Origin of the St. Bernard Breviary

Why St. Bernard as the namesake for this book?

St. Bernard, as a champion of the newly-founded Cistercian order, pioneered a return to simplicity and austerity in the monastic life, the bulk of which is spent praying the Daily Office, as laid out in the Rule of St. Benedict. It was this ethos of simplicity and austerity which endeared him as a 'patron' namesake, since compared to other comparable breviaries and office books, the St. Bernard Breviary is much simpler. The chant is simpler. The number of complexities (e.g. when it comes to antiphons) is simpler, etc. St. Bernard actually comments on the sung office exactly to this effect:

"The sense of the words should be unmistakable, and they should shine with truth, tell of righteousness, incite to humility and inculcate justice; they should bring truth to the minds of the hearers, devotion to their affections, the cross to their vices and discipline to their senses. If there is to be singing, the melody should be grave and not flippant or uncouth. It should be sweet but not frivolous; it should both enchant the ears and move the heart; it should lighten sad hearts and soften angry passions; it should never obscure but enhance the sense of the words. Not a little spiritual profit is lost when minds are distracted from the sense of the words by the frivolity of the melody, when more is conveyed by the modulations of the voice than by variations of meaning." --St. Bernard (Epistle 398)

A History of the Development of the Daily Office, that stands behind this book
From the Preface to the St. Bernard Breviary

Over sixteen hundred years ago, Saint Ambrose (339-397) wrote these words about the Psalms:

 What is more pleasing than a psalm?

A psalm is a blessing on the lips of the people, a hymn in praise of God,
 the assembly’s homage, a general acclamation,
  a word that speaks for all, the voice of the Church,
   a confession of faith in song.
It is the voice of complete assent, the joy of freedom,
 a cry of happiness, the echo of gladness.
It soothes the temper, distracts from care,
 lightens the burden of sorrow.
It is a source of security at night,
 a lesson in wisdom by day.
It is a shield when we are afraid,
 a celebration of holiness, a vision of serenity,
   a promise of peace and harmony.
It is like a lyre, evoking harmony from a blend of notes.
Day begins to the music of a psalm.
Day closes to the echo of a psalm.
In a psalm, instruction vies with beauty.
We sing for pleasure.
We learn for our profit.
What experience is not covered by a reading of the psalms? 

This takes us to the beating heart of the Daily Office: The Psalter. The psalter is the prayerbook of the Bible. It was always on the lips of Israel under the Old Covenant; it became the hymn-book to Christ Jesus in the light of the New. It was the mainstay of the prayers of the faithful, as St. John Chrysostom (347-407) records, 

"If we keep vigil in the Church, David comes first, last, and midst. If early in the morning we seek for the melody of hymns, first, last, and midst is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of the departed, if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last, and midst. O marvellous wonder! Many who have made but little progress in literature, nay, who have scarcely mastered its first principles, have the Psalter by heart. Nor is it in cities and churches alone that at all times, through every age, David is illustrious; in the midst of the forum, in the wilderness, and uninhabitable land, he excites the praises of God. In monasteries, amongst those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, midst, and last. In the convents of virgins, where are the bands of them that imitate Mary; in the deserts, where are men crucified to this world, and having their conversation with God, first, midst, and last is he. All other men are at night overpowered by natural sleep: David alone is active; and, congregating the servants of God into seraphic bands, turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels."

This tradition of the early church — of constantly giving voice to the psalter, is built on Apostolic practice, which in turn is as old as the psalter itself. In the Temple the Levites sang Psalms daily. (Mishnah, Tamid 7:4). The Psalms themselves describe a pattern of liturgical prayer, “In the evening, and morning, and at noonday I will pray” 

(Ps 55:16). We see this being followed by the prophet Daniel during the Babylonian exile when he “went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10). The Apostles continued the practice of marking these "hours" with prayer. In the book of Acts on the day of Pentecost the apostles had gathered at the “third hour of the day” (9am). The next day Peter went up on the housetop to pray about the sixth hour (12pm). Later it describes Peter and John going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour (3pm). Psalm 141 describes the evening prayers as “an evening sacrifice.” (Ps 141:1-2) And of course, our Lord Jesus himself prayed the Psalms (22-31) in the midst of his Passion. 

This tradition of praying the psalms was codified through long and deep use by early monastics who organically developed what we would now recognize as the “Daily Office”, which they called the Work of God. In those early days, the entire psalter would be prayed every day.

Over time, variations of ritual arose. Psalms got attached to the reading of Scripture, the singing of hymns, and formal supplications besides the Our Father. Set times for prayer corresponding to the time of day developed further: Pre-dawn Matins, Vigils at first-light, Prime at Sunrise, then Terce (9am), Sext (noon), Nones (3pm), Vespers at sunset, and Compline when it was dark. Thus monks and nuns fulfilled the words of David himself, “Seven times a day will I praise you.” (Ps 119:164) and “at midnight I will rise to give you thanks.” (Ps. 119:62). St. Benedict (480-547) established the praying of the entire psalter every week, with many psalms being prayed multiple times in that course (51, 95, 119, 144-150, etc).

