Announcement #1: SCLM

Word has officially gone out at the Cafe and over at ENS about the new line-up for the Standing Commissions and the Joint Standing Committees of the General Convention/Episcopal Church.

Thanks to nominations from some of you, I have been invited to serve for the next two triennia on the Standing Commission for Liturgy & Music.

I look forward to serving, and am committed to providing a perspective that is grounded in an appreciation for the Catholic and Anglican roots of the prayer book and is directed towards a classic spirituality to nurture discipleship for a 21st century world.

Posted in Administrative, Anglican | 14 Comments

Miniature for the Martyrs

In preparation for a follow-up post on the standard pictorial sequences for the books of hours, I was leafing through the aforementioned Little Hours of John de Berry (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, ms. lat. 18014). In wandering through, attempting to decipher the artwork and seeing which prayers were present and which absent, I came across this terrific miniature that I couldn’t not share immediately:

This comes from a sequence of prayers to various saints and groups of saints. This one is to all the holy martyrs and, while several of the saints pictured are holding the implements of their demise, the center figure with the strangely full halo is holding his head as blood continues to squirt from his neck!

I’ll say more about this later but I do think that the martyrs are rather seriously neglected, particularly in our proposed calendrical revision. Consider for a moment two categories, one which feels more highly favored than the other under the new scheme: “martyr” and “prophetic witness”…

Here’s the thing: looking at the above image, is there any way that you can see martyrdom as anything other than “prophetic witness”?!


Posted in Medieval Stuff, Saints | 7 Comments

Books of Hours: Images I

After having discussed the texts of the Books of Hours, we’ll now turn to the images. Ironically, most people who study the Books of Hours are more interested in this facet than in the texts themselves as most students are going after the art-history angle rather than late medieval devotion. (Go figure!)

There are several different ways to lay this topic out and to work through it. At the moment I’m relying mostly on the art-historical data from Harthan (totally worth picking up if you’re interested at all either in the topic or in pretty medieval pictures…) cross-referenced with images from a variety of the digitized Books of Hours linked to in a previous post.

First, we’ll take a look at major kinds of images and where they appear on the page, then (likely in a subsequent post), we’ll take a look at the various possible contents of these images. Needless to say, our focus here will be primarily on the deluxe manuscript Books of Hours. That’s not to say or imply that there weren’t images in the printed Books of Hours and prymers however—there were, and I do hope to touch on those but exactly how and when that’ll happen, I can’t say.

In his section on “Decoration,” Harthan states, “The varying stress laid at various times on decoration and illustration, the problems of reconciling the inventive fantasy of the artist with the demands of the text, and the several solutions adopted for combining the separate units of text, initial, miniature and border into a decorative ensemble, represent book illumination considered as an art form” (Harthan, Books of Hours, 19). His identification here of four fundamental units on the page: 1) text, 2) initial, 3) miniature, and 4) border is quite important. Unfortunately, he leaves one of these out as he begins his explication of the illuminated elements: “The basic elements in illumination are the initial, the miniature and the border” (Harthan, Books of Hours, 19-20). While he’s correct that most of the text is not technically illuminated, we’ll keep an eye on it as we go…

So, before looking more at Harthan, let me throw up an image that contain all three (four) elements. Here we have a page from the beginning of Matins of the BVM from the British Library’s fifteenth-century Royal MS 2 A XVIII (f. 25r):

We have the picture of the Annunciation above the text. That’s the miniature. We have the big “D” with a woman with her own Book of Hours looking up at the scene. (Chances are this is the person for whom the book was commissioned). That’s an initial—but so are the smaller ones done in blue, red, and gold sprinkled down the page. We have an outline that bounds the text, containing lots of flowery stuff  between the boundary and the page; that’s the border. Text-wise, notice that we have a rubric—the text in red—and a fine, clear, easy-to-read Gothic text containing the aforementioned smaller initials.

In manuscript terms, “miniature” doesn’t technically refer to size but to the practice of painting; the Latin miniare means to paint with vermillion. Basically, it’s any large free-standing picture whether bordered or not. In the later books we see this become full page illustrations as in this great one standing before Sext from Bibliotheque nationale, Latin 1173:


Miniatures are miniatures and there’s not a lot to say about them until we start discussing content. Next up are the initials.

