Let’s really drill down into the Collect for this 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Hang on. This might get a little hard, but – unlike liberals who resist the new translation – I think you are smart.
Deus, a quo bona cuncta procedunt, tuis largire supplicibus, ut cogitemus, te inspirante, quae recta sunt, et, te gubernante, eadem faciamus.
In the 1962 Missale Romanum this was the Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Easter. In the Gelasian Sacramentary it was the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after the close of the Easter Octave. The Gelasian Sacramentary (the Liber sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae or Book of Sacraments of the Church of Rome) was assembled from older material in Paris around 750. It has elements of both the Roman and Gallican (French) liturgies of the Merovingian period (5th – 8th cc.). In today’s classically sculpted Collect, without diminishing other possibilities, I think there is a key concept which was extremely important for theological reflection of the ancient Church through the Medieval period. A theological key helps us to open up what the Church is really saying to God, on our behalf, locked up in words.
The Lewis & Short Dictionary’s supple white pages, unstained by coffee cup rings even though it rests constantly open before us, states that procedo means “to go forth or before, to go forwards, advance, proceed” and more importantly “to go or come forth or out, to advance, issue” and even “to issue from the mouth, to be uttered”. Largire looks like an infinitive but is really an imperative form of the deponent largior, “to give bountifully, to lavish, bestow, dispense, distribute, impart… to confer, bestow, grant, yield”. The neuter substantive rectum, -i (from rego), is “that which is right, good, virtuous; uprightness, rectitude, virtue”. Rego involves “to keep straight or from going wrong, to lead straight; to guide, conduct, direct”. The core concept is “straight” and “upwards”. In its adjectival form, rectus, -a, -um, there is a moral content, “right, correct, proper, appropriate, befitting” again having reference to that which is “above”. Cogito is more than simply “to think”. As in Descartes’ often quoted “Cogito ergo sum… I think, therefore I am”, it is really, “to pursue something in the mind” and “to consider thoroughly, to ponder, to weigh, reflect upon, think”. The English derivative is “cogitate”.
REALLY LITERAL RENDERING:
O God, from whom all good things issue forth, bountifully grant to Your supplicants, that, as You inspire, we may think things which are right, and, as You guide, we may accomplish the same.
I’ll put on my patristiblogger hat for a bit.
Ancient theologians, both pagan and Christian struggled alike for answers to the same questions. If all things come from God, did God create evil? If all things come from God, then are all things, in fact, also God? If in the cosmos there are only God and everything else which is not-God, and if God is the only Good, then are all created not-God things evil? Is matter evil by nature? Are we evil, destined to doom or nothingness? Pagans and Christians, using the same starting points and categories of thought, came up with differing solutions.
Rejecting the idea of both a good God principle and an evil god principle, pagan theologians of the Platonic stream of thought posited a creation through an endless series of intermediaries to avoid the conclusion that God, the highest good, created evil. For them, the perfectly transcendent One overflowed with being through descending triads of intermediaries down to the corrupt material world from which we must be freed. This solved nothing, of course, because no matter how many hierarchies of intermediaries you propose, those hierarchies always must be further divided into more hierarchies.
Christian theologians, who were also Platonists, using the same categories of thought and basing themselves in the Jewish Scripture tradition found another solution: a creatio ex nihilo… immediate (that is “unmediated”) creation of the universe from nothing. Evil was explained as a deprivation of being, essentially a “nothingness”, not created by God. All things which have being come forth from God, are good, and will go back to God.
This is the key for our prayer.
We will look more deeply at this, but first let’s look at the dreadful version you had to hear in church for over thirty years, brought to you by…
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of wisdom and love,
source of all good,
send your Spirit to teach us your truth
and guide our actions
in your way of peace.
Folks, translation is hard but it ain’t that hard.
I absolutely marvel that people still go to church after all the antics and frauds perpetrated in the spirit of Vatican II.
In fairness, old ICEL this week didn’t make us ask God for “help”, like good little Pelagians. Nor did old ICEL tell God who He is (“O God, you are so big!”) or chop the sentence into fragments. It is hard to get the Latin structure, with its propensity for complex subordination, into smooth English. Old ICEL never tried. Preferring the easy way out, the obsolete versions shatter the unity of thought in prayers by creating separate sentences (parataxis). The Latin vocabulary, moreover, is challenging. Back in the bad old days, ICEL chose simplistic words or left concepts out completely when they were too challenging, concepts like grace and humility and majesty and judgment and sin. I think they thought you all were too stupid to grasp what the prayers really said. I prefer that explanation to the other one… that those responsible for those translations and the liturgical reform didn’t believe what the prayers really say. I mean… good grief! The Latin originals in the Novus Ordo are good prayers but we have to admit that in many cases, through editing and word swapping, they were dumbed -down in content compared to the prayers in the older, traditional Roman Missal. But I digress….
When our Collect was probably composed, Western theologians (still really in large part Platonists) were mightily struggling to solve thorny problems about, for example, predestination. This required them to gaze deeply at man’s nature and the problem of evil. In this titanic theological battle we find on all sides the ancient Platonic view of creation. All creation proceeds (procedo) forth from God in indeterminate form. In a reflection of the eternal procession of uncreated divine Persons of the Trinity, the rational component of creation (man) turned when proceeding forth to regard the Source and, in that turning, that conversio, took determinate form and began to return to God. This going forth and returning, descent and rising (in theology exitus and reditus or Greek exodos and proodos) is everywhere present in ancient and medieval thought… and liturgical prayer.
For Christians of the Neoplatonic Augustinian tradition, man, the pinnacle of creation, “drags” as it were all of created nature with him in a contemplative “conversion” back to God. Man’s rational nature was not destroyed by sin in the Fall.
However, were it not for the Incarnate Logos, the Word made flesh, the union of uncreated with created, the descent of creation would have simply continued “exiting” away from God for eternity. If not for the Incarnation, man and all creation with him would never turn back. It would be doomed to become ever more indeterminate. Instead, rational man, the image of the rational Word, and all creation with him can turn back to God. The Son entered our created realm and made possible man’s conversio after the Fall.
As John Scotus Eriugena (+877) put it, man is “nature’s priest”. Through rational acts man plays a part in God’s saving plan for creation.
This pattern of exitus and reditus is in the writings of theologians in a line from pagan Neoplatonic writers like Plotinus (+270), to Christian Platonists like St. Augustine (+430), Boethius (+525), Eriugena, St. Bonaventure (+1274) and St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274). This is the theology behind many ancient prayers.
Our Collect echoes the Neoplatonic theology of late antiquity and early Middle Ages together with the Scriptural James 1:17, a text used frequently by these same Merovingian and Carolingian thinkers.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, from whom all good things come, grant that we, who call on you in our need, may at your prompting discern what is right, and by your guidance do it.