Category Archives: Religion

A Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika Argument for the Existence of God

Historical Context

The different philosophical traditions in classical Indian thought are usually categorized under the labels of orthodox and heterodox. The orthodox traditions accepted the scriptural authority of the Vedas, while the heterodox ones such as Buddhism and Jainism did not. Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika were initially two different orthodox schools. Nyāya was mostly concerned with logic, reasoning and epistemology. Vaiśeṣika focused on metaphysics and identifying the different kinds of substances that ultimately exist. By the eleventh century, these two traditions had merged into a single school, which came to be known simply as Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika (NV henceforth). Apart from a few academic philosophers, the NV tradition is basically extinct today. Historically, however, they were extremely influential and made a number of important philosophical contributions.

Of all the theistic systems in India, NV had the greatest confidence in the scope of natural theology. They came up with a number of arguments for the existence of Īśvara (“the Lord”), and were engaged in a series of polemical debates with other thinkers, their primary adversaries usually being Buddhists. I will go over their most well known argument for theism in this essay.

What the Argument is Not

Before I lay out the the argument, I want to make a few preliminary comments on what the argument is not, since this is often an issue of confusion.

The argument is not like the popular Kalām cosmological argument, which states that everything that begins to exist must have a cause, and that if you trace the chain of causes you eventually get to an uncaused cause that explains the beginning of the universe. Indeed, the NV system holds that a number of entities are eternal and uncreated. These include the atoms of different elements, time, space, universals, individual souls, and of course, God.

The argument also does not belong to the family of arguments from contingency, which conclude that there is a necessarily existent being that explains why anything at all exists. The NV thinkers were not committed to the view that everything that exists has an explanation for its existence. Finally, the argument is not like familiar teleological arguments that draw on observations of biological complexity to infer that an intelligent designer exists.

That said, the NV argument does bear some resemblance to all of the above arguments. It is therefore best understood as a hybrid cosmological-teleological argument. The argument points out that certain kinds of things require an intelligent creator that has the attributes traditionally assigned to God.

Overview of the Argument

The argument can be stated as follows¹:

(P1) Everything that is an effect has an intelligent maker.

(P2) The first product is an effect.

(C)  Therefore, the first product has an intelligent maker.

The argument as spelled out here is a little different from the way the NV philosophers usually framed it, primarily because they had a more elaborate way of laying out syllogisms. But that need not concern us. The important point is that the argument is valid – if the premises are true, the conclusion does follow. But what are we to make of the premises?

Some terminological clarification is in order before we can assess the premises. By an effect, defenders of the argument refer to a composite object – i.e., an object made of parts. Buildings, rocks, mountains, human bodies are all examples of effects. Recall that NV philosophers were atomists, and since atoms are indivisible and indestructible, they do not count as effects.

The first product refers to the simplest kind of effect that can be further broken down into atoms. In the NV system, dyads – imperceptible aggregates of two atoms – were seen as the first product. But again, that need not concern us. All we need to know is that the first product is the smallest unit that is itself further divisible. We can now move on to scrutinize the premises.

Support for the Premises

P2 is necessarily true, since the first product is defined as the simplest kind of effect. Things get interesting when we consider the first premise. P1 states that every effect has an intelligent maker, where an intelligent maker is defined as an agent who:

(i) Has knowledge of the components that make up the effect;

(ii) Desires to bring about the effect; and

(iii) Wills to do so.

The obvious question then is: why believe that every effect has an intelligent maker?

The support offered for P1 is inductive. NV philosophers defend P1 by pointing out that we have a very large number of examples that confirm it. The classic example is that of a pot. We observe that pots have an intelligent maker: the potter who is aware of the material out of which the pot is made (the clay), desires to make the pot, and wills to do so. Atoms are deliberately excluded from P1 since they aren’t effects, and hence cannot be seen as counterexamples. Given this, defenders the argument claim that the numerous confirming instances (as in the case of the pot/potter) entitle us to accept P1 as a general principle.

Responding to Objections

Philosophers in the NV tradition were aware that the argument was extremely controversial, and came up with a number of interesting responses to common objections. I will go over three of them here.

Objection 1: Counterexamples to P1

The most common objection is that there are obvious counterexamples to the first premise. Rocks, mountains, plants – these are all made of parts, and yet, don’t have a maker. Thus, P1 is false.

