The Medieval Review 10.03.13

Boyce, J., O. Carm. Carmelite Liturgy and Spiritual Identity: The Choir Books of KrakÓw . Medieval Church Studies 16. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Pp. xvi, 524. $130 ISBN 978-2-503-51714-8. .

Reviewed by:

John B.Wickstrom
Kalamazoo College

Medieval Carmelites have been well-served by modern historians of late. Andrew Jotischky's The Carmelites and Antiquity, (2002) examined the late medieval Carmelite's creation of a novel historical identity through refashioning ancient Christian and Jewish stories surrounding Mt. Carmel. In her recent (2006) book, The Other Friars, Frances Andrews draws upon Jotischky's work and others' to frame a succinct and often dramatic account of Carmel in the Middle Ages.

To these we may now add the lengthy study of medieval Carmelite liturgy by James J. Boyce, himself a Carmelite and professor of musicology at Fordham. Fr. Boyce presents a detailed analysis of the Divine Office of the Carmelite rite, based on six antiphonaries from the Carmelite convent of late medieval Krakow. (The texts were produced in Prague and brought to Krakow by the Carmelite mission in 1397.) Together these provide all the texts and much of the music for the temporal and sanctoral cycles of the Office of the Krakow Carmelites. (Since graduals do not survive from the medieval period, the medieval Carmelite Mass is not discussed.) The calendars of each manuscript are usefully set forth in appendices and also presented in an integrated chart in the text itself (23-46). This is an especially useful work since so few medieval liturgical manuscripts survive for the Order.

Boyce's book is divided into four long chapters. The first surveys the history of the Order; the second chapter reviews the structure of the Divine Office of the Latin Rite in general and then the peculiarities of the Carmelite Office and its evolution from the 13th through the 15th centuries. The third chapter introduces the Krakow manuscripts and analyses their contents. A fourth chapter extends the analysis of the Carmelite Office into the Early Modern period, owing to the presence in the Krakow repository of several post-Tridentine antiphonaries and graduals (the latter allowing the author to analyze propers of the Mass well as of the Office). (Since this chapter goes beyond the purview of The Medieval Review, I will not comment on it.) A brief and useful final chapter presents a summary of the book's topics and Fr. Boyce's reflections on their significance.

A few comments on chapter one, then. It opens with an overall review of the medieval evolution of the Carmelite Order in the Middle Ages. Here Boyce follows closely the work of modern scholarship. However, his approach differs from Frances Andrews' or Jotischky's, for instance. These latter authors evoke the struggle and uncertainty that the Carmelites faced in their attempt to transform themselves from a loosely organized group of middle-eastern hermits into a western European mendicant order. In Fr. Boyce, the contingent nature of Carmelite survival is lost in a forest of details whose historical coherence is not always sufficiently emphasized.

In addition, some of Boyce's suggestions about early Carmel are debatable. As an example: his suggestion that the first hermits on Mt. Carmel treated the celebration of the Office as an essentially private devotional practice, not on a par with their communal celebration of Mass, pp. 14-15 and 72). Their primitive Rule seems in this regard to reflect the practice of the Franciscans or the Carthusians: the Office would be said as the distinctive obligation of clerics, whether performed communally or in private, while illiterate brothers would substitute memorized prayers such as the Pater and Ave. Fr. Boyce also seems at several points to accept the existence of St. Simon Stock and his vision of the Virgin (for instance on pp. 22 and pp. 350-3), while admitting elsewhere that Stock's existence is a contested issue among historians (31). Late in the book, Fr. Boyce in fact presents liturgical data for the feast of this figure that seem quite relevant to this debate, but he does not discuss the data in this context (380-3). These are examples of a problem I had with the book at several points: central issues are sometimes not presented so that their importance is sufficiently emphasized, while other points are repeated to the point of redundancy. To be fair, it is the nature of the liturgy to make the same few points in a wide variety of contexts. Still, more careful writing and editing could have given us a shorter and more sharply focused volume. For an overall appreciation of the medieval history of the Carmelites, then, readers might be better served by the more sharply focused accounts of Andrews and Jotischky.

Fr. Boyce is more compelling in his account of the coming of the Carmelites from Prague to Krakow in the 1390s. They established their church outside the walls of the city where, the author suggests, they ministered to the underserved "outsider" populations, such as the tanners, silversmiths, brewers. The newly arrived mendicants also provided a place for worship after the gates of the city were closed and offered as well a distinctive liturgical experience. Fr. Boyce argues that not only much of the Krakow Carmelites' fortunes, but their choice of feasts and of liturgical texts depended to a great degree on their relationships with the Polish rulers who sponsored their mission. While such suggestions are speculative, they provide a credible balance to the views of other historians who argue that the suburban position of many Carmelite churches resulted from Franciscans and Dominicans preempting the more desirable locations within the cities' walls and then denying access to newcomers such as the Carmelites.

Fr. Boyce's central concern, however, is not to analyze this historical context but to explicate the shape of the Krakow Carmelite Office and its contribution to the evolving spiritual identity of the medieval Order. He shows in detail how the overall shape of the calendar followed the ordo of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, thus ritually linking the Carmelites with their original home on Mt. Carmel. He shows how the adoption of feasts of Old Testament patriarchs such as Elijah and Elisha served the same purpose. Most important for the formation of a distinctive Carmelite identify was their early adoption (relative to other orders and localities) of feasts honoring the Virgin. Mary became the special protector of the Carmelites, even their "sister," in Boyce's term, so the Order officially adopted the title of "Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel."