After the time of Charlemagne (c. 800), as canonries and monasteries became wealthy from new land-holdings, the praying of the Office became increasingly dominated by aesthetic concerns. Simple chant became increasingly elaborate and melismatic, and subsequently began to be viewed as the exclusive work of a professional monastic choir.

This is the backdrop into which St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) enters. In a return to the spirit of St. Benedict and the desert monastic tradition he had codified, St. Bernard went into the woods of Francia with a couple dozen of his brothers, cousins, and friends, to lead them in the Work of God: the praying of Psalms, with simplicity and clarity. This movement, injecting enormous vigor into the newly founded Cistercian houses, worked a great good inspired by a desire to return to the roots of the Benedictine tradition. Gradually though, its influence waned, and by the dawn of the Reformation, throughout most of the Western Church, legends of saints, elaborate choral antiphons, and piece-meal readings from Scripture had increased the complexity of the Offices.

Enter Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Archbishop of Canterbury in England during the early decades of the Reformation. In his preface to his first Prayerbook of 1549 he summarizes the state of the Work of God thus,

These many years passed, this godly and decent order of the ancient fathers has been so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertain stories, Legends, Responds, Verses, vain repetitions, Commemorations, and Synodals, that commonly when any book of the Bible was begun, before three or four Chapters were read out, all the rest were unread... And furthermore, notwithstanding that the ancient fathers had divided the Psalms into seven portions, whereof every one was called a nocturn, now of late time a few of them have been daily said (and oft repeated), and the rest utterly omitted. Moreover, the number and hardness of the Rules called the Pie, and the manifold changings of the service, was the cause, that to turn the Book only, was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times, there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out.

Archbishop Cranmer's 1549 Book of Common Prayer accomplished chiefly two things. First, it restored the unbroken praying of psalms and unbroken hearing of Scripture to the center of the Offices. Second,  it simplified the Office in order to make it available to Christians from all stations of life, namely, by re-shaping the seven-fold Office into a simpler two-fold Office. Matins and Lauds became Morning Prayer and Vespers and Compline became Evening Prayer. Similar consolidations of Offices had been utilized in various monasteries prior to the Reformation, but Cranmer’s radical idea was to enable ordinary Christians to have regular liturgical prayer as part of their daily lives. The work of prayer before the work of one’s hands, and the work of prayer after the day’s toil. The Offices of the Book of Common Prayer are the cornerstone of the piety we now name as “Anglican”.

In the early twentieth century, at the height of the liturgical movement, Anglican scholars recognized that in addition to the great gains accomplished by Cranmer’s revision and simplification of the Offices, there had also been some losses. The degree of emphasis on the Church seasons, the delight of antiphons, the beauty of some of the ancient hymnody, and especially the spiritual usefulness of praying in the middle of the day, and at bed time, were recognized as compatible with the Cranmerian vision, as long as not imported in excess.

Thus, in the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, a number of elements of the ancient Office were re-introduced to Anglicans for the first time since the Reformation: Midday Prayer, Compline, the Phos Hilaron, antiphons on the Venite, etc. These were welcomed by the church as edifying gains — a reform of the reform — and were carried forward in the 2019 revision of the Prayerbook by the Anglican Church in North America.

Contemporaneous with official prayerbook revision in the 20th century was the pursuit of a more medieval-style breviary. Liturgical scholars like the Rev. Frank Gavin (The Anglican Breviary) and The Rev. Paul Hartzell (The Prayerbook Office), introduced Anglicans to an Office that was rich in antiphons and versicles but admittedly created a great deal of complexity; complexity that at times ran counter to the very ethos that created the Book of Common Prayer in the first place. Moreover, as spoken offices, they did not address the need to restore the tradition of chanting these Offices, as the ancient church found such joy in doing. The breviary tradition (with all its complexity) of Hartzell continues in various printed iterations to this day.

Striking a related but somewhat different course, the St. Bernard Breviary is offered as the next chapter in this evolution of the Anglican Office. Taking the principles that animated the holy man of Clairvaux as inspiration, this Breviary was constructed with four goals in mind:

1) The continuity of Cranmer’s vision of an easy-to-use Office for every Christian.

2) Utilization of the Book of Common Prayer (2019) and the New Coverdale Psalter contained within it.

3) Simple Chant that can be easily learned and utilized.

4) The incorporation of small amounts of traditional elements of the Office that reside beyond the prayerbook, but which can be incorporated into the Office according to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer (2019).

What is behind the specific design choices?

As well as an enormous amount of functional "pray-testing", study was made of how similar breviaries solved the design problems inherent to this type of book in the past. Especially in the 15th-16th century, with Incunabulae and early Printings

Who is behind this book?

Ben Jefferies is the General Editor of the St. Bernard Breviary. He spent four years developing it. Invaluable contributions and editorial review were provided by the Assistant Editors, Kirk Botula and Nathaniel Kidd.

Anglican House Publishers supported this project, and will be the vendor.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to the early "kickstarters" who financially backed the first score of copies and showed to the press the viability of the project:

Kirk Botula
Dale Caldwell
Daniel Waterman

Thanks to all those who contributed vision and/or expertise to the project, especially Mark Brians, Katherine & Adam Rick, Ben Lansing, Ben Locher

Thanks to Crossway for licensing the ESV (and ESV Apocrypha!) for this project

& Thanks to all who expressed interest via the YouTube pitch