Theses on the Church Fathers

I’m doing a lot of reading and thinking about the Church Fathers right now… I’m gearing up to teach Patristics to 3rd year Roman Catholic seminarians at St. Mary’s and trying to make forward progress on Psalming Christ. And, since writing is one of the best ways for me to collect my thoughts, I might as well stick some of these thoughts out here for public critique and reflection!

So. Let me begin at the very beginning… I think that there are a lot of incorrect understandings about God, the Church, Christianity, and the Church Fathers floating around out there. I don’t think that most of these are because of deliberately deceptive teachers. Instead, I think a lot of these grow out of the gradual accreation–and passing on–of unquestioned assumptions about these things. Thus, I’m going to back up and be as explicit as I can about these things…

What the heck is “Patristics”?

Patristics is the study of the primary teachers and guides of the Christian Church defined as the organic community originating with Jesus and the Apostles that handed on the apostolic faith and codified it in the form that we identify as Nicene Orthodoxy.

The temporal boundaries on the field tend to be from the completion of the New Testament writings on the bottom end and extending up either to the end of the fifth century (i.e., ending around the year 500; is Gregory the Great in or out??) or else through the start of the eighth, conventionally ending in the West with Bede and in the East with John of Damascus.

Traditionally, classically, the field has been linguistically bounded and divided into the Latin Fathers and the Greek Fathers based on the languages in which they wrote (or in which their writings survive). Recent years have broadened this to include those Fathers who wrote and/or are preserved in Syriac, Coptic, Georgian, and Armenian (and other languages as well). The two chief reasons for the historical ignorance of or deliberate ignoring of these teachers are first, the general ignorance of those languages among the learned professors of Western Europe and America, and second, the historical reality that the churches using those languages developed in directions outside the bounds of Nicene Orthodoxy, namely in Miaphysite/Monophysite or Nestorian directions.

The root term “Patristics” literally means “the Fathers,” and the study of Patristics does focus around the writings of men who were usually in top ecclesiastical and often political positions in their respective times and places. However, Patristics is more than the study of elite men. We do possess a few writings from some Church Mothers. Also, many of the writings of the Fathers were commissioned and paid for by Church Mothers. Indeed, the majority of Jerome’s labors were written at the behest of a small group of important Church Mothers, namely Marcella, Paula, and Eustochium. Thus, “Patristics” and even “Fathers” should and in my usage does encompass men, women, and those who behaved outside of both of the conventional constructions of those terms in the world of Late Antiquity. (Church Parentals sounds kinda stupid, though, so I’ll keep using the more familiar term…) Finally, Patristics—I argue—is not only the study of the writings and thoughts of elite men, but rather the understanding of the faith and practices to which these writings refer and the manner of life they champion.

And that last sentences leads us to one more point of clarification that needs to be said before I can get to my theses proper… Christianity, especially in its first several centuries (and I will strenuously argue now as well), is not solely an act of intellect, of emotion, of will, of belief, of action, or of habit. Rather, it is a combination of all of these things and likely more beside. That is, we construct this field of study incorrectly when we label it as “Christian Thought”. (As, in fact, my Church History classes in seminary were titled!)

That brings us to my first thesis…

1. The Church Fathers should be seen not primarily as thinkers of important thoughts, but as teachers and guides to living a life suffused with the Scriptures and Sacraments that extends and enacts God’s priorities into our incarnate reality.

My point: all too often, the Fathers are seen or treated as idea factories or mines of doctrine to be cherry-picked. And, the Church has frequently used them in just this way (paging Aquinas…). While many of their statements do, on their own, contain important and true nuggets of Christian wisdom, we must recognize that their original purpose and intent was to guide Christians into proper Christian living, and fit most naturally into this context.

2. Study of the Church Fathers is often relegated to Dogmatic Theology, especially the development of doctrine with the focus on the Trinitarian and Christological controversies that hammered out the contours of Nicene Orthodoxy. This is overly narrow. They can should, and ought to inform our understandings of Scripture, Sacraments, Ethics, Spirituality, you name it instead of artificially and narrowly restricting them to Trinitarian Doctrine.

My point: Studying Patristics should be an exploration of the faith that they modeled and championed that centers around these fundamental questions:

  • Who and What is God?
  • Who and What is humanity?
  • How is the Church the nexus point between God and humanity?
  • How do the chief implements of the Church function, i.e.,
    • How do the Sacraments bond humans into the life and activity of God?
    • How do the Scriptures bond humans into the life and activity of God?

If the Church Fathers are guides, they are guides wrestling with the challenge Paul identified in Ephesians: How to bring the Body of Christ into the Mind of Christ. How to make the sanctified people of God actually sanctified people of God!

