Monthly Archives: December 2010

Bits on the Night Office

A few thoughts on the Night Office, some from the previous post, others not.

On the Patristic Readings

Within the early medieval English system with which I’m most familiar, a regular ol’ weekday ferial Office usually had one nocturn. A nocturn is a hunk of psalms, then a reading broken up by 3 (secular) or 4 (monastic) responsaries. On a weekday, this single nocturn took its reading from Scripture, hearkening back to the Night Office lectionary of Ordo XIII or one of its derivations.

On Sundays and feast days, there were usually 3 nocturns. The first nocturn was often like a regular night, meaning that its reading came from Scripture. The second nocturn had a patristic reading that, in Paul the Deacon’s system at least, was referred to as a sermo and was a general seasonal text from a patristic source or a was a particular sermon about the feast being celebrated. Again, in Paul’s system, Leo and Maximus were often favorite sources (and some of the sermons traveling under the name of Maximus were actually by Caesarius of Arles). The third nocturn was an exposition of the appointed Gospel for the feast. Paul seems to have called this the omeilia or “homily.” [The distinctions we think Paul was trying to draw broke down fairly quickly and the terms “sermo” and “omelia” tended to be used in an interchangeable fashion by the 10th century.] Paul’s go-to guys for the omeilia were Gregory and Bede with some Jerome and Augustine thrown in where warranted (i.e., Augustine’s tractates on John and exposition of the Sermon on the Mount; Jerome from his commentary when a Matthew text popped up with no other texts from Gregory or Bede).

So—on special occasions, there were two patristic pieces in the Night Office, one focused on the season/event, the other on the appointed Gospel text.

Patristic Creep: Office to Mass

Perhaps the greatest conceptual shift in the study of early medieval preaching in the last half of the twentieth century was the recognition of the role of Night Office homiliaries (collections of sermons typically from patristic sources often but not always in liturgical order) within apparently Mass-focused preaching. Determining how patristic homiliaries functioned is tricky. Some, it’s clear, were used for the second and third nocturns of the Night Office. Some were clearly used for spiritual reading in lectio divina. Whether and how they were used at masses in the period is a complicated question with few easy or clear answers.

We can say three definite things about mass preaching in the Late Anglo-Saxon/Benedictine Revival period in England.

  1. There was an expectation that preaching was supposed to happen. English editions of the Rule of Chrodegang require that secular canons (so, priests at cathedrals) preach at least every other Sunday and on feast days. Furthermore, the Canons of Ps.-Egbert which Aelfric quotes in one of his letters on clerical duties states that clergy should preach every Sunday and on major feast days. Manuscript evidence supports these mandates (but says nothing about their fulfillment…) in that Aelfric’s two cycles of Catholic Homilies and supplemental sermons gave preachers texts to read on these occasions. Furthermore, Ursula Lenker’s work has proved to my satisfaction that the Old English Gospels were used by canons for sermon preparation.
  2. It’s clear that Aelfric uses patristic materials from the Night Office and specifically re-purposes them for proclamation at Mass. In a sense, I think the written sermons of Aelfric (in the vernacular) give us a sense of what most of the preachers did. That is, those who were bilingually competent took their homiliary from the Night Office into the pulpit with them and used the Latin as source material for a vernacular sermon, either translating on the fly, or trying to hit the major points in a loose paraphrase. The problem is that not all of the clergy at the time were that competent in Latin—a situation Aelfric bemoans on a regular basis and is the reason for his English homily collections.
  3. Sometimes the preaching had no relation to the Night Office (or the texts at all…). The mass of anonymous vernacular Old English homilies shows quite a bit of disparity. Some are exegetical with patristic sources. Some are composites where a preacher patched several things together. Some are basically direct translations of banned apocryphal works. (What, you think when your preacher starts working off The Shack that this is a new thing? Hardly…)

So—among preachers who cared about passing on orthodox Christian teaching, there was often quite a bit of carry-over between what the clergy and monks heard in the Night Office and what the laity heard at Mass. But that wasn’t necessarily the case and it might have been spotty.

