Palmer: Origines Liturgicæ 11.
Vol. I: Diss. on Primitive Liturgies, Sect. XI.


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THE early history of the British church is obscure; and although we learn from Tertullian and Origen, that Christianity had extended thither by the third century, it is not easy to fix the period at which regular churches were formed. Leaving the discussion of this and similar topics in the hands of those learned persons who have already considered the subject, we are at least certain, that the British church in the fourth century was ruled by bishops, who attended the councils of Arles, Sardica, and Ariminum. Could we hold any decided opinion as to the quarter whence these prelates or their predecessors originally derived their orders, we might form some conjecture on the nature of the primitive British liturgy; but it were much to be wished, that we might be relieved from the necessity of doing this, by the discovery of some MS. containing British rites. It is by no means impossible that some such monument may yet be discovered, as the British churches did not for a long time submit to the authority of the Saxon archbishops.

[177] Archbishop Usher, who is followed by bishop Stillingfleet, and many other writers, says, that we read in an anonymous book on the origin of ecclesiastical offices, written nine hundred (eleven hundred) years ago, that Germanus and Lupus introduced the "ordinem cursus Gallorum," or Gallican liturgy, into Britain1. After carefully examining the tract referred to by the archbishop, I profess myself unable to perceive that any such assertion is made. It appears to me even, that this anonymous Irish author, if he alludes at all to the British liturgy, must be understood to say that it was different from the ancient Gallican. He says that John the Evangelist first chanted the Gallican course or liturgy: but the course of the Scoti, or Irish, he traces to S. Mark. The latter course, according to him, was brought to Gaul by Cassian, and being received in the monastery of Lerins, was used by Germanus and Lupus, who preached in Britain and Ireland, and constituted a bishop named Patrick archbishop in those countries2. It seems then, that this author considered the Gallican and Irish courses different; and if we were to understand him to allude to the rites of the British church, when he says that Patrick was constituted archbishop in Britain and Ireland, and there chanted the same course3 which he had learned from Germanus and Lupus, we should only learn that the British rites agreed with the Irish, and therefore differed from those of Gaul.

[178] But, in truth, I do not see that the anonymous author in that place necessarily refers to the British liturgy; and there are some circumstances which induce me to think that he does not. It seems probable that the Irish liturgy, from the time of Patrick, A.D. 432, did not differ very much from the ancient Roman, but that the British did. I shall presently give my reasons for thinking the ancient Roman and Irish not very unlike. That the Roman and British differed greatly, is proved by the words of Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, as given by Bede. He addressed the British bishops in the following terms: "In many respects, you act in a manner contrary to our customs, and indeed to those of the universal church: and yet if you will obey me in these three things; to celebrate Easter at the proper time; to perform the office of baptism, in which we are born again to God, according to the custom of the holy Roman and apostolical church; and with us to preach the word of God to the English nation; we will tolerate all your other customs, though contrary to our own."4 In these last words it seems to me, that there is enough to warrant our holding the opinion, that the Roman and British liturgies were "contrary," or different. Another proof that the British liturgy differed from the Irish after the time [179] of Patrick, (and therefore probably from the Roman, as we shall see hereafter,) is afforded by the very ancient catalogue of the saints of Ireland, probably written in the seventh century, and published by archbishop Usher. This document informs us that for some time after Patrick, the Irish had only one liturgy, but that then a second was introduced by the bishop David, and Gildas and Cadoc, Britons; and from that time different liturgies were used by the saints of Ireland5. David, Gildas, and Cadoc, lived in the sixth century; and, if we give credit to this ancient writer, it appears that the British and Irish liturgies were different up to that period. Assuming then, for the present, that the Irish liturgy from the time of Patrick was nearly the same as the Roman, we are led to the conclusion, that the British differed from the Roman, which is in fact almost expressly affirmed by Augustine.