There are two fundamental types of initials in Books of Hours (as in other medieval manuscripts), decorative and historiated. Decorative are those initials that are decorated and embellished with backgrounds and various kinds of pen-strokes; historiated means that there is an image inside of it. In Books of Hours whether you’ll see one or the other tend not to be an either/or situation but a both/and. Thus, on the page with the Annunciation on it, we have a large historiated initial (with the woman in it), and a number of smaller decorative initials. Here’s another example from an earlier period, coming from Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, 288 (f. 17r) from the first quarter of the 14th century:

Again—a both/and; we have a historiated initial of Jesus with bloody sweat in the Garden, then a number of decorated initials. Note the alternation of colors in the decorative initials. The most typical scheme is blue and red but I’ve seen gold or green instead of red in some and, occasionally, a three color alternation with blue, red, and gold. These denote sense-breaks and indicate when different elements begin. As you know, the Offices were originally communal affairs with alternation between individuals and groups or between two parts of a choir. The colors provide indications of hen each “part” changes, but does not assume either private or public use. We know from contemporary writings, however, that people (often women) would use their books of hours in pairs with a companion; the colors would give an indication as to when one person was to stop and the other start.

On the text, note that we have three different kinds of visual cues in the text-block: We have a “regular” text for the bulk of the material, we have rubrics (those in red) identifying the parts of the Office, but then we also have a “lesser” text identified by the smaller writing used for the invitatory antiphon. Directly after the rubric “Invitatorium” is the text “Regem xpm crucifixu: venite adoremus [the last word appears just under the “venite,” at the right ogf the new line rather than the left]” in a smaller font than the surrounding text. This becomes visually important as we move down the page because we will consistently be able to identify the antiphon even when it’s not marked because it will remain visually smaller as we see here when the second half of the antiphon is repeated after the blue decorative initial “V” (that does look sort of like a “U” if you’re not used to this script):


As for borders, they are often visually outgrowths from initials. For instance, if you look at the images above, you’ll see that the line in the left border of the second picture begins as a line coming off the historiated initial in the first. Citing Harthan:

Originally introduced to enclose the miniature and separate it from the text, the rectangular frame-border in Anglo-Saxon and Romanesque manuscripts (for example, in the English Winchester School of illumination) was often enlarged to form wide panels around the miniature, which were filled with a variety of closely packed acanthus ornaments or an interlace of foliage with climbing beasts and human figures. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, in the Gothic period of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, a second type of border appeared with irregular edges. Beginning as a tail-like extension of the initial into the margin, it developed into the prolific ivy- or vine-leaf border composed of curling tendrils from which sprouted tiny leaves picked out in gold. The ivy-leaf border was to become one of the most characteristic decorative features of northern Books of Hours in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. (Harthan, Books of Hours, 20)

He describes how images started escaping their initials and how miniatures would likewise escape their borders, and around 1420 would become full-fledged paintings with perspective, movement, etc. as opposed to the more cartoon-like look that we saw in the image of Jesus in the garden…

Parallel with the miniature, the borders are undergoing a similar evolution. At first, the blank margins of the text are filled only sparsely by the tail-like extension of initials from which sprout the first shoots of vine- or ivy-leaf ornament. But when these ‘tails’ extend to the corners they throw out cusped bars at right angles which provide platforms to support drolleries, grotesque figures, monsters, birds, and animals. Playful secular imagery of this kind is sometimes said, on not very clear grounds, to indicate the artists’ emancipation from clerical control. It derives more immediately from the natural inventiveness of artists and from the willingness of their clients to be diverted from their religious texts during long services in church or periods of private devotion; Books of Hours were taken to church as well as read at home. In the late fourteenth century the emphatic ‘bar borders’ supporting drolleries and little human figures gradually give way to lighter and more graceful ivy-leaf designs which now completely frame the miniature and text with a dense but delicate mass of foliated scrolls or rinceaux. (Harthan, Books of Hours, 21)

Alright—enough citing…

The Little Hours of John de Berry (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, ms. lat. 18014) is a delightful book that shows a wide variety of decorations including most everything talked about here. What Harthan can’t always give a sense of is the balance of illustration. Some pages get lavish attention artistically; in others it’s quite scant. However, this set of hours demonstrates how decoration on a variety of levels was deployed within the same text and how beautiful results were achieved on all levels.

First, a page virtually devoid of decoration:

We have vernacular French prayers with just a couple of decorated initials and no border at all. The regularity of the text and punctuations of color make it work.

Now, decorative initials moving towards a pseudo-border in Psalm 8:

or this one:


Then there’s the full-on ivy-leaf border of which Harthan speaks deployed at the start of the Lauds of the BVM:

That’s enough for now—more on the content later.

And this is why I’ve always said that the breviary doesn’t live up to my dreams of what a well-crafted electronic text could live up to…





Posted in Daily Office, Liturgy, Medieval Stuff | 2 Comments

Quick Quiet Day Thought

It struck me yesterday that, with all of the discussion of Spiritual but not Religious present in our culture that it might be interesting to do a quiet day that would address this topic head-on.