The NV response is to say that this objection begs the question against the theist. The mere fact that we don’t immediately observe a maker in these cases does not establish that a maker was not at least in part involved. For the maker could, after all, be spatially or temporally remote² from the effect.

NV philosophers press the point by insisting that if direct observation of the cause was necessary, then even ordinary inferences would be defeated. For instance, we wouldn’t be able to infer the presence of fire from smoke if the fire wasn’t immediately observable. But of course, the fire could be a long distance away. Similarly, if we happen to come across a pot, we wouldn’t suspend judgement about whether it was made by a potter simply because we didn’t directly and immediately observe the pot being made by one. The potter could, after all, be in a different town, or even be dead. In other words, this objection proves toomuch, since it would render everyday inferences that we all rely on unjustified.

Objection 2: The Possibility of Counterexamples to P1

At this point, we might be willing to concede that we can’t rule out the existence of a maker for things like rocks and mountains. However, since the maker isn’t directly observed, the theist can’t be sure that a potential counterexample doesn’t exist either. It may be true that we have observed several instances of effects that have makers, but the possibility that there exists a counterexample means that P1 is at the very least unjustified, if not shown to be false.

Once again, the NV response is that the objection proves too much. The mere possibility of a counterexample is not reason enough to give up on the first premise. Consider, again, the example of smoke and fire. The mere possibility that there may have, at some time in the distant past, or in a faraway land, been an occurrence of smoke without fire does not give us enough reason to reject general fire-from-smoke type inferences. Unless we are willing to give up on induction entirely, there is no reason to reject P1.

The skeptic is also accused of another inconsistency at this point. Why does the skeptic not doubt that material things have material causes? If someone who is skeptical of P1 came across an object they had never seen before, they probably would not doubt that the object had been made out of pre-existing matter. And yet, the support for the belief that material objects have material causes is also inductive. The skeptic must provide some principled reason to reject P1 while also believing in material causes without the reason collapsing into the first objection which has already been refuted. Since the skeptic has not done this, they have failed to show that we must not accept P1.

Objection 3: The Gap

Many arguments for theism face what is sometimes called “the gap” problem. In other words, even if these arguments establish the existence of an intelligent maker, there is no reason to think this creator has any of the attributes traditionally assigned to God. A skeptic may point out that in all the cases of intelligent makers we have observed, the makers were embodied agents. The makers were not omniscient, uncreated or eternal. So there is no reason to suppose that the argument, even if successful, gets us to God. At best, it can establish the existence of some kind of intelligent maker, but any further claims about the omniscience or eternality of the maker would not be justified, since these properties are not observed in any of the cases we discussed.

Predictably, the NV response is that the criterion for inference being proposed as part of the objection is too strong, and would defeat many of our everyday inferences. In most inferences we make, we go beyond the general cases, and can justifiably infer special characteristics depending on the context. To go back to the commonly used fire-and-smoke example, if we observe smoke rising from a mountain, we don’t merely infer that there is fire. Rather, given the specific context, we infer that there is fire that has the property of being on the mountain. Similarly, based on the specific context, we can conclude that the maker of the first product has certain characteristics.

Since the maker exists prior to the first product, it must be uncreated. It cannot have a body, since bodies are made of parts, and this would simply introduce a regress that would have to be terminated by a creator that is not made of parts. Thus, the maker must be disembodied and simple. Since it is simple, it cannot be destroyed by being broken down into its constituent parts, and hence must be eternal. Since it has knowledge of all the fundamental entities and how to combine them, it must be omniscient. Finally, simplicity favors a single maker over multiple agents. The intelligent maker thus has many of the attributes of the God of traditional theism.

Conclusion

The argument, if successful, does get us to a God-like being. P1 is the controversial premise, and as we have seen, NV philosophers respond to objections by essentially shifting the burden of proof on to the skeptic. This can seem like trickery, and indeed, that’s how the influential 11th century Buddhist philosopher Ratnakīrti characterized it in his work Refutation of Arguments Establishing Īśvara, which is arguably the most thorough critique of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika argument. Either way, it is at least not obvious that the first premise can be easily rejected, so the skeptic must do some work to justify rejecting it. I may go over Ratnakīrti’s criticisms in a future essay.

