Margaret Deansely: The Bishop’s Familia and the Ecclesial Cursus Honorum

In his commentary on the seven holy orders, Honorius prefers to trace each order to a precedent in the Old Law, so that the hierarchy of the Church is a sort of mirror of the Temple ministry instituted by David and Solomon.

But the orders are also bound up with the distinctively Roman culture of the Latin Church, as we can see in the following extracts from Margaret Deanesly, A History of the Medieval Church, page 28:

“In the time of Gregory I the conception of the clergy as the ‘clerical militia’ was already long developed. The imperial civil service had provided a ladder of offices, by which a candidate, beginning at the bottom, might proceed through the ‘cursus honorum’ to the highest civil or military rank. The parallel between this ladder and the various grades of the Christian minister had not been unnoticed by Christian bishops, and by 600 the commonest collective description of the clergy was the ‘clerical militia,’ or the ‘celestial’ in opposition to the ‘secular’ militia. The celestial militia consisted of seven orders, its sevenfold nature denoting the perfection of the divine service: ostiarius, lector, acolyte, subdeacon, deacon, presbyter, or sacerdos [….]

About the year 600 the first three minor orders were usually conferred together; boys were ordained lectors at about seven years of age, and received the other grades at intervals of several years, till they were ordained to the presbyterate at the age of forty-five [….]

This was due to the system of education in the bishop’s familia. After the destruction of the rhetorical schools in the barbarian invasions, the bishop’s house became the only place where the clergy might reasonably hope for an education [….]

Gregory of Tours relates how, at the death of a Gallic bishop, the bishops summoned for his funeral encountered a claim from one Cato, a presbyter of his clergy, to be ordained bishop almost as of right, from his due canonical reception of the various grades. ‘For,’ he said, ‘I have been allotted these grades of clerkship with canonical institution. I was a lector ten years, I ministered in the office of subdeacon for five years, fifteen years was I bound for the diaconate, and now for twenty years I have enjoyed the honour of the presbyterate. What now remains for me but to receive…the episcopate?'”

Non Est Authenticum: The Micrologus against the Feast of the Holy Trinity

The feast of the Holy Trinity was a rather peculiar addition to the Roman liturgical kalendar inasmuch as it does not commemorate a specific saint or event in the history of salvation, but rather a theological idea. It was in fact an observance that emanated without Rome: the Mass in honour of the Holy Trinity was composed by Stephen, bishop of Liège, around 910, and the feast itself arose about a century later. By 1030, Cluny was celebrating it on the first Sunday after Pentecost and, thanks in great part to its reticulate influence, the feast diffused throughout Christendom.

220px-pope_alexander_iiIt encountered redoutable resistance in Rome, however. In 1061, Pope Alexander II, replying to the archbishop of Tortona’s question about the use of the pallium on Trinity Sunday, noted the absurdity of honouring the Holy Trinity with a special feast day, since the Trinity is daily honoured by the Minor Doxology and other praises in the liturgy. “And so, my brother archbishop,” the Pope rather tartly concludes, “I can scarcely give you a proper answer about the use of the pallium on the day when the feast of the Holy Trinity is celebrated.”1

A century thereafter, Pope Alexander III pointed out that a feast of the Holy Trinity makes as much sense as a feast of the Holy Unity: both are superfluous, since these mysteries are celebrated in the quotidian liturgy. Writing around 1150, Abbot Potho of Prüm listed the feast of the Holy Trinity together with those of the Transfiguration and Conception of Our Lady as novæ celebritates, disapprovingly asking Quæ ratio festa hæc celebranda induxit? 

But resistance was doomed to failure. The sons of St Bernard of Clairvaux, whose view of novel feasts was much that of his contemporary Potho’s, adopted the feast of the Holy Trinity in 1271, and finally, in 1334, Pope John XXII, residing in Avignon, introduced it into the Roman kalendar, thereby relegating the First Sunday after Pentecost to a mere commemoration, which the next Pope John entirely suppressed in 1960. (Of course, the Mass of the First Sunday after Pentecost can be said on any feria in the week following). Other “idea feasts” eventually made their way into the Roman kalendar as well, including Corpus Christi (which also originated in Liège, interestingly enough), the Sacred Heart, and Christ the King. 

