Category Archives: Damn Dissertation

Favorite Quotation in Ch. 2

[A]n anonymous monk of Whitby wished to honor with a vita the pope responsible for the conversion of the English; knowing little about Gregory the Great or miracles associated with him, however, he must ask his readers’ indulgence if he simply praises the saint extravagantly, randomly assembling passages from Scripture, references to Gregory’s writings, and some absurd fables.

From Rachel S. Anderson, “Saint’s Legends,” pp. 87-105 in A History of Old English Literature, edited by R. D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain (Maldon, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005), 90. The particular life mentioned is found in Bertram Colgrave, ed. and trans., The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1968).

I’m revising chapter 2 and ran across thislast night. It always makes me laugh…

Update: I started to answer Michelle’s question but decided that the lazy man’s way is just to cut-n-paste—so here’s the section apparently complete with footnotes:

In addition to Scripture, monasticism was nurtured and spread through the developing art form of Christian hagiography. Athanasius’ life of St Antony had an incalculable effect on the growth of monasticism. In the West, four other lives quickly grounded both the shape of monasticism and the conventions of the hagiographical genre; Jerome’s lives of Malchus, Hilaron, and Paul of Thebes, and—especially central to the growth of Gaulish monasticism—Sulpicius Severus’s life of St Martin. Lives of saints became an enormously popular form of literature. Lapidge reports that “C. W. Jones once estimated that some 600 [saint’s lives] survive from the period before 900.”[1]

These lives fulfill two important functions in the monastic milieu. First, they present examples of virtue and saintliness for imitation. Second, they continually remind their readers and hearers of the end result of such imitation—they record the miracles performed by God through the saint before and after death. Through their power of efficacious intercession on behalf of the living the glorified saints extend divine power into the world of the living, participating in and advancing the eschatological consummation in a manner different but not ultimately dissimilar from Cassian’s vision of Christ made complete in his Body.

Some modern readers seeking historical data or the flavor of local medieval life from saint’s lives are often disappointed to find generic and stereotyped topoi repeated throughout the genre, imparting little data for historical use. In order to accomplish the mimetic and theological functions, the genre followed certain prescribed conventions, conventions that seem strange to us now. The tradition provides a basic template:

the saint is born of noble stock; his birth is accompanied by miraculous portents; as a youth he excels at learning and reveals that he is destined for saintly activity; he turns from secular to holy life (often forsaking his family) and so proceeds through the various ecclesiastical grades; he reveals his sanctity while still on earth by performing various miracles; eventually he sees his death approaching and, after instructing his disciples or followers, dies calmly; after his death many miracles occur at his tomb. Of course, any number of variants is possible within these basic frameworks; but the framework itself is invariable.


As a body of literature, these lives had a specific use in the community; during Chapter,[3] the head of the community would read from the life of the saint on the day of his or her veneration that the monastics might meditate upon the virtues of the saint throughout the day. During the Night Office, the life—or a different version thereof—would be read as one the main reading for one of the Nocturns. Thus, the presence of a life for any given saint remembered in the community’s liturgical kalendar was not optional—these were ecclesially necessary documents. As a result, the framework could be utilized even for saints about whom the hagiographer had only the most scant information: “[A]n anonymous monk of Whitby wished to honor with a vita the pope responsible for the conversion of the English; knowing little about Gregory the Great or miracles associated with him, however, he must ask his readers’ indulgence if he simply praises the saint extravagantly, randomly assembling passages from Scripture, references to Gregory’s writings, and some absurd fables.”[4] Thus, working from the basic framework and resorting to a handful of stock topoi a saint’s life could be easily assembled for any one of the some 300 post-biblical saints venerated in an average Anglo-Saxon institution[5] that would satisfy the liturgical and mimetic requirements of the genre while frustrating historians of a later age.

