2 May 2020

Sub tuum praesidium (2).

Our Lady Undercroft of Canterbury, pray for us..

Here is a very literal translation of the Greek original of the Sub tuum praesidium.

O Mother-of-God, we flee-for-refuge beneath thy bowels-of-compassion; do not overlook our supplications in a-time-we-are-surrounded, but ransom [or deliver] us from danger, only Holy-one, only Blessed-one..

Supplication: in Greek thought, if you were in danger from someone (perhaps they might be about to kill you in battle), if you could clasp their knees or reach up and touch their beard, you achieved the official status of 'suppliant' and ought not to be killed. You might be sold into slavery ... but ...
Surrounded: surrounded by threats, dangers, enemies.
Ransom: buy back, 'redeem'.
Deliver: this variant reading gives the same word as the 'deliver' at the end of the Our Father.
Blessed: the same word as in the Hail Mary.

Here is a common English translation of the Latin version.

We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God. Do not despise our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

 Edgar Lobel's early dating of the papyrus, of course, simply gives us the terminus ante quem of this prayer. It could come from much earlier than 250. As far as theotokos is concerned, even in the West Tertullian writes Dei ... Mater; and one would expect such talk earlier in the East than the West; and particularly in the Egyptian backyard of S Cyril's own Church. It would be no skin off my nose if it turned up in a very early second century context. While I do not (for cogent reasons I am prepared to explain) see the cultus of our Lady as being a 'Christianisation' of the Ptolemaic goddess Isis, I do suspect that the coinage of the verbal compound theotokos is very likely to come from the same inveterate habit of linguistic ingenuity which generated the Isiac aretalogies of Pap Oxy 1380 and the Kyme stele published by Salac in 1927. Perhaps Callimachus of Cyrene coined it .... oops, he died before the Christian era ... but you know what I mean. He would have done it if ... come to think of it, I wonder if anyone has ever done a study of what S Cyril owed to Callimachus ....


DMG said...

Kind Pastor, I am ordinary bloke with no classical or ecclesiastical training, and my knowledge of what you speak is extremely limited. But don't ever stop! This turns me on; it's not only scholars whom these things excite. If I had my time again... Come to think of it... God bless!

Fr PJM said...

This is an amazing prayer. It doesn't ask her to herself pray for us, but to help us. According to Saint Bernard, a thousand years later, and St Maximilian Kolbe, more recently, "the entire order of mercy has been entrusted to her".