Reflecting on Continuous Psalmody in the Anglican Breviary

The pre-Pius X Breviary largely distributed the Psalter over Matins and Vespers throughout the week. Most of the Psalms from Psalm 1 to 109 were read at Matins and most of the Psalms from 110-147 were read at Vespers. This arrangement of the Psalter emphasizes the continuous reading of the Psalms. The Psalms are read prety much as they occur in the Bible. Psalmody hearing the Word of God and also prayer, but secondarily.  This particular distribution of the Psalms derives from the Roman Cathedrals and was known (but not yet sacrosanct) to St. Benedict of Nursia. The latter adopted much from the Roman tradition but introduced certain changes as to how the Psalms are distributed over a seven day period. The “Roman distribution” of the Psalms can therefore be dated to the 5th or 6th centuries. The state of affairs before that is very difficult to determine, and may not be possible at all. Careful reflection on the bits and pieces of information available to us has brought scholars to talk about two distinct traditions of psalmody: 1. Cathedral and, 2. Monastic psalmody.

The Monastic and Cathedral palmody are two types, or two ways of performing psalmody. The table below is largely derived from Stig Simeon Frøyshov’s* paper The Cathedral-Monastic Distinction Revisited. Part I: Was Egyptian Desert Liturgy a Pure Monastic Office? and provides an easy to understand description of these two types of psalmody.

Parameter Monastic Psalmody Cathedral Psalmody
Dimension Individual & private Common and public
Church Hierarchy Clergy not necessary Clergy is necessary
Character Pedagogical, meditative Praise and intercession
Orientation Interiority (from God) Symbols, actions (to God)
Pray without ceasing” Literal non-Literal
Time Unceasing, continuous Fixed time (7 or 8 times a day)
Psalmody Continuous Selected

It becomes clear that the distribution of the Psalter at Matins and Vespers throughout the week fits the Monastic type. The way the other offices (Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Compline) use the Psalms is of the Cathedral type. The Divine Office, therefore, is a happy blend of Cathedral and Monastic types of Psalmody from at least the 5th or 6th century onward.

Whatever else may be true of the reforms enforced by St. Pius X they did not abandon either of these types but continued the “blend” of Cathedral and Monastic psalmody. The Psalter as we have it in the Anglican Breviary follows the Pian reforms using the Coverdale Psalter. The distribution as we find in the Anglican Breviary is represented in the Table below:

Psalter Distribution Anglican Breviary


In the table above blue indicates continuous psalmody. Blue and bold indicates that the continuity is broken because the editors of the Pian reform were unable to fit all the psalms in their new distribution. Whenever this occurs an attempt is made to stay as close as possible to the continuos psalmody. Red indicates selected psalmody, and green indicates a selected psalmody which also keeps the biblical order. It should be clear from the diagram above that continuous psalmody by distributing all 150 Psalms over the course of one week is kept. Where in the older distribution the Psalms were distributed over Matins and Vespers (mostly) the Psalms are now distributed over Matins, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. Most of the Vespers psalms remain in this office but the Matins psalms are often found distributed over the little hours (Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Compline). It has been said that the re-distribution of the Psalter by Pius X was the most radical aspect of his Breviary reform. This is true. At the same time it must also be said that the reform is not so radical as to break any and all continuity with the previous distribution.

In fact it could be argued that what the Pian reforms have done is not unlike what St. Benedict did in his re-distribution of the Roman Psalter as we encounter it in his Holy Rule. In Benedict’s reform of the Roman Psalter and in the Pian reform (which, again, is what the Anglican Breviary has adopted) the Cathedral and Monastic types of psalmody are combined.

From the most ancient times, it would seem, we have (1) Cathedral Psalmody, (2) Monastic Psalmody, (3) a “Mixed Psalmody” in the “liturgy of the Hours.” The Book of Common Prayer follows the same pattern. In the Cranmerian reforms the Psalter was re-distributed, though much more radically, perhaps inspired by Cardinal Quignon? On very few occasions does the Book of Common Prayer, even in later editions, allow for selected (Cathedral) psalmody. The Anglican Breviary achieves a better balance between Cathedral and Monastic in its “Mixed Psalmody” by adopting the Pian reforms of 1911 while using the Coverdale Psalter derived from the Book of Common Prayer.

