Some Reflections upon the Liturgy of this Diocese, called the Ambrosian Liturgy.


ONE of the most certain ways to be informed concerning the faith of a Church, is to consult her Liturgy. I am not ignorant that what Josephus Vicecomes tells us concerning the antiquity of the Ambrosian Liturgy, viz. that St. Barnabas was the author of it, that it was afterwards augmented by Merocles; and lastly, having been revised by St. Ambrose, it obtained the name of Ambrosian, is absolutely false, and so ridiculous a conceit, that it is wholly rejected by Cardinal Bona. Neither am I ignorant that the miracle related by Durandus, Rational. Offic. 1. v. c. 2. as of the life of St. Eugenius, concerning the Ambrosian Office, is just such another story, which deserves no manner of credit, notwithstanding that Ripomontius has endeavored to maintain it. But however we cannot deny the truth of what follows.

First, That this Liturgy has the Psalms, and diverse other texts of Scripture of the ancient version called the Italic.

Secondly, That Walafridus Strabo, who lived in the midst of the ninth century, has cited this Liturgy under the name of the Liturgy of St. Ambrose.

Indeed it seems very probable, that as several centuries before the ninth they had in diverse dioceses fixed a form of Divine service, to be observed in the respective Churches of the same diocese; whereas before, viz. in the fourth and fifth century, every Bishop had the liberty of prescribing the form himself; so that of Milan conformed to the same rule, and the name of St. Ambrose was made use of by posterity, as being so very famous, and because that St. Ambrose had probably dictated several of the Collects therein contained; much in the same manner as in the east they have given the name of the Liturgy of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom to the Liturgies which were made use of in the dioceses where these great men once flourished.

It is true, we have not this Liturgy now, preserved to us exactly as it was used in the primitive centuries: it has been variously changed by the rashness of those who succeeded those primitive authors, which has also happened to the greatest part of these works; as is acknowledged by Cardinal Bona and Mabillon. It is likewise true, that since the Popes have been sovereigns of the west, they have, by themselves or by their creatures, brought in a vast number of variations in the books of the public Offices; which changes have been introduced with more ease, since the Latin began to be looked upon as a barbarous language.

We have an illustrious proof hereof in the Ambrosian Office for Good Friday, where we find a prayer for the consecrating of a cross, precedent to its adoration. For it is certain that Pope Adrian the First, who lived towards the end of the eighth century, declares that the Church did not consecrate any images; this being a practice that was introduced long after: and we find in the life of St. Lewis a complaint of that prince concerning this subject; whence it appears that these prayers must needs have been of a very late date.

We have another example hereof, which cannot be disputed; it is in the Canon, where we find at present., these words, pro quibus tibi offerimus, vel qui tibi offerunt., whereas those words pro quibus tibi offerimus were foisted in the thirteenth century, as Hugo Menardus doth ingenuously acknowledge upon the book of the Sacraments of St. Gregory. This addition was made after that the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass was received; and indeed it was altogether necessary, since without it there could be no oblation made by the Priest in that pretended sacrifice, which was looked upon as a capital inconvenience.

A third proof hereof we have in the feast of St. Barnabas, who is accounted the first Bishop of Milan, and to whom they attribute the cursing of the heathen temple at Milan, whereupon a part thereof fell down, and crushed several of the idolaters under its ruins, which is a story drawn from legends of no ancient standing.

But after all it is easy to prove that this Liturgy was not at first tainted with any of those errors, wherewith it was filled in the following ages, and in particular since the twelfth century, towards the end of which the Popes took care to change or abrogate all Liturgies whatsoever, that instead thereof that of Rome might be introduced; following therein the spirit of Pope Adrian, who had begun this work, being supported therein by the favor of the Emperor Charles the Great, who first introduced this spirit of change.

First of all then I maintain that this Liturgy had none of the Confiteor of the Priest, as we find it at this day in the Roman missal, which Confiteor is at this day made to the blessed Virgin, angels and saints, as well as to God. Now it is certain that this custom is only of late ages: we have an undoubted proof hereof in the Confiteor set down by Chrodegandus, Bishop of Metz, who lived in the time of Pepin, father of Charles the Great. Regube Canonicorum, cap. 18. Ad primam Clero congregato donant confessiones, suas vicissim dicentes, Confiteor Domino et tibi frater quod peccavi.

“At the first canonical hour the Clergy being assembled, they make their mutual confessions, saying, I confess to the Lord, and thee my brother, that I have sinned.”

It is necessary to observe here,

1st, That this rule, for the most part of it, is borrowed from that of St. Bennet, who lived in the Pope’s diocese.

Secondly, That the same has been almost wholly transcribed in the Acts of the Council of Aix la Chapelle, in the year 816.

Thirdly, That these confessions to the Virgin, the angels and saints, are not found in any of the ancient forms of confession, whereof we have a considerable number, which may be seen in the notes of Hugo Menardus upon the book of the Sacrament of St. Gregory, p. 224. et seq.