The mention of Scripture in the above life of Gregory the Great is significant. The construction of sanctity was an important function of these works and that construction had to conform to expectations: “It was the overall intention of any hagiographer to demonstrate that his saintly subject belonged indisputably to the universal community of saints, . . . It is not so much a matter of plagiarism as of ensuring that the local saint is seen clearly to possess the attributes of, and to belong undoubtedly to, the universal community of saints.”[6] The virtues, trials, and especially miracles are very often drawn directly from Scripture. Not only does this create a continuity of sanctity, but it also reinforces that the Christian life in general and the monastic life in particular was understood as an ever-increasing growth into enacting the Scriptures—not only enacting its commandments and precepts, but even receiving the same graces that biblical personages enjoyed. The citation and appropriation of Scripture in hagiography melded imitation of the saints with imitation of the Scriptures, all of it ultimately pointing to the imitation of Christ who is the source and pattern of both the saints and the Scriptures.

[1] Michael Lapidge, “The saintly life in Anglo-Saxon England”, pp. 243-263 in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 253.

[2] Lapidge, “The saintly life”, 253. The outline for a passio or death by martyrdom is equally stereotyped but by this point in the life of the Western Church few martyrs were being made, Boniface and other northern missionaries being exceptions.

[3] For more on the Office of Chapter see the section on the daily round in ch. 3.

[4] Rachel S. Anderson, “Saint’s Legends,” pp. 87-105 in A History of Old English Literature, edited by R. D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain (Maldon, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005), 90. The particular life mentioned is found in Betram Colgrave, ed. and trans., The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1968).

[5] Lapidge, “The saintly life”, 247. Lenker records lectionary entries for 155 sanctoral occasions, many of which commemorated multiple saints.

[6] Lapidge, “The saintly life”, 254.

One Other Thing…

M and I watched the Johnny Depp “Sleepy Hollow” over New Year’s. We’re huge fans of most anything that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp do together (Edward Scissorhands, The Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd [which we also saw over the holiday], etc.)

That night I had a nightmare about the headless horseman coming after M and myself. But you know how dreams always change everything… In mine he was on foot but accompanied by a big black poodle (?!?) and at one point the headless horseman, M, several other folks and I were standing around talking about what we do. I mentioned that I was finishing up my dissertation and the hoseman soundly mocked me for my lack of recent progress.

It’s enough that I have to put up with that from real people but now I have to take it from figments of my own imagination? C’mon!

Since then I’ve gotten an important chunk of chapter 5 written up with hopefuly more to follow soon…

Dissertation Related Thought

The early medieval preachers did not consider personal human suffering redemptive; rather, they considered it to be mimetic of the Redeemer. Suffering was not redemptive, but it did create the conditions for the cultivation of virtue as exemplified in Romans 5:3-5: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

Dissertation Update

The Original Plan…

The plan coming out of my year-end review at the beginning of May was to try and have a full draft before I start teaching again in the Fall. At that point I had a mostly finished draft of ch 1 and a large and diffuse ch 2 that would be divided into two manageable and logically structured chapters. Ch 2 would become a comparison of modern academic and medieval monastic culture, ch 3 would become an exposition on the liturgical practices that shape early medieval monastic interpretation. The hard work would be chs 4 and 5. Each of these would be split in half. Each of these halves would tackle a Matthean text, walk through representative modern interpreters, look at Ælfric’s sermon on the same, reconstruct and analyze the liturgical environment, then synthesize what I found.

To keep on schedule I’d essentially have to do one of these halves a month…

I just got back from a meeting with Fr. Director before he heads out of state for several weeks. He has looked with favor upon the results of my most recent work; while some minor editing and the reworking of one page need to be done–my first half chapter is complete.

Weighing in at a healthy 29 pages (and 109 footnotes) my analysis of the first pericope is done. And I’m still more or less on schedule.

Why We Rock…
(h/t Anastasia ;-))

I’m quite pleased with my progress since my review. It’s not been terribly easy going; I’ve been working 65 to 70 hour work-weeks and writing in addition to that, reserving my weekends for M and the girls. Of course, if you do the math on that you’ll see two things–first, I’m not sleeping a whole lot and second, I’m not home a whole lot. Most days I’m there for an hour and a half for dinner between jobs, then arrive back after midnight to write an hour or two before snatching some sleep and doing it all over again.