Personally, I tend toward the old Roman (allowing the slight re-distribution of the Psalms at Prime) Psalter as it stood before the reforms of 1911. But reflecting on the reforms of 1911 I have grown to appreciate its efforts and wisdom. I no longer believe the Pian reforms to have been “disastrous” but, perhaps, even beneficial. After all, for those of us with busy lives, the Pian reform does make the Breviary much more “brief” and thereby much more accessible. It is this accessibility that really counts. At least … that is my less than humble opinion.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

*Frøyshov argues that the distinction between Cathedral and Monastic Psalmody is not as sharp as is often said in relevant scholarship. He also suggests that the twelve Psalms tradition (well known from Cassian’s Institutes) was in fact selected psalmody rather than continuous and that the Monastics may have performed both types of Psalmody. If this is so, and it seems plausible that it is, that means that Cathedral type psalmody was also performed by monastics and therefore a sharp dividing line between Monastic and Cathedral (in terms of exclusivity) is not likely. Continuous and selected psalmody did not mutually exclude one anoher.


Posted in Anglican Breviary, Book of Common Prayer, Monastic Office, Psalmody, Roman Breviary | 2 Comments

Plato’s Dualism (iii) ~ The Divided Line

Another way of approaching the subject addressed in the Allegory of the Cave is that of the Divided Line. The latter, in fact precedes the former in Plato’s Republic:

“Conceive then,” said I, “as we were saying, that there are these two entities, and platos-line2that one of them is sovereign over the intelligible order and region and the other over the world of the eye-ball, not to say the sky-ball,10 but let that pass. You surely apprehend the two types, the visible and the intelligible.” “I do.” “Represent them then, as it were, by a line divided11 into two unequal12 sections and cut each section again in the same ratio (the section, that is, of the visible and that of the intelligible order), and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you will have, as one of the sections [509e] of the visible world, images.

Plato, The Republic, 509d-509e.

The line as envisioned by Socrates is clearly presented as an image of the varying degrees of “clearness and obscurity.” Put differently: the varying degrees of cognitive apprehension (more or less clearly apprehended). Again it is “clarity of thought” (or lack thereof) which is adressed here and not “levels of being.” The four sections of the line represent the different degrees of apprehension of one and the same reality.

The upper portion of the line represents knowledge. This is where apprehension is the most clear. The lower we slide down the line the lesser the apprehension. The bottom portion of the line represents opinion. As Perl notes the divided line deals with “higher and lower levels of truth or unhiddenness, of givenness and apprehension (Perl, p. 41).”

The Divided Line should not be understood as if different sections of it are opposed to one another as if dealing with four different things. Rather, since Plato expressly states that the four divisions are sections along the same line, they are to be understood as four sections on a continuum. A range of higher and lower levels of apprehension. The clearer the apprehension the more it “shares in truth.” The higher sections of the line indicate that reality is better apprehended. Is more intelligible.

The allegories of the Cave and Divided Line therefore are dealing with the same subject: levels or modes of apprehension. This could be represented as follows:


Inside the Cave corresponds to the lower sections of the Line whereas outside the Cave represents the higher sections of the Line.

Once again we find that to be is to be intelligible.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


Posted in Anglican Breviary, Platonism | Leave a comment

Plato’s Dualism (ii)~ the Cave

There are two famous expressions of Plato’s supposed dualism:

  1. the allegory of the cave
  2. the allegory of the divided line

It is time we addressed these famous expression of the theory of forms and its apparent dualism. This post will contain a long quote from Plato’s Republic where Socrates is explaining forms to Glaucon using the “Myth of the Cave.” I realize that this post is very long. But I really would like the reader to be exposed to Plato’s words and imagery first hand. For we will encounter “myth and allegory” as a device to make a point more than once. So – sit down comfortably and sink your teeth in some juice part of Plato’s philosophy!


