10 December 2010

Diairmid McCullough, or however he is spelt ...

Sauntering through Blackwells the other day, to pick up the Holy Father's Interview book, I stopped by D M's History of Christendom, which is now at the paperback stage of its decline. I dipped into it.

I do, somewhat boldly, think that there are some areas in which I have a very modest competence, but I am extremely aware of the boundaries of my knowledge (for example, I most certainly am not a historian). So I have a test which I apply particularly to the writings of people who produce Big Books in subject areas which are not my own (by the way, on the subject of Big Books in general, three cheers for the views of the greatest of the Greek poets, Callimachus).

The Hunwicke test is this. I find some topic in his discussion in which the Big Writer has strayed into an area in which I do know something. And I test his assertions. My assumption is that if it turns out that he is writing a load of tasteless white fish with small, needle-like bones* in an area in which I am able to judge him, there is every possibility (or at the very least a risk) that he is just as unreliable, tendentious, or crooked in areas where I do not have competence.

DM decides to tell us about the Kyries. He makes two assertions. The first is that the threefold Kyries (Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison) are ever-present 'mantras' in Byzantine liturgy. The second is that in the Roman Rite they are relics of the period when the worship of the Roman Church was in Greek. Each of these assertions is untrue, the former partially and the latter totally. The paragraph concerned does not even condescend to offer a footnote directing us to any evidence for these crass assertions of inaccuracy and falsehood.

You may tell me that in so very Big a Book, it is unreasonable for a writer to be expected never to make little errors. "Don't be a pedant. Go for his Big Picture."

I could not more profoundly disagree with you. Any Big Picture is built up of innumerable small brush-strokes. If a man is slipshod about his details, it will be, to a greater or lesser extent, probable that his Big Picture is not worth the paper, so to speak, which it is written on. And in any case, nobody is under a legal or moral obligation to write Big Books. If someone chooses to do so, he should either get his facts straight or be excoriated for not doing so.




Left-footer said...

I agree, absolutely.

Perhaps a wall-eyed pollock - 'mintaj' in Polish, and very popular here.

The Liturgical Pimpernel said...

Here! Here!

Jesse said...

Similar suspicions arose in my mind when, watching the TV version, I heard the good professor speak of Syrian Christianity's adoption of "street music" in the liturgy as the ultimate origin of Gregorian chant. Utter nonsense.

In a similar vein, when I read Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, I found the science, and the interesting analogies and thought experiments used to demonstrate it, entirely reasonable (and still do). But when I discovered an endnote devoted to the proper pronunciation of the word "algae" -- in which the natural Old Style Anglo-Latin pronunciation (softening the "g" before the ae diphthong, as in "gee whiz") was dismissed as incorrect and an Americanism -- I realized that this fellow liked to issue opinions on matters of which he was smugly ignorant. And then he wrote The God Delusion...

Little Black Sambo said...

Would you apply the same strictures to his book about Cranmer, which strikes me as excellent?

(@Liturgical Pimpernel
There, there!)

Seth said...

He also uses the argumentum ab silentio far more often than any respectable historian should (I get very irritated with that sort of method of discussing the early Church).

They used to do a lovely bit of roast pollock at Quod on Oxford High St.

Rubricarius said...

A sensible methodology for assessment, although I confess to having enjoyed Diarmaid MacCulloch's series - I haven't read the book yet.

Would you apply the same level of criticism to someone like Michael Davies with his classic quotes such as "St. Pius X made a revision not of the text but of the music" and "..the text of the Mass as promulgated by Pope St. Pius V...remained totally unchanged until 1960.."

I will certainly be hoping Santa drops a copy of Professor Maculloch's book in the sock I put up.

Patrick Sheridan said...

Good post father.

Rubricarius, what about Scott Reid's fascinating and edifying book ''The Organic Development of the Liturgy''? - a brilliant display of scholarly ineptitude if ever there was one.

I quote:

''The breviary reform of Urban VIII (1623-1644) can be best described as a typographical revision, and it could be described as a minor development in the liturgical organism but for the personal interest (interference?) of the pope, with the help of a commission of four Jesuits, in reforming the text of the hymns of the breviary 'to give satisfaction to the taste of his time.''' (Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, Chapter I).

Are we to take this seriously? ''Typographical revision''...Anyone who knows anything about the reality of Urban VIII's ''revision'' will think this a farrago of nonsense. Reid is welcome to his nonsensical conclusions, though I do not see that he, as a scholar, has any right to push any false hermeneutic of Church history in an honest study of the history of the Liturgy since the Council of Trent (the Trad agenda that is - the stupid idea that there was no reform of the Liturgy before Vatican II, which most Trads consider a synod of brigands).

