One in faith

Daily Reading for May 20 • Alcuin, Deacon, and Abbot of Tours, 804

The nature and scope of Charles’ liturgical reforms were determined by his desire to secure a uniformity in the church commensurate with that which he was trying to secure in the realm of political affairs. The Frankish Church with its numberless local “uses” could not be expected to furnish the requisite model. Accordingly, he decided to adopt the Roman use, so that the Frankish and Roman churches, one in doctrine and in faith, should be one in form and in ritual. The Roman chant, the Roman sacramentary, the Roman calendar and the Roman form of baptism were all to be approved.

In carrying out his sweeping policy of reform, Charles was at once confronted by a difficulty. The Frankish uses were in the field; they could not be ousted by a mere command; they must be gradually modified, revised and brought into uniformity with the use of Rome. To execute this task required a man of great tact and ripe scholarship, who, while recognizing the difficulties in the work in hand, and the need for moderation, would yet be in hearty sympathy with its purpose. Such a man was Alcuin.

Alcuin wholly approved of Charles’ efforts to make the Frankish liturgy conform to that of Rome. Yet his training and experience had been such as to counsel moderation. In his own land, there had been a struggle between two rival liturgies, and knowing the history of that struggle from the compromise under Theodore of Tarsus to the ultimate triumph in his own day of the Roman purists at the Councils of Cloveshoe and Pincanhale, he was not likely to be too arbitrary nor too radical in dealing with a similar question in Frankland. This is very evident from a reply to Eanbald, Archbishop of York, who had requested him to compile a new sacramentary. “Have you not an abundance of sacramentaries in the Roman style,” says he, “and yet others of a larger size, representing an older use?” “And,” adds he, very pertinently, “I would fain have had you teach your clergy something of the Roman Order … so that the ecclesiastical ceremonies might be performed in an orderly, respectful way.” Manifestly, while Alcuin’s love of order led him to prefer the Roman service-books, he was willing to supplement them by the local uses. It was in such a spirit of compromise that he composed the liturgical works ascribed to him.

From The Letters of Alcuin by Rolph Barlow Page (New York: Columbia University, 1909).

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