Yearly Archives: 2009

Benedict of Aniane: A Convert to the Rule

This is the first of possibly several posts on Benedict of Aniane, reformer and teacher (750-821).

Benedict of Aniane is one of those figures in history of whom the general population is blissfully unaware, but who made great and significant changes in the way things were done. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he defined the landscape of Western Monasticism as it moved through the Early Medieval period and into the High Middle Ages.

St Benedict of Nursia gave us the Rule, but it was Benedict of Aniane who gave us Benedictine monasticism as a theological and organizational entity. In the early medieval West there were a host of monastic rules floating around, some written by famous doctors of the church—like those of Isidore and Caesarius of Arles—as well as others by lesser known or now anonymous authors. The most common was the so-called regula mixta which was a combination of the Rule of Benedict and the Irish Rule of Columbanus. English monks like Bede and Boniface were the first to push for an exclusive Benedictine observance but it remained a hard row to hoe. Without Benedict of Aniane, Benedict’s Rule would likely today occupy a place similar to where John Cassian, known by the interested but utilized piece-meal rather than whole-cloth.

Benedict of Aniane started out as one attracted by Benedict’s Rule but with the ascetic chip on his shoulder. Age brought wisdom. In chapter 2, Ardo tells us of his mortifications:

His face through gaunt with fasting; his flesh was exhausted by privation; his shriveled skin hung from his bones like the dewlaps of cows. Not so much taming a young but ungovernable animal, as mortifying the body, although he was compelled by the abbot to exercise rigor against himself more sparingly, he gave assent reluctantly. Declaring that the Rule of blessed Benedict was for beginners and weak persons, he strove to climb up to the precepts of blessed Basil and the rule of blessed Pachomius. However much the Benedictine Rule might regulate possible things for paltry people, our Benedict perennially explored more impossible things. Dedicating himself wholly to penance and lamentation, he could not be imitated by anyone or only by a few. But divine favor decreed that he was to become an example of salvation for many and would be enflamed with love for the Rule of Benedict, and like a new athlete just back from single combat enter the field to fight publicly. In the meanwhile he undertook to correct the manners of some, to scold the negligent, exhort beginners, admonish the upright to persevere, and upbraid the wicked to turn from their ways. (Ardo’s Vita 2.5, 68-9)

Students of the Rule will recognize the trope that Ardo is drawing on here. The first chapter of the rule, drawing on John Cassian Conf. 18.4ff, uses a martial motif to present the cenobites as soldiers who fight together in a battle-line, side by side. The anchorites are the champions who are strong enough to fight on their own, after hard training in the battle-line. Here, Ardo presents the asceticism of Benedict of Aniane as defacto anchorite training, who then returns to teach the rest of the monks rather than remaining elsewhere as a solitary. Ardo then continues to detail Benedict’s full conversion to the Rule:

After that it was enjoined on him to supervise the cellar. There he committed to memory the Rule of the aforesaid Father Benedict. He sought with all his might to comport himself according to its regulations and then without delay to be generous to those seeking lawful things, to deny those seeking in a bad way, and courteously to excuse those inquiring for impossible things. Because he did not freely provide them cups, he was not regarded with favor by many. The care of guests, children, and poor folk he exercised with assiduity. The abbot also esteemed him with supreme fondness, because he was beneficial in everything, circumspect in his own life, solicitous for the salvation of others, prompt in ministering, infrequent in speaking, ready to obey, good-natured in serving. Divine piety conferred upon him, among other virtues, the gift of understanding and a supply of spiritual eloquence. (Ardo’s Vita 2.6, 69)

I find this passage fascinating especially when read in parallel with the section just before it. the reversal on possible/lawful and impossible things is interesting. I note that in the first Benedict seems to do an awful lot of talking—memorization and internalization of the Rule leads to a lot more doing and a lot less talking. I don’t think Ardo wrote it this way on accident… And what a wise abbot! It seems like the move to cellarer (cf. RB 31) was quite a wise move. Benedict could no longer be peripheral to community life, holding himself above it, but was required to be fully integrated into themost mundane details of life together. I don’t think it’s an accident that it was this move that triggered his turn to the Rule.

