Thursday, October 05, 2023

St Jerome as Compiler of the “Comes” or Lectionary of the Ancient Roman Rite

St Jerome by Bernardo Strozzi (source)

Continuing our series, Fr José de Sigüenza here discusses (Life of St. Jerome, Book IV, Discourse 2) the opinion that makes St Jerome the editor of the sequence of readings in the Mass and the Divine Office.

Editor’s note: once again it must be pointed out that almost everything that Fra José says here is speculation, unsupported by any real evidence, and in some ways contradicted by evidence from well after St Jerome’s time. The oldest surviving lectionaries of the Roman Rite, such as the Würzburg lectionary of the mid-7th century, were complete unknown to him and the authors that he cites, such as his near contemporary Jacob Pamelius, and medieval authors like Walafrid Strabo; they would have come to a very different conclusion if they had known about these documents.

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Respecting the order and arrangement of the divine office, there was composed a book called Comes, or otherwise known as Book of Lessons. In proof of what has been stated, and of its antiquity, I will here state what Jacobus Pamelius, a very erudite and pious man, says in the Prolegomena or Preambles which he wrote to the aforesaid book, and also what other grave authors declare: This work was printed anew after the reforms had been effected in the Missal and the Roman Breviary by Pius V. Thus does Pamelius speak in the Preface to the second volume:
Among the many other things which, at the desire and petition of St. Jerome, were ordained in the Church to be done by Pope Damasus of saintly memory, it is declared by such as have treated on the scheme of the order of the divine offices, was the arrangement of the lessons and the distribution of the gospels and epistles during the course of the year, this being due to St. Jerome. To prove this they quote frequently in their works the book called Comes, some adding the name of St. Jerome as the author, while others do so without giving the author’s name. Putting aside, in the first place, the parts I have quoted in the volume of the Liturgies, and of Alcuin (who alleges oftentimes these lessons), Amalarius, in his book iii. cap. 40, says that in ancient missals and in the Book of Lessons there is found written, Hebdomada quinta ante Natalem Domini, and as many lessons in the Book of Lessons and equal number of gospels from the time reckoned to the Nativity.
Farther on he adds:
The author of the Book of Lessons awakens our faith the more by representing to us the ages which preceded the coming of our Redeemer, symbolised by the weeks of Advent. He subsequently gives another reason for this in the lib. iv. Berna, Bishop of Augsburg, in the book of the Mass, treats upon two questions respecting the divergence existing between the Book of Lessons and the Antiphonary, or Book of Antiphons and book of the Sacraments. [1] The first question occurs in chapter iv.: “Why does the author of the Offices of the Mass set no more than four weeks (hebdomades) of Advent, whilst he who arranged the Book of Lessons places five?” The other question he treats upon in chapter vi.: “Why did the author of the Book of Offices set twenty-three offices from the octave of Pentecost to Advent, whilst the author of the Book of Lessons sets twenty-five lessons, apart from the lessons and gospels which are read during the octave of Pentecost?” And with the Fifth Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord and that of the Most Holy Trinity, these, together with the twenty-five, make the number of twenty-seven. In chapter v. this same Bishop Berno treats on the concordance of these three books and of their titles, which for brevity’s sake I omit. I will only confine myself to giving this testimony of his in regard to the authorship.
Similarly he says:
As we believe that St. Gregory composed the book of the Sacraments and of the Antiphons, so also do we believe that St. Jerome composed the Book of Lessons, as is made manifest by the preface at the beginning of the book he calls Comes.
Moreover, Micrologas (recte Micrologus), in the book Observationes Ecclesiasticae, chapter xxv., states St. Jerome to be the author of Comes by the following words: “Also in the book Comes or Book of Lessons, which St. Jerome composed, in the fasts of Pentecost he gives the lessons which appertain to the feasts of the Holy Ghost.” And in chapters xxviii. and xxx. he cites the lessons contained in the same book, where he also attributes the authorship of them to St. Jerome. The same does John Beleth, the theologian, allege in the Rationale of the Divine Offices, chapter lvii., where he says that St. Jerome, at the pleading of Pope Damasus, ordained that in all the churches should be read and followed what had been drawn up and arranged by St. Jerome for the seasons, drawn from the New and the Old Testament. Lastly, for the confirmation of this statement, it becomes very important to note that the ancient Fathers made a remembrance of the lessons that are read from both the Testaments, publicly and in common, and that the successors of St. Damasus
make particular mention of the apostolic and evangelical lessons, as appears from what we saw in the first volume, as, for instance, such saints as St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Augustine of Africa, St. Leo the Great (Pope), St. Silvanius and St. Cesarius of France, while the three last use the translation of St. Jerome.
All this is from Pamelius, in the above-quoted place of the second volume, where he purposely authorises the book called Comes or Book of Lessons, which begins from the vigil of the Nativity with the lessons of Isaias Prophet: “ Hac dicit Dominus, propter Sion non tacebo,” etc. And the Epistle of St. Paul, “Ad Romanos, Paulus serous Jesu Christi vocatus Apostolus.” And the Gospel “Secundum Matthaeum,” “Cum esset desponsata Mater Jesu Maria Joseph.” And following all the feasts of the Lord, and the Sundays of the year, marking the stations of the churches of Rome, setting the feasts of the apostles and martyrs, comes Advent, beginning with the Fifth Sunday, reckoning up to the vigil of the Nativity, assigning gospels, epistles, and lessons for the fourth and sixth days of the week. On completing the course of the year he adds also the Rites for the Dedication of Churches, the Ceremonial for the Ordination of Deacons, Priests, and Bishops, and finally he gives the Office for the Dead, thus ending the Book of Lessons.

