Category Archives: Old English

Reading Matthew with Monks: Physical Edition!

When M, the girls and I got back from the Boston Marathon late last night, there was a slip indicating that a package was waiting for me at my neighbor’s house. After taking the girls to school this morning, I went by and collected it. And here’s what it contained:


Fifteen copies of my first full-length single-authored book!

As a few of you may remember, I originally started this blog ten years ago to provide an outlet for both thoughts and distractions while working away at my dissertation. That process finished in 2009 with my defense, and then officially with my graduation in 2011. Now, that work is being made public in (hopefully) a more accessible form than than the dissertation in this handsome publication from Liturgical Press.

I’m ecstatic that this work is finally here, and the fact that it is exists is, naturally, the result of a lot of patience and prodding from both my wonderful wife and also my incredible dissertation director who was kind enough to write the Foreword for the book.

I’ll have more to say about it later, most likely, but I’ll leave you here with the Table of Contents:

  • Introduction (Introductions to Hermeneutics, Reading Cultures, and Ælfric)
  • Chapter 1: How Monastic Living Shaped Reading
  • Chapter 2: How Monastic Praying Shaped Reading
  • Chapter 3: The Temptation and the Beatitudes (Ælfric’s sermons on Matt 4 and 5 put into context and placed in conversation with modern commentators)
  • Chapter 4: Two Healings and the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens (Ælfric’s sermons on Matt 8 and 25 put into context and placed in conversation with modern commentators)
  • Conclusion: Bringing Early Medieval Voices into the Conversation
  • Chapter 4:

It had been showing in a “pre-order” state on its page on Amazon; now it says “Temporarily out of stock.” In any case, it exists now in physical form!


Perspectives on Ælfric

I’m reading through the LME again for a project I’m working on. Once again, I find myself baffled concerning the place of Ælfric in the modern academy.

There’s a folktale with wide circulation—I first encountered it in its Turkish form where the Hojja (a classic wise fool figure) is staring at the ground under a street-lamp. A passer-by asks him what he’s doing and he replies “Looking for a ring I lost.” The passer-by stops to help and they search without result for a while. Finally the passer-by asks, “Where exactly did you lose it?” The Hojja replies, “Inside my house.” “Well—why are we looking for it out here then?” “Because the light is so much better here…”

This, truly, is a core story for anyone who studies medieval materials—especially early medieval liturgical materials. So often we can’t look where we want to, we have to look where the light is good. We are thoroughly restricted by the materials we have.

Ælfric is like a gem sitting under a street-lamp that keeps getting walked over and stepped upon. The LME is such an unusual document: it lays out the monastic cursus of a pre-Conquest English monastery complete with local adaptions and a clear and definite section on the Night Office—one of the thornier items to reconstruct. Put this in relation to both the pastoral letters and Ælfric’s massive homiletical output and you have a wonderful window into Pre-Conquest church life. Yet I can count on the fingers of my hands the Church Historians who know him or do anything with him. Likewise, the number of Old English readers—virtually all in English departments—who appreciate his liturgical materials is likewise minuscule.

One obvious issue is language. The majority of Ælfric’s work is in Old English—a language inaccessible to most Church Historians. By the same token the LME isn’t really in Latin, it’s in liturgicalese which is a foreign tongue to your average medievalist no matter how good their Latin.

Another is publicity. Look in church histories and you’re not likely to find Ælfric. He’s too much of a regular guy. He wasn’t a great pope, prince, or even a ground-breaking interpreter. Indeed, one of the reasons I’m so interested in him is precisely because he offers an example of a what a regular well-schooled pious abbot would write and think. But—I stumbled across him by chance and followed the lead into the English Department. I sure didn’t hear about him in the theology school.

There’s a lot of work that remains to be done on his work and that of others like him. I’m working on it as are others, but we could use some more help!

Early Medieval Expectations for Laity

Posting will be quite light in the near future. I’m not giving up blogging for Lent or anything, but—as is usual—have way too many irons in the fire…

I warn you now, not only will posting be sporadic but it may also be both research intensive and potentially cryptic. I’m chasing several quite specific hares—and today’s led me into something I knew some of you would be interested in.

