WDTPRS: Unspeakable Angelic Collect

A reader sent a note about the upcoming Collect for the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, 2 Oct.

Deus, qui ineffabili providentia
sanctos angelos tuos
ad nostram custodiam mittere dignaris:
largire supplicibus tuis:
et eorum semper protectione defendi,
et aeterna societate gaudere

Even oblique or indirect exposure to such a dangerous word might cause irreparable harm to the people of God, as Bp. Trautman has explained.   Even if the people will be hearing the lame-duck ICEL version… get ready.  There could be casualties.

First, I think pastors of souls should prepare their people for the use of the word ineffabilis.

I am reminded of the Monty Python segment about the cryptographers who saw just two words of the joke so funny that it kills you…

On a more serious note, the sender also asked about the form of the word dignaris.

The word dignaris – dignor, dignare – can only be here, it seems to me, present indicative passive 2nd person singular (deponent). The only other reading is as a perfect subjunctive active second person singular, and I don’t see how that can fit the context, yet four of the six translations render the verb tense as perfect (all indicative):
1) Two of the St. Andrew translations left out dignaris entirely, but translated "hast sent" or "sent" (perfect).
2) Two use this as "who … hast deigned to send" (perfect).
3) Only two render this in the present indicative: "who … dost vouchsafe" or "who … art pleased" (present).
Am I missing something about dignaris which would make "hast deigned"/"deigned" the correct or acceptable rendering? (Unless Google missed it, you haven’t analyzed a prayer with dignaris yet.) The phrase aeterna societate presents another translation issue.

Let’s take care of the easy one first.

That societate aeterna is there with gaudeoGaudeo, "rejoice", is often with the ablative of the thing in which one rejoices.  I think ablative was chosen here to keep the nice parallel with the previous clause where we have another infinive, defendi, and the ablative.

In the case of dignaris, this is a present tense.  If you are going to go with the perfect subjunctive, shortened form (dignaveris) then I think you would need a good explanation for the use of the subjunctive… and there really isn’t one.  It is present.

O God, who by unspeakable/unutterable/indescribable/ineffable providence
find it worthy/deign/condescend to send Your Holy Angels for our defense:
bestow upon your supplicants:
both to be defended always by their protection,
and to rejoice in their eternal company

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Harvard Law Library Latin question. Can anybody pop into Harvard Law Library and check an inscription for me? I wrote it down as “Scire Leges Non Hoc Est Verba Earum Tenere Sed Vim ac Potestas”. However, it would be more correct as “Sed Vim ac Potestatem”. Did I write it down wrong, or did they write it wrong? Anyone know?

  2. Ioannes Andreades says:

    The perfect subjunctive of this verb (2nd sing.) would be dignatus sis.

  3. LawrenceK says:

    Fr. Z wrote:

    If you are going to go with the perfect subjunctive, shortened form (dignaveris) …

    Is it permitted to shorten a third-principle-part verb in situations where the result would look like another form of the verb? I thought this was always avoided.

    In fact, the only shortenings I can recall are in the second person singular or plural perfect (amavisti –> amasti, amavistis –> amastis). I haven’t seen it in the other persons, nor in the future perfect indicative, pluperfect indicative, or perfect subjunctive. But even if these can be done in general, can they really be done when they would result in duplication of an existing form?

    (Aside: I agree with I.A. that the perfect subjunctive of dignari is dignatus sis; I’m just asking this as a general question.)

  4. Mariana says:

    What about unutterable rather than unspeakable?

  5. JARay says:

    I am with Mariana on this. For me, the word “unspeakable” denotes something which is so bad that it ought never to be said.
    I looked up the word “ineffable” in my concise Oxford Dictionary and it gives the following:-
    ‘unutterable, too great for words.’
    I also looked up the word “unspeakable” and it gives :- ‘that words cannot express, good, bad, etc., beyond description’
    Although I do agree that the dictionary does include the idea of something so good that words cannot express it, I’m afraid that for me it has the connotation of something which is so bad that it ought not to be said!
    But then, that’s just me, and the understanding of this word which I have had for more than three score years and ten.

  6. All good comments and suggestions!

  7. Greg Smisek says:

    As the reader in question, I am grateful to Fr. Zuhlsdorf for answering my question.

