for free download here.]
  3. These files are being converted from WordPerfect, the program in which they were created, to Rich Text Format. This makes them better than any previous files you might have seen that were in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat (which I did not create), the reason being that over the years I have made corrections here and there, but only in the WordPerfect files, because WordPerfect remains my choice for word processing software.

The files are still in the process of conversion to the .rtf  format from WordPerfect. However, the Temporal Cycle and the Saints’ Days & Holy Days are done, and I will begin uploading them shortly. Once this is done, I will link to them. Too, I am working on an interface to make the collection more readily accessible.

Ideally, I’d like to do further conversions on the files. I’d like to 1) convert them into html for even broader circulation, and 2) database them for enhanced versatility. As noted above in point 3, there is a formatting issue in the current files; the collects and other items begin with a drop-cap. However, these are laid out by means of tables in the current set-up, and Word won’t let you use a drop-cap within a table. This is easily fixed with modern html/css, but it takes time to convert all of the files and is likely not something that will be accomplished soon.

So—what exactly are we talking about in terms of time? When will these files be available again? Very shortly, I hope. I expect the finished files to be available by the end of next week with the main hold-up being an effective interface. Of course, that’s not the only thing on the docket… Here’s a glance at my current workload:

  • An edition of the St. Bede’s Breviary for the Companions of St. Luke (OSB): This is at the top of the list and is almost done. This edition uses a four-week psalm cycle, seasonal antiphons for all of the psalms and canticles, and an expanded array of canticles for the slot after the first reading at Morning Prayer. I’m in the final data-entry/testing stages here.
  • Transcription of the Anglican Breviary: This has begun, but has not yet been unveiled. That’ll happen very, very soon. At that point, I’ll also solicit help from the various people who have volunteered to assist with it.
  • Collect revision for “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” (formerly HWHM): This is also underway and needs to be in decent shape by the end of the month…
  • Dissertation revision: The dissertation is being transformed into a book for regular people to be published by Liturgical Press. There’s an early Fall deadline on this one, so expect a lot more posts in the near future on early medieval monastic formation, liturgy, and biblical interpretation!

Then there’s the day job, the girls’ activities, the staying married, and all—needless to say, it’s a busy summer. Donations to help defray hosting costs and to help underwrite some of this work are gladly accepted from those able to do so!

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy | 4 Comments

Feasting Bede: An Exercise in Collect Revision

The feast of Saint Bede fell over Memorial Day weekend this year. I didn’t post on it this year on its proper date but shall do so now.

In praying his collect this year, I was struck by its limitations. Here’s the text:

Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still
a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines
of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the
Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation,
so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you
known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It’s not so bad as far as current sanctoral collects go. It’s singable. It points towards his virtues and isn’t overburdened with detail. And yet, it could be better.

The regnant model currently is that of the “biographical collect.” This is a proper prayer that incorporates elements of a person’s life and biography. In the Episcopal Church, the biographical collect was attempted and rejected as a strategy in the original deliberations leading up to the first batch of sanctoral collects published in 1958’s Prayer Book Studies XII.  The main reason for the rejection was because “Too many of these Collects gave the effect of being overly contrived and erudite” compounded by the appearance of “subtle allusions” not edifying to the whole worshiping community (PBS XII, 9). However, in 1980, in contrast to these earlier findings, a great majority of the sanctoral collects were rewritten to be biographical. In recent years, particularly in Holy Women Holy Men, the biographical collect has achieved a position of dominance as the genre of choice for sanctoral collects.

I have a fundamental theological problem with the biographical collect. I’m a medievalist: everyone knows this. As a medievalist, my perspective on the saints—who they and and who they are for us—has been heavily influenced by medieval models and perspectives while still retaining a Reformation perspective. Saints are neither demi-gods nor cool people who were also Christian. Rather, the saints are remarkable individuals who have been singled out by their own communities and those after them because they represented the ideal of Christian maturity. If, as Irenaeus has said, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists of beholding God,” then these individuals are example of those who, in the act of beholding God, entered most fully into their own God-imaged humanity. Yes, many of them lived remarkable lives, did remarkable things, and have interesting biographies. But what we celebrate in them is our ability to see in their lives the universal virtues of Christ that they put on by virtue of their Baptism. It’s easy to get lost in biography. What we need to celebrate are the virtues and the charisms which they shared with Christ, which they grew into by virtue of Baptism, and which are available to us also by way of our own Baptisms. Thus, the biographical collect tends to err on the side of accenting their particularity rather than connecting to their universality and the Christ from whom it flows.

The second main issue I have with the biographical collect is its tendency to stop being a collect and to begin being a mini-sermon or secondary biography. A collect is a prayer; it is first and foremost speech to God. Only secondarily is it speech to the gathered assembly. The biographical collect tends to get this reversed, and attempts to edify more than it prays and praises. Consider again the genre of the collect. I’ve written about it here with a two-pronged simile: a collect is simultaneously like a sonnet and like a haiku. And I continue to come back to the words of Percy Dearmer:

Unity is the essential characteristic of the collect. To be good, it must have colour, rhythm, finality, a certain conciseness as well as vigour of thought; but it must be a unified petition, or it becomes something else than a collect. We might indeed say that it must be one complete sentence, an epigram softened by feeling; it must be compact, expressing one thought, and enriching that thought so delicately that a word misplaced may destroy its whole beauty.

