After the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church retained this principle: the chants of the Proper are an integral part of the Mass, hence should be sung in Latin (as Gregorian chant or a polyphonic setting), or at least recited by the celebrant. But by this time, as a consequence of historical processes, the system of institutions that formerly maintained and supported the continuity of chanting, had collapsed. In some churches there remained choirs (capellae) executing the pale and “boring” Gregorian Propers as a ritual obligation between the performance of two splendid movements of a polyphonic Ordinary. Some monasteries were also able to maintain the regular singing of the Proper chants. In the majority of Masses, however, it was left to the celebrant to read the texts in silence whilst the congregation nurtured its own religious feelings and passed the time by singing the pious hymns created as a result of Protestant influence. The mere reading of the Proper chants shriveled the texts into brief “logia,” bits of connective tissue between the “important” parts of the service.

No wonder, then, that for many the Proper chants became an obligatory but very subordinate, non-essential part of the liturgy, incapable of offering much spiritual sustenance even to the priest celebrant. Problems of this nature were but of marginal interest to the religious movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, and only the liturgical renewal of the 19th century (Dom Gueranger, Bishop J. M. Sailer) offered any chance for the a reversal of the decline. The best efforts at reform, however, encountered serious obstacles, and the results were rather narrowly circumscribed. But their real significance lay in the “appeal” they voiced: to look for and work toward a better future. The apostles of liturgical renewal urged the establishment of choirs in many churches, with appropriate musical formation to enable them to sing the chant, including the Proper chants (largely to Gregorian tunes) according to the rules of the Church.

What was missing, unfortunately, was the supporting system of institutions, which would guarantee the universal and uninterrupted achievement of this goal -, independently of personal and individual zeal. Along with the other texts, the Proper chants were also transmitted to the faithful in the bilingual missals whose influence was enormous. For many Catholics the missal became their most important spiritual nourishment, more important perhaps than even the Bible, because once drawn into the rhythm of the Church’s life, they received God’s word and the Church’s prayer within the vivid context of the liturgy under the protecting wings of liturgical observation. Such persons also became attached to the Proper chants as to sacred texts… but only as texts. (While singing, a text extends in space and time, and thus touches not only the intellect, but other spheres of the heart and soul as well).

The liturgical renewal greatly enriched and supported both priests and layfolk by publishing explanations of the liturgy. Drawn from good sources, these commentaries transcended the moral sermonizing of Baroque and Enlightenment schoolbooks, and did not fail to include the chants of the Proper, interpreting them in the spirit of the liturgy. It is regrettable that these commentaries did not reach the entire larger community of the faithful, and even more regrettable that they did not permeate the great majority of the clergy either.

Complete success was not achieved because of three failures or deficiencies: 1) The liturgical renewal remained more of an exhortation and a pious desire than a concrete program energetically taken up and vigorously executed by the entire institution of the Church. 2) No mechanism was developed for combining the true preservation of Latin with the linguistic communication of the liturgy to persons unfamiliar with Latin. 3) There was no bold creative action to find ways of presenting music to people of the age, unable to perform universally the Proper chants in their full form. Vatican II was predestined to accept and pass on the noble legacy of the century-old liturgical renewal and to solve the problems that had emerged. Though the principles of the Council’s Liturgical Constitution promised the restoration of liturgical singing, events after the Council in fact led to the disappearance of liturgical singing.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)


The regulations for the admission and care of patients are interesting as showing how much these medieval institutions tried to fulfill the ideal of hospital work. The people of the Middle Ages had not as yet suffered all the disillusionments that come from the abuse of charity at the hands of those who least deserve help, and besides, the attendants at the hospitals were expected to do their work for its own sake and from the highest motives of Christian benevolence rather than for any lesser reward. At the beginning, at least, there seems to be no doubt that this lofty purpose was accomplished very satisfactorily; but men and women are only human, and after a time there was deterioration. Even Virchow, however, was so struck by the ideal conditions that existed in these early hospitals that he discussed the necessity for having in modern times hospital attendants with as unselfish motives as those of the medieval period. It seems worth while then to give some of the details of this supremely Christian management of hospital work.

In an article on the medieval hospitals in the Dublin Review for October, 1903, Elizabeth Speakman quotes from the statutes of various hospitals sufficient to show how the internal government of these charitable institutions was regulated. There was always a porter at the main door, usually one of the Brothers or Sisters, who had the power to receive patients applying for admission. At certain places, however, it seems to have been necessary to inform the superior; and the statutes of the French Hospital at Angers say, that the prioress is to go herself without delay to receive patients or to send one of the Sisters for that purpose, “not severe or hard, but kind of countenance.” At the same place the statutes say, “the number of the sick is not to be defined, for the house is theirs, and so all indifferently shall be received as far as the resources of the house allow.”