In this extract from chapter LX of the Micrologus de ecclesiasticis observationibus, Bernold of Constance discusses the feast of the Holy Trinity. He evinces a pervading concern that liturgical feasts be authentica, i.e. part of the tradition of the church of Rome, and the feast of the Holy Trinity’s failure in this count consigns it to Bernold’s disapprobation. 

Some celebrate the service of the Holy Trinity on the Octave Day of Pentecost, although without added alleluias, and think that it ought to be observed throughout the entire week following, but this is not authentic. It is said that this office as well as the history of the Invention of St Stephen were composed by Stephen of Liège; both of these are rejected by the Apostolic See.

When Pope Alexander [III], of pious memory, was asked about this matter, he replied that, following the Roman order, the solemnity of the Holy Trinity should not be assigned to any particular day, just as no solemnity of the Holy Unity is assigned to any particular day. This is precisely because the commemoration of both is celebrated every Sunday, nay, rather, every day.

One should know that Charlemagne’s teacher Alcuin [Albinus Flaccus], at the request of the Archbishop St Boniface, as they say, composed Mass orations of the Holy Trinity, and of Wisdom for Monday, the Holy Ghost for Tuesday, Charity for Wednesday, the Angels for Thursday, the Cross on Friday, and Our Lady on Saturday. This was so that the priests of that time, who were recently converted to the faith and were not yet instructed in the ecclesiastical offices nor provided with the necessary books, might have something with which they could carry out their duty on whatever day. As a result, even to-day some insist on saying these same orations daily, even when they have access to the proper offices. Moreover, nearly everywhere the service of the Cross is observed on Fridays and of Our Lady on Saturdays, on the basis not so much of authority as of devotion.

In the same way, therefore, that these sorts of observations do not pertain more to one week than to another, neither does that of the Holy Trinity. Hence it seems incongruous to celebrate one Sunday of the Holy Trinity with the Alcuin’s orations and Stephen’s chants when all Sundays are endowed with authentic offices which relay to us the honour of the Holy Trinity no less.

Note that we take up the practice of singing the preface of the Holy Trinity on Sundays based on the authority of Rome, not of Alcuin; it is one of the nine things which Pope Pelagius [II], Gregory [the Great]’s predecessor, ordered to be observed. Nevertheless, the work Alcuin performed for the Holy Church is not to be contemned, for it is said that he collected the Gregorian orations into the books of the sacraments, adding a few which he nonetheless decided to mark with an obelus. He then collected other prayers or prefaces which, even if not of Gregorian origin, are nevertheless appropriate for ecclesiastical celebrations, as is stated in the prologue which he placed after the Gregorian prayers in the middle of the same book. 