Secondly, I maintain that there was nothing in this Liturgy which implied any direct invocation of the saints, but only it supposeth that they intercede for the Church. We own, that since the fourth century the Church has avowedly demanded several favors of God by the intercession of saints; but we do not find that they prayed directly to them. It is true there are several passages in this Liturgy, wherein favors are begged of God per preces et merita sanctorum, by the prayers and merits of the saints. But the word merit, then, contains nothing that can offend us, if we take it in the sense of the primitive Church, as signifying nothing else but godliness. There are a thousand passages that prove this invincibly, as well in St. Ambrose, as in those authors that have succeeded him: and in this Liturgy by merit and to merit the Church did not pretend to obtain by way of justice, but only to obtain in general, as when we read in the Roman office, O felix culpa, quoe tantam recruit sattem!

“O happy fault, which procured so great salvation!”

Thirdly, I maintain that we find therein no other oblation of the bread and wine to God in the action of the Sacrament, but the oblation of the bread and wine to the Priest who officiated, which even to this day is yet practiced by some men and women at Milan, according to the account given us thereof by Cardinal Bona and Mabillon; for otherwise this was absolutely impossible, because the expression of pro quibus offerimus, p. 301. made use of by the Priest to denote his action, was never put into the Roman missal until the thirteenth century, as Menardus, a learned Benedictine, doth own. Secondly, Because this notion of offering the Sacrament for a propitiatory sacrifice, is a thing even unknown to the most ancient of the Schoolmen, as our Divines have sufficiently proved from their silence on that question. And certainly this is so strange a notion, that in consequence of it we must hold, that Jesus Christ is sacrificed and offered up to himself; for we find in the prayers of St. Anselm, falsely attributed to St. Ambrose, these expressions, which are very singular, p. 175. Ut offeram tibi sacrificium quod instituisti, et offerri praecepisti in commemorationem tui pro salute nostra: suscipe vero istud, quaeso, summe Deus, dilectissime Jesu Christe, pro Ecclesia tua sancta.

“That I may offer to thee the sacrifice thou hast instituted, and commanded to be offered in remembrance of thee, for our salvation: receive it, most high God, dearest Jesus Christ, we beseech thee, for thy holy Church.”

It was necessary for them to change their words, after they had changed their opinion. It was only the belief of transubstantiation, that made way for the belief of a sacrifice properly so called, as the Church of Rome believes at this day. Now it is commonly enough. known, that the Romish Church has hatched that article herself; and the history of this change is so exactly set down, that it is needless to make any stop at it.

Fourthly, This innovation can be demonstratively proved, from this Ambrosian Liturgy alone. And not to mention now, that it contained no office for the Fridays in Lent, which shows, that at that time they believed that the receiving of the Sacrament was a breaking of the fast; upon which account also they call it vitalia alimenta, “food of life,” and wholly overthrows the notion of transubstantiation.

We find there also this prayer for the Post communion, p. 310. Pignus vitae aeternae capientes, humiliter to, Dominc, imploramus, ut apostolicis fulti patrociniis, guod in imagine contigimus Sacramenti, manifesta perceptione sumamus.

“Having received this pledge of eternal life, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord, that being assisted with apostolical suffrages, what we have now touched in the image of the Sacrament, we may by manifest perception take and receive.”

This prayer is found in the missal of Gelasius, and in other ancient missals. Now, according to the observation of Ratramnus, that which is a pledge and image, is so of another thing different from itself. We find there the Communion under both kinds, p. 207. as well as the preservation of those two kinds, and their mixture, p. 304. in such a manner as quite overthrows the notion of concomitance received in the Church of Rome.

We meet there also with this prayer, Hanc oblationera suscipias in sublimi altari tuo, per manus angelorum tuorum, sicut suscipere dignatus es munera pueri tuijusti Abel, etc. “Receive this offering on thy high altar, from the hands of thy angels, as thou wast pleased to receive the gifts of thy servant righteous Abel.” p. 302, 303. Which clauses have made the Schoolmen to sweat blood and water, in endeavoring to reconcile them with the notion of the real presence.

We find there also this prayer, which absolutely decides the question, Aeterne Deus, suppliciter implorantes, ut Filius tuus Jesus Christus, qui se in fine seculi suis promisit fidelibus affuturum, et praesentiae corpooralis mysteriis, non deserat quos redemit, et majestatis sure beneficiis non relinquat.

“Beseeching thee, O eternal God, that thy Son Jesus Christ, who has promised to be with believers to the end of the world, may not forsake those he has redeemed, with respect of the mysteries; he may not deprive those whom he has redeemed, of the mysteries of his corporal presence, nor leave them destitute of the blessings of his majesty.”