But what then could the ancient British liturgy have been? In reply to this question I would remark, that we have no trace or record of more than two primitive liturgies in the west. These were the Roman and the Gallican. The latter was used in Gaul and Spain, from a period of remote antiquity. If the British clergy originally derived their orders from the nearest Christian province, namely, from Gaul, they would also probably use the Gallican liturgy; and if this was the case, the British liturgy in subsequent ages would have been different from the Roman and the Irish, as we have seen that it was. I do not mean to enter on a consideration of the time when Christianity penetrated into Britain. [180] There may have been Christians in this country in the apostolic age, or shortly after. Britain, though so much more remote from the great scene of apostolic preaching than Gaul, may possibly have received some rays from the Gospel before that country. It is even not impossible that Eleutherius of Rome may have written to Lucius, a British chief, or that Bran, the father of Caractacus, may have received Christianity at Rome during the lifetime of the apostles, and converted some of his fellow-countrymen on his return to Britain. All this may or may not be true; but I do not see that there is any proof, or strong presumption, that the British bishops originally derived their orders from Rome. It is infinitely more probable that they were ordained in Gaul. When there is no sort of authentic history or tradition, that the first British bishops were consecrated at Rome, we are at once led to the conclusion that the simple natural course was adopted, and that the bishops of Gaul (the nearest province) ordained the first bishops of the British church. Certainly there is nothing in the ecclesiastical history of the two countries to oppose such an idea. We do not read of bishops in Britain before there were any in Gaul; on the contrary, while we know that the church of Lyons was ruled by bishops in the second century, we hear of no British bishops until early in the fourth. I do not say that regular churches may not have existed in this country from a much more remote period; but the simple fact is, that there are much more ancient accounts of the apostolical succession of orders in Gaul than in Britain. I do not see any thing therefore to oppose the idea, that the British bishops were first ordained [181] in Gaul; and if so, they probably received the Gallican liturgy, which being different from the Roman, and the Irish after the time of Patrick, would exactly meet the few notices which antiquity supplies, as to the nature of the liturgy used in Britain.

The liturgy of Ireland during the first ages was probably the same as that used in Britain, because it is likely that any presbyters who may have come to the former country were sent thither by the British church. Christianity had certainly penetrated into Ireland long before the time of Patrick; though this holy bishop, from his arduous and successful labours in that island, merited and received the title of "Apostle of the Irish;" and as there seems to be no authentic account of the original source from whence Christianity had come to Ireland, the mere geographical position of that country, in relation to its sister island, would induce us to think that the former must have received religion and ecclesiastical rites from the latter.

In the time of Patrick, however, a great change took place in the state of Christianity in Ireland. Religion spread into all parts, many bishoprics were founded, and the church arose from a state of infancy, and assumed that regular and apostolical form which has continued ever since. No monument of the ancient Irish liturgy was known to exist, until Dr. O’Conor, a few years ago, published an account of one which is in the duke of Buckingham’s library at Stowe6. The writing of this MS. according to the specimen of it given by [182] Dr. O’Conor, in the second volume of his "Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores," does not seem to me to be of very great antiquity; and if I may be permitted to conjecture its age from that of other MSS., I should say it was written about the tenth or eleventh century, and probably not very long before the year 1064, between which and the year 1026, Dr. O’Conor says, the very curious inscribed case covering the MS. must have been formed7. But we should remember, that although not written before the tenth or eleventh century, it may at that time have been copied from a more ancient MS., which was probably the fact.

This missal is in several ways proved to have belonged to the Irish church. First, it contains rubrics in the Irish language8; secondly, it contains a number of names of Irish saints and worthies9; thirdly, it makes a commemoration in the prayers omnium quoque Scotorum10, "and of all the Irish," (the Irish being always called Scoti, until the eleventh or twelfth century). Besides this, it accords with the few traces of the Irish liturgy which we can find amongst ancient writers. In the synod of Matiscon in Gaul, A.D. 624, Agrestius objected against Columbanus, an Irish monk, abbot of Bobio in Italy, that he used a number of collects in celebrating the liturgy. On the other hand, Eustasius, a friend of Columbanus, defended this custom11. On [183] referring to Dr. O’Conor’s description of the MS. missal, we find it actually does contain several collects before the epistle12, contrary to the practice of most of the western churches.