From Plato’s Republic

[514a]“Next,” said I, “compare our nature in respect of education and its lack to such an experience as this. Picture men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern1 with a long entrance open2 to the light on its entire width. Conceive them as having their legs and necks fettered3 from childhood, so that they remain in the same spot, [514b] able to look forward only, and prevented by the fetters from turning their heads. Picture further the light from a fire burning higher up and at a distance behind them, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them a road along which a low wall has been built, as the exhibitors of puppet-shows4 have partitions before the men themselves, above which they show the puppets.” “All that I see,” he said. “See also, then, men carrying5 past the wall [514c] implements of all kinds that rise above the wall, and human images [515a] and shapes of animals as well, wrought in stone and wood and every material, some of these bearers presumably speaking and others silent.” “A strange image you speak of,” he said, “and strange prisoners.” “Like to us,” I said; “for, to begin with, tell me do you think that these men would have seen anything of themselves or of one another except the shadows cast from the fire on the wall of the cave that fronted them?” “How could they,” he said, “if they were compelled [515b] to hold their heads unmoved through life?” “And again, would not the same be true of the objects carried past them?” “Surely.” “If then they were able to talk to one another, do you not think that they would suppose that in naming the things that they saw1they were naming the passing objects?” “Necessarily.” “And if their prison had an echo2 from the wall opposite them, when one of the passersby uttered a sound, do you think that they would suppose anything else than the passing shadow to be the speaker?” “By Zeus, I do not,” said he. “Then in every way [515c] such prisoners would deem reality to be nothing else than the shadows of the artificial objects.” “Quite inevitably,” he said. “Consider, then, what would be the manner of the release3 and healing from these bonds and this folly if in the course of nature4 something of this sort should happen to them: When one was freed from his fetters and compelled to stand up suddenly and turn his head around and walk and to lift up his eyes to the light, and in doing all this felt pain and, because of the dazzle and glitter of the light, was unable to discern the objects whose shadows he formerly saw, [515d] what do you suppose would be his answer if someone told him that what he had seen before was all a cheat and an illusion, but that now, being nearer to reality and turned toward more real things, he saw more truly? And if also one should point out to him each of the passing objects and constrain him by questions to say what it is, do you not think that he would be at a loss5 and that he would regard what he formerly saw as more real than the things now pointed out to him?” “Far more real,” he said.

“And if he were compelled to look at the light itself, [515e] would not that pain his eyes, and would he not turn away and flee to those things which he is able to discern and regard them as in very deed more clear and exact than the objects pointed out?” “It is so,” he said. “And if,” said I, “someone should drag him thence by force up the ascent6 which is rough and steep, and not let him go before he had drawn him out into the light of the sun, do you not think that he would find it painful to be so haled along, and would chafe at it, and when [516a] he came out into the light, that his eyes would be filled with its beams so that he would not be able to see1 even one of the things that we call real?” “Why, no, not immediately,” he said. “Then there would be need of habituation, I take it, to enable him to see the things higher up. And at first he would most easily discern the shadows and, after that, the likenesses or reflections in water2 of men and other things, and later, the things themselves, and from these he would go on to contemplate the appearances in the heavens and heaven itself, more easily by night, looking at the light [516b] of the stars and the moon, than by day the sun and the sun’s light.3” “Of course.” “And so, finally, I suppose, he would be able to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature, not by reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting,4but in and by itself in its own place.” “Necessarily,” he said. “And at this point he would infer and conclude that this it is that provides the seasons and the courses of the year and presides over all things in the visible region, [516c] and is in some sort the cause5 of all these things that they had seen.” “Obviously,” he said, “that would be the next step.” “Well then, if he recalled to mind his first habitation and what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow-bondsmen, do you not think that he would count himself happy in the change and pity them6?” “He would indeed.” “And if there had been honors and commendations among them which they bestowed on one another and prizes for the man who is quickest to make out the shadows as they pass and best able to remember their customary precedences, [516d] sequences and co-existences,7 and so most successful in guessing at what was to come, do you think he would be very keen about such rewards, and that he would envy and emulate those who were honored by these prisoners and lorded it among them, or that he would feel with Homer8 and “‘greatly prefer while living on earth to be serf of another, a landless man,’”Hom. Od. 11.489 and endure anything rather than opine with them [516e] and live that life?” “Yes,” he said, “I think that he would choose to endure anything rather than such a life.” “And consider this also,” said I, “if such a one should go down again and take his old place would he not get his eyes full9 of darkness, thus suddenly coming out of the sunlight?” “He would indeed.” “Now if he should be required to contend with these perpetual prisoners [517a] in ‘evaluating’ these shadows while his vision was still dim and before his eyes were accustomed to the dark—and this time required for habituation would not be very short—would he not provoke laughter,1 and would it not be said of him that he had returned from his journey aloft with his eyes ruined and that it was not worth while even to attempt the ascent? And if it were possible to lay hands on and to kill the man who tried to release them and lead them up, would they not kill him2?” “They certainly would,” he said.