What this means, of course, is that during the week M is by herself with both girls during their entire waking hours (The hour/hour-and-a-half I’m home hardly counts as parenting…). And working on finding a job. And writing sermons for supply work. And paying all the bills, maintaining the household, buying all the groceries (with two wild ones in tow), etc…

I do try and give my entire attention to the girls and M on the weekends–but without sleep I’m not exactly my usual cheery self… I usually find myself spending the day with the girls and only getting to spend time with M in the evening when we’re both completely worn out.

This whole time has not been an easy one for M at all and she has done an amazing job trying to juggle everything she has going on. There is absolutely no way I could get half of what I get done without all of the work she puts into it. I literally could not do it without her. I don’t thank her enough for everything that she does–so here’s a big public thank you for everything that you do, M! I love you!

Partial Ordo Romani XIIIa

I keep loosing this file so I’ll stick it out here…

This is a partial (though mostly complete) rough translation of OR XIII that I did on the train from NYC when I was living in Philly–and thus had a limited dictionary with me. The source is Michel Andrieu, Les ordines romani du haut moyen age, Louvain : Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense Administration, 1961-1974.

This ordo provides directions for the Night Office lectionary through the year. Although used in monastic settings, its origin is secular as is evident from the reference to three nocturns during Triduum. Andrieu places it as originating in Rome in the first half of the eighth century.

The bold headings are my own for ease of reference and do not appear in the original. This text breaks off rather abruptly–I don’t think there was much more but will correct and update this post as I have the time to do so…


1. In the beginning of Septuagesima they place the Heptateuch until the fourteenth day before Easter.

2. On the fourteenth day before Easter they place Jeremiah the prophet until Maundy Thursday.

3. On Maundy Thursday they read three readings from the Lamentations of Jeremiah and three tracts of St Augustine concerning the Psalm Exaudi Deus orationem meum cum deprecor (Ps 64); three from the Apostle where he says to the Corinthians Ego accepi a domino quod et tradidi vobis (1 Cor 11:23ff); nine psalms, nine readings, and nine responsaries complete everything. On the following morning, Matins having been completed, we do not say Kyrie eleison, nor ne nos inducas in temptationem. Also on this day we do not say the introit nor Dominus vobiscum. A lesson is read from the Apostle and neither a responsary nor an antiphon is sung at communion. Kissing, the brothers pray for their victory (??). After Mass is completed, the deacon does not call Ite but they exit in silence (check).
4. Similarly on Good Friday three readings from the Lamentations of Jeremiah the prophet, three from the tract of St Augustine concerning Ps 69, three from the Apostle where he says to the Hebrews: Festinemus ergo ingredere ad illam requiem (Heb 4:11ff). Then Matins follows.
5. Similarly on Holy Saturday the Psalms, readings, and responsaries are all completed as we said above and, if there are proper sermones, they should be read.

6. In Easter is placed the Acts of the Apostles—after that, the seven canonical epistles. Then following, the Apocalypse until the Octave of Pentecost.

After Pentecost
7. In the Octave of Pentecost are placed Kings and Chronicles until the first Sunday in the month of August.
8. In the first Sunday of the month of August are placed the books of Solomon until the kalends of September, that is, until the first Sunday in the month of September.
9. In the first Sunday in the month of September is placed Job, Tobit, Judith, Esther, and Esdras until the kalends of October, that is, until the first Sunday in the month of October.
10. In the first Sunday of the month of October is placed the Maccabees until the kalends of November.
11. In the first Sunday of the month of November are placed Ezekiel and Daniel and the twelve minor prophets until the Feast of Andrew, that is, until the kalends of December.

12. In the first Sunday of the month of December, that is, in the first Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ is placed Isaiah the prophet until the Birth of our Lord.