From this is seen that the Missal and Breviary, which now, so divinely ordained, are in use, differ but little from venerable antiquity due to the arrangement of St. Jerome; a matter of great joy to the pious, who see how united the Church has always been, since even in this matter, where the field and liberty were so wide that she might have effected variety and change, she yet has not done so. Hence how much in the wrong are those, who understand so little, yet tell us that these things are of recent date; those who speak thus have not looked into the books of authors so ancient, grave, and learned and erudite, who received it as a thing established and worthy of the highest reverence.
Benediktuskirche, Freising: Hieronymus (source)

In the first volume the same Pamelius, treating on “What the holy Pontiff St. Damasus had ordained in the Church,” says as follows: “In the pontifical books, in the Life of St. Damasus, it is stated that he ordered the Psalms to be sung night and day throughout the Church. He ordered this to the bishops, the priests, and to the monasteries in nearly similar terms.” Wilfridus Strabo says the same thing in his book On the Offices of the Church, in chapter xxv. Marianus Scotus, in the second volume of his History, expresses himself in these words: “Damasus, the twenty-eighth pope after St. Peter, ordained that in the whole Church there should be sung day and night the Psalms.” This is confirmed by Venerable Bede, Haddo, and Usuardus in their “Martyrologies.” Sigisbert in his Chronicles affirms the same thing. [2] All these authors allude to the words of that epistle which was quoted of our saint, which stands in the first volume of the Councils of the Church.

This is confirmed, too, by Albinus Flaccus in his work De Officiis Divinis, where he says that the verse “Gloria Patri et Filio,” etc., which words St. Jerome composed at the petition of Damasus, divides the Psalms from one another, because formerly they were sung consecutively without division. That, not satisfied with this verse, considering it too small a pause between psalm and psalm, the same sovereign Pontiff again asked him to separate it further, whereupon St. Jerome added the other verse, “Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.” Rudolphus Turgensis says that, the verse Gloria Patri,” etc., was composed by the Nicene Council, and that Pope Damasus ordered it to be sung at the end of each psalm. The same was said by Martinus Polonus in the year 370.

Respecting the epistles and the gospels, Wilfridus Strabo, in the book already referred to, says thus:
It appears that in those times there were neither appointed nor read other lessons before the gospel but those from St. Paul; these were named only by the one who wrote the Deeds of the Pontiffs when he made a commemoration of the Antiphons, of which formerly they had none, and there was only read an epistle of the apostle, and the gospel, which statement is made by the pontiff Damasus, when writing to Jerome, in similar words.
Subsequently, after a careful examination of all points relating to this arrangement, there were set by Jerome other new lessons, not only taken from the New Testament, but even from the Old, according as the various feasts demanded. Rudolphus, in the aforesaid quotation, says that St. Jerome, cardinal priest, arranged and composed the order to be followed of the epistles and of the gospels, and this order is still adhered to at the present day in the Church, as is proved by the book called Comes. And writing to the Bishop Constantius, he says that Pope Damasus determined they should be thus read, as in use to this day. In order to manifest the antiquity and the genuineness of the book called Comes, which he was bringing forth to the light, and how ancient the originals were, he states in the Preface to the first volume as follows:
Of the Comes, or according to the moderns as it is now called, Book of the Lessons of the most blessed Saint Jerome, I declare that it was transcribed from the original which lies in the library and sacristy of our Cathedral Church of Bruges, and subsequently both Hitorpus and myself compared it with some ancient originals of Cologne, among which there was one in the Metropolitan Church of Saint Peter, over eight hundred years old, as was proved by the Catalogue of the same library.
St. Jerome and Pope Damasus, book illustration from "De excellentia et nobilitate delineationis" (source)