That’s it for now—the next post will probably look at Benedict’s reforming work and the councils at Aachen.

Back to the Blog…

We’ve returned from Christmas and associated festivities at the in-laws. The up-coming days will probably see a number of postings on a number of new acquisitions for the library. In looking over the books I received from parents and sister-in-law I was amused at by the simultaneous breadth and coherence of the items: a taichi book and a taichi dvd, a collection of essays by Plutarch, the new Book of Common Prayer from Lancelot Andrewes Press, Ardo’s life of Benedict of Aniane, and Hymn Introits for the Liturgical Year.

I’ll say more about most of these later, but just wanted to comment on something that jumped out at me from Ardo’s life. In his discussion of Benedict of Aniane’s full output in Ch 38 he writes:

To demonstrate to contentious persons that nothing worthless or useless was set forth by blessed Benedict [of Nursia], but that his Rule was sustained by the rules of others, he compiled another book of statements culled from other rules. To it he gave the title, Harmony of the Rules [Concordia Regularum]. Statements in agreement with blessed Benedict’s book were added to show that the latter was obviously foremost. To it he joined another book from the homilies of holy teachers. These were presented for exhortation of monks and ordered it read all the time at the evening assemblies. (p. 101)

I knew of the Concordia Regularum, but this is the first I’d heard of a book of homilies along with it. I’m curious to see the Latin to see which book was being specified here for which occasion. Furthermore, there’s another interesting throw-away reference earlier. As Benedict of Aniane traveled around he: “spent days in Arles with many bishops, abbots, and monks, explaining the mysteries of the canons and expounding the homilies of the blessed Pope Gregory to the ignorant.”  What was going on here? Which homilies were these—the Moralia in Iob, Homilies on Ezekiel, or the Forty Gospel Homilies?

Random Daily Office Thoughts

Note: I’m not saying anything new here, I’m just putting some thoughts into conjunction with one another to stimulate my thinking on this topic…

The Daily Offices of the BCP are liturgical compositions in their own right. They contain their own internal logic and—500 years on—their own history.

These Offices are not the monastic Offices or the pre-conciliar ones.

And yet, the BCP Offices contain the elements and footprints of the earlier Offices. Those of us who have done the digging or have experience with the older Offices know what and where these are. Regular—even avid—users of the BCP who have not done these investigations usually do not know what and where they are because nothing in the book alerts them to it.

The Daily Offices of the BCP are liturgical compositions in their own right. They contain their own internal logic. Sometimes this logic is neutral towards the historical Office material and neither encourages or rejects its use. Other times, the logic of the current book is at odds with historical usage.

The most obvious example of what I’m talking about is the use and distribution of the canticles for Morning Prayer. The table on page 144 lays out the general principles according to the logic of the current Offices. I’d make these explicit as:

  1. Canticles follow Readings.
  2. Variety is to be preferred. Following the post-conciliar notion that a broader exposure to Scripture is better than a limited exposure, canticles have been added and selected to ensure a broader encounter with Scripture.
  3. The proper pattern is OT–>NT or NT–>Early Church. Thus the first Canticle is from one of the OT options (Canticles 8 through 14 in Rite II) and the second is from one of the NT options (Canticles 15 through 19). The main variation is when the Benedictus is used after the first reading and the Te Deum—a composition of the Early Church. The deviation from this rule is the Gloria in Excelsis (Canticle 20) which seems to be functioning like an NT canticle and has bona fide NT roots but is a composition of the Early Church…

Against these principles are the principles that come from the pre-conciliar Offices. The fundamental difficulty here is the very substantial amount of overlap: both forms (BCP and pre-concialr) have OT and NT canticles and there was use of quite a number of OT canticles. However, here are the principles that we know from the pre-Conciliar Offices:

  1. The Chapter (verse-length reading) at Lauds (and Vespers but we’re focusing on morning here…) is followed by a single NT Canticle.
  2. The daily OT canticles are found amongst the psalms in the Office of Lauds. So, these were used after the variable psalmody but before the eponymous “lauds” (Pss 148-150 treated as a single psalm). With the reforms of Pius X these doubled in number with the distinction between Lauds 1 and Lauds 2—more and less penitential forms.
  3. Monastic Uses substituted 3 OT Canticles as the psalmody in the 3rd Nocturns of Matins. Thus, the OT canticles continue to be associated structurally with psalms, not with readings. There’s a clear sense that OT and NT canticles function differently which is driven by theological principles.
  4. The NT canticle of Lauds, the Benedictus (Song of Zechariah), was invariable. No questions asked.
  5. The Te Deum was used at the end of Matins—sometimes. Generally on feasts and in festal seasons. On ferial days it was simply omitted—nothing took its place.

