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  • The Anglican Choral Heritage and Lectio Divina
  • John-Bede Pauley O.S.B. (bio)

I. Introduction

A facet of the Anglican patrimony that undoubtedly sprang to the minds of many on the promulgation of Anglicanorum Coetibus is the Anglican choral heritage.1 Parishes and groups in the Ordinariates have indeed established liturgical choirs that perform the Anglican choral repertoire.2 In addition to celebrating this fact, it is perhaps not too soon to ask how this heritage will set down its roots and develop in the Catholic context. In this essay I establish that the Anglican choral heritage already has Catholic roots because of patristic/monastic spirituality’s immense influence in English spirituality. Also, I discuss how this spirituality has or has not influenced the Anglican choral heritage in each musical stylistic period.

Because the research on which I rely in this essay is mostly historical, I avoid being either proscriptive or prescriptive in deference to the descriptive. For the sake of transparency, however, I acknowledge my agreement with research (my own included) that [End Page 173] identifies monastic elements—and Benedictine monasticism,3 in particular—in the Anglican tradition.4 Consequently, describing the monastic influence on the Anglican choral heritage implies prescribing—or at least suggesting—this spirituality as a beneficial influence for the future of the Anglican choral heritage.

Identifying the characteristics of this spirituality provides a stronger rationale for choral music in the Anglican patrimony than—laudable though they are—the general appeals to dignity, beauty, nobility,5 making “a worthy offering to Almighty God,”6 and providing a means of “strengthening and refreshing our souls.”7 It supplies a patristic/monastic (and Anglican) interpretation of the Catechism’s statement that liturgy “manifests [the [End Page 174] Church] as the visible sign of the communion in Christ between God and men [and] engages the faithful in the new life of the community….”8 What this ethos emphasizes is the role of listening. The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is obsculta, “listen.”9 The monastic practice of lectio divina, which can be translated “prayerful reading,” is a reading so profound and contemplative that one stills the reading mind for the sake of an interior listening to Holy Writ. The magnificent language of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and the Authorized Version of the Bible (or the King James Version, as it also known) is meant to do more than merely inform worshipers. To use the language of the Catechism, the language of the BCP and the Authorized Version engages the faithful and serves as the audible (contrast with the Catechism’s “visual”) sign “of the communion in Christ between God and men.” The Anglican patrimony developed a similar role for the audible art form: music.10

Though my exploration of music in Anglicanism is informed by my training as a musicologist,11 I try to address what follows to a readership of non-musicians. This means there are unavoidable generalizations. The advantage, though, of looking at the topic from a metaphorical thirty thousand feet is that it reveals several constant and salient characteristics of the Anglican choral heritage. For those unfamiliar with terms and ideas related to Anglicanism, [End Page 175] Appendix A explains different versions of the BCP and kinds of Anglican Churchmanship, and Appendix B the musical genres of the Anglican choral heritage.

II. Patristic/Monastic Theology in Historical Context

Well before the Protestant Reformation, Catholicism on the continent, though never consciously dismissing or ignoring patristic writings, had already shifted its preferred theological method to scholasticism. The patristic/monastic approach to Holy Writ is to reflect, to meditate. The scholastic method, on the other hand, is discursive and poses quaestiones.12 In 1185, this distinction was clear enough for Godfrey of St. Victor to write, “let us [non-scholastics] leave … the disputations of the scholastics, and devote our attention to other things.”13 Both patristic/monastic theology and scholastic theology have always been closely interrelated.14 But they are distinct enough that the differences persist. Indeed, these differences proved to be an issue following John Henry Newman’s conversion to Catholicism. Archbishop (later Cardinal) Henry Edward...


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