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Te Deum Laudamus

This ancient Latin Hymn of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ has
in many Service-books been attributed to S. Ambrose and S. Augustine.
One of the stories is that they sang it in alternate verses when the
latter was baptized by the former, A.D. 386. We shall presently show
that it is composed on a very elaborate plan, and is very far from
being an extempore Hymn. Its earlier verses are founded on expressions
in Isaiah (vi. 3, ix. 6).

Its concluding part has not always been in the form which has become
familiar to us: in its present shape it may be regarded as the survival
of the best of the different forms. The verses of this part as they
now stand are obviously taken chiefly from the Psalms (xxviii. 9, cxlv.
2, cxxiii. 3, xxxvi. 22, xxxi. 1 or lxxi. 1).

The following lines of an early morning hymn, found in the Alexandrine
MS. of the Bible, are very similar to the verses which we have numbered
11 and 12:

"Day by day will I bless Thee and praise Thy name for ever, and for
ever and ever. Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin."

{66} There is a sentence in S. Cyprian also (De Mortalitate, p. 166,
ed. Fell) quoted in the notes in illustration of line 4, which must
have been borrowed from the Te Deum, or lent to it.

It is not easy to determine whether an elaborate composition of this
description, designed evidently for worship, is more likely to lend or
to borrow any particular phrase. The Psalm verses, and verses &c. from
Isaiah, are evidently borrowed by the Hymn. Perhaps this suggests that
the composer was likely to have borrowed, rather than lent, the other
passages. On the other hand, a Hymn founded on Scripture, carefully
composed, and well known in worship, is precisely the source most
likely to be quoted in other Hymns and in books.

We said that Te Deum is a Hymn of the Incarnation, and that it is an
elaborate composition.

It is necessary to examine these points at some length. And first we
must get rid of the modern way of printing it out in 29 verses. Many
of them are half-verses quoted from the Psalms and Isaiah: and when we
have begun to restore these with their colons, we find that the other
verses answer to the same treatment. In short, most of the verses
should be read two together with a colon to separate them for singing
purposes. Having thus restored the Hymn to its original lines, we find
that it consists of 13 verses in 3 Stanzas, the first and third having
five lines each, and the middle Stanza having three lines. The three
lines of the Middle Stanza correspond to the three divisions of our
Saviour's Existence--(1) before He was made Man--(2) when He {67} lived
on Earth--(3) after His Ascension (see the Latin Form). The Saviour's
Existence, from the Eternal Beginning on to the Eternal Future, is the
central thought of the Hymn. The dual form of each line in this Middle
Stanza proves it to be a separate Stanza. The Incarnation is its
theme--The Incarnation and its Antecedents and Consequences.

Tu Rex . . . . . . . . . . Tu Filius . . . . . .
Tu non horruisti . . . . . Tu aperuisti . . . .
Tu in gloria . . . . . . . Judex venturus . . .

The prominent place, in each line, of the pronoun Tu--Thou--is here to
be noticed. It is characteristic of this middle Stanza that each of
the three phases of the Saviour's existence is expressed by two
thoughts which are included in one line. The pronoun Tu introduces
each of the thoughts in each line, except the last of the three. The
completeness of the summary of the Lord's Existence is a strong
argument for treating these three lines as a Stanza: and the use of the
pronoun Tu confirms the argument.

For turning to the First Stanza, we find each line has three
thoughts. The prominent word in the first line is TE--Thee--and occurs
three times. Similarly in the second line TIBI--to Thee: and in the
fourth line TE. The last line of this Stanza varies, it is true, as
the last line of the middle Stanza does, but retaining a triple
thought, viz. the Holy Trinity. The third line has the Ter-Sanctus.

Thus the 1st Stanza, by its form, is separated from the 2nd Stanza, and
the 2nd from the 3rd in like manner.

For, in the Third Stanza although TE is still {68} prominent as the
first word, it is very sparingly introduced afterwards--once in the
11th line, and twice in the 13th. Here again we notice a variation
with the object of marking the Stanza's last line, for in the last line
TE occurs twice. The word Domine supplants Te in the 10th and 12th
lines, and appears with Te twice in the 13th line.

The elaborate arrangement of the Hymn has been exhibited so as to
eliminate the notion of an extempore composition. Its method however
is worthy of some further consideration.

