15 June 2017

Salus, honor, virtus quoque sit ...

I've often wondered about these words in the Tantum ergo. 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.

11 comments:

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Thank you for reminding me, it is Corpus Christi!

Blessed Feast Day!

Unknown said...

Are you taking the sit to be something other than the third-person-singular conjunctive conjugation for esse? I thought rather than the phrase being about our attributing qualities to the Blessed Sacrament that it was about hoping those qualities would be attributed to us through worthy reception. Something like: May It/He Be unto us strength, honour, salvation and very blessing too. The only thing making the imputation of these benefits conditional being our dispositions, rather than any lack of perfection regarding these qualities of the Sacrament per se.

Colin Spinks said...

Thank you Father. It is very easy to trot out these words without really understanding what they mean. I think that your explanation of "salus" is quite right, it is about us acknowledging that our salvation comes from God alone and is not something we achieve by ourselves. However, could not this hermeneutic also apply to the other concepts of "honor" and "virtus"? Are they not also qualities or attributes we often fondly imagine are our own achievements, but are in fact gifts of God to us, and thus we acknowledge that HE honours US with his eternal sacrificial Presence, and HE gives US strength through the gift of his Body and Blood. How appropriate to be reminded of this in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, when we worship the source of all honour, strength and salvation.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Ms Unknown
If you look at the whole stanza you will discover that it is about attributing a number of nominative things to the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, in the dative, by means of the subjunctive verb sit.

Thomas said...

Many commentaries cross reference Revelation 7:10 to Psalm 3:8: "Salvation belongs to THE LORD, on your people your blessing". This not only seems to be saying that salvation comes from God but that is pertains to God as an eternal state which then overflows to his people as blessing. This picks up on the suggestion that salus has a meaning as "perfection", but it is not just referring to God's moral or metaphysical perfection, but his infinitewell-being, wholeness and health, fullness of life and superabundant blessedness. This does indeed pertain to God and also overflows to us as grace and mercy in the history of creation and salvation through which we are raised to share in the eternal and life-giving 'salus' of the Triune Godhead. "I have come that they may have life and life to the full" (John 10:10).

John Vasc said...

This 'Gloria Patri' verse is the culminating stanza of a long and theologically packed Sequentia by the subtle and brilliant St Thomas.
It is true that the attributes (Salus, Virtus) seem to be indiscriminately mixed with the synonyms for high praise (Honor, Laus, Jubilatio). But they are deliberately symmetrically placed - Salus (attribute) - Honor (praise) - Virtus (attribute) - Laudatio (praise). The sit+dative (Genitori, Genito) 'To You be...'etc, means 'Such attributes be Yours' as well as 'Such Praise be Yours' - with the dative functioning as an indirect genitive, as it so often does in Latin. St Thomas is saying that undeserving though we are, our poor human praise, our adoration, *belongs* to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit just as much as God's (intransitive) Omnipotence and His (transitive) Love and Salvation of mankind. It is an image of hope.
This mingling confusion is deliberate, surely - 'Sensuum Defectui'. It is the *poetic* rapture of the apotheosis: one so lost in the praise of God that he can no longer distinguish his praise from the power of God Himself. And by doing so, Aquinas draws us and himself closer to God in this final paean to the Blessed Trinity, in an image of the mystic union with the 'Panis Angelorum' whose action he has been describing in this great poem.
(Btw, Mgr Gilbey used to say that Lauda Sion was the best and most readable *explanation* of the Eucharist, and that everyone should study it.)

El Codo said...

Father: is there anything more pleasant than a dative? An Aorist perhaps? In the happy olden days,it was such a delight to hear,in the Biretta belt:"Father,we had ought to go now".Juicy!

Sprouting Thomas said...

I feel rather sheepish, since much cleverer solutions have been suggested, but isn't as simple as salus indicating the means of healing, or the principle of health? "nisi quae mihi in te'st, haud tibi est in me salus"? I don't always know whether St Thomas is being characteristically bold or characteristically cautious. Is he here doing anything more than ascribing to God a solicitude for our health?

Or: economically, God can save us, while not Himself requiring salvation. But ontologically, surely he cannot give what he does not have? If, therefore, we receive the ontological possession of salus (instead of being merely the objects of the action of salvation), then we must attribute the possession of that salus to God also, even if we do not know exactly what we are saying when we do!

David McPike said...

Not only do we ascribe our salvation to God's action, but "the whole salvation of man ... is in God," as in its efficient cause and exemplar, in particular as revealed in the death, resurrection, etc. of the incarnate word.

STh I.1.1: "Quia veritas de Deo, per rationem investigata, a paucis, et per longum tempus, et cum admixtione multorum errorum, homini proveniret, a cuius tamen veritatis cognitione dependet tota hominis salus, quae in Deo est."

David McPike said...

A textual precedent, Isaiah 49: "Et dixit: Parum est ut sis mihi servus ad suscitandas tribus Jacob, et fæces Israël convertendas: ecce dedi te in lucem gentium, ut sis salus mea usque ad extremum terræ."

We might compare John 14: "pacem meam do vobis, non quomodo mundus dat, ego do vobis."

God's peace, God's salvation, not to be confused with any other kind of peace or salvation, for which God is to be praised.

Belfry Bat said...

On the one hand, "Salus, Honor, Virtus..." is a perfectly sensible accalamation unto an ordinary King (esp. if we hope he may be a good King) and so, why not unto The King of Creation? But... Oh, what a nifty limb I might climb out along...

There's this doctrinal maxim that God is Impassible; and it has seemed terribly odd to me for a long time, in that also God in scripture is loving and covering-as-a-mother-hen-her-chicks and wrathful and sometimes sorrowing and sometimes joyful... ; and furthermore, we also Proclaim Our Lord's Passion (a scandal unto the Nations).

But I think I've managed to come to some sort of resolution of the apparent paradox in a corollary that God's loving and wrath and peace and sorrow and joy ... are also perfectly willed by God, and perfectly enacted by Him: to put it in homelier terms, He takes on wrath, or peace, or sorrow or joy... God does not suffer pains but He takes pains.

And if we are His good children, then we want those pains to have their end, both that they accomplish that for which they are taken on and also that they be not greater than need be. We long for the consummation of all things in which God will take no more pains but only delight and joy, when He shall work only Peace and no more War. And I might suggest that that is something of the Salus we can declare unto Him, at the least by no longer being at war with Him ourselves or demanding He take more pains to bring us-particularly back to Him.