Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vulgate Verse: sanctus sanctus sanctus

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Now that I have finished doing the Vulgate Verses book, I have the pleasure of getting to comment on some of these verses here, focusing on the verses that seem to me to have a special significance for religious literacy and topics of general interest, completely aside from the Latin itself. You can see other posts in this series by clicking on the Vulgate Verses label.

One of the audio items from my Vulgate Verses book this week was part of the "holy holy holy" verse from Revelation:
Et quattuor animalia singula eorum habebant alas senas et in circuitu et intus plena sunt oculis et requiem non habent die et nocte dicentia sanctus sanctus sanctus Dominus Deus omnipotens qui erat et qui est et qui venturus est

(King James) And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
The "holy holy holy" portion is from the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah:
Et clamabant alter ad alterum et dicebant sanctus sanctus sanctus Dominus exercituum plena est omnis terra gloria eius

(King James) And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
This special repetition, "holy holy holy" (Latin sanctus sanctus sanctus) is called the "trisagion" in Greek, the "thrice-holy," and it forms an important part of the Christian liturgical tradition, especially in the Orthodox churches. You can read more about that at wikipedia.

In the Catholic tradition, there is a liturgical prayer called "Sanctus" which you can also read about at wikipedia. Here is the Latin text of that prayer, which opens with the triple sanctus:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabbaoth;
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria Tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
The Hebrew Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, "Holy Holy Holy," is found in a prayer called the Kedusha; more on that at wikipedia also (what on earth would we do without wikipedia?).

Any form of repetition has a poetical or magical effect in language, and the triple repetition has a special symbolic significance, especially within the Christian tradition. The technical rhetorical term for this type of repetition, two or more repetitions, with no intervening words, is epizeuxis. Here are some famous examples, many of which are also based on triple repetition:
Hamlet: "Words, words, words."

Milton's Samson Agonistes: "O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon."

Tennyson: "Break, break, break / On thy cold gray stones, O Sea"

Samuel Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: "Alone, alone, all all alone, / Alone on a wide, wide sea"."

Scarlett O'Hara in the film Gone With the Wind: "Rhett, Rhett, Rhett! If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?"

Captain Renault in the film Casablanca: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

Winston Churchill: "Never, never, never quit."

The Beach Boys: "She’ll have fun, fun, fun 'til her daddy takes her T-Bird away."
The etymology of "epizeuxis" is words that are yoked ("zeug"-ed) one upon (epi) of the other. The same notion of things being "yoked" is found in the related rhetorical term, zeugma.

Of course, all the rhetorical terms are just window dressing. The real power is not in the terminology but in the speech act itself. Reptition is POWERFUL, and as such it forms a vital part of the tradition of ritual religious language.

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