Yesterday I made this video, but I wasn’t able to promote it on my blog. More shameless self-promotion for my upcoming Davenant Hall course, “Christianity Before Constantine”. Enjoy!
Today is the Feast of St John Chrysostom, so when I prayed Morning Prayer (using the Prayer Book Society of Canada’s Daily Prayer App!), the prayer included at the close, taken from his Divine Liturgy, stood out more than usual. This prayer is where Anglicans will have most likely seen his name, if ever:
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests: Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.
I have not delved into the secondary literature on late antique and Byzantine liturgy too deeply, but I do know that this prayer is also in the Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great — so either it is deeply traditional and included by both, or it is newer than both and incorporated later. Both are options; I do not have the facilities or research skills to answer the question.
Nonetheless, it is a great prayer, and it reminds us of how powerful a thing it is when we pray together, be it Morning Prayer or Evensong, a prayer before Bible study, family prayers after a meal, or a husband and wife before bed. When two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, He will grant their requests. The next time your church service has a low turnout (as in, this coming Sunday, what with lockdowns and all), praise God for His mighty power that is present!
This prayer, as I noted above, is from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the Eucharistic liturgy used by the Eastern Orthodox Church as its regular liturgy. It is not quite as long as that of St Basil (but it’s still a time commitment, O Protestants who want things short and snappy), but it is beautiful and theologically powerful AND ancient.
When I say this liturgy is ancient, I’m not just repeating what an Orthodox priest once told me (although, in fact, I am). First, of course, the Words of Institution from 1 Corinthians 11, used in/adapted for traditional liturgies, are an actual apostolic liturgy. This passage is not St Paul’s own words; this passage, like a few others in his epistles, is a liturgical quotation. St Paul heard this at church — probably from St Peter and St James, frankly.
Second — setting aside for a moment the question of wording — the very structure of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, like that of the Roman Mass, the Book of Common Prayer, the Divine Liturgy of St James, the Divine Liturgy of Addai and Mari, etc., matches what we find in first- and second-century descriptions such as the Didache and Justin Martyrs.
Third, various traditional parts of this liturgy pre-date St John Chrysostom: the sursum corda — that part of the liturgy that includes “Lift up your hearts” — and the Sanctus — “Holy, holy, holy Lord” — come immediately to mind.
Fourth, in an illuminating article the reference to which I do not have, Robert Taft demonstrates, using data analysis, that at least the anaphora of this Divine Liturgy, beginning with the sursum corda and continuing to at least the epiclesis is actually by St John Chrysostom, being his own reworking of traditional material from the Church of Antioch. Chrysostom died in 407, so this is also ancient.
Fifth, a variety of the prayers found elsewhere in the Divine Liturgy, while not by Chrysostom, can be traced to other ancient figures or ancient moments in history, such as Romanos the Melodist in the sixth century and John of Damascus in the eighth.
What’s the upshot of all this? Well, if you want to encounter ancient Christian worship, here it is. I mean, not entirely. For example, if you go to an Orthodox church, the icon screen and the serving of the elements with a spoon are mediaeval developments. But the vast majority of what goes on here is, in fact, ancient or has ancient precedent.
We are reminded of the power liturgy can have to help transform us by renewing of our minds. An example of how it shapes our theology is when it echoes Chrysostom’s work On the Incomprehensibility of God:
You, O God, are ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, existing forever, forever the same, You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.
Straight from there, we find some of the main themes of St Athanasius’ On the Incarnation being bodied forth:
You brought us out of nothing into being, and when we had fallen away, You raised us up again. You left nothing undone until you had led us up to heaven and granted us Your Kingdom, which is to come.
Throughout, the theology of the Eucharist and of salvation by Christ our God, is pressed home in the Divine Liturgy. At this moment in time, I see nothing in the Anaphora that should trouble me. Indeed, most Protestant liturgies I’ve met pale in comparison! This is a spiritual worship.
Also, and here I get controversial — what worship is shaping our congregations? Are we cutting verses to hymns because they’re too long? Swapping theologically rich worship for emotionally satisfying singing? Putting on a feel-good show but neglecting the spiritual act of worship? I encourage you to read this text and meditate on what you do on a Sunday morning, especially if you are clergy or a worship leader. What might change in light of the theological thunder of Chrysostom’s liturgy?