In Old English circles there are two main homileticians and two major anonymous collections: Ælfric, Wulstan, the Blicking Homilies and the Vercelli Homilies. Then there’s the mass of random anonymous stuff into which very few individuals go, myself included.

While trawling an old tome I found a reference to this interesting passage which shows up in an anonymous homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent (i.e., old Passion Sunday):

Us is ðonne swiðe gedafenlic, þæt we gelomlice ure circan secan and ðær mid micelre eadmodnysse and stilnysse us to urum drihtne gebiddan and godes word gehyran. And se ðe on oðrum ðingum abisgad sy oððe to ðam ungehænde, þæt he dæghwamlice his circan gesecan ne mæge, he huru ðinga on ðam sunnandagum and on oðrum freolsdagum þider cume to his uhtsange and to mæssan and to æfensange and na to nanum idelum geflite, ne to nanum woruldlicum spræcum, ac to ða anum, þæt he his synna gode andette and hira forgifnysse bidde and ðære halgan þenunge mid micclum goddess ege gehlyste and siððan mid ælmæsdædum gange him to his gereorde and mid micelre syfernysse and gemetfæstnysse his goda bruce and na mid nanre oferfylle, ne mid oferdrince, forði ðe Cristenum men nis nan ðing wyrse, ðonne druncenscipe. (Assmann, BASP3, 144: [Assmann 12] B3.2.16)

It is very proper for us that we should frequently visit our church and there pray to our Lord and hear God’s word with great humility and silence. And the one who is busy with other things or is overcome and cannot visit his church daily, he at the least should come on Sundays and on feastdays to morning-song* and to mass and to evensong and not pass them in idleness nor in worldly speech, but in this only: that he confess his sins to God and pray for their forgiveness and that he hear these holy services with a great fear of God and afterward, with almsgiving, go to his meal and partake of his food with much sobriety and moderation and not with any overeating or overdrinking for there is nothing worse for Christian men than drunkenness.

* Uhtsange looks to be the aggregated Night Office of Matins and Lauds which was said at the hour of “uhta”–the first glimmer of light.

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.

Early Medieval Homiletics Reading List

Brandon was wondering…a bit ago now…about some guidance on reading for medieval homiletics.

Here are some of my thoughts on the matter. Now—I do come at this from an unusual direction. That is, a lot of the medievalists out there can be lumped into one of four camps: the English/Language-types, the History-types, the Art-types, or the Religion-types. Most of the recent work on Old English homiletics has come from the English-types. Thus, they come with a certain perspective with a certain knowledge base and certain expectations.

I don’t come from there.

As a Religion-type I approach the field and the subject matter from a rather different set of presuppositions and perspectives. No doubt, that will flavor my list both in terms of what I include and what I don’t.

The other thing I want to add is a note on the early medieval period itself. When viewed from the History-Of-Ideas perspective, the early medieval period looks rather bare and most surveys tend to skip from the patristics to the scholastics with nary a hitch. Needless to say this annoys me… If this is the case generally, it seems especially to be the case in terms of homiletics as you will find many references to that fact that no original thought was going on and that everyone was just copying the Fathers. It’s not that simple. The Early Medieval period is best understood as a period of synthesis and consolidation where thinkers individually and the Church corporately was sifting through the remains of both the Classical and Late Antique world in an attempt to salvage what they could and to systematize this host of fragments into meaningful and useful systems of thought. Ignoring this aspect of the period is analogous to dismissing mosaics as not being proper glasswork because it’s just a bunch of broken bits pushed together—and not even in the original order!

Enough ranting—here are my thoughts by category…

Overviews of the History of Preaching

Yngve Brilioth, A Brief History of Preaching, translated by Karl E. Mattson, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965). An old mainstay of the history of homiletics

Paul S. Wilson, A Concise History of Preaching, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992). A more recent voice concerning homiletical history

Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). The new standard in terms of breadth, a work stamped with an idiosyncratic approach shaped by Reformed ideals.

These three are all histories of preaching written from the perspective of 20th century homiletics. There’s no point in reading these through—just find them in the library and spend some time skimming their medieval sections and jotting down some notes. Here you’ll see what modern homileticians think of the medieval tradition (when they think of it at all…). Notably, all of these are Protestant, the last especially so.

