Theologial Challenges in the Gloria

Here’s another snippet from the morning presentation. You know the new first line of the new Gloria:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.

Which isn’t the same as the Biblical source:

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

Do you suppose we have something of a pelagian thread in the Roman Missal, that God’s gift of peace is dependent somehow on people who live well, love God, and do virtuous things with a good regard toward others. Does the Bible, in fact, have it more correct, that believers rightly focus on the agency of God, bestowing favor? What do you think? Does the Roman Missal itself need revision to bring an older hymn text into line with a more developed theology of God?

Another note was in the unchanged ending of the hymn:

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,

Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

One small mention of the Holy Spirit in a very early text–not really reflective of our more-developed understanding of the Holy Spirit. So here’s a good question, especially for those concerned about the quality of Hymn texts: what if the Church’s own non-infallible liturgical text is a problem?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to Theologial Challenges in the Gloria

  1. Liam says:

    Well, neither English nor Latin have the words to capture the assonance of the “doxa” and “eudoxia” that balance this verse in Greek….

    Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία(ς)

    Doxa en upsistois theo kai epi ges eirene en anthropois eudoxia(s)

  2. It seems that the Greek word “eudokias” is now understood as a participle of the verb “eudokeo”. It looks like it was traditionally translated as a genitive of “eudokia,” which can be translated as “good will”. Hence, both the Gloria and the Vulgate version of this text reads “bonae voluntatis”. As an interesting side note, the Gloria does not follow the Vulgate, which reads “Gloria in altissimis Deo,” rather than our familiar “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” pointing to the use of an earlier (or at least other) translation.

    I doubt that the text of the Gloria was originally considered Pelagian (at least if the very anti-Pelagian Jerome also used the same translation of the word “eudokias” in question). It is also not a bad translation of the text (even if we currently think that it was not the original intended reading of the Greek).

    Even so, you do make a good point about what to do when the Latin text is problematic. In the past, we’ve even sometimes changed the Latin. We’ve both changed hymn texts for the Office to better Latin in the Renaissance, then sometimes gone back to the earlier version just after Vatican II. The Collects were often substantially altered in the Roman Missal between 1962 and 1970. So there’s certainly precedent for making changes.

    Still, I don’t really find anything wrong theologically with the Gloria. It might be too geared to the Christmas season, perhaps. Even so, I don’t really have a problem with an incarnational hymn being sung throughout most of the year (including joining the angels in praising God the Father for this event). It seems that the Holy Spirit is only mentioned in this Christ-centered hymn because of the tradition of concluding hymns and psalms with a doxology. Similarly, the Father and Son are mentioned in the concluding verse of Veni Creator Spiritus. Therefore, I don’t think this is really a matter of an undeveloped theology, but rather of making sure the Holy Spirit gets his shout-out at the end with the Father and the Son. Does this sound reasonable?

    • Begging your pardon, but this post was accidentally submitted too early. It looks like I was wrong about the possibility of the word being a participle. I hope to post a much more accurate statement soon (unless someone beats me to it). Once again, my apologies.

    • Liam says:

      IN the absence of clear theological error (which no one seriously alleges against the Latin text of the Gloria), its text (and that of the rest of rest of the Ordinary that is at least notionally sung by or on behalf of the people in Latin) will remain unchanged for a variety of principled and practical reasons.

      • Todd says:

        Agreed. But I merely point out the futility in the charge of pelagianism leveled incorrectly by conservative Catholics these days.

      • Sam Schmitt says:

        Was that the real reason for the post, Todd?

        It seems as though you don’t understand the criticism of “Pelagianism” in the 1973 translation.

        Of course you can find “Pelagian” texts in the Scriptures as well. But the 1973 version often misrepresented or even changed the meaning of the texts – and this consistently in the direction of emphasizing our own efforts at the expense of God’s action.

        I have long wondered why this was the case. I don’t posit a grand conspiracy here, just lazy ideology and carelessness.

      • Todd says:

        I think it’s not the theology that’s lazy, but the literary construction, be it songwriting or translation or even the assembly of a text, even if centuries old.

        I don’t think the Latin text of a Gloria, even if it dates to the early centuries of Christianity, should be considered hands-off if the root intent of all this is a better liturgy, and therefore a better Christian life.

        I think you are wrong in your assessment of 1973. Comme le Prevoit didn’t advocate the misrepresentation of texts. ICEL translated with a bias toward the receptive hearing of the essence of the original. I agree there were errors, but the 1998 work proved CLP could be applied without loss of literary quality or the finer essence of meaning.

        The so-called emphasis on human action–it was never added to the liturgical texts–is more of a modern hypersensitivity on the part of some conservatives and some rabble-rousers.

  3. Copernicus says:

    If I understand correctly, it comes down to variant readings of the Greek text of Luke 2:14 – either (a) “on earth peace to men of good will” or (b) “on earth peace (and) good will to men”. (In Greek, it comes down to whether the last word of the verse is eudokias or eudokia respectively.) (a) is traditionally the Catholic reading and (b) the Protestant.

    A Jesuit scholar called Ernest Vogt argued (50 years ago) that the Dead Sea scrolls give evidence for the reading (a), but concludes that the meaning isn’t either of the standard interpretations:

    The Qumran texts do more than lend decisive support to this reading eudokias. They also indicate that ‘God’s good pleasure’ here refers more naturally to the will of God to confer grace on those he has chosen, than to God’s delighting in and approving of the goodness in men’s lives. Thus neither ‘good will toward men’ nor ‘peace among men with whom he is pleased’ is an accurate translation, but rather ‘peace among people of God’s good pleasure,’ i.e., God’s chosen ones.

    Someone who knows their biblical scholarship better than I do can tell us how respectable a point of view this is.

    • Liam says:

      “Peace among God’s favored people”….

      • Jimmy Mac says:

        So if some people aren’t deemed to be “God’s favored people” then there should be no peace among them?

      • Liam says:


        I was rendering the best sense of the Greek of the verse from Luke, not a comprehensive theological statement (in fact, progressive scripture scholars would tsk-tsk at reading the latter into the former, wouldn’t they?). Of course, Christians understand God’s favor to be wide. However, as is the case with many Scriptural texts, there are multiple layers of possible meaning.

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