I circle back to the Prayer Book. The one question that has been lurking all day is — where did Cranmer get it? I mean, he must have had a copy of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Print? Manuscript? Where did it come from? How widespread were Byzantine liturgical books in England at the time? Who knows the answers to these questions?
This coming Tuesday is the feast of St James, the brother of our Lord, and first bishop of Jerusalem. To celebrate this feast, my church has decided to worship using the Liturgy of St James! How cool is that? This is precisely the sort of way I would like to celebrate a saint as well — worship God in a way (descended from how) he did!
For example, reading St Anselm’s Meditations on the feast of St Anselm. Using a 1552 BCP to commemorate Cranmer? Using the Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes on his commemoration. Praying the Jesus Prayer to commemorate St Gregory Palamas. Or maybe reading The Triads. I like reading their works — read Ambrose on his feast, Augustine on his own, likewise Basil, the Gregories, Chrysostom. Read about Augustine of Canterbury for his. That sort of thing.
And what is the Divine Liturgy of St James?
It is one of the oldest liturgies of the church, especially when we reduce the body of liturgies examined to those in continual use. Some suspect it is the oldest, but that’s a difficult thing to prove definitively. It is a traditional eucharistic liturgy from the church in Jerusalem, hence its association with St James. The traditional liturgy of a city is often associated with its first bishop, or, at least, a famous one — so, St Mark in Alexandria, but St Ambrose in Milan and St Gregory the Great in Rome.
It is unlikely to have been the actual divine liturgy used by St James, just as the entirety of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is not John Chrysostom’s (the anaphora is, though, as demonstrated by Robert Taft some years ago). From what I gather over at the OrthodoxWiki, the liturgy as we have it is probably a fourth-century version of the traditional Jerusalem liturgy, maybe from the time of St Cyril.
That said, there is definitely a pre-Cyril, indeed Ante-Nicene, substratum to this text. Some claim that you can see elements of Aramaic idiom in some parts of the liturgy. This I cannot say, but I can say that to this day it is the divine liturgy of many Syriac-speaking churches. It includes the ‘lift up your hearts’ (sursum corda) section at the beginning of the anaphora, in common, then, with the third-century Apostolic Tradition (attributed by scholars to Hippolytus), the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the Roman Mass, and the Book of Common Prayer.
It is a beautiful liturgy, full of deep theology — read it here.
What do we gain if, this Tuesday, we celebrate Holy Communion with this liturgy, like the Eastern Orthodox churches (and my church)?
Well, regardless of which liturgy one uses, the mystic union of the sacrament of Holy Communion is always a moment of grace. In less important ways, using this liturgy is a way to connect through time and space with other Christians and honour one of the leading apostles. Praying these prayers joins with many centuries of Christian worship. It joins us with Jerusalem, the Holy City. It cuts through time and space.
That’s pretty cool. It thus serves as a reminder of the ongoing reality of our holy, wholly powerful, God.
The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari, ll. 14-18:
Thy majesty, O my Lord, a thousand thousand heavenly beings and myriad myriads of angels adore and the hosts of spiritual beings, the ministers of fire and of spirit, glorifying thy name with the cherubim and the holy seraphim, ceaselessly crying out and glorifying and calling to one another and saying: Holy, holy, holy … (Trans. A. Gelston)
The prayer whence comes this quotation is a mediaeval East Syrian (ie. ‘Nestorian’) Eucharistic prayer, still recited to this day in Syriac in the Assyrian Orthodox Church and not much changed from its reconstructed fifth-century predecessor. This Eucharistic prayer is interesting to me because it has an unequivocal statement of God becoming incarnate and suffering and dying — the sort of thing one would expect from my Monophysite friends of the Syrian Orthodox Church. It serves as a reminder that to box in the living Church according to the disputes and anathemas of centuries past can make one lose sight of the true faith of the people involved.
