Sometimes when students prepare their proposal for writing a tesina or tesi, they may say only that they intend to use “the historical method”. When I ask for a description of the specific steps they are going to use, they may be at a loss. The following may be helpful in considering method. 

There are different kinds of academic writing. 

  • Summaries used to introduce students to primary research and scholarly discussion.
  • Review of the literature, presents the scholarly discussion on a given topic.
  • Primary research such as doctoral theses uses scientific methods to gain insights.

Summaries are used to introduce students to primary research and scholarly discussion.

Students are encouraged to begin research on a topic by doing the following:

  • Reading articles on their topic in dictionaries,
  • Consulting introductory volumes such as: Introduction to the Study of Liturgy.

By consulting handbooks such as: 

  • Anamnesis
  • Scientia Liturgica / Handbook for Liturgical Studies
  • Gottesdienst der Kirche. Handbuch der Liturgiewissenschaft

These are intended to provide a clear and brief introduction to various subjects in the field of liturgical science. They often provide a helpful bibliography in various languages for more specialised reading. 

This introductory reading is not intended to be the primary material for doctoral research. Rather, it is intended to be a starting point for further investigation. These introductory resources may indicate who did the primary research on a given topic, leading the researcher to the primary research itself. These introductions may present the subsequent discussion among scholars, inviting the researcher to read the works of the scholars involved in this discussion. 

For example, I have reviewed the introductory chapter entitled “The Liturgical Year in the First Four Centuries” written by Matias Augé and included in volume 1 of The Handbook for Liturgical Studies. His work provides a helpful introduction to the material. He arranges his ideas according to specific topics, and within each topic he may sketch its historical development or present the general scholarly discussion. His chapter is not intended to present new primary research. Rather it is intended to define essential terms and provide, a general introduction and a useful bibliography. Scholars wishing to pursue any topic further may then turn to the primary research and subsequent scholarly discussion on it. The chapter by Augé is scholarly, but is considered secondary material, a study on the development of the liturgical year, and an introductory presentation at that. Such introductory studies are intended to lead the researcher to primary research already done and to undertake their own primary research. 

Review of the literature, presents the scholarly discussion on a given topic.

When one scholar does primary research, writes a book and publishes the conclusions, later scholars may assess the research done. Some later scholars may wish to correct an element of the research or to develop it further. Some later scholars simply present the original research again in a fresh way but without adding anything. Some scholars produce research which is inferior to original primary research. Some authors are less scholarly and seek to bend the primary research to match their own agenda. Eventually another scholar may come along who wishes to build on this scholarly discussion and to conduct one’s own primary research in a related field in order to make one’s proper contribution and advance the discussion even further. 

The task of a review of the literature is to narrate this discussion among scholars. It involves pointing out the contribution of scholars conducting primary research. It includes showing how the original conclusions were received by the academic community. It assesses whether later scholars have made a valuable correction or development of the original research. It respectfully assesses the limitations of challenges to the primary work, and how the material has been bent to other agendas.

For example, I consider the work of Thomas Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, to be authoritative primary research. Since it was published in 1986, other scholars have made helpful contributions to this discussion. Others have taken a polemical stance and argued in defense of a particular conclusion they wish to support. Still, it strikes me that Talley’s basic insights have not been undermined, but remain authoritative. 

Primary research such as doctoral theses uses scientific methods to gain insights.

At the heart of a doctoral thesis is primary research. 

This type of writing involves:

  • research into primary texts, such as liturgical texts,
  • using the original languages
  • on a topic no one has previously studied,
  • to discover new insights and 
  • make a unique contribution to liturgical science.

At the heart of primary research is method. Only by using a scientific method and applying the method well in the course of research is the researcher assured of quality results. 

There are three phases in the process of research: 

  • Heuristics: from eureka, “I found it”, heuristics is the process of discovery, getting the raw facts, gathering the basic materials.
  • Hermeneutics is the process of interpreting the raw materials gathered. 
  • Synthetics is the process of developing an argument and writing it according to academic standards.

Heuristics: from eureka, “I found it”, heuristics is the process of discovery, getting the raw facts, gathering the basic materials. Scholars of liturgy may choose a specific rite and research its history from the early liturgical books until the present day. This may involve listing the elements of the rite in each liturgical book. This is called gathering the basic facts, getting the information. 

More information, however, is also needed. For example, the Gelasianum Vetus is preserved in a single manuscript which has been divided into two parts. Cyrille Vogel concludes that the manuscript dates to about the year 825. He and especially Antoinne Chavasse as well as other scholars have studied this manuscript. Their conversation about the original composition, date, place and use of the manuscript is presented by Vogel in Medieval Liturgy. Vogel concludes that the original liturgical book was a compilation o f many different elements, which reached a final compilation at some point between 628-715 and that it represents the presbyteral liturgy celebrated in the titular churches of Rome leading up to and at that time. Since then, a copy was carried out of Rome and circulated in Gaul. As copies were made additional Gallican material was added. So, if I am researching a prayer found in the Gelasianum Vetus, I need to ask whether the prayer was part of some earlier collection added when the book was compiled and thus represents the presbyteral liturgy of Rome at that time, or whether my prayer was added to the manuscript at a later date when it was circulating in Gaul and thus represents a Gallican contribution. 

