Theophilus Raynaudus’s Christianum Sacrum Acathistum (3): Section One, cont’d

At the end of the mostly facetious first section of Théophile Raynaud’s work —have we yet discovered whether the treatise is about sanitation, or preaching briefly, or something else?—in which he proffers some reasons why sitting during Mass might be considered acceptable, he makes it clear that his book is directed against sitting during Mass in particular, not against sitting in church in general. 


Likewise Torsellino [1] asserted in his Acts of St Francis Xavier that this saint prayed propped by a chair, according to the account of a priest who observed the holy man when the latter was a guest in his house. Therefore sitting is permitted as conducive to the recollection of soul proper to those attending the sacrifice, for the soul attains tranquillity through the body’s rest.

Besides, no one would be so fussy as to condemn sitting in the temple outside of the sacrifice, whether one goes thither for other divine offices—which are attended in a sevenfold cycle each day—or for private prayer—which is made more pleasing to God because of the place’s dignity, as I reveal elsewhere—or to hear a discourse on the word of God. Of course, in all these cases, it is scarcely open to doubt that there is no shame in sitting. Indeed, why would there be seats in the odea [2] of canons and religious if it were inappropriate to sit while singing praises to God? And why would it not be licit to sit while praying in the temple privately, as long as one sits reverently and modestly and the sitting does not lead to laziness or lead one to sleep; but either to alleviate weakness or to provide tranquillity to the soul, a tranquillity that fosters a sense of piety and is actually necessary? If someone were to contend that such a solace for weakness ought to be prohibited when praying in the temple, he would equally have to prohibit the use of prie-dieux, which those who pray lean upon. And yet it is a completely legitimate custom, and verily one not rejected by any of the wise, that when not only pontiffs and kings, but also minor prelates and princes go into temples, they are provided with a draped faldstool, in which they may kneel and pour forth their prayer.

david roberts - interieur de saint pierre rome - government art collection - 1853-1854.jpg
The interior of the basilica of St Peter’s in Rome, by David Roberts

Gone indeed is that simplicity of yore, whence the kings of Syria (as told in the the story of how Naaman pleaded and was cured of leprosy), when they entered the temple to adore their god Remmon, used to lean upon the hand of some nobleman, such as Namaan, who asked the prophet [Eliseus] whether he might offer this service (merely as a civil duty) to his king, bending his knees with him in the fashion of a worshipper. We likewise read (4 Kings 7) that Joras rendered this same service to the king. But now, and for a long time already, the dignity of either clerical or lay magnates demands that they be supported not by the hand or shoulder of a servant, minister, or obsequious nobleman, but by a covered kneeler. Doing otherwise would be considered quite a violation of decorum. But God, who according to the Pythagoreans is propriety itself, accepts that decorum be kept in this regard, and does not charge with irreverence those who protect what is proper to their dignity in the temple and indeed wheresoever else.


Finally, it cannot be doubted that those assisting at a sermon on the word of God may sit without incurring any fault. That is the use of the universal Church, and to disapprove of it is most insolent folly, as St Augustine declares. Granted that formerly the opposite use was in force in certain places, but custom has mitigated this rigour. And in fact a certain necessity led to this leniency, for who would wish to force the people to hear a sermon standing up rather than sitting, since they are so often protracted beyond due measure? For many preachers ignore the advice of St Francis to his disciples not to speak over an hour to the people, and exhaust their listeners through two hours or even more. For these people to stand for so long would be an unbearable burden and discourage them from listening to sermons.

Granted, sitting may have been deemed less necessary or even inappropriate when listening to the word of God in a time when preachers were very brief. All Fathers were brief, as is proved by the content of their sermons, for which a quarter of an hour or a half hour at most suffices to recite them. They spoke no more than that, following what is written down, putting aside the extra fringes of amplification which some time ago common practice introduced. Listening to sermons eight or ten times more lengthy than were the ancient discourses of Leo the Great, Gregory, and Ambrose, is most tiresome to listeners without the benefit of a seat, and in that sense sitting is rightly not considered objectionable when listening to the word of God in the temple.


[1] Orazio Torsellino (1545-1599, Latinized as Horatius Tursellinus) was a Jesuit historian.

[2] Odeum: in ancient Greece and Rome, a hall or theatre for musical performances. He means the choir stalls here. Another example of Raynaud’s archaizing and at times over-erudite style.

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