“This image then, dear Glaucon, we must apply as a whole to all that has been said, [517b] likening the region revealed through sight to the habitation of the prison, and the light of the fire in it to the power of the sun. And if you assume that the ascent and the contemplation of the things above is the soul’s ascension to the intelligible region,3 you will not miss my surmise, since that is what you desire to hear. But God knows4 whether it is true.

Plato is giving much food for thought here. But the main question we are looking at here is does Plato’s Cave allegory require a radical dualism such as presented by the two-world theory of Platonism? Nothing of what has been said abovd in the Myth of the Cave requires such an interpretation.

Who are the prisoners? Of course they are like us. The prisoners resemble us. But if we leave off here and do not press further we might miss the point. In what way like us? In the sense the cave does not simply put us “in the cave” it also puts the cave “in us.” The Myth of the Cave expresses a condition of the soul. The ascent from the bottom of the cave to the reality outside is not to be taken literally. It is an ascent through different levels of apprehension. Not an ascent from a lower to a higher world. If we stick to the idea that to be is to be intelligible than the Cave may simply express the different levels of our apprehension. The cave is an expression of the different degrees of awareness of the same reality. We are not dealing with different metaphysical entities on different levels of existence. The difference is how a consciousness can be aware of the same reality to different degrees.

We have also briefly touched on the subject of ascension. More of that later. May it suffice here to point out that ascension is a spatial metaphor, not a literal description of the journey of a soul from A to B. This will become an issue in the interpretation of Origen’s language of fall and ascension of the soul.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Posted in Anglican Breviary, Platonism | Leave a comment

Levels of Being

Parmenides provided us a view of reality where there are only two choices: something either is or is not. In his view it makes no sense to speak of “levels of being” it is preposterous. Plato, however, recognizes an “in between” which is situated between is and is-not between Being and non-being. How is that possible one might ask?

What if we take seriously that, “to be is to be intelligible,” and we conceive of being as related to awareness? Things can are ‘seen’ and apprehended more or less clearly. perceiving-the-world-3-of-9-13-638Therefore the content of awareness can be more or less ‘true’ or ‘real.’ Eric Perl emphasizes that the ‘in between status’ of things must be understood as “different modes of givenness and apprehension (Perl, Thinking Being, p. 35).” Things perceived by our senses are given to awareness and as such are neither reality itself by itself but neither are they nothing or non-being. They are in between Being and non-being. They are real insofar as they have an identity, a ‘common look’ given to awareness. They are non-being insofar as they are not these ‘common looks’ themselves by themselves.

The distinction is not between two metaphysical entities additional to one another, but is rather analogous to the distinction between a thing and as seen in a mirror and the same thing as seen by itself.”

Eric D. Perl, Thinking Being, p. 37.

The mode of apprehension related to reality itself by itself is knowledge, the mode of apprehension for reality as it appears, is given to awareness, is opinion. This is not a distinction between two levels of being as such, but higher and lower ways in which reality can be apprehended. To close with a clarifying explanation from Perl:

The distinction between knowledge and opinion, therefore, unlike that between knowledge and ignorance, is not a simple opposition, but is rather a distinction between the perfect and therefore paradigmatic apprehension of reality, and a less perfect apprehnsion of reality.

Perl, Ibid, p. 37.

