WDTPRS Easter Thursday – diversity and wholeness

The Collect for the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form caught my eye:

Deus, qui diversitatem gentium in confessione tui nominis adunasti,
da, ut renatis fonte baptismatis
una sit fides mentium et pietas actionum.

This is a modern tinkering with an ancient prayer. In the post-Tridentine Missal there is a prayer from Holy Saturday after the 10th prophecy: Deus, qui diversitatem gentium in confessione tui nominis adunasti: da nobis, et velle, et posse quae praecipis; ut populo ad aeternitatem vocato, una sit fides mentium, et pietas actionum.

In the Gregorian Sacramentary this shows up on the Thursday in the Octave of Easter, when the Station is at XII Apostoli. That just happens to be today, of course.

Pietas actionum is hard.  When used for humans, pietas has to do with “duty”, but when it is applied to God it is more along the lines of “mercy”.  But a further distinction must be made a our pietas.  When applied to us humans and in respect to created things pietas is “dutifulness, conscientiousness” while in respect to our pietas toward God it is a sense of duty that verges strongly towards “love, affection, loyalty, gratitude”.  In other words, when applied to us but in respect to God, it taps into the content of the virtue of religion, what we owe to God by the fact that He is God.  In a sense, contained within the distinctions about pietas are the two-fold commands of Christ to love God and, flowing from that love of God, love then ourselves and our neighbor in the proper way.

When I deal with pietas I get this image, from the medieval period and heraldry of the pelican “in her piety”. There is a symbol of Christ and His Church as a pelican who, in time of famine and drought, pierces her own breast with her bill to feed her chicks from her own blood. This sort of piety harks to the sense of pietas as “duty”. This is what she must do for her young.  And, in a sense, the chicks then must drink!

Perhaps you have sung the hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) called Adoro Te devote, in which we find the words, “Pie pelicane, Iesu Domine, / me immundum munda tuo sanguine. … O dutiful pelican, Lord Jesus, cleanse me, unclean, in your blood.”

O God, who united a variety of peoples in the profession of your Name,
grant to those reborn in the font of baptism
that there may be one faith of minds and (one) duty of actions.

What on earth does that mean?

O God, who united diverse peoples in the profession of Your Name,
grant that for those reborn in the font of baptism
there may be one mind in faith and one love in action.

In the phrase “una sit fides cordium et pietas actionum” we have an expression of Christian wholeness. Just interior faith alone does not suffice for the Christian life, nor do mere outward actions of charity and mercy. Pope Benedict spoke to this in his first encyclical letter Deus caritas est. All good outward actions are good not just because they are performed, but because they are performed from charity, the a deep sacrificial love which reflects and imitates the Lord on the Cross.

O God, who have united the many nations in confessing your name,
grant that those reborn in the font of Baptism
may be one in the faith of their hearts
and the homage of their deeds.

The is a great play with diversity and oneness.  In the first line there is “variety”, diversitas and in the last line there is unity.  Christ is the unifying force and baptism is the means.

There is even a play with the forms of words… diversitas gentiumpietas actionum… (unitas) mentium.

Consider now again my reference to Christ’s two-fold command.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    That was really interesting! The first thing I thought of when you wrote about “pietas” was Michaelangelo’s Pieta. The line you wrote explaining that “what we owe to God by the fact that He is God” resonates with the name of the statue. Mary holding the body of Jesus was not just a mother’s love, but her duty to God.

  2. Andrew says:

    Tua pace Pater:
    It seems to me that the Latin “diversitas” is a harsher word then our English “diversity”. When we speak of “diversitas” in Latin, we speak of a concept similar to “opposition” – as the old addage indicates: “diversitas morum odium parit” (differences of customs generate hate). Therefore, the image in this prayer is one of uniting people previously divided and opposed, instead of the currently prevailing concept of “celebrating our diversity”. The current ICEL of “united the many nations” is a bit softer then the Latin “diversitatem gentium … adunasti”.

  3. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I sometimes have my intermediate guys translate Physiologus on this:

    De pellicano dicit David in psalmo ci: “Similis factus sum pellicano in solitudine.” Physiologus dicit de eo quod nimis amans sit filios suos. Cum autem genuerit natos et coeperint crescere, percutientes lacerant parentes suos in faciem. Illi autem repercutiendo occidunt filios suos. Tertia autem die mater eorum percutiens costam suam aperit latus suum et infundit sanguinem super corpora mortuorum, sicque cruore ipsius sanantur resuscitati pulli. Ita et Dominus noster Iesus Christus per Isaiam prophetam dicit: “Filios genui et exaltavi; ipsi autem me spreverunt.” Nos igitur auctor et conditor noster omnipotens Deus creavit et cum non essemus fecit nos ut essemus. Nos vero e contrario percussimus eum cum in conspectu eius potius creaturae servivimus quam creatori. Idcirco in crucem ascendere dignatus est percussoque latere eius exivit sanguis et aqua in salutem nostrum et vitam aeternam.

  4. Dr. Edward Peters: Interesting! Thanks for that.

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