Happy Feast of St Benedict!

Monte Cassino, site of St Benedict’s original monastery

Today is the feast of St Benedict of Nursia (480-547) of the Rule of St Benedict fame, which is the backbone not only of the Order of St Benedict but of the Cistercians and their descendant order the Trappists (the two most enduring mediaeval reform orders), as well as being the rule of life for certain Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox monasteries.

Lots of people and blogs are going to be posting about him today, so, rather than add to the noise, I thought I would direct your internet journeys to Benedict instead.

Because all blogs are essentially narcissistic, you can start here at the pocket scroll:

Posted in time for the feast, Malcolm Guite has written a sonnet for St Benedict.

If you’re looking for fresh and brief tastes from this saint, there is the selection of posts of passages from St Benedict at Enlarging the Heart.

Also at Enlarging the Heart are the (more numerous) selections from St Bernard of Clairvaux, the paragon of mediaeval Cistercian spirituality (and saint of the week here).

At the heart of Benedictine spirituality (imho) are Lectio Divina and the Liturgy of the Hours. Here’s a video on the former, from Father Matthew:

A good resource for the Liturgy of the Hours can be found at Bosco Peters’ site, Liturgy as well as at the website Universalis.

Finally, if you’re new to Benedict, here’s a five-minute video telling the story of his life:

I encourage you to spend time with one or two of the links or videos above today, remembering Benedict, and then to draw near to the Christ Benedict points us all towards. He would wish to remembered thus best.


Two lectures by Father John Behr

I first became aware of Fr. John Behr because I want to read his book The Nicene Faith. I haven’t yet because, quite frankly, the enormity of scholarship about fourth-century Christianity makes me shy away from it and stay happy in the fifth and sixth centuries instead!

Nonetheless, I have recently encountered two lectures given by Fr. John. The first I encountered will appeal more to those interested in early Christianity, the core of orthodoxy, and such things; the second is of interest to the same crowd as well as those who do theological anthropology and gender studies.

The First Lecture ‘The Shocking Truth About Christian Orthodoxy’

I found the first through a post on Bosco Peters’ excellent website Liturgy. This lecture was part of Augustine College’s annual lectures (the name of the series escapes me), only one of which I attended whilst living in Ottawa, that given by Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft.

The video, which is embedded below, is an hour long; but I highly recommend it. Dr. Behr addresses the two presuppositions of modern scholarship on Christ:

i. We must get behind the crucifixion and the apostolic writings to the ‘real’ Jesus

ii. Orthodoxy claims a strict uniformity and is opposed to any diversity

He deals with both of these presuppositions quite while, observing that all Jesuses are interpretations of the evidence and experiences of the historical events, coloured by each interpreter’s own cultural presuppositions. We will never be able to reach that ‘real’ Jesus of the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

He then makes the interesting shift in interpretation that the early heretics were driven out of a church unwilling to accommodate diversity by arguing that, in fact, people such as Marcion and Valentinian separated themselves from the Church because they found the Church unwilling to silence the symphony of voices and listen only to their monotones.

Orthodoxy contains much diversity. Anyone who has read the Fathers would know this, yet presupposition ii. above lies beneath much discourse about early Christianity. One can only hope Fr. John Behr and others of the current orthodox resurgence in Patristics can help dispel these false visions.

Here it is:

The Second Lecture: ‘Male and Female He Created Them’

With the second lecture, I was a bit more out of my league. I don’t even think I can properly reiterate his thoughts without getting into hot water with gender studies people. But it was a good, challenging talk! He addressed the question of men and women and humanness primarily through the Old and New Testaments, but drawing in strands of thought from rabbinical teachings, modern commentaries, modern Orthodox theologians, and the Fathers. I highly recommend it, especially if matters surrounding gender are important to you. It is available through the lovely people at Ancient Faith Radio.

Liturgical Translations

Tonight I began translating the Gelasian Sacramentary (a digitised version is here). Given that a. my current research is into sixth-century Greek & Syriac saints’ lives and b. my future research is into fifth-century papal correspondence, this project will take a while.

Nevertheless, I believe a translation of this sacramentary is a worthwhile and important object — and not only of this sacramentary but of the Leonine and Gregorian Sacramentaries as well. Why?

I’ve been thinking about the (New) Liturgical Movement — the move for modern liturgies that began in the 1960’s and has given us the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) for the Anglican Church of Canada, the Alternate Service Book and Common Worship for the Church of England, the Novus Ordo for Roman Catholics, similar liturgies for Lutherans (Book of Worship?), a host of prayer resources such as Celtic Daily Prayer or Celebrating Common Prayer, and a proliferation of liturgies for special occasions or individuals at the local church or small group level. And the Taizé office and music.

All of this is well and good, although sometimes I have my reservations about particular moments in the Liturgical Movement. One of the reservations I have is that sometimes the Liturgical Movement, like the evangelical equivalent of Contemporary Worship, does not drink deeply enough.

Edith M. Humphrey, before she became Eastern Orthodox, recommended that writers of new songs of worship begin by drawing on the Psalms. I would echo that, calling them also to immerse themselves in the old hymns both musically and textually for a while.

For the liturgists, an immersion in the Psalms would be helpful. Also helpful would be the vast resources of the ancient and mediaeval church. For the liturgical reformers of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, this was a real possibility. Men like Quignon, Luther, Cranmer, and the editors of the 1570 Roman Missal, all knew Latin and probably Greek as well.

This meant that as they sought to reform the liturgy, they had access to centuries of liturgical writing, and we can see that Cranmer certainly put this to good use in his famous Collects that draw heavily upon the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries and his daily office includes a prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (which, incidentally, is also present in that of St. Basil the Great).

Today’s liturgists, be they clergy or worship leaders or diocesan committees or church-wide committees often lack this knowledge of obsolete languages. Thus, it is harder for them to drink deeply as did their forebears. One result is collects that aren’t even properly collects, for example (as lamented somewhere on Liturgy).

Accessible translations of ancient and mediaeval liturgical texts is a worthy endeavour. As you can see, I have already done some of this with the Mediaeval Wedding and the Mediaeval Vespers (both Sarum Use). More needs to be done, for although the Sarum Missal has been translated into English (here for the Mass, here for the book on Amazon), the Sarum Breviary has not (at least, not in its entirety).

I believe that translations of liturgical texts from the long and venerable tradition of western liturgy would be a blessing to the Liturgical Movement. What do you think?