Quidam autem officium de sancta Trinitate in octava Pentecostes instituunt, licet non sit alleluiatum, quod et per totam subsequentem hebdomadam observandum putant, sed non est authenticum. Nam quidam Leodicensis Stephanus idem officium, sicut et historiam de inventione sancti Stephani, composuisse asseritur; quae utraque ab apostolica sede respuuntur. Unde piae memoriae Alexander papa de hac re inquisitus, respondit iuxta Romanum Ordinem nullum diem specialiter ascribi debere solemnitati Sanctae Trinitatis, sicut nec sanctae unitatis, praecipue cum in omni Dominica, imo quotidie, utriusque memoria celebretur. Sciendum autem quemdam Albinum magistrum Caroli imp. rogatu sancti Bonifacii archiepiscopi, ut aiunt, missales orationes de Sancta Trinitate composuisse, et in secunda feria de sapientia, in tertia de Spiritu sancto, in quarta de charitate, in quinta de angelis, in sexta de cruce, in Sabbato de sancta Maria. Et hoc ideo ut presbyteri illius temporis nuper ad fidem conversi, nondum ecclesiasticis officiis instructi, nondum etiam librorum copia praediti, vel aliquid haberent cum quo officium suum qualibet die possent explere. Unde et adhuc quidam easdem orationes quotidie, etiam cum propria abundent officia, nolunt praetermittere. In singulis quoque hebdomadibus, sexta feria de cruce, et Sabbato de sancta Maria pene usquequaque servatur, non tam ex auctoritate quam ex devotione. Sicut igitur huiusmodi observationes nulli magis hebdomadae quam alii ascribuntur, ita nihilominus et illa de sancta Trinitate. Incongruum ergo videtur unam Dominicam cum orationibus Albini, et cantu Stephani de sancta Trinitate celebrari, cum omnes Dominicae authenticis abundent officiis, quae non minus nobis intimant honorem sanctae Trinitatis. Praefationem autem de sancta Trinitate, quam in diebus Dominicis frequentamus, non ex Albino, sed ex Romana auctoritate suscepimus. Nam haec est una ex illis novem quas solas Pelagius papa, antecessor Gregorii, constituit observari. Fecit tamen idem Albinus in sancta Ecclesia non contemnendum opus, nam Gregorianas orationes in libris Sacramentorum collegisse asseritur, paucis aliis adiectis, quas tamen sub obelo notandas esse indicavit. Deinde alias orationes sive praefationes, etsi non Gregorianas, ecclesiasticae tamen celebritati idoneas collegit, sicut prologus testatur quem post Gregorianas orationes in medio eiusdem libri collocavit.


1. Præterea festivitas sanctæ Trinitatis secundum diversarum consuetudines regionum a quibusdam in octavis Pentecostes ab aliis in dominica prima ante Adventum Domini celebrari consuevit: ecclesia siquidem Romana in usu non habet, ut in aliquo tempore hujusmodi celebret specialiter festivitatem cum singulis diebus Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, et cætera consimilia dicantur ad laudem pertientia Trinitatis; quare tibi, frater archiepiscope, de usu pallii eo die quo sanctæ Trinitatis festivitas celebratur certum nequaquam potuimus dare responsum. (De feriis, lib. 2, tit. 5, cap. Quoniam). 

The Fight for the Mozarabic Rite Continued: Liturgical Trial by Fire

One of our earlier posts recounted the story told by Roderic, Archbishop of Toledo, about the trial by combat in held in 11th century Spain between the champions of the Roman rite and of the autochthonous Mozarabic rite. The imposition of the Roman rite on Spain was an enterprise pursued by King Alphonse VI, who reconquered Toledo—the ancient capital of the Visigothic kingdom—from the Mohammedans in 1085. As part of his efforts to consolidate his power, he saw fit, like Charlemagne centuries before him, to promote liturgical unity within his kingdom, with the support of Rome and Cluny. The Chronicle of the Cluniac monastery of Sahagún explains:

Alphonse VI, king of Castile, Leon, and Galicia, “Emperor of the Spains”.

After rising to the lofty and magnificent royal estate of his kingdom, in the eleventh year of his reign, he [Alphonse VI], amongst other things he very laudably and piously did, procured that in all Spain the divine office be celebrated according to the use of the Roman Church, seeking the approval of the most honourable lord Gregory the Seventh of the apostolic see. [1]

Alphonse carried out his design of establishing the Roman rite in Spain ruthlessly, despite the setbacks not only of the trial by combat, but also of a trial by fire. The chronicle of Nájera reports:

Thus the aforesaid king Alphonse, after he had taken up the government of the kingdoms, sent emissaries to Rome to Pope Hildebrand, who is called Gregory the Seventh, that he might establish the celebration of the Roman rite in all his kingdom. And so the Pope remembered his cardinal Richard, an abbot from Marseilles, and sent him to Spain. He held a noble and general council in Burgos and ordered that the divine office be done according to the Roman custom in the whole kingdom of the aforesaid king.