Once more it appears that the two-world theory of Platonism does not necessarily follow. Being as form simply means that to be is to be intelligible. Being itself by itself is what gives identity to things so that several things can present a ‘common look’ to awareness. Forms do not force a dualism upon us as is supposed by the two-world theory of Platonism.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Posted in Anglican Breviary, Platonism | Leave a comment

Sunday Trinity XV

Today is the XVth Sunday after Trinity or Trinity XV. As most Sundays Trinity XV is a Semidouble. The liturgical color is green. The Octave of the Nativity of the BVM is Simple so that nothing is said of the Octave (except on the Octave Day itself). The Universal Kalendar commemorates St. Gorgonius and in the Supplemental section the Anglican Breviary gives St. Peter Claver. The Saints given for possible use in the S-section of the Anglican Breviary are not part of the Universal or Simple Kalendars. They are local in nature and are merely added on this blog as suggestions. The Collect for Trinity XV is derived from the Gelasian Sacramentary.

The Vespers of yesterday were the Second Vespers of the Nativity of the BVM. The Office was said according to Common II of the BVM in the Anglican Breviary.  The word “Nativity” was inserted everytime the “N.” was printed in one of the commons. The Psalms were taken from Common I but the Antiphons from Common II. The Antiphon on the Magnificat was taken from Common II for the 2nd Vespers. The Chapter was Ecclus. 24, 17, and the Hymn was Ave, maris stella, the Collect was that given at Common II. The first commemoration was of Trinity XV using the versicle and response of Saturday Vespers (p. C580) and the Collect for Trinity XV.

The Matins of today belongs to Trinity XV. The Invitatory & Hymn are as usual for Sundays. The Psalms and Antiphons are also of the normal Sunday course. The Scripture lessons (of Nocturn I) are taken from the Second Sunday of September which continue The Book of Job. The lessons in Nocturn II are taken from St. Gregory the Great’s Morals on Job. The Gospel is the beginning (Incipit) of Matthew 6, 24 and the Homily is taken from those of St. Augustine of Hippo. The Te Deum is used.

At Lauds, immediately following Matins, the normal Sunday pattern for Psalms and their Antiphons is used. The Chapter and Hymn (Ecce jam noctis) are also the usual for Sundays. The Antiphon on the Benedictus is taken from Trinity XV (p. C689). No Preces are said. The Collect is of Trinity XV. Because the Octave is simple it is ignored entirely in the Office except on the Octave Day. The first commemoration is taken from the Universal Kalendar: St. Gorgonius. The commemoration is made by using Table 5b and the proper Collect given for this feast. The second commemoration comes from the S-section in the back of the Breviary: St. Peter Claver. The Collect uses the word “negroes” which it is not appropriate to do. To avoid racist implication this word should be substituted with an appropriate word. The commemoration is made by making use of Table 9b and the proper Collect given on p. S55.

The Little Hours, from Prime to None inclusive, are as usual for Sundays in Trinitytide. At Prime the Martyrology for September 10th is read.

Today’s Mass is said at the usual hour (following Terce). The propers are taken from Trinity XV in the Anglican Missal. The first Collect is that of Trinity XV followed by that for St. Gorgonius and the Collects are concluded with that of St. Peter Claver. The Epistle of today was altered at the Reformation. The pre-Reformation Epistle consisted of Galatians 5, 25-26 & 6, 1-10. The Epistle given by the Reformers via the Book of Common Prayer is Galatians 6, 11-18. The pre-Reformation Epistle emphasizes what we must do to live a spiritual life because “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” says the Apostle Paul. The post-Reformation Epistle emphasizes our nothingness and resourcelesness and our total dependence on God. The core of the post-Reformation Epistle is “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those fortunate enough to say (or hear) Mass from the English Missal (or Knott Missal) can find the pre-Reformation Epistle in the supplemental section. The Gospel is taken from Matthew vi, 24-34 and virtually unchanged compared to the pre-Reformation Gospel. The only change being the addition of verse 34 to the reading. The addition of verse 34 again places extra emphasis on our total dependence on God.

At Vespers the usual Sunday Psalms and Antiphons are used. The Chapter & Hymn are also of Sunday. The Antiphon on the Magnificat is taken from Trinity XV (p. C689). The only commemoration is of St. Nicholas of Tolentino using Table 9a and the Proper Collect for his Feast. At Compline all is as usual for Sundays.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Posted in Anglican Breviary, Book of Common Prayer, Liturgical Year, Ordo, Psalmody, Rubrics, Sarum | Leave a comment

Can a Form exist at a time it has no Instances?