''A minor development in the liturgical organism'' - does a committee of four Classicists manipulate the growth of the Sacred Liturgy in a natural and holistic way? To put it as Tolkien did in the early 1960s, how does digging up the tree to find the seed avail anything? Or are these the early signs of aggiornamento (which is fraught with peril)? To me the triumph of personal taste over ancient hymnody is an abuse, and not to be treated as simply a ''minor revision of the rubrics'' or whatever nonsense these Traditionalists come up with to try and explain away the facts.

Urban VIII's hymns are not to be treated lightly. They represent, for all their pseudo-Horatian mode of expression, a serious break with the Tradition of the Church. It is quite clear that the committee had private recitation of the Office in mind in their revision, and not choral singing (as befits the nature of the Liturgy), which represents another fault in the supposed ''organic development'' of the Liturgy since Trent. In my opinion these hymns must be brought back into relation with Tradition, and their gross alterations of the text corrected.

Rubricarius said...


I suppose it would be sort of developing organically and typographically, only we were too sinful to see it. No?

(With apologies to Evelyn Waugh)

Mark said...

I also agree. I appreciate DMcC's earlier works. But early on in this one, I caught him engaging in highly opinionated errors. And it makes me wonder how much of the rest of the book I should trust.

Patrick Sheridan said...


Well as mere heretics what do we know about Liturgy? The Pope defines what Liturgy is, and because of all this organic development it can only keep getting better and better as the centuries go by. It is to be hoped that soon the Cotta will be replaced with something shorter and with more lace, the Big Six can only get higher and higher, with more shelves and Roman cut vestments can only get more beautiful, and don't let us forget more and more and more side altars for more and more Tridentine Rite Low Masses...

Patrick Sheridan said...

...and of course more lovely popes like Pius XII to rewrite all those old horrible propers which aren't relevant anymore. The Pope is, after all, the supreme liturgist.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I agree with a lot of what has been said but would remind readers that we get our knickers in a bit of a twist if we categorically deny that the Bishop of Rome has an authoritative locus as far as the Roman Rite is concerned.The popes who composed for the classical sacramentaries thought they did. Many in Rome thought that S GregoryI's byzantinisation of the Ordo Missae was rather questionable.

The Liturgical Pimpernel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Liturgical Pimpernel said...

[reposted with additions]

Patricius, my copy of Alcuin Reid's book (Ignatius 2005) pages 48-49, concludes the section on Urban VIII's reform with this paragraph, after severely criticising the reform itself:

"This instance serves to warn against accepting the personal enthusiasms, tastes or even the judgements of popes as all-sufficient justification for liturgical reforms. Whilst Urban VIII was right to correct the breviary, fulfilling his responsibility toward its organic development as had his predecessors (and indeed, as should his successors), his presumption to undertake a root and branch reform of the hymns of the Roman Liturgy based on the tastes of his age can be seen as a radical and unjustified departure from what is seen as the 'authentic' Tradition."

You are quoting the opening paragraph of that section out of context, and you have missed the meaning of the words "but for" in the paragraph you quote.

It might be better if you read the other paragraph, and the conclusion, lest some accuse you of a brilliant display of unscholarly ineptitude.

Incidentally, you are not correct in your post of 28/11 on your own blog to say that "folded chasubles were abolished by the Pope in 1956." My detailed comment correcting this has not yet appeared.

Please get your facts right, otherwise you will be grouped with Diarmud McCullough, though perhaps he deserves at least some credit for having published a reportedly good book on Cramner. Remind us, how many you have published?

The Liturgical Pimpernel said...

Patricius, I am in your debt. Your swipe at Reid has prompted me to do some research. I have taken myself to a library and found out all I can about Urban VIII’s breviary reform and whether or not it was (apart from his awful reform of the hymns, on which I think we all agree – though you seem to have missed a page of Reid’s criticism of them) “can be best described as a typographical revision, and it could be described as a minor development in the liturgical organism but for the personal interest (interference?) of the pope” in the hymns.

Now my Urban VIII breviary must be at the bindery or somewhere, and the library didn’t have one either, but the books I did find said this:

E.J. Quigley, The Divine Office, 1920, 16:

“[Urban VIII] caused careful correction of errors which had crept in through careless printing; he printed the psalms and canticles with the Vulgate punctuation, and he revised the lessons and made additions. He established uniformity in texts of the Missal and Breviary. But the greatest change made in this new edition was in the Breviary hymns...”

P. Battifol, History of the Roman Breviary, 1912, 221:

“Except for these innovations [the correction of the legenda of some saints, the re-ranking of some feast days and the introduction of some new saints] Urban VIII’s reform would have left no other record than that of a typographical revision if...there had not been another commission [of Jesuits, who revised the breviary hymns].

