Professor Billett establishes with a high degree of probability that the form of the Office brought to England by the Augustinian Mission was not the form which was later to be thought of as 'Benedictine'. It was 'Roman' in the sense of replicating what was done in the great Roman basilicas ... the dedications of which (Christ; Ss Peter and Paul; S Mary) S Augustine was recreating in his See city. What happened in Rome was itself, of course, not static; and evidence can be complicated by this fact, as well as by the probability that local religious Superiors exercised a degree of liberty. But the main outlines are clear and, needless to say, evolution, both in Rome and in England, was 'organic'. It was not until the middle of the tenth century that a monastic 'reform' in England resulted in a 'strict observance' of the Benedictine liturgical rules in a group of monasteries, leaving other monasteries, and the secular clergy, to continue the old Roman basilican liturgical tradition.
There is something very distinctively 'Anglican' in Professor Billett's thesis. The Romanitas of the English Church received much emphasis from an earlier generation of Anglican liturgists, not least Geoffrey Willis. Many readers will remember the conclusion of a particular 'purple passage' by Gregory Dix: "This very morning I 'did this' with a set of texts which has not changed by more than a few syllables since Augustine used those very words at Canterbury on the third Sunday of Easter in the summer after he landed". And Billett, in a book which I suspect will not be superseded for a very long time, draws into his conclusions a vast amount of secondary literature, some of it largely ignored today because of the lack of interest displayed, since the 1960s, in anything which did not point towards the targets desired by the dominant fashionistas of that decade. One example is Camille Callewaert: not a name to conjure with among the Diocesan Directors of Liturgy of our generation ... but his little finger was thicker than their thighs. (Even the biggest names are now little known ... Bishop ... the Benedictine liturgical school of the Interwar Period ... Eizenhoeffer ... Christine Mohrmann ... are these names that crawl all over the notebooks of modern seminarians or even DPhil students?) Billett also summarises and utilises the work of scholars currently active, such as our own very popular Professor Regia of Ecclesiastical History here at Oxford, Sarah Foot.
Repeatedly, I found myself reading some single lapidary sentence in this book, perhaps especially one including a negative, and suddenly pulling up short with the reflection: It must have taken him a couple of days to check through that, not only verifying the references but, particularly, looking into every conceivable nook and cranny to assure himself that he hadn't failed to notice a piece of contrary evidence which would subvert his negative.
To be continued.