Formation and the Ecclesia Anglicana

One of the perennial Anglo-Catholic hobbies  is constructing and maintaining an acceptable myth of origins. That is to say, if you are going to argue that there is a historical and theological validity to the use of certain catholic principles, doctrines, and ceremonies—but not others—within Anglican churches, you need to have some reason to hand that accounts for it.

One of the classic favorites is the notion of the Ecclesia Anglicana. This is the concept that English Christianity is just a bit different from Roman Catholic Christianity—always has been, always will be—and that the Anglican Churches are simply the current expression of this separate but equal way of being. As a result, adherents of this view claim a certain freedom by identifying the differences between Roman and English practice.

I’ve always quite liked this notion in a big-picture kind of way, but have had all sorts of problems with it on a historical level. It’s one thing to assert it with a side-order of nostalgic Victorian nationalism, it’s another entirely to document it in a convincing fashion in the historical and liturgical record.

It’s with this background (a love for the concept but a weighty skepticism concerning its historical realities) that I surprised myself last night while washing dishes by coming up with a potential liturgical-historical argument in favor of it…

If you’re going to argue a difference between “English” and “Roman,” liturgical and historical evidence supports an approach that sees “Western” as a super-category made up of a number of related theological and liturgical traditions one of which is “English” and one (actually several that fuse into one) which becomes dominant as “Roman.” Part of the question, then, is in the matter of definitions: what’s “English” and what’s “Roman” and how are these situated in relation to what’s “Western”?

Then, once that’s been teased out, what are the things that can be identified as granting a fundamental theological distinction between them? (Understanding liturgy in its proper place as the kinetic side of the theological coin…)

One way to crack the nut is to point to the formative aspects of the liturgy, and I’d approach it this way. The Sarum strand is identifiably and recognizably English in locale granted that its roots straddle both French and earlier English practice. When you compare Sarum sources against Continental Western texts and the materials designated “Roman” by the Council of Trent, one of the differences that you find is the Mass Gospel Lectionary. If I recall correctly (and this came to me while washing dishes, mind you, and I haven’t consulted my tomes yet), there are differences at least in Advent, Epiphany, and in post-Pentecost.

What makes this difference major and important is not the Mass, however—it’s the Office. The Mass Gospel Lectionary appears in the third nocturn of the Night Office and determines the patristic homily found therein. A different Mass Gospel lectionary suggests that the nocturn lessons may be different with the possible result that the Sarum-using folk were being formed by reading different patristic texts at different times and were being formed and normed differently than their “Roman” brethren. If you are trying to argue for a theological and practical difference between the Ecclesia Anglicana and the Roman Church especially defined by its Tridentine liturgy, one of the best ways to do it would be a thorough audit of the nocturn texts.

Come to think of it, I recall that in Advent, at least, the second nocturn readings don’t quite cohere either. I seem to recall a Maximus of Turin text where the Tridentine/Roman sources have the Jerome text on Isaiah quoted below. The significance there is that the Sarum source seems to be drawing on an older “Western” strand as the Maximus likely is a hold-over from Paul the Deacon, the official Night Office collection from the Carolingian period.

So—to make a sustained and historically verifiable argument for a theologically distinct Ecclesia Anglicana one possible route could be a thorough comparison of the Night Office texts between the English and Continental sources. What you’d have to find in order to make a strong case is greater coherence between Sarum, Hereford, and York sources (perhaps Hyde Abbey as well?) than what you find in Continental sources, particularly those that feed into the Tridentine Breviary. Then, if you could further isolate a difference in perspective—so, a preponderance of a particular father or set of fathers over others—between “English” and “Roman” breviaries, then I’d be willing to give more credence to the notion of a theologically distinct Ecclesia Anglicana that contains demonstrable theological and formational tendencies from its Continental counterparts.

21 thoughts on “Formation and the Ecclesia Anglicana

  1. bls

    That’s interesting – I didn’t know this about the Night Office.