On the Night Office Lectionary

I believe that Ordo XIII and its later evolution into breviaries has had and continues to have a significant impact on how we understand the readings for the Daily Office. In particular, I think we can identify four major characteristics of the “Ordo XIII pattern” that have significance for how we assess any modern Office lectionaries:

  1. Maximum Coverage. The goal of reading was to move systematically through the entire canon.
  2. Yearly Cycle. One of the defining features of the the early medieval pattern is that it demonstrated a clear intent to get through all of Scripture within the space of a single liturgical year. This is one of the points that Cranmer and other Office reformers have consistently gone back to.
  3. Liturgical Coherence. The books read tend to have a seasonal connection with the Church Year. Particular books are read at particular times because the text as a whole has a coherence and significance with the time.
  4. Blocks of Text. In the Night Office, you get a long stretch from a single book. There’s a continuity of narrative or, at least, text. Of the four main characteristics I identify, this is the one that tends to be honored the least in modern schemes. That is, while Cranmer legislated a narrative flow in taking sequential texts from OT, NT, and Gospel works, he divided them up at the start so that the readings were disjointed. So at each Office you read an OT reading, then an NT—the flow was broken up.

There’s no particular point I’m trying to make at the moment about these, I’m just identifying these four characteristics and holding them up for discussion.

Formation and the Ecclesia Anglicana

One of the perennial Anglo-Catholic hobbies  is constructing and maintaining an acceptable myth of origins. That is to say, if you are going to argue that there is a historical and theological validity to the use of certain catholic principles, doctrines, and ceremonies—but not others—within Anglican churches, you need to have some reason to hand that accounts for it.

One of the classic favorites is the notion of the Ecclesia Anglicana. This is the concept that English Christianity is just a bit different from Roman Catholic Christianity—always has been, always will be—and that the Anglican Churches are simply the current expression of this separate but equal way of being. As a result, adherents of this view claim a certain freedom by identifying the differences between Roman and English practice.

I’ve always quite liked this notion in a big-picture kind of way, but have had all sorts of problems with it on a historical level. It’s one thing to assert it with a side-order of nostalgic Victorian nationalism, it’s another entirely to document it in a convincing fashion in the historical and liturgical record.

It’s with this background (a love for the concept but a weighty skepticism concerning its historical realities) that I surprised myself last night while washing dishes by coming up with a potential liturgical-historical argument in favor of it…

If you’re going to argue a difference between “English” and “Roman,” liturgical and historical evidence supports an approach that sees “Western” as a super-category made up of a number of related theological and liturgical traditions one of which is “English” and one (actually several that fuse into one) which becomes dominant as “Roman.” Part of the question, then, is in the matter of definitions: what’s “English” and what’s “Roman” and how are these situated in relation to what’s “Western”?

Then, once that’s been teased out, what are the things that can be identified as granting a fundamental theological distinction between them? (Understanding liturgy in its proper place as the kinetic side of the theological coin…)

One way to crack the nut is to point to the formative aspects of the liturgy, and I’d approach it this way. The Sarum strand is identifiably and recognizably English in locale granted that its roots straddle both French and earlier English practice. When you compare Sarum sources against Continental Western texts and the materials designated “Roman” by the Council of Trent, one of the differences that you find is the Mass Gospel Lectionary. If I recall correctly (and this came to me while washing dishes, mind you, and I haven’t consulted my tomes yet), there are differences at least in Advent, Epiphany, and in post-Pentecost.

What makes this difference major and important is not the Mass, however—it’s the Office. The Mass Gospel Lectionary appears in the third nocturn of the Night Office and determines the patristic homily found therein. A different Mass Gospel lectionary suggests that the nocturn lessons may be different with the possible result that the Sarum-using folk were being formed by reading different patristic texts at different times and were being formed and normed differently than their “Roman” brethren. If you are trying to argue for a theological and practical difference between the Ecclesia Anglicana and the Roman Church especially defined by its Tridentine liturgy, one of the best ways to do it would be a thorough audit of the nocturn texts.

Come to think of it, I recall that in Advent, at least, the second nocturn readings don’t quite cohere either. I seem to recall a Maximus of Turin text where the Tridentine/Roman sources have the Jerome text on Isaiah quoted below. The significance there is that the Sarum source seems to be drawing on an older “Western” strand as the Maximus likely is a hold-over from Paul the Deacon, the official Night Office collection from the Carolingian period.