Thus, exploring:

  • What does it mean to be “Spiritual”?
  • What does it mean to be “Religious” (speaking honestly about some of the difficulties here…)
  • What does it mean to be Spiritual and Religious?
Posted in Formation, Random | 6 Comments

Books of Hours: Contents

Medieval Books of Hours were manuscript devotional texts. The two most significant words here are “manuscript” and “devotional”; both of them remind us that the contents of these books were largely based around the desires of the people who commissioned them or the sense of the market by those who produced them. Therefore, in considering both the Books of Hours and the prymers that developed from them, we need to gain a sense of what elements were typical, and what sort of devotional material was expected.

One of the resources that will help us get a sense of this terrain is the landmark study of the Books of Hours conducted by Abbe Leroquais, Les livres d’Heures. Manuscrits de la bibliothèque nationale in three volumes. Not having this readily to hand (or the thousand or so bucks on hand to pick it up off the used market), however, I rely on John Harthan’s work, The Book of Hours, for Leroquais’s classifications of contents:

The Abbe Leroquais established a basic classification of the contents of Books of Hours. Three elements are distinguished: essential, secondary, and accessory texts. The essential texts are those extracted from the Breviary: the Calendar, the Little Office or Hours of the Virgin, the Penitential Psalms, the Litany, the Office of the Dead, and the Suffrages of the Saints. Like the Breviary, the Book of Hours in its turn attracted further texts which extended its devotional scope as well as increasing the variety of its contents.

These secondary texts comprise the Sequences, which are the passages from the four Gospels in which the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John describe the coming of Christ; the account of the Passion given in the Gospel of St John; two special prayers to the Virgin which enjoyed great popularity, the Obsecro te (‘I implore thee’) and O intemerata (‘O matchless one’); a number of shorter alternative Offices, the Hours of the Cross, of the Holy Spirit and (less often) of the Holy Trinity; the Fifteen Joys of the Virgin; and the Seven Requests to the Saviour.

Even this substantial addition was not enough to satisfy the yearning for devotion among the laity. It was increased by Leroquais’ third element, the accessory texts. These comprise more extracts from the Psalter, and miscellaneous prayers. The Fifteen Gradual Psalms (also present in the Breviary in this form) and the Psalter of St Jerome represent a further appropriation of the inexhaustible riches of psalmody. The Gradual Psalms comprise numbers 119-33 [Vulgate numbering], the short and beautiful psalms sometimes considered to be those recited by Jewish pilgrims ‘going up’ (gradus, a step) to Jerusalem. The Psalter of St Jerome is an anthology of 183 verses from the Psalms compiled for the use of the sick by an unknown writer but traditionally associated with St Jerome, the translator of the Bible into Latin and author of three versions of the Psalms. The miscellaneous prayers were of widely diverse character. Many were of venerable antiquity, going back to the prayer books (libelli precum) of Carolingian times. Most were anonymous, but some were attributed to major saints or Fathers of the Church to give them status and perhaps greater efficacy.

The arrangement of a ‘typical’ Book of Hours is given below. Only the essential and secondary texts are included. It must always be remembered that no two manuscript Books of Hours are exactly alike. Except for the Calendar at the beginning, the order of the seperate parts was never fixed, and the number of texts included could vary as much as their position in the Book.

  1. Calendar
  2. Sequences of the Gospels
  3. The prayer Obsecro te
  4. The prayer O intemerata
  5. Hours of the Virgin
  6. Hours of the Cross
  7. Hours of the Holy Spirit
  8. Penitential Psalms
  9. Litany
  10. Office of the Dead
  11. Suffrages of the Saints

(Harthan, The Book of Hours, 14-5)

As a practicing medievalist without access to the text of Leroquais, I immediately grant his specific grouping of elements a conditional status accounting for time and place. Even the most cursory glance through the holdings of the BN (which, to be fair, is all I’ve given it…) notes that there appears to be a predominance of Books of Hours from the Diocese of Rouen. We will thus note but bracket the possibility that Leroquais’ assessment of contents might reflect local use and may differ from English norms—either Sarum or York.

Duffy in his Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers is wisely reticent on the exact contents of the French and English books that he surveys, remarking on the development of the form “All the earliest books contain the Little Hours of the Virgin, but their consistency ends” (Duffy, Hours, 10). In speaking of the 15th century hours and their proliferation with the advent of printing he allows himself to become a bit more specific and, indeed, produces a list that accords well with the observations of Leroquais:

All these people, then, high and low, aristocratic and plebeian, were using the same book. That book contained a standardised selection of psalms, antiphons, hymns and prayers arranged for recitation in honour of Mary at each of the eight monastic divisions or hours of the day. To these ‘hours’ of the Virgin were added the Office for the Dead or Placebo et Dirige (Vespers, Matins, and Lauds for the dead), the short Hours of the Cross, which in books for the English market were usually inserted between the Hours of the Virgin, the long Psalm 118 (119) called the Commendation of the soul, the seven Penitential Psalms and the Litany of the Saints, the fifteen Gradual Psalms, and a series of individual ‘suffrages’ or short prayers to saints, especially to the Virgin Mary. These made up the core contents of the Book of Hours, which by the later fifteenth century had expanded to become a compendium of popular devotions. By then most included also a series of devotions (with accompanying illustrations ) to the Trinity, the Wounds, the Passion and the Veronica or Holy Face of Jesus, prayers to the Virgin such as the popular prayers beginning Obsecro Te and O Intemerata, hymns to and about Mary, such as the well-known poem on the Passion, the Stabat Mater, or the Marian hymn against the plague Stella Coeli extirpavit. Many also included eucharistic devotions like the Anima Christi (‘Soul of Christ, sanctify me, Body of Christ, save me…’), designed to be recited at Mass, and almost all contained the shortened version of the Psalter known as St Jerome’s Psalter, which included almost 200 verses from the psalms including the whole of Psalm 50 (51), the Miserere, and which normally carried a prefatory legend which guaranteed the user protection against the devil and untimely death (Duffy, Hours, 28).

Note that Duffy includes the Commendation among the standard contents, agreeing (against Leroquais’ essentials) with what I’ve seen in the English sources.

We gain an even clearer picture of the types and variety of what Leroquais dubs secondary and accessory materials when we look at the survey in Hoskins’ introduction on English Books of Hours:

Six primers of the thirteenth century which are known to exist show that taking one book with another the Primer uniformly contained (a) A Kalendar, (b) The Hours of the Virgin from Purification to Advent, (c) The seven penitential psalms, (d) The Litany of the Saints, (e) The Office for the dead, (f) The Psalms of commendation, (g) the fifteen or gradual Psalms, and (h) The prayers of St. Bridget commonly called the 15 Oes; while one Primer or another has, “Hore de S. Trinitate,” “Hore de passione,” or, “Heures de Nun Jesu,” “Hore de S. Johanne Baptista,” “Hore de S. Katherina,” “Hore de S. Spiritu,” Rubrics in French, and pictures with prayers on the sacred mysteries (Hoskins, Horae, xi).

The list gets even more interesting and diverse as we go later and make the language jump into English:

The contents of thirteen Primers in English of the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries which are known to exist are the Hours of the Virgin from Purification to Advent with the Hours of the Cross, a Kalendar, the Seven penitential psalms, the Fifteen or Gradual psalms, the Litany, the Office of the dead, the Psalms of commendation, devotions to the Virgin, the psalm De profundis, Psalms of the passion, A Christian man’s confession, Misereatur, Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Credo, the Ten commandments, Six manners of conscience, Seven deadly sins, Five witts outward and inward, Seven works of mercy bodily and ghostly, Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, Seven words, Sixteen properties of charity; together with instructions on many of the above subjects, and the words of Paul (Hoskins, Horae, xiv).

My sense is that a fuller investigation will prove and make explicit what seems nascent here: the Latin books—and Latin texts within mixed-language books—consist primarily of the standardized liturgical devotional material; the shift into vernaculars (notably French and English for the scope of my curiosity) introduces not only additional devotional material but a greater influx of catechetical contents.

Posted in Liturgy, Medieval Stuff | 10 Comments

Teaching the Torah

I got an e-mail from a reader regarding Scripture and Christian formation.  The reader reported that his parish was beginning a study of the Torah, and the priest began with a presentation on the Documentary Hypothesis. For those unfamiliar, the documentary hypothesis is a product of 19th and 20th century German and American scholarship that seeks to identify specific strands and layers of sources within the Torah. As one of the key features of this theory involves the names for God, J and E stand for two of them while the other two (P and D) identify theological emphases. I can see why a priest might start this way–it’s typically taught in seminaries at the start of OT study. I have nothing against the documentary hypothesis as a tool for scholarship; I think some scholars take it way too far and I find some of the methodology problematic, but it’s how some folks have made their academic careers.

But how useful is it to the church?

I want to be careful to answer this in the right way – it can be useful when it is set in its proper place and used for its specific purpose. It’s like the miter saw of the Christian formation workshop: there are a few specific tasks that it does well, but most of the time it should sit on the shelf. If you try and do large-scale woodworking with it, you won’t accomplish your task and you’ll screw up your tool!

Alright, smarty-pants – how would you do it?

What needs to happen first, in my opinion, is an orientation to the Old Testament in general and the Torah in particular. The place to start is by setting down some fundamental ground rules. Then as the group reads or studies, we can go back to these guiding principles and apply them as needed.

1. God and history: the first guiding principle must be something like this: as Christians, we believe that God has decisively interacted in history, but that history cannot define God. The basis of our faith is the understanding that the Supreme Being is not just a good idea – rather, we identify the Supreme Being as an active, hands-on presence at work in the world, in the lives of nations, and in the lives of individuals. Furthermore, God’s character is revealed to us through the patterns of action that emerge from God’s decisive interactions with history. However, the historical record itself rarely captures these interactions in an obvious or simple fashion. Thus, corollaries:

1.1.    Historical events must underlie the decisive interactions between God and humanity: for example, creation occurred; Israel was freed from Egypt; the Jerusalem Temple was built and destroyed.