One which I haven’t seem but which seems to be the broadly liberal protestant answer to Old’s conservative protestant is O.C. Edwards, A History of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004).

The only recent item I’ve seen out of Roman Catholic circles is a book which I think bears a very misleading title: C. Colt Anderson, Christian Eloquence: Contemporary Doctrinal Preaching (Mundelein, Ill.: Hillenbrand, 2005). This is written as a textbook for preaching classes and is a “Reform of the Reform” attempt to teach modern preachers how to preach in a medieval style. I’ve been contemplating writing a review of it for publication but haven’t found the right time or venue. In short, I think it sets forth a fascinating project and even a decent structure in the opening few chapters but fails to deliver. It doesn’t adequately carry through its own project, and it doesn’t address what I regard as the fundamental question in adapting medieval homiletical theory for the modern pulpit which is the connection between tradition, revelation, authenticity, and the ethics of using some else’s material.  In short, it could have been awesome…


Secondary Sources

Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 4 vols. (Notre Dame: Christian Classics, reprint n.d.) This is the massive overview to patristic thought which should be your starting place for any question, issue, or query concerning the Church Fathers. Read it through once, then refer to it as needed. The bibliographic data is becoming dated but will reliably point you to the stand-by studies and critical editions.

Its single greatest failing for our purposes is that it ends with Leo the Great; no Gregory, no Bede.

Primary Sources

Augustine ET: Tractates on John, NPNF1.7; Sermon of the Mount, Selected Homilies on the Gospels, NPNF1.6. As far as sermons go, Augustine’s Tractates provided the major word on the Gospel of John. The work on the Sermon on the Mount was also influential. As for others, many of the Augustinian sermons floating around the early medieval world were not really by him (Caesarius of Arles’s work frequently traveled under Augustine’s name.

Maximus of Turin [Sermons, edited by Almut Mutzenbecher, CCSL 23 (Turhout: Brepols, 1999); ET: Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, translated by Boniface Ramsey, Ancient Christian Writers 50 (Newman, 1989)

Leo the Great [Sermons, 4 vols. edited by René Dolle, Sources chrétiennes 22, 49, 74, 200, (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1949-1973); ET: Sermons, translated by Jane Freeland and Agnes Conway, Fathers of the Church 93 (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1995)] Selected sermons of Leo can also be found in the NPNF2.12. One of the greatest popes & preachers, Leo stands as a representative of the finest traditions of Late Antiquity.

Gregory the Great [Homiliae in evangelia, edited by Raymon Etiax, CCSL 141, (Turhout: Brepols, 1999); ET: Forty Gospel Homilies, translated by David Hurst, CS 123, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990)] Reformer and visionary, Gregory stands on the cusp between Late Antiquity and the Early Medieval as an influential liminal figure. Be warned, the English translation’s numbering of the homilies is idiosyncratic and should be cross-checked with the CCSL edition.

The Venerable Bede [Bede Venerabilis opera. Pars III: Opera homilectica; Pars IV: Opera rhythmica, edited by David Hurst and J. Fraipont, CCSL 122, (Turhout: Brepolis, 1955); ET: Homilies on the Gospels, 2 vols., translated by Lawrence T. Martin and David Hurst, CS 110-111, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1989-1990)] The star of Northumbrian biblical scholarship, Bede represents the finest work of a scholar in dialogue with both Latin orthodoxy and the opening German mission fields.

This stuff here is the heartland of the early medieval homiliary traditions.

Early Homiletics

Augustine, On Christian Doctrine. Translated by D.W. Robertson, Jr. The Library of Liberal Arts. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1958. This is a classic—no doubt about it. But Augustine’s impact on early homiletical theory is entirely incomplete without also reading:

Augustine, On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed, NPNF1.3. This is where Martin of Braga, Pirmin, and Aelfric all get their fundamental template for missionary preaching. It deserves much more attention than it gets.

Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, NPNF2.12. Not explicitly a preaching manual, but Gregory does talk quite a bit about preaching and about shaping the preaching to the audience.

Miller, Prosser, Benson, Readings in Medieval Rhetoric, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973) This is a great collection of primary sources and summaries of primary sources. It includes the complete text of Bede’s De Schematibus et Tropis in English along with a number of other helpful texts.

