“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.

Fighting the Demons 1: St. Antony

In Frank Peretti’s bestselling thriller This Present Darkness there is a scene wherein one of the characters engages in physical combat with demons in his living room. No joke. This sort of presentation of demonology, while it certainly entertained me as a teenager, draws attention away from the real fight with the demons, a fight that usually has as its great champion Christ.

Even if you don’t believe in demons, I think the lessons we have to learn from the ancient demon stories are applicable. So please, keep reading.

A very good description of the real fight with demons, a fight that takes place at the level of temptation, not at the level of wrestling matches, is John Cassian’s in The Institutes when he deals with the Eight Thoughts (precursors to Seven Deadly Sins). However, hagiography does give us some interesting demon stories, so I’m going to give you three posts and three stories battle with demons: St. Antony (below), St. Savvas (here), and St. Columba (here).

Other saints who have similar stories are St. Daniel the Stylite (saint of the week here), one of John of Ephesus’ saints whose name escapes me, and some other tales from the Desert Fathers. This is probably literary borrowing, not historical truth, but I believe it has a lesson inside.

What can we learn from patristic and mediaeval hagiography? I mean, we’re not likely to wrestle with demons Peretti-style, nor are we likely to be tempted Antony-style. So what on earth can these ancient demon stories say to (post)moderns in the 21st century?

Case One: The Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius

This is the locus classicus of monastic hagiography as well as the battle with demons. Evagrius and Cassian may give us the more nuanced, psychological vision of how we combat the tempters, but here Athanasius gives us a very vivid picture of St. Antony’s temptations from demons and the fight against them. I’ve posted on this before here.

This time, rather than focussing on the strange menagerie comprised by the denizens of Hell, let us focus on what actually happens to St. Antony.

If you read this encounter of St. Antony with the demonic, which we can find at 8.7-10.9 of the Life which is pp. 14-16 of White’s translation in Early Christian Lives and available through the CCEL here. In some ways, this account is Frank Peretti-esque, especially with the Devil and his minions beating St. Antony up.

Despite being beaten, however, we see that Antony continues to inhabit the tombs and prays continually. He also recites verses from the Psalms against the temptations that assail him. Ultimately, regardless of everything the adversary throws at him, he prevails in the combat.

At the end of it all, he is granted a vision of Christ.

St. Antony immediately asks why Christ didn’t help him. Apparently Christ was testing him, but then goes on to assure him that he will be present with Antony through the rest of the saint’s testing with demonic powers.

What can we learn, then? I mean, we aren’t likely to be beaten. And those of us who even believe in demons don’t tend to dwell on them and often live as though they don’t exist. Is there any edification for today’s reader, then?

I think so. (No surprise there.)

First, as I mentioned when I first posted about the Temptations of St. Antony, our saint does battle with prayer as his chief weapon. We should never forget this piece of our arsenal when we are beset by temptations or evil in any of its forms, be it within ourselves or in the unjust world we see around us. Prayer is a walkie-talkie for the battlefield of Christian life (I think J Piper said that).

Second, St. Antony quotes Scripture at the demons. We need to hold the Scriptures in our minds. We need to read, mark, and inwardly digest the Bible. We need to memorise it, pray it, study it, read it, recite it. If you want to have a biblical mindset, you need the Bible in your mind (this is part of the advice Abba Chaeremon gives Cassian in one of the Conferences).

Third, Christ was there all along. He is our champion. This role becomes very important in other monastic encounters with demons, from Palestine to Ireland. Hagiography is essentially Christocentric; Jesus is the reason the saints can do the great things that they do. We need to remember this, as well as the Old Testament name YHWH Nissi — YHWH is our banner. He fights our battles.