Friday, February 01, 2008

Two reprints of the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum

In one of our recent threads on architecture, one of our readers mentioned a republication of parts of William of Durandus' famed Rationale Divinorum Officiorum. I determined to search this out and I am pleased to share this information with the NLM. I came across two editions, both published around the same time late in 2007.


The Rationale Divinorum Officiorum: The Foundational Symbolism of the Early Church, its Structure, Decoration, Sacraments, and Vestments by Guilielmus Durandus (1230-1296CE) including The Mystical Mirror of the Church by Hugo de Sancto Victo

Paperback; Price: $39.95 ISBN: 1887752927; Pages: 480
Translated from the Latin, fully illustrated, including index of symbols

From the Publisher's Website:

This beautifully illustrated publication of Durandus’ Rationale brings us the most complete Medieval treatise of its kind with all the richness and depth of the living, enduring tradition about which he wrote. In 1284 C.E., the renowned canonist and liturgical writer, William Durandus, wrote:

‘How sad, in these times there are many who seem to hardly have any understanding of things they daily engage in, pertaining to the practices of the Church or her divine worship. Nor do they know what they signify or why they were instituted.”

His work on sacred symbolism addressed this dilemma for the clergy and thus laity of his own time—and now does so, for ours.

In the world today, where so many are searching for and exploring the roots of Christian spirituality and practice, Durandus’ words ring as true for us as they did in his own time. Durandus’ Rationale remains the standard authority for the ritual of the thirteenth century church and for the spiritual significance of the art, architecture, holy rites, sacraments, and vestments used therein. In this fully illustrated edition, Durandus’ work is brought to life by a plethora of pictures showing relevant churches, artifacts, and raiment—nearly all from the 12th and 13th centuries, that clarify and illustrate the text, and which are set against modern photographs of the church and its rites today. A connection is demonstrated between the past and present which allows us with vividness to trace the roots of our spiritual practice while providing attention to scholarly detail and exploration of the symbolism of a living spirituality.

Within his work, Durandus writes: “White vestments to some degree lead us to understand the beauty of our souls, which is to say the glory of our immortality which is not openly manifest to us.” In the thirteenth century, much of Christian symbolism became established. Every detail of a cathedral, such as Chartres, contained profound meaning. To step into church was to step into the heart of Christian faith and to experience the living reality of the Divine presence, and the counsels of the Old and New Testament. The altar itself refers to the human heart and was understood as “the soul of Everyman.”

In this work, Durandus, and essays explaining and discussing his work by these scholars who translated his opus from Latin, lead us into an understanding of how the architecture, sacraments, and vestments of the priests symbolize and lead both laity and clergy toward spiritual purification and progression in the inner life. This is a must read for anyone interested in art history, symbolism and the Medieval world or who simply wishes to understand the Medieval roots out of which Christian practice has arisen today.


The second edition I stumbled across is a hardcover edition, evidently not containing exactly the same contents given the page count, and is published by the Columbia University Press.

The Rationale Divinorum Officiorum of William Durand of Mende: A New Translation of the Prologue and Book One

Cloth, 168 pages,
ISBN: 978-0-231-14180-2
$34.50 / £20.50

From the Publisher's Website:

The Rationale Divinorum Officiorum is arguably the most important medieval treatise on the symbolism of church architecture and rituals of worship. Written by the French bishop William Durand of Mende (1230-1296), the treatise is ranked with the Bible as one of the most frequently copied and disseminated texts in all of medieval Christianity. It served as an encyclopedic compendium and textbook for liturgists and remains an indispensable guide for understanding the significance of medieval ecclesiastical art and worship ceremonies.

This book marks the first English translation of the prologue and book one of the Rationale in almost two centuries. Timothy M. Thibodeau begins with a brief biography of William Durand and a discussion of the importance of the work during its time. Thibodeau compares previous translations of the Rationale in the medieval period and afterward. Then he presents his translation of the prologue and book one. The prologue discusses the principles of allegorical interpretation of the liturgy, while book one features detailed descriptions of the various parts of the church and its ecclesiastical ornaments. It also features extensive commentary on cemeteries, various rites of consecration and dedication, and a discussion of the sacraments.

Thibodeau is a well-respected historian who has published extensively on the history of Christianity and the liturgy of the medieval Church. He is also coeditor of the critical edition of the Rationale in Latin. His translation is an indispensable guide for both scholars and general readers who hope to gain a richer understanding of medieval art, architecture, and culture.

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