So—to make a sustained and historically verifiable argument for a theologically distinct Ecclesia Anglicana one possible route could be a thorough comparison of the Night Office texts between the English and Continental sources. What you’d have to find in order to make a strong case is greater coherence between Sarum, Hereford, and York sources (perhaps Hyde Abbey as well?) than what you find in Continental sources, particularly those that feed into the Tridentine Breviary. Then, if you could further isolate a difference in perspective—so, a preponderance of a particular father or set of fathers over others—between “English” and “Roman” breviaries, then I’d be willing to give more credence to the notion of a theologically distinct Ecclesia Anglicana that contains demonstrable theological and formational tendencies from its Continental counterparts.

Cafe Post and Jerome’s Ascetic Writing

I have a new piece up at the Cafe. I wrote it while in the midst of researching and writing a conference paper that I gave a few weeks ago at the instigation of Larry who then had the nerve not to show up… My retaliation was to promptly not save the file with its final pages (whoops!) which, Larry, is why I never sent it along.

In any case, here’s the first half of the paper that prompted that reflection. My topic was doing a comparison of two texts, Aelfric of Eynsham’s Letter to Sigeweard and Jerome’s Letter 53 to Paulinus of Nola; this part contains the first half on Jerome. The second half was the part on Aelfric which I’ll need to somehow reconstruct…

Both Ælfric of Eynsham and Saint Jerome are known for their biblical work. Jerome who died in 420 is, of course, best known as the translator and editor of the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Scriptures that would serve the church as the authoritative version of the Bible through the medieval period. Too, the commentaries from Jerome’s pen—whether his own work or translations and adaptations of Origen—further confirmed his place as one of the greatest interpreters of the Patristic period.

Likewise, Ælfric of Eynsham is responsible for turning large swathes of Scripture into English usually in the form of paraphrase rather than direct translation, and his many exegetical homilies and other general works kept alive the orthodox interpretation of Scripture, standing firm on its patristic roots, in the otherwise chaotic environment of the Old English homilies.

So—both of these authors are known for their command of Scripture. Both of them are known for their interpretation of Scripture and, it turns out, both of them wrote letters that serve as comprehensive introductions to the biblical canon. But here’s the kicker—in neither case were these written primarily as interpretive works. Instead, they were written as letters of ascetic instruction to nobility. The books of the Bible and the fundamental structures of Scripture are presented for a purpose: for the sake of instruction in the Christian life which, for Jerome and Ælfric is, fundamentally, the ascetic life.

Let’s turn to Jerome first.

The standard collection of Jerome’s letters contains a round 150, including a few at the end that are either suspect or spurious. Of these, 21 are specifically letters of ascetic instruction. The majority of these are written to an extended family with whom Jerome has carried on an extensive correspondence on a whole host of matters; the Paula and Eustochium to whom many of Jerome’s letters were addressed were members of this family. Based on the relationships that Jerome had with them, we can subdivide these 21 ascetical letters into two further categories.

Seventeen of these are treatises, exhortations to the ascetic life. In fact, Jerome explicitly refers to them as such and, towards the end of Letter 130 which he wrote to Demetrias in 414, he makes the following comments: “It is about thirty years since I published a treatise on the preservation of virginity in which I felt constrained to oppose certain vices and to lay bare the wiles of the devil for the instruction of the virgin to whom it was addressed. . . . I have also written short exhortations to several virgins and widows, and in these smaller works I have gathered together all that there is to be said on the subject.” (And there’s Jerome’s characteristic modesty there at the end…) For the most part the various letters treat a number of set topics: he talks about how one should and shouldn’t dress, what level of fasting is appropriate. How you should conduct yourself around people of the opposite sex, what sort of companions and servants you ought to have, the importance of disposing of your property, and the nature of the life of prayer and study to which you are called.

I’ll highlight three as being particularly exceptional and indeed, Jerome himself in his correspondence refers several times to the first two. The first is letter 22 to Eustochium. He calls her the “first virgin of noble birth in Rome” and whether that’s a historical reality or a rhetorical flourish it’s hard to tell—knowing Jerome, I’d guess the latter myself. In any case this is a very thorough letter describing what the life of virginity is supposed to look like and includes the famous passage where he dreams that Christ accuses him of being a Ciceronian rather than a Christian. In any case, this is the text that he refers as “the treatise on the preservation of virginity” in the quote I just read.

