The Gloria in the Life of the Church

Brother John Raymond

Hymns have always been a very important part of Christian worship from its beginning. Eusebius of Caesarea tells us about "`all the psalms and hymns written from the beginning by faithful brethren, which sing of Christ as the Word of God and address Him as God (Martimort 1992, 212).'" It is interesting that Eusebius makes it clear that "psalms" and hymns were "written" which clearly distinguishes them from anything found in Sacred Scripture. This is even more evident as the authors are called "faithful brethren" and not Apostles or Evangelists. The other important point of this statement are the words "from the beginning."

It is not surprising that hymns were written right from the start of Christianity. St. Paul instructs the Colossians "with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God." (Col. 3:16) He says the same thing to the Ephesians. (Eph. 5:19) That the first Christian communities composed spiritually inspired songs seems to be inferred in St. Paul's corrections to the charismatic Corinthian community. He says, "When you come together each of you has a hymn, has an instruction . . .." (1 Cor. 14:26) Further one reads that he and Silas, when in prison, spent the night "praying and singing hymns to God." (Acts 16:25)

The reference to hymns is not restricted to St. Paul's epistles only. St. James says, "Is any one in good spirits? Let him sing a hymn." (James 5,13) There is even evidence from non-Christian sources testifying to early Christian hymns. One such witness Pliny the Younger (62-114) in an official report to the Emperor Trajan (c.112) said that he heard of "`Christians singing songs to Christ, addressing Him as God (Robertson 1961, 21).'" So there is ample evidence that the earlier Christian communities composed their own hymns.

What was the nature of these hymns? "Most of these early hymns were modeled on the Psalms written by David" and took their inspiration from verses of Sacred Scripture or its Canticles (Dunney 1943, 40). There are implications that lead some to believe that Bardesanes of Mesopotamia (154-222) composed 150 such psalms (Martimort 1992, 212). Most of the ancient hymns have been lost. The best known of the surviving hymns, referred to as "psalmoi idiotikoi" or private psalms, are the "Odes of Solomon," the "Te Deum" and, the one of particular interest to us, the "Gloria in excelsis."

The author of the Gloria is unknown. "It goes back at least to the third century" and maybe "even to the first" (Herbermann and others 1913, 583). It follows the typical pattern of these early hymns. The Gloria's first verse is taken from the angels' hymn to the shepherds on Christmas day - "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will." (Lk 2:14) With this text for its inspiration it goes on to praise God for His wonderful work of salvation. Although the exact date of composition is unknown one thing is certain - this hymn is of Greek origin and came from the East. The most ancient witness to the Gloria is St. Athanasius. In a fourth century work "De virginitate" attributed to him one finds "the hymn (Gloria) together with the sixty-second psalm is recommended to the consecrated virgins as a morning prayer" (Parsch 1942, 99). Already by this time the Gloria must have been well known because St. Athanasius only gives a few verses of it presuming the consecrated virgins know the rest.

An ancient text of the Gloria is found in the Syrian version from the Nestorian Liturgy. A complete Greek text of the Gloria is found in the "Apostolic Constitutions" (380). These Constitutions were written in Syria by an Arian. Arianism was an early Church heresy that denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ. Because of this the author seems to given the Gloria a subordination coloring between God the Father and God the Son. The translated text is as follows:

Glory to God on high and on earth peace, and joy among men. We praise Thee, We bless Thee in hymns, We glorify Thee, We extol Thee, We adore Thee through Thy excellent high priest. Thou, the true, unbegotten, one God, alone inaccessible because of Thy great glory; Lord King of heaven, God, Father, Almighty Lord God, Father of Christ, the Immaculate Lamb, Who takes away the sins of the world; receive our prayers. For Thou alone art holy, Thou alone the Lord Jesus The anointed of God, of all creation, our King; Through whom there is to Thee glory, honor and adoration. Amen (Parsch 1942, 101, 102).

By the fifth century the Gloria evolved into a closer form of the present day text. It is found in the Codex Alexandrinus and still written in Greek. It is translated as follows:

Glory to God on high and on earth peace, and joy among men. We praise Thee, We bless Thee, We adore Thee, We glorify Thee, We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory. Lord King in heaven, God, Father, Almighty, Lord, the only begotten Son Jesus Christ, And Holy Spirit. Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, Who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Receive our prayers. Thou Who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For Thou alone art holy, Thou alone art the Lord, Jesus Christ, in the glory of the Father. Amen (Parsch 1942, 101, 102).

