Daily Archives: May 23, 2007

“Traditional” Office Hymns

One of my favorite words that gets thrown around–“traditional”–is inherently slippery… “Traditional” for whom? When is the ideal time when something stops and starts being traditional?

The notion of tradition is always a contemporary construct–an idea of how we view things and privilege things that appeared and/or happened in the past. There was discussion on Ship of Fools about whether the “Traditional Office Hymns” in my “traditional Anglo-Catholic” ordo were, in fact traditional. It’s a perfectly fair question and my response is that the list I give matches the list in the first edition of Ritual Notes supplemented and checked with the Anglican Breviary meaning that the list stands firmly documented within Anglo-Catholic tradition.

On the other hand…

Here’s another list:

From Nov 1 Matins: Primo dierum | Lauds: Aeterne rerum | Vespers: Lucis Creator (Sunday, O lux beata) | Compline: Christe qui lux es
Advent Matins: Verbum Supernum | Lauds: Vox clara | Vespers: Conditor alme siderum
Christmas Matins: A Patre unigenitus | Lauds: A solis ortus cardine | Vespers: Christe redemptor omnium
Epiphany Matins: A Patre unigenitus | Lauds: Iesus refulsit omnium | Vespers: Hostis Herodes impie
LXX Matins: Alleluia piis edite laudibus | Lauds: Almum sidereae iam patriae decus | Vespers: Alleluia dulce carmen
Lent Matins: Clarum deus ieiunii | Lauds: Iesu quadragenariae | Vespers: Audi benigne conditor
Passiontide Matins: Arbora decora | Lauds: Auctor salutis | Vespers: Vexilla Regis
Easter Matins: Iesu nostra redemptio | Lauds: Aurora lucis rutilat | Vespers: Ad cenam Agni prouidi
After Asc Matins: Optatus votis omnium | Lauds: Aeterne rex altissime | Vespers: Hymnum canamus gloriae
Pentecost Matins: Veni creator Spiritus | Lauds: Beata nobis gaudia | Vespers: Iam Christus astra ascenderat
Until Nov 1 Matins: Nocte surgentes | Lauds: Ecce iam noctis | Vespers: Deus creator omnium (Sunday, Lucis creator) | Compline: Te lucis ante terminum

There are a number of commonalities between this list and the other, the chief difference being static hymnody through the week in Ordinary time in this listing… But there are other differences as well. This list comes straight from a 10th century English Benedictine customary (Ælfric’s LME for the OE folk in the crowd)–so it’s pretty darn “traditional” too. But which is more traditional? How do we adjudicate?

If we push it further, though, we find that this isn’t even “the” Office Hymn cycle for 10th century English Benedictines. Rather, there were two different hymnal types in circulation, the Winchester-Worcester type and the Canterbury type, that reflect how continental influences shaped local practice during the Benedictine Revival (the 10th c. rebirth of monasticism in England after the Viking depredations of the previous centuries). This present list, while an important witness of actual(?) use, isn’t even a “pure” form of the Winchester-Worcester type. Furthermore, how we even define “pure” is up in the air–do we consider “pure” to be what is in the majority of the sources that have survived? And if so–we need to consider how representative the books are that have survived…

“Traditional” is simple until you start pushing on it and defining it;”tradition” is one of those things that becomes fuzzier the more you look at it.

Tradition isn’t a static thing and it isn’t a single thing. As any medievalist will tell you, there isn’t a common “medieval” anything. Rather, we can only talk about what certain texts represent about what was happening in certain places at certain times (…and discussions will ensue about whether any of it actually happened as it was represented…). Much of what appears as Anglo-Catholic tradition is a Victorian adjudication about what is properly medieval in light of their construct of the high medieval period as an English golden age. (Which is why the contemporaneous pre-Raphaelite paintings of the Arthurian cycle have the 5th century characters in 14/15th century accoutrements…)

Thoughtful discernment is key here. The answer on the Office Hymns is clearly that both lists—the Anglo-Catholic (presumably Tridentine) one and Ælfric’s one—have a place in the tradition. The one we choose positions us in relation to that tradition. Personally, I like Ælfric’s because it has more static elements and thus fits the peculiarities of my current Office practice. Too, it aligns me with the English Benedictine pre-Scholastic practice which I think most fully and properly illuminates the Anglican way. At the same time, I recognize that it falls outside of what is “traditional” for classic Victorian-inspired (heavily Scholastic) Anglo-Catholicism.

I guess if there’s a note I want to end on, it’s this: “tradition” often gets used in churchy circles as a rhetorical blunt instrument meant to end discussions. It doesn’t have to be. Tradition can also be a way of understanding the fullness of what we have received and understanding how adjudicating among the manifold options makes a difference for how we understand ourselves, our faith, and our practices of faith now.