In raising up our thought from the apprehension of the intelligible whatnesses that these things have, we ourselves are transcending temporality.

Eric D. Perl, Thinking Being, p. 33.

Sometimes an objection to forms is raised that askes this question. But to ask the question is to misunderstand what form is. The question is therefore unanswerable. Form is not an instance among others. Form is therefore not only non-local it is also non-temporal. A form cannot be placed somewhere nor some-when. In other words the question implies a misunderstanding of what form is and must be corrected.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


Posted in Anglican Breviary, Platonism | Leave a comment

Paradigms, patterns, and forms.

Recently I had the pleasure of taking our kids to Legoland in Denmark. What a wonderful place it is and it beautifully expresses what seems to me to be true Platonic Realism. It is amazing how many things you can build using lego blocks and a lively imagination combined with an almost visionary technical insight. It is a fact that no parent escapes legoland without purchasing at least one legobox per child. It was to be so for us too.


Figure 1

One of the lines of lego products is Star Wars. My oldest son really wanted – needed in his own mind – a particularly large and expensive lego Star Wars item. Now as we all know lego products do not usually come assembled. Part of the fun is to assemble it yourself. In doing so we need a ‘pattern’ or ‘paradigm’ we could use to produce the starship displayed in figure 1.


I can imagine several ways in which such a paradigm or pattern could be given. The first way would be to provide an already assembled starship such is in figure 1 and to have the buyer build his own version as a copy of the pre-assembled one that the lego company could have provided. Especially with less complicated designs such a method could be used. In this case the lego company provides a already assembled version together with a bunch of lego blocks in a bag out of which the buyer must assemble his own. The buyer is essentially copying a model and must produce another.

If that is how we approach Plato’s forms this leads to all kinds of problems. Plato goes into some detail about what problems this leads to in his Parmenides and Aristotle famously ridiculed this interpretation of forms with his ‘third man argument.’ But what Eric Perl is suggesting in his Thinking Being is that is not in fact what Plato is suggesting at all. Forms are not models in the sense described above. Form as a paradigm or pattern is to be understood as the design the creator had in mind with this particular lego product. This design is reflected in the booklet of instructions and in the lego starship once it is built. The design the creator or designer has in mind is the real lego starship. It has no physical properties but it can be ‘seen’ in each model of this starship.

Such a paradigm, as not any sensible thing but rather an intelligible pattern, may be considered ‘separate’ from its images in that it is another kind of reality, prior to, independent of, and irreducible to them. At the same time, this pattern, this one same intelligible content, is the very identity that they have and display, and thus is the wahtness, the reality, of them.

Separation, then, is simply a spatial meaphor for the radical ontological distinction between intelligible identities and the things that have and display, but are not, these identities.

Eric D. Perl, Thinking Being, p. 30.

The transcendent and immanent are not to be understood as contradictory in Plato’s theory of forms. Rather the forms are ‘what is presented to thought’ in things. These forms, identities of things, can be known itself by itself. To think of forms as itself by itself is to consider them not as they appear in their instances but as one same idea the common look, they display.

The ‘theory of forms’ is not the postulation of ‘another,’ abstract world, but it is concerned with our level of cognition, our mode of grasping reality: do we grasp the intelligible identities, the reality of things as unitary ideas, ‘themselves by themselves‘, or do we apprehend them only as they show up to us in the experience of this or that instance?

Eric D. Perl, Thinking Being, p. 31.

In other words, even insofar as forms are paradigms or patterns they are not to be understood as mere models. Nor are they to be understood as ‘existing on a higher plane.’ Forms are the identities, the whatness of their instances available for thought. The distinction between pattern and instance is real, but it does not imply a two world dualism where the transcendent and the immanent are contradictory. Trancendence and immanence are spatial metaphors as are the terms ‘separation’ and ‘distinction’ when they are used of forms. They are not to be taken in a crude and literal sense.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


Posted in Anglican Breviary, Platonism, theology | Leave a comment