Notes

[1] The argument as I’ve presented it here is roughly based on Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti’s formulation in Classical Indian Philosophy of Mind: The Nyāya Dualist Tradition.

[2] The terminology I’m using is based on Parimal Patil’s translation of the original Sanskrit terms in Against a Hindu God: Buddhist Philosophy of Religion in India.

Magickal Thinking: The Modern Origins of Witchcraft and Its Tenuous Politicization by the Contemporary Feminist Left

I’m going to start this out by saying this: witchcraft isn’t real.  That’s not to say that there isn’t a modern religion known as Wicca or Witchcraft and various offshoots of it within the “New Age”, “Earth-based” new religious movements of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.  Those are most certainly real religions.  Some of them even enjoy the same legal status in some countries that other major world religions have.  As I understand it, U.S. Army personnel can even have their religious designation on their dog tags refer to them as practicing Witches/Wiccans and can request Wiccan chaplains.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to the real, modern religion as Witchcraft and its practitioners as Witches (with a capital W) and distinguish it from the historical phenomenon of the oft-maligned witch and accusations of witchcraft (with a lowercase W).  So again: witchcraft, and witches, are not real, and never were.

There isn’t any historical evidence that anyone has ever actually been a witch.  Surely people have been accused of being witches in Western Europe and have been tried, convicted, and executed for the supposed offense of practicing witchcraft, but this doesn’t mean that any of these people were ever witches.  And, of course, by witches I mean individuals who engaged in some kind of unorthodox religious/spiritual tradition that may have included such things as casting spells, summoning demons, being in league with Lucifer, dancing naked in the moonlight during a Black Mass, or anything else you might have seen in television or movies or read in a New Age book in the spiritualist section of Barnes & Noble or at your local neo-pagan trinket store.  The people executed for witchcraft were almost universally practicing Christians in their own communities.  (The exceptions to these Christian “witches” were usually Jews, who we should note were also not witches because they were, well, Jews, i.e., practitioners of Judaism.)  For historians and scholars, the verdict is quite clear: the witch was a Protestant bogeyman, and accusations of being one were not unlike those accusations seen in the medieval Catholic purges of supposed (and occasionally actual) heretics.  And it seems that almost anyone could be accused of being a witch: men and women, the elderly and children, high-born and low-born.  There are some cases of spouses even accusing each other.  At its height, the Protestant witch hysteria is the exemplar of a moral panic taken to its extremes.  And like nearly all moral panics, there was nary a kernel of truth to any of it.

Some will disagree with me (and historians) on this point and conflate pre-Christian European paganism with witchcraft, suggesting that, somehow, there was a minority of actual, practicing pagans that navigated their way through the centuries of a Christianized Europe.  They might even suggest that some of the witches who were executed during the moral panics actually were these crypto-pagans, and therefore “witch” is just a Christian pejorative for some kind of real, practicing pagan.  There are two problems with this view.  The first is that European paganism wasn’t witchcraft and did not resemble what modern Witches consider historical witchcraft to be.  For example, one probably would not argue that the Vestals of ancient Rome, who were pagan priestesses dedicated to the rites associated with the goddess Vesta, were witches.  No Roman would have viewed them that way, and I doubt even modern Witches would suggest it even to bite the bullet.  Priestesses are not witches.  Paganism doesn’t share the cosmology, ethics, belief-system, or ritual action of Witchcraft or even alleged witchcraft, according to modern Witches.  (N.B.: Modern neo-paganism, which is often influenced by Wicca/Witchcraft, may share considerable common ground, but that is not what we’re talking about.  So-called neo-paganism has no real historical connection to pre-Christian religious beliefs either other than appropriating some of its mythos to various degrees.)

The second problem with conflating witchcraft with pre-Christian European religious practices is that even European pagans accused people of being witches, though the terminology may vary from place to place.  The pagan Germanic peoples, for example, looked down upon men practicing divination and even outlawed such people upon pain of death.  So even in pagan communities you could be executed for being a little too “witchy” for their liking, so to speak.  So it’s clear that the kinds of practices associated with witches—spellcraft, divination, augury, etc.—were not part of mainstream pagan society in many parts of Europe.  There is no evidence that suggests, however, that such “witches” considered themselves practitioners of a separate religion from their pagan neighbors.  It seems that they just engaged in taboo religious practices that were viewed as unseemly, but shared the religious worldviews, cosmologies, beliefs, and general practices of other pagans.

