Catholic CornucopiadCheney

Part II: The Middle Ages

III. The Roman Breviary from the End of the Fourteenth Century to the Middle of the Sixteenth

Section 2.—Attempts at Reform Before the Council of Trent

The Roman Breviary: Its Sources and History

I. Efforts made by the Popes:—In the second half of the fifteenth century a new era seemed to dawn, in which Rome was to be the centre of science, art, and religious life. The attempts of Nicholas V. (1455) paved the way for a revival of truly Christian life in Italy and in other lands. This reform, however, was not lasting. Those about the pope, in the fear of losing their benefices if abuses were abolished, did all they could to place obstacles in his way. Under Calixtus III. and Pius II., we find several papal masters of ceremonies who carefully collected the traditions of a better age, and endeavoured to preserve them intact. Julius II. (1503-1513) was rather embarrassed on all sides by wars and disturbances. Leo X. (15 1 3-1 521) was enthusiastic for pagan ideas. Under him, whatever was done in the way of change or correction is sure to bear the stamp of humanism. Under such conditions, the attempts of a Nicholas of Cusa and a Domenico de Domenichi are all the more deserving of praise. These men, moved by a serious enthusiasm for the restoration of the liturgy, proposed certain reforms, and drew up schemes for the more correct observance of the canonical regulations, and, above all, for celebrating the canonical hours with greater dignity, and their attempts produced lasting results. The care shown by Sixtus IV. for the solemn celebration of the office and for the liturgical chant in the foundation of the Sistine chapel (1471-1481) did not in any way affect the Breviary or the office in itself.

2. Individual Attempts:—Two currents, to which a third was soon added, began to exert themselves in transforming the divine office — the humanist, the traditional, and the golden mean. A word must be said in explanation of each in order to show the character of the attempts made at this time to reform the liturgy.

(a) The humanist school, represented by Bembo, Ferreri, Marsilio Ficino, Pomponazzi, Bessarion, Leo X., considered that the fault of the Breviary lay in its inelegant language. The ideal of this school was an office book written in Ciceronian Latin, with hymns modelled as closely as possible upon the odes of Horace. One must avoid, Bembo says somewhere, “maculam illam jam per tot sæcula illi hominum generi (priests and religious) inustam quod scribendi non calleat elegantiam.” Accordingly, certain of the higher and lower clergy began, “in order to avoid spoiling their good taste,” to recite the office in Greek, and the psalms and other parts in Hebrew. Ferreri undertook the correction of the Breviary, and began with a new collection of hymns, because, from the point of view of classic ideals, the hymns seemed to be the part of the Breviary most devoid of taste. Leo X., who had suggested this undertaking, and encouraged Ferreri in his attempts, did not live long enough to see the work completed. It appeared in February 1525. Everything is new: nothing of the ancient chants is preserved; a few obscure reminiscences recall slightly the ancient hymns. For the old verse

Ave maris Stella
Dei Mater alma
Atque semper virgo
Felix cceli porta,

we have—

Ave, superna janua,
Ave beata semita,
Salus periclitantibus
Et ursa navigantibus.

The author frequently, and with an almost incredible naivete, introduced heathen expressions, allusions, and types. The Holy Trinity is called triforme numen Olympi; of our blessed Lady it is said: “Belluam tristem Phlegethontis atri interemisti, superosque nobis conciliasti.” True, by the side of these, we find some magnificent strophes, in which the parables and characters of Scripture, the characteristic features of the lives of the saints, and Christian doctrines and ideas shine out like precious stones in the setting of classical phraseology in which they are placed. Dom Guéranger1 singles out as especially simple and beautiful the hymn for the common of Apostles and Evangelists:—

Gaudete mundi principes
Qui veritatis dogmate
Vita profusa et sanguine
Plantastis omnem ecclesiam.

The use of the new hymns was allowed by Clement VII. in the private recitation of the Breviary. The hymnal announced the early appearance of a Breviary drawn up upon a new plan by the same author, which was to be conspicuous for brevity, convenience, and freedom from errors of all kinds. This plan, however, was never realized.

(b) The traditional school comprised men of piety, of deep religious feeling, from Raoul of Tongres (†1401) to Burchard of Strassburg, who were strongly attached to liturgical tradition; among them the Theatines, Caraffa, afterwards Pope Paul IV, and, later on, John de Arze, were their chief representatives. These champions of ancient rites, formulas, and texts were ready to admit the defects of the Breviary at this period, i.e. the excessive number of festivals, the too frequent omission of the lections from Scripture, along with the psalms for Sundays and ferias, apocryphal legends, and, chief of all, the accumulation of several offices on the same day. Their love for the past, however, was perhaps excessive.