13. In the Vigil of the Birth of the Lord, are placed first three readings from Isaiah, that is, the first reading begins: Primo tempore adleviata est terra Zabulon (Isa 9:1); the second reading begins: Consolamini, consolamini (Isa 40:1); the third reading: Consurge, consurge, induere fortitudine (Isa 52:1). And these readings are not bounded; rather, the prior may continue as he sees fit. Then are read sermons or homilies of the Catholic Fathers pertaining to the day, that is, by Augustine, Gregory, Jerome, Ambrose, and others.
14. In the Feast of St Stephen are read the Acts of the Apostles and readings of the orthodox Fathers pertaining to the day and similarly sermons congruent with the celebration.
15. In the Feast of St John the Evangelist are read the Apocalypse and similarly sermons congruent with the celebration.
16. In the Feast of the Innocents also the Apocalypse and in the same way, if available, sermons for their feast.
17. In the Octave of the Lord the same psalms and readings which were also for the Birth of the Lord, or sermons if they are available of the day.
18. In Epiphany similarly three readings from the prophet Isaiah. The first reading begins: Omnes sicientes venite ad aquas (Isa 55:1ff); The second reading begins: Surge, inluminare, Hierusalem (Isa 60:1ff); the third reading begins: Gaudens gaudebo in domino. Then they read sermones of Augustine, Gregory, Jerome, Ambrose, or others.

After Epiphany
19. In the Octave of Epiphany, the same psalms and lessons as at Epiphany.
20. After these festivals which we have written about concerning the birth of our Lord, they place the Apostle or the commentary on the Psalms by St Augustine until Pentecost.

Specific Saints
21. In the Feast of St Peter (that is at the vigil), they read three readings from the Acts of the Apostles. The first begins: Petrus et Iohannes ascendebant in templum. (Acts 3:1ff). The second reading begins: Factum est autem Petrum dum pertransiret universos devenire ad sanctos qui habitabant Lidde (Acts 9:32ff). The third

“Traditional” Office Hymns

One of my favorite words that gets thrown around–“traditional”–is inherently slippery… “Traditional” for whom? When is the ideal time when something stops and starts being traditional?

The notion of tradition is always a contemporary construct–an idea of how we view things and privilege things that appeared and/or happened in the past. There was discussion on Ship of Fools about whether the “Traditional Office Hymns” in my “traditional Anglo-Catholic” ordo were, in fact traditional. It’s a perfectly fair question and my response is that the list I give matches the list in the first edition of Ritual Notes supplemented and checked with the Anglican Breviary meaning that the list stands firmly documented within Anglo-Catholic tradition.

On the other hand…

Here’s another list:

From Nov 1 Matins: Primo dierum | Lauds: Aeterne rerum | Vespers: Lucis Creator (Sunday, O lux beata) | Compline: Christe qui lux es
Advent Matins: Verbum Supernum | Lauds: Vox clara | Vespers: Conditor alme siderum
Christmas Matins: A Patre unigenitus | Lauds: A solis ortus cardine | Vespers: Christe redemptor omnium
Epiphany Matins: A Patre unigenitus | Lauds: Iesus refulsit omnium | Vespers: Hostis Herodes impie
LXX Matins: Alleluia piis edite laudibus | Lauds: Almum sidereae iam patriae decus | Vespers: Alleluia dulce carmen
Lent Matins: Clarum deus ieiunii | Lauds: Iesu quadragenariae | Vespers: Audi benigne conditor
Passiontide Matins: Arbora decora | Lauds: Auctor salutis | Vespers: Vexilla Regis
Easter Matins: Iesu nostra redemptio | Lauds: Aurora lucis rutilat | Vespers: Ad cenam Agni prouidi
After Asc Matins: Optatus votis omnium | Lauds: Aeterne rex altissime | Vespers: Hymnum canamus gloriae
Pentecost Matins: Veni creator Spiritus | Lauds: Beata nobis gaudia | Vespers: Iam Christus astra ascenderat
Until Nov 1 Matins: Nocte surgentes | Lauds: Ecce iam noctis | Vespers: Deus creator omnium (Sunday, Lucis creator) | Compline: Te lucis ante terminum

There are a number of commonalities between this list and the other, the chief difference being static hymnody through the week in Ordinary time in this listing… But there are other differences as well. This list comes straight from a 10th century English Benedictine customary (Ælfric’s LME for the OE folk in the crowd)–so it’s pretty darn “traditional” too. But which is more traditional? How do we adjudicate?