In the era 1115, on Palm Sunday [9 April 1077], two knights fought in Burgos, one of king Alphonse for the Roman law and the other a Castilian, namely Lope Martínez de Matanza, for the Toledan law; and the king’s knight was defeated. Moreover, while they were still fighting, a great fire was lit in the middle of the plaza, and two books were thrown therein, one containing the Roman office and the other containing the Toledan office, under this condition: that the office be kept of whichever book might escape the flames unharmed. But since the Toledan [book] made a great leap out of the fire, the king, made wroth, forthwith returned it to the fire with a kick, saying, “The horns of the laws bend before the will of kings”. [2]

We return to Archbishop Roderic’s chronicle, which recalls the trial by fire thus:

Since a great riot broke out after this [the trial by combat] amongst the knights and the people, it was finally resolved that the book of the Toledan office and the book of the Gallican [i.e. Roman] office would be placed in a great bonfire. After the primate, legate, and clergy ordered everyone to fast, and everyone having made a devout prayer, the book of the Gallican office was consumed by the fire; and, while everyone watched and praised God, the book of the Toledan office jumped out of all the flames of fire, remaining altogether unharmed and untouched by the burning of the fire. But since the king was bold and pertinaciously carried out his will, he was not afraid of the miracle, nor was he persuaded to bend to the supplications. Instead, threatening those who resisted with the death penalty and expropriation, he ordered that the Gallican office be observed in all the lands of his kingdom. And then, while everyone wept and was grieved, he coined the proverb, “Laws go whither kings will.”

And thereafter the Gallican office, which had never before been received, was observed in Spain in the psalter as well as in everything else, even though in some monasteries [the Mozarabic use] was kept for some time, and indeed the [Hispanic] translation of the psalter is still to-day recited in many cathedral churches and monasteries.

One cannot help but admire the fortitude and tenacity wherewith against such powerful forces these doughty Castilians defended the liturgy bequeathed to them by their forefathers Sts Isidore and Leander. Would that more of the faithful had shown the same zeal for the liturgy handed down by their forefathers during the calamitous course of the 20th century liturgical “reforms”!

An illustration of the trial by fire found in an edition of the Mozarabic Missal published in 1770 in Mexico (taken from the Liturgical Arts Journal).

[1] El qual, despues que suuio en el alteça e magnifico estado rreal de su rreyno, entre otras cosas muchas que muy loable e rreligiosamente fiço, en el onçeno año de su rreino procuro, suplicando al baron de muy onrrada vida Gregorio setimo en la silla apostolical, que en toda España fuese çelebrado el diuinal ofiçio segun que la iglesia rromana acostumbraba.

[2] Prefatus itaque rex Aldefonsus postquam regnorum suscepit regimina, nuntios Romam misit ad papam Aldebrandum qui cognominatus est Gregorius septimus, ut Romanum ministerium in omni regno suo constitueret celebrandum. Memoratus itaque papa cardinalem suum Ricardum, abbatem Massiliensem in Yspaniam misit; qui apud Burgensem ciuitatem nobile et generale concilium celebrans diuinum officium iuxta Romanam consuetudinem in omni regno predicti regis haberi mandauit.

Era MCXV.a in Dominica de ramis palmarum apud Burgis pugnauerunt duo milites, unus regis Aldefonsi pro lege Romana et alter Castellanus, scilicet Lupus Martinez de Matanza, pro lege Toletana; et uictus est miles regis. Super quo illis adhuc contendentibus, accenso magno igne in platee medio missi sunt in eum duo libri, unus Romanum officium continens alter uero officium continens Toletanum, sub tali conditione: ut cuius modi liber ignem illesus euaderet, eius officium teneretur. Sed cum Toletanus magnum extra ignem saltum dedisset, mox rex iratus illum in ignem pede reiciens dixit: «ad libitum regum fletantur cornua legum». (Until the introduction of the Anno Domini system in the 14th-15th centuries, years were reckoned in Spain as “eras” starting on 38 BC, considered to be the beginning of the Pax Romana in Hispania.)

