On January 15, 2016, I had the honour of delivering the inaugural Robert Crouse Memorial Lecture in the chapel of the University of King’s College, Halifax. (Gallery of photos.) I never met Fr. Crouse, but his writings have been a great help and inspiration to me in my own work and faith. It was a privilege to spend a few days in the community that was so profoundly shaped by his thought and example.
The title of my lecture was “A Spirituality of the Word: The Medieval Roots of Traditional Anglican Worship.” In it, I took issue with the consensus of modern liturgical scholarship that it was a “Reformation Fallacy” (as Robert F. Taft dubbed it), undreamt of before Martin Luther, to put the reading of scripture at the centre of the Divine Office. I argued that this characteristically monastic mode of prayer was integral to English liturgical spirituality for a thousand years before the Reformation, and that one of the Reformation’s aims was to make it possible for the laity to participate in it fully.
I suggested that the fundamental turning point was in the fourth and fifth centuries, when the psalter in particular ceased to be treated as readings to be listened to, and was transformed into a collection of prayers to be recited as one’s own. (This had a significant musical impact: a whole choir of monks chanting the psalms together as prayer needed a much simpler, more regimented singing style than had been used by solo cantor-lectors. I sang some examples to illustrate the difference.)
In this new understanding, reciting the words of scripture became the principal means both to learn how to pray, and also to be transformed into the kind of person who can pray these words—an insight later picked up by Richard Hooker in his defence of the Book of Common Prayer. As someone suggested to me afterwards, praying the scriptures in the Divine Office “offers all that is needed by the human soul for its ongoing conversion, sanctification, and ultimate deification.”
Apart from such serious considerations, it was great fun to go over some of the complaints by medieval bishops and preachers about clerical misbehaviour during the liturgy. The canons of Exeter in the fourteenth century seem to have been especially incorrigible!
I hope that the text of the lecture will be published in due course.