The second is letter 52 to Nepotian written in 394 on the life of the clergy. Again, Jerome saw this letter as his grand statement on clerical life and refers to it in his correspondence, refer other clergy and bishops back to this text.

The third is letter 107 to Laeta who was the daughter-in-law of Paula and sister-in-law of Eustochium. Laeta had decided to raise her daughter, also named Paula, as a consecrated virgin and asks Jerome for his advice on how to do this. He responds with this letter in 403 which lays out a whole plan of education and a course of conduct for little Paula. For an author who’s frequently judged as being misogynistic, it’s fascinating to see how large a role education and literacy play in this process down to his recommendation that she start playing with alphabet blocks as soon as possible so she can begin learning how to read and then to write.

So—of these 21 ascetic letters, 17 are best defined as treatises, exhortations to the ascetic life. The remaining 4 are encomia written to relatives on the death of these ascetics. So, Letter 52 contains instructions to Nepotian on how a cleric should live; Letter 60 is addressed to his uncle the bishop Heliodorus on the occasion of Nepotian’s death. So, here Jerome praises the dead and, in looking back over a life well lived uses this as an opportunity to both remember them to their relative and to memorialize them as a model of ascetic life. Thus, we get a very idealized image of the dead that tells us just as much about Jerome’s ascetic ideals as it does the dead person themselves.

So it’s these ascetic writings that serve as the fundamental context for Jerome’s letter 53 to Paulinus of Nola in 394. Paulinus was a wealthy senator of the best education and credentials and he had just been ordained by force in Spain that year. He had some ascetic tendencies but Jerome sought to reinforce those very much in this Letter 53 which appears to be Jerome’s first letter to him, sent in response to a letter that Paulinus had sent to him requesting advice.

At the very outset of the letter, Jerome thanks Paulinus for the little gifts that he had sent along with his letter, then says this: “A true intimacy cemented by Christ Himself is not one which depends upon material considerations, or upon the presence of the persons, or upon and insincere and exaggerated flattery; but one such as ours, wrought by a common fear of God and a joint study of the divine Scriptures.” He then draws on a whole host of examples of both classical scholars and biblical characters who travelled great distances to attain knowledge. He sharpens his point with the observation that “want of education in a clergyman prevents him from doing good to anyone but himself and, much as the virtue of his life may build up Christ’s church, he does it an injure as great by failing to resist those who are trying to pull it down.” It’s not enough to be virtuous. You have to use knowledge to refute the heresies that threaten the church.

Jerome then goes through a whole chain of passages that emphasize that getting wisdom is difficult and hidden.  Jerome writes, “These instances have just been touched upon by me (the limits of a letter forbid a more discursive treatment of them) to convince you that in the holy scriptures you can make no progress unless you have a guide to show you the way.” The pay-off here is that it doesn’t matter how smart you are, when it comes to Scripture you need direction.

Let me be real clear on one point here—Jerome is clearly denying from his perspective a Reformation-notion of the perpecuity of the Scriptures which suggests that the meaning of the Scriptures is plain and accessible to anyone who is reading in the Holy Spirit. Instead, he’s balancing in the middle of two interrelated theological controversies—the fight against Origenism (or more specifically, the teasing out of what Origen got wrong and what Origen got right) and the Anthropomorphic controversy which, in reaction to an overly subtle Origenism took the opposite road into a naïve literalism. Jerome is thoroughly invested in Origen’s hermeneutics and categories which assert that the primary meaning of the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament is at the Spiritual level of the text and that can only be discern through training.

Jerome’s rehearsal of the books of Scripture follow. While he begins by making references to the contents of each Scriptural book, then gives some basic fundamental directions as to where the spiritual and/or typological level of the book can be found. For instance he writes the following concerning Leviticus: “The meaning of Leviticus is of course self-evident, although every sacrifice that it describes, nay more every word that it contains, the description of Aaron’s vestments, and all of the regulations connected with the Levites are symbols of things heavenly!” So it’s completely self-evident but it all points to heavenly symbols. Clearly, Jerome and I mean two different things by the word self-evident!

