The Anglican tradition is in deep debt to the St. Benedict and his disciples. It is their work that permanently shaped the Church of England. The havoc wreaked upon the monastic tradition by the ices of its less holy members and that of the dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII has perhaps obscured this fact – but its truth remains. Even the Book of Common Prayer could be said to have some Benedictine inspiration. St. Benedict Biscop is one of the many Benedictines to have furthered the work of Christ in England and shaped the form of the Anglican spiritual tradition. Unlike others I do not believe that Anglicanism began at the English Reformation. The Reformation was an attempt to return to ancient purity and not an attempt to abandon it once and for all. Such would be a mistaken interpretation of what it was all about.
The life of St. Benedict, his work and sacrifice for the Gospel is what Anglicanism is about – Christianity with a decidedly Benedictine past and present! Though the 16-th Century saw the destruction of Monasticism and the destruction of much liturgical wealth 19th and 20ieth century Anglo-Catholicism has gone a long way of re-discovering it and to re-affirming it as part and parcel of the Anglican Christian tradition. To be sure this necessarily includes the Prayer-Book tradition which I do not seek to overthrow or deny, but it equally necessarily includes the Rule of Benedict and the Office he has given therein. Many of the Archbishops of Canterbury have worn the Benedictine Habit and have prayed the Benedictine Office – a version of which was restored to the Anglican tradition by the work of Fr. Winfred Douglas and later completed by Society of the Sacred Cross.
Like Canon Douglas St. Benedict Biscop furthered the Gospel of Christ Jesus through the medium of a Benedictine spirituality. The Gospel is a power unto salvation as St. Paul says and in the Benedictine application of “forsaking all for the sake of Christ and His Gospel” (as the Gospel Lesson for the III Nocturn of the present Feast has it) one moves ever deeper “on in Christ’s love” and to the extent he forsakes all he “goeth on in Christ’s love, the more folk shall he find who will rejoice to give him a place in their hearts and minister to him of their substance.” The Benedictine manner of spreading the Gospel is communal that is one gives onself wholly to the other and the other gives of himself to the one. Such is the aimed preaching and such the aimed living of the Gospel as we find it in the Rule and in the life of St. Benedict Biscop. This – among other things – fits very neatly in to the stated ideal of the Book of Common Prayer which emphasizes communality so heavily.
With regard to the Anglican Breviary this means that communality ought to be its intended goal too. It is an abnormal condition to say the Office alone, it is normal to say the Office in common. At the same time, since the Anglican Breviary includes (rather than excludes) the Book of Common Prayer there is no need to antagonize Prayer-Book usage with Breviary usage. There will always be those who prefer the Prayer-Book. But like the Book of Common Worship in the UK, and the 1979 BCP in the US, the Anglican Breviary adds to the Book of Common Prayer some of its ancient heritage that it was perhaps too hastily dropped in the Reformation. The Anglican Breviary could be said to be one of different options for a Breviary in the Anglican Communion available to us today. It is Benedictine insofar as it has some liturgical customs incorporated from the Benedictine Office (such as the Magnificat in Vespers) and in Benedictine fashion it hast restored the Psalter to the core of the Office together with a good portion of yearly Scripture reading. It differs from the Benedictine Office most radically in its distribution of the Psalter though, but in Benedictine fashion upholds that it be read in the course of one week.
May the memory of St. Benedict Biscop make us aware of the depth of gratitude owed to the Benedictine tradition and may its way of preaching, living, and praying the Gospel of Jesus Christ continue to inspire us today.
Fr. Gregory +