The anonymous Irish writer on the Origin of Ecclesiastical Offices, quoted by Usher, and referred to above, speaks of S. Mark’s having appointed all the people to sing Gloria in excelsis, Tersanctus, and the Lord’s Prayer13; and as he refers the origin of the Irish liturgy (however erroneously) to S. Mark, these forms must have been used in it. When we turn to Dr. O’Conor’s description of the MS. missal, it seems that all these forms occur there. It is remarkable that the Nicene Creed, in this MS., does not contain the addition Filioque, which was generally received by the western churches before the end of the ninth century; neither does it include the article of the descent of our Saviour into hell14.

This ancient liturgy begins with an anthem, followed by litanies, and the hymn Gloria in excelsis15; after which are several collects or "prayers, for the priest, the people, the universal church, the peace and prosperity of princes and kingdoms, for the distributors of alms,"16 &c. The Epistle, Gospel, and Creed, follow next in order17. The remainder [184] of the office, including the canon, seems to accord pretty nearly with the ancient Roman, omitting all festivals and prayers that have been added to it since the tenth century." The prayers which follow the offertory in the Roman missal are wanting in the Irish; the prayer Deus qui humanæ substantiæ, the Lavabo, and prayer Suscipe S. Trinitas, are omitted. The bread and wine are not offered separately, but simultaneously18. The festivals to be commemorated in the preface or thanksgiving "are placed in the Irish missal in the following order: 1. Nativity; 2. Circumcision; 3. Epiphany; 4. Natale calicis Domini (or Lent); 5. Easter; 6. in clausula Paschæ (Low-Sunday, the octave of Easter-day); 7. Ascension; 8. Pentecost. For these festivals there is but one common preface, nor is there any distinction, save the inserting in that preface the name of each festival as it occurs in the calendar."19 The canon contains several variations from the ancient Roman of no great consequence. The words following, Hanc igitur, contain a petition that the people may be delivered from idolatry; and remind us of the various prayers which occur in the sacramentary of Gelasius at this part of the service20. The Memento for the departed contains a long list of Irish worthies, the latest of whom, according to Dr. O’Conor, "died before the middle of the seventh century."21 The chief peculiarity of this formulary is, that they are invoked after the manner of western litanies, Ora pro nobis. Dr. O’Conor remarks in general of this liturgy, that [185] "all the improvements which have been made in the Roman missal since the days of Berno, A.D. 1012, and which were universally adopted in Ireland at the synod of Kells, in 1152, are wanting in this; and therefore this must be considered as the missal which was in use in Ireland before that time, probably from the days of Columban. It is in fact one of the most valuable monuments that has escaped the ravages of the tenth century."22

I agree with the Doctor in thinking this a valuable and curious record; and that it affords us a clue in our inquiries relative to the ancient Irish liturgy. It is the only document in existence which can be referred to the liturgy of Ireland, before the jurisdiction of the Roman patriarch was established in that country. It seems, however, that this liturgy accorded very nearly with the ancient Roman; and it would in fact be probable, antecedently to a knowledge of this fact, that the Irish used the Roman liturgy from the time of Patrick; for it seems that Palladius and Patrick were successively ordained bishops of the Scoti, or Irish, by Coelestine patriarch of Rome, A.D. 431 and 43223; and it is natural to imagine, that they brought the Roman liturgy into Ireland. However, the Irish also received the ancient British liturgy in the following century, as I have already observed; and it seems that in later times there were great varieties in the mode of celebrating divine worship in Ireland, which were mentioned by Gillebert bishop of Limerick A.D. 109024, and which appear to have been removed by [186] the synod of Kells, A.D. 1152, when the Roman rites were established.