    Two readers noted that the 2nd person singular perfect subjunctive of dignari is dignatus sis, which, of course, is correct, but the question and answer referred to the active form, which is digno, dignare. (I take full responsibility for erroneously giving dignare as the infinitive of dignor.)

    Gildersleeve & Lodge’s grammar does give the syncopated form for the 2nd person singular perfect subjunctive (section 131.1). Nor is this form identical to the present indicative passive, since, according to G&L, the vowel in the perfect ending is a common vowel by preference long, whereas the present indicative passive ends with a short vowel (sections 126, 127 and 2.2). Whether or not this particular syncopated form is found in the wild, I wouldn’t know, but I was trying to find some justification for the hand missal translators’ error.

    I was surprised to discover that dignariphobia struck even the 1950s St. Andrew translators (though not as acutely as 1970s ICEL). They also had a bad case of relative-clause-itis. At least they hadn’t yet contracted ineffabilisphobia. But while ICEL’s lame-duck translation makes God’s providence “loving” instead of “ineffable,” at least it gets the qui clause verb tense right.

  8. Tom in NY says:

    Of course “dignaris” is 2nd pers. present deponent. There may be a translator who is overly afraid of a “yoo-hoo” (2nd person and relative pronouns) effect in his rendition. I remember Latin litanies including, “Ut….digneris,” using the subjunctive.
    What about the lack of parallell between “gaudere” and “defendi”? Perhaps a spelling error? Even though the former is 2nd conjugation and the latter is 3rd, and “largire” a 4th, “defendi” “non mihi docet aut placet.”
    As for “ineffable” moments, can I bring your attention to the call of Prophet Isaiah (Ch 6),the call of Ezekiel (Ch. 1), the Transfiguration or visions in Rev. 7 and 8? To say nothing of Moses’ visits to the Tent of Meeting.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  9. Henry Edwards says:

    First, I think pastors of souls should prepare their people for the use of the word ineffabilis.

    Might not inclusion of such preparation lengthen even more the extensive program of catechesis that the liturgical establishment is planning — lest folks in the pews find the whole new translation so ineffable (if not unspeakable) as to prevent their active and conscious participation in the liturgy — and thereby provide reason to delay still further its implementation, perhaps by another year or so. After all, these are difficult and subtle matters. [Good point. Best perhaps to leave ineffable ineffable.]

  10. Greg Smisek says:

    JARay wrote: For me, the word “unspeakable” denotes something which is so bad that it ought never to be said.

    I found it interesting that Fr. Juergen’s New Marian Missal and the Baltimore Manual of Prayers rendered ineffabilis as “unspeakable.” (All the St. Andrew translations, the Father Lasance translation, and the St. Joseph translation all used “ineffable.”)

    While “unspeakable” ought to be an equivalent word in English, I agree with JARay that this word has an overwhelmingly negative connotation today. Merriam-Webster, 11th ed.: “1b : inexpressively bad : horrendous” and the example given for the second definition (“that may not or cannot be spoken”) is “the bawdy thoughts that come into one’s head—the unspeakable words”). On the other hand, this same dictionary defines “ineffable” as “indescribable” and gives the example “ineffable joy.”

    My vote is for a return of the word “ineffable” to our prayers, but as a runner-up, I might suggest “inexpressible.” “Indescribable” seems to my ear somewhat forensic, and “unutterable” seems to me to be more associated with vocal sound production (I’d be more likely to use “unutterable” to describe the Tetragrammaton). I think the colloquial phrases “beyond words,” “too great for words,” “surpassing speech,” and “defying description” also get at the intended sense. The 1966 Maryknoll Missal paraphrases this as “we cannot express in words the wonder of your providence.”

  11. Ruth says:

    Wow, I had never seen this Monty Python bit, thanks for posting it Father Z!

  12. Tom in NY says:

    Obiter dictum:
    Secundum URL http://www.blueletterbible.org, verba “ineffabilis”, “ineffabile”, “ineffabili” aut “ineffabilem” in Biblia Sacra Vulgata n o n occurent.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  13. Henry Edwards says:

    Curiously, the Divine Office for Great Britain departs from everyone else and translates ineffabili with “all-wise”:

    Lord God of hosts, in your all-wise providence
    you send angels to guard and protect us.
    Surround us with their watchful care on earth,
    and give us the joy of their company for ever in heaven.