There were no more preaching manuals until the rise of the scholastics. Alan of Lille comes next in sequence but it’s crucially important to notice the gap.

Why were there no preaching manuals between the patristic to the scholastic period? It’s not just because people were copying… Rather, it was because the medievals were still in touch enough with classical rhetoric to understand that preaching/rhetoric was composed of three things: talent, training, and imitation. And that last is key. If you want to know the great preaching manuals of the early medieval world, you must go back to the sermons of Gregory and Augustine and study their method. Then look at the sermons of Bede, Aelfric, and Haymo to see how they deploy this method. It’s in the comparison between these sets of authors that you’ll truly understand how early medieval homiletics was shaped.


Perhaps the single greatest difference between my approach and that of most of the English-types is that I understand the sermon to be a discursive element within the liturgy. Preaching in the early medieval period cannot be separated from the liturgy. Even if there is nothing ostensibly liturgical about it, the liturgy still remains the primary frame of reference.

I’ll not deluge you here, but recommend only three works: one an ancient commentary, one a modern, and one an invaluable reference. Start with:

John Harper, The Forms and Orders of the Western Liturgy From the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991). This provides the essential overview. Once you’ve got these pieces in place, you’re ready to tackle:

Isidore of Seville, De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, translated by Thomas Knoebel, Ancient Christian Writers (Newman Press, 2008). After this have on hand for reference:

Cyrille Vogel, Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources, translated by William Storey and Niels Rasmussen (Portland: Pastoral Press, 1986)

The Homiliary Tradition

Dust off your French.

H. Barré, Les homéliares carolingiens de l’école d’Auxerre, Studi e Testi 225 (Rome: Biblioteca apostolica vaticana 1962)

Reginald Grégoire, Homéliaires liturgiques médiévaux: analyse des manuscrits, (Bibl degli studi medievali 12; Spoleto, 1980) This one is crucial for understanding the contents of the great homiliaries and how they relate to one another (or don’t). If you want to know what was in the homiliaries, this is the place to go.

Anglo-Saxon Homiletics

Mary Clayton, “Homiliaries and Preaching in Anglo-Saxon England,” Peritia 4 (1985), 207-42. This has got to be your starting point. It’s the best overview I know and most of the later articles are working along lines Clayton lays down here.

Cyril Smetana, “Ælfric and the Early Medieval Homiliary,” Traditio 15 (1959), 163-204. and also…

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. Without a doubt, Smetana is your go-to guy for Paul the Deacon.

Joyce Hill, “Ælfric and Smaragdus,” Anglo-Saxon England 21 (1992), 203-237. I won’t list all of Joyce Hill’s items here because there are some I don’t have to hand. Read whatever you can from her!

Milton McC. Gatch, Preaching and Theology in Anglo-Saxon England: Ælfric and Wulfstan. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977. Mac is an Episcopal priest and fundamentally gets the connection between preaching and liturgy—the only recent author I know of to do so.

I’ll admit to not having read Aaron’s latest volume (The Old English Homily: Precedent, Practice, and Appropriation, ed. Aaron J. Kleist (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007)) so hopefully some material in there will prove me wrong.

So—these are the directions that I would point you in, Brandon (and others). There’s clearly a lot here. The best plan, as always, is to spend the most time mastering the primary sources; secondary opinions can be added in later. Fr. Adam and others, please feel free to fill in and around what I haven’t said here!

History Meme

Both Jonathan and Michelle tapped me for this one so here goes…


  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.
  3. Tag seven more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.
  4. Let the person know they have been tagged by leaving a note on their blog.

Of course, I wouldn’t be up to my usual pedantic standards if I didn’t preface something interesting with a whole pile of boring verbiage.

