Saturday 5 December 2015

Primitive Irish Monasteries III

We conclude the trilogy of papers on early Irish monasticism by Father Jerome Fahy with his examination of its liturgical, musical and canonical traditions. He again takes the view that Saint Patrick was personally responsible for the introduction of some of these from the east and ends by proclaiming his pride in what he sees as a uniquely wonderful expression of Christianity in early medieval Ireland:


“Ris reve mirabilis quod sic cum Deo perpetuo Collequobantur”

IT should be unnecessary to add that those Sacred practices which form a necessary part of our holy religion are strongly inculcated in St. Ailbe's Rule. Many would dwell with a particular pleasure on the evidences which this ancient document afford for showing that the Holy Mass, the practice of Confession, Prayers for the Dead, and the like, were for our ancestors over a thousand years ago, all that they are for us. We must, however, limit our remarks in this concluding paper, to the study of the recitation and chant of the Divine Office, as observed by our early monks. It is certain that the recitation of the Divine Office was regarded by them as a most important daily duty. In St. Ailbe's Rule, it is even represented as amongst the most important. In Strophe 22 —

“The perfect observance of the Canonical hours is reckoned as the chief rule."

And in another passage the religious is cautioned against a neglect of this important duty.

'' The Canonical hours he should not neglect.''

We are informed by a learned writer on this subject that the office recited then "was chiefly composed of Psalms and of lessons borrowed from the inspired writings of the Old and New Testament." And we find in St. Ailbe's Rule that the number of Psalms recited at Matins alone was thirty. We know on the authority of St Augustine, that in his time, as now, the "Venite Exultemus" was the prelude to the Canonical hours. Even the portions of the Canonical hours referred to in St. Ailbe's Rule are designated "Matins," "Tierce," "None," &c., as in our own times. It would also seem that the recitation of Matins for a particular day might be anticipated as in modern times; for we find it fixed for

“The close and the beginning of the day."

The privilege of chanting the Divine Office was highly prized by the monks of our early Irish Church. No doubt they experienced those holy sentiments regarding Sacred Psalmody which caused St. Chrysostom to exclaim: " Oh, wonderful goodness of Christ! The host of angels sing glory to God in Heaven! Choirs of men in the Churches imitate their chant on earth The same thrice holy hymn, which Seraphim chant in Heaven is sung by multitudes of men on earth. Earth unites with Heaven, and men form one choir with the angels”. And we may infer even from the legendary history of our Church, with what touching sweetness the Divine praises were chanted in those days.

Carthage, afterwards celebrated as the holy founder of the Monastery of Lismore, was, while yet a boy, engaged in keeping his father's flock; while thus occupied on a certain occasion, a Bishop with his retinue of Ecclesiastics passed by, engaged in singing the Divine praises. So enchanted was the youth by the Sacred melody, that he abandoned his herds, and followed the religious to their Monastery, where he was afterwards found by his anxious friends. When urged to return the boy refused ; and, resisting all entreaties, he added: " I want but one thing, to learn the chant which I have heard sung by the saints of God." Indeed we shall see that a love of Sacred music was widespread throughout Ireland in this early period, and that its practice was cherished and encouraged by our Monasteries.

It should be remembered that a passionate love of music has been from the remotest periods an Irish National characteristic. That it had largely developed itself in the pagan period of our history, is a fact strongly attested by the learned O'Curry. He writes: " If there ever was a people gifted with a musical soul and sensibility, in a higher degree than another, I would venture to assert that the Gael of ancient Erin were that people." Extraordinary indeed must have been their success if, as O'Curry assures us, the attainments of the Ollamhs in music should be such that they could, by their musical strains move their hearers to tears or laughter, or cause them to sink into a delicious slumber, according to their good pleasure.

The conversion of the nation, far from impeding largely, helped to cherish, develop, and consecrate this love of music. That it was actively encouraged by our National Apostle is proved by the Canons of a Synod celebrated by St Patrick, A.D. 450. The converted bards were amongst the most zealous in consecrating the art of music to the honour of religion and the glory of the one true God. As remarkable instances of this holy zeal, we might refer to Fiach, Bishop of Hetley, and to Duvach, Chief Poet of our first Christian King. There is therefore abundant evidence to show that from the earliest period of our Christian history Sacred music was assiduously cultivated in Ireland in our monasteries. Ireland was the instructor of the surrounding nations in music also, as in science : Caradoc and Venerable Bede declare that Wales and England are indebted to Ireland for their early knowledge of music. The same is incontestably true of Scotland. The Irish Missionaries invited to England by King Oswald, were careful to instruct their pupils in Sacred music throughout all the schools which they established among the Anglo-Saxons Nor was the duty of instructing in Sacred music committed solely to lay teachers, or even to the inferior clergy, it was frequently discharged by Abbots and by Bishops themselves. In the Bards they had also powerful and skilled assistants. The protection extended to that body through St. Columba, at the Convention of Dromceata, effected an enduring union between the Church and the Bardic order, while it secured for the Monasteries the most accomplished teachers of the sister arts of Poetry and Music