With regard to the liturgy of the Saxon church in England, there are no such difficulties as those which attend the British and Irish. There can be no doubt that Augustine and his companions, who preached the Gospel in some part of the heptarchy, at the end of the sixth and beginning of the seventh centuries, carried with them the sacramentary of Gregory, patriarch of Rome, by whom they had been sent to this country. In fact, the liturgical books of the Anglo-Saxon church in subsequent times were nothing else but transcripts of that sacramentary25. As, however, each bishop, had the power of making some improvements in the liturgy of his church, in process of time different customs arose, and several became so established as to receive the names of their respective churches. Thus gradually the "Uses" or customs of York, Sarum, Hereford, Bangor, Lincoln, Aberdeen, &c. came to be distinguished from each other.

The missals and other ritual books of York and Hereford have been printed; but I have inquired in vain for the names of the bishops who originated the few peculiarities which they contain. Their rubrics are sometimes less definite than those of the Sarum " Use," and they contain some few offices in commemoration of departed prelates and saints, which are not found in other missals, &c. The "Use" or custom of Sarum derives its origin from Osmund, bishop of [187] that see in A.D. 1078, and chancellor of England. We are informed by Simeon of Durham, that about the year 1083 king William the Conqueror appointed Thurstan, a Norman, abbot of Glastonbury. Thurstan, despising the ancient Gregorian chanting, which had been used in England since the sixth century, attempted to introduce in its place a modern style of chanting invented by William of Fescamp, a Norman. The monks resisted the innovations of their abbot, and a scene of violence and bloodshed ensued, which was terminated by the king’s sending back Thurstan to Normandy26. This circumstance may very probably have turned the attention of Osmund to the regulation of the ritual of his church. We are informed that he built a new cathedral; collected together clergy, distinguished as well for learning as for a knowledge of chanting; and composed a book for the regulation of ecclesiastical offices, which was entitled the "Custom" book. The substance of this was probably incorporated into the missal and other ritual books of Sarum, and ere long almost the whole of England, Wales, and Ireland adopted it27. When the archbishop of Canterbury celebrated the liturgy in the presence of the bishops of his province, the bishop of Salisbury [188] (probably in consequence of the general adoption of the " Use" of Sarum) acted as precentor of the college of bishops, a title which he still retains. The churches of Lincoln and Bangor also had peculiar "Uses;" but I am not aware that any of their books have been printed. A MS. pontifical, containing the rites and ceremonies performed by the bishop, still (I believe) remains in the church of Bangor; it is said to have belonged to Anianus, who occupied that see in the thirteenth century. The church of Aberdeen in Scotland had its own rites; but whether there was any peculiarity in the missal I know not, as it has never been published. The breviary of Aberdeen, according to Zaccaria, was printed in A.D. 160928, (qu. 1509?) Independently of these rites of particular churches, the monastic societies of England had many different rituals, which, however, all agreed substantially, having all been derived from the sacramentary of Gregory. The Benedictine, Carthusian, Cistertian, and other orders had peculiar missals. Schultingius nearly transcribes a very ancient sacramentary belonging to the Benedictines of England29; bishop Barlow, in his MS. notes on the Roman missal, speaks of a missal belonging to the monastery of Evesham30; and Zaccaria mentions a MS. missal of Oxford, written in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, which is in the library of the canons of S. Salvator at Bologna31. This last must probably [189] be referred to some of the monastic societies, who had formerly houses in Oxford; as the bishopric or church of Oxford was not founded till the sixteenth century.

It may be remarked in general of all these missals and rituals, that they differed very little; the sacramentary of Gregory was used every where, with various small additions. However, the rites of the churches throughout the British empire were not by any means uniform at the middle of the sixteenth century, and needed various corrections; and therefore the Metropolitan of Canterbury, and other bishops and doctors of the holy catholic church, at the request and desire of king Edward the Sixth, revised the ritual books; and having examined the oriental liturgies, and the notices which the orthodox fathers supply, they edited the English ritual, containing the common prayer and administration of all the sacraments and rites of the church. And the reader will perceive by the following work, that although our liturgy and other offices were corrected and improved, chiefly after the example of the ancient Gallican, Spanish, Alexandrian, and Oriental, yet the greater portion of our prayers have been continually retained and used by the church of England for more than twelve hundred years. 