3. The thought of the Church Fathers (and I’d suggest Christianity itself) is best thought of as an interwoven net of concepts. If you start messing with one concept or teaching or practice, it has an effect upon the shape of the whole system. Furthermore, practices and doctrines are interwoven in such away that they’re not easily disengaged from one another.

My Thought: The descriptor I’d use for this kind of theology/theological system is “perichoretic.” This Greek word means “interpenetrating” and is usually used in theological circles to talk about the relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity. They are separate and distinct as Persons, but their Unity is due to a mutual interpenetration. Even as distinct Persons they are fundamentally in relationship so what we say of one of them also says something about the others. The way I’m using this in reference to Patristic and Christian belief and practice is that the compartmentalizations of modern theology—Hermeneutics, doctrine of God, Christology, Ecclesiology, the Sacraments—are not the discrete and hermetically sealed categories that theology lectures often pigeonhole them into. The idea of sanctity or Christian perfection, as I’ve said here many times, exists and must exist at the intersection of Christology, anthropology, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology. And this is how the Church Fathers wrote and taught. Doctrine, exegesis, habits of holiness, all flow together in a unified stream. If you start play with—or rejecting—some of the big theological concepts and themes, you’re likely messing with far more of them than you think. An understanding of the connective tissue that binds the body of thought into a coherent whole is necessary before you begin tinkering…      

4. When the Church entered the thought-world of the Roman Imperium it did so occupying a conceptual space shared by certain kinds of philosophical systems like Neoplatonism (that would read to modern people as religions) and mystery religions. Christianity started its life in the Roman world as an esoteric religion. The early Church Fathers assumed it and baked it into the structure of Christian intellectual work and doctrine.

My Point: This is a huge obstacle for most modern Christians to get a handle on because, certainly in the American context, Christianity is anything but esoteric. We’ll tell anybody everything about it! The notion of secrecy or reserving teachings seems not only alien but contrary to an evangelistic faith. To get what’s going on requires a recognition of how mystery religions worked and why.

I’ve not kept up on the latest currents of study on the mystery religions, but I understand them as Roman cultural appropriations of other people’s pantheons (i.e., the Isis of the Apuleius is not the Isis of ancient Egypt; the Mithras of the mithraeum is not the Mitra of the magi) where the center of the worshippers’ connection with the deity was in ritual actions the meanings of which were concealed from those not initiated into those particular mysteries. In short, they were esoteric religions because the central truths of their teachings were taught only to initiates. The Christianity known and communicated by teachers like Origen was likewise an esoteric form of Christianity. It functioned socially and intellectually like a mystery cult (which is an entirely different thing from saying that it was one or that it adopted a variety of things from other mystery cults/religions). Indeed—one of the clearest proofs we have of this fact is Origen’s  Contra Celsus wherein he writes a long treatise to specifically reject the claim of Celsus and others that Christianity was just that—a new mystery cult that just borrowed a whole bunch of stuff that other groups were already teaching! 

As the writings of Hippolytus and the catechetical instructions of Ambrose and Cyril of Jerusalem make clear, an adult convert’s initiation into Christianity was just that—a process of initiation where certain aspects of the faith were hinted at but held back, the unbaptized were kicked out of church at a given point, and only those who had been baptized observed, participated within and received the Eucharist. What made the Early Church’s Easter Vigil so dramatic and what inspired the Liturgical Renewal Movement to bring it back was precisely because of the impact of the event. A convert’s first experience of the Eucharist occurred right after their Baptism, and was supposed to be a dramatic experience! The mystagogical lectures following the event were designed to theologically tease out what happened and to enrich the new Christians’ remembrance of what happened. 

5. Even when Christianity became more public/popular/official, and—especially in the Latin West—catechumens were no longer dismissed because universal Baptism/Confirmation became assumed—there was still a tension between an exoteric faith and an esoteric Scripture. Or, to put it another way, while the faith was proclaimed in full, the Scriptures still remained cryptic or at least had a great deal of cryptic material in them.

My Point: Early Christians assumed that 1) All Scripture was inspired by God for the sake of our—present-day Christians—instruction for training in faith and good works. 2) Not all of it seemed pertinent to those goals. 3) But Scripture itself and the teaching of the Church said it was true nonetheless!

Origen assumed that the deep meanings of Scripture were veiled and ought to be veiled so that the uninitiated and unworthy could not learn the deep things of God and malign them. Also, the hiddeness of divine meanings meant that as a Christian grew in character, faith, piety, and wisdom, truths would be progressively revealed as the capacity to receive them was unlocked.

Augustine wrestles with this because he too will affirm these two points—Scripture is deliberately obscure to hide truths from the unworthy and so that the worthy can discover them with effort. Where he differs from Origen, though, is in the contention that Scripture teaches nothing obscurely which it does not also teach plainly.  Yet, Augustine still saw Scripture as a deliberately obscure document—and that the obscurity was a feature, not a bug.