1.2.    History and archaeology are blunt instruments that rarely confirm or deny the spiritual truths that Christians locate within these interactions: for example, the fact of creation does not prove the existence of a creator; historical science can tell us that population movements occurred, but cannot conclusively explain why they occurred; even when the facticity of an event is not in question, history and archaeology cannot hope to answer all of the natural and/or supernatural factors involved.

2. History and literature: the second guiding principle serves to complicate the first. History, and the facticity of God’s decisive interactions, are important to us. But they are usually not available to us. History is a complicated thing. The scholarship of the last 50 years or so has only reinforced that point. We now see history as more subjective, and less objective, always remembering the dictum that history is written by the winners. There are solid historical facts: cities existed, cities fell; kings reigned, kings died. But the fullness of the factors around these events is complex and imperfectly preserved. Any three competing histories of the Vietnam War will demonstrate that even in an era of recording and photography, history, interpretation, and truth are easier said than arrived at. In particular, interpretation is a big piece of any work of analysis and there are no “objective” stories; even an author striving to be as objective as possible will come from a particular perspective and read certain events in certain ways. Move into antiquity, and things get a whole lot more complex. Move into a body of religious literature, and understand that interpretation is central. The Bible, as we have received it, is literature. It is a written record. It is a written compilation of a wide variety of oral and written sources transmitted from different times, places, and purposes. (And this is where the JEPD thing comes in.) The collection as a whole does have a particular purpose. All of the texts within it were edited and selected (remember—there are books from the period not preserved within it; the OT isn’t just “everything ever written in Hebrew in antiquity”) for a reason: to recount the relationship between God and his people and to transmit the identity and consistent character of God through these stories.  In large measure, then, especially in the Torah, and particularly in Genesis, we are not accessing history directly, but reading literature recounting stories set in the past that preserve history or historical remembrances as a secondary purpose. As such, we encounter it first as literature, and second as a record of the events recounted. As a result, our primary tools should not be of a historical nature, but of a literary character. The question on everyone’s minds at this point is whether the Bible is true. My answer is a simple yes – it is. It communicates the relationship between God and humanity as understood by the writers and editors of the canon. A more nuanced question asks whether all of the events recounted in Scripture are historically factual. My response (that some people may see as a cop-out) is that we are asking historical questions of a large collection of documents without first assessing the literary character and purpose of the section we happen to be reading. The first task of a literary expedition is to assess the genre of the text in front of you. In light of the specific question that we’re asking, we have to ask what the purpose and function is of the text we’re reading: is it seeking to document history according to 21st century American standards? The answer must be no. Some texts and passages do come closer than others. For instance, certain sections of the Samuel-Kings complex read as being very factual—some parts of Genesis read as less so. Does it mean that we trust one and not the other? No—it means that we regard their historicity differently, holding one more lightly than the other.  Neither historicity nor facticity equal truth—if that were so, then we would not read Tolkien or Shakespeare or Coleridge and be transported and transformed by them. Nevertheless, this point must be held in tension with the first: we do believe that God has decisively interacted with history and thus we should not be too quick to write off the historicity of what we read. So, to state the corollaries:

2.1.    Historicity does not exhaust truth.

2.2.    The primary purpose of Scripture is to communicate the relationship between God and humanity and to reveal the consistent character of God and humanity.

2.3.    While we do believe that God has decisively interacted with history, historicity is always at most a secondary concern of the literary text that we have received.

3. Literature and interpretation: Not only is the Bible a compilation of documents and sources, it is largely a compilation of theological interpretations either of life itself or specific events including certain historical events. A lot of interpretations are set side-by-side one another. Some of these are complementary, some are supplementary, others are conflicting. That is, the same historical events or life-events are understood in (sometimes drastically) different ways. Cases in point are the two different interpretations of the destruction of the Temple found in Psalms 74 and 79 or the differing approaches to life threaded throughout Proverbs and Job. What does this do to the “truth” status of Scripture? Nothing as far as I’m concerned… Rather, it means that different authors and editors have understood specifics about the relationship between God and humanity differently. They are united in their witness to the relationship, though, despite not reaching the exact same conclusions. Corollaries:

3.1.    The Bible consists of a collection of diverse theological interpretations.

3.2.    Even when biblical interpretations directly conflict, they are united in their witness to the nature and character of God’s relationship with humanity.