Upon looking at these differences it is abundantly clear that the two cannot be harmonized in a simple fashion. The pre-conciliar use of canticles does not fit with the current structure of the BCP Offices. Thus conscious adaptation is required. Furthermore, the complexities are such that there are several ways that adaptation could occur. If there are two readings, both of which require canticles and no psalms are being substituted with OT canticles than liturgical gyrations are in order—and we don’t all groove the same way.

At this juncture, there are two obvious paths:

  • Follow the apparent logic of the BCP Offices without reference to pre-conciliar models.
  • Make choices and adaptations to honor the legacy of the pre-concilar Offices within the structure of the BCP Offices.

I would suggest that these two options constitute the major differences between how current Episcopal communities practice the Daily Office (where and when it is still practiced in community…).

The first option here is entirely legitimate and honors the BCP as the duly authorized liturgy of the Episcopal Church. But I don’t like it. A willful amnesia toward our liturgical traditions and origins is hardly a move towards strengthening our proclamation of the Gospel in a changing world.

Choosing the second option gets very complicated. And not just liturgically.

The elephant in the room here is that there has never been a simple division between the BCP Offices and the pre-conciliar offices. Through the life of all of the Books of Common Prayer up to the present one there has always been a tension between current Episcopal/Anglican practice and current Roman Catholic practice. What I now have the luxury of calling “pre-conciliar Offices” were not simply historical and their use was not simply a preference for historical formulae; they impacted on and made statements about relationships between the two churches. How we prayed and how we chose to negotiate adaptations made statements about how we viewed our history and about how we related to the Church of Rome.

Within the life time of the American 1979 BCP, the pre-conciliar Offices have not had the same valence as before. They have far more of an historical signification because there are now post-conciliar Offices. That is, if one wants to negotiate the BCP to stay close to current Roman practice, following rules based on the pre-conciliar Offices no longer suffice. The post-conciliar Offices are structurally different and have different logics that are themselves adaptations of the pre-conciliar forms to a new model.

The bottom line is that how we place our canticles in Morning Prayer (or sort out any number of the other options) are theological decisions that may be driven be several different motivations including how we understand the theological principle of continuity and our understanding of ecumenism.

Furthermore, the theological valences of these choices are hidden to most Episcopalians. Most people neither know nor care nor know why they should care. And, at the root level, as long as they even know what the Daily Office is, I ought to be happy…

Initial Thoughts toward an XML BCP

Since the Text Encoding Initiative is the standard for academic text coding (brief intro at Wikipedia), it makes sense that if one were to produce a web edition of the BCP , that would be the place to start. While the TEI has tagging for a wide range of texts, it currently does not have formal guidelines for tagging liturgical texts. However, work from the CANTUS and CURSUS projects are applicable:

  • CANTUS is a database-based model and therefore doesn’t translate exactly into xml but does offer some solutions that are readily adaptable. In particular their codes as listed here are helpful as a start.
  • CURSUS is a TEI project which does not currently but hopes to interface with CANTUS and therefore has done some of the work toward integrating the CANTUS codes into an xml framework. Some of this work is presented discursively here.

Thornton’s The Rock and the River

I recently finished Martin Thornton’s The Rock and the River thanks to recommendations from Fr. Cobb and others. Like his other books that I’ve read, it contains much valuable information that yet requires a  certain amount of translation for the current American context. Typically, the translation is pond-differences; the Church of England is a different beast from The Episcopal Church and expectations about knowledge and practices aren’t necessarily the same. The translation here was different—less a translation in space, more of a translation in time.