(c) The moderate school was represented by Cardinal Francis Quignonez, a Spaniard, who before his elevation to the cardinalate had been general of the Franciscans; Reginald Pole; Contarini; Sadolet and the Benedictine Gregory Cortesius, who had been cardinal since 1542. These also set a high value on a polished classical style, pure latinity, and well-turned periods, but, at the same time, laid the chief stress on a dignified Christian spirit.

3. Cardinal Quignonez and the “Breviarium Sanctæ Crucis":—The work of Quignonez requires to be mentioned here on account of the influence it exercised on the Breviary put out later by St. Pius V., and because of the fact that, after enjoying great popularity during several years, it was afterwards so completely forgotten.

While the author of this new Breviary broke away from tradition and antiquity, it must be borne in mind that he did not undertake to compose a Breviary for public use in choir. An outline of his preface will give an idea of the plan he had in his mind. The church, he says, lays the obligation of reciting the Breviary upon the priest for three reasons—(a) because he is the official intermediary between God and the people; (b) in order that, while preserved from temptations through union with God in his thoughts and meditations, he may be an example to the faithful; (c) in order that he may gain sufficient knowledge, and a diction which may enable him to preach with good effect. Quignonez did not find these intentions of the church realized in the Breviaries of his day. He regards the Breviary itself as responsible for this, and draws a distinction between the public and the private recitation of the Breviary, the latter, in his opinion, being almost impossible owing to the arrangement of the existing Breviaries. The axe must therefore be laid to the root of the tree, and a complete re-arrangement effected.

In order that the entire psalter should be recited once each week, that the principal portions of Scripture should be read through once at least in the course of the year, that the office should be almost the same length every day, and that the Sunday office should not be of inordinate length, Quignonez determined—(A) Each hour was to be made up, as a rule, of three psalms, to which were added the Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis at Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. At Lauds, the Benedicite took the place of the third psalm. (B) The arrangement of the psalms was such that no psalm was repeated in the course of a week. (C) The lections were limited to three: the short lections in the little hours, Lauds and Vespers, disappeared altogether. The lections at Matins were drawn, the first from the Old Testament; the second from the New Testament; the third, on saints’ days, from the legend or acts of the saint, on Sundays, ferias, feasts of our Lord and our Lady, from the homilies of the Fathers, on the gospel for the day, and also from the New Testament. They were of considerable length, in order to ensure the reading of the chief part of the Old Testament and the whole of the New during the course of the year, and of the epistles of St. Paul twice. A choice was made among the legends, to the exclusion of those whose truth was doubtful. (D) There was thus greater simplicity, and the burden of the office was lightened. There was scarcely any difference between the Sunday and ferial offices and the offices for saints’ days. The only essentially variable parts of the office were the Invitatory, the hymns at Matins, Lauds, and Vespers, the Collect, and the third lection at Matins; to these were added the antiphons after 1536. The psalms were invariable, their selection depending solely upon the day of the week. (E) Everything else— versicles, great and little responds, chapters, and, in the edition of 1535, even the antiphons—was swept away. The office for the dead and the office of our Lady were restricted to a very few days in the year.

It is worthy of notice that some of the ideas of Quignonez were shared by others. Thus, one of the first authorities on liturgical matters at that period, the Blessed J. M. Tommasi, in a project he put out for a new Breviary intended for private use, held that the Holy See could well dispense the clergy from antiphons and responds when reciting the office out of choir. In this he relied upon certain well-known passages of the Apostolic Constitutions, of Amalarius and certain other writers, but these passages prove little when one remembers that before the fifth or sixth centuries the psalmody in the choir was very simple, and that in the time of Amalarius the impossibility of procuring the necessary office-books could excuse many things.

The Breviary of Quignonez was called the Breviarium Sanctæ Crucis because its author was known by the name of the Cardinal of Santa Croce, as he took his title from the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

Advantages of this Breviary:—The preface mentions three: those who adopt this manner of prayer will gain a knowledge of both Testaments by reading a considerable portion of them every year, they will also find great simplicity of arrangement coupled with brevity, and, although the lections are longer, yet there are only three, while in the old Breviaries there were more than twelve, with versicles and responds besides (i.e. counting the office of our Lady). The new arrangement prevents loss of time and lessens fatigue. The first two lections follow an invariable course throughout the year. Finally, the histories of the saints contain nothing offensive to the ears of the grave and learned.

