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Benedicite





The Canticle Benedicite omnia Opera is so called from Latin words
meaning Bless ye, all Works.

Our Services were translated from the Latin Services used in our Church
for centuries before 1549: for Latin was the common language of
civilised Europe.

Benedicite shares with other Canticles and with many parts of the
Services the custom of being known by its first words in the Latin
books.

We said that Te Deum laudamus not only had its name from the Latin
Service Books, but is of Latin origin whether composed by Hilary of
Arles, Hilary of Poictiers, or Ambrose and Augustine. But
Benedicite, {79} though it has now a Latin name, is of Greek origin.
It is a translation of part of the Greek additions to the Book of
Daniel. In Daniel iii. the 23rd verse records how the Three Children
of Israel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (i. 6), having come to great
office in Babylon (ii. 49), and refused to fall down and worship the
golden image of Nebuchadnezzar (iii. 18), were cast into the midst of
the burning fiery furnace. The 24th verse proceeds thus:

"Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished and rose up in haste," and
told his counsellors that he saw four men walking in the fire without
hurt.

At this point, between verses 23 and 24, there is a sort of pause in
the action. It might be filled up by a mark indicating that some short
time elapses. The Greek Version inserts 68 verses: consisting of a
prayer of Azariah (Abed-nego), a few verses of narrative, and 40 verses
of praise including the 32 verses which have been sung in the Church
Services of many countries and many centuries.

The Hymn calls upon all God's creatures to worship Him--collectively in
the first verse, afterwards in groups.

First group. Heavenly powers.

Second group. Earthly powers.

Third group. Earth and its component parts.

Fourth group. Men.

Notice first the leading verse of each group: 2. Angels--9. Winds
(spiritus)--18. Earth--26. Children of men. The classification in
the groups is evidently influenced by the 1st chapter of Genesis. In
v. 4 the Waters above the firmament (Gen. i. 7) are {80} divided from
the Wells, Seas, Floods of vv. 21, 22. The former appear here as
Heavenly Powers, the latter as creatures of God in the Earth.

The Showers and Dew of v. 8 are regarded as coming from Heaven. They
appear therefore in group 1, but in its last verse, so that the
transition is easy to the earthly powers amongst which they might have
been placed.

The second group includes the forces of Nature which more distinctly
surround us on earth. There is some uncertainty in the various
versions of this section. The Prayer Book, following, as usual, the
Great Bible of 1539, has Dews and Frosts in v. 10, meaning probably
Dews and Hoar Frosts. The Bible (A.V.) has Hoar Frosts coupled with
Snows. It has Fire and Heat and also, in some Versions, Cold and Heat,
but omits Winter and Summer. Sometimes there is contrast in the
couples and sometimes the forces coupled together are of the same sort.

In group 3, Earth is called up first as including the rest, which
progress from that which does not move to that which does, ranging
through the inanimate moving things, such as budding things and water,
and the animate creation, such as move in the sea, the air and, whether
wild or tame, upon the earth.

Group 4 begins, like group 3, with an inclusive term "Children of Men":
and proceeds through Israel, as God's People, and Israel's Priests, as
God's special choice, to those who really serve God whether in this
life or after it; concluding with the specially present service of the
holy and humble, and, in particular, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael.

{81}

All these Creatures of God's hand, whether animate or inanimate, or the
Forces which are behind both, are challenged to praise their Maker.
They are called up in twos and threes, a great army, representing all
the visible and invisible hosts of Heaven and Earth.

In connection with this Hymn we should read Gen. i., Psalm civ., and
Psalm cxlviii.





Next: Cantate Domino

Previous: Magnificat



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