Another example regards the books labeled today as 1 and 2nd Kings: “The 3rd and 4th books of Kings called in Hebrew Maláchim give the history of the kingdom of Judah from Solomon to Jeconiah, and of that of Israel from Jeroboam the son of Nebat to Hoshea who was carried away into Assyria. If you merely regard the narrative, the words are simple enough, but if you look beneath the surface at the hidden meaning of it, you find a description of the small numbers of the church and of the wars which the heretics wage against it.”

So, what he’s doing here is giving Paulinus a set of hermeneutical skeleton keys—they’re the briefest outline of pointers towards unlocking the spiritual meaning of text where the meat really lies.

After going through all of the canon, then Jerome concludes the letter with a more or less standard exhortation for Paulinus to divest himself of this wealth. Sell what you’ve got and give it to the poor—you can’t be a real Christian if you’re tied to your possessions.

So, the leetr’s overall shape is a quick intro, an exhortation on the difficulty in searching out wisdom, a sketch of the canon with hermeneutical pointers to the spiritual sense of the text, and a concluding exhortation to holy poverty and alms-giving.

The rhetorical function of the canon list here is to point Paulinus to the real meaning of the Scriptures, to the spiritually beneficial contents and some basic directions on what that is and how to dig it out. Does Jerome believe that Paulinus is going to go and read through all of these books? Absolutely yes, no question. He exhorts him to “live among these books, to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else.” And this is entirely in line with his understanding of the ascetic life. To be an ascetic is to be saturated in the text of the Scriptures and to understand its spiritual meanings. In his letter to Laeta, he lays down for her the order in which little Paula should begin memorizing the books of Scripture. Not reading, memorizing. As he writes to Eustochium, “Read often, learn all that you can. Let sleep overcome you, the roll still in your hands; when your head falls, let it be on the sacred page.” As he eulogizes Paula, Eustochium’s mother he writes, “The holy Scriptures she knew by heart, and said of the history contained in them that it was the foundation of the truth; but, though she loved even this, she still preferred to seek for the underlying spiritual meaning and made this the keystone of the spiritual building she raised within her soul.” Again in Jerome’s second letter to Paulinis, written a year later while it largely goes over the ascetic principles for the letter to Nepotian hits again the necessity of reading Scripture and the necessity of grasping the Spiritual sense. He says, rephrasing Paul, “This veil rests not only on the face of Moses, but on the evangelists and apostles as well.” So it’s only through spiritual exegesis that proper reading happens.

So, to sum up Jerome here, for Jerome, meditation on the written word of Scripture is central to the ascetic life and calling. Origenist principles of sacred reading are fundamentally required to get the deepest meanings out of Scripture. Thus Jerome’s rehearsal of the canon to Paulinus focuses on directing him to where these readings can be found.

(To be continued…)

Lo, How A Rose

“Lo, How a Rose” is one of my favorite songs in this liturgical period and I just ran across what I believe explains the theology behind the images of the hymn. It’s from Jerome’s Commentary on Isaiah, taken from the 2nd Nocturn appointed for Advent 2.

“AND there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse”; From the beginning of the Book of this Prophet till the xiiith chapter, where commenceth the vision, or burden of Babylon, the whole of the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, is one continual prophecy of Christ. We must explain it part by part, for if we were to take it all at once, the memory of the reader would be confused. According to the Jewish commentators, the rod and the flower would both relate to the Lord Himself. They take the rod to mean the sceptre of His Royal dominion, and the flower the loveliness of His beauty.

We, however, understand that the rod out of the root of Jesse signifieth the holy Virgin Mary. She was a clean stem that had as yet put forth no shoot ; as we have read above : “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” (Isa. vii. 14.) And the flower we believe to mean the Lord our Redeemer, Who hath elsewhere compared Himself to a flower ; “I am a flower of the plain, and a lily of the valleys.” (Cant. ii. i.)

THE Spirit of the Lord then shall rest upon this flower ; this flower which shall come forth from the stem and roots of Jesse by means of the Virgin Mary. And truly the Spirit of the Lord did rest upon our Redeemer. It is written that ” In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. ii. 9.) The Spirit was not shed on Him by measure, as it is upon the Saints. To Him we may apply the words of the Hebrew Gospel used by the Nazarenes ; “The whole fountain of the Holy Ghost shall be poured forth upon Him : ” “The Lord is a spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. iii. 17.)