    Hmm … Too wise even to be spoken of in the vernacular?

  14. Greg Smisek says:

    Tom in NY said: What about the lack of parallell between “gaudere” and “defendi”?

    “Gaudere” is active and “defendi” is passive, and the implied subject of each is the supplicants (us). Assuming the parallelism you seek is describable, could you elaborate?

  15. Greg: Don’t over-analyze. These are both infinitives construed with the ablative. It is a little example of synchesis.


    Nice clausulas also. Sounds nice.

  16. Greg Smisek says:

    Sorry, Father, it’s in my blood. At a former workplace it was even on paper — the company directory to be exact. After my name, for everyone’s perusal, was “Systems Anal”.

  17. Ioannes Andreades says:

    “…but the question and answer referred to the active form, which is digno, dignare.”

    This can’t be the active form because the verb dignare is transitive and would need at least n implied dir. obj. L&S list digno and dignor under two separate articles, which seems to be to be a little bit ueberphilologisch, but the verb digno does have true passive forms.

    To LawrenceK’s question, if I remember correctly, Zielinsky showed that even in Cicero, potentially ambiguous syncopated forms like amaris were used in order to achieve the desired clausula endings. They are certainly present in the manuscripts.

  18. Greg Smisek says:

    I.A.: Are you reading the same L&S entry I’m reading?

  19. Ioannes Andreades says:

    G.S., yes. Check the following entry.

    v.a. is the abbreviation used for transitive. v.n. means intransitive. Am I missing something? It has been known to happen. There are a couple instances in archaic Latin poetry of digno used with an infinitive alone.

    Fr. Z., the computer at the Perseus Project has clearly botched it.

  20. Ioannes Andreades says:

    The clausulae to which Fr. Z alluded are both cretic-trochee. Sweeeeet!

  21. Greg Smisek says:

    digno, ?re, 1, v. a. dignus,
    1 to deem worthy: … so with inf.


  22. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: I appreciate your posting this collect a day in advance. When the collect for a feast or solemnity — especially if it’s the same in both the new and old breviaries — is available, we can use the literal translation 4 or 5 times: at matins (O of R), lauds, sext, and vespers as well as Mass. When available in time, I print the Latin original and your translation side by a side on a slip of paper to insert in my Liturgia Horarum and use throughout the day for consultation as I pray the hours in Latin. Since the early days of WDTPRS, I have used the Sunday collects like this on ferial days throughout the week (especially for Office of Readings, when the ferial collect is that of the preceding Sunday). It’s difficult to say how much more these collects come to mean as you pray them repeatedly.

  23. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Greg, the article in L&S might be a little misleading. Most of those examples they give are digno + d.obj. + infin.: “I consider x (accus.) worthy to do y (infin.),” NOT, “I consider something worthy of doing.” The other normal meaning (still with d.obj.) is, “I consider x (accus.) worthy of y (ablat. as with dignus + ablat.) My OLD shows only two examples (Pacuvius and Accius) of digno plus an infin. alone. In the prayer above, angelos can only be construed as the d.obj. of mittere, not of dignaris.

  24. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Sorry, Pacuvius and Accius are the only examples of authors using it; Pacuvius did use this construction more than once. In other words, this us is poetic, early (pre-Ciceronian), and really rare.

  25. Greg Smisek says:

    So in the phrase mittere dignaris, is mittere a complementary infinitive rather than an object of dignaris?

    BTW I did a word search of the 1962 Roman Missal for forms of dignare and dignari. The two most common forms are digneris (present subjunctive, used instead of imperative) and dignatus es (perfect indicative); dignare (imperative) is occasionally used rather than digneris. These are always accompanied by the infinitive. Digno, dignare (the word with an active form) is not used in the Missal. Dignaris is used in four other Missal prayers (Sacred Heart collect, Cyril and Methodius postcommunion, Pro concordia servanda postcommunion, and BVM D. N. a S. Corde Iesu collect), always as present indicative active.

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