St. Augustine: “He who sings prays twice”

St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) is often quoted as having said “He who sings, prays twice.”  The Latin cited for this is “Qui bene cantat bis orat” or “He who sings well prays twice”.

Actually, this does not appear in anything of St. Augustine that has come down to us. He did write, “cantare amantis est… Singing belongs to one who loves” (s. 336, 1 – PL 38, 1472). That is often invoked as the source of qui bene cantat bis orat.

In the Vatican’s online English version of the CCC there is a note: “Eph 5:19; St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 72,1: PL 36, 914; cf. Col 3:16.”

Also, this is quoted in the Latin CCC 1156 as “qui canit bis orat“. In the Latin edition of the CCC we are sent then to footnote n. 26 (oddly, this is note 21 in the newer English edition, which adds a confer reference to Col. 3:16 – which is not in the Latin CCC). Latin CCC 1156, note 26 reads:

Cf. Sanctus Augustinus, Enarratio in Psalmum 72, 1: CCL 39, 986 (PL 36, 914).

Having written my thesis on Augustine I decided to dig into this.  I happen to have my trusty CCL 39 nearby.  Looking up that reference we find what Augustine really said:

Qui enim cantat laudem, non solum laudat, sed etiam hilariter laudat; qui cantat laudem, non solum cantat, sed et amat eum quem cantat. In laude confitentis est praedicatio, in cantico amantis affectio…For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyfully; he who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him whom he is singing about/to/for. There is a praise-filled public proclamation (praedicatio) in the praise of someone who is confessing/acknowledging (God), in the song of the lover (there is) love.

This is a very interesting passage. Augustine is saying that when the praise is of God, then something happens to the song of the praiser/love that makes it more than just any kind of song. The object of the song/love in a way becomes the subject. Something happens so that the song itself becomes Love in its manifestation of love of the one who truly is Love itself.

However,… it does not say qui canit bis orat. There seems to have been some confusion of the verbs laudare and orare.

I can still say with the oft quoted citation: “He who sings well prays twice”, so long as it is from love.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Jeff says:

    I doubt you have time to answer this, Father, but I’ll try anyway since it bears a very tangential relation to this post.

    I have been learning and thinking about the Victimae Paschali Laudes recently. I was struck by the use of the phrase “laudes immolent”. Of course the notion of the “sacrifice of praise” is a familiar and beautiful one and I think I understand the theology behind it.

    But in English, at least, the verb, “to immolate” carries a powerful connotation of, well, almost of destruction and killing. One thinks of the slit throat and the holocaust totally consumed by flames. My old Webster’s seems to bear me out on this.

    The phrase is such a powerful and beautiful one and evocative of so many things. But I begin to wonder if I am reading back an emphasis from the English into the Latin. In any case, the Latin of Notker or whoever the poet was is a bit odd anyway; perhaps he didn’t intend the peculiar force that appears to me to be there. And perhaps this phrase is not so uncommon in Latin as I am guessing anyway.

    Do you–or does anyone–have any knowledge about this usage question or any light to throw on it?

  2. Jeff: Thanks for the question. I know this sounds a little “pedantic” (as one disgruntled reader called my comments) but let’s remember that the *Victimae paschali laudes* was written in Latin, not in English. Thus, Mr. Webster is of limited use in helping us figure out what is going on with *immolent Christiani*. Neverthless, in most contexts *immolo* does indeed concern sacrifice, which by is very definition requires the destruction of the thing sacrificed, the “victim”. At the same time, verbs have layers of meeting. When we use the word “sacrifice” and “immolate” in a Christian context, we can distinguish, for example, the one unrepeatable bloody Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross from the repeated continuation of that one Sacrifice which is Holy Mass. We use the word sacrifice to denote both, but Mass is an unbloody Sacrifice. The victim offering (bread and wine) offered at Mass is still destroyed, however. We make “sacrifices” all the time and they do not involve killing anything other than our appetites. In Latin the verb *immolo* can in Christian literature mean more simply “to present as an offering, render”. I think that is what is going on. Lastly, it occurs to me to add that this Sequence is a poetic text.

  3. Jeff says:

    Thanks very much, Father! A Blessed Lent to you.

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