11 August 2023


No; this is not another discussion on Tucho Ferdinadez' best-known book. Unlike his Almost-Eminence, I, not being an Argentinian high-flying curial careerist, have no advice to offer about how far down your partner's throat your tongue etc.etc..

Instead, I want to offer some observations about a subject which has been out in the academic world since the 1990s; Orality and Literacy: the interaction between the written and the orally transmitted word  in the times of Classical Antiquity.

I referred to Orality in my piece a few days ago; arguing in favour of the synthetic account, first fully presented by S Gregory the Great, of S Mary of Magdala. Before that, I had written a piece on the evolution of the Words of the Lord in the Canon Romanus, where I described the processes of 'magnetic' agglutination which lie behind the traditional Roman liturgical text of His Words.  

Authors who have influenced me have included, in the field of Classical Studies, Ros Thomas; New Testament Studies, Loveday Alexander; Liturgy, Catherine Pickstock. The last of these, although a Cambridge Anglican, wrote very positively about the Authentic Roman Rite, demonstrating how bankrupt and ridiculous were the cultural pinnings of the Novus Ordo.

What a shame ... and how curious ... that "Professional Liturgists" of the male gender refer so little to such work by women academics, just as so many of them ignored the wide implications of Christine Mohrmann's demolition of the Bea Psalterium. What are the Chaps so scared of ...

Aidan Nichols discusses Pickstock's book After Writing (1998) very positively in his Looking at the Liturgy. I would commend After Writing more warmly if it were not so full of neologisms ... new technical terms invented in Greek, which can make it slightly hard going. But here's a good, and clear, bit from it. 

She refers to a

"characteristically oral type of supplementation, namely , the bardic tradition  of narration, according to which, there can be no definitive account of a particular story, but each performance of a tale constitutes a supplemented 'origin' in its own right. Thus, the liturgy reflects the oral character of the NewTestament itself, for the Institution Narrative in particular is perforce derived from three gospel and one Pauline accounts: none of these is more original or authentic ..." She cites the accounts of Ss Matthew, Luke and Paul; one might add the version in the Qui pridie, not to mention the variant forms in so many other rites.

Alexander writes about  

"a social context where a living teaching tradition, conservatively preserved and yet constantly adapted to changing circumstances, has priority over written school texts."

If readers desire ... DIY ... to peruse an example taken from the New Testament text itself, try comparing Acts 9:1-9; Acts 22: 6-11; Acts 26: 12-18.  

Each account is crafted to suit its own context.


Banshee said...

Given that the Irish bardic and seannachie tradition was one of exact memorization, I find the wording contradictory.

I mean, I get the point, but it is incorrect as stated.

Griots and the Sanskrit poetic tradition are also about strict reproduction and transmission of oral texts; as is the tradition I just heard about, where synagogue congregations jointly correct anybody singing a Hebrew word wrong in a reading at a service.

Banshee said...

I got interested in reading Euripides' Hecuba, because Polyxena seems to have been referenced by so many virgin martyrs, and it turned out to also include the Akathist Hymn line "o bride unwedded." Can you talk about that?

Also, is the bit about the character of being nobly born related to the idea of the indelible character of Baptism? It kinda seems like it.

There seem to be all sorts of prefigurements in this play, which must have been a great surprise to Euripides.

Arthur H. said...


Thank you for your wonderful presentation on orality. Of course, the liturgy, in word, action and text, is part of what Our Lord referred to when He promised the Apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. But it isn't magic. And you are addressing the valid analysis which Christians can and should do to deepen our knowledge, appreciation and reverence for that which the Blessed Trinity has given us.

A few of my musings: what did Jesus really say? What language did he speak? You referred to being a bit sceptical about the "common Aramaic" answer.

I always yawned at the 70s trope that the New Testament was all oral first, and then years and years later it was written down.

I think it's safe to say that all the Scribes were writing furiously every time Our Lord opened his mouth, and that at Pentecost, all the people who were baptized, and then went to their homes all over the empire, carried a scroll of some of the sayings of Jesus.

And oh by the way, the First Sunday after Pentecost, the Apostles celebrated the Sacred Liturgy with Our Lady "in the front pew." And they had a written document to read.

Jesus had a stump speech.
The Apostles had a stump speech, which included the proto-Apostles Creed.

What is going on in Jesus' conversation with St. Peter: agapas me; agapas me; fileis me; ? What hurt Peter's feelings was that Jesus changed his question ton triton. Very important orality here, but nobody talks about it, at least that I've read anyway. Thank you, Father.

Edison said...

Please, I'd like to know the name of the Book by Catherine Pickstock about the Roman Liturgy... Thanks!

Fr Edward said...

And Little Saint Mary’s continues.
And Prof Duffy hasn’t converted Prof Pickstock yet.
And PF’s nebulous chums would love this, if they understood it.