I should also note that I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that indigenous religions outside of Europe constitute witchcraft.  This is a point that can be used against everything stated above.  If witchcraft was never a thing in Europe, then what about the “witchcraft” native to Africa or the Americas?  Well, that’s just not the same thing.  There’s a difference between a European Christian being executed for being a “witch” and an Afro-Caribbean being executed by colonial Christian authorities for practicing his native Vodun.  Such a person is practicing Vodun, not witchcraft, and to call it witchcraft is factually inaccurate and enforces a Western Protestant view of other religious traditions.  So no, Africans (or any others) were not practicing witchcraft either.  There simply was no such thing except in the minds of pious Protestants in the midst of a moral panic or as a racist, colonialist view of indigenous, non-Christian religious traditions.

Where does this leave us?  There was no such thing as witchcraft.  It was never a spiritual tradition practiced by anyone, though admittedly there may have been some people in Europe engaging in taboo and “magical” arts.  But there’s no evidence that this was considered a separate, native religious tradition, and invariably these people all identified with the dominant religious culture of their communities.  If, at most, a witch was just a woman who knew how to use herbal remedies, then I think it’s safe to say that witchcraft was never real in the first place.  However, it was an accusation meant to marginalize and persecute people.  In that sense, it is understandable why the cultural symbol of the witch is one with which marginalized people can identify.  And since up to three quarters of accused witches were women (as far as we know), it’s also understandable why young feminist women today are identifying with the historical symbol of the witch and why books like this exist:

Dl7pmpdX0AAfL-a

That said, what exactly is my problem, and why am I talking about this at all?  To be honest, this entire post is just setting me up to say this: internet leftists need to stop accusing people of “culturally appropriating” witchcraft!

You can’t appropriate the symbols of a religious tradition that never belonged to anyone. It never existed.  There’s nothing to appropriate.  And even if someone appropriates from Witchcraft (i.e., modern, New Age Witchcraft actually practiced as a new religious movement by some people), then maybe that’s in poor taste, but it still isn’t appropriating from indigenous people.  Modern Witchcraft was invented at the earliest in the nineteenth century by Victorian occultists/spiritualists.  Surely you don’t think that white Victorian-era people count as an “indigenous people”.  (And again, you can’t move the goalposts to call witchcraft some non-European indigenous religious tradition because that’s inaccurate and most certainly racist, and it also makes the connection to the trope of the persecuted “witch” of the European witch hysterias meaningless since it can’t be both.)  Maybe it is in poor taste that Sephora, for example, might be commodifying  (modern) Witchcraft with their “witch bundles” as I saw many people say with “woke” glee.  I can understand why that might upset some actual Wiccans, just as I understand why a Catholic might get upset if Sephora started selling Virgin Mary branded white eyeliner for that extra pure and bright waterline all the girls want.  I won’t begrudge anyone from commenting on the grotesque nature of capitalist commodification.  But it’s not any kind of cultural appropriation, and certainly not from any indigenous culture.

There’s no such thing as witchcraft and you can’t appropriate from any kind of traditional “witch culture”.  And as a final note, there’s nothing inherently feminine about witchcraft either because, again, it isn’t real and never was, but also because plenty of men were accused of being witches too.  Maybe there’s something feminist about being a Witch/Wiccan in its modern imagining, but there’s nothing feminist about being a witch in the real, historical sense of what they were (and, incidentally, were not).  It turns out innocent Christian and Jewish men and women burn at the stake in pretty much the same manner and there’s nothing particularly subversive in that worth celebrating to me.  Don’t get woke.  Get educated.

Wiccan Ethics as Discontinuation of Indo-European Pagan Ethics

The religion of Wicca is one of the largest and most widely represented new religious movements within what is variably called the New Age, Earth-Based, or (neo-)pagan communities.  Like most of these new religious movements, Wicca is difficult to pin down, and many who identify as Wiccans or witches may eclectically adopt a variety of New Age or other spiritual practices.  However, one thing that Wiccans have contributed to New Age spirituality, and specifically religious ethics, is the so-called Wiccan Rede.  The Rede variously goes something like this: As long as no harm is caused (by your actions), do what you will.