Modern Christians get hung up on #2 above. We’re not nearly as convinced that all of Scripture holds coded messages for us to interpret that have immediate relevance to our contemporary situation. I’ll go out on a limb so far as to suggest that very few Episcopal churches have had sermon series or Adult Forums that have wrestled with the spiritual meanings of the names of the 42 watering holes visited by the Children of Israel in their trek through the wilderness.  Nor would I, as a fellow modern Christian, suggest that they should! 

What we lose in not doing this is a form of quite-serious play within the Scriptures and an intimate familiarity with the Scriptures that our patristic ancestors had. As I remind people again and again, allegorical and non-literal interpretations of Scripture are not only playful explorations of the text, but also ways of grappling with problems in the text that they were often more aware of than we are. Very few modern self-proclaimed biblical literalists knew the text as well as Origen and were able to catalogue without effort a host of literal errors or inconceivabilities like the ones he tosses out in On First Principles as the reason why non-literal senses are not only useful but often preferable at points.

6. Patristic readers did engage in some interpretive gymnastics to argue away problems in the text—but they did so around different topics and for different reasons than we do.

My Point: Often, modern interpretive gymnastics focus around moral mandates in the text. I.e., I feel personally judged or called out by this directive—maybe it really means something else. Or, this text is just reinforcing an archaic social structure that really has nothing to do with how I relate to God, therefore we can ignore it.  Our interpretive gymnastics thus protect our sense of our own dignity and goodness.  

Patristic interpretive gymnastics—even and perhaps especially the ones deemed heretical by Nicene Orthodoxy—were very often done in service of protecting the dignity of God. That is, it seemed that Scripture was saying something unworthy of God or a “proper” divine being which needed to be defended or argued away. Indeed, my sense is that much of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies settled by the Councils were attempts to protect the dignity of God and Christ from an overly close connections to humanity and materiality. 

Ok—I’ll stop there for now…

There are more things to be said, but I’ll just put these out here for now as I think about how these will influence how I want to shape this class…


Clarification on Daily Office Page

Given the comments I’ve received, let me clarify the point of the Daily Office page that I put up yesterday…

The purpose of this page is not a replacement of the St. Bede’s Breviary. Nor am I trying to impose my choices on others.

A lot of church web sites use WordPress. Also, many parishes have a tradition of praying the offices—or at least Morning Prayer—in a particular way. This plugin will allow the easy inclusion of the Daily Office done their way on their websites. A dashboard for the site administrator enables them to tailor it to their local practice.

The plugin uses a shortcode that will let the users choose how to use it—anything from a separate static post for any given office to a page containing them all that automatically updates each day.

Hopefully that clarifies things a bit…

Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2018 as a CSV

I’m working up several things to show you all, but none of them are quite ready yet… I keep writing things, but they’re not quite finished yet, and then life happens, so several things are in the queue.

This is an easy one, though… I was asked about a csv file with the current contents of Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2018. I do have such a file and am sharing it here. Naturally, it meets my needs, providing the month, day, title, and collects  (Rite I and II) for each liturgical observance of Optional Observance. (I.e., it contains no Sundays or Holy Days, only those observances falling within section 5 of the BCP’s Calendar breakdown.) Nor does it contain biographies or biblical lections as the latter are intended for Eucharists, not as replacements for the Daily Office in-course lections which only give way to Holy Days.

As is well known by anyone who has read these pages for any amount of time, the current Episcopal concept of sanctity is rootless, fragmented, and ultimately incoherent. I literally laughed-out-loud  when last I ran across the flavor text at Church Publishing for LLF2018 which informs the buyer that: “Lesser Feasts and Fasts has not been updated since 2006. This new edition, adopted at the 79th General Convention (resolution A065), fills that need.” Both of these lines are quite incorrect.

In the first line, LFF has received a lot of work since 2006—it’s just that none of the items produced has satisfied the complex and contradictory demands of both houses of  General Convention. And Liza and I have the files and correspondence to prove it!

In the second, LFF2018 was not “adopted” flatly as the text suggests but is in a period of trial use. Furthermore, the current text is not what was proposed, but is a mash-up up several offerings that actually miss the point of what Liza and the sanctoral team was trying to accomplish with what they did submit.

What is an improvement here is the overall quality of the collects. Not all of them received the treatment they needed, but a few of us did manage to do some solid work on several of them that needed some serious repair. In particular, I tackled many of the saints in the first millennium when I was overhauling things for Great Cloud of Witnesses, and then addressed several more as final drafts of LFF2018 were going before the Legislative Committee at GC. So—I’d like to see more attention paid to the collects here.