From many of the hospitals members of the community were sent out from day to day to find out if there were any lying sick who needed care and who should be sent to the hospital. They were expected also to pick up any of the infirm whom they might find along the streets and bring them to the hospital.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

When those who are not of the fold know even a little of the history of the Church, know a reasonable amount of the other side of controversial problems, and, above all, when they have been brought into personal touch with the Church itself, her pastors and the hierarchy and religious men and women, prejudice disappears and understanding grows. We still have the monks and nuns of the olden time with us, but no one who knows them personally ever thinks for a moment of lazy monks and idle nuns. After a man has met scholarly Catholic clergymen, he has quite a different view of the relations of the Church to education. That is all that the Church has ever needed–to be known in order to be appreciated.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

Denifle calls attention to the fact that there are letters of Pope John XXII. which show that he paid out of the Papal revenues the salary of a teacher of physic at the University of the City of Rome while the Papal Court was at Avignon. It is rather interesting to find the names of the two Popes, Boniface VIII. and John XXII., whose Papal decrees are supposed to have prevented the study of anatomy and chemistry, thus cropping up on unquestionable authority as the founder and the patron of medical teaching in the City of Rome. Pope Boniface VIII. is now generally credited with having been the founder of the Sapienza, the medical school of which, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, was to develop into one of the most important schools of its kind in Europe, and to have on its faculty list the greatest teachers of their time, who had been tempted to come to Rome because the Popes wished to enhance the prestige of the medical school of their capital.

While it may be a surprise for those who have been accustomed to think of the Popes as inalterably opposed to all science, and especially to medical science, thus to find them encouraging and fostering medical teaching, it will only be what would naturally be expected by those who know anything of the real history of medicine in the earlier Middle Ages. There is no doubt at all, that during the so-called “dark ages,” that is, when the invasion of the barbarians had put out the lights of the older civilizations, it was mainly ecclesiastics who preserved whatever traditions there were of the old medical learning and carried on whatever serious teaching of medicine, in the sense of medical science, that existed during this time. The monks were the most prominent in this; and the Benedictines, after their foundation in the sixth century, added to their duties of caring for the other temporal needs of the poor, who so often appealed to them, that of helping them as far as they could in any bodily ailments with which they might be afflicted. There are even definite traditions that a certain amount of training in medicine, or at least in the care of the sick, was one of the features of the Benedictine monasteries.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

Professor Draper’s summary of the relations of the Church to science or learning, and his declaration of her absolute refusal to recognize anything as scholarship, except what was deduced from the Scriptures, shows how far a man can go in his assumption of knowledge when he knows literally nothing about a subject. For him the Dark Ages knew nothing because he knows nothing about them. If they knew anything, he would know it, but he does not. Of one or two men he knows something, but they are exceptions to the general rule of absolute negation of intellectual interests and developments…It is especially striking to take a paragraph of Professor Draper’s, in which he sums up a whole movement, and place beside it a paragraph of a serious and informed student of the same subject. Professor Draper inherited the old traditions of lazy monks, living in idleness, a drain on the country, of absolutely no benefit to themselves or to others. Professor Draper wrote:

“While thus the higher clergy secured every political appointment worth having, and abbots vied with counts, in the herds of slaves they possessed–some, it is said, owned not fewer than twenty thousand–begging friars pervaded society in all directions, picking up a share of what still remained to the poor. There was a vast body of non-producers, living in idleness and owning a foreign allegiance, who were subsisting on the fruits of the toil of the laborers. It could not be otherwise than that small farms should be unceasingly merged into the larger estates; that the poor should steadily become poorer; that society far from improving, should exhibit a continually increasing demoralization.”

As a commentary on this, read the following paragraph from Mr. Ralph Adams Cram’s book on “The Ruined Abbeys of Great Britain,” in which he describes what the monasteries actually did for the people. Mr. Cram has made a special study of the subject in connection with the magnificent architecture which these medieval monks developed, and which he would like to have our people appreciate and emulate. Professor Draper is much more positive, but Mr. Cram is much more convincing.

“At the height of monastic glory the religious houses were actually the chief centres of industry and civilization, and around them grew up the eager villages, many of which now exist, even though their impulse and original inspiration have long since departed. Of course, the possessions of the abbey reached far away from the walls in every direction, including many farms even at a great distance, for the abbeys were then the great landowners, and beneficent landlords they were as well; even in their last days, for we have many records of the cruelty and hardships that came to the tenants the moment the stolen lands came into the hands of laymen.”

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

It has been suggested that this exclusion of monks and religious from the study of medicine by Church ordinance practically shut out all the clerics, that is, all the educated men of the medieval period, from the medical profession. Any such idea, however, could only have occurred to one who does not realize that at any given time there are only a comparatively few religious and a great many secular clergymen. Practically all those who could read and write in the Middle Ages were known as clerks, that is clerics, and were under the protection of the Church, most of them indeed receiving minor orders, and if all the clergy were to have been excluded from the medical profession this contention would be true.

