Ambrosian Rite - Origin

Origin

The origin of the Ambrosian Rite is still under discussion, and at least two conflicting theories are held by leading liturgiologists. The decision is not made easier by the absence of any direct evidence as to the nature of the Rite before about the ninth century. There are, it is true, allusions to various services of the Milanese Church in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, and in the anonymous treatise "De Sacramentis", which used to be attributed to the latter, but is not his; but these allusions are naturally enough insufficient for more than vague conjecture, and have been used with perhaps equal justification in support of either side of the controversy. Even if the rather improbable story of Landulf is not to be believed, the existing manuscripts, which only take us back at the earliest to the period of Charlemagne, leave the question of his influence open.

This much we may confidently affirm, that though both the Missal and the Breviary have been subjected from time to time to various modifications, often, as might be expected, in a Roman direction, the changes are singularly few and unimportant, and the Ambrosian Rite of today is substantially the same as that represented in the early Manuscripts. Indeed, since some of these documents come from places in the Alpine valleys, such as Biasca, Lodrino, Venegono and elsewhere, while the modern rite is that of the metropolitan cathedral and the churches of the city of Milan, some proportion of the differences may well turn out to be local rather than chronological developments. The arguments of the two principal theories are necessarily derived in a great measure from the internal evidence of the books themselves, and at present the end of the controversy is not in sight.

The question resolves itself into this: Is the Ambrosian Rite archaic Roman, or a much Romanized form of the Gallican Rite? And this question is mixed with that of the provenance of the Gallican Rite itself. Some liturgiologists of a past generation, notably J. M. Neale and others from the Anglican tradition, referred the Hispano-Gallican and Celtic family of liturgies to an original imported into Provence from Ephesus in Asia Minor by St. Irenæus, who had received it through St. Polycarp from St. John the Divine. The name Ephesine was applied to this liturgy, and it was sometimes called the Liturgy of St. John. The idea was not modern. Colman, at the Synod of Whitby in 664, attributed the Celtic rule of Easter to St. John, and in the curious little eighth-century treatise already mentioned (in Cott. Manuscript Nero A. II) one finds: "Johannes Evangelista primum cursus gallorum decantavit. Inde postea beatus policarpus discipulus sci iohannis. Inde postea hiereneus qui fuit eps Lugdunensis Gallei. Tertius ipse ipsum cursum decantauerunt in galleis." The author is not speaking of the Liturgy, but of the Divine Office, but that does not affect the question, and the theory, which had its obvious controversial value, was at one time very popular with Anglicans. Neale considered that the Ambrosian Rite was a Romanized form of this Hispano-Gallican - or Ephesine Rite; he never brought much evidence for this view, being generally contented with stating it and giving a certain number of not very convincing comparisons with the Mozarabic Rite (Essays on Liturgiology, ed. 1867, 171-197). But Neale greatly exaggerated the Romanizing effected by St. Charles Borromeo, and his essay on the Ambrosian Liturgy is somewhat out of date, though much of it is of great value as an analysis of the existing Rite. W. C. Bishop, in his article on the Ambrosian Breviary (Church Q., Oct., 1886), takes up the same line as Neale in claiming a Gallican origin for the Ambrosian Divine Office.

But Louis Duchesne in his "Origines du culte chrétien" put forward a theory of origin which works out very clearly, though it is almost all founded on conjecture and a priori reasoning. He rejects entirely the Ephesine supposition, and considers that the Orientalisms which he recognizes in the Hispano-Gallican Rite are of much later origin than the period of St. Irenæus, and that it was from Milan as a centre that a rite, imported or modified from the East, perhaps by the Cappadocian Arian Bishop Auxentius (355-374), the predecessor of St. Ambrose, gradually spread to Gaul, Spain, and Britain. He lays great stress on the important position of Milan as a northern metropolis, and on the intercourse with the East by way of Aquileia and Illyria, as well as on the eastern nationality of many of the Bishops of Milan. In his analysis of the Gallican Mass, Duchesne assumes that the seventh-century Bobbia Sacramentary (Bibl. Nat., 13,246), though not actually Milanese, is to be counted as a guide to early Ambrosian usages, and makes use of it in the reconstruction of the primitive Rite before, according to his theory, it was so extensively Romanized as it appears in the earliest undeniably Ambrosian documents. He also appears to assume that the usages mentioned in the Letter of St. Innocent I to Decentius of Eugubium as differing from those of Rome were necessarily common to Milan and Gubbio. Paul Lejay has adopted this theory in his article in the "Revue d'histoire et littérature religeuses" (II, 173) and in Dom Cabrol's Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie" .

The other theory, of which Antonio Maria Ceriani and Magistretti are the most distinguished exponents, maintains that the Ambrosian Rite has preserved the pre-Gelasian and pre-Gregorian form of the Roman Rite. Ceriani (Notitia Liturgiæ Ambrosianæ) supports his contention by many references to early writers and by comparisons of early forms of the Roman Ordinary with the Ambrosian. Both sides admit the self-evident fact that the Canon in the present Ambrosian Mass is a variety of the Roman Canon. Neither has explained satisfactorily how and when it got there. The borrowings from the Greek service books have been ably discussed by Cagin (Paléographie musicale, V), but there are Greek loans in the Roman books also, though, if Duchesne's theory of origin is correct, some of them may have travelled by way of the Milanese-Gallican Rite at the time of the Charlemagne revision. There are evident Gallicanisms in the Ambrosian Rite, but so there are in the present Roman, and the main outlines of the process by which they arrived in the latter are sufficiently certain, though the dates are not. The presence of a very definite Post-Sanctus of undoubted Hispano-Gallican form in the Ambrosian Mass of Easter Eve requires more explanation than it has received, and the whole question of provenance is further complicated by a theory, into which Ceriani does not enter, of a Roman origin of all the Latin liturgies, Gallican, Celtic, Mozarabic, and Ambrosian alike. There are indications in his liturgical note to the "Book of Cerne" and in "The Genius of the Roman Rite" that Mr. Edmund Bishop, who, as far as he has spoken at all, prefers the conclusions, though not so much the arguments, of Ceriani to either the arguments or conclusions of Duchesne, may eventually have something to say which will put the subject on a more solid basis.

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