Monthly Archives: September 2009

Apocrypha in the Daily Office

In case you were wondering, the Daily Office contains:

  • Much of the first four chapters of 1 Maccabees (but none from the other 12),
  • 5 verses from 2nd Esdras,
  • Bits of Baruch 3 and 4
  • Quite a goodly selection from Ecclesiasticus,
  • Wisdom of Solomon gets some readings in there too.

Too, there are the stealth additions—Canticles 1/12, 2/13, and 14.

Thornton Thought for the Day

Do all members of the average Diocesan Conference, or of the House of Laity, live seriously and loyally by the Prayer Book pattern? Unless or until they do, those bodies are theologically incapable of making decisions of any real weight.

In the seventeenth century, individual liberty of conscience was firmly guarded, yet the “opinion of the Church” had real meaning. To-day it has not; not because individual Christians lack integrity or courage, but because they are not acting as, are not being, the Church. Our need is the same: spiritual guidance according to the Caroline pattern, based on the Catholic ascetical theology which the Prayer Book pattern embodies. To attain efficiency, we must either be true to our adult spirituality, or we must constitute a Sacred College through which the Archbishop of Canterbury can exercise total power!

Martin Thornton, English Spirituality, 238-9.

The Scotist–At It Again

The Scotist is attempting to bring forth yet another argument in favor of Communion Without Baptism. Frankly I’m not clear how this is different from his earlier attempt.

The fundamental flaw remains the same.

The Scotist has found himself a practice that he thinks has some merit. So he goes and tries to find a theology that will support it. Is this really the way we proceed?

How about this, Scotist: start with the fundamentals and work out. In most of your definitions so far you mention salvation—but you provide absolutely no sense of what you think this is or how it’s accomplished. I know what I think it is, but you’re clearly using another definition.

Start with that—then we’ll talk.

Couple of Things

First, the pondering I was pondering concerning the intersection of Scripture and the world has also struck the prior of (Chicago’s RC) Monastery of the Holy Cross from a slightly different angle.

Second, go read Marshall on a church for adults. I’m totally feeling him here… As a child we “technically” were not required to attend church after Confirmation. Functionally, we were obligated to go unless sick unto death. It didn’t see to have hurt me at all—but doesn’t seem to have taken in my brother’s case. I agree with bls; some of us are more hard-wired for the spiritual than others.

Diss Selection on Paul the Deacon

I figured I might as well throw this into the mix—it’s a selection from the diss on Paul the Deacon. The context is a discussion of “critical conversations”; that is, formalized, stylized and (most importantly) bounded discourses common to both modern biblical scholarship and the early medieval monastic situation:

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Paul the Deacon (†799)

The next point in the tradition is the great homiliary of Paul the Deacon. Appointed by Charlemagne to pluck flowers from amongst the Catholic Fathers,[1] Paul collected 244 items representing 125 liturgical occasions for the Night Office. Following the needs of the Night Office, Paul supplied most Sunday and festal occasions with two texts: a “sermo” for the second nocturn and an “omelia” for the third.[2] For his texts, Paul used homilies of the Fathers whenever possible, preferring works from Bede, Gregory the Great, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine, and using passages from commentaries or other works when an appropriate homily was not available. For instance, of the fifty-six works attributed to Bede in the original collection, thirty-six are homilies and twenty are sections drawn from Bede’s commentaries on the two less popular gospels, Luke and Mark.

In each case, the source was identified so that those hearing would know from whom the teaching came and that it stood within the tradition. Inevitably, though, some of these attributions were incorrect. In fact, of the fifty texts attributed to Maximus, modern scholarship believes that only fourteen of them are actually his;[3] of the nineteen attributed to John Chrysostom, only one is certifiably the work of Chrysostom.[4] In addition, other material was added as the centuries passed[5]—and included more dubious material: many of the so-called Augustinian sermons added later were not written by Augustine.[6]