4. Purpose: Why do we read the Old Testament, the Torah, or Genesis? Because it gives us the backstory of the relationship into which we have entered. In the Nicene Creed we confess that the Spirit spoke through the prophets, affirming that the relationship described in the Old Testament is in fundamental continuity with the relationship described in the New Testament and the relationship lived out today in the life of the Church. As 2 Timothy reminds us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” We read so that we can learn the relationship, grasp the character of God, and unite our lives in witness to that character and the reconciling will that proceeds from it. It goes back to the fundamentals: how does this passage reveal God’s desire for the church to be built up in love for service and reconciliation?  Sometimes Old Testament passages may seem to be remote from this question. When we find ourselves wrestling with that kind of passage, we can ask a few basic questions that can help re-orient ourselves to this question:

4.1.    What does this passage show about the consistent character of God?

4.2.    What does this passage show about the consistent character of humanity?

4.3.    What does this passage reveal about the relationship between God and humanity?

4.4.    How does this passage confirm or challenge what we understand to be the consistent character of God or humanity?

4.5.    To what degree does the character of God or humanity revealed here cohere with the consistent character revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and confessed by the church?

4.6.    How do these findings tie into what God desires from a mature Church participating within the reconciliation of God’s creation to himself?

One of the great strengths of the Church’s “pre-critical” typological and allegorical reading strategies is that they focus around the concept of a consistent character and pattern of behavior running through the relationship: God works in particular and consistent ways to maximize human freedom and liberation (despite humanity’s spotty record in cooperating with the divine will!).

Moving from these basic guiding principles, I’d open the Torah with a drive-by overview of the main genres that make up the first few books. Thus, we would identify the first 11 or so chapters of Genesis as cosmological epic. The point here is less historicity (certainly not scientific or anthropological accuracy!) than setting the stage: God is the author and source of creation, humanity works at cross-purposes to the divine will, yet God cares for creation and for humanity, working in particulars—through individuals and families. From chapter 12 on we are working with family epics that narrate the experiences of the great patriarchs and their families from Abraham through Joseph. The historicity factor may be a bit higher, but what is at issue is the relationships between family members with one another and with God and his liberating works. (The Icelandic family epics are very useful analogues for how and why people record family squabbles and internecine disputes.) With Exodus, we see a shift to a bit of heroic epic in the beginning with a focus on Moses, his origins and actions, before a move towards legal materials after the Sinai experience.

So—This is how I would go about introducing and contextualizing the reading of the Torah within a Christian community. What are your thoughts, questions, and caveats?

Posted in Formation, Scripture | 7 Comments

Digital Manuscripts of Books of Hours

Consider this a digital sticky note so I remember where these things are. More will appear as I find them. Feel free to use it yourself, of course…

British Library

Add MS 50001 (The Hours of Elizabeth [of York] the Queen) [ca. 1440]

Harley MS 273 (Composite manuscript including psalter, Hours of BVM, Office of the Dead) [15th cent.]

Harley MS 3814 b (latter half of Italian prayer book) [?]

Royal MS 2 a xvi (The Psalter of Henry VIII) [ca. 1540]

Royal MS 2 a xviii (The Beaufort/Beauchamp Hours) [ca. 1405]

Royal MS 2 a xxii (The Westminster Psalter–contains Office of the Dead) [1200-1250]

Paris, Bibliotheque nationale

Horae ad usum Aurelianensem [ca. 1475]

Horae ad usum Matisconensem [ca. 1475] (partial Hours of BVM)

Livre d’heures, en latin et en français, à l’usage d’un diocèse de l’est de la France [ca. 1300] (Begins with Hours of the Cross, then goes to Hours of the Holy Spirit)

Horae ad usum Constantinensem [ca. 1450]

Horae ad usum Parisiensem (Heure de Charles d’Angoulême) [ca. 1475]

Horae [livre d’heures] [ca. 1400]

Psautier de Jean de Berry [ca. 1380]

Livre d’heures à l’usage de Troyes (Ms 3897) [ca. 1460]

Livre d’heures à l’usage de Rome (coll. Bouhier) (Ms 3900) [ca. 1425]

Livre d’heures à l’usage de Troyes (Ms 3901) [ca. 1470]

Livre d’heures à l’usage de Troyes (Ms 3896) [ca. 1460]

Livre d’heures [Heures de la Passion du Christ, Office du Saint Esprit, Heuresde la Vierge] (Ms 1905) [15th cent.]

Livre d’heures à l’usage de Troyes (Ms 3713) [ca. 1410]

Livre d’heures à l’usage de Troyes (Ms 3890) [ca. 1500]

Horae ad usum Parisiensem ou Petites heures de Jean de Berry [ca. 1410]

I don’t have time to put in all the items from the BN—suffice it to say they’ve got a bunch and this is just a few…


There seems to be a serious lack of books of hours in the German collections which suggests that I’m not looking for them in the right way…

Posted in Liturgy, Medieval Stuff | 1 Comment

Medieval Liturgy Web Resource: Dreaming Dreams

The web is a fantastic tool for studying medieval liturgy and it keeps on getting better every day. With the continuing flow of out-of-copyright books via Google Books and the Internet Archive, good early stuff is appearing from the Surtees Society and the Henry Bradshaw Society; furthermore, more and more libraries are digitizing their manuscript collections. I headed over to the British Museum site yesterday (not having been there in a while) and was blown away by some of the material there I hadn’t seen before. So—important material for specialists is become more widely available.

