“Glory be …”

Re-post from elsewhere in 2008

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritu Sancto,

Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

* * *

Glory be to the Father,

and to the Son,

and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Those with a knowledge of Latin are already saying, “But ‘et in saecula saeculorum‘ means ‘and unto ages of ages’!” I know. Don’t ask me why, the “ages of ages” bit is also there in the Greek. Moving along . . .

You may know the above prayer from time spent in liturgical churches; we have a tendency to sing or say it following Psalms, canticles, and various prayers and antiphons based on Psalms. It tends to be called the “Gloria Patri,” after the first two words in Latin.

John Cassian (c. 360-430), the fellow I’m researching these days, says that the Desert Fathers of Egypt would say the Gloria Patri after each Psalm (Institutes 2.8), noting, “This we have never heard anywhere in the East.” Cassian had lived in Bethlehem and was later to visit Constantinople before settling in Marseilles. If Cassian speaks aright, the Gloria Patri goes back at least to the Desert Fathers, a movement that was already a hundred years old by the time he arrived and one with a strong oral culture. The Gloria Patri may be older than they are, but we don’t really know.

Anyway, it made its way from the Desert Fathers to St. Basil the Great’s Divine Liturgy (c. 370-379) as well as into St. John Chrysostom’s Divine Liturgy (late fourth century), although since both of those are from the living traditions of the East, it is hard to know what exactly the original text of each was; nonetheless, if we consider the guardedness of the East towards its tradition, the texts as we have received are probably very close to those of Sts. Basil and Chrysostom. Therefore, it was spreading in use in the late fourth century, despite Cassian’s note that he had never heard the Gloria Patri elsewhere in the East.

How the prayer came to the West is hard to say as well. The liturgies of the East were known in the West. Nonetheless, it may have come all on its own. Had it not come on its own, the most likely candidate is John Cassian. Cassian transmitted the spirituality and practices of the Desert to the monks of Marseilles in his two major works The Institutes and The Conferences.

He had a massive influence upon succeeding generations of monks, the Conferences being recommended reading in St. Benedict’s Rule (ch. 42). His recommendation of regularly praying the versicle, “O God make speed to save me; O Lord make haste to help me,” (Ps. 70:1, in Conf. 10.10.2 ff.) ensured its inclusion in St. Benedict’s office, being the standard beginning for the prayers and readings (chs. 17, 18, and 38).

It is hard to measure the impact of St. Benedict (c. 480-543) and his Rule for Beginners upon Christian spirituality. During the Early Middle Ages, more and more monasteries were founded according to his Rule or chose to live by it until the Rule became the standard authorised monastic rule of life. Since most monasteries were Benedictine and the Benedictines helped preserve Western learning during times of upheaval as well as produce many leading churchmen and missionaries, they inevitably had an effect on the liturgy of the Western Church.

Therefore, go and grab a BCP, and turn to the order for Morning Prayer. On page 6 of the Canadian 1962 version, just after the Lord’s Prayer, we read:

Minister. O Lord, open thou our lips;
People. And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.
Minister. O God, make speed to save us;
People. O Lord, make haste to help us.

Here, all standing up, the Minister shall say:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
People. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

There we see the influence of Cassian and the Benedictines. Here also we see the continuing tradition of saying the Gloria Patri. At a tradition BCP service, at the conclusion of the Psalms (outside of Lent), we proclaim the Gloria Patri.

In fact, this prayer is not only old and venerable but incredibly widespread. Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and others all pray this prayer. Wherever we have gone, we have brought the Gloria Patri with us. As a result, if you check out this page on Wikipedia, you can see the Gloria Patri in numerous languages.

When we proclaim the glory of God in this form, we are joining with Christians across the ages — at least 1600 years of church history includes this prayer in its worship and use of the Psalms. And when we say the Gloria Patri, we are joining with Christians of varying traditions from around the globe, joining in the mystical communion of the Body of Christ, raising our anthems high to the throne of God, united in one voice.

How cool is that?

This post has gone on long enough. But I hope you have caught a glimpse of the Gloria Patri as it has wended its way across the globe and through history right into your Prayer Book or BAS or version of the Daily Office or breviary or local congregation’s morning worship.

I’ll get to the usefulness of this as prayer and a small rant later.

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