1 Usserii Britannicar. Eccl. Antiq. c. xi. p. 185. ed. Lond. 1687. Stillingfleet, Origines Britann. c. iv. p. 216. ed. Lond. 1685.

2 Vid. Spelman, Concilia, tom. i. p. 176, 177. Lond. 1639.

3 Ibid. p. 177.

4 "Dicebat autem eis, quia in multis quidem nostræ consuetudini, immo universalis Ecclesiæ, contraria geritis: et tamen si in tribus his mihi obtemperare vultis; ut Pascha suo tempore celebretis; ut ministerium baptizandi, quo Deo renascimur, juxta morem sanctæ Romanæ et Apostolicæ Ecclesiæ compleatis; et genti Anglorum una nobiscum verbum Domini prædicetis: cætera quæ agitis, quamvis moribus nostris contraria, æquanimiter cuncta tolerabimus." Bed. Histor. Eccles. lib. ii. c. 2.

5 Usserii Britan. Eccles. Antiq. c. xviii. p. 473, 474.

6 Dr. O’Conor’s remarks on this manuscript occur in his Appendix to vol. i. of the Catalogue of MSS. in Stowe library, A.D. 1819.

7 O’Conor, Appendix, p. 35, &c.

8 P. 47.

9 P. 49.

10 P. 48.

11 "At ille (Agrestius) prorupit dicens, se scire Columbanum a cæterorum more desciscere, et ipsa missarum solemnia multiplicatione orationum vel collectaram celebrare." See the whole context, and the reply of Eustasius, who was abbot of Luxovium, in the Life of S. Eustasius, Acta SS. Benedictin. sæculum ii. p. 120.

12 P. 43. of O’Conor’s Appendix.

13 "Sed beatus Marcus Evangelista—totam Ægyptum et Italiam taliter prædicavit sicut unam ecclesiam, ut omnes sanctus, vel Gloria in excelsis Deo, vel orationem Dominicam et Amen, universi tam viri quam foeminæ decantarent." Tract. de Cant. et cursibus Eccl. Spelman. Concilia, tom. i. p. 177.

14 O’Conor, p. 45. 47.

15 P. 41-43.

16 Ibid.

17 P. 44, 45.

18 P. 46, 47.

19 P. 47.

20 See Bona, Rer. Liturgic. lib. ii. c. 12. num. 4.

21 O’Conor, p. 49.

22 P. 49.

23 Usser. Britan. Eccl. Antiq. c. 16, 17.

24 In his book de Usu Ecclesiastico, which was written "ut diversi et schismatici illi ordines, quibus Hibernia pene tota delusa est, uni catholico et Romano cedant officio." Usser. Vet. Epist. Hibernicar. Sylloge, p. 77.

25 For instance, the missal of Leofric bishop of Exeter, in the Bodleian Library.

26 Simeon Dunelmensis in an. 1083, p. 212. X. Scriptores. Joannes Bromton, p. 978. ibid.

27 Successit Osmundus regis cancellarius, xxiv annis sedens. Hic ecclesiam novam apud Saresberiam aedificavit, et clericos insignes tam literis quam cantu aggregavit, ita ut ipse episcopus libros scribere, illuminare, et ligare non fastidiret. Hic composuit librum ordinalem ecclesiastici officii quem Consuetudinarium vocant, quo fere tota nunc Anglia, Wallia, et Hibernia utitur." Chronicon Joannis Bromton, X. Scriptores, p. 976. Knyghton de Eventibus Angliae, lib. ii. c. 3. p. 2351, X. Scriptores. It is said that the Sarum Use was adopted in some part of France, and even in Portugal.

28 Zaccaria, Bibliotheca Ritualis, tom. 1. p. 131.

29 Schultingius, Biblioth. Eccles. tom. iii. pars 2. p. 145-202.

30 MS. notes opposite the title-page of Missale Romanum, Antwerp. 1619. A. 5. 7. Th. Bodleian Library.

31 Biblioth. Rit. tom. i. p. 64.


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