In this connection it may be interesting to inquire to what extent instrumental music was utilised by our early Church. It is certain that in this country the Christian poet and pagan druid were alike familiar with the use of the harp. Our National Apostle learned to wake the melody of its chords. Following his example, many of our Abbots and bishops not merely loved its weird strains but became themselves skilled performers. St Kevin, of Glendalough, is referred to as an instance: and it is well known that the number of bishops and of other high ecclesiastical dignatories who at the period of the English invasion were skilled performers on the harp, elicited the unwilling admiration of Gerald Barry. It is much to be regretted that not even one specimen of those early harps has been preserved to us among the many priceless relics of that remote period, now happily treasured in our National Museum. O'Curry, writing upon this subject, says, with the true spirit of an enthusiast for our ancient music,” I confess I would rather have preserved the harp of the Apostle Patrick, or that of the gentle Kevin of Glendalough, which we know to have been so long preserved, than their bells, shrines, or crosses, or any other of their relics."

It was not for purposes of mere recreation that the ecclesiastics of our early Church devoted portions of their precious time to instrumental music. The most tender strains of their harps were inspired by their private devotions. But though instrumental music was regarded as commendable in domestic psalmody, it was not tolerated in the public services of religion in the early ages of the Church. And this prohibition, which continued in force for "more than six hundred years," included even the harp. It was owing to the popular association of instrumental music with Jewish worship, and partly, too, owing to a knowledge of the base purposes to which it was degraded by paganism, that its use was strictly prohibited in the public worship of the early Church.

But the simple chant of our primitive Church had a beauty of its own, through which the most sublime and sacred thoughts found harmonious expression — an expression which proved to be both the happy medium through which the soul might be wed to the elevating influence of religion, and the most tender piety find expression for its yearnings and its love. Indeed, such was the universally acknowledged influence of this simple religious chant, that in those Monasteries in which the inmates were sufficiently numerous, the Divine praises were publicly chanted without intermission, night and day. in such Monasteries the brethren were divided into seven choirs, each of which was to engage in turn, in choir duty; and thus the praises of the Most High were ever heard before the altars. This beautiful practice, known as the Laus Perennis, and worthy of the deep pity of our early saints, was observed in the Monasteries of Bangor, of Lismore, and Clonard. The three thousand monks of Bangor were, we are assured, divided into choirs of three hundred singers each. And when St. Columbanus founded his celebrated Monastery at Luxeil, he established there the same religious observance; so that the solitudes of the Vosges soon became familiar with the "voices of the monks, unwearied as those of angels," in chanting their sacred anthems.

Evidence reach us which show that the same practice prevailed in some of the earliest Monasteries of Egypt and Palestine. The sister of St. Gregory, of Nysa, devoted her days and nights to prayer and psalmody. A Syrian monk named Alexander, who died A.D. 430, founded a Monastery on the river Euphrates, and a second at Constantinople, in which this observance was maintained ; and such was the zeal of his monks in sustaining the Laus perennis that they received in consequence the designation of "Aermetes," or the sleepless. In a life of St. Mary of Egypt, we are informed that the same practice was observed in a Monastery near the Jordan.

It was perhaps inevitable that simultaneous efforts made for the development of music in different countries, and by individuals independent of each other, should lead to a diversity of method in sacred chant. Such diversity was naturally regarded as out of harmony with that spirit of unity which forms a striking characteristic even of the Church's discipline. Hence, from an early period, the manner of chanting the Divine praises in the public churches was regulated, not merely by local custom, but also by positive ecclesiastical enactments. The most famous patriarchs of Monasticism also laboured zealously for the advancement of sacred music, and the establishment of uniformity. St. Athanasius laboured zealously at Alexandria, and Flavian laboured at Antioch for the promotion of the same object ; while the energies of St. Basil and St. Gregory Nasiansen were also directed to its advancement. It would appear that the system then advocated by St. Basil had much in common with that of Flavian, and was general from the Nile to the Euphrates.We think it extremely probable that the system of sacred chant prevalent in the East, was introduced into Europe wherever the rules and Monastic traditions of the East were accepted. In Europe, however, it must be said that it was the Ambrosian reform which first stamped sacred music with a character which, in course of time, became permanent and universally accepted. This harmonious uniformity effected at Milan, was soon after perfected at Rome by Pope Gregory, of holy memory. Indeed, admirable as were the reforms of St. Ambrose, it was the authority of the Pope alone which secured for it universal acceptance. Dr. Renehan, in his "History of Music," refers to the Councils of Vannes, Gironne, Tours, Auxerre, and others, celebrated in the fifth and sixth centuries, the canons of which insist strongly on a uniformity in ''choral service." The necessity of such decree would seem to argue that the acceptance of the Ambrosian reform was not as general on the Continent, even in the sixth century, as is generally believed. And hence we think it may be argued, that the opinion generally accepted, that St. Patrick introduced the Ambrosian chant to Ireland, may be fairly questioned. Dr. Renehan, who adopts the opinion, and who by its adoption gives it perhaps its highest sanction, states that our Apostle was instructed in that system at Tours. Contrary to his custom, however, he quotes no authority for this statement. On the other hand, we think it can be shown, by reference to accessible evidences regarding the character of our primitive Irish chant, that it had much in common with the sacred chant prevalent in the early Eastern Church. It shall be also seen that in the liturgical remains of our primitive Church, there are no evidences of Ambrosian reform.