[3] Cumque super hoc magna sedicio in milicia et populo oriretur, demum placuit ut liber officii Toletani et liber officii Gallicani in magna ignis congerie ponerentur; et indicto omnibus ieiunio a primate, legato et clero et oratione ab omnibus deuote peracta, igne consumitur liber officii Gallicani et prosiliit super omnes flammas incendii, cunctis uidentibus et Deum laudantibus, liber officii Toletani illesus omnino et a combustione incendii alienus. Set cum rex esset magnanimus et sue uoluntatis pertinax executor, nec miraculo territus nec supplicatione suasus uoluit inclinari, set mortis supplicia et direptionem minitans resistentibus precepit ut Gallicanum officium in omnibus regni sui finibus seruaretur. Et tunc cunctis flentibus et dolentibus prouerbium inoleuit: «Quo uolunt reges uadunt leges».

Et ex tunc Gallicanum officium tam in Psalterio quam in aliis, numquam ante susceptum, fuit in Hispaniis obseruatum, licet in aliquibus monasteriis fuerit aliquanto tempore custoditum, et etiam translatio Psalterii in plurimis ecclesiis cathedralibus et monasteriis adhuc hodie recitatur. 

The Cross in the Sand: Missionaries in Spanish Florida

Spanish Florida
Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Augustine

Michael Gannon’s The Cross in the Sand is a moving account of the Church’s missionary efforts in Spanish Florida from its origins up to the 20th century. Among stories of heroic martyrdom, it contains several marvelous episodes of a liturgical nature. The book gets off to an encouraging start with this triumphant introduction:

“…on six subsequent Spanish explorations to the Florida shoreline from 1521 to 1565, priests of the Church were here to raise the Cross in the sand and to offer unnumbered Masses on wilderness altars. In the striking phrase of the nineteenth-century historian John Gilmary Shea, ‘The altar was older than the hearth.’

Wherever the historian’s eye is cast, there stands the altar with its surmounting Cross–Stat crux cum [sic] volvitur orbis. Around that altar there gathered, at one date or another, all the great names that made up our state’s early history, when La Florida was an outpost of empire and a curve on the rim of Christendom. With but one brief interruption, from 1763 to 1768, the practice of the Catholic Faith was a distinguishing feature of our state’s early culture, and the proudly worn badge of many of her people: priests and friars, conquistadors and hidalgos, soldiers and statesmen, Indians from the swamps and shoreland, Spaniards and Minorcans, rich and poor, the innocent and the repentant–they were a long line of stout men, and if there was any evil in them, there was also much good; and if at times they stooped to small and mean things, they also rose to heights of courage and generosity and sacrifice which are the real patens of nobility and the expected fruits of Christian life.”

1) During Hernando De Soto’s “indomitable procession” through parts of Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas in the 1540s, all of the vestments and vessels needed for Mass were destroyed in a battle. A chronicler relates how the expedition proceeded:

“Thereafter, an altar was erected and decorated on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Standing at the altar, a priest, vested in a buckskin chasuble, said the Confiteor, the Introit of the Mass, and the Oration, Epistle, and the Gospel, and all the rest up to the end of the Mass without consecrating. The Spaniards call this the Misa seca; and the one who said the Mass, or another priest, read the Gospel and delivered a sermon on it. From this they derived consolation in the distress they felt at not being able to adore our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ under the sacramental species. This lasted for almost three years, until the time they left Florida for the land of the Christians [Mexico]” (pg. 8).

2) The celebration of the Spanish landing at what would become St. Augustine parish, Sept. 8th, 1565:

“On Saturday the 8th, the General landed with many banner spread, to the sound of trumpets and salutes of artillery. As I had gone ashore the evening before, I took a Cross and went to meet him, singing the hymn, Te Deum Laudamus. The General, followed by all who accompanied him, marched up to the Cross, knelt, and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all they saw done.