If we push it further, though, we find that this isn’t even “the” Office Hymn cycle for 10th century English Benedictines. Rather, there were two different hymnal types in circulation, the Winchester-Worcester type and the Canterbury type, that reflect how continental influences shaped local practice during the Benedictine Revival (the 10th c. rebirth of monasticism in England after the Viking depredations of the previous centuries). This present list, while an important witness of actual(?) use, isn’t even a “pure” form of the Winchester-Worcester type. Furthermore, how we even define “pure” is up in the air–do we consider “pure” to be what is in the majority of the sources that have survived? And if so–we need to consider how representative the books are that have survived…

“Traditional” is simple until you start pushing on it and defining it;”tradition” is one of those things that becomes fuzzier the more you look at it.

Tradition isn’t a static thing and it isn’t a single thing. As any medievalist will tell you, there isn’t a common “medieval” anything. Rather, we can only talk about what certain texts represent about what was happening in certain places at certain times (…and discussions will ensue about whether any of it actually happened as it was represented…). Much of what appears as Anglo-Catholic tradition is a Victorian adjudication about what is properly medieval in light of their construct of the high medieval period as an English golden age. (Which is why the contemporaneous pre-Raphaelite paintings of the Arthurian cycle have the 5th century characters in 14/15th century accoutrements…)

Thoughtful discernment is key here. The answer on the Office Hymns is clearly that both lists—the Anglo-Catholic (presumably Tridentine) one and Ælfric’s one—have a place in the tradition. The one we choose positions us in relation to that tradition. Personally, I like Ælfric’s because it has more static elements and thus fits the peculiarities of my current Office practice. Too, it aligns me with the English Benedictine pre-Scholastic practice which I think most fully and properly illuminates the Anglican way. At the same time, I recognize that it falls outside of what is “traditional” for classic Victorian-inspired (heavily Scholastic) Anglo-Catholicism.

I guess if there’s a note I want to end on, it’s this: “tradition” often gets used in churchy circles as a rhetorical blunt instrument meant to end discussions. It doesn’t have to be. Tradition can also be a way of understanding the fullness of what we have received and understanding how adjudicating among the manifold options makes a difference for how we understand ourselves, our faith, and our practices of faith now.

Life Moving into High Gear

Things are heating up and hard deadlines with very short turnaround times are appearing for both the dissertation and a major work-related side-project. Time and resources will be sucked up by those rather than other endeavors (I spent last night wrestling with web server configuration rather than psalm pointing comparisons–same level of geekiness, just different fields…) As I threatened before, pieces will still appear at the Episcopal Cafe but I will be posting less here and commenting less as well.

The Anglican soap opera will have to manage without me for a while…

As a parting gift, though, I commend to those interested–especially the Anglican Breviary crowd–this four-volume translation of the pre-Pian Roman breviary:
I’d love to compare it to the AB but that’s a project that–well–I don’t have time for at the moment…

(h/t the Breviary page at Wikipedia which has a great collection of links at the bottom)

Dissertation Lock-down

I met with the department yesterday and laid out my plan for completing the dissertation… I have a stretch of roughly 20 weeks this summer between semesters and that’s when it needs to happen. As a result blogging will slow–or at least will take a noticeably 10th century turn.

I have to get through grading and I do hope to put out the promised trial liturgy page (…and my entry for the Common Prayer carnival…and the carnival itself…), but then all spare brain cycles will be devoted to the dissertation.