Enough chatter—here’s the file: Episcopal_LFF2018_DAO

Daily Office Stats: Observations on Origins

Following up on the previous post, I ended it with a data-dump so it’s only proper to spend a bit of time talking about what those figures actually mean… Here’s a roll-up table of the main findings looking at the biblical books specified by season in the Ordo XIII trajectory of the Daily Office that we encounter from the early eighth century through the eleventh century:

Yes, the word counts are anachronistic as this is reckoning NRSV words, not the Vulgate, but they wouldn’t be radically different. I’m allowing it for the sake of comparison later on…

What this chart depicts is if the listed readings were all apportioned equally, how long it would take to read through the material intended for each season.  This is unlikely to reflect reality because of several factors.

First, biblical readings were handled differently in different times and places within the Night Office. Usually they were read during the first nocturn which was usually the only nocturn on ferial days. On Sundays and other feast days, the biblical lesson occupied the first nocturn, the second, and third contain material pertaining to the feast. During the summer, not all monasteries had full readings during the first nocturn given the shorter length of the night. Alternatively, Ælfric praises his monks for maintaining a full three-lesson course during the summer (LME 80). If Matins were roughly the same amount of time each day—that is if the monks were roused at the same time of night—then more time could be devoted to biblical reading on the single nocturn ferias than on the feast days; roughly a third of the amount of in-course reading would occur on these days than the others.

Now—the object of this current series is to look at the contemporary two-year Daily Office lectionary, not the early medieval one. However, if one did have the time and inclination to try and figure out exactly how much time was devoted to these readings and to figure out an exact amount of how much of this biblical material could reasonably be read within the service and what would be relegated to the refectory, this is how you’d do it…

  • Identify a place, preferably San Gall/Reichenau given the wealth of surviving material from them online
  • Calculate the word counts of the 2nd Nocturn sermones and the 3rd Nocturn homiliae from Paul the Deacon’s homiliary
  • Compare the relative lengths of sermones vs. homiliae and determine if they are roughly equal
  • Allot roughly that amount of space for a 1st Nocturn biblical reading
  • Calculate a balance of 1 nocturn vs. 3 nocturn days within given seasons from the local kalendars
  • Start with an assumption that on 1 nocturn mornings, the entire amount calculated for 1st/2nd/3rd Nocturn readings would be focused on biblical reading
  • Look at the surviving Bibles/biblical portion manuscripts to see what kinds of chapter divisions they were using and see if these fit the counts in any way shape or form. (I’d think you’d want to work in some math from De Bruyne’s classic Sommaires, divisions et
    rubriques de la Bible latine to help you out here…)

Ok, enough of that… Given the biblical coverage laid out in Ordo XIII, how much of the Bible is actually read in the Daily Office each year? The full OT is listed plus supplemental contents from the Apocrypha (or, the full OT as they thought of it…), but only 25.4% of the New Testament. The Gospels and the Pauline epistles including Hebrews are missing.  These would be the materials covered in Mass, ideally, but we’re not including that lectionary in this reckoning. So:

Daily Office Stats: Bible & Origins

Christian liturgical communities founded themselves upon the ceaseless and cyclical repetition of Scripture. In the Christian West, our insight into exactly how they intended this to occur is not terribly clear until we move into the first half of the 8th century. The Ordines Romani were the liturgical instructions intended to clarify how the many liturgical books were supposed to relate to one another within monastic communities. Ordo XIII, which appears in several forms until the unifying Romano-German Pontifical in the 10th century, presents a scheme that solidifies a norm in the West: The Psalter is prayed through every week in the Office; the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles are read during Mass in the yearly cycle; the entire rest of Scripture is read each year during the Night Office (Matins).

The listing in the 8th century Ordo XIIIa is rather rough but apportions the various books according to a mix of liturgical seasons and secular months. Thus:

  • The Heptateuch (i.e., Genesis through Judges) is read from Septuagesima (the three week pre-Lenten period) until two weeks before Easter (i.e., Passion Sunday)
  • Jeremiah is read from Passion Sunday until Maundy Thursday
  • The Triduum has its own specific out-of-course readings but includes a lot of Lamentations (this will eventually become the Tenebrae Office…)
  • Easter starts with the Acts of the Apostles, then the 7 General or Catholic Letters of the New Testament, and then the Book of Revelation is read until the Octave of Pentecost
  • From the Octave of Pentecost the Historical Books (the Samuels, Kings, and Chronicles) until the first Sunday of August
  • In August are read the “Books of Solomon”—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and the Wisdom of Solomon (likely Sirach as well?)
  • In September are read Job, Judith, Esther, and Esdras (the ones in the Apocrypha; Ezra and Nehemiah are probably included in the high summer History read)
  • In October are read the books of the Maccabees
  • November is given to Ezekiel, Daniel, and the 12 Minor Prophets
  • In December/Advent the prophet Isaiah is read

This is the kind of pattern that we see in sources throughout the medieval period. For instance, in Ælfric’s Letter to the Monks of Eynsham written around the year 1000 we see this same pattern repeated (LME 70-77). Ælfric, of course, also includes the responsaries that ought to be sung at these times as well. He concludes his rehearsal of this material with the following note:

“And be it known that, in the course of a year, the entire canon [of Scripture] ought to be read in church, but because we are lazy and slothful servants we read in the refectory whatever we do not cover in church (LME 78).”