Holding these things in mind, let’s review again the appointed collect for Bede…

Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still
a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines
of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the
Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation,
so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you
known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First off, this is a two-sentence prayer, not a collect. Standing in for an actual Invocation+Relative Clause describing God we have an Invocation+biographical note. This is one complete thought: “Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship.” While it begins with God (verbally, at least), it says very little about who God is and says far more about who Bede was.  But it does so to talk about his job. (Again, the professionalization of sanctity, something I’ve railed about before and which I’ll spare you at the present…) Now—how does this first sentence relate thematically and conceptually to the second sentence? The second sentence (“Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world”) identifies the effect of Bede’s service as bringing out the riches of God’s truth, and then requests—on the strength of that—that we be good evangelists.

I guess I can follow the logic—but is it good logic? Is it strong logic? Is this the best we can say about Bede and what we see in him and what we see of Christ through him? I certainly hope not…

Well, what are some other options, then? Here’s the version in the People’s Anglican Missal and the Anglican Breviary that substantially translates the Latin of the pre-1962 Roman Missal:

O God who hast enlightened thy Church with the wondrous learning of blessed Bede thy Confessor and Doctor: mercifully grant to us thy servants; that we, being in all things enlightened by his wisdom, may at all times feel the effectual succor of his righteousness. Through…

We do, in fact, have a collect here! We have a true Invocation+Relative Clause that says something about who God is—he is the enlightener of the Church and Bede is an example of vehicles he has used for this purpose. We at least see something of why we are revering Bede: his wisdom. And yet, this collect, too makes me feel a little edgy. I see Bede—I don’t see Christ…  This falls too close (and perhaps even over) the “saint as demi-god” line. Whose is the “effectual succor of righteousness”: Bede or Christ?

Now, here’s a collect for Bede that appears in PBS XII when he was first introduced into the Episcopal Calendar:

Almighty God, who hast enriched thy Church with the singular learning and holiness of thy servant Bede: Grant us to hold fast the true doctrine of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, and to fashion our lives according to the same, to the glory of thy great Name and the benefit of thy holy Church; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So—a true collect that starts out in a very similar fashion to the Roman version, thanking God for enlightening the Church by virtue of Bede his instrument. Too, we see Jesus and ask to pattern our lives off his and to both glorify his name and benefit the Church. The collect doesn’t explicitly say that this is what Bede did, but we should certainly imply it.

I like this collect. It does what it’s supposed to do and it falls quite neatly between our two boundary lines. It is a bit general, though. This is actually a common collect for teachers and theologians; in PBS XII, Bede shares this same collect with Thomas Aquinas, John of Damascus, Ephrem, Jeremy Taylor, and Samuel I. J. Schereschewsky! You can see how it will work admirably for all of them. Can we get more particular and still hold to our principles?

How about this:

Almighty God, who hast enriched thy Church with the learning and holiness of thy servant Bede: Grant us to find in Scripture and disciplined prayer the image of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and to fashion our lives according to the same, to the glory of thy great Name and the benefit of thy holy Church; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Learning and holiness capture well the virtues of Bede. I would characterize them as wisdom, knowledge, piety, and discipline myself. Holiness and piety are fairly synonymous, holiness lacking the whiff of sanctimoniousness that often accompanies the contemporary use of “piety.” I deleted “singular” as I don’t feel it adds. Rather, it detracts from our theology of sanctity! We don’t celebrate the saints because they are singular or unique; we celebrate them because they witness to our common gifts in Christ. Bede wrote his own epitaph in the closing chapters of the Ecclesiastical History thus: “I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing.” In making the common particular to him, then, I modified the petition relating to Christ. The original phrase “hold fast the true doctrine” is certainly correct as Bede was quite orthodox. However, bringing in the Scriptures and the singing of the Offices honors Bede’s own self-description better and enables us to capture his virtue of discipline.

Is this singable? I think so. It does have a number of clauses, but no more so than some of our other classic collects.

Now, I had made a suggestion earlier on in the process that we create collects that could sustain the optional phrase “[and in union with her prayers]” where grammatically appropriate in order to capture a true baptismal ecclesiology. This phrase would recognize the unity of our Baptismal community in Christ that physical death cannot sever, and acknowledge the presence of the saints within our present worshiping community. (And be entirely optional, noting that some have a more limited understanding of Baptism…) Looking at this new collect, though—there’s not a good way to fit the phrase in. I could see it going here: “and [in union with his prayers] to fashion our lives according to the same” except that we open a can of worms regarding antecedents. The natural antecedent of “his” would be Christ and if we substitute “Bede” for the pronoun it becomes clunky and interferes with “the same” at the end of the line. Thus, despite my desire for a recognition of our eschatological community with Bede and the rest of the saints, I think this collect is better off without the added phrase.

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy, Saints | Tagged | 7 Comments