It seems evident, that these words, “the mysteries of his bodily presence,” signify plainly, that Jesus Christ is absent, with respect to his flesh, though his body be present in its image, which represents it to us. It is commonly supposed, from the testimony oft the books of the Sacraments attributed to St. Ambrose, that the Ambrosian Liturgy had this clause: Fac nobis hanc oblationera adscriptam, rationabilem, acceptabilem, quod est figura corpotis et sanguinis Domini nostri Jesu Christi. “Make this offering to be imputed to us, reasonable and acceptable, which is a figure of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And indeed, though the word figure be not found now in Pamelius’s edition of the Ambrosian Liturgy; nevertheless, first, we find, that by a marginal note he refers his reader to St. Ambrose himself, de Sacram. lib. 5. cap. 5. Secondly, Pamelius, in his 60th title, where he sets down the words of consecration, cites the place of St. Ambrose with the word Sgura. Thirdly, we find it so in the edition of St. Ambrose, printed at Paris in the year 1529. The words are these: Vis scire quia verbis crelestibus consecratur, accipe quae sunt verba. Dicit sacerdos, Fac nobis, inquit, hanc oblationera adscriptam, rationabilem et acceptabilem, quod est figura corporis et sanguinis Domini nostri Jesu Christi. This passage has been corrupted in other editions; but Paschasius’s quoting of it in the year 835, in his treatise of the body and blood of our Lord, confounds the authors of this falsification. But to speak the truth, as I do not believe that these books of the Sacraments were written by St. Ambrose, though Mabillon assures us that they have been found at St. Gal, under his name; so neither have I any certainty that tills prayer was taken out of the Office or Liturgy of St. Ambrose. What passages I have already cited are sufficient to show, that the carnal presence was not then believed by the diocese of Italy. They who are willing to examine the said Liturgy will find many other passages in it, that do invincibly confirm the same truth. By this we may judge what likelihood there is of finding any thing in this Liturgy concerning the adoration of the Host after consecration: indeed, we are so far from finding any such thing there, that we meet with no hint thereof even in the ages after Paschasius; of which we can give a demonstrative proof, viz. that whereas at this day use is made of the adoration of the Host to prove the real presence, none of those that disputed against Berengarius for almost an hundred years together, did mention one word of that proof, which should clearly make out, that Berengarius and Scotus were innovators, by opposing themselves to a belief, which served for a foundation to establish a worship, which the Church had publicly owned and practiced.

I say nothing here concerning that clause made use of in the Ambrosian Liturgy, wherein they pray for the dead, that “sleep the sleep of peace.” Thus much is evident, that that prayer is as contrary to the notion of purgatory, as those we find in the Roman Liturgy; as our authors, and Blondel in particular, have showed. The prayer for the dead, p. 298. which that Liturgy contains, was founded upon other principles than those which the doctors of Rome at this day admit of; as hath been made out from the confessions of the learned men of that communion themselves. The substance of these prayers is, that fidelibus vita mutatur, non tollitur, et in timoris Dei obserratione defunctis domicilium perpetuae foelicitatis acquiritur.

“As to believers, their life [by death] is only changed, not taken away, and that the deceased, who have lived in the observance of the fear of God, do acquire a mansion of perpetual felicity,” as we find the words in the prayer for many souls, p. 451. Not to insist now, that in the next following prayer the bosom of Abraham is taken for the state of glory; which the Church of Rome contradicts and rejects at present.

I own, that in the Ambrosian Liturgy, p. 341. we find the anointing of the sick and possessed persons mentioned, but only with reference to the obtaining the remission of their sins, and their cure; which cannot be the Roman unction. We find there this clause: Concede infusione Sancti Spiritus, olim tibi placitam, praesentis old confirmes, nobilitesque substantiam, ut quicquid ex eo in humano genere tacturn fuerit, ad naturam transeat mox supernam.

“Grant by the infusion of the Holy Spirit, so to strengthen and enrich the substance of this present oil, formerly accepted of by thee, that whosoever of the race of mankind shall therewith be touched, may immediately be exalted to the nature that is from on high.”

What we meet with there likewise concerning the consecration of the chrism used in Confirmation, contains nothing that can give us much trouble. We acknowledge that it is a ceremony which has been practiced since the fourth century, as an appendix to Baptism; neither do we look upon that ceremony as blameworthy, but only so far as the Church of Rome has pretended to make a sacrament of it, properly so called, and thereby to make a ceremony, introduced by men, equal to that which was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ himself. And I have the same thing to say concerning the benediction of the fire and the wax candles at Easter, the benediction of the fonts, and some other ceremonies we meet with there.

Moreover, we find there, as well as in the Roman Liturgy, a prayer wherein remission of sins is begged of God, calling him non estimator meriti, sed venice donator; “not a regarder of merit, but a giver of pardon?” which expression one of the most famous Schoolmen has looked upon as absolutely contrary to the doctrine of merit, as it is held at present. So likewise, p. 298. we find these words, Iniquitates meas ne vespexeris, sed sola tua misericordia mihi prosit indigno;

“Do not thou regard mine iniquities, but let thy alone mercy help me unworthy.”

After all, we must continually remember, that this piece comes from very suspected hands. Pamelius, who is the first that has printed it, confesseth himself to have cut off a great part of it, which he pretends indeed to have done only to avoid repetition: but it is well known, that these sort of works must be very exactly inspected, to be well assured of the force of the expressions therein contained, and to be able to pass a certain judgment concerning them. I return now to the method I have prescribed to myself.


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