But how useful is that for everybody else? (And when I say “everybody”, I’m obviously referring to the rather minute subset of people to whom this is interesting!) There are quite a lot of barriers to profitably utilizing some of this terrific material that’s appearing. Most medievalists, even western European or England focused people, have a difficult time keeping in their heads the sometimes confusing inter-relations of Offices, Masses, Chapters and so forth. What’s an antiphoner and when do you use it? Well—do you mean an office antiphoner or a mass antiphoner; since Hesbert the same term gets used for two very different books. When was some little bit of text used and how and where would it have been used or experienced within a service? Who would have been able to hear it said or sung and how intelligible would it have been? These are just a few of the difficulties and many interested people don’t even know that these questions exist to be asked and wrestled with.

So what’s the answer…?

If I had an unlimited amount of time, money, and research minions, I have a vision for a project that could address this difficulty. My chief model is, naturally, the St Bede’s Breviary. The breviary performs two simple tasks:

  • First, it pulls together the disparate elements that make up the Daily Office of the Episcopal Church. Using a framework from the static/ordinary elements, it draws from database tables the changeable/proper elements and seamlessly integrates them into an organic whole. Thus you have at your finger-tips the complete office without a need to flip or click back and forth among different resources.
  • Second, it provides an array of options (within certain parameters). Thus, you can vary the language, the kalendar, and the embellishments to the Office.

What if a framework were developed to put this sort of material at the hands of medievalists? The project would need to move in a series of stages. First, it would tackle the Mass, then build to the Office, then to the various supplementary liturgies. Chapter could be fit in either before or after the Office based on time and inclination.

The reason for starting with the Mass is simple—far fewer moving parts. To present a Mass properly you would need to bring together a minimum of  four parts:

  • Sacramentary/Missal: This is the most obvious piece. It will provide our ordinaries (the canon and such), the kalendar, and the collects. Depending on how developed it is down the missal line it may or may not be able to provide minor propers and Scripture readings.
  • Gradual/Mass Antiphoner: This would certainly give the minor propers whether the missal/sacramentary contained them or not.
  • Lectionary: I’m collecting two things here under one roof as epistolaries and evangelaries were typically different physical objects—at least from my early medieval perspective.
  • Ordo: Did you forget about this one? I would argue that, if you’re looking for a big-picture sense of what was going on and how your particular text as being used, you ignore this one at your considerable peril. Indeed, the basic structure of the liturgy and its presentation would not be defined by the missal/sacramentary as you might expect—rather, I’d embed all of the missal texts within the structuring context of an ordo. Now, granted, as missals developed, some ordo-type matters were inserted into the missals themselves.

Once these blocks are in place things like tropers could be added.

That’s the conceptual framework. Text-wise, I would attack this from three different directions and time-periods. First, I’d hit the English Late Anglo-Saxon period by entering Ordo I*,  the Missal of Robert of Jumiege, and the (Oxford) Winchester Troper. Lectionaries are less of an issue—Lenker’s work has demonstrated how firmly established the type 3 and type 3-alt lectionaries were established in late Anglo-Saxon England. Since my copy of her dissertation is currently in a box, I don’t have access to it to pull out a suitably representative lectionary. Second, I’d use a late Sarum printed missal. The obvious benefit here is that the necessary elements are already pulled together; little would need to be tracked down. Third, there is an excellent collection of well-preserved (and well-known) texts at San Gall that offer ordines, missals, graduals, and most anything else you’d want in the 10th-11th century range. Between the three, most of the issues could be raised, if not fully solved, and a base set of major, useful liturgical texts would be established.

The key is establishing an open architecture where user inputs could select specific manuscripts  texts (once a sufficient body were entered). Thus, you could select specific manuscripts (or categories like “Gelasian”) for your ordo, missal, gradual, etc. in order to get the closest possible picture of the liturgical environment that you’re seeking to re-create.

Furthermore, homing in on the “open” word, it would be absolutely ideal if the manuscripts were encoded in a standardized format, allowing others to submit manuscript files that could be integrated with a minimum of effort. Clearly, this would suggest the TEI using whatever their latest structures are for liturgy in conversation with some of the other existing liturgy projects out there.

So—that’s the dream. What’s the reality and scope for something actually do-able? As awesome as TEI is, it’s an XML derivative. It’s totally possible to use XSLT and XPath and other technologies to do exactly what I’m describing in terms of text merging and manipulating. Unfortunately, I don’t know XML. While I do have some basic experience encoding manuscripts with TEI parameters, I wouldn’t know what to do with it from there. Instead, I’d use my old fall-back, the classic PHP/MySQL combo that drives the breviary.