    You probably know about this already, but just scouting around the web brought up this Wikipedia page of a “List of New Testament lectionaries,” including links to the libraries that house them. Haven’t checked whether or not most are actually available online, but found this interesting. This was to be my next area of investigation, actually; I’d like to see what kind of correspondence(s) there might be between the chant propers and the lectionaries. Daunting, actually….

  2. bls

    (Actually, never mind – that page is devoted to Byzantine lectionaries, apparently, so it’s not going to help me. Still interesting, though.

    Now I need to find a list of the Western lectionaries….)

  3. Paul Goings

    There was a revision of the Roman lectionary around the time of the Council of Trent, or at least before the promulgation of the new missal in 1570. It involved some shifting of the Epistles in the temporale, I think. That’s terribly vague, I’m realize, but it’s not my area of expertise. Still, I’d very much like to see a pre/post comparison, and also a comparison with the lectionaries of the British uses, and also those of the various northern European uses (both religious and secular–so, for example, Dominican, Cologne, etc.) The British uses aren’t so unique, but form a family with the other northern European uses, so you’d have to take that into account in your analysis.

  4. Derek Olsen

    I’ve got a fairly good database of Anglo-Saxon-era gospel lectionaries where you can see the general distribution in time of Chavasse’s stage 2, 3 and 3-alt text-types. Unfortunately, my data ends at the eleventh century or so—I don’t know what happens in that high medieval piece and what the liturgical impact of the Conquest was in terms of Gospel Books.

    I’ve already alerted family and friends that this volume is highly placed upon my Christmas list. I don’t know if it addresses this issue specifically, but I have higher hopes for it than any other sources that come to mind…

    You touch on some questions that have occupied a lot of my time over the past few years and where parts of my dissertation naturally lead. You’re right, though, that there’s no good collection of Western lectionaries online (the article you point to exists because of their role in establishing the Greek text of the New Testament). With the number of manuscript collections coming online, though, it’s a gap that really ought to be remedied…

  5. bls

    What does “Caesarean” mean in this connection? Here’s what that page says: “The lectionary text is basically Byzantine with detectable Caesarean influence.”

    I looked this up, too, and found this page, with the following intro:

    Caesarean text-type is the term proposed by certain scholars to denote a consistent pattern of variant readings that is claimed to be apparent in certain Greek manuscripts of the four Gospels, but which is not found in any of the other commonly recognized New Testament text-types; the Byzantine text-type, the Western text-type and the Alexandrian text-type. In particular a common text-type has been proposed to be found: in the ninth/tenth century Codex Koridethi; in Minuscule 1 (a Greek manuscript of the Gospels used, sparingly, by Erasmus in his 1516 printed Greek New Testament); and in those Gospel quotations found in the third century works of Origen of Alexandria, which were written after he had settled in Caesarea.[1] The early translations of the Gospels in Armenian and Georgian also appear to witness to many of the proposed characteristic Caesarean readings, as do the small group of minuscule manuscripts classed as Family 1 and Family.

    Is this what they’re referring to, do you know? I’m not really even clear here whether they are talking about “lettering” or “content” – or some mixture of both, with the former leading over time to differing versions of the latter!

    Sorry for the tangent; no need for a quick answer, obviously. (As I think you know, tangents often happen when you’re reading this kind of material! First you come across something you’ve never heard of, then it takes hours of looking things up to see what it might refer to – and this, of course, ends up being an exponential function…!)

  6. Derek Olsen

    Yes, that is what they’re talking about. Here’s the really short version… Broadly speaking, hand-copied manuscripts follow the texts from which they’re being copied. we can group any given manuscript based on examining a few points of known major variation that go back very early. Based on these particular points we broadly class texts according to Western, Alexandrian, and Byzantine. Of course, it’s more complicated than that especially when you start getting mixing between the text-types. Some changes aren’t because of the text in front of the scribe–sometimes he writes what he thinks the text ought to say; sometimes he writes what he remembers growing up which isn’t the same as his archetype; certain styles of lettering cause confusion between letters ( ‘minum’ in particular since they’re just collections of loosely connected downstrokes). As a result, you get a large number of possible variations with quite a number of possible causes, some of which are attributable to a scribe’s base text-type, some not.