One rather subtle element of writing on the Gelasianum Vetus is the reality that the only tangible facts we have extant in this world are the two manuscripts housed in two different libraries. All the rest I have just said is from primary research done by qualified scholars who have reached slightly different conclusions and then the presentation of their discussion by C. Vogel and his development of a working scholarly consensus. Some students talk about this history of the Gelasianum Vetus as if it were a body of known facts, as if the copyist had dated the manuscript or written a history of how the book had come into the scriptorium, but this history was never written until our time. None of the scholarly conclusions are tangible fact, rather they are mental constructs and part of a scholarly discussion. This is why any presentation of the origin of the Gelasianum Vetus must present the scholars involved and their conclusions.

For liturgical books it is helpful to know the following, for example: 

  • Scholarly discussion on the date and place of the oldest extant manuscript of the liturgical book,
  • Scholarly discussion on the original composition of the liturgical book, its original date, place and the original context in which the book was used.
  • Scholarly discussion on the changes to the liturgical book and additions over the course of time.
  • Scholarly discussion on where the book circulated geographically and how it was used there.
  • Scholarly discussion on how the book contributed to the development of later liturgical books and traditions.

Such information on the manuscript itself, its origin, use, later development must also be gathered when researching a liturgical book. 

Hermeneutics involves analysis of the material gathered. 

This leads to organising the material according to clear principles. 

This involves analysing the material according to established or developing methods.

Prof. De Zan has provided several methods which may be used in interpreting a collect. They include: 

  • Textual criticism concerns identifying the text to be studied
  • Philological analysis concerns the meaning of words in a full expression,
  • Semantic Analysis concerns the fabric of meaning in a text,
  • Analysis of authenticity and
  • Historical analysis is a way of identifying a text in its original historical and social context and its later uses in subsequent historical and social contexts,
  • Literary criticism concerns the literary identity of the text
  • Pragmatic analysis asks what this collect does. 

Prof. James Leachman and prof. Daniel McCarthy base their research on two pillars. 1) They have developed specific elements of several of the methods used by prof. De Zan as listed above, and 2) they use the understanding of the Latin language as presented by Reginald Foster. In this light they suggest several methods of analysis of a prayer.

Historical analysis includes:

  • Tracing the text of a prayer in liturgical books over the centuries leads to an understanding of the textual variants and difficulties of a prayer,
  • Tracing the different uses of a prayer in liturgical books over the centuries reveals the different contexts in which the prayer has been used,
  • Using a map of the history of liturgical books to trace the movement of the prayer over time, geography, cultures. 
  • Understanding the scholarly process of establishing a date for an extant manuscript and then discerning its origin and subsequent developments, as well as when the prayer came to be a part of the liturgical book.

Literary analysis includes:

  • Identifying the clausal structure of a prayer by putting brackets around elements which belong together and showing the connections among the various parts of the prayer,
  • Drawing a tree of all the verbal forms and their connecting words is a visual way of depicting the same clausal structure as above,
  • Assigning hermeneutical categories to each part of the prayer.
  • This helps the student to understand and talk about the prayer.

Temporal analysis includes:

  • Drawing a timeline of the prayer is analysed by drawing a timeline and identifying the times of verbal actions relative to one another. 
  • This helps in establishing the steps of human maturation in the prayer. 
  • This helps to reveal interesting and unexpected perspectives when analysing the anamnetic and eschatological dimensions of the prayer.

Semiotic analysis includes:

  • Asking who does what to whom gives a form of semiotic interpretation of the prayer.
  • This helps establish the divine-human exchange in the prayer as a basis for discussing the theanthropic role of Christ in the prayer.
  • This helps to discern how we humans share divine life by becoming persons in freedom and love according to the prayer.

The above methods of analysis form the basis for discussing the four interpretative keys, or four characteristics of liturgy. They are:

  • Anamnesis, “memorial”, consisting of the ritual programme and narration of the saving works of God; these are in contrast to mimesis which tends toward allegory and dramatic representation. 
  • Epiclesis, “invocation”, which we pair with the presentation of ourselves both in our dignity and in our need to be changed by God.
  • Eschatology, “the full-filling, the filling full”, has been revealed in our history, is already at work in us now and will ever come to its fullness in the beatific vision.
  • Theosis, “coming to exercise personal freedom in the mutual exchange of love”, is based on Trinitarian theology and correlates with the theanthropic character of liturgy seen in the role of Christ, fully human and fully divine.

Other methods of analysis and interpretation may be used as well. For example:

  • Ritual and the meaning of bodily movement,
  • Symbolic nature of celebrating rites,
  • Architectural design which supports the ritual narration,
  • Artistic programme which manifests outwardly the inner dimensions of liturgy,
  • Comparing and contrasting different texts or contexts,
  • Developing a chart to organise and present the information clearly.

Surely there are many other forms of analysis and interpretation. These are to be chosen and used according to the appropriateness of each for your research. 

Synthetics is the process of developing an argument and writing it according to academic standards.

Enough writing for todayDaniel, 5 November 2020.