A solemn Mass was then offered in honor of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. . . It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land. It was also the beginning of the parish of St. Augustine and of the permanent service of the Catholic Church in what is now the United States” (pp. 26-27).


3) The education of the Indians at a mission near St. Augustine:

“The chapel at Nombre de Dios was a handsome stone structure complete with statues of the saints, and his Indians were by this time so well instructed they sang High Mass and Vespers on Sundays” (pg. 43).

4) From a detailed report written by the visiting bishop of Havana, Gabriel Diaz Vara Calderon, on the piety of the Florida Indians:

“As to their religion, they are not idolaters, and they embrace with devotion the mysteries of our holy Faith. They attend Mass with regularity at eleven o’clock on the Holy Days they observe, namely, Sunday, and the feasts of Christmas, the Circumcision, Epiphany, the Purification of Our Lady, and the feast days of Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and All Saints’ Day, and before entering the church each one brings to the house of the priest a log of wood as a contribution. They do not talk in the church, and the women are separated from the men, the women on the Epistle side, the men on the Gospel side.

They are very devoted to the Virgin, and on Saturdays they attend [church] when her Mass is sung. On Sundays they attend the Rosary and the Salve in the afternoon. They celebrate with rejoicing and devotion the Birth of Our Lord, all attending the midnight Mass with offerings of loaves, eggs, and other food. They subject themselves to extraordinary penances during Holy Week, and during the twenty-four hours of Holy Thursday and Friday. . . they attend standing, praying the rosary in complete silence–twenty-four men, twenty-four women, and twenty-four children–with hourly changes. The children, both male and female, are taught by a teacher whom they call the Athequi [interpreter] of the church–[a person] whom the priests have for this service; as they also have someone deputized to report to them on all parishioners who live in evil” (pg. 66).

Theophilus Raynaudus’s Christianum Sacrum Acathistum (2): Section One

(See the introduction to this work in a previous post.)

In the first section of Christianum Acathistum, Fr. Raynaud explains the surprise with which he had discovered, upon his return to France (in 1651?), after his Roman teaching days, that the people of Lyon had begun the novel practice of sitting during Mass, on small seats and chairs brought in for that purpose. It appears the practice had not abated ten years later when he published this treatise.

Before he begins his invective against pews, he summarizes some plausible arguments for the practice from Scripture, the Fathers, reason, and tradition.

The novel custom of bringing in seats for those assisting at the Christian sacrifice

Session of Christ
Session of Christ, Book of Kells

Scarcely a decade has passed since I returned from Italy and was astounded to discover the novel practice of bringing in a seat [sellam] or chair [cathedram] for those assisting at the Mass, for which one is charged a small fee. When I asked at what point  and on whose watch this novelty had arisen, I was told things it would be better not to repeat. For many things are shamelessly invented about good people and freely bandied around. It is better to be discreet about such things, lest innocent men be sullied or besmirched by the telling alone. What is at least clear is that, once this novelty was brought in, it instantly attracted the attention of  superfluous little busy-bodies. Now it happens that on feast days, whenever someone comes to the Church to fulfill the Church’s precept of hearing Mass, some contemptible men from the basest grade of the people, along with their wives and young children, run up and accost him with great obsequiousness. Even unbidden and unpaid, they bring in a chair on which the person may lean or sit upon as they please. It is as if the chair were a monastic psyatius (?), upon which the monks of old would lean or sit on in turns (as Nebridius correctly observed in Monastic Antiquities). This “session” [sessimonium] (to use a word of Varro) causes so much impediment in the holy temple that those who want to move around can do so only with great difficulty, since the seats are dispersed so tumultuously through almost the whole church that it is a great labor even to approach the chancery.