    So, “Caesarian” is a hypothetical text-type. Some people think there’s enough evidence to claim it as an actual family, others think it could be a grouping based on common errors from the Byzantine (IIRC). Needless to say, such things are a whole field of expertise—some people can rattle off exactly which verses to go to and what to look for—but that’s not my area. (I’m ashamed to say I’m much better at the major differences between Latin text traditions: in the Matthean Beatitudes “Beati” indicates a Vulgate text whereas “Felix” appears in the Old Latin…)

  7. Derek Olsen

    How interesting… Check this as a datapoint.

    The Feast of Christmas is unusual as it is has three appointed Gospels for three Masses. This translates in the Night Office to three different patristic sermons for (secular) readings 7, 8, and 9. The Roman and Sarum readings are identical. However, here’s what we find when we look at the last two nocturns:

    Nocturn 2
    Lesson 4: Isidore of Seville, On the Ecclesiastical Offices bit on Christmas
    Lesson 5: Leo, Sermon 22 for Christmas (overlap with his Tome)
    Lesson 6: Leo, Sermon 22, cont.

    Nocturn 3
    Lesson 7: Gregory, Hom 8
    Lesson 8: Bede, Hom I.7
    Lesson 9: Bede, Hom I.8

    Nocturn 2
    Lesson 4: Leo, Sermon 21 for Christmas
    Lesson 5: Leo, Sermon 21, cont.
    Lesson 6: Leo, Sermon 21, cont.

    Nocturn 3
    Lesson 7: Gregory, Hom 8
    Lesson 8: Ambrose, Comm. on Luke
    Lesson 9: Augustine, Tract. on John

    No surprise, the Sarum are straight out of Paul the Deacon…

  8. Fr Chris Larimer

    Interesting. It’s been too long since I took NT Textual Criticism, but does the Western Text show evidence of variation that would be consonant with incipits for differentiated readings?

  9. Derek Olsen

    Here’s a link to the best online resource I know concerning the text types. The exhaustive explanation complete with area graphs is up the page, but Appendix 1 has an overview of the recognized types and Appendix 2 has a major manuscript list. From my perspective, I know that there are some fairly significant differences in the text of Acts between Codex Bezae (D) [a Greek/Latin bilingual] and the other major Unicial codices which I consider to be one of the main differences between the Western and the Alexandrian/Byzantine families.

    Carson, it is possible. I don’t update it very often (blogrolls are largely passe these days given feed-readers), and most of the folks there represent either people who are (or were) active in the conversation here or I followed the conversations there. We’re still getting to know you…

  10. Christopher

    One thing to watch is that Roman does not necessarily equate with Tridentine. Tridentine is a reform and a uniforming of what had been a range of acceptable local practices discernibly related, yes, but sometimes with enough difference that we could call them uses or even rites; and it’s impacts ecclesiologically and liturgically took well over 100-200 years. Much of this further reduced the possibility in seeing local distinctives that had developed perhaps to the level of use or rite. Even today though, no matter the central controls, distinctives develop. These distinctives is precisely how the Incarnation gets communicated and encountered in our time, place, and cultures. Pruning and reform and evening uniforming as well as expansion and growth and floridity are an ongoing reality for liturgies, and as you note repeatedly, leaves us with possibilities from our past that might be pertinent to communicating the Incarnation in our context.

    Things that unite us as Western Christians, include, a Season of Advent. Differences, however, such as length seem to have remained in flux well into the Medieval period in some locales.

    Also, what Paul Goings says is important that a variety in Northern European practices was likely in all manner of things that communicate theology: variations in vestment colors (and their cultural meanings), emphases in and length of a given season (End Times, Incarnation, Consummation for Advent), postures/gestures, artwork, what folks did throughout the celebration, etc. Some of these things we cannot know in actuality, but only as debris/remains.