I should note that it is called a rede, which is an archaic way of saying “a piece of advice”.  As such, the Wiccans and other neo-pagans adhering to it are not necessarily accepting a moral proclamation.  It may be called good advice instead of a moral mandate, e.g., like the “Golden Rule” in ethical religious systems like Christianity and rabbinical Judaism.  I see no problem with the Wiccan Rede at first glance.  It certainly does seem like good advice, even if it doesn’t claim to be some moral truth about the nature of ethics and moral behavior under Wiccan neo-paganism.  However, this kind of religious ethic is unknown in the Indo-European Pagan religious systems from which Wicca (and much of the New Age movement) derives its mythos, aesthetics, and claimed pseudo-historical lineage.

The Rede doesn’t represent Indo-European paganism from an ethical perspective.  By far the greatest ethical lesson taught in all Indo-European mythological systems and epics is this: hubris will be the downfall of everyone.  In Indo-European myths, whether Celtic, Greek, Hittite, Vedic, Avestan, Norse, Slavic, or Baltic, hubris kills humans and deities alike.  The exalted are humbled through cunning by their enemies, and through guile the humbled make themselves exalted.  The weak find strength and the strong are made weak, the good perish with the evil, and death swallows all life as winter swallows summer and night swallows day.  The real rede or advice derived from Indo-European pagan spirituality and myth is this: always keep your wits about you, stay humble and don’t ask for trouble, do not trust gods or men or seductive women or beasts, and know that everything comes with trials and sacrifice, even for the very goddesses and gods themselves.

Indo-European religious ethics are not so consequentialist as the Wiccan Rede would have us assume.  Sometimes you can do all the good things in the world and unpleasant things will result anyway.  It is haughtiness to assume that you ever know what your actions will ultimately cause, even if it is admirable to try not to harm anyone or anything in your comings and goings.  To elaborate further, Indo-European paganism would give us this ethical advice instead of the Wiccan Rede: know that you are most often powerless in a universe full of powerful forces, and make propitiation to them for the sake of the Cosmic Order.  Treat everyone as a goddess or a god, a fairy or a spirit, because they could be, and their wrath could come back to haunt you.  Be humble, be kind, choose sides wisely, and make sure that you never have to answer for any wrongdoing by not committing any in the first place.  The Indo-Europeans recognized honor and expected to be honored.  The narrative of “As long as your actions are victimless, then they are ok” that is proffered by the Wiccan Rede is not consistent with the ethical lessons of Indo-European myth, nor with the ritual action of Indo-European religion.  You can dishonor the deities simply by not offering proper homage to them, and thus you can incur their wrath.  It doesn’t matter whether or not they are harmed by your inaction; you have to have respect anyway.

As such, Indo-European religion is more accurately described as a system of virtue ethics, not consequentialism.  The moral lesson is to be humble, hospitable, and kind because such characteristics are personal virtues that will be counted favorably to your credit and the Powers of the Universe will give you your just desserts for it (if fortune favors you, and as such there is no guarantee).  Whatever ends that come about from your actions, good or bad, be you virtuous so that the deities and heroes themselves mourn the demise of someone so righteous should events turn against your favor.  This is the best one can hope for in an Indo-European pagan worldview.

The Wiccan Rede comes from either a fundamental misunderstanding or a rejection of the same Indo-European mythos, cosmology, and ethics it often claims to represent in renewed or continued form.  It is in fact a discontinuation of the religious purposes of the Indo-Europeans.  Wiccans see themselves as agents of magical or mystical power to enforce their will rather than accepting that it is one’s virtue, not one’s good will, that earns favor with the pagan Powers.  The virtue of your character and the heroism of your deeds are the ethical mandates of the Indo-European pagan.  Neither is this message a piece of advice for the Indo-European pagan.  It is cosmic law.  Good things happen to you because you are favored by powerful beings and deities who are pleased with you in light of your virtues.  Sometimes these virtues may even be shallow, like the virtue of simply being born beautiful and as such being favored by the deities.  Often these deities are even depicted as being enticed by the virtuous beauty of mortals.