Interior with a friar preaching, a follower_of_hendrick_van_steenwyck_ii_interior_of_a_gothic_church_with)
Interior of a Cathedral with Friar Preaching, A follower of Henryck van Steenwyck

There are some who find it useful to bring in a sort of ground-covering for themselves. For most people are frail, and unable to pray on their knees for very long. What would happen to these people if they fell into the hands of a prolix priest—the sort William of Paris rails against for mixing gall into the food of the people of God and rendering the highest exercise of Christian piety bitter by protracting the celebration of Mass. Knee-butchers and candle-wasters, executioners of patience, you might justly call them, following Gabriel and Major on this point. So, what is weak man to do, falling into the hands of one of these interminably-sacrificing priests, if he is deprived of a seat? But with the help of a seat he can assist piously at even a longish Mass, as long as he puts down his knees when the divine host is raised, sitting for the rest of the sacred service to flatter his infirmity. And he may find refuge in the precedent of St. Anselm who (as Edinerus relates), sought use of a chair to sit on when he assisted at Mass, and did sit for many days. Being so weak in body, and not wanting to be deprived of hearing daily Mass, yet unable to assist praying on his knees, he sat on a small chair for the duration of the sacrifice at which he so greatly desired to be. Therefore, why should those who know themselves to be weak not follow the example of such a great man?

interior engraving.jpg
For those who are not able to protest their bodily weakness and tired limbs, a seat is useful for avoiding dirt and stains from the unwashed floor.  For many arrive with shoes caked in the muck of the muddy streets, by whose tracks the floor becomes filthy . Nor is the place any less soiled, most of the time, by spit and other disgusting excretions that distract one at prayer (as the Master notes in S. Benedict of Aniane’s book). For the devil quickens and relaxes the excrements: as Cassian also warns. For not everyone is as S. Macarius of Alexandria, who (as Palladius says) for the sixty years after he received baptism, never spat upon the earth lest his tongue, sanctified by the touch and saliva of the priest who conferred his baptism, be dishonored by that ejection of spit. There are many who, no matter where they are, even in the temple of God, spit out the saliva that has richly collected, stimulated by the vigor of their humor, or when a copious fluxus of saliva urges. Not everyone has the same tender piety of S. Nonna who was careful not to spit in church, as Nazianzus records about her. Not everyone has that piety toward the church that the Roman had even toward that sewer called (according to Varro) Doliola. This was a ditch dug long ago when the Gauls were besieging the city, in which it was impious to spit, since the place was considered sacred. In the same way it was impious to spit in the sea because the whole of it was considered sacred, as Pliny notes when writing about Tyrides Magus. Thus many who come to the temple, restrained by no religious sense to abstain from spitting, strew the floor with the excretions of evil liquids and thus dishonor it.

Church interior  
There are even dogs who make their way into the temple whose feet are  often feculent and filthy, and they foul the floors with their muck and grime. It is also difficult, especially for the philocosmic sex (as S. Jerome calls the female one), especially for those whose expensive clothes might be sullied by brushing against the dirty floor as they kneel to pray during Mass. Thus a seat is a safeguard against all such ordure and justly despised filth. And so seats and stools are permitted on good grounds, at least for leaning, lest contact with the grimy floor spoil their splendid clothes and people make themselves unwholesomely dirty in the grime-coated floors.

dogs in belfast.jpg

Peeter Neeffs, Interior of Antwerp Cathedral. Note the wooden screens around all the altars.

