Amalarius and the biblical roots of the Divine Office (i)

Amalarius (or Amalar) of Metz mentions that the Church celebrates four offices during the day and four during the night. The latter four he also calls “vigils.” This pattern of four per part of the day are biblically grounded via Nehemiah 9 vs. 1-3:

“1.And in the four and twentieth day of the month the children of Israel came together with fasting and with sackcloth, and earth upon them. 2.And the seed of the children of Israel separated themselves from every stranger: and they stood, and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. 3.And they rose up to stand: and they read in the book of the law of the Lord their God, four times in the day, and four times they confessed, and adored the Lord their God.
Nehemiah, 9 – Bíblia Católica Online

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Amalarius read that the Venerable Bede had interpreted vs. 3 to refer to two sets of four offices. One specifically dedicated to the day thereby relegating the secdond set of four mentioned to the night. So that “four times in the day” obviously concerns the day-time offices and “four times they confessed and adored” is interpreted to refer to the four nightly vigils. Amalarius, following St. Bede, read his Bible such that the offices of Vespers, Compline, Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, and None are derived by unfolding a biblical text. It would be a terrible misunderstanding to assume that what we have here is a case of eisegesis or a fraudulent reading of Scripture. To an Amalarius the true meaning of Scripture is not what moderns assume to be the true meaning. Whereas moderns would tend to look first for the meaning intended by the human author (or authors) of a biblical text, to Amalarius the first and obvious meaning of a biblical text would be that of its divine Author: God. True to the taditional standards of allegory Amalarius (and Bede before him) discerns that the text from Nehemiah (9 vs. 1-3) was intended by its Divine Author to mean what the same Divine Author gave to the Church: the four day and the four night offices of prayer.

From the inspiration that inspired Bede, we know that our day and night offices have their origin with the book of Ezra [Nehemiah in our English Bibles].

Amalarius of Metz “On the Liturgy,” Bk. 4, 3.4.

But there is more to be drawn from the biblical text. Just as at the time of Ezra the people of God today, find themselves surrounded by enemies. Therefore just like in the time of Ezra so the Church needs to build walls … “we have enemies all around us, just as they had (Bk. 4,3.4).” The foundation upon which the wall is built is Jesus Christ, says Amalarius, and the stones of which the wall built on Christ consists are the saints.

Everyone who bears the labor of his brothers has a stone upon himself. The Apostle speaks about this structure: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ.” The larger stones that are polished and squared and placed on the outside and the inside, while their lesser stones lie in the middle, are the more perfect men, who hold their weaker disciples or brothers in the holy church through their advice and prayers.

Ibid. Bk. 4, 3.5.

For if the Church of Jesus Christ approaches God in a way founded upon the way Ezra and his people did, the Church must also build like Ezra and his people did. So that prayer and work are derived from one and the same divine source.

To be continued.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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