Thursday, September 28, 2023

St Jerome’s Introduction of the “Alleluia” and Its Mystical Signification


As mentioned on Monday, over the next couple of week we are sharing passages from a 1907 English edition of a Life of St. Jerome written by the monk Spanish Fr José de Sigüenza in 1595. Today we continue the First Discourse of Book IV, where Fr Sigüenza discusses the introduction of the Alleluia into the liturgy.

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St. Jerome likewise set great diligence to improve and perfect the divine worship throughout the Roman Church, for which end he endeavoured to translate to her all the good usages and ceremonies which he had attentively observed in the Greek and oriental churches; and from an expression of his, it appears that the custom of holding lighted candles when the Gospel is chanted was introduced by him, for he says it was in use in the oriental church, but does not say it was in use in those of Rome, to which said use he gave a very lofty signification; and this custom, which has been brought down to our time, was no doubt his act.

He had also observed that in the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and others the Alleluia was sung, and he therefore pleaded with the Pontiff Damasus that it should likewise be sung in Rome. St. Gregory the Great, in the Seventh Book of his Epistles, in the Epistle 65 to John, Bishop of Zaragoza (recte Siracusa), in Sicily, replying to the objections of some who deemed the manner of celebrating mass incorrect, on coming to the Alleluia, says: “The singing of the Alleluia is a custom taken from the church of Jerusalem, according to the tradition and teaching of St. Jerome, since the time of St. Damasus, Pope, for thus is it affirmed by all.” By these words St. Gregory manifested the great authority in which St. Jerome was held, and of what great value was the tradition which he had taught, and which had been handed down to his time.

The reason which moved the holy doctor to introduce the chant of the Alleluia into the Latin Church was, I believe, not so much the desire that it should be similar to that of Jerusalem, where it had been taught by the Apostle St. James, and appears in his liturgy, nor that the Hebrew and Greek words should resound in the Roman, as on account of the lofty mystery which he was well aware was enclosed in those two terms, a Hebrew name and verb Allelu-ia. A great deal was revealed concerning this word when he wrote to the noble matron Marcella, [1] who had asked him what meaning there was in some of the Hebrew words, such as Alleluia, Amen, Maranatha, Ephod. He tells her that allelu-ia is equal to praise be to God, because that last part, ia, is in Hebrew one of the ten divine names employed by those who speak the language.

In another Epistle to the same, [2] he declares Ia to be interpreted by the name of God. And when expounding those words of Isaiah, chapter xxvi., In Domino Deo forti in perpetuum, says that in Hebrew there are three names of God, the first is Ia, the second Jehovah, the third Zuria. He says that the first part of Allelu-ia signifies invisible, the second ineffable, the third means robust. And in an Epistle, which is found among his works, written to Damasus, a very good reason is given, which, despite that the Epistle does not seem his, yet the argument is like to the saint’s, that when we seek to praise God Incarnate with our voice, Alleluia is added to the Psalm; and forasmuch as our doctor [3] affords us so often occasion to declare his motives, it will not be foreign to this purpose to add here something concerning the mystery which is enclosed in the Alleluia.

That name so intimate and celebrated with the Hebrews of Jehovah, which through mystery and excellence is called by them Ineffable and nomen expositum, and among the Greeks tetragamaton, that is to say, of four letters, is called by them ineffable, not because, as some have said, they think that by it God is called as He is in Himself, because God has no name nor is there a symbol in all that is created, to embrace or comprehend what is a greatness without limits.
(Editor’s note: the Hebrew name of God is “Yahweh”;“Jehovah” is not actually a word at all. Because of the Jewish custom that the former was too holy to be said during the ordinary reading of the Scriptures, they would replace it with “Adonai – my Lord.” As a reminder to the cantors to not accidentally say the Divine Name, the Tetragrammaton YHWH (יהוה) was written with the vowels of Adonai, producing the nonsense word Jehovah. This fact was not generally understood by Christians in the sixteenth century, and Fra José has here reproduced a mistake common to the Tyndale, Geneva, and King James Bibles.)

It is true to say that all other names by which God is named He Himself has communicated to His creatures, angels and men; and that this one formed of the said four letters He has reserved for Himself; and this, not because it is so intimately His own, that it expresses what God is, but for other reasons. The simple reason of calling Himself Ineffable is because up to the present time it has not been written, nor can the manner of pronouncing it be properly written, nor is there a way in the divine letters, because the four with which it is written are not letters, which are pronounced singly among the Hebrews, but only by some differences of drawing the lips, to breathe in the air, and with the dots which were subsequently added, to breathe out the same—a thing which few of those who know Hebrew recognise.

