With the background afforded by my meditations upon the final paragraph of the Gloria in Excelsis Deo [GIED], I now revisit the ancient Marian prayer, which I examined early in this Mary Month: Sub tuum praesidium [STP]. My suspicions are quite simple: that it fits very snugly into the same cultural format, somewhere towards the end of the third century; the period when psalmi idiotici were still all the rage. You will remember that an early Christian papyrus contains this prayer [PAP means this papyrus] in one of its slightly differing versions.
Like GIED, STP appears to be aware of the New Testament scriptures. Our Lady is addressed as Eulogemene, Blessed, the word used in S Luke's narrative of the Annunciation. PAP also has rhusai, which is very rare in the Gospels (the Byzantine version replaces this with lutrosai). But it has a high profile use, coming at the end of the Matthaean version of the Lord's Prayer: "Deliver us ...".
Then there is the word eusplangkhnian, a noun with the corresponding adjective eusplangkhnos. This is a compound Greek word. Literally, it means 'having bowels well'. So the term appears in ... medical textbooks! As 'bowels' had a sense of compassionate emotion, the meaning expanded to take in the idea of kindness or mercy. Interestingly, where the Roman version of the STP has praesidium [protection], the Ambrosian version, closer to the Greek, has misericordiam. In the NT Epistles, the idea applies to human beings (I Pet 3:8; Eph 4:32). But in the 'Prayer of Manasses', it is applied to the Almighty: su ei Kyrios hypsistos, eusplangkhnos, makrothumos, kai polyeleos. Notice here hypsistos (Most Highest). The Prayer of Manasses hovered on the fringes of the Biblical Canon right down to the time of Pope Clement VIII; all we know about its dating is that it cannot be later than the early years of the third century.
But what I find of most interest is the description of our Lady in STP/PAP as mone hagne mone eulogemene. She is called "The Only pure, The Only blessed" just as her Son is addressed in GIED as "The Only Holy, The Only Lord, The Only Most High." [the Roman form of STP omits the Only; but it is retained in the Ambrosian form]. I followed Jungman in seeing these Onlys as exclusionary when we met them in GIED. How might that play into the context of PAP?
When the composer of STP/PAP wrote Only Holy/Chaste (mone hagne; in the Ambrosian version of STP, sola casta), he or she was using a term applied to divinities and more or less anything connected with them, but most especially goddesses. In particular, the Virgin Huntress Artemis. Artemis was regularly for Homer "Golden-throned". And Isis was "she of the throne". In an Isiac papyrus, Isis proclaims herself as having the title Hagne at Paphos.
Perhaps it hardly needs pointing out that STP, like GIED, was clearly composed at a time, like that of PF's Vatican, when polytheism and syncretism were still live problems and merited being implicitly refuted, even in a devotional formula.
But what sort of formula is STP? I have finished my study of GIED and Hate Liturgy; but, with regard to STP, I have a very tasty fact or two or three which don't appear in books likely to be on the shelves of many readers. These will follow.