Of course, the reason I draw your attention to this prayer is the passage quoted above. It is beautiful. It is a beautiful, lyrical passage, clearly stemming from the same people whence Ephraim the Syrian sprang. This brief moment from the East Syrian liturgy stirs my heart to worship the Almighty God — and much more so than the worship song the radio plays right now that has been repeating the line, “I’m so deep in love,” about ten times before getting around to, “with you.” (With whom? I was too focussed on myself and forgot.)
Noting the incongruity, I am now playing Striggio’s Missa “Ecco Si Beata Giorno” — the Mass in 40 Parts.
I’m not actually here to rag on the contemporary worship music scene. I trust God enough to know that He does great work through it and receives due glory from those who worship with it. However, I am here to draw attention to the magnificent beauty of the ancient, Mediaeval, and Renaissance liturgies — their hymns, their prayers, their music.
“When through the woods and forest glades I wander / And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, / And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze,” not only does my soul want to sing, “How great Thou art,” unto the wondrous Creator God, it also wants to sing, “How beautiful thou art!’
God has created a wondrous, beautiful world, and it is only fitting that our worship of him be beautiful as well. This is part of the fabric of the Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari. This is what drove men like Striggio to compose wondrous things like a mass in 40 (40!!) parts. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised!
Plunging into the tradition, rediscovering the riches of things like the Gelasian Sacramentary (as I currently am) is as important as rediscovering the ancient and mediaeval theologians. Often when we look upon the offerings from Patristic blogs or at the upcoming Oxford Patristics Conference or anywhere interested in the Fathers, we find a lot of thoughts about the theology and doctrine of the Fathers, maybe some information about Church History in the Patristic Age, but less about the worship of the Fathers.
Now, I realise that part of this is because of how complicated the liturgical legacy of the Fathers is. If you take any of the Eastern divine liturgies, such as the one quoted above, or those attributed to Sts. John Chrysostom and Basil the Great, you find the words and order for worship of something that has been in constant use since the fourth or fifth century (with roots stretching earlier than that).
How can we disentangle Chrysostom from the later Byzantine worshippers? It is a task scholars spend entire careers doing. However, we still have many individual prayers from the Patristic age as well as other poems and songs, such as:
St. Ambrose’s hymns (remember this from before?), St. Ephraim the Syrian’s hymns (such as those on the Nativity), St. Romanos the Melodist’s hymns (as here), and the hymns and poetry of Prudentius (as here) would probably be good places to start. They are allusive and beautiful, tuning and turning our thoughts upwards towards God Almighty and the worship of him alone.
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?
My musings upon the impact of the Desert Fathers are a reminder that the Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity is a very connected place, and thus patristic writers and thinkers do not operate in vacuums. There is, indeed, a fundamental interconnectedness of all things (to quote Dirk Gently as well as recall Robert E Webber, Ancient-Future Faith).
The ascetic world produces some of the interconnectedness, as seen in yesterday’s post. St. Athanasius and the Desert Fathers knew one another. He was not only the biographer of St. Antony, but a great theologian who lived with the abbas and ammas whilst in exile. Evagrius Ponticus came to the Desert from the court in Constantinople. He brought with him the teachings of Origen, and although he had to learn humility, there is no doubt that Origen and other non-monastic teachers had an impact upon the thoughts and lives of the abbas and ammas.
St. Basil the Great spent time with the monks of Egypt, after which he decided that coenobitic (or cenobitic) monasticism was the way forward, for how can you love your neighbour or be the servant of all if you live alone? Thus he wrote his Asketikon which influences Eastern Orthodox monasticism today. He was also a brilliant theologian, whose work On the Holy Spirit I have blogged about here. The relationship between Egyptian monasticism and St. Basil’s ascetic writings is worth exploring.
St. Basil wrote/edited a/the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic liturgy in Caesarea, Cappadocia. This work resounds with words, images, and ideas found in the later and more commonly used Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in Constantinople. Both of them demonstrate that they are of the same lineage as the 1st-century Didache and second-century Apostolic Constitutions of St. Hippolytus in Rome. They are also clearly related to the liturgy of St. Gregory of the Great in the sixth century.