This is an important note for two reasons. First, all of these lists are very general because the course of reading each year varied due to the placement of Easter and because of the many saints’ days that interrupted the normal course. Second, by placing the rest of the readings during mealtime in the refectory, an outlet was provided if the full amount of reading was not or could not be completed in church during the time allotted for the Office.

And that’s the key piece here: time. Any amount of reading can be covered given time. But—as we’ll see—time is the chief limiting factor that shapes the potential and possibilities of Daily Office lectionaries, especially those that hold to this classical ideal of reading the entire canon in a year.

In order to consider this subject properly, let’s begin with a quick look at the scope of Scripture itself. What exactly is there to be covered?

As we well know, Scripture is divided into books, chapters, and verses. Honestly, using these as statistical measures to look at reading lengths and reading coverage are of limited usefulness… They’re uneven. There is no standardized length to a chapter or a verse. The earlier we go, the more the problem is compounded too since the chapters we are familiar with now were standardized in the 13th century and verses in the 16th. It is far safer, then, to look at word counts rather than chapter or verse counts.

Since the point of this series is to look at the Daily Office lectionary readings now, I’ll use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as a base text. (I can do the same comparisons with the RSV, KJV, and even throw in the Douay-Rheims which we medievalists like to use as an English language proxy for the Vulgate, but I’ll start with the NRSV for now.) A quick glance at the numbers shows why working by chapters or verses yield inaccurate results:


A histogram of the canon as a whole shows that most chapters have somewhere between 15 to 30 verses. (Two outliers, Psalm 119 with its 176 verses and 4 Esdras 7 with its 140 verses have been thrown out…)

A Pareto graph confirms the wide distribution; 80% of biblical chapters are between 11 to 38 verses long which doesn’t give us a great basis for fair comparison.

To say it another way, while the average and the middle number of the set (mean & median ) are pretty close to one another, there’s a significant positive skew to the data set (i.e., there are a lot of big numbers that pull the values around) but the real key is the size of the standard deviation showing us that there’s so much variation in the data set that an average won’t give us the whole story.

We get very similar data when we look at number of words per verse. Again, a strong positive skew with wide variation (standard deviation of 10.5):

At the end of the day, the most appropriate measurement to use is the number of words in the reading. This is a far more reliable metric than chapter or verse because of the wide variation in what those can mean. Furthermore, if we are measuring our biblical readings by the word, we can also associate it to the length of the Daily Office itself which (clearly) has neither chapters nor verses, but is made up of lots of words. Finally, this will also give us a reliable time calculation. Based on a typical speaking speed, we can posit a reading rate of around 150 words per minute—perhaps even dropping it as low as 130 words per minute if we consider a prayerful speed.

So…to jump back to the starting material, what sort of a breakdown does the early medieval period offer? Because we’re working at a general book level, I’m going to break it down in terms of books, chapters, words, and # of days because I’ve always suspected (but never done the math) that’s there some weirdness baked into this system.