It is admittedly difficult to form a correct idea of the musical tones adopted in the service of the early Church The broad fact of its extreme simplicity is, however, well established. Few of the Eastern Fathers laboured more assiduously for the cultivation of Sacred music, than did St Athanasius. Of the character of the Sacred Chant which he established at Alexandria, St Augustine speaks in the following words : ''The psalms were chanted with so slight an inflection of the voice, that it was more like reading than singing.'' Dr. Renehan insinuates that each composer adopted the system prevalent in the particular province or country in which he lived ; and that therefore the Greek system of music was very commonly used in the early Eastern Church. Indeed the rules of Grecian and Roman melody would have been lost to us, had they not been embodied in the hymns of the Catholic Church, and in her ''Canto firmo," which still supplies a nearer approximation, and a more useful clue to the musical system of the Greeks than any other record of antiquity extant.''

The foregoing quotations may aid the reader in estimating that simplicity which formed one of the chief characteristics of the music of the early Church. Now in estimating the character of primitive Sacred music in Ireland, it is a fact worthy of special notice, that the characters used by the Irish for writing their music resembled the musical accents of the Greeks, "which the Irish are said to have learned from the early Latin clergy." Dr. Sullivan, in his laboured introduction to O'Curry, seems to imply, that in early Irish music the same affinity to classic melody may be traced. And considering the fact that Ireland received her Monastic rules from the East through Gaul, it is not unnatural to suppose that the Sacred Chant which our Apostle had learned at Tours, was that with which SS. Athanasius and Cassian had made the West familiar. And this opinion receives additional confirmation from an ancient " Tract on various Liturgies," fortunately published in Dr. Moran's valuable essays. It has merited the attention of Usher, as well as of modern scholars. It is said to have been copied from a manuscript supposed to belong to the seventh century. Under the title of "Cursus Scotorum,'' it speaks at considerable length of the Irish Liturgy. It tells us that it originated with the Evangelist, St. Mark, by whom it was spread throughout Egypt and Italy; and that it was adopted in the East by St. Gregory and St. Basil, St. Anthony, St. Paul, and the early monks. It was subsequently introduced into Lerins by St.Cassian and St. Honoratus, where it was still followed when St. Germanus — one of the principal Masters of our Apostle in spiritual life — was a student there. St. Patrick adopted the same Liturgy, and by him it was "CHANTED " in Ireland.

It is very noteworthy that Mc Geoghegan advances the same opinion, and quotes Usher in support of his views. ''The first and most ancient Liturgy of this new Church," (writes M'Geoghegan) ''took its origin from St. Mark. It was introduced into Provence, Languedoc, and some other provinces by St. Cassian and St. Honoratus, St Germanus and St. Lupus established it in Gaul: and St. Patrick brought it into Ireland, where it has been scrupulously observed by his disciples." We can conclude therefore, if not with certainty, at least with a high degree of probability, that the sources from which our Apostle received his knowledge of Sacred Chant were the same from which he received his knowledge of Liturgy ; that his knowledge of Liturgy and Sacred Chant reached him through the most celebrated patriarchs of Monasticism in the East. And if our early Christian art and architecture, our early Monastic rules and Monastic observances, bear upon them the impress of Eastern influence, it is not strange that our early Ecclesiastical Chant should have much in common with the system of Sacred Chant prevalent in the East, and with which the West was made familiar through Cassian and Athanasius. The esteem in which those holy men were held at Rome, and throughout the West, was at once the source and explanation of their influence.

It is hardly necessary to advance any proofs for the purpose of showing that in the remains of our early Irish liturgy, no evidence of the Ambrosian reforms can be discovered.

