Catholic CornucopiadCheney

Part II: The Middle Ages

Chapter II: From Charlemagne to the End of the Fourteenth Century

From St. Gregory to Charlemagne, 591-814

Section 2.—The Divine Office from St. Gregory VII. (1073) to Innocent III. (1198)

The Roman Breviary: Its Sources and History

Has the Roman office any history during this period, or even from the time of Charlemagne, i.e. during almost four centuries? It would appear not, according to M. Batififol’s History of the Roman Breviary. There one reads, p. 158 (Eng. ed.): “The Roman office, such as we have seen it to be in the time of Charlemagne, held its ground at Rome itself in the customs of the basilicas without any sensible modification throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries, and even down to the close of the twelfth;” and, a little earlier, p. 134, à propos of a decree of St. Gregory VII: “The Roman office of the eighth century remained intact at Rome in the eleventh, and .... those liturgists are mistaken who have looked upon this decree as a reform on the part of Gregory VII., making a fresh regulation as to the office, when in reality he was but confirming the custom of the eighth century.”

Who the liturgists mentioned in this passage are is told us by M. Batiffol in an article in the Bulletin critique (1st January 1892, p. 12): “Dom Guéranger croyait à cette prétendue réforme; mais il n’en a pas donné une seule bonne preuve, et j’en ai cherché vainement dans l’article de D. Bäumer consacré à cette même question.”1

These, then, are the two authors whom Mgr. Batiffol controverts, and from whom he frankly declares his disagreement. Dom Guéranger is not alive to undertake his own defence, and perhaps he might yield something to the opinion of his opponent. In his Institutions liturgiques (vol. i. p. 281, ed. Palmé, 1880), he thus describes the work of St. Gregory VII.: “His labours had for their object the reduction of the divine office .... St. Gregory VII. abridged the order of the prayers and simplified the liturgy for the use of the Roman curia. It would be difficult at the present time to ascertain accurately the complete form of the office before this revision, but since then it has remained almost identical with what it was at the end of the eleventh century.”

Dom Bäumer, after the sweeping statement just quoted, felt bound to study the question once more. The following is his answer to the criticism:2 “If Dom Guéranger was mistaken in attributing to St Gregory VII. too great a share in giving to the Roman office its definite form, M. Batiffol is also mistaken in stating that the office remained stationary and underwent no modifications from the ninth to the twelth centuries.”

The views of Dom Bäumer on this particular point may thus be summarized: the Roman Breviary, during the period alluded to by M. Batiffol, underwent a development and received alterations in which St. Gregory VII. had a share. The proofs to the contrary alleged by his opponent seemed very weak to the learned Benedictine; those upon which he himself relies consist in a simple outline of the history of the office—this we summarize as follows:—

First of all, M. Batiffol’s opinion (p. 134) that the decree of Gregory VII. shows an arrangement of Matins identical with that described by Amalarius about 830 proves nothing. The truth is that the Matins described by Amalarius, the Matins prescribed by Gregory VII., and the Matins in the existing Roman Breviary are one and the same, inasmuch as they have twelve psalms and three lections for ferias, nine psalms and nine lections for festivals, and for Sundays eighteen psalms and nine lections. What we have previously said is sufficient to show that there may be other elements contained in the Breviary.

As a matter of fact, the references in the Antiphonary to the Responsory of St. Peter’s of the twelfth century which have been appealed to rather go to prove that modifications similar to those made by Helisachar and Amalarius (see above, pp. 87, 88) were effected in St. Peter’s. M. Batiffol himself describes the non-Roman custom presented by the Antiphonary of St. Peter’s of adding the suffrages to the offices of Lauds and Vespers as a novelty. The testimony of Abelard, which is next appealed to, does not favour the view of M. Batiffol, for Abelard is dealing with a problem which is always turning up in the history of liturgy— how to explain the ever renewed efforts after ritual uniformity and the ever recurring difficulty in its realisation. In speaking of the Ordines Romani of the twelfth century, M. Batiffol confuses the ceremonies with the office or text of the office itself. Although the office may have remained unchanged when the ceremonial was unaltered, we have no right to infer the identity of the office from the identity of the ceremonial, provided we have reasons for believing that certain modifications were made in the text. Indeed, the history of the changes in the Roman ceremonial depends upon causes very different from those which led to the transformation of the office, such as the frequent and prolonged absences of the pope and the curia from Rome. But this is a question which cannot be treated here in detail.

We must then, says Dom Bäumer, approach the history of the divine office during this period from another point of view.

1. Before St. Gregory VII., the political and religious changes immediately following upon the splendours of Charlemagne’s reign throw light upon the contemporary history of the liturgy. It cannot be denied that the Carolingian sovereigns and those of the dynasty of Otho had much to do with the formation of certain rites. They owed this influence to their taste for grand liturgical functions, and to their appreciation of the civilizing power of the Catholic liturgy. A glance at the religious, political, and social events of which Rome was the scene shows that the Roman church during the tenth and eleventh centuries was in a sadly moribund condition, while Germany and Burgundy were full of intense intellectual activity and religious life. In Rome, during the opening years of the eleventh century, the chief basilicas were almost deserted even on festivals; the offices of Good Friday, so full of symbolism and depth, were performed “in an irreverent manner, and replaced by a mutilated and disfigured office.” It is Pope John XIX. himself who says so in 1026.