Disadvantages of the Breviarium Sanctæ Crucis”;—The work of Quignonez was intended at first as only a provisional book for use in the private recitation of the office. It never enjoyed more than a “domestic” approbation from the pope. Paul III. permitted its use only to those clergy who individually asked for the permission. Although at first received with favour, it gave rise also to strong objections.

In 1535, the year of its appearance, it was strongly censured by the Sorbonne upon its arrival in France. The Faculté de Paris, to which the Parliament had referred the Breviary, convicted as audacious an author who suppressed ancient and universal customs, and broke away altogether from tradition in order to welcome all sorts of liturgical novelties.

This was also the view taken by celebrated theologians such as Dominic Soto, who could see no advantage in abandoning in this way the customs and practices of antiquity, and called attention to the grave results which would arise from the use of this new Breviary, such as dislike on the part of clergy for the public office, aversion from prayer, and carelessness in the service of God; and then, in the work itself, the frequent unsuitableness of the psalms recited to the mystery commemorated. For example, if the Nativity of our Lord or the Assumption fell on a Friday, the psalms 21 (Deus, Deus mens, respice), 68 (Salvum me fac, Deus), 70 (In te speravi), expressive of sadness, would come in Matins, while the mysteries speak of joy and happiness. Martin de Azpilcueta, known as the Doctor of Navarre, also remarks that while Quignonez laid great stress on Holy Scripture, suppressed legends without sufficient reason, avoided the confusion caused by the transference of feasts, procured more time of study for students, he yet cut out things of great importance on insufficient grounds.

The most decided and energetic condemnation of this Breviary came from the Spanish theologian John de Arze, one of the consultors at the Council of Trent, whom we have already mentioned. Like the Sorbonne and Soto, he finds fault with Quignonez for having rashly departed from ecclesiastical tradition and gone against the express decrees of the Holy See. The chief end of the Breviary is prayer and not instruction. To speak of brevity and convenience of arrangement, is only to cast dishonour upon the clergy and scandalize the laity, by reducing the daily obligations of the former while their incomes are increased. It is well known that those of the clergy who are most zealous and active in the cure of souls, in study, or in teaching, can yet find sufficient time for prayer, and experience great spiritual joy in reciting the antiphons, chapters, etc. To adopt this Breviary officially and universally would be to strip the divine office of its character as a witness to dogma which it has enjoyed from the earliest times. Finally, Quignonez is too severe in his criticisms on the legends, and, out of rationalistic zeal, has suppressed everything approaching the supernatural.

It may cause some astonishment to find a work approved of by the Holy See criticized in this style. but the terms in which Paul III. explained his intentions must not be left out of sight. “We grant,” he says, “to each and all of the secular clerks and clergy who shall desire to recite this office, and to them alone,2 to be no longer bound to the recitation of the ancient office now in use in the Roman Curia or in any other church. . . . Each of them is bound to obtain special leave from the Apostolic See to this effect.” Expressions such as these are far from a formal approbation.

Moreover, Quignonez, far from sheltering himself under this pronouncement, did not disdain to defend his Breviary against the Faculté de Paris, granting that it was a book like any other and must submit to public criticism; this is the substance of the preface to the new edition of 1536.

In spite of the enthusiasm with which the work was hailed at first, it did not live; it had a run of less than forty years. Even in 1558, Paul IV., without condemning its provisional employment, decided it was undesirable to authorize it to be reprinted.

Still, by the reception given to it, this Breviary indirectly prepared the way for the later reform carried out by St. Pius V. The Breviarium Pianum could not have replaced so easily the local Breviaries of various countries, provinces, dioceses, and monasteries, many of which could claim the presumption of an antiquity from three to five centuries, had not the forma brevis et expedita of Quignonez’s office already supplanted them. But we must reserve for the third part the explanation of the manner in which the Breviarium Sanctæ Crucis paved the way for the reform which followed immediately upon the Council of Trent.

1 Institute liturgiques, i. p. 355. ed. Palmé, 1880.
2 It is plain from this, says Dom Guéranger (Institut. Liturgiques, i. p. 363, note), that Rome feared to do anything to relax the religious orders by allowing them to adopt this shortened office, and so to overthrow the ancient traditions more faithfully preserved in the cloister than elsewhere.