The liturgical world of worship was very much rooted in the same tradition, as we see in Taft’s work The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West where we see the daily office’s similarities in the Spanish, Celtic, and Roman traditions of the West, as well as of the Byzantine, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Assyrian, Indian traditions of the East. There is a common ancestry amongst all the historic churches of the world, and we see it in the fundamental interconnectedness of their worship.
It is present as well in the world of theology, although cultural and linguistic differences begin fraying the fabric of the Church Catholic by the fifth century at latest. St. Augustine’s teaching on the Trinity does not differ from the Cappadocians‘. The doctrine of impassibility — troubling to moderns — was held by so many so strongly that St. Cyril of Alexandria had to defend himself from accusations surrounding the alleged heresy of “theopaschism,” the idea that God can suffer.
The core of the faith, the rule of faith, is subscribed to by Justin, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and all the Fathers after Nicaea. There is one faith, one hope, one baptism, one God and Father of all.
I’m running out of specifics from my mind itself; I’ll write more on this later when I have my notes on hand. Keep a lookout! The tag will be interconnectedness.
I have some thoughts ensuing from my last post. The first is about music. This blog is primarily about classic Christianity as revealed through texts. A discussion of Haydn’s Creation and the doctrine of creation is not about any classic texts of the faith, and a significant portion of it was about a teaching or idea. However, a discussion of a piece of classical music such as that is consonant with the aims of Classic Christianity as seen in the sidebar on the main page.
The riches of the Great Tradition are not only locked away between the covers of books. Another of the places where Christians can find the richness of the past ages is the arts. Haydn’s Creation carries within it pieces of the tradition, truths that are timeless, enrobing them in the flesh of music. The beauty of Haydn’s composition sings forth the beauty of creation.
Haydn’s Creation is but one example of many, but is an entrance into one facet of how music can carry the tradition through the ages. Similar to Creation is Handel’s Messiah, also an oratorio, recounting the life and theology of the Messiah in beautiful music with words all taken from Scripture. Within that tradition of performance-oriented classical music we also have Bach’s cantatas based on the passion narratives of the Gospels, Brahms’ German Requiem, and Stravinksy’s Symphony of Psalms among others. All of this music captures in some way some aspect of the Great Tradition. All of this music is worth listening to as music, as art. And, I believe, all of this music is a vehicle of God’s grace and revelation.
Most Christian music, however, has been composed for use in worship. The earliest surviving music is the chant of the ancient churches, Gregorian, Byzantine, Syrian, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Armenian. Related to these are Anglican plainsong and the chant of the Slavic churches. This music is filled with an austere beauty and able to create space for worship of a type that modern worship music does not. The Renaissance produced music so beautiful one imagines that the angels in heaven must use it as they gather around the Throne of the Almighty, especially Palestrina but also Tallis, Allegri, and others. All of this ancient, beautiful music for worship stands within the same musical tradition and is very valuable.
Composers of classical music have also written music for times of worship. Tchaikovsky wrote settings for the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Monteverdi wrote Vespers. Verdi and Mozart both wrote Requiems. Vivaldi wrote a Mass. Their music has also been applied to hymns by different lyricists, such as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” providing the tune to “Joyful, Joyful.”
Also important is the tradition of hymnody. I speak now of music with English lyrics. These old hymns are worthy to be sung in congregations all of the world. The best of them have resonant theology with captivating music. My favourite hymnographers are Charles Wesley and John Mason Neale. Some of my favourite hymns by other writers are “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus,” “I Cannot Tell Why He Whom Angels Worship,” “As I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
In modern worship, these hymns sometimes fall through the cracks as we seek to be cool and contemporary and relevant, singing only the newest and hippest songs. Yet these songs, these tunes with these words, connect us to the tradition of Christians who have gone before us, passing along their thoughts and theology, their beauty and sense of holiness. I encourage leaders of worship to keep the hymns in the repertoire amongst the newer songs.