A strong desire was then manifested to improve the celebration of divine service. This same year, 1026, the monk Guy of Arezzo was sent to Rome, and by a papal bull the wretched performance of the offices of Holy Week was replaced by a more worthy ceremonial. All this was doubtless in preparation for the emperor’s coronation, and to spare him the surprise which his predecessor St. Henry had felt when assisting at the sacred rites. One thing, however, is certain—the text and arrangement of Guy of Arezzo’s Antiphonary must have led to innovations in Rome rather than to the preservation of the traditional statu quo. That it was so appears from the fact that Guy, in his restoration of the ancient authentic chant, permitted “enrichments” in the shape of sequences and tropes which were much thought of at that date. There was thus a restoration effected at Rome which must have attained its fullest dimensions and attracted the attention all during the pontificate of St. Gregory VII.

2. Indeed the monk Hildebrand, when he became pope (1073), bethought himself of the reform of 1026, of which he had doubtless been a witness. He felt convinced that, in order to purify the church from the Teutonic leaven and bring back her primitive magnificence, it was necessary to establish once more the ancient Roman rite, and to this object he devoted part of his energies. As in the time of St. Gregory the Great, the main difficulty consisted in the burden of the long Matins (Vigils). Attempts had been made to render this burden more tolerable. Thus a custom had been introduced into some Roman churches of reciting only three psalms and three lections.3 Gregory VII. seized the opportunity of expressing his disapproval of this new practice at his first Lenten Synod which met in 1074. He commanded the resumption of the practice described in part by Amalarius, i.e., on ferias, twelve psalms and three lections; on festivals, nine psalms and nine lections; on Sundays throughout the year, eighteen psalms and nine lections. During the octaves of Easter and Pentecost, when much time was occupied with the administration of baptism, three psalms and three lections only were recited. At the Lenten Synod of 1078, St. Gregory VII. put an end to another abuse opposed to the true tradition of the Roman church. This consisted in observing the Embertides in the first week of March, the second of June, the third of September, and the fourth of December. Gregory found fault with this custom, which was quite unauthorized, and ordained once for all that the Ember days were to be observed in the first week of Lent and in Whit week. His decision was founded upon the practice of the pontiffs his predecessors, as we find described in the Liber Pontificalis. Gregory VII. was animated by the same spirit when he suppressed the Mozarabic liturgy, and decided that the feasts of the popes who were martyrs should be celebrated as doubles throughout the church. Thus this pope, in the midst of the grave problems which then presented themselves, and while he was occupied with most important political transactions, found time and leisure to attend to liturgical details. The restoration of the Roman liturgy formed an element in his general policy. He laboured to revive Roman usages in opposition to the invasion of innovations from without.

3. The conflict with the secular power was continued after Gregory’s death, but his immediate successors, Cluniacs or Burgundians rather than Romans, did not show an equal zeal in advancing the regeneration of Rome in matters affecting the liturgy and discipline. There is nothing, then, astonishing in the fact that some years later, about 1140, Abelard should say that the ancient Roman ordo of the divine office was followed in the Lateran basilica alone, while all the other churches had adopted a modernized office. This evidence is important, showing as it does that the office then performed in the papal chapel inside the Lateran palace differed from that performed in the great patriarchal basilica adjoining the palace. From a ceremonial drawn up by the canon, Benedict, before 1143, it appears that great things were expected from the new state of things consequent upon the return to Rome of Innocent II. Indeed, from Urban II., the popes and their court were for the most part elsewhere than in the Eternal City, and thus the divergences between the Use of the papal chapel and the office of the Lateran basilica became more marked. The canon Benedict’s ceremonial soon became impracticable: it is doubtful if it was followed for more than a year by the curia in the performance of its office. When the papal court was in exile there were no longer fixed rules depending upon times, place, and tradition for the conduct of papal functions. Even in Rome, the pope's absence must have lessened the authority and importance of the rites performed “without the pope,” and the influence which they had exercised upon other churches. Henceforth it was the usages of the curia (Consuetudo capellæ papalis) which laid down the law for a papal function. But the curia was no longer fixed in Rome, but wherever the pope might happen to be. A vain attempt was made during the residence of the popes in Rome from 1187 to 1198 to restore the ceremonial of the Roman church in accordance with ancient tradition (Ordo Romanus XII. written by Cardinal Cencius under Celestine III.).4 The ritual of the papal chapel attained an independent position of its own, and became the preponderating factor in the history of the Roman Breviary.

1 “Dom Guéranger believed in this pretended reform; but he does not produce one solid argument in support of it, and I have sought in vain for proofs in the article which Dom Bäumer has devoted to the same question.”
2 Histoire du Brév. rom., ii. p. 5.
3 M. Batiffol, p. 172, note 2 (Eng. trans.), quotes a passage from St. Peter Damian referring to this practice.
4 See the ordo in Migne, Patr, Lat., lxxviii. 1063-1106.