    I would note that one of the 14th century distinctives of English uses/rites is marking Ordinary time after Trinity–which Lutherans took up from us and which we all dropped in an overquick setting aside of particulars as what it means to be ecumenical, in my opinion. It’s a slightly different flavor and later but I don’t think unrelated to Hooker’s reflections on our life in God, for example, or to Cranmer’s far more Trinitarian 1549 Consecration Prayer when compared to the Roman Canon.

    Also, some of the distinctives may be as much piety as liturgy proper. For example, the piety in poetry/showings of Julian and Anselm, not unrelated to wider mystical movements, but is distinctive. And Anselm’s influence on us through Cranmer is enormous, especially visible in our Rite I Canon in its emphases on God’s mercy, atonement, crucifixion, and .

    What I think you’re suggesting as that any over-servering sense of an English Church to the Roman Church is likely to cut us off from the relationships that did exist (hybridity), if always mitigated not just liturgically, but politically–and not just in England. I wonder had a stronger relationship of monarch to pope existed in France if the Gallican Rite might not still be an actual reality, for example.

  11. Christopher

    As we prepared for a trial six week Advent at the seminary, I was reminded of the piety/theology distinctives as I translated the Ambrosian collects for the liturgies. I finally had to set them aside as the propitiatory sense is at odds with the bulk of Lutheran piety/theology. The directionality, as I call it, was off. Both Ambrosian and Lutheran traditions are hot for the Incarnation emphasis on the crib, but do so distinctively and in ways that preclude a direct borrowing–though the six week Advent itself has been a gift.

    Emphases such as “directionality” of the overall piety. Incarnational–God meets us? Trinitarian–God takes us into God’s own life? etc. should not be ignored as part of discerning distinctives. This can be made more difficult when we only have debris/remains.

  12. Derek Olsen

    Excellent points as usual, Christopher. I do think that considering whether there was a distinctive English piety/spirituality is important and I still regard Martin Thornton’s English Spirituality as one of the best cases going. What I’m beginning to wonder is whether this was nurtured by what appears to be the retention of a more early medieval reading set than one driven by later—particularly Scholastic—concerns. But far more research is necessary to build a compelling argument around this speculation.

  13. Fr Chris Larimer

    I was hoping a Lutheran liturgical scholar might help us out with the textual bases of Luther’s Deutsche Messe. What work has gone into establishing a Western Canon or urtext?

  14. Derek Olsen

    Hmm—I may have introduced some unintentional confusion here… Let me see if I can clear things up.

    bls mentioned the NT lectionary page she’d found. The lectionaries referred to there are all Greek-language lectionaries. While they do give us evidence for readings in the Eastern Church, their primary scholarly value (and the reason why there’s a site for them) is because of their importance as second and third-order witness for the purpose of determining the text of the Greek New Testament. Her question on the Caesarian then sent me off into text-types.

    Liturgically, I mentioned “Western” above as a generic designation for the liturgical strands of the Latin West. There are many of these and within them there is also variation over time. As Christopher notes, we have to be careful about how we name these. As I was writing above, I was broadly using the tradition enshrined in the Tridentine Breviary to talk about Roman breviary uses, acknowledging that there are multiple stands, some geographically based, others based in the uses of certain orders, that were generally normed by the Council of Trent in reaction to the protestant movements.

    As far as the text of the Canon of the Mass in the West, I’ll let others more knowledge than I make pronouncement. (My focus is more lectionary and Office-based than Mass-centric.)

    I can tell you, though, as a bit of anecdotal evidence what I’ve seen myself. Once a while back, I got annoyed over some Roman online traddies throwing around the the phrase “the Mass of All Times.” So I took my Tridentine Missal, the Latin of the Novus Ordo Prayer I and lined them up with two of my favorite 10th century Anglo-Saxon missals to see how well things held up. Aside from the odd preposition and a few extra saints, the correspondence between the three was almost exact. Now—that’s just the canon. Once you get into propers, all bets are off, but the canon itself was, as far as I know, remarkably stable.

