3 August 2010

Salus, honor, virtus quoque sit ...

I've often wondered about these words in the O Salutaris Hostia. Honour we can give to God, as is his due; Might we cannot give Him, because he possessses it, but we can and should doxologically ascribe it to him, acknowledging that it is his. But "Salus", Salvation, seems to me a different Kettle of Fish: it is in principle what he bestows upon us. In what sense can we 'give' it to him, or say "let it be" to him?

I wondered if Latin philology might help; given the root meaning, does it here mean 'perfection', which we could ascribe to God? Or, in view of the phrase "dat salutem", "gives greeting", is that the sense here? But it seems unlikely that S Thomas is delving into antiquated Indo-European philology; or that the phrase is simply a way of saying "Hello, God".

I suspect S Thomas got the phrase from the old hymn to S Martin, Iste Confessor, eighth century and probably Carolingian (they liked Sapphics), where the doxology begins "Sit salus illi, decus atque virtus ...". But there is a Biblical basis: Revelation 7:10 "Salus Deo nostro" (the Greek is "He Soteria toi theoi hemon" ... see also 12:10 and 19:1). R H Charles (still my favourite commentary on Revelation) comments that "They know and proclaim that the Deliverance is not their own achievement, but that of God and of the Lamb".

So are we really saying, in these doxologies, "We ascribe our Salvation to God's action"?.

I would be glad if anyone has spotted something textual, literary, or historical that I have missed.

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By the way, Iste Confessor used to be the Office Hymn for all 'Confessors' (i.e. male Saints who were not martyrs) in the Old Rites. Dom Lentini's coetus commented "The very few metrical licenses led the Urbanian correctors to make so many and such grave changes that they gave pretty well a new appearance to the hymn. It ought to be totally restored; it is very well known and worthy and not to be restricted simply to the feast of S Martin".

But when Liturgia Horarum came out, Lentini had been overruled, the hymn confined to S Martin, and some very unmemorable compositions had been provided for every category of male non-martyr.

5 comments:

Father Anonymous said...

I had always taken for granted that it was a reference to the passages from Revelation that you mention, and interpreted it as you suggest. Neither the other the possibilities nor the oddity of the phrase had ever presented themselves to me. So naturally I agree with you.

Patricius said...

I always thought ''salus'' in the O Salutaris Hostia meant something like ''health'', although your insights, Father, are very interesting.

johnf said...

Father - surely those words are from the last verse of 'Pange lingua'; the verse beginning 'Genitori, Genitoque...'

Figulus said...

I have always wondered about the two subjunctives in this strophe of the "Tantum ergo". Of course it's natural to assume that they are jussive, but might they instead be causative?

Because to the Father and to the Son belongs praise and jubilee, and also salvation, honor, and strength, and so blessing: Equal praising belongs to him who proceeds from both. Amen.

The problem with my theory, apart from the punctuation, which is against me, is that there is no form of "qui" linking this strophe to the previous, so I'm not sure I'd be justified in inserting a conjuction "because" at its start. And if I can't do that, what business do I have interpreting the Latin subjunctive with an English indicative?

At any rate, if the verb is not jussive, then there is no suggestion about giving God anything; there is only a strong description of what belongs to him. Had I the bravura of Bugnini, I'd just change the Sits to Ests, but I prefer to ponder the questions this mystery raises than to fix them.

Mall said...

I take the "sit" as an acknowledgement - and a call to acknowledge - that all these things belong ultimately to God. "Salvation be to God" = let us recognise that from God alone is salvation.