Distilled Prayer: A New Project

The Distilled Prayer project is a long-term study of the Venerable Bede’s Abbreviated Psalter. My goal is to work through this project in this blog and I look forward to your suggestions. I call this project ‘distilled prayer’ because that is exactly what Bede has done with his abbreviated psalter. To distill means to concentrate, or to separate or extract the essential elements of something from a larger entity. Bede would have found precedent for this process from the psalms themselves.

“The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined from ore and purified seven times in the fire.” (BCP Ps. 12:6)

Bede’s Abbreviated Psalter is a collection of abbreviations of every psalm in order. These abbreviations range from a half a line, just a few words, to half a dozen verses for the longer psalms or just those he valued. In effect, Bede created a new prayerbook from verses of the psalter. Understanding why he created the abbreviated psalter and how it was to be used is the goal of this project.

There are two modern translations of the abbreviated psalter. The first by Benedicta Ward is included as an appendix to her Jarrow Lecture “Bede and the Psalms” using the current Church of England psalter, intended I believe just to support her lecture. Gerald Browne’s edition is a completely new translation based on the authoritative Latin edition; this translation will be used for this study.

Expected segments of this project (to date):

  1. Review existing literature on the Abbreviated Psalter
  2. Review 7-8th century use of the psalter in Britain and Ireland.
  3. Reformat Browne’s translation to remove all of the critical apparatus, verse numbers and spaces between the abbreviated psalms so that it can be read continuously as the earliest manuscripts formatted it. Make observations on reading it in this manner.
  4. Do an abbreviated psalter myself with the Book of Common Prayer psalter. Make observations on this process and its uses.
  5. Review Bede’s use of the Abbreviated Psalter and the psalms in general. Some of the newer editions of his works have a good enough critical apparatus to make this possible.
  6. Summarize findings and discussion on a web page and/or perhaps a small book.

Suggestions on this research plan are welcome. I expect to work on this project for months to years. Posts will be filed under the category “distilled prayer”.


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