Things will also continue to appear at the Episcopal Cafe. In fact, there’s one over there now

On Monastic Interpretation

A junior colleague of mine stopped me in the hall after a class we teach together and wanted to get my advice on the history of New Testament interpretation. He’s in the usual graduate seminar that surveys such things. Now, my program is such that it actually gives an entire semester to the pre-Reformation history of interp. I don’t think most other programs do this, considering such “pre-critical” readings as not useful for modern NT scholars. Anyway, he’s been assigned to present on medieval monastic interp and want to pick my brain for a bit. His first question was essentially that which any NT scholar would ask: “They’re just reading the Fathers and using that, right?”

My answer was a classic yes–but no. It took a while…

In the aftermath, I was thinking through how I would go about teaching medieval monastic exegesis to try and communicate just what was going on. Here’re some initial thoughts:

  • Give them a sense of monastic life as life within an intentional liturgical community.
    • Yes, have the students read the section in the Rule on the Offices to give them a sense of Benedict’s concept of the monastic cursus.
    • Then, have them read a corresponding section from the 10th century Regularis Concordia to show them how different and how much more complicated the monastic liturgical life was than Benedict had ever envisioned.
    • Then give them some photocopies from the Breviary to reinforce that a) all liturgy is not just your Sunday morning liturgy; b) Scripture is constantly in juxtaposition with other Scripture and with non-Scriptural texts; c) this is far more complex in practice than it sounds.
  • Give them a sense not just that the patristic authors were used but how and in what contexts
    • Remind them about manuscript production costs, then emphasize and re-emphasize that the monastics didn’t have the Patrologia Latina at hand. Or even the Ante/Post Nicene Fathers. No–Paul the Deacon’s homiliary for the Night Office & Cassiodorus on the Psalms really were the sources for 90% of what 90% of medieval monks knew of the Fathers.
    • Yes, some monks probably read the Fathers for study material but the paradigmatic encounter with them was in the liturgical setting. The sermons, homilies, or commentary extracts would be interrupted four times for responsaries thematically tying the third Nocturn back into the main biblical content of the first Nocturn as determined by the liturgical season… The main point being: their encounter with the patristic interpretation was in a far different setting than either ours or even the works’ original contexts–and that would effect how they would hear it.
    • Have them read a homily by Bede or Gregory–then have them read the corresponding “adaptation” by somebody like Aelfric. Highlight, too, that what was on the page was not necessarily what was heard…
  • Give them a sense that biblical interpretation in this setting is not fundamentally about data and information. Rather, it was about experiencing the text and its transformative potential through an elaborate and interconnected system designed for this purpose.
    • This is underscored and reinforce by how the many lectionary cycles fit together. The way (as I was saying before) the Mass Epistle shows up in the versicles & responses for the Little Hours and verses from the Mass Gospel appear as the Canticle antiphons through the week…
    • Guiding and directing a lot of this is the liturgical year. The seasons themselves are interpretations of biblical events and texts and the texts within the seasons were chosen to fit within them–but, at the same time, their actual content nuances the meaning of the seasons. Furthermore certain kinds of interpretive material either appear or disappear based on the season…

It’s complicated. And, in many ways, this is my chapter 3–to lay all of this out in a (more or less) comprehensible fashion.

One of the major themes that I see running through my pedagogical attempts is interpretation and appropriation through recontextualization. That is, yeah, they used patristic material–but in a different way from which it was intended which has the effect of altering its purpose so the same text is acting in a new way and producing a new result.

Another major theme I see is reinforcing the alien nature of the interpretive culture. This kind of interpretation is not about a guy at a desk with a book. Its about a communal experience and embodiment of the text. There’s a reason why so much of the monastic exegesis can be classified as “moral”–it’s because a major focus was not on “thinking thoughts” about the text but rather on how to put the text into practice. Maybe what we label the “moral sense” might be better labeled “the sense capable of being embodied”…