If I am to make a guess, I assume the motivation for Wicca’s discontinuation of pagan religious ethics may have more to due with its determination to be anti-dogmatic.  Many Wiccans and neo-pagans I have met have expressed their appreciation for the consequentialist ethics of the Rede as opposed to the often oppressive religious morality of the more mainstream religious alternatives.  The Wiccan Rede serves to replace the equally demanding religious ethics of the Indo-European religions from whence Wicca takes much of its inspiration.  Indo-European religion is about virtue and religious purity as much as the Abrahamic religious morality that usually permeates the cultural ethos in which New Age practitioners are operating.  The Wiccan, in trying to escape more conventional religious systems, may be equally burdened by the Indo-European mandate to act with dignity and humility, keep herself pretty and clean and ritually pure, honor others with humility, make propitiation to the Powers, and sacrifice to please her patrons (whether deities or humans) so that she can have their protection.  It is an uncomfortable pagan dogma to accept that our goodness, fairness, beauty, and generosity is what make us worthy pagans, and not the mere consequences of our wills.

The Wiccan discontinuation of paleo-pagan religious morality is a novel effort to reinvent Indo-European religious practice, and it frames neo-paganism as an alternative to more conventional religious ethics.  I conclude by suggesting that this is not necessarily wrong or inauthentic as a genuine neo-pagan religious practice, especially since Wicca and neo-paganism do not usually claim to represent paleo-paganism or traditional Indo-European religions, per se.  However, I think it is important to hash out where Wiccan neo-pagan ethics fit (or do not fit) into the traditions they are claiming to emulate or otherwise continue.

The Psalm Tones of the Liber Usualis and The Modern Tradition of Psalmody In The Western Rite Orthodox Church

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate two forms of the Liturgy: the Mass, or Eucharistic service, and the Office.  The Divine Liturgy of the Office consists of a daily series of prayers, readings, hymns, and psalms to be spoken and sung at various hours of the day.  It is for this reason that it is also called the Liturgy of the Hours (The Liturgy of the Hours Volume III, 6).  This form of the liturgy is as old as the pre-schism Church itself with the command given by the Apostle Paul: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:23 [New King James Version]).”

The Church Fathers instituted prayer hours from older Jewish traditions of psalmody or psalm-singing and adapted it to Roman hours during the Roman occupation of Palestine (Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, Book X, Letter xcvii).  Within the plainchant tradition of the Western Church the Liber Usualis outlines the chant formula to be used in the Office for the singing of psalms.  These are known as the psalm tones (Liber Usualis, xxxij).  In this paper I will discuss the chanting of psalms within the Divine Office of the Western Rite Orthodox Christian communities in the U.S. and compare it to the rubrics outlined in the Liber Usualis.

A participant needs a source text in order to perform the chants and hymns and know the prayers to be spoken during the Office.  In the Eastern Church the Horologion (lit., “Book of Hours”) is used, and traditionally the Roman Catholic Church used the Roman Breviary; today the three volume Liturgy of the Hours has replaced it for use in the English language (The Liturgy of the Hours Volume III, 6).  In the tradition of Western Orthodoxy, the modern Office in English is outlined in The English Office Noted, published first in 2004 by St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church in Washington D.C. and approved for use by Orthodox Christians within the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (http://www.stgregoryoc.org/article/the-daily-office/).

First, the psalm tones used in The English Office Noted will be examined below.  There are nine psalm tones in total, labeled with Roman numerals I through VIII and including the Tonus Peregrinus (“wandering tone”).  They are written in an adapted form of modern notation as seen in Figure 1 with the prescription for chanting Psalm 1 in Tone I.

Fig 1. Psalm 1 in Tone I (The English Office Noted, 29).

Psalm Fig 1

The whole notes indicate the reciting tones, preceded by the intonations or anacruses sung at the beginning of the psalm, and the first reciting tone is followed by the mediant notated in eighth notes and quarters notes.  The bar line represents the end of half of a psalm phrase.  The second half of the psalm phrase receives its own reciting tone and the final cadential formula or termination is written, as with the mediant, using eighth and quarter notes.  As the number of syllables vary within lines of text, the number of notes can vary within the mediant and termination.  Figure 2 provides another example in the second psalm tone for Psalm 3.

Figure 2. Psalm 3 in Tone II (The English Office Noted, 30).

Psalm Fig 2

The psalms themselves come from the Biblical Book of Psalms, a collection of 151 scriptural poems in praise of God.  When singing in English in the Western Rite, an English translation of the psalms accompanies the psalm tones provided for each of them.  Specialized notation in the text is given so that the reader may interpret which syllables of the text are to be performed on the reciting tones, the mediant, and so forth (Figure 3).