Let’s think for a second about the Benedictine Revival! In the mid-tenth century, King Edgar decided that England was in need of a religious revival. There a number of reasons in back of this–one was the decimation of monasteries and monastic life by the past several centuries of viking depradations, a concomitant loss of learning, bad morale (and maybe morals too), and there was probably something in there too about transferring land-ownership to grateful clergy rather than scheming eorls. While monks can cause problems they rarely raise up armies to overthow you… In any case, he kicked of the reform on the secular side of things. On the sacred side it was begun by the work of three great now-sainted monastic bishops: St. Dunstand, St. Æthelwold, and St. Oswald. This was the first generation of the reform. The second generation is characterized by two men with extant writings, Archbishop Wulfstan of York and Abbott Ælfric of Eynsham. Ælfric was the greatest catechist of his day who embraced the notion that religious reform and revival would occur by promoting sound religious teaching in the vernacular—including a host of sermons and sermon-like materials in Old English, over 150. And yes, he’s the hero of my dissertation. But I’m not writing about him today! (Well—any more today…) No, I’m writing about the author of one of the few surviving documents we have from the third generation of the reform, one of Ælfric of Eynsham’s students, Ælfric Bata.

And yes, the similarity between the names has confused an awful lot of people over the years.

Ælfric Bata’s surviving work is the Colloquies. When you studied foreign languages, did you ever have to stand up in front of the class and act out lame dialogues about buying cheese or whatever in that language? Well, that’s what ÆB’s Colloquies is. Remember, the goal here was to get Germanic-speaking yokels to be able to converse fluently in Latin. ÆB’s Colloquies take us from intermediate level to truly advanced-level conversational Latin. Ok—enough pedantry: onto the good stuff, seven wierd or random facts.

  1. Bata isn’t a last name—it’s a descriptor that probably refers to a barrel of beer. Scholars are split as to why this was applied to him but the leading suggestions were either that he was overly fond of emptying said barrels—or that he was shaped like one. Of course, I see no reason why they can’t both be right.
  2. ÆB’s teacher, my Ælfric, was a serious, pious kind of guy. Not ÆB. The conduct recorded in his Colloquies has been used by historians as evidence of the state of moral decay in English monasteries in the time before and at the Norman Conquest.
  3. For example—one of the dialogues (#3) takes place in a classroom before the teacher arrives. In it, students learn how to ask how to cheat off another’s homework.
  4. In another (#6), the students get beaten for not being able to recite their homework. (Which does give the previous point a bit more urgency…)
  5. Several of them contain an interesting insights into liturgical life, especially the part played by the adolescents who would have been learning these dialogues. In one (#5) a student describes for the master a quick sketch of what the boys have been up to that day—primarily liturgical duties. Another (#18) teaches students how to rent out their services copying liturgical books. According to this colloquy, a well-written missal could fetch up to two pounds of pure silver. The final selling price, though, is twelve mancuses. (If only I knew how that compares to two pounds of silver… What’re the odds that an expert on medieval numismatics might wander along shortly…?)
  6. The point of one of the colloquies (#25) is (apparently) to learn how to insult someone in Latin.
  7. This treatise (still #25) is partly agricultural in nature, going through a variety of plants and trees. However, it seems as if a far greater weight is given to learning the various specialized names for the kinds of manure. If it comes out of the rear of a domestic animal you’ll find it listed here! And yes, I suspect this connects far more to the abuse topos than the agriculture one…

So, if you ever wanted to read some fascinating vignettes of tenth-century monastic life—or how to call somebody cow-poop in Latin—Ælfric Bata’s your man.

[The Colloquies in both Latin and Modern English can be found in a great edition edited by Scott Gwara, translated by David W. Porter called Anglo-Saxon Conversations: The Colloquies of Ælfric Bata (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1997).]

I’ll tag bls, Anastasia, the Postulant (now that GOEs are over), Christopher, LutherPunk, the Lutheran Zephyr, Caelius (are you still alive?) and anyone else with a hankering to do it.

On the Avatar and Liturgy

Michelle at Heavenfield was asking about avatars. And I’ve been intending to get back to talking about early medieval liturgy. Sorry, but putting together a pedagogically helpful structured sequence of posts that lay everything out in good order is more than I can muster at the present time. Rather, it’ll be bits and pieces that perhaps I’ll try to connect logically at a later date. I mention these two things (avatars and liturgy) together because they’re related…

My avatar avatar is, in fact, a liturgical symbol.

Early medieval sacramentaries are books for the Mass used by the priest. They’re different from missals because missals include more material—they have stuff that the priest wouldn’t pray given a full liturgical crowd. A sacramentary only has the priest’s parts. (On this way of structuring liturgical books and its theological implications see this piece of mine at the Cafe.)