The oldest Latin text comes from the seventh century in a work called the "Antiphonary of Bangor." The Latin text is in close agreement with the Greek text of the Codex Alexandrinus. The original translator of the Greek text into Latin is believed to be St. Hilary of Poitiers (d. 366). It is very possible that he learned of the Gloria during his exile in the East (360). The present day Latin text of the Gloria is taken from the ninth century "Psalter of Wolfcoz of St. Gall." The only essential difference found in this Latin text from the Greek text of the Codex Alexandrinus is that the doxology at the end mentions the Holy Spirit.

As was mentioned earlier the Gloria started out in the East as a morning hymn. It was used in the little hours of the Divine Office and not in the Mass. To this day it is not used in the Greek Rite for the Mass. Only the beginning verse taken from St. Luke is used as part of the Offeratory and Communion prayers in St. James' Liturgy, and at the kiss of peace in the Abyssinian Rite and in the Nestorian Prothesis. In the liturgy for the Mass for the Apostolic Constitutions the verse from St. Luke is used by the people in response to the words, "Holy thing for the holy" during the elevation. In the Byzantine Church the Gloria is sung at the Orthros essentially following the Greek text of the Codex Alexandrinus. It has more verses than in the Latin text adding "`Every day I will bless Thee and will glorify Thy name for ever, and for ever and ever. . .'" with ten more additional verses mostly taken from the Psalms. It ends with the Trisagion and Gloria Patri. It omits from the Latin text "Tu solus altissimus" and "Cum sancto Spiritu."

The date of the Gloria's insertion in the Roman Mass for some liturgical experts is obscure and uncertain. In the "Liber pontificalis" it says, "`Pope Telesphorus (128-139?) ordered that. . . on the Birth of the Lord Masses should be said at night. . . and that the angelic hymn, that is Gloria in Excelsis Deo, should be said before the sacrifice'" (Herbermann and others 1913, 583). Pope Innocent III attributes it to Pope Telesphorus also. It is highly likely that the Gloria first appeared as the angelic announcement at a Christmas Mass in Rome. However, its origin with Pope Telesphorus is considered unlikely by many. Some say that St. Hilary of Poiters added from "Laudamus te" onward to the Mass. Still others say that Pope Symmachus I (498-514) was the first. In the "Liber pontificalis" this Pope is mentioned as having ordered that "`the hymn, Gloria in excelsis, should be said every Sunday and on the feasts of martyrs'" (Herbermann and others 1913, 583). Since the "Liber Pontificalis" closes with the sixth century one can safely conclude that the Gloria must have been used in the Mass by that time.

The "Liber Pontificalis" gives the location of the Gloria in the Mass. It mentions that the Gloria should remain in its present place after the "Kyrie." The words "should remain" infers that the Gloria may have been after the "Kyrie" for some time. This same document mentions that the Gloria only can be said by Bishops. The exclusion of priests regularly saying the Glory would continue for five more centuries. The "Gregorian Sacramentary" in the seventh century allows a Roman titular priest to say the Gloria on the day of their consecration. Simple priests were reduced to saying it only on Easter. The "Ordo Romanus I" in the eighth century speaks of the Pope turning toward the people after the Kyrie and beginning the Gloria if it is the occasion for it. It goes on to say that priests may say it only at Easter. The "Ordo of St. Amand" in the ninth century allows a priest to say the Gloria at the Easter Vigil and the day of his ordination. Liturgical writers complained about this restriction of the Gloria to Bishops. Finally in the eleventh century the restrictions were lifted from priests saying the Gloria. Berno of Constance in his work "Micrologus" (1100's) says that "`On every feast that has a full office, except in Advent and Septuagesima, and on the feast of the Innocents, both the priests and the bishop say Gloria in excelsis'" (Herbermann and others 1913, 583, 584).

An interesting point in the development of the Gloria in the West is the use of both Latin and Greek texts. The "Anonymous Turonensis" says this practice was caused by the large number of Greek priests in Rome during the seventh and eighth century. There are sixteen medieval manuscripts that contain both texts.

The Season of Advent deserves special mention. It was not always recognized as a time of penance. In the ninth century Amalarius of Metz mentions the Gloria being said by the Bishop during Advent in some places. Honorius of Autun (1145) in his work "Gemma animae" mentions the same thing. The "Ordo Romanus XI" shows that the Gloria was said in Rome during Advent right up to the end of the twelth century.

The history of music plays a role in the development of the Gloria. Until the Carolingian Period of the eighth century there was no musical unity in the Church. The first Western music that is written down which was used for the Gloria is the ninth century "Gregorian Chant." Before this time there was no written musical notation.

