A Treat for Alcuin’s Day

Happy feast of Alcuin!

Obligitory collect rant…

If you did Morning Prayer today according to the Episcopal scheme you probably saw this collect…:

Almighty God, who in a rude and barbarous age didst raise up thy deacon Alcuin to rekindle the light of learning: Illumine our minds, we pray thee, that amid the uncertainties and confusions of our own time we may show forth thy eternal truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

…which has to rank among my least favorites. “Rude and barbarous age”? Really? Here’s the one I’ve proposed in its place:

Almighty God, who didst raise up thy servant Alcuin as a beacon of learning: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that in our generation we may show forth thy praise, for thou didst call us out of darkness into thy marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Light remains the theme, but I think this one works a bit better than the other.

Ok—here’s an Alcuin-related treat for those of you with an interest in the early medieval stuff. Over the past month or so, I’ve been slowly working through this dissertation from the University of York: The Meaning, Practice and Context of Private Prayer in Late Anglo-Saxon England (PDF). Here’s the abstract:

This thesis is a detailed discussion of the relatively neglected subject of private prayer in late Anglo-Saxon England, mainly focusing on three eleventh-century monastic codices: the Galba Prayerbook (London, British Library Cotton Nero A. ii + Galba A. xiv), Ælfwine’s Prayerbook (London, British Library Cotton Titus D. xxvii + xxvi) and the Portiforium of St Wulstan (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 391). Chapter One provides a background to the following chapters by introducing a wide variety of English and Continental texts from the ninth century. This chapter demonstrates the many different prayer genres, prayer guides and attitudes to prayer which would be inherited by the late Anglo-Saxons. Chapter Two, which focuses on private adaptations of the canonical Offices, examines the different manuscript contexts in which private prayers were found. It argues that series of prayers were combined into increasingly sophisticated ordines for personal devotion, and that it was from these that the Special Offices arose. Chapter Three applies these concepts to prayers to the Holy Cross. After a discussion of the evidence for prayer before a cross, and involving the sign of the cross, it examines private prayer programmes based on the liturgy for Good Friday and those from which the Special Office of the Cross developed. Chapter Four turns to private confessions, arguing that these prayers were somewhat different from those hitherto discussed. It therefore begins with an exploration of the many kinds of confession which existed in the late Anglo-Saxon church, before examining a number of private confessional prayers in detail. Throughout this thesis, emphasis is placed on the bodily experience of prayer in its time and place, and upon the use of each text as it is found in the prayerbooks of eleventh-century England.

Alcuin is a major figure in the first two chapters. Alcuin’s letters speak quite a bit about private prayer in connection with the psalms, and the thesis investigates a major treatise attributed to Alcuin, De laude psalmorum.

I’ll be writing more about this thesis and the material it works with in the future, but if you have the time and interest, I highly recommend it!

5 Replies to “A Treat for Alcuin’s Day”

  1. Derek, Thank you for the revised collect. I shall use it during the English intercessions at Latin Evensong in Stanford’s Memorial Church this evening at 5:15 PM. The Episcopal-Lutheran Campus Ministry and the Department of Classics have sponsored this monthly (during the academic year) service for two years. Services will resume in the fall. We use the order for evening prayer found in the 1560 Latin translation of the 1559 BCP, but follow the 1979 lectionary. Readings from the Douay version and intercessions are in English. Psalms, Mag and Nunc are chanted. In honor of Alcuin we shall sing Hymn 465 (The Hymnal 1982).

  2. I like your revision, but it might have been simpler just to move “rude and barbarous age” down a couple of lines, where it belongs: “. . . that amid the uncertainties and confusions of our own rude and barbarous age, we may show forth . . .”!

  3. A day or so late, but I wonder if the Church of England’s Collect in Common Worship, based on a prayer of Alcuin, is to be preferred:

    God of wisdom, eternal light,
    Who shone in the heart of your servant Alcuin,
    revealing to him your power and pity:
    scatter the darkness of our ignorance
    that with all our heart and mind and strength,
    we may seek your face
    and be brought with all your saints
    to your Holy presence;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord

  4. I agree with Father David TSSF that the Common Worship collect is an excellent one. On occasion — when my Anglophile DNA takes over — I have used elements of Common Worship: Daily Prayer as a supplement to our BCP. I prefer the structure of the American book because it follows the original BCP pattern, but admire much of what the CofE has done in CWDP.

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