Category Archives: Damn Dissertation

Diss Selection on Paul the Deacon

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


Paul the Deacon (†799)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Update

  • I now have a defense date for my dissertation: October 22nd. The end is in sight.
  • I’ve started a new tai chi class. While the teacher at the Y under whom I’ve been studying for about a year is quite good, the class itself was a little frustrating in that few of the other students trained out of class. As a result, the teacher spent most of his time correcting elementary form mistakes rather than moving us into deeper levels. Too, it was all form work and thus the standard wave-your-hands-around stereotype of tai chi. The new class is taught by a push-hands champ and is all martial technique. In three classes I haven’t seen a form yet but have thrown and been thrown all over the mat. I’m quite satisfied; it complements the form training quite well.
  • The place where I’ve been working as a contractor has hired me full-time. This comes with a raise, benefits, and a title (I’m a vp now!). Yay, health insurance!!

The Day Has Dawned…

I finally sent off what I hope will be the text of my defense draft of my dissertation.

Of course, I still need to fix some footnotes, recheck the bibliography, clean up the ModE of the sermons, etc. but the text proper is done. Unless he doesn’t like my corrections…

And It’s Away…

I just sent off my full dissertation to my committee. Well, full except for footnote formatting, bibliography, and polished up modern English of the sermons I’m working with…

Fr. Director is very pleased with it; we’ll see what the rest think.

Barring any major problems we’re hoping to schedule an August defense date.

The End Is Near

I woke up this morning with the quiet certainty that it was time to begin writing chapter 6—the summary chapter of my dissertation.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not done with chapters 4 or 5—but Enough has gone by that it’s time to write the conclusion and make sure that the last bits of 4 and 5 line up with it.

I’ve started drafting the three or four paragraph block that sits at the heart of 6, and it’s an odd experience. These few paragraphs are the great apologia for how I’ve spent the last eight years of my life (not counting the whole “regular” life complete with marriage, jobs, kids, etc…). I find this great reckoning simultaneously exhilarating—and pathetic.

More as it evolves…

In other news, I celebrated February as Foot Trauma Month this year by—while washing the dishes—managing to drop a knife off the kitchen counter  and allowing it to sink halfway through my right foot. Thankfully, it landed right between two toe tendons and though it bled a lot initially seems to only be a minor flesh-wound.


I’ll not be around much—perhaps at all—during this Advent. I’m determined to finishing the dissertation this calendar year and that means roughly a chapter a week to get through it

I hope to finally get this thing done.

Long-time readers will recall, of course, that I’ve made this same determination several times before; I can only hope I’ll be more successful this time around… :-D

In Other News…

I’ll not be making it to SBL this year.

Things are still tight, and at the moment I can’t afford to go to more than one conference per academic year.

‘Cause I’m going to K’zoo

Actually…I’ve been invited to present as K’zoo—and so I shall!

This is an all around good thing. Not only is it a presentation at a major conference but it’ll light the fire I’ve been lacking to get my edits done and the diss finished up so that I’ll go as “Dr.” rather than “Mr.”.   In fact, the day I should graduate is the day after the conference ends. My presentation is the first half of chapter 4 so most of the hard work has already been done; it’ll just be a matter of sharpening it all and putting it into presentation format.

And the Lord did Grin…

Things may be looking for us. After, what, four years or so of bad hands…

  • M got some great news today. Hopefully more later as things develop.
  • Fr. Director has confirmed that I have a full draft of the diss. Of course, it’s still needs quite a bit of work, but a full draft is a Good Thing.
  • The foot progresses. This week I took my first shower since February 9th… The picc line is out, I can walk fairly well and the doctor is planning to stop the oral antibiotics in a few weeks. It’s still a bit swollen and normally hurts by evening, but this is a lot better than it has been.

On the other hand…

  • I imagine most people have seen the Seabury-Western news. S-W isn’t the only one in these straits. There’s a reason why an almost PhD in New Testament and homiletics is boning up on Linux and SQL books…