Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Grammarian, XVII

Since we Lutherans are not accustomed to conducting our rites in Latin, nor are we under any obligation to do so, our use of the language tends to veer a bit from its sources at times. We don't need to be liturgically all that familiar with it, so we generally aren't, although here and there one can find Lutherans providing for at least an occasional use of a Latin rite.

One such instance of our unfamiliarity is seen in the occasional reference among Lutherans to the words of absolution as they are (presumably) heard in Latin.

The English, stripped to its bare essentials, is "I forgive you," the confessor acting in the stead of Christ, according to Jesus' mandate to the Apostles in St. John 20, "whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted," etc.

Hence, one would think, the Latin would be, simply, "Absolvo te," since "absolvo" is "I forgive."

Now class, can anyone tell me what the formula really is?

It is not, actually, "Absolvo te," but, according to the Roman Rite, a more emphatic "Ego te absolvo," the pronoun "ego" being voiced, although by the rules of Latin, it would not need to be. When it is, the subject is emphasized.

"Ego te absolvo" states the subject implied in "absolvo," namely, "I."

The "ego" is reminiscent of the "ego" commonly referenced in the Gospel of John, in all the "ego sum" sayings of Jesus: I am the Good Shepherd, I am the way, etc. Jesus is Himself the great I AM, as the Greek letters in the three rays of the nimbus in any icon of