Septuagesima to 2nd Week before Easter 49 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
Genesis 50          1,533            36,145
Exodus 40          1,213            30,199
Leviticus 27             859            22,780
Numbers 36          1,288            29,896
Deuteronomy 34             959            26,470
Joshua 24             658            17,283
Judges 21             618            17,557
Totals 232          7,128          180,330
Per Day 4.73             145              3,680 24.5 Reading Minutes
2nd Week before Easter to Maundy Thursday 11 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
Jeremiah 52          1,364            40,167
Per Day 4.73             124              3,652 24.3 Reading Minutes
Because Triduum/Easter Octave are wacky I’ll skip for now…
Octave of Easter through the octave of Pentecost 49 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
Acts 28          1,007            23,393
James 5             108              2,324
1 Peter 5             105              2,468
2 Peter 3                61              1,546
1 John 5             105              2,516
2 John 1                13                  305
3 John 1                15                  313
Jude 1                25                  620
Revelation 22             405            11,405
Totals 71          1,844            44,890
Per Day 1.45                38                  916 6.1 Reading Minutes
Octave of Pentecost to the First Sunday of August 49 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
1 Samuel 31             810            23,701
2 Samuel 24             695            19,278
1 Kings 22             816            22,765
2 Kings 25             719            21,845
1 Chronicles 29             942            18,414
2 Chronicles 36             822            24,321
Ezra 10             280              6,596
Nehemiah 13             406              9,727
Totals 190          5,490          146,647
Per Day 3.88             112              2,993 20.0 Reading Minutes
The First Sunday of August until September 28 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
Proverbs 31             915            14,236
Ecclesiastes 12             222              5,173
Song of Solomon 8             117              2,520
Ecclesiasticus 51          1,408            26,763
Wisdom 19             436            10,118
Totals 121          3,098            58,810
Per Day 4.32             111              2,100 14.0 Reading Minutes
The First Sunday of September until October 35 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
Job 42          1,070            17,240
Judith 16             340            10,312
Esther 10             167              5,329
1 Esdras 9             463            11,483
4 Esdras 16             944            22,304
Totals 93          2,984            66,668
Per Day           2.66                85              1,905 12.7 Reading Minutes
The First Sunday of October until November 28 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
1 Maccabees 16             924            21,765
2 Maccabees 15             555            15,907
3 Maccabees 7             228              7,038
4 Maccabees 18             482            10,567
Totals 56          2,189            55,277
Per Day           2.00          78.18        1,974.18 13.2 Reading Minutes
The First Sunday of November until Advent 28 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
Ezekiel 48          1,273            36,151
Daniel 12             357            10,891
Amos 9             147              4,017
Habakkuk 3                56              1,334
Haggai 2                38              1,060
Hosea 14             197              4,884
Joel 3                72              1,833
Jonah 4                48              1,291
Malachi 4                55              1,703
Micah 7             105              2,926
Nahum 3                47              1,101
Obadiah 1                21                  612
Zechariah 14             211              5,927
Zephaniah 3                53              1,522
Totals 127          2,680            75,252
Per Day           4.54          95.71        2,687.57 17.9 Reading Minutes
Advent (First Sunday to Christmas Eve Day) 26 days
Book Chapters  Verses  Words
Isaiah 66          1,292            34,661
Per Day 2.54                50              1,333 8.9 Reading Minutes

Daily Office Lectionary Stats: Introduction

Every once in a while, questions pop up around the internet concerning the Daily Office Lectionary. These questions tend to be things like:

  • How much of the Bible actually gets read?
  • What parts get skipped?
  • Why do we skip the parts we skip?

These are all very good questions.

I started to address some of these, particularly drilling into the “why we skip what we skip” at the narrative level in my short-lived YouTube series Liturgical Look Forward.

However, I’ve been seeing more of these questions raised, particularly the bigger picture, full-content, book-level questions recently.

In the next few weeks, I shall tackle these questions directly, and answer them from a statistical point of view. We’ll begin with:

  • An overview of the scope with questions like:
    • exactly how much Bible is there, and
    • what’s the best way to get a handle on it?
  • Daily Office Lectionary, Year 1
    • What are we reading?
    • How much of it do we read?
    • What repetitions are there?
    • What is the actual percentage of Bible Coverage?
  • Daily Office Lectionary, Year 2
    • What are we reading?
    • How much of it do we read?
    • What repetitions are there?
    • What is the actual percentage of Bible Coverage?

My plan is to continue into how this lectionary compares with other Daily Office lectionaries including:

  • The 1943 Daily Office Lectionary
  • The 1928 Daily Office Lectionary
  • The English Proposed 1922 Lectionary
  • etc.

I confess to having an ulterior motive here…

The high school where I have been happily teaching for the past two years—and where my elder daughter attended—has closed. As a result, I find myself back on the job market. While I loved teaching in that environment, a majority-minority Catholic all-girls high school that mixed suburban and urban girls across the ethnic and economic spectrum together—the pay sucked. As we’re facing a daughter heading into college next year, I’m looking to head back into the corporate world, and am brushing up on my data analysis and manipulation skills.

What does that mean for you? It means statistics and pretty pictures! So—stay tuned for those. I am also hoping to get back into the blogging and writing. (it’s amazing how much free time teaching high school all day sucks up what with planning and grading and all…) The Second Series of the Prayer Book Studies series is on the cusp of being done, and once it is, I am trying to get solid progress going forward on the long-promised Psalming Christ!

Revised Trial Offices for the Dead

The trial Offices for the Dead that I posted have been seeing some use, and I have received feedback on them. I’ve finally incorporated that feedback into a new pdf version which I’m calling Revision 1.1.

Here are the changes contained in this version:

  • Venite antiphon changed from “O come, let us worship” to “: Come let us adore him.” as in prayer book MP
  • “Rest eternal * grant unto them, O LORD/And let light perpetual * shine upon them.” changed from two bicola to one: “Rest eternal grant unto them, O LORD: */And let light perpetual shine upon them.”
  • Lord’s Prayer offered in Traditional language alongside Contemporary.
  • Minor punctuation corrections
  • In MP2/EP2 “soul of your servant” for “soul of thy servant” in Collect for Recent Dead
  • All occurrences of “LORD” regularized as “LORD”
  • MP2/EP2 Prayer for the Church “eternal” regularized as “ETERNAL”
  • Rite I versions added by request

The major item is the last (Rite I versions added by request). While I prefer to use Rite I when I pray, I recognize that it is not currently the norm across the Episcopal Church. My initial concern was that If I released these in Rite I, they might be seen as by and for a niche community rather than the church at large. 