These elements of the evolving Carmelite liturgical identity were enshrined in the 1312 Ordo of Sibert de Beka, which set down a comprehensive set of incipit texts to serve as the template for a liturgy common to all Carmelite houses (though it did not provide a musical canon, unlike the similar Dominican ordo of Humbert of Romans). Much of Fr. Boyce's analysis is devoted to demonstrating the overall fidelity of the liturgy of the Krakow MSS to Sibert's ordo. However, his texts also show that, in many cases, the Krakow manuscripts did not adopt the celebrations contained in Sibert's ordo. They also added a number of German and Polish feasts in deference to their Bohemian origins and local Polish constituencies. Indeed, the Krakow MSS show an abundance of local variations in feasts, Office texts, and chants. The impression one gets from the Krakow manuscripts, as from other mendicant liturgies, is that despite of the common texts imposed on these Orders by 13th- and 14th- century ordos, no common liturgical praxis for the mendicant Orders existed until the dissemination of printed breviaries after the Council of Trent. One of the most striking examples of such local variations in the Krakow manuscripts involved the feast of the Visitation. The feast was extended to the entire Latin Church by a papal bull of 1389 and stipulated use of Office texts composed by the English Benedictine Cardinal Adam Easton. Both the Dominicans and the Carmelites quickly adopted the Office. The Dominicans, however, used a rhymed Office composed by their own master general, Raymond of Capua. Similarly, the Carmelites of Prague adopted Visitation texts written by their local archbishop.

As an aside, Fr. Boyce dismisses the claim of the modern historian of the Dominican liturgy, William Bonniwell, that the Carmelites adopted the Dominican rite. However, Bonniwell's claim was that this adoption preceded the ordo of de Beka, who replaced it with a liturgy based on the Holy Sepulcher. Though this is not Fr. Boyce's subject, it would have been enlightening to have Bonniwell's specific claim addressed in more detail. As it stands, Boyce's discussion of the pre-de Beka Carmelite liturgy (74-6) makes no mention of the documents on which Bonniwell bases his claims (History of the Dominican Liturgy [1944], p. 165, n. 29).

The core of Fr. Boyce's researches lies in a lengthy chart, spanning pages 28 to 46, that synthesizes all of the manuscripts' calendars and compares them to Sibert de Beka's ordo as well as to the ordos of the Dominican, Franciscan, and Holy Sepultures usages. This chart shows that 70% of the feasts in the Krakow manuscripts correspond to the Ordo of Sibert de Beka. The 30% that differ can mostly be accounted for by feasts added after the Ordo of Sibert was published and by feasts of local Polish saints or of German saints who reflected the Bohemian origins of the Krakow mission. If I am reading Boyce correctly, several others were saints added to the Krakow MSS only in the early modern period when relations between Poland and Sweden had become close (only explained much later in the volume pp. 373-4). The book does not always clearly separate medieval from post-Tridentine materials, presenting some difficulty to the reader interested in distinguishing medieval Carmelite usages from later developments. The most striking revelation of this chart for this reader (if I am reading the columns correctly) is that the Krakow manuscripts adopted only about 20% of the incipit texts provided by the ordo of Sibert de Beka (55 of 262). Such a discrepancy remains a significant puzzle in the manuscripts.

Finally, as the title of Fr. Boyce's book states, its major aim is to use liturgical texts and their musical notation to uncover the "spiritual identity" of the medieval Carmelites. This is the most potentially original of Fr. Boyce's many topics and in some respects is successful. He convincingly details the growing importance of feasts to the Virgin, showing how in a liturgical context the Carmelites identified themselves ever more closely as Mary's special charge, particularly given the Order's lack of distinguished saintly founders or noteworthy saints. Fr. Boyce does the same with his analysis of feast of Old Testament figures, which the late medieval Carmelites increasingly put forth as the Order's founders and inspiration: the prophets Elijah and Elisha, especially, but also Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Fr. Boyce's attempt to go further and explain the insertion of certain feasts and the language of their texts as exemplifying specific Carmelite charisms is arguable. For example, he presents the appearance in the Carmelite liturgy of St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin in the Carmelite Office as an example of the growing devotion to Mary within the Order. However, devotion to St. Anne was not at all specific to the Carmelites, but was in fact a characteristic of late medieval piety throughout Europe. Similarly, Boyce's attempts to tie the adoption (or rejection) of new feasts to political events such as the Great Schism or doctrinal disputes seem problematic (see for instance his discussion of the Carmelite's adoption of the Feast of Mary's Presentation [200-01] or the relationship of the liturgy of St. Elizabeth of Hungary to the life of the Polish Queen Jadwige on p. 254). It is difficult to assign reasons for the presence or absence of feasts from liturgical calendars, absent evidence that would explain such decisions. There are, potentially, sources for such evidence: late medieval Carmelite sermons, for instance; but Fr. Boyce does not explore these.

In sum, Fr. Boyce's book might have been more crisply written and sharply edited. Still his meticulous research has revealed a treasure trove of information about, and insight into, the rich and many layered world of a local Carmelite liturgy over a long period. Fr. Boyce's book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Carmelite experience in all its diversity.