Sacramentaries have material that can profitably be classified in two parts: ordinaries and propers. Ordinaries are those prayers or elements that are used all year long. Preeminently, this means the canon of the Mass. Propers are material that change whether seasonally, weekly, or daily. The bulk of a sacramentary is taken up by “mass sets.” These are collections of a number of prayers—anywhere from four to six or so—that provide the “proper” elements for the occasion, that is, the things that change. The full Eucharistic prayer is not complete until these items are plugged into their proper place.

Major days may get these six proper elements:

  1. An opening collect that goes at the beginning of the service after the introit,
  2. An offering prayer (also known as the secret as it was said inaudibly) [typically marked as sub obl or secreta]* wherein the bread and wine to be consecrated are offered to God,
  3. A proper preface [often marked as Praefat] which follows the introductory dialogue (sursum corda) at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer,
  4. A prayer at the conclusion [marked Ad Comp] of the Eucharist,
  5. a prayer over the people [marked Ad Pop/uli],
  6. and a benediction [marked Benedict].

*Rubrics are at all the whim of scribes, different books may use different designations. For solid guidance on this matter generally look to Andrew Hughes which is essential for understanding manuscript layout—just be warned he covers sources from 1250 and later…

Mass sets for non-major days—especially weekdays—tend to just have numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5. These days don’t get their own proper preface and, properly speaking, only a bishop should give a benediction and these are often relegated to their own separate book. (I work a lot out of the Leofric Missal which was written for a bishop and thus has them…)

So—what does this have to do with my avatar? Because these prayers are designed to be inserted into pre-existing prayers, there is common transitional material. Since everyone knew what this was, these transitional phrases weren’t written out but were merely abbreviated with signs. My avatar is one of these. What looks like an odd ‘W’ is actually the joining of a V, a D, and a cross to abbreviate the standard phrase that begins proper prefaces: “Vere dignum et iustum est… (It is right and proper that we…)”

This one is taken from Cod. Sang. 342, a manuscript from the monastery of St. Gall and is a proto-missal that contains, in addition to a sacramentary, a Gospel lectionary and the earliest survival noted gradual. It was probably written by Hartker, a monk of St. Gall, who is a major figure for the study of early chant.

As to why I selected it—because I’m a liturgy geek. Was there really any question about that?

(And now I want LP and Lee to explain why they picked theirs…)

Categories of Liturgical Sources in Anglo-Saxon England

The place to begin in discussing A-S liturgical minutae is with the state of primary sources—what are they and how may they be categorized? How will I know where to find what items?

The most comprehensive resource I know of is a 1985 article printed in a festschrift for Peter Clemoes: Helmut Gneuss, “Liturgical books in Anglo‑Saxon England and their Old English terminology,” pages 91-141 in Learning and literature in Anglo-Saxon England : studies presented to Peter Clemoes on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, edited by Michael Lapidge and Helmut Gneuss (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

What makes this article invaluable is that Dr. Gneuss has laid out the major types of books according to liturgical use, then categorized every surviving A-S liturgical sources known to him within his typology. Here are his headings from page 99:

A Missal and Sacramentary
B Gradual
C Troper
‑ Mass Lectionaries ‑  
D Gospel‑Book and Gospel Lectionary
E Epistolary
F Breviary
G Collectar
H Psalter
J Antiphoner
K Hymnal
‑ Office Lectionaries ‑  
L Bible
M Homiliary
N Legendary
O Books with special offices
P Martyrology
Q Regula S. Benedicti and Chrodegang’s Regula canonicorum
R Pontifical
S Benedictional
T Manual
U Consuetudinary
W Prayer‑Books and Private Prayers
X Liturgical Calendar
Y Confraternity Book

This set of typologies is incredibly helpful for thinking through different kinds of liturgical materials. The danger in seeing a typology like this, however, is assuming that since these categories exist epistemologically that they exist in reality—that each section represents a kind of book one might find in a monastic library. This is not the case… Inevitably, certain kinds of material travel together. For instance, it is quite common for a “Psalter” to be much more than Gnuess’s category H. Indeed, most physical psalters contain H (the Book of Psalms) but this is preceded by X (a liturgical kalendar) and followed by K (a hymnal).

Nevertheless, Gneuss’s categories are a great place to begin for learning about the range of early medieval liturgical materials.