Further on Pamelius quotes other very ancient originals of some 600 years, by which is fully investigated the truth of the volume. The theologian John Beleth, in the aforesaid place quoted, says:
The offices of the Church were arranged by the blessed Saint Jerome, at the request of Pope Damasus, and all that is read of the Old and New Testament in the Church. St. Gregory was an author, and he composed some of the chants, and Gelasius some hymns and other things, because in the time of Theodosius the Greater, the Psalms being said without any appointed order, he besought Pope Damasus to make it his care to have the office of the Church arranged, which thing Damasus effected by means of the Blessed Saint Jerome.
And in chapter xix. he further says:
We have said in the first place, speaking in a general way, that no one thing must be sung or read which be not approved by the supreme Pontiff. In the primitive Church each one sung what he pleased, so long as what was sung appertained to the divine praises. Some things were common and followed by all, either because taught by Christ, such as the Lord’s Prayer, or by the apostles, as the Creed. Subsequently, when heresies and schisms sprang up in the Church and attacked her, the Emperor Theodosius, considering all things—for he himself had endeavoured to suppress and bring to naught the heresies of his time—conferred with Damasus the Pontiff, and besought him to summon some pious learned man to arrange and fix the divine offices, which thing Damasus did, entrusting this duty to St. Jerome, a man of great erudition and learning in the three principal languages, and as one whom he judged fully qualified to carry this out effectually, and thus set in order some at least of the offices of the Church. Jerome did so; and fixed as regards the Psalms, which, and how many, and on what days they should be sung; and the gospels and epistles and other offices, all which he arranged with much order. Thus from that time a particular office was defined for each day, and even many of the chants he composed; to which subsequently were added others by some of the doctors of the Church. When Pope Damasus examined the labours of St. Jerome, he commanded this arrangement to be kept and used in the Church.
All this is what John Beleth says.

I shall conclude this subject, which appears well proved, with the authority of Honorius of Augsburg in his book of Gemma Animae, and on the Concordance of the divine offices, where he says:
As anciently the divine office was said in the Church according as each one liked; but subsequently, when the crowd of heretics began to divide into a thousand sections the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ, and schismatics broke it up in their conventicles and assemblies, the Emperor Theodosius of glorious memory, earnestly and diligently strove that a Council should be convened in Constantinople, wherein all the heresies of that time were condemned, and he humbly asked the Synod to give orders as to the divine offices being fixed and arranged. This important affair Damasus, the Roman Pontiff, entrusted to Jerome, a priest, a most learned man in divine and human letters. The erudite doctor did this work when living in the small city of Bethlehem, where our Saviour was born. He distributed the Psalms among the hours of the night and of the day with great prudence in the form which the Church sings them even to the present day. For the office of the Mass he assigned lessons and gospels, taking them from the Old and New Testament, according as he deemed convenient to the time and to the seasons, because the Roman Church, when she seeks the succour of the saints, forms processions and makes stations to the different churches. When Damasus received the plan of the divine offices so wisely composed by St. Jerome, he summoned the College, and ordained that it should be thus sung and recited throughout the Church. Subsequently, St. Gregory and Gelasius made the prayers and chants which were appropriate to the lessons and the gospels according to the aforesaid plan, and now practised by the Church during the celebration of the divine offices.
As regards the statement made by the two authors, John Beleth and Honorius, that St. Jerome composed this plan when in Bethlehem, and even when St. Paula was already dwelling there, it is clearly a mistake, because without doubt St. Damasus was already dead when Jerome and Paula lived in Bethlehem, as we shall show farther on very clearly from the very epistles of the saint himself. It might have been the case that, as I have already said, all this affair was carried through before he came to Rome, when dwelling in Bethlehem. I consider it far more probable that he did not do so, but that it was effected when in Rome, despite that upon this question these letters were written; and I have a suspicion that the reason for being compelled to go to Rome by Imperial letters was the occasion of this affair.

[1] The two last books mentioned he attributes to St. Gregory Pope, and the first to St. Jerome.
[2] Sigisbert, Cron. anno 382.

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