Figure 3.  The Benedictus Dominus in Tone III (The English Office Noted, 15).

Psalm Fig 3

Capitalized words are to be sung with the intonation, with the following syllables to be chanted on the reciting tone.  The slash (/) indicates for the reader to chant the syllables that follow in the formula of the mediant, and the asterisk (*) corresponds with the bar line in the psalm tone and the beginning of chant on the next reciting tone.  The second slash in each line of psalmody indicates the beginning of the termination. Figure 4 presents an interpretation of the first line of the Benedictus Dominus from Figure 3.

Figure 4. Realization of Benedictus Dominus using psalmody rubric.

Psalm Fig 4

The challenge of psalmody using the method of The English Office Noted lies in calculating the number of syllables for each chant on the mediant and termination.  However, this is not different than the method prescribed in the Liber Usualis.  Neither of the two rubrics notate every line of the psalms to a specific pitch.  The chanters are expected to remember the psalm tone formula and adapt it to the lines of psalm text (Liber Usualis, 112-113).  Compare the Benedictus on Tone III with the outline for this psalm tone provided in Liber Usualis (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Rubric for Tone III (Liber Usualis, 114).

Psalm Fig 5

There are some subtle differences between the two tones.  For one, the Liber Usualis only uses music ficta on B♭.  Therefore, the F♯ Aeolian in The English Office Noted is merely a transposition of the original A Aeolian.  The Liber Usualis also uses neumatic notation because there is no need in plainchant to indicate precise rhythmic proportions and divisions, but the pitch content corresponds exactly in transposition.  If the termination species labeled “a²” is used, then the intonation, tenor (i.e., reciting tone), mediant, second tenor, and the termination are all identical to the version of Tone III used in the Benedictus in Figures 3 and 4.

The psalm tones of the Liber Usualis, however, also contain a flexus, or “flex” as well as the reciting tone of the first tenor.  This flexus is another pitch, usually a second or a third down from the reciting tone that is chanted in the middle of an especially long line of a psalm to break it up and add some variety (Liber Usualis, xxxij).  This is indicated by a cross (†) seen under the flexus in Figure 5.  This symbol is also used in the text of psalms in The English Office Noted (Figure 6) and seems to indicate the performance of a flexus as well, although it is not noted in any of the provided psalm tones.

Figure 6. Flexus notated within the text of the Benedictus (The English Office Noted, 15).

Psalm Fig 6The English Office Noted and Liber Usualis are not always in such perfect agreement.  By far the largest meaningful variation between the two is in the diversity of terminations found in the Liber Usualis.  Not all of these are represented in the Western Rite English psalmody.  Occasionally a slight variation to the psalm tone is found in the psalter of The English Office Noted that does not match the prescriptions of the Liber Usualis.  Psalm 2 (Figure 7) is in Tone III like the Benedictus, and though it also uses termination “b” from the Liber Usualis, the mediant is altered with the addition of a lower neighbor which is not found in the second species of mediant found in Figure 5.

Figure 7. Psalm 2 in Tone III.

Psalm Fig 7The mediant has an additional pitch not found in Liber Usualis (The English Office Noted, 29).

It can be argued that The English Office Noted utilizes alternative species of the mediant not provided in Liber Usualis.  In the example in Figure 7 the mediant is clearly derivative of the second species of mediant found in Figure 5.  Figure 8 demonstrates the direct correspondence between the two sources in the rubric for Tone II.

Figure 8. Second Tone of Liber Usualis using first species of mediant corresponds to Tone II of  The English Office Noted (Liber Usualis, 114 & The English Office Noted, 30).

Psalm Fig 8Even the tonus peregrinus from both sources are an exact match, represented crucially by a different reciting tone after the mediant (and from whence it gets its Latin name as a “wandering tone”).  With the exception of slight variations in the mediant and termination formulae, the psalm tones represented in The English Office Noted are directly derivative of those prescribed in Liber Usualis for the chanting of psalmody.