It will be evident that it proceeds on the idea of a centre thought in
each Stanza, with thoughts balanced on each side. Thus in the 1st
Stanza the centre thought (line 3 Latin Version) is the praise of
Heaven and Earth (Isaiah vi. 3), addressed to Christ (see S. John xii.
41) by the Seraphim. The Choirs of Heaven are mentioned in the 2nd
line, and those of earth in the 4th. The 5th line recurs to some of
the thoughts of the 1st and the 3rd lines. Thus the 1st and 5th, the
2nd and 4th lines are balanced about the Song of Praise which forms the
middle line.

So again, in the and Stanza, the centre thought is our Lord's Earthly
Life with His Eternal Pre-existence on one side and His Eternal Glory
now and hereafter on the other.

And further, the centre thought of the 3rd Stanza is the Praise
expressed in the 11th line, Day by day we magnify Thee, and we worship
Thy name ever world without end. This line corresponds to the 3rd
line, the Ter-Sanctus, which is the centre of the 1st Stanza. The
first and third Stanzas are hereby made {69} to balance one another
around the middle Stanza, both in the number of their lines and the
plan of their arrangement.

Noting now that the plan and method of the Hymn are governed by the
centre line and the centre thought in all the respects to which we have
referred, we cannot fail to notice afresh that the Redeemer's Earthly
Life is the centre thought of the whole Hymn--the centre line of the
centre Stanza around which everything is grouped.

The division of the Hymn into Stanzas is, we suppose, conclusively
proved. We may further infer that the Te and Tibi of Stanza i. are
addressed to the same Person as the Tu of Stanza ii. and the Te of
Stanza iii. i.e. to Christ. Stanzas ii. and iii. are evidently so
addressed, and Stanza i. could not, we think, have made the pronouns so
prominent without having the same reference.

It may however be objected that lines 1, 3, and 5 cannot be addressed
to Christ. A little consideration will show that they can.

(a) Te Deum laudamus may be translated we praise thee O God. But
the more obvious translation is we praise Thee as God, especially as
it comes with we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord. The two Latin
phrases are exactly parallel, so that if it is to be We praise Thee, O
God, it should also be we acknowledge Thee O Lord.

Now the acknowledgement of the Godhead and Lordship of Christ was very
likely to be stated in an early Hymn, far more than the acknowledgement
that God is God. The Titles--God, Lord, Father {70} everlasting--which
are here acknowledged, appear to be suggested by Isaiah ix. 6. For
there the Lord of Hosts which is wonderful in counsel (Isaiah xxviii.
29) is expressed as Wonderful, Counsellor, and is followed by The
Mighty God, The Everlasting Father. It is a passage acknowledged to
refer to Christ, who is therefore recognised as Lord of Hosts (being
wonderful in Counsel), Mighty God, Everlasting Father.

(b) Line 3. S. John (xii. 39-41), referring to our Saviour's
rejection, quotes Isaiah vi. and adds These things said Isaiah when he
saw His glory, and spake of Him. This reference to Isaiah's vision,
when he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne and heard the Seraphim sing
the Ter-Sanctus, will be a sufficient justification of the use of line
3 in an address to Christ.

(c) Line 5. As to the inclusion of the three Persons of the
blessed Trinity in a doxology at the close of this Stanza, it is quite
usual in Christian Hymns of all ages to guard the thought of the
equality of the Persons of the Godhead by means of a doxology. As an
instance we may quote Conditor alme siderum (Hymns A. and M. 45).

The position of the doxology in this Canticle should be noticed. We
know of no other instance of its being placed at the close of the
first, or anywhere but at the close of the last, Stanza. The reason
for this variation seems to be that the last Stanza here has to some
extent the nature of a prayer.

The following Greek hymn, attributed to St Basil, was printed by
Archdeacon France in Preces Veterum {71} cum Hymnis Coaevis as of the
2nd, or at latest the 3rd, century:

phos ilaron agias doxes
athanatou patros
ouraniou agiou makaros
iesou Christe
elthontes epi tou eliou dusin
idontes phos esperinon
patera kai uion kai agion pneuma theou
axios ei en kairois umneiothai
phonais osiais
uie theou zoen o didous
dio o kosmos se doxazei

Keble's well-known translation (Hail, Gladdening Light) is to be
found in Hymns Ancient and Modern, No. 18, as well as in Lyra
Apostolica. The transition in the address from Christ to the Holy
Trinity, and back again, presented no difficulty: rather it is a very
suitable recognition of the Divine nature of Jesus.

Te Deum is evidently a Latin composition, and the exact meaning of its
words and phrases must be sought in the Latin form of it.

Some various readings and translations may be worthy of notice.

1. Te Deum, 'Thee as God.'

Aeternum Patrem is substituted for the Vulgate reading, Patrem
futuri saeculi.