  15. Paul Goings


    I’d certainly agree that the text of the Canon has stayed remarkably consistent over many centuries–which is all the more reason to lament the changes of 1962 and 1969.

    And of course the Mass of Pope S. Pius V is no more the “Mass of All Time” than the Mass of Pope Paul VI is the “Mass of the Early Church,” which I have also heard more than once.

    But to return to the main topic, I now have learned a very little something about this Homilary of Paul the Deacon that you referenced, and it piqued my interest about the origin of the corpus of Matins lessons in the Pian breviary, which I understand were considerably shortened by the compilers. Is Paul the Deacon’s Homilary, or an index thereof, available today?

    Also, I have a set of Carthusian Homilaries, which are the full versions of the scriptural lessons and homilies in the breviary, intended to be read at table. It runs to three folio volumes, and the text isn’t even that large. I should make an index of that at some point, as it would probably point to what was done in Grenoble and thereabouts before the invention of printing and the beginning of the “breviary” in the sense of a portable book for personal use.


  16. Derek Olsen

    Most of the sustained work on early medieval homiliaries occurred in the middle of the last century in French. The most satisfactory introduction to Paul the Deacon in English is: 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. I did post a small section from my dissertation on it a while back but that treatment is quite limited in scope. Here’s the real short version on contents…

    There is a report of the contents and the full printing of some of the anonymous/spuriously-attributed texts in Migne: the Temporal series here and the Sanctoral series here. This version is a product of the later medieval period, though, and contains quite a number of interpolations. In particular, these tend to be sermons mis-attributed to Augustine… Wiegand at the end of the 19th century created a list of Paul’s original version which has circulated in a number of places including Gregoire.

    It would be terrific if you could make an index of those Carthusian homiliaries! When are they from?

  17. dale caldwell

    this is the sort of thing i consider while washing dishes, too, so i want to encourage you. one difficulty with making this a significant difference between anglican catholicism and roman catholicism perhaps is suggested by the different office of, say, the dominicans, which are often considered happily within the roman west, even though sometimes if i remember correctly not only have some differences in their office, but who sometimes follow the sarum differences.

  18. bls

    There’s one site, new to me, that (while it seems to be a work in progress) offers “A comparison of the Lutheran, Roman, and Anglican lectionaries.” (Chart here.) This one is only Sundays.

    I assume this refers to the “historical” ones, with a dating of perhaps sometime in the 17th or 18th century; this is a guess on my part, because it’s not clear from that page. But another page on the site offers a “FestSchift” from “the 1731 Lutheran Almanac.” (Image here.) This Calendar shows every day of the year.

    BTW, Derek: I’ve been reading, online, what’s available from a Google Book I found recently called “The Advent Project,” which subtitles itself: “The Later Seventh-Century Creation of the Roman Mass Proper.” Lots of good stuff there, but I’m going to have to get the whole book, I think, because there are only limited pages available online to read. I’m sure you know about this, but maybe others didn’t…..

  19. bls

    (And BTW, are you mainly talking here about the patristic readings? These were only used in monastic communities, I’m assuming? Naturally I was following the strand you began about “Mass Gospel Lectionary” and the one about the Christmas masses, so may have really moved off your target.

    What is the relationship between the two things? Were the patristic readings themselves focussed on those particular Gospel readings? What’s the relationship between the readings in the monasteries from the Night Office – and what ordinary layfolk heard in Church?)

  20. Marshall Scott

    What fun to watch younger, brighter minds at work! Still, I have a question, Derek. Much of the romance of Ecclesia Anglicana comes from acknowledgement that there was Christianity in the Isles before Whitby, notable for, among other things, a liturgical calendar more consistent with the Greek East than the Roman West. Now, both Bede and Paul the Deacon lived after Whitby, although not so long that they might not have known of or experienced some transitional practices. Are we assuming that all of that tradition was eventually subsumed? Presumably, this happened later in Wales (and perhaps Ireland?), so that some of the older practices might have continued as part of the culture. Or, do I have my history confused (very likely)?

    In any case, these are the questions that occur to me.

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