Exciting to my mind are some new hymns that have been produced (we’re talking hymn as a musical genre). The only things that come immediately to mind are “In Christ Alone,” and “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” Other musicians who have kept links to the old music, old poems, and old theology have produced new music for liturgical settings, as John Michael Talbot who has essentially produced the entire Mass and Steve Bell who has a version of the Sanctus, “Holy Lord.” Steve Bell has also recorded musically new yet truly old songs on his album Devotion, though these are not all his own compositions.
A study of the old music is important for those who wish to engage in the creation of new music. Some churches act as though only the old is worth singing; this is not true, for the old was once the new. Some churches act as though only the new is worth singing; this is also not true, for the new is untested and untried. A combination of the two is worth singing, in my opinion. However, a knowledge of this old music, of Haydn, Palestrina, Tchaikovsky, Wesley, and Neale, of what has gone before, will undoubtedly deepen the new music, as a knowledge of old poetry can deepen new poetry, that of old theology new theology, that of old paintings new paintings and so forth.
Since we’re talking about music, I do listen to some new Christian music besides John Michael Talbot and Steve Bell. I am a fan of Rich Mullins and dc Talk (both “old” new music by now), some Newsboys, Jars of Clay, and Third Day as well as a certain amount of new worship songs by the likes of Matt Redman and people whose names escape me (except — because I worship at Little T — Mike Janzen and — because I’m kind of oldskool — Graham Kendrick).
Music is an important part of the life of church, ancient and modern, old and new. We should tap the resources of this vast tradition that spreads out behind as well as all around us.
I have a strange habit of collecting liturgies. Right now I’m house-cat-dog-sitting for my parents while they’re out of the country. For this trip, I brought both the Book of Common Prayer and Celebrating Common Prayer. Back home in Toronto, I have an older BCP with the text of 1662, the Book of Alternative Services, and The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom. I used to own the Roman Lauds, Vespers, Compline, but I found that it was just modern translations of things for which I had better, more beautiful translations in the BCP. I think that is all the books of liturgies I own.*
In a file folder I also have liturgies borrowed and pilfered from various churches and events, including at least one I composed myself. On this computer, I have a folder called “Medieval Liturgy,” in which you can find “Tridentine Vespers” (a translation of the same cut and pasted from www.breviary.net), “OE Benedictine Office” (containing prefaces for Morning and Evening prayer in Old English from a Benedictine breviary), and “A Mediaeval Vespers” (my personal translation and tweaking of the Sarum Vespers for Tuesdays). Lying on my desk at home is a liturgical reflection on the Trinity from a mediaeval English prayer book waiting to be taken from Latin into English.
Today I was quite pleased to receive in the mail more liturgies!
These are those used by an Anglican priest of my acquaintance in Cyprus. They are “A Service of Scripture and Prayer for Morning and Evening,” “Canticles,” and two different versions of “A Service of Morning Prayer.” Just before writing this I used “A Service of Scripture and Prayer for Morning and Evening.” I liked it! Since I’ve been using the BCP lectionary for my personal Bible readings, I just slipped them in for the lessons!
I like liturgical prayer for various reasons, some of them noted in my post on the Daily Office. Sometimes I feel a bit bewildered by the array of liturgies available for use these days — for the office, for the Eucharist, for specific occasions, for use by families, for all sorts of reasons, times, and places. However, there is some comfort in it. The regularity of the BCP is strong, sustaining, comforting, rooted.
But sometimes . . .
Sometimes, you want new words, and not necessarily your own. Raised evangelical/charismatic, I’m well-acquainted with extemporaneous prayer. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to try out new words that aren’t your own. Words or structures of prayer that you haven’t seen yet. Or a new version of an old thing. These arrays of liturgies now pouring out into the world since the liturgical “renewal” of the sixties/seventies can be a blessing to those things.
Nevertheless . . . nevertheless, with all my liturgies, I’m still rooted to and with the BCP with its beautiful Elizabethan language and strong Reformation theology. Were I stranded on a desert island and could have only two books, one would be my travel-sized NKJV (you need something portable on those desert islands) and the other would be my aged, weatherworn BCP.
*I have other books of prayers, though, such as A St. Francis Prayer Book, and a book of prayers for men, and Sr. Benedicta Ward’s translation of The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm. Plus, of course, the Hymn Book.