The English Bible accepts it as the best rendering of the Hebrew in
Isaiah ix. 6, but R.V. gives Father {72} of Eternity in the margin.
The thought of Christ as Father to us is to be found in Isaiah viii.
18, quoted in Heb. ii. 13, where the writer is showing the complete
human nature of Christ.

4. Prophetarum laudabilis numerus. Cyprian (De Mortalitate) has
the words "There the glorious company of the apostles, there the
fellowship (numerus) of exulting prophets, there the innumerable
crowd of martyrs." It will perhaps be questionable whether
laudabilis should not be taken as equivalent to exulting--full of
praise (to God) rather than worthy of being praised.

Candidatus is 'white-robed'; 'noble' would be candidus.

Venerandum, trans. 'honorable,' is to be understood as 'deserving to
be reverenced.'

5. Immensae. Here translated infinite, in the Creed of S.
Athanasius incomprehensible. Literally unmeasured.

7. Ad liberandum, 'to set (him) free.'

Suscepturus hominem, 'when about to take man,' i.e. human nature.

8. Sedens, 'sitting,' is the reading in two MSS., and would agree
with the absence of the second Tu in this line. Sedes means 'Thou

Crederis esse venturus, 'art believed to be about to come.'

9. Numerari or munerari. In the Old English character it is
sometimes difficult to distinguish where the seven strokes of the
letters mun are to be divided into letters. A MS. at Exeter looks
more like m u n, which is the reading of the two Irish MSS. referred
to {73} above, and the reading of my own black letter Breviary (1524).

Heb. xi. 6 has the thought that God rewards a man who loves Him. Cf.
also Jer. xxxi. 16, 'thy work shall be rewarded'[1].

The word numerari means 'to be counted, enrolled in a numerus or
fellowship.' Cf. Prophetarum numerus, above.

12. Die isto, translated this day. It may be thought that the
reference is to 'that day' as in 2 Tim. i. 12, 18, iv. 8, viz. the
Judgment Day. Several of these lines would favour that reference.

13. "Lighten" is used in the Prayer Book in two senses, both derived
from Anglo-Saxon words,--to illuminate, as in the 3rd Evening Collect,
Lighten our darkness, and in the Ordination Hymn, Lighten with
celestial fire:--but here, to "alight" or come down, cf. Deut. xix. 5;
Gen. xxiv. 64 and xxviii. 11; 2 Kings v. 21 and x. 15, &c.

Non confundar in aeternum. This might more obviously be translated,
"I shall not be confounded for ever." It is not inconsistent with the
prayerful tone of this Stanza, that most of its lines express more hope
than fear. That the closing words should be at once humble and
confident would suit well with the character of this Hymn of praise.

On the other hand the words themselves are borrowed from two Psalms
(xxxi. 1 and lxxi. 1), where they must be rendered as a prayer. It is
therefore {74} preferable to take them here in the same sense. Latin
scholars know that the use of non with the imperative occurs
elsewhere, being apparently regarded as though compounded with it.

Note on the Doxology in Te Deum.

Te Deum is the only one of the Psalms and Canticles which is not
provided with Gloria Patri at the end of it.

The obvious reason for this exception is that it is the only one which
contains a Gloria Patri in the middle of it.

We have already said that an ascription of Praise to the Holy Trinity
is in this case more appropriate at the end of the first Stanza than at
the end of the third, because the third Stanza has a prayerful
character introduced into its words of praise.

The steps by which the doxology grew in Te Deum may be conjectured.
The sentence which was required in the fifth line to complete the
ascription of Praise to Christ would be an acknowledgement of His
Sonship. For such an acknowledgement has not yet occurred. Using the
words of the Hymn, we should expect

Te per orbem terrarum sancta confitetur ecclesia
Patris venerandum verum unigenitum Filium.

Here the Father and the Son are mentioned. The addition of the words

Sanctum quoque paracletum spiritum,

and of epithets to express the majesty of the Father {75} would
complete the sentence and express the equality of the Persons.

Te per orbem sancta confitetur ecclesia
Patris immensae majestatis
Venerandum verum unigenitum filium,
Sanctum quoque paracletum spiritum.

But the two genitives, Patris, majestatis, suggest the accusative
Patrem; and already the addition of Spiritum has suggested the
inclusion, under Te, of the Three Persons.

[1] The word 'reward' is frequently to be found in the English Bible
where the Vulgate has reddo.

Next: The Canticles Continued

Previous: The Te Deum Printed So As To Show Its Structure

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