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.

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