So far is it from the truth, however, that a number of the great physicians and surgeons of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries belonged to the clerical orders, not a few of them were priests and some of the greatest of them, like Theodoric, were actually bishops. It was only the religious, that is the men who had specially devoted their lives to monasticism, who were forbidden to take up the study of medicine because it did not comport with their monastic vocation.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

We have the best evidence, that of a contemporary, as to the conditions which obtained in these medieval hospitals, and the dispositions of the attendants as regards their religious duties would seem to be an unmistakable index as to their willingness to sacrifice their own comfort for the sake of the patients. The well known Jacques de Vitry, who had been Bishop of Acre and afterwards Cardinal, and whose wide travel had given him many opportunities to judge for himself, said:

“There are innumerable congregations, both of men and women, renouncing the world and living regularly in leper houses and hospitals of the poor, humbly and devoutly ministering to the poor and the infirm. They live according to the rule of St. Augustine, without property and in community and under obedience to one above them; and having assumed the regular habit, they promise to God perpetual continence. The men and women, with all reverence and chastity, eat and sleep apart. The canonical hours, as far as hospitality and the care of the poor of Christ allow, by day and night they attend. In houses where there is a large congregation of brethren and sisters, they congregate frequently in chapter for the correction of faults and other causes. Readings from Holy Scriptures are frequently made during meals, and silence is maintained during meals in the refectory and other fixed places and at certain times. …. Their chaplains, ministering in spiritual matters with all humility and devotion to the infirm, instruct the ignorant in the word of divine preaching, console the faint-hearted and weak, and exhort them to patience and to correspond to the action of grace. They celebrate divine office in the common chapel assiduously by day and night, so that the sick can hear from their beds. Confession and extreme unction and the other sacraments they administer diligently and solicitously to the sick, and to the dead they give due burial. These ministers of Christ, sober and sparing to themselves and {266} very strict and severe to their bodies, overflowing with charity to the poor and infirm and ministering with tender heart to their necessities according to their powers, are all the more lowly in the House of God as they were of high rank in the world. They bear for Christ’s sake such unclean and almost intolerable things, that I do not think any other can be compared to this martyrdom, holy and precious in the sight of God.”

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

Throughout the seventh century, there was increased attention to the deathbed as the focal point where sainthood was proved…A united sisterhood stood at a dying woman’s deathbed to sing her into heaven while her parting revelations strengthened them for their unending struggles to perfect themselves. The troops were thus reassured that they followed a victorious general. The visionary content of seventh-century texts increased, and the saints were credited with powers of prophecy and illumination directed toward making the promises of bliss in another world concrete. As the saint’s miracles in life decreased in number, the power of relics, tombs, and associated artifacts like oil, dust, funeral palls, and candles grew, weapons like the texts themselves in the ongoing battle.

The deeds and even the voices of women speak to us from these documents with a clarity rarely accomplished in historical texts. Although conforming to ecclesiastical prescriptions, at least two of the biographies that follow were written by women who knew their subjects. Others reflect the direct testimony of women within the cloister walls. They lived in a rough and brutal age, an age moderns have condemned as “the dark ages,” but from the peril and suffering of their lives they shaped themselves as models of womanly power, womanly achievement, and womanly voices. They did not hide their lights under a bushel, but lit candles in the darkness and set them high upon a candlestick. Today, their light still shines.

Jo Ann McNamara, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages

The lives of saintly abbesses were shaped to exemplify the need for stern discipline within the context of maternal responsibility. To maintain the community, nuns bonded in a fashion generally reserved to men. The imagery of virility, athletic competition, and military service runs throughout these lives. In patronizing the cults of sainted women and encouraging the composition of their vitae, the church not only rewarded women who contributed to the multifaceted monastic mission, but also forged a powerful didactic instrument for the training of new recruits, peculiarly suited to bridge the gaps between classes and races. Their rules firmly stated that the only acceptable distinctions within a community were those of virtue and office. Indeed, the offices themselves – the abbess and the prioress elected by the community and the adjutants whom they appointed – were intended to be allotted also as rewards for virtue. The other sisters were ranked according to seniority in religion. The sisters who had been longest in the convent took the lead in choir, at table, and in all processional activity unless they were demoted for some lapse in disciple.

Jo Ann McNamara, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages

The saintly abbesses in our stories remained astonishingly free to invent their own way of life through the application and interpretation of rules written by men…Radegund’s correspondence with Abbes Caesaria illuminates a process of sharing experiences through a network of women and men devoted to the monastic experiment…

The care and nurturing of these communities clearly provided much joy to both the mothers and their daughters.But life in the convent was not all sunshine and light. Many women were hustled out of the world as soon as the monastery became an established institution in Gaul, and they had a tendency to pursue their own ambitions with little regard for communal peace. Other women lived temporarily or permanently in monasteries although they had no evident vocation for the religious life. Children were brought into the monastery in infancy. Some were raised to be nuns and successfully embraced their vocation…Others completed their education and got married…Other women were formally imprisoned in convents.

Unlike later convents, the typical Merovingian institution housed women from every rung of the social ladder, and most of the saints used their fortunes to provide shelter for the helpless, like the six female slaves ransomed by Bishop Bercharius in 696 who formed the core of his community at Puellemoutiers.

Jo Ann McNamara, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages