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Chapter V.

How the fact that the number of the Psalms was to be twelve was received from the teaching of an angel.

For in the early days of the faith when only a few, and those the best of men, were known by the name of monks, who, as they received that mode of life from the Evangelist Mark of blessed memory, the first to preside over the Church of Alexandria as Bishop, not only preserved those grand characteristics for which we read, in the Acts of the Apostles, that the Church and multitude of believers in primitive times was famous (“The multitude of believers had one heart and one soul. Nor did any of them say that any of the things which he possessed was his own: but they had all things common; for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the price of the things which they sold, and laid it at the feet of the Apostles, and distribution was made to every man as he had need”),683683    Acts iv. 32–34. but they added to these characteristics others still more sublime. For withdrawing into more secluded spots outside the cities they led a life marked by such rigorous abstinence 207that even to those of another creed the exalted character of their life was a standing marvel. For they gave themselves up to the reading of Holy Scripture and to prayers and to manual labour night and day with such fervour that they had no desire or thoughts of food—unless on the second or third day bodily hunger684684    Petschenig’s text has inedia, others inediam. reminded them, and they took their meat and drink not so much because they wished for it as because it was necessary for life; and even then they took it not before sunset, in order that they might connect the hours of daylight with the practice of spiritual meditations, and the care of the body with the night, and might perform other things much more exalted than these. And about these matters, one who has never heard anything from one who is at home in such things, may learn from ecclesiastical history.685685    Cf. Eusebius, Book II. c. xv., xvi. Sozomen, Book I. c. xii., xiii. At that time, therefore, when the perfection of the primitive Church remained unbroken, and was still preserved fresh in the memory by their followers and successors, and when the fervent faith of the few had not yet grown lukewarm by being dispersed among the many, the venerable fathers with watchful care made provision for those to come after them, and met together to discuss what plan should be adopted for the daily worship throughout the whole body of the brethren; that they might hand on to those who should succeed them a legacy of piety and peace that was free from all dispute and dissension, for they were afraid that in regard of the daily services some difference or dispute might arise among those who joined together in the same worship, and at some time or other it might send forth a poisonous root of error or jealousy or schism among those who came after. And when each man in proportion to his own fervour—and unmindful of the weakness of others—thought that that should be appointed which he judged was quite easy by considering his own faith and strength, taking too little account of what would be possible for the great mass of the brethren in general (wherein a very large proportion of weak ones is sure to be found); and when in different degrees they strove, each according to his own powers, to fix an enormous number of Psalms, and some were for fifty, others sixty, and some, not content with this number, thought that they actually ought to go beyond it,—there was such a holy difference of opinion in their pious discussion on the rule of their religion that the time for their Vesper office came before the sacred question was decided; and, as they were going to celebrate their daily rites and prayers, one rose up in the midst to chant the Psalms to the Lord. And while they were all sitting (as is still the custom in Egypt686686    Cf. below, c. xii.), with their minds intently fixed on the words of the chanter, when he had sung eleven Psalms, separated by prayers introduced between them, verse after verse being evenly enunciated,687687    Cumque…undecim Psalmos orationum interjectione distinctos contiguis versibus parili pronunciatione cantassat. he finished the twelfth with a response of Alleluia,688688    So, according to the Benedictine rule, the Psalms at mattins are ended with Alleluia (c. ix.): “After these three lessons with their responds there shall follow the remaining six Psalms with the Alleluia.” Cf. c. xi. and xv. and then, by his sudden disappearance from the eyes of all, put an end at once to their discussion and their service.689689    This story is referred to in the Eighteenth Canon of the Second Council of Tours, a.d. 567. “The statutes of the Fathers have prescribed that twelve Psalms be said at the Twelfth (i.e. Vespers), with Alleluia, which, moreover, they learnt from the showing of an angel.”

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