J. Baudot, The Roman Breviary: Its Sources & History, 1910, 183-184:

“The corrections effected with the approval of Urban VIII were not of much importance. The commission...modified some expressions in fourteen or fifteen of [the] legends; next it examined once more the sermons and the homilies taken from the Fathers, compared them with the best editions of the period, and made such alterations and additions as it judged necessary. Urban VIII desired for the psalm and canticles, as well as for all other passages taken from Holy Sacripture, the punctuation of the edition of Clement VIII should be strictly followed, but permitted that, in order to mark the pause, an asterisk should be employed to divide each verse of the psalms in two parts.”

Now, Patricius, I wholeheartedly concede that these are secondary sources. They seem fairly agreed though. And they are not pushing any “Trad agenda.” No, you seem to have misunderstood and misrepresented a reputable scholar.

In these circumstances, where scholarly opinion is clear and in the absence of any other evidence, the honourable thing, young sir, is to apologise for your earlier comments, and withdraw them.

Anonymous said...

Liturgical Pimpernel,

Thanks for putting it better than I could have.

I read Reid's study perhaps six months ago, and I recall him being quite critical of Urban's re-writing of the hymns.

Overall I thought Reid's work was a solid piece of scholarship, very judicious in its judgments.

Patricius would be happy to know that the heart of the book is about the liturgical developments during the papacy of Pius XII, and Reid assesses them quite critically.

In fact, I would venture to say that he sees many of the seeds of the post-conciliar disaster in them.

The Liturgical Pimpernel said...

For Patricius:


Rubricarius said...

The problem with many authors is that they tend to repeat each other's statements; e.g. O'Connell states in 'The Celebration of Mass' (Vol. 1, p.8) that in the Clementine Missal (1604) "the Common of Non-Virgins made their appearance officially for the first time."

Anyone who has ever looked at a copy of the 1570 Missal either in extant form or a facsimile edition can see this is fallacious.

As to Reid quoting Batiffol, Reid clearly does quote opinion against the Urban VIII hymns. What is odd is that Reid states (p. 38) "This error in the pope's [Urban VIII] judgement was partially redressed following St. Pius X's reform of the breviary in 1911, and eventually reversed in the breviary produced following the Second Vatican Council."

Now, to take the second clause first, we know that whatever the merits of the hymns in Liturgia Horarum they are not the pre-Urban VIII hymns restored but have experienced a 'makeover' which has been discussed by our learned blog host several times. As to the first part of Reid's sentence what on earth did Pius X do to the hymns in 1911-13? Most other things in the Breviary changed but not the hymns - alas!

As far as I am aware (and I have not yet read Manlio Sodi's latest publication) no accurate, detailed, description of the changes between the 1568 Breviary and the 1602 and 1632 editions exists. Why were whole lessons suppressed? What happened to the Sunday Vespers hymn in Lent?

Professor MacCulloch's book is still very much on my wish list (and Sodi's).

The Liturgical Pimpernel said...

Rubricarius, how interesting. But didn’t the Pius X Graduale Romanum (1908) begin by correcting the Urban VIII texts in the hymns that appear in the Graduale? I’m not near a library today and can’t check whether they were carried over into his Breviary, but the first corrections to Urban VIII did appear under Pius X I think.

I do have Bugnini’s book to hand, and he says something, though not so clearly, about the post Vatican II reform of the hymns being criticised by “some Latinists who regretted the loss, at least in the better-known hymns, of the stylistic form created by Urban VIII and the Latinists of the Renaissance, which they regarded as more agreeable and fluent than the sometimes rough verse of the original text” (550).

It seems that there is a lot more to both reforms. It would certainly be very useful for someone to do a thorough study of the hymns, especially from Trent to Vatican II.

Rubricarius said...

Liturgical Pimpernel,

A tiny handful of hymns appear in the Gradual and of those an even smaller number are in pre-Urban form. Of those two are found in the hymns given to be sung ad libitum at the Corpus Christi procession (including Jesu nostra redemptio perhaps one of the worst affected having become Salutis humanae sator thanks to Urban). However, both versions are given in the relevant section of the Gradual. Vexilla regis is given in its authentic form (only) on Good Friday.

However, none of these appear in either editions of the Breviary or Antiphonale that were published after the 1911-13 reform, only the post-Urban forms.

Personally, I think the Lentini versions are far preferable to those of Urban but cannot see why the pre-Urban forms could not have been restored. (The cynic in me thinks some Vatican bureaucrats like making work for themselves.)