From the observance of the holy Scriptures is gathered that when this name is met with in them it signifies God as a nature of eternal substance and essence, constant, invariable, of a most firm mercifulness, and that what He promises of good and salutary (to which He is most inclined by will) cannot even be deficient, nor be hindered by any circumstance whatever. This is what the ineffable name of Jehovah expresses, which name, although we may so pronounce it, is not its proper sound. It becomes opportune to say this here, in order that we should understand that God gave this name to the children of Israel as a military countersign, a token or symbol, as a watchword among them by which they should be known, like the word given as a password to the armies in their watches, because as it had been promised to that people, and declared to them His will, a thing He never had done to other nations; whensoever they called upon God under that name, they always named Him the God of the Promises, and whereas others have spoken of this, I come to my purpose.

Of this name the two first letters are i, a, and stand the last in the said word Alleluia; and when in the divine letters the name ia is placed in the praises of God, it gives us to understand not only God of the Promises but God who has fulfilled them, and carried them to due effect and the desired point; and not as God who fulfilled them with a people and nation to whom had been given the name as a countersign, but as God and Lord so magnificent and generous in fulfilling what He promises, that He has extended them to the whole world, to all peoples, and to all nations, and to all dwelling in the heavens and on the earth, so that all should praise and laud Him, acknowledge and glorify and adore Him.

Hence, when in church is said Alleluia, it is with extreme brevity to declare Praise the Lord, which is His name, essence, and being. He Who promised His salvation and His treasures of good to one only nation, and brought them to a most happy fulfilment, and extending all these for the benefit of all men, and of all creatures that exist in heaven and on earth. And praising God and man, as said our saint, is nothing else but to laud the One Who, having promised to become man for the good of mankind, filled all things with His divine gifts, fulfilling with excess what He had promised.

In order that it be seen how clearly this is manifest in the sacred writings, let it be recognised in the first place, that it will not be found in all the Books of Moses, unless I have not examined them aright, that this name Ia is once even mentioned, yet in the Psalms it is inserted many times; this was as though to tell us that what had been given to the people by Moses, as regards what related to law and ceremony, was not what God had promised man, nor what He had intended to give them, nor would it stop here. It was no more than a shadow of the body and reality of what was promised. But in the Psalms, forasmuch as they are prophesies which sing of things as seen and executed, constant and eternal, the word Ia is repeated.

Furthermore, let it be considered that when the name is set in the Psalms it always speaks to the multitude of nations and peoples, and not alone to the people of Israel. In the Psalm Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, laudate eum omnes populi, it ends with Allelu-ia; because it contains naught else in the whole argument but what we have said. The same occurs in Psalm cii., after having said: Scribantur haec in generatione altera, there is added and the people that shall be created, Alleluia. Observe also the Psalm cii., which commences, Laudate pueri Dominum, where in the epilogue is said He who maketh a barren woman to dwell in the house a Joyful mother of children, Allelu-ia, and in many more of its kind.

Hence, in view of the aforesaid, came truly from Heaven the inspiration and the motive our saint had for the Roman Church to sing what was so in keeping with herself, and from thence to spread throughout the world, as though from head to foot, the singing of this chant of joy, and not keep it enclosed solely in Jerusalem where the apostle had first ordered it should be sung. To that people and city was fulfilled the promise of God and man, and there the Ineffable fulfilled all that had been promised, His truth and intention complete in victory; thus was He there Ia, the God of the promises fulfilled.

And forasmuch as he came to His own house and heritage, as the great theologian says, and His own did not receive Him but one here and there, as though in vestiges, He passed on to communicate such great benefits to all the nations, who, on receiving Him were made sons of God, new Israelites, nay, out of stones sons of Abraham; for such as adored stocks and stones made themselves inferior to those very stones. Thus was Jerusalem extended, and its walls, according to the petition of David in Psalm 1. in his penitence, should be built up in order that such a great multitude should enter in and sing the Allelu-ia.

When St. Jerome persuaded Pope Damasus to have this new voice heard in Rome, and that it be thus sung in the Hebrew language, these and other greater secrets which we have not attained did he reveal, because for the saintly pontiff to order so extraordinary a thing (which no doubt must have caused some alteration), great secrets must he have necessarily disclosed to him. It is seen that even in the time of the Holy Father Gregory I this affair had not been so well received or established in all parts, through ignorance of the mystery which it enclosed within. All were not so careful as Damasus; they did not all heed or care to comprehend the divine mysteries. We have need always to lament this negligence; and even at the present day, at this period when so much light has been thrown over these things, there is smaller pleasure among the many in turning our eyes to study and investigation than the bats and owls have in turning their eyes to the rays of the sun.

But let us end here this discourse which would be lengthened to a great extent if we ventured to make it equal to the one which follows and similar to the foregone.

[1] Epist. 137, ad Marcel.
[2] Epist. 136, ad Marcel.
[3] Apud Mar. 9, t. in tertia serie.
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