This book is Thornton’s attempt to wrestle with the new directions in Protestant theology that erupted after World War II, specifically in terms of the Existential turn in Tillich and Bonhoeffer but also the reassessments exemplified in Robinson’s Honest to God. Thornton’s central thesis is that as the authors attempt to construct new systems of religious thought, they are fundamentally restating standard Christian teachings and goals—but casting aside the traditional means for attaining these goals.

Thornton tells us that his editions of the works of the New Theologians (as he terms them) are littered with the acronyn “YBH?” (Yes—but how?)  indicating that here a great point has been made—but with no practical consideration of how the discussed spiritual state may be acheived. A case in point is one near and dear to my heart, Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship:

In The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer, having poured derision on rules, rites, sacraments, and formal prayers, pleads for “costly grace which demands a genuine discipleship of obedience and exclusive attachment to Jesus Christ”. All will aplaud his sentiment, but what, in daily life is such “obedience”? Obedience to what? A moral code? No, for we have seen that this is impossible without grace. To a system of prayer? No, because anything so “formal” has been rejected. How do ordinary men and women, bankers, typists, farmers and nurses, achieve “exclusive attachment to Jesus Christ”? Certainly not by a superhuman act of will, or by an intellectual decision that this is the right way. “It is achieved,” continues Bonhoeffer, “only when the form of Jesus Christ itself works upon us in such a manner that it moulds our form in his own likeness.” Yes, but how? “When” introduces a perfectly orthodox theory about the work of grace in the human soul; and we are given only the negative statement that “this is not achieved by dint of efforts ‘to become like Jesus'”. The alternatives appear to be either a predestinarian quietism, in which grace acts within the chosen soul by divine fiat—or even as a sort of magic—or there must be some particular, practical, concrete method of responding to grace offered: in other words a proven regula. If this latter alternative is rejected, and Bonhoeffer would certainly not entertain the former, then we are left with an impassioned plea for a wonderful theory. (pp. 30-1)

Now—I don’t know if Thornton was aware of Bohoeffer’s Life Together which may answer this (it’s not cited in the book and my copy is in hiding), but Bonhoeffer is the single one of the New Theologians who comes closest to what Thornton is talking about and even he falls short.

As I look around at the beginning of our brave new century, I see that the direction of the New Theologians has only accelerated. So many of the laity and laity-who-become-clergy seem to have seized on the popularizing works of Borg, Crossan, Pagels et al. as the only alternative to fundamentalism or a rote unquestioning orthodoxy. And these folks take the existentialism and iconoclasm of the New Theologians and push them to new extremes.

I think Thornton’s point is still true: many of the icons they think they’re breaking are not icons at all but golden calves against which orthodoxy has always warned; many of the psycho-religious states these books advocate are again not contrary to classical orthodox teaching—but in rejecting traditional expressions of faith, they have jettisoned the tools through which we attain them.

Too, these orthodoxies are also mingled with material heresies in these books as well…

What Thornton offers, it seems  to me, is a reminder that “Ascetical theology is the Church’s own built-in apparatus for taking intellectual and cultural change seriously and intelligently.” (15)

I need to think about this more, but all in all, Thornton once again points us in the right direction.

Roman Missal Translation Push-back

From the Jesuit magazine America comes this article. Some gems incude:

Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have.

For evidence, one need look no further than recent instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool—some would even say as a weapon—to advance specific agendas.

No! What? Liturgies being used a tool to advance agendas? I’m shocked–shocked, I tell you!

This leads me to pose a question to my brother priests: What if we were to awaken to the fact that these texts are neither pastoral nor ready for our parishes? What if we just said, “Wait”?

. . .

What is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church’s credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful.

Now this is true…

The reaction of my friends should surprise no one who has had a chance to review the new translations. Some of them have merit, but far too many do not.

Grammar trouble… Is the “them” in the second line the translations or the reactions of his friends?

What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, “Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people”?

. . .

I offer the following modest proposals.

What if pastors, pastoral councils, liturgical commissions and presbyteral councils were to appeal to their bishops for a time of reflection and consultation on the translations and on the process whereby they will be given to the people? It is ironic, to say the least, that we spend hours of consultation when planning to renovate a church building or parish hall, but little or none when “renovating” the very language of the liturgy.

What if, before implementing the new translations, we do some “market testing?” What if each region of bishops were to designate certain places where the new translations would receive a trial run: urban parishes and rural parishes, affluent parishes and poor parishes, large, multicultural parishes and small parishes, religious communities and college campuses? What if for the space of one full liturgical year the new translations were used in these designated communities, with carefully planned catechesis and thorough, honest evaluation? Wouldn’t such an experiment yield valuable information for both the translators and the bishops? And wouldn’t such an experiment make it much easier to implement the translations when they are ready?

In short, what if we were to trust our best instincts and defend our people from this ill-conceived disruption of their prayer life? What if collegiality, dialogue and a realistic awareness of the pastoral needs of our people were to be introduced at this late stage of the game? Is it not possible that we might help the church we love avert a debacle or even disaster? And is it not possible that the voices in the church that have decided that Latinity is more important than lucidity might end up listening to the people and re-evaluating their position, and that lengthy, ungainly, awkward sentences could be trimmed, giving way to noble, even poetic translations of beautiful old texts that would be truly worthy of our greatest prayer, worthy of our language and worthy of the holy people of God whose prayer this is? (If you think the above sentence is unwieldy, wait till you see some of the new Missal translations. They might be readable, but border on the unspeakable!)

“What If We Just Said No?” was my working title for this article. “What If We Just Said, ‘Wait’?” seems preferable. Dialogue is better than diatribe, as the Second Vatican Council amply demonstrated. So let the dialogue begin. Why not let the priests who are on the front lines and the laypeople who pay the bills (including the salaries of priests and bishops) have some say in how they are to pray? If you think the idea has merit, I invite you to log on to the Web site and make your voice heard. If our bishops know the depth of our concern, perhaps they will not feel so alone.

Now since I’m not a Roman Catholic, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am, however, a person who cares deeply about liturgy, about the worshiping community, and how to connect the two in mutual reinforcing relationships for the edification of the Church.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a veteran of the post-Vatican II years. One of his greatest regrets is the way the “reforming” party shoved the changes down the throats of others with no regard to those whose liturgical lives they were altering. He said, “We knew so strongly that we were right—but at the same time there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me that what we were doing was wrong.”

His fear and what he cautioned me against was the exact same thing happening from the other direction. Yes, good liturgy is a critical part of forming people in Christ and what we push for may well be absolutely right—but is the act of pushing absolutely right?

I don’t know what the right way to proceed is, but it is evidently clear to me that some of the methods of liturgical reform in the past century are examples of how not to do it rather than how to do it.

So, like I said, I’ll be watching these developments with interest.

SBB: Handheld Devices

Ok—two thing on mobile devices:

  • The new design setup does not, I believe, function on mobile devices. However, I just made a modification to the style sheets that should (in theory) work. Someone who has one of these, please check it out and leave a comment. (M’s crackberry is with her in Philly…)
  • I have looked into what sort of development would need to be done for an iPhone app. Apparently, the development suite used for such things only runs on Macs—and I don’t have one. Too, the materials I read suggest that trying to develop for the iPhone without actually having one might…complicate…matters. Which makes sense. If, therefore, anyone with the skills, interest, and equipment would like to take a shot at this, be my guest.

Anglo-Catholics: The Next Generation

I’m so loving this!!:

My Mass Kit+Booklet

Kit includes twelve cleanable pieces and a detailed companion booklet contained in a durable, canvas case. Crucifix, Chalice, Thurible, Finger Bowl, 2 Cruets, 2 Candles, Paten (cotton/polyester blend), Corporal & Purificator (cotton cloth), and play Hosts (foam). All other pieces are cotton/polyester blend, carrying case is nylon.

Ages 3-8

MagnifiKid! included while supplies last

In case you didn’t catch that—PLUSH THURIBLE!!

My kids already play church and they steal crucifixes and candles and start co-opting drinking cups, etc.  They would adore this (when they can get it away from us). When ordering, though, we just won’t tell them that our kids are girls…