Friday, May 17, 2024

The Name Game of the Orations

Mosaic of St John Chrysostom in Hagia Sophia, ca. 1000.

In a previous post, I speculated on why the Orations in the Mass and Office are addressed mostly to the Father, sometimes to the Son, and never to the Holy Spirit. Father Nicholas Gihr comments on this convention in his magisterial 1902 tome The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as well, and he also includes a footnote on the use of Saints’ names:

As the prayers are addressed to the omniscient God, in them only the simple or also the double proper names may be employed (for example, Joanna Francisca, Petrus Coelestinus) and similar designations of saints, as express their dignity (for example, Apostolus, Martyr, Confessor, Virgo but never Vidua, because this is not a title of honor). To them may also be added the names Joannes Chrysostomus and Petrus Chrysologus; for nomina Chrysostomi et Chrysologi adjectiva potius sunt et vel facundiam vel vim et efficaciam divini sermonis recensitis Sanctis quasi supernaturali inditam virtute designant.[2] (S. R. C. 8. Mart. 1825. 7. Dec. 1844 ad 9.) All other surnames, of what nature soever (cognomina, for example, de Matha, a Cruce, Benitius, Nonnatus, Quintu—and patria, for instance, de Cortona, de Paula, Nepomucenus, with the exception of Maria Magdalena), must be omitted, as they are necessary only for us to distinguish the saints one from another. The name rex and regina may be added, but not of the kingdom over which the saints have reigned (for example, Danorum, Scotiae). (S. R. C. 22. Dec. 1629; 23. Jun. 1736. Cfr. Guyet. Heortol. 1. 3, c. 2, q. 5. Cavalieri, Oper. liturg. t. II, c. 38. Beleth, Ration, c. 54). [1]
It is true that Vidua or Widow is not a title of honor, since literally it only means that a wife has outlasted her husband, and there is no special honor in that—unlike being a martyr, a confessor, or a virgin, which is more intentional. Nevertheless, the Divine Office for a Widow attributes many of the same virtues to a widow as to a virgin, and it makes sense to honor widowhood even if, paradoxically, it is not a title of honor. St. Paul writes:
Honour widows, that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children, or grandchildren, let her learn first to govern her own house, and to make a return of duty to her parents: for this is acceptable before God. But she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, let her trust in God, and continue in supplications and prayers night and day. (1 Tim. 5,3-5)
Needless to say, many holy women used their desolation in widowhood as an opportunity for sanctification, women such as Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, who was betrayed by her husband’s family after his death and cast into poverty.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary
But it is the eschewal of surnames that caught my eye and the reasons for it.
Collects are addressed to God, and although we are allowed to eavesdrop on the conversation, they do not primarily have us in mind as the audience. Therefore, no concession is made to distinguish saints of the same name for our sake. We would like to distinguish between Thomas the Apostle, Thomas a Becket, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas More, but God needs no such reminders. Whence they came  matters little; whither they are going matters a great deal.
Gihr also distinguishes between cognomina and patria—surnames and names designating a person’s place of origin. Saint Thomas Aquinas’ last name is not Aquinas: he is Thomas de Aquino, the son of a count from the Aquino region of Italy. Either way, it is irrelevant sub specie aeternitatis.
St Thomas Aquinas, 1512/16, by Giovanni Battista Bertucci
And so too are the realms over which saintly kings and queens presided. It is striking that rex and regina appear in the hagiographical taxonomy of the liturgy at all, for no other non-clerical offices or occupations are so allowed, unless one counts Saint Joseph the Worker. No doubt the usage is an acknowledgment of the anointed status of Catholic monarchs, which gives them a quasi-sacred rank. But perhaps it is also a mild declaration of surprise that heads of state, who must often make ugly and muddily moral decisions (like King David), can still become holy. And yet, the kingdoms over which they reigned is of little consequence. We do not care that they advanced the welfare of this or that earthly realm (sometimes, no doubt, to the detriment of other Catholic nations), but that they advanced the Kingdom of God as best they could within the circumstances with which they were given. Let others praise the worldly advancement of their secular accomplishments; we, the mystical Body of Christ, only remember their heavenly assets. And to the lesser goods in this case, we say, nec nominetur.
St. Louis IX, King of...It doesn’t matter
[1] Rev. Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically and Ascetically Explained (Herder, 1902), footnote 3, p. 423.
[2] Which I translate as: “The names Chrysostom [‘Golden Mouth’] et Chrysologus [‘Golden-Worded’] are really adjectives, and they designate either the eloquence or the power and effectiveness of Divine speech communicated by the Saints as if it were grafted on by a supernatural power.”

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