The Stars at Night…


Last month (October 20, 2017) I was delighted to speak at a one-day Colloquium sponsored by the Prayer Book Society of the United States at the Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas, where we were kindly hosted by the rector, the Rt. Rev. Anthony Burton (formerly Bishop of Saskatchewan), himself a learned and sensitive student of the Prayer Book tradition.

The title of the event was “Revising the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church: Can a Thousand Flowers Bloom?” The title was a cheeky reference to Chairman Mao’s 1956 invitation to Chinese intellectuals to voice any criticisms they had of communism: “Let a hundred flowers bloom, and let a hundred schools of thought contend.” (Of course, the following year he promptly squashed all “rightists” who had voiced dissent.) The current conference asked, by contrast, whether a motion passed by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention asking the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to prepare options for a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer might lead to the permissive authorization of an even greater variety of liturgical rites in the Episcopal Church than currently exists—or, on the contrary, whether this might spell the end of more traditional liturgical options.

This was rather a daring event for the Prayer Book Society to sponsor, since its focus has been on the preservation and promotion of the 1928 American Prayer Book, not the 1979 compilation that laid claim the title “Book of Common Prayer.” (One of the points raised in the colloquium was that other provinces of the Anglican Communion had not, in fact, replaced their classical Prayer Books as the Episcopal Church did: rather, they authorized official alternatives.) I gather that it is hoped that the Prayer Book Society might make common cause with those who love and use the traditional-language “Rite 1” in the 1979 BCP. Initial surveys taken by the PBS suggest that this rite is in fact very, very widely used. Any attempt to delete it from the 1979 BCP, or to dilute its contents, would probably meet with considerable resistance.

My own contribution was itself a bit cheeky. My title was “The Mysterium Anglicanum and the New Puritans.” I compared the assured certainty of twentieth-century liturgical scholarship (founded on what has proved the shifting sand of the [Pseudo]-Hippolytan Apostolic Tradition) to the assured certainty of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Puritans, who despised the Book of Common Prayer and looked to the liturgical model of Calvinist Geneva, which they believed had recovered a truly scriptural and apostolic form of worship. The great Puritan divine Richard Baxter famously composed a complete liturgical book (known as the Savoy Liturgy), which he proposed should be added as an alternative to the classical Book of Common Prayer—just like Rite 1 and Rite 2 in the 1979 American BCP.

The ground has fallen out from under both “Puritan” claims, and this leaves us free to evaluate the classical Prayer Book tradition (what I have dubbed the Mysterium Anglicanum, borrowing a twelfth-century description of the medieval Milanese liturgy as the Mysterium Ambrosianum) on its historical, theological, and pastoral merits. As I always hammer away to my students at Trinity College, the Book of Common Prayer is “the Tradition of the Church (what the Church has always done) expressed within the compass of Scriptural language (which limits what the Church can say).” This, I suggest, is the true basis of Anglican comprehensiveness. It may aggravate some Evangelicals (who are suspicious of tradition) and may frustrate some Anglo-Catholics (who want to say more than scripture lets them); but it is, for all that, as Nicholas Ferrar said, “The right, good old way.”

A lightly revised version of my paper should appear in a forthcoming edition of Anglican Way magazine.


“Categorising the Church” Conference


I am just back from a stimulating conference in Vienna, sponsored by the “Visions of Community” project at the Institut für Mittelalterforschung (Institute for Medieval Studies), Östereichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Austrian Academy of Sciences), in cooperation with the University of Poitiers.

The title of the conference was “Categorising the Church: Debates about Religious Communities in the Carolingian World.” Our particular concern was the background and subsequent reception of the monastic and canonical legislation passed by the Council of Aachen in 816 and 817 under Emperor Louis the Pious. This council made, for the first time, a firm distinction between communities judged strictly “monastic” and those termed “canonical.” I was asked to contribute something liturgical, and I gave a paper entitled “The 816 Liturgical Reforms, Hildemar’s Commentary on the Rule, and the Milanese Rite.”

The only major liturgical element of the 816 legislation was a requirement that monks chant the daily offices according to what is prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict. (“Canons” were to continue using the “Roman” form of the Office, as the Frankish Church had received it.) One of our best sources of information about how this legislation was received is Hildemar of Corbie’s commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, based on lectures he delivered at the northern Italian monastery of San Calocero in Civate in the 840s. One of the versions of his commentary (which has a very complicated textual history) is now available in a collaborative online edition and translation, with an excellent bibliography and links to manuscript sources:

Hildemar is an important witness to the determination of “reformed” Benedictine monks to chant the Office according to the Rule. He also takes exception to the practice, of which he gives the earliest evidence, of monks’ abandoning the Rule’s pattern of the Office and chanting the Roman form during the sacred Triduum before Easter (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday), for the sake of unity with the whole Church. Hildemar alleges that the shortened forms of the Office used on such days are appropriate only for “canons,” who have to deal with “the crowd of the people, including women and children.”

I further argued, however, that Hildemar’s commentary must be understood against the background of his rather surprising liturgical context. Civate is in the diocese of Milan, which alone among the local uses of the Frankish Empire retained its distinctive liturgy in the face of a Carolingian programme of liturgical standardization. Hildemar quite clearly reveals that his community used a Milanese (“Ambrosian”) sacramentary, and I wonder whether we can find further evidence of how this local tradition was adapted for use in a Benedictine monastery. I have until the end of the year to finish combing through the commentary for evidence. What I find fascinating is that Hildemar, who seems so strict and pedantic in his teaching, emerges as an unexpected patron of liturgical pluriformity: as long as what is done is agreeable to the Rule, he doesn’t mind variety from place to place.

The participants in the conference kindly indulged me while I sang analogous examples from the Gregorian and Ambrosian chant repertory to demonstrate the “aural” difference between the two. In my defence, I was the last paper of the whole event, so I had to wake them up somehow!

Medieval Rites Conference


It was recently my pleasure to give a paper at Yale University’s Institute for Sacred Music, as part of a conference entitled “Medieval Rites: Reading the Writing,” organized by the distinguished medieval musicologist Peter Jeffery and my fellow Rankin alumnus Henry Parkes (about whom I have raved elsewhere). The conference was unusual in bringing together experts on both Western and Eastern liturgy.

My paper was called “Chant on the Edge: Antiphoner Texts Among the Marginalia of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 41.” I presented some preliminary results of my research on this manuscript, which I am currently editing for the Henry Bradshaw Society.

While at Yale, I was also a guest of the “Song Lab” of the Music Department, which meets to sing music from facsimiles of early notations and to discuss papers submitted in advance. I had the benefit of their comments on a draft of an article I’m working on: “The Muchelney Breviary Fragment: London, British Library, Additional 56488, fols. i, 1–5.” But the best part was singing through Absalon fili mi from the original notation. Alas, we transposed it up a fourth to accommodate the sopranos, so I wasn’t able to try for the low B-flat at the end!