The correspondence may not be surprising.  The Anglican source for singing the Office is The Plainsong Psalter which, like The English Office Noted, uses the same nine psalm tones with very little variation from the neumatic rubric of the Liber Usualis.  The most significant difference is that the Anglican source does not include the anacruses or intonations, preferring to notate that part of the psalmody independently (The Plainsong Psalter, xv-xvii).  The Office Liturgy, preserved as it has been in Western Europe since the eleventh century, varies little from these three sources.  In practice the greatest different is merely language: The English Office Noted is in the dominant vernacular for Western Rite Orthodox Christians in North America, and the Liber Usualis retains the original Latin texts of the Roman Rite from which the (English) Western Orthodox Rite is ultimately derived (http://www.stgregoryoc.org/liturgy/).

There are, however, major liturgical differences.  The English Office Noted only gives the reader the chants, psalm tones, antiphons, hymns, and texts for matins (morning) and vespers (evening) services with a single daily rubric for compline (night).  The Liturgy of the Hours in Roman Catholicism includes multiple prayer hours: matins (early morning), lauds (morning), terce (mid-morning), sext (midday), none (afternoon), vespers (evening), and compline (night).  Liber Usualis is divided into individual days of prayer within the Gregorian calendar year with specific readings and psalms appropriate for each.  This is contrasted with the thirty day cycle for the Office outlined in The English Office Noted.  In other words, while one reads through the Liber Usualis only once a year, one reads through the Western Rite Orthodox Office twelve times during the liturgical year.  This creates significant daily differences in the liturgy itself despite the compelling similarities in the psalmody rubrics.

As an example consider Psalm 112 (“Beatus vir qui timet Dominum” or “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord”).  This would be sung amongst other places at Matins on the first Sunday of February in Tone V according to the Liber Usualis (p. 145).  In the Western Rite Orthodox Office, this is to be sung in Tone VII on the twenty-second day of the month, placing it well beyond the first Sunday of February (The English Office Noted, 170).  The performance of Psalm 112 is thus highly variable in the two liturgies.  The liturgies are entirely dissimilar even though they utilize nearly identical psalm tones for psalmody chant.

It is unclear how the psalm tones are chosen in either liturgy.  The Liber Usualis implies in its extensive interpretation rules that certain poetic qualities of the Latin texts make some psalm tones preferable to others in some contexts (Liber Usualis, xvij-xxxij).  While it seems possible that language difference could have affected the different choice of psalm tones prescribed in The English Office Noted, it is not consistent with the Anglican liturgy in English.  The Plainsong Psalter prescribes Tone V for chanting Psalm 1 (Figure 9) whereas the Western Rite Orthodox Office indicates Tone I (Figure 1 above).

Figure 9.  Psalm 1 chanted on Tone V (The Plainsong Psalter, 1).

Psalm Fig 9In spite of the differences between the rubrics of the Liber Usualis and The English Office Noted, the fact that a person proficient in psalmody can meet with considerable success engaging in either of the two Divine Office liturgies is remarkable.  Some aspects of modern psalm chanting in Roman Catholicism and Western Orthodoxy (and indeed Anglicanism) can be heard today that were heard as many as ten centuries ago, most notably the psalm tones themselves.  For modern Christians this provides both a liturgical and a musical-cultural link to Western European Christianity before the schism of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Western Rite Orthodox Christians of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America as well as Roman Catholics can experience a relatively unbroken tradition of observing the Divine Liturgy of the Office in the singing of psalms.  Both The Liber Usualis and The English Office Noted give Christians today a chance to pray the same way Christians have daily for generations of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in Western Europe.  Unlike plainchant during the Mass, which has fallen out of use in the Western Church over the past several centuries, psalmody offers a liturgical singing tradition that better represents the original musical-cultural ethos of Christian liturgical music.

REFERENCES

The English Office Noted. Washington D.C.: St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church, 2007.

The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol III. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975.

The Benedictine Monks of Solesmes. Liber Usualis. New York: The Declee Company, 1961.

Burkholder, J. Peter, Donald J. Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music (9th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2014.

Most Rev. Bishop Elijah, ed. The Psalter: A Book of Hours. Roseville, CA: Dry Bones Press, Inc., 2001.

Litton, James, ed. The Plainsong Psalter. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1988.

Pliny the Younger, Epistulae

St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church. “Liturgical Resources.” Accessed November 11, 2014. http://www.stgregoryoc.org/liturgy/

St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church. “The Daily Office.” Accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.stgregoryoc.org/article/the-daily-office/