But lest we think that either of these reasons settles the matter, we must also consider a third reason, which arises from the need to support the attention of the worshipper at prayer as conscientiously as possible. Tranquility of soul and body greatly conduces to this attention, and sitting contributes to quietude of mind. No weakness of body will weigh down the blessed in heaven, for all will be strong in justice, as Isaiah said. All will receive strength, and a corporal vigor excluding all weakness will abide forever in them. There will not be any violation of beauty, neither of the resurrected bodies nor of their clothes if the Blessed have them (this problem was amply discussed by Gabriel of Enhaus.) We need fear no such things there; for the world will all be gold as in the vision given to John, nor will any dirt be allowed in, but it will be more transparent than crystal and shinier than any glass. And yet the blessed, perpetually praising God, will have seats, seated upon which they will measure out an eternal hymnody, signifying their tranquility and rest. Many scriptures tell us this, as Christ says in Matthew 20: “to sit ad my right hand is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father”; Apocalypse 3 “to the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with my on my throne.” Paul in Ephesians 2 “raised us up with him and seated us with him in heaven.” A resplendent seat in heaven which belonged to one of the apostate angels was given to S. Francis as a reward for profound humility, and has been shown to one of that glorious Patriarch’s confreres, as St. Bonaventure says in his legend [….].

Interior of a Gothic Cathedral, Paul Vredeman de Vries

Christ sits at God’s right hand, as our faith teaches and Suarez proves very amply from the Scriptures and Fathers. Thus it is just that the sons of adoption, who belong to the Son of God, should be similar to him also in this. Thus the blessed will have seats to rest on in heaven, as an expression of their eternal rest. Why then should it not be allowed to the viatores to express by imitation the state of the comprehensi, and to sit while carrying out the work of God, acquiring tranquility of mind and body, which of all things is fitting for those at leisure for the worship of God? [….].

Of course the Apostles and the whole crowd of the faithful upon whom the Holy Spirit descended when he established the Catholic Church at the moment when the first Christian sacrifice was being performed (as we have shown in a complete work de prima Missa), are portrayed by Luke sitting as the spiritual flames rained down upon their heads. Hence Cardinal Cajetan has rightly argued that sitting is not a posture incongruous with Christian prayer. St. Gregory has this to say about sitting in order to exercise an interior judgment upon our souls, when he speaks about solitude: “When everything has been properly composed within him, he will sit down in peace. He will sit, subjecting his flesh to his soul, and issuing edicts from the tribunal of reason as if from a judicial bench, all his interior motions being as so many citizens. I say he will sit, with no fear of the adversary, conscious of no hostile attack. For to stand belongs to those who fight, but to sit belongs to those at leisure. He will also sit alone, which is to say, far removed from every disturbance of the carnal desires.”

Now both sitting and withdrawing are most appropriate for one receiving an internal judgment. So many have thought that during an exterior judgment the one who judges is required to sit. This is not only from seemliness, as Bouchius thought, but also from necessity, and the validity of the sentence depends on it. Though Menochius rejects this opinion, it is in conformity with the Scriptures, in which judgments are portrayed as taken place while sitting, as in Daniel 7: “iudicium, sedit, et libri aperti sunt.” and in Psalm 121: “Illic sederunt sedes in iudicio.” And elsewhere: “adversus me loquebantur qui sedebant in porta” [….]

In civil law, when the Praetor brings a case before the tribunal, he sits [….]

Interior of a cathedral, David Roberts (1822 or 1829)

All of which goes to show that Aristotle was right when he said that the soul is made prudent by sitting, because tranquillity makes it quiet. Therefore, in order to bring rest to the soul and quietness to the flesh while performing an action for God, sitting is fittingly used.

What else? Men of surpassing piety approached God while sitting. This was done by Moses who leaned on a rock, extending his hands and praying against the Amalekites (Exodus 17) and by Elias (3 Kings 18) [….] About St. Ignatius of Loyola we read this, in Masseus, who has it from the secret observance of Ignatius’s domestics: “When he had climbed to the top level of the house where there was an unobstructed view of the stars, he stood for a little while with his eyes fixed on the heavens. Then casting himself on his knees, he humbly adored the creator of all this beauty. Thereafter, due to his infirmity he sat on a small bench [scabello] as copious rivers of tears flowed from his eyes, and that without any sobbing or noise. In this way, with his soul serene and his body still, he received the rays of the divine light, and was joined to the Father in a wonderful sweetness of spirit.” Ignatius’s sitting did not disturb him but led to greater composure, which aided his peace of soul and recollection.


(to be continued…)