The Missal of St. Columbanus is justly regarded as amongst the most ancient and valuable of the interesting memorials of our Early Church. It was in the beginning of the last century pronounced by Mabillon to be more than a thousand years old. The opinion of the learned Bishop of Ossory regarding this venerable memorial of our Early Liturgy, may be cited here, both for its intrinsic interest, and for the light which it casts on the subject of our inquiry. "Everything connected with it," he says, "bespeaks its Irish origin: its material writing is that of the ancient Scotic school ; its special forms of Latinity, are those peculiar to Irish writers; its multiplicity of prayers was a characteristic feature of the Irish Liturgy; whilst its penitential Canons strikingly and unmistakably proclaim its origin in our island. In a word, the whole Missal attests its connection with St. Columbanus, and probably it was used by him in his Monasteries of Luxieu and Bobbio, to both of which, as is recorded by a writer of the seventh century, he bequeathed the Irish Liturgy." Mabillon, indeed, contends that its origin is Gallican; and proves that it was not Ambrosian. But while thus asserting the claims of the Church of Gaul to the Missal, "the learned Benedictine candidly acknowledges that in many important points it was entirely at variance with every text known to represent the Gallican Liturgy." Dr. Moran, however, urges with much force, that it was natural certain points of affinity should exist between the Irish Liturgy and those known to us as Gallican. Considering our Apostle's connection with the great Saints of Gaul, who were his masters in sacred learning, and as St. Germanus and St. Martin of Tours were in communication with the Holy See it was natural perhaps inevitable, that the knowledge of liturgy which our apostle should receive from them should combine many features common to the approved liturgies of Rome and Gaul. "Now," continues Dr, Moran, "the liturgy of Bobbio is precisely such as we should expect to arise from a combination of Gaul and Rome, retaining the chief prayers and Canon of Rome, and adopting from the Gallican Liturgy, all that it had most beautiful in its outward arrangement of the Sacred Festivals."

The Stowe Missal may be referred to as a still more ancient monument of our Early Liturgy. Dr. Todd considered that it might be regarded older that the sixth century. And he even thinks it not impossible that it may have been the Missal of St. Ruadhan, who died A.D. 584. It is particularly note-worthy that the Stowe Missal strikingly coincides with that of Bobbio. "Indeed,'' writes Dr. Moran, "the coincidence of the Bobbio Missal with that of Stowe is so frequent and so striking, that it supplies a clear proof of the question which we are examining." This similarity of character clearly argues identity of origin. Our learned men, therefore can trace no affinity whatever between the Ambrosian and Early Irish Liturgies. These facts must be regarded as a strong negative argument to show that the Liturgy which St. Patrick " CHANTED " in Ireland was not Ambrosian.

The simplicity which I have already referred to as a striking characteristic of early Church music, is not, perhaps, likely to be duly appreciated in modem times. Yet, simple as it was, it was capable of exciting the highest and purest emotions of the soul. Now its tones come upon the ear softly as the whisperings of a ''gentle breeze;" or as the breaking of the wavelets on the shores of some sheltered bay. Again they would swell in power and volume, till they recall the deep and far-sounding murmurs of the ocean. Borne aloft, as it were, on the wings of hope, the " congregational Amen" bursts upon the ear like a thunder peal, as if conscious of the all-sufficient power of earnest, heartfelt prayer. Such were some of the qualities of early Church music which even St. Ambrose and St Jerome considered worthy of special notice, and which may we think, be fittingly referred to here. Its powerful pleadings were frequently attested by the penitent's tears, and by the joy with which it filled holy souls. Its sacred power proved an effective means of elevating the will, and of intensifying the longings of the soul for the pure and enduring harmonies of the New Jerusalem. Such, however, are results which the far more complex development of modern music can but seldom flatter itself on effecting.

We have written at greater length than we intended on this important subject, and yet we feel that our sketch of early monastic life in Ireland is very incomplete. We have left many things unsaid, which might with interest be referred to, if space permitted. Yet in our brief review of the lives of austere penance — of poverty and constant prayer — of heroic devotion to the claims of charity — of unselfish interest in the religious and social well-being of Eruope — led by our early monks — we have, perhaps, said enough to establish the justice of the record of their triumphs, which we read with pride in the Litanies of Aengus and in the Martyrologies of Talaght and Donegal. The strength and character of the Nation's supernatural life was shown by its wonderful religious activity, and by the grand results of its elevating and energising influence. And though the brightness of that period was frequently-obscured by the crimes of ambitious chiefs, and of their turbulent followers — in a word, by such blemishes as are inseparable from human history — still we shall look in vain among the nations for the counterpart of the picture which Ireland presents in the early centuries of her Christian history. J. A. F.


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