However, one of the priests who was providing me with feedback said that she and her community would prefer to have them in Rite I. So–it made sense to include them in the revised form.

This PDF groups the contemporary language offices first–Morning & Evening Prayer-Form 1, then Morning & Evening Prayer-Form 2, then the traditional language offices: Morning & Evening Prayer-Form 1, then Morning & Evening Prayer-Form 2

If you do use these, please do give me some feedback on your experience of using them—what works, what doesn’t, what could be added or deleted.

PDF of the trial Offices for the Dead

At the request of some folks who had seen the previous post on my Offices for the Dead, I have compiled them in a PDF.

This contains an introduction that briefly introduces the history and purpose of the devotion (largely adapted from the blog post below)  and also offers some suggestions for how individuals and communities might use them.

Then follow Morning and Evening Prayer for Form 1, then Morning and Evening Prayer for Form 2.

After being asked about it, I decided to remove the rubricized note at the beginning regarding the doubling of antiphons. In a nutshell, in a chockful multi-Office environment,  antiphons were not said in full before and after every psalm. If it wasn’t a fancy day, only the first few notes of the antiphon were sung so the rest of the choir would know what note to start singing the psalm on. (Yes, this goes back to the period of sung Offices and limited books.) Because I left the daggers in for the sake of the liturgical purists amongst us—you know who you are—I included the note in the web versions. For a standalone general-use document for Episcopalians, it is probably unnecessary.

The PDF is located here.

Start of Vespers of the Dead (Walters 267)

Office of the Dead, Revisited

tl;dr: Experimental Versions of Offices for the Dead for Anglicans:

(But you really should read the whole thing anyway…)

As we close out another week inside, a full month worth of quarantine, I’ve been pondering the Offices of and for the Dead in relations to the times we are living through.

There has a been a resurgence of the Daily Office in my media feeds. Clergy trying to stay connected with their flocks are livestreaming Offices. Too, questions abound regarding how a church that has re-focused itself sacramentally with the ’79 prayer book now conducts virtual worship… Do we do virtual sacraments? (I fervently pray not!) Do we become a Morning Prayer church again? (I love the Offices, including public offices; but I’m Eucharistically-centered myself…)

The current situation has us casting back into our history for models how to proceed. One option is the Morning Prayer experience. Do remember that until recently, the Eucharist would occur once a month or once a quarter in many Anglican and/or Episcopal churches. Weekly Eucharist is our present norm, but not the historic Anglican norm.

Another option is to keep going back further still, past the Reformation Period. In the medieval Western Church ocular or spiritual reception of the Eucharist was the norm for most non-clergy and non-nobles despite the prevalence of the rite on a more than daily basis. Is that something to connect to? Or do we move towards a full-on Eucharistic fast for all? Deeply related is the number of clergy I’ve seen with shiny new monstrances. As our context is jarred out of our customary pattern, we suddenly realize that maybe some of those old practices did have a purpose in their time and place—and may be repurposed for our present…

One of the old practices that I have not seen as much is one that may make a great deal of sense, both liturgically and pastorally: The Offices of the Dead. These are one of the liturgical creations of the early medieval period largely unfamiliar to modern Christians with a Reformation heritage (and indeed, also to the vast majority of modern Roman Catholics…). Like the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Office of the Passion, Office of the Holy Spirit, Office of All Saints, etc, the Office of the Dead is an adaptation of the Daily Office where the changeable texts have been replaced with proper psalms and readings. When and where these arose is complicated by the fragmentary nature of our liturgical sources. It appears that these proliferations of liturgical practice were products of monastic liturgical piety in the seventh and eighth centuries, and we see them mentioned in continental  ordines from that time on. Certainly, these many little offices (and accompanying hours which were shorter forms lacking psalms) including the Offices of the Dead were well-known by Carolingian times and our great liturgical master of the period, Amalarius of Metz, refers to the Office of the Dead in his On The Liturgy 4.42.

