Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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Gloria Patri: Our February Doxology - By Corrie Schwab

Our February doxology, the Gloria Patri, happens to be one of the oldest continuously sung doxologies in the Christian tradition.* At least one record suggests that the first half appeared before A.D. 100, and the entire text has been chanted since the fourth century at latest. Today it is regularly sung all over the world in Catholic churches, in Eastern Orthodox churches, and in countless Protestant churches.

For the non–Latin scholars among us, the doxology’s title—Gloria Patri—is simply the first line in Latin, “Glory be to the Father.” The first half of the song, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” reflects the language of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” When we sing this we’re affirming our identity as disciples.

When we sing the second half, we’re affirming the Trinity by acknowledging that Christ and the Holy Spirit are eternally deserving of glory alongside God the Father—past, present, and future. Indeed, this line was probably added during the Trinitarian controversies of the early church, when this hymn may have served as a sort of “fight song” for orthodox Christians!

The last phrase of the doxology (well, not counting amen) is particularly interesting. The phrase we sing as “world without end” is a translation of the Latin in saecula saeculorum, which in turn is a translation from Greek. In both Latin and Greek, the phrase literally means unto ages of ages, and is normally translated to English as forever and ever. You may be familiar with this phrase: it occurs many times in the New Testament, including 12 times in Revelation. For instance, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 7:12).

So the second half of the Gloria Patri encompasses all of Scripture, in a sense: from “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) to “forever and ever” (a continual refrain in Revelation, finally in Rev. 22:5).

 

* Here’s a challenge: find an even older doxology! Remember, doxology simply means a brief expression of praise to God. By this definition, any Scripture passage that praises God counts as a doxology. If you consider only doxologies that are sung by churches today, what’s the oldest doxology you can find? Please share your discoveries in the comments.