Although several editions of the Missale Romanum were published in the early s, an updated edition of the Lectionarium has not been published until now! The Lectionarium: Epistolae et Evangelia, is the first and currently only version available according to the liturgical texts of This book is used for these readings at a Solemn Masses, when a deacon or subdeacon, chants the readings, or a Missa Cantata when a minister does so. For the Triduum it contains the Exsultet with chant notation and the other readings. In all these cases, it is fitting to have this second liturgical book for the sanctuary in addition to the Missale Romanum
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Some of these best-selling books were grammars, some the lives of saints, some handbooks for priests, some works of poetry.
Perhaps they deserve to be forgotten — along with the majority of authors whose works never even made it into print, despite their popularity in manuscript. Or does it? Notice the sleight of hand. Even as he inveighed against specialisation, Hutchins was engaging in an exercise of selection purposefully calculated to exclude certain types of reading in favour of others.
What kind of a book teaches you to read all other books? Hugh of St. Victor knew, as did every reader of Augustine throughout the Middle Ages. Likewise, every postmodernist worth his or her commitment to polysemy would know — if, that is, modernists like Hutchins had not worked so hard to obscure the debt that the West owes to the great books of the Middle Ages and the purpose for which they were read. If Hutchins was worried about the specialisation of the university faculties of the early-twentieth century, Alexander and Hugh were similarly worried about the specialisation of the teaching faculty of the nascent university of Paris in the twelfth.
Like Hutchins, both twelfth-century list-makers were to a certain extent backward-looking, even as they proposed cutting-edge pedagogical reforms. Like Hutchins, they considered training in argument essential to the formation of knowledge. Like Hutchins, they looked to the classics — they called them philosophers — for grounding in the disciplines of grammar, logic and rhetoric.
Like Hutchins, they were convinced that reading was necessary to the development of understanding. Like Hutchins, they hoped through their lists to give students a guide to both what and how to read. Like Hutchins, they encouraged students not to be put off by the apparent dryness of books they found difficult or boring. Like Hutchins, they insisted that the books most worth reading often concealed their treasures under a guise of ordinary language.
Like Hutchins, they considered Logos the basis of human excellence. Like Hutchins, they looked to the salvation of humankind through the exercise of reason. Like Hutchins, they believed in the power of the written word to transform the world.
Except, unlike Hutchins, neither Alexander nor Hugh attributed that power to humanity, prone as human beings are to error. Nor, unlike Hutchins, did they expect the exercise of human intelligence to bring justice, peace, freedom and order to the government of the world. Unlike Hutchins, Alexander and Hugh had no illusions about the propensity of human beings to desire dominance over their fellow creatures. Their ambitions were at once humbler and more transcendent because, unlike Hutchins not to mention John Stuart Mill , Alexander and Hugh believed in sin.
They also believed in wisdom — and truth. Why read the great books of the philosophers? According to Hugh , because the great philosophers like Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Democritus, Xenocrates, Zeno and Parmenides had humbled themselves and grown old in their pursuit of wisdom, preferring knowledge of the truth over mastery of the world.
Which was not to say that it was wrong to pursue studies for the sake of practical knowledge: Hugh included in his curriculum of studies not only the theoretical arts of theology, mathematics the quadrivium and physics, but also the mechanical arts of fabric making, armament, commerce, agriculture, hunting, medicine and theatrics, as well as the logical arts of grammar, rhetoric and dialectic the trivium — all of which might easily find a place in a modern university curriculum.
Hugh likewise included what he called the practical or moral arts having to do with ethical actions both public politics and economics and private the household, the soul. Alexander, too, included practical wisdom in his curriculum of study. His reading list covers not only the trivium and quadrivium, but also medicine and law.
As Hugh put it : The Sacred Scriptures are most fittingly likened to a honeycomb, for while in the simplicity of their language they seem dry, within they are filled with sweetness. And thus it is that they have deservedly come by the name sacred, for they alone are found so free from the infection of falsehood that they are proved to contain nothing contrary to truth.
The end of reading How does one read such a text? Here, for most modern readers, is where things get complicated. As Hugh and his contemporaries understood it, the Scriptures were unlike all other texts because they were the basis for understanding all other texts; whereas other texts — like the works of Plato and Aristotle — might contain truths, these truths could only be discovered in light of the Truth contained in the Scriptures.
And yet, for all that they were filled with Truth, the Scriptures themselves were not transparent of meaning. Rather, like the Holy of Holies in the Temple, they were screened off from the created world by a multi-coloured veil, through which it was necessary to pass in order to access the mysteries concealed within.
Medieval commentators were considerably humbler. Just as Hugh described the philosophers as humbling themselves in their quest for wisdom, so readers of Scripture must humble themselves in order to access its sweetness, first and foremost by humbling themselves to the discipline of the arts: grammar, so that they would know the meaning of words; rhetoric, so that they would understand metaphors and other figures of speech; and logic, so that they would be able to follow the argument of the text.
Next, they would need to learn the letter of the text — that is, the narrative or history recounted on the surface: what we would call the literal meaning of the text. Only then could they proceed to the unlocking of the spiritual meaning of the text concealed behind the veil of persons and things. And what were those spiritual mysteries concealed behind the letter of the Scriptures?
Not, as both the modernists and postmodernists have contended, whatever the reader wanted to find, but rather the truth of the faith, tested and expounded over the centuries by the Fathers in their study of the Word.
To read such a text was, to coin a phrase, to enter into a great conversation — not just with other human authors, but with God, who, in order to speak to his creatures, had emptied himself and become incarnate as the Logos, the Word.
Such an engagement was not meant to be easy — anymore than Jacob had found it easy wrestling with the angel of the Lord — but neither was it meant to be wearisome. Hugh cautioned his students specifically against studying Scripture as an affliction rather than a delight.
The proper end of reading, in other words, was not only the acquisition of knowledge, but also — and even more importantly — training in virtue. Its purpose was not to coerce or to blind, as the modern caricature of the Medieval tradition of reading would have it, but rather to transform the soul through engagement with the text. Reading Scripture, as Hugh and his contemporaries understood it, was at once a challenge to the understanding and a refreshment for the soul.
Look again at our list of late-fifteenth-century best-sellers. Notice the titles at the top: number one, the Breviary for saying the Divine Office; number two, books of Hours; number four, the Missal for saying the Mass; number six, the psalter; number eight, the Bible.
And at number three and five? Grammars — books for learning to read. Number seven was the Distichs of Cato, a book of proverbs used in the classroom for early lessons in grammar; number nine was stories of the saints. And ten was the Bucolics of Virgil, another standard classroom text. If, according to Hutchins, the Great Conversation of the past years of the Western tradition has been about transforming the world through the spirit of inquiry, for the thousand years of the Middle Ages it was about transforming the soul through the spirit of wisdom.
One promised humanity the reward of remaking the world in its own image; the other promised humanity the reward of being remade in the image and likeness of God. One looked to the ideal of humanity united under a single world government; the other looked to the kingdom that is not of this world. One claimed education and reading as necessary to the formation of citizens of the world; the other claimed education and reading as necessary to the formation of citizens of the heavenly City of God.
One promised justice, peace, freedom and order through the exercise of human reason; the other promised wisdom through the exercise of humility. On the one hand is the promise of power; on the other is the promise of joy. Being transformed I have been on the faculty at the University of Chicago for some twenty-five years. It is, as academia goes, a wonderful place to teach. The students are outstanding, always willing to rise to a challenge. And the culture at Chicago, despite the best efforts of some of my colleagues, remains as committed to academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge as it was when Hutchins was President and the faculty bridled under his efforts at reform.
Although we do not teach the Great Books, our undergraduate curriculum is still committed to having the students read the primary sources. Our Core courses are still taught, for the most part, as small discussion sections of nineteen students or fewer. And yet, there is a sorrow in my teaching.
Something is missing. When I stand before my students and encourage them to engage with the texts, there is always a barrier. But what it actually is, is a fear of being affected by the texts that we read. It is a fear of what might happen if, as Hutchins himself suggested we should, we let the great books that we read work on us, particularly when those books purport to speak on behalf, not just of truth, but of Truth — of the Word revealed through the Incarnation of the Son of God as recounted in the Scriptures.
The postmodernists in our institutions might claim that such texts are dangerous precisely for their capacity to act upon us — but at least in so doing they credit the texts with that power. How is it that those of us who purport to believe in the study of these same texts do not do the same?
And besides, the committee reasoned, the Bible was the one book that every American household could be guaranteed already to own. Medieval schoolmasters like Hugh of St. Victor and Alexander Neckam would have been dumbfounded.
Not because they believed that laymen and women had no business reading the Bible. Rather because they believed that reading the Bible was the whole purpose of education, including the training in the theoretical, practical, mechanical and logical arts.
Why learn to read if you did not want to read and be transformed by the Word of God?
[Epistolae et Evangelia]
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