It’s worth noting that Amalarius, in his exposition, refers back to one of the seminal patristic writings on why, how, and for what purpose the Church prays for the dead, Augustine’s Letter to Paulinus of Nola, On the Care of the Dead which I commend to you.  Augustine is largely agnostic on how these things work, but emphasizes that the practice of praying for the Christian dead is an important and long-standing one even in his day. He does not believe that prayer for the dead benefits those who were not predispose for it by their manner of life. I.e., no one’s prayers will posthumously save the wicked. He allows that those we did strive for righteousness may be aided but is unclear in how that works. What he does mention more than once is the utility of prayers for the dead to the living—that they give aid, comfort, and help us remember the dead as still part of our ecclesiastical present. I think that’s important—I’ll come back to that point…

The Offices of the Dead as the medieval Church received them became a core component of the Books of Hours. These devotional books for the laity usually contained abridgments of monastic and clerical devotions more suited to the busyness of lay life; the Office of the Dead stands out, however, as being the same texts used by clergy and monastics and the laity would pray alongside clerics and monastics using these texts during the burial observances. It’s a key point of cross-over. They consist of three  offices: Vespers, Matins, and Lauds and the first two are known respectively by the first word of their opening antiphon, both of which have passed into modern parlance: Placebo and Dirige (from which we get the word “dirge”). Lauds followed immediately after Matins and the two should be thought of as a lengthy unit rather than two distinct things.

Usually, a dead body would be carried into a church the day before its burial. The community would gather and begin with Vespers of the Dead. The next morning, they would pray the Matins and Lauds of the Dead, then the Requiem Mass would follow, leading to the funeral procession and the burial proper. The Offices would be repeated again with that individual in mind on the third, seventh, and thirtieth day after their burial, and then on its yearly anniversary. In many intentional liturgical communities, the Offices of the Dead were prayed either weekly or daily regardless of whether there were any deaths in the community: it was part of their duty to the wider dispersed community of the Church  to pray for the souls of the departed, known and unknown.

The texts that have come down to us, then, are venerable and represent a theological perspective in line with Augustine’s musings. They are for the benefit and on behalf of dead Christians who are resident in Purgatory. Since it is only “the pure in heart” who “shall see God” (Matt 5:3), and “they shall go from virtue to virtue: the God of gods shall be seen in Sion” (Ps 83:8, Vulgate) it was understood that even the baptized and saved Christian dead needed a process of purification to become truly pure in heart and see God—these prayers are intend to both call to mind this process and to aid those in the midst of it.  As a result, they tend to be rather individual and focus on hopes for one dead person: freedom from hell and forgiveness of sin.  The classical version of the Offices can be found here in both traditional and contemporary language form: Vespers (trad|cont), Matins (trad|cont), and Lauds (trad|cont).

Based on these texts, a few years ago I put together a form that follows the prayer book’s offices. That’s been up at the St. Bede’s Breviary for a while now in both rites: Morning Prayer for the Dead and Evening Prayer for the Dead.

However, in light of our new developing context, I took a look at these again.

[In this time of pandemic, we are in the midst of communities in grief–grieving a variety of different things, including and especially the loss of human life. I felt the need for a liturgy to speak to that situation using well-worn forms. Hopefully, these will provide a liturgical acknowledgment response, and tool as we think about and pray for both the living and the dead in these days and beyond.] *

I’ve done some fixing and tweaking of items in my original adaptation of the traditional materials. In particular, I’ve made the Evening Psalm antiphons more faithful to the tradition instead of re-using some material from the Morning office.

I’ve also created a new adaptation with a slightly different emphasis. One of my pet peeves about the liturgical work done since the ’79 prayer book—especially with references to the sanctoral kalendar—is the implications of a baptismal ecclesiology have not been completely worked out. In my new revision, Form 2 of the Office of the Dead, I’ve tried to consciously do that. This adaptation still proceeds from traditional sources and materials. But, what I had in mind as I edited the texts was considering departed Christian souls within the context of the baptismal community and remembering—with Augustine—that we are gathering in prayer the living alongside the dead. Given a fuller ecclesial or community setting, specific prayers for those who mourn and the church community still on this side of the vale are not inappropriate.

That having been said, I also—personally—do not see these two forms as an either/or but as a both/and; I still believe the traditional model has a spiritual and theological integrity important for us even as I see places where it can be supplemented. I intend to use both and see how they both wear over time. 

So—in this time of zoom Eucharists with spiritual communion, I offer a first draft of an experimental liturgy. Recognizing the reality of death within our communities as well as our dispersed configuration, I offer a modern Episcopal revisioning of the Office of the Dead as a resource for individuals or groups who might find it useful. As a first draft I’m under no illusions of its quality, and am hoping for suggestions and feedback on it.

Both my Form 1 and Form 2 can be found here. Please note that I’m also experimenting with a new aesthetic; in addition to the new look/feel, I constructed it with a phone/tablet layout in mind thinking that I might package it as an app if there is interest. Thus, it might look a little weird on full-size computer display, and you might want to adjust your browser window so it is taller than it is wide for optimal viewing!

So–without further ado:

Experimental Versions of Episcopal Offices of the Dead:


  • Omitted this intended paragraph the first time through…