The eleventh century saw the beginnings of what has been called "farced" Glorias or so-called "tropes." These were primarily insertions or adornments of the liturgical text set to a specific melody. They were used for special occasions and became very popular. The tropes were contained in special books called "Libri troparii." One trope for the feasts of the Virgin Mary was used all over Europe. Some examples from the "Sarum Missal" of these additional verses are: after "Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe," is added "Spiritus et alme orphanorum paraclyte" or after "Filius Patris" the verse "Primogenitus Mariae virginis matris" is added. When the Roman Missal was revised by Pope Pius V (1570) after the Gloria the following was written, "Thus as it is given in the missal and without addition" (Gihr 1949, 438) In spite of this prohibition the expanded Gloria, the "Gloria Marianum," was still recited in various places. Of the fifty-six known melodies of the Gloria from the Middle Ages twenty-three are found with tropes. With the rise of the polyphonic Mass in the fourteenth century an immense number of musical settings were composed for the Gloria. One composer Guillaume de Machaut alternated between marching block chords and held chords for the Gloria. Of this period of the Middle Ages 341 manuscripts for the Gloria have been found.

Through the fifteenth and sixteenth century Polyphonic Music continued to develop for the Gloria. The strongly organized and measured rhythm of the Middles Ages was enhanced by fluidity to both the melody and rhythm. Also, the organ began to be used at this time. The seventeenth and eighteenth century saw an ever increasing complexity to liturgical music. During this time the Gloria would have been sung with independent choruses and full orchestras. The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that Fr. Joseph Jungmann says the liturgy at this time "was not only submerged under this ever-growing art but actually suppressed. . . there were festive occasions which might best be described as `church concerts with liturgical accompaniment (Kelly 1967, 119).'" The Gloria at this time would have had some of its text dropped, repeated or troped for subjective emphasis or to round out musical forms. The zenith of musical compositions was reached at this time with great names like Palestrina, Haydn, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. These concert Masses were restricted to court and cathedral churches. Smaller parishes used a simpler style of music. This music continued through the 19th century into the early twentieth century.

Some liturgical music reforms were begun in this century. The first one was the "Inter pastoralis officiae" of St. Pius X (1903). This Pope emphasized the revival of the chant. He said that the chant was the ideal for both choral and congregational singing. Also, he established schools to study chant as well as other styles of church music. Other musical documents in our century are: Pope Pius XI's "Divini cultus sanctitatem" (1928), Pope Pius XII's "Musicae sacrae disciplina" (1955) and the Congregation of Sacred Rites' "Instruction on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy" (1958). All these decrees have been put together and implemented by the Second Vatican Council in its document "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy." The Council reforms have had a textual as well as musical effect on the Gloria.

The textual effects on the Gloria are the translations of the Latin into Vernacular texts. These translations in turn have required many new musical compositions to be written. In the United States the music and text for the Gloria can be either simple or complex. The simple forms are faithful to the text and allow for participation. I find the complex forms of repeating parts of the Gloria with somewhat of a start and stop technique or multiple voices difficult, if not impossible, for participation. Although I have not experienced any troped Gloria's or heard of any with added text, still the former practices of cutting out texts to fit the music continues. An interesting development from the Vernacular is the use of the Gloria outside the Mass. The musical composer who has made the Gloria popular to the Christian musical world is John Michael Talbot. He has written simple melodies with flute or guitar accompaniment to some parts of the Mass as well as the Psalms. I attended two of his concerts, one in the United States and the other in Jerusalem, and was happy to see an audience composed of many Christian denominations. Also, his audio tapes reach many people.

It is very impressive to me that such an ancient hymn used at morning prayer by the ancient Church is still with us today. Thanks to St. Hilary of Poiters the Gloria passed from the Eastern to Western Church. Over time its restricted use by Bishops was relaxed to enable priests to say it also. The Gloria's festive nature made it appropriate to use on all joyous occasion for the Mass. It has gone through many musical changes with the passage of time. Its translation into the Vernacular has made the Gloria accessible to the public as a popular hymn outside the Mass. I think the Gloria's remarkable history must be the work of the Angels. After all, they started it!


Works Cited

The New Catholic Encyclopedia. 1967. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co. Vol. 4. Gloria in Excelsis Deo, by C. Kelly.

Dunney, Rev. Joseph A. 1943. The Mass. New York: The Macmillan Co.

Gihr, Rev. Nicholas. 1949. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained. St. Lious: B. Herder Book Co.

Herbermann, Charles G., Edward A. Pace, Conde B. Pallen, Thomas J. Shahan, John J. Wynne, eds. 1913. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: The Encyclopedia Press. Vol. 6, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, by Adrian Fortescue.

Martimort, Aime G., ed. 1992. The Church at Prayer. Vol. 4, The Liturgy and Time, by Aime G. Martimort. Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.

Parsch, Dr. Pius. 1942. The Liturgy of the Mass. Translated by Rev. Frederic C. Eckhoff. St. Lious: B. Herder Book Co.

Robertson, Alec. 1961. Christian Music. New York: Hawthorn Books and Publishers