Text-wise, it’s a toss-up and would really depend on the driving needs of the project. I could begin with the Missal of Robert of Jumiege and accompany it with the Loefric Missal. While the Leofric Missal is a mess in terms of being a very composite text, it’s got incipts for the minor propers and lectionary entries; as I know of no modern edition of the Oxford Winchester Troper that I can get my hands/eyes on, the Leofric Missal is the next best thing. Alternatively, the Sarum material is already gathered and—thanks to the work of our Victorian Sarum Revival friends—could be presented in both Latin and English translation. Lastly, text files of Herbert’s Antiphoner are floating around the Internet. While there are no English materials included, San Gall materials are meaning that a big chunk of transcription work would already be done.

That’s how I’d conceive and tackle this kind of a project.


* IIRC, the earliest ordines we have from Anglo-Saxon England are those of the Romano-German Pontifical which we normal slot around 1050. That’s a little late, so Ordo I is used as a general guess. Again—more could be entered as time and research went on…

Posted in Liturgy, Medieval Stuff, Tech | 3 Comments

Catechism Resurrection–What’s Needed?

I noted with interest this recent post from Fr. Bryan Owen which refers to another post from Fr. Tony Clavier on lifting up the prayer book catechism. I’m personally a fan of the prayer book catechism and have used it a fair amount in my writing and teaching including this piece on its view of the sacraments.

So—what would be helpful here? What kind of resources would help resurrect the catechism as a useful tool for reference and instruction?

I’m a former Lutheran; I have at least a cubit of space on one of my shelves dedicated to “catechetical helps” that assist in the teaching of Luther’s Small Catechism to bored and distracted middle-schoolers. I haven’t reviewed them all in some time but a standard feature of this genre is Scripture citations. I’d think something that connected Scripture to our catechism would be helpful. Some of the Lutheran materials offer a list of proof-texts—while some might be helpful, I’m thinking that a more clear connection with narratives or certain biblical arguments might work better than a simple listing of verses.

Furthermore, we aren’t and don’t pretend to be a sola scriptura church; we acknowledge the place of Tradition. Does this suggest that links to patristic writings and syntheses of the Scriptural witness would be helpful as well?

I also noticed that when I was writing the piece linked to above, I jumped around a certain amount , then provided my own discursive connection-of-the-dots. To what degree is this helpful—to what degree does it represent my own impositions onto the catechism?

Thoughts? Ramblings? Whatever…?

Posted in Anglican, Formation | 8 Comments

A Pleasant Sunday Experience

The girls and I normally head down to M’s church on the first Sunday of the month to show our support for her ministry there. This past Sunday, however—being Labor Day weekend and there being no education—she had the day off and we had the opportunity to indulge ourselves as we liked. As a result, we headed into the city and went up to the parish of a good friend and mentor who presides over the finest example of an English Rite parish I’ve ever experienced. We knew that he might be away as he travels in the summer and, upon walking in the door and seeing a bulletin for Mattins, surmised that he was not, in fact, present.

What followed, however, was a testament to his parish and his devotion. A full altar party entered, complete with two blue-scarfed readers who were the senior and junior wardens. One led the service with the able assistance of a cantor, the other presented the message. The psalm was read responsively; the canticles were sung in Anglican chant by the congregation; the Creed was intoned; the Suffrages were sung. The message was a good, solid exposition of the Gospel text verbally tying the text back to and reinforcing Christ’s Summary of the Law. Its clarity and orthodoxy were evident, and surpassed several clergy sermons I’ve heard recently on both counts.  In short, the service was everything that I had expected from the rector and congregation—traditional, reverent worship in the Classical Anglican tradition—only without the rector.

At the notices, the junior warden thanked the congregation for bearing with them over the summer even though Mattins was not the favorite service of all. It had, however, enabled them to conduct services on their own without the need for supply clergy. He noted that he was proud of the parish; having three licensed lay preachers they could rotate the efforts without it being overly burdensome. I found myself nodding in agreement when he reminded them that not many other parishes could pull off something like that.

To manifest this kind of devotion requires a parish culture that is committed to doing church in a particular kind of way. It didn’t just require a few people having the knowledge of how to put together a well-done Sunday Mattins, it also required the collective will to accomplish it. I would imagine that it’s easier to turn it over to supply clergy.

It’s also more expensive.

I do believe that the day of full-time clergy in the vast majority of our parishes is coming to a close. In some locations (especially those not near urban centers), it’s a matter of finding priests; in most others, it’s a matter of shrinking budgets. We lay people will need to step up. But will we be ready when the time comes? Are our clergy mentors giving us the tools to do so when we need to?

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy | 7 Comments