In one sense, Paul only transmits materials previously written by others and introduces no changes. In another, he exercises important editorial power by shaping the transmission of the tradition. Paul provided all of these texts with a new and uniform context—the Night Office. Each homily or commentary pericope selected by Paul was newly contextualized by the sermon paired with it and the responsories that would interrupt it two or three times in the course of its reading. Furthermore, he was, for all practical purposes, drawing the bounds of the critical conversation by what he included and excluded. For many monasteries with limited libraries, Paul’s homiliary served as the primary repository of patristic wisdom. While more texts were added as the centuries passed, Paul the Deacon’s homiliary passed into the heart of the tradition and became the source for the readings in the Roman Breviary.[7] Like Bede, Paul the Deacon’s work was intended to remain within the critical conversation as well as establishing its foundation. It is directed specifically to the clergy and monastics participating in the Night Office.

Neither the works of Gregory nor Bede were in any way “official.” They were widely read and eagerly sought out,[8] but had no official standing. Paul the Deacon’s work was different. The prefatory letter originally accompanying it documents Charlemagne’s commission to Paul and authorizes the homiliary as the official text for the Frankish kingdom. Charlemagne demanded the establishment of a purified core tradition, and Paul’s homiliary was an important aspect of that program of reform. The texts were to be strictly orthodox, coming from the recognized Fathers, and compiled by one whose orthodoxy and commitment to the tradition was known to the authorizing powers.


[1] Idque opus Paulo diacono, familiari clientulo nostro, eliminandum iniuximus, scilicet ut, studiose catholicorum patrum dicta percurrens, veluti e latissimis corum pratis certos quosque flosculos legeret, et in unum quaeque essent utilia quasi serum aptaret. (Wiegand, Homilarium, 16).

[2] Smetana notes that there are 151 texts identified with the title sermo, 93 identified as omelia and that the distinction in the texts closest to Paul’s original work seems to have accurately reflected the difference between the two. (Cyril Smetana, “Paul the Deacon’s Patristic Anthology” in The Old English Homily & its Backgrounds, Ed. Paul E. Szarmach and Bernard F. Huppé.  (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1978), 75-97, 78. See the discussion of the difference between the two in the discussion of the Night Office in Ch. 3.

[3] Smetana, “Patristic Anthology,” 80.

[4] Smetana, “Patristic Anthology,” 83.

[5] Migne’s edition in PL 95 is representative of the expansion of the collection—it contains 298 texts, up 54 from the original scope.

[6] Smetana, “Patristic Anthology,” 82.

[7] Smetana, “Patristic Anthology,” 75.

[8] The letters of Boniface constantly request copies of Bede’s works from his English patrons and relatives.

On Early Medieval Monasticism for Comprehending Western Patristics

Initial Disclaimer

These are some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for quite a while and have gelled as I prepare for my dissertation defense and consider my on-going course of study and research. I don’t think I’m saying anything new here; in fact, somebody in one of the fields that touches on mine may have already said this in a more lucid form (perhaps it’s lurking in de Lubac) and if so I’d love to be directed to it.

The Main Thought

Understanding early medieval monasticism, its goals and means of theological transmission, is crucial for understanding the spread, development, and impact of the study of the Church Fathers on the Western Church.  Without understanding the monks, you miss the ways that they shaped and directed how the West encountered the Fathers.

Unpacking That A Bit

The Church Fathers, those bishops and teachers who led the Church for the first five or so centuries, wrote widely and variously. That is, we have a wide variety of genres (the most common being homilies, letters, disputations [especially against heretics of various stripes], and treatises). Note the nature of the first three—these are fundamentally occasional genres; they address a particular situation in the life of a particular church although they may well have larger implications.

I debate whether to put “commentaries” on the list. Many of the commentaries that we know are not commentaries in a modern sense but, rather, are homilies grouped and arranged—sometimes within the author’s lifetime and by their hand, sometimes afterward and by another.

My central point here is that the majority of patristic writings are occasional as opposed to systematic; we lack syntheses from the early period. The closest would be some of the catechetical writings of Cyril, Ambrose, and Augustine.

The early medieval monks in their process of copying manuscripts began the important work of synthesis necessary to grasp and communicate the fullness of the occasionally oriented patristic wisdom. Key early figures who I would point to as central in this transition would be Cassiodorus, John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, and Gregory the Great.

The synthetic task consists of two major components with a common source: selecting key works that lead to 1) amalgamating similar or common thoughts and emphases and 2) creating secondary works built from selections of primary works. The first may be found in the treatises and homilies of the early medieval monastics, the second in their homiliaries (taking that category broadly) that then flowed into glosses. At the root, though, is the initial selection of sources.

Picking up the second in particular, I remain convinced that most patristic wisdom in the West came through the early homiliaries, reaching fixed form in the works of Paul the Deacon’s homiliary and Smaragdus’s catena on the Gospels and Epistles. I believe that a study of existing manuscripts will bear this out. That is, few monasteries and cathedrals owned many volumes of patristic writings, rather, they may have owned a few—a treatise or two by Augustine, Gregory’s Gospel Homilies and Letters—but obtained most of their patristic learning from the homiliaries as transmitted in the Night Office and in holy reading.

Paul the Deacon’s homiliary, especially with the support of the Carolingian court, became the standard collection that formed the heart of the breviary tradition up to Vatican II. This point is argued and documented by Smetana. Thus the items included in Paul the Deacon, supplemented by Smaragdus, became the most widely distributed and most widely known and therefore the most widely cited patristic texts. Smetana argues this, IIRC, but does not marshal the data to demonstrate it.

I don’t have data to demonstrate it yet either, but knowing the ways in which Ælfric and Haymo used Paul the Deacon and Smaragdus in creating their own synthetic homilies, I do believe that it can be shown (especially given new collations of manuscript data and placement as in Godden’s recent work on Anglo-Saxon libraries).

Thus Paul the Deacon is single-handedly responsible for the selection of patristic texts that most educated members of the Western Church learned. Furthermore, Paul incorporated a number of monastic synthetics; Gregory and Bede are at the core of his homiliary. Their own selections and syntheses further concentrated the patristic streams and themes transmitted to later periods.

Both the Scholastic period and the Renaissance re-discovered certain patristic writings, working them back into the western church. Nevertheless, this rediscovery was always in relation to the Tradition’s core synthesized and transmitted by the monastics and the breviary.

The Final Pay-Off

Thus, the early medieval monastic movement is responsible for selecting and fore-grounding particular issues, themes, and authors that have come to represent the main lines of patristic thought to the modern Western Church.

RBOC: Busyness Edition

  • Haven’t had much time lately for teh internets. Busy with work and academic obligations. (Still rather behind on that second one…)
  • I’m turning into a Martin Thornton junkie! After Christian Proficiency, I’m now reading English Spirituality, and his Spiritual Direction is next in line. He’s one of those people who confirms a lot of the things that I’ve been thinking about history and spiritual movements—but extends them in new and interesting directions.
  • Thornton’s section on the Victorines reminded me of a theme I’d wanted to expand on that sees the Scriptures and Creation as intertwined twofold revelation of God’s creative and redemptive work. I think this line of thought is absolutely key in balancing the proper relation between the too frequent rhetorical division between reason and revelation and the impact of those on our theological thinking.
  • Also on tap is Martin Smith’s Reconciliation which I probably should have read a long time ago.
  • But I’m also re-reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere which is an outstanding read…
  • Not that I’m biased or anything, but the current Roman kalendar seems rather overloaded with saints from the Counter-Reformation.
  • And what happened to the Saturday after Ascension being “Mary, Queen of Apostles”? All I can find on the Bishops’ kalendar for 2009 is the”Queenship of the BVM”, a memorial on Aug 22. That seems a rather different concept than Queen of Apostles if you ask me…
  • We ran out of coffee a few days ago and have been living without. Our inability to get things done has been—well, I’d say eye-opening but they’re not really open… On one hand, we could treat this as a “wake-up” call to return to a lifestyle less dependent on chemical stimulants. On the other, we’ve decided it’s a sign that we need to go out and buy more coffee.
  • I hope to get back to some posts of substance in the not too distant future.

On-Going Events

Just got back from a couple days away on work. I see there have been some interesting things happening over at the Episcopal Cafe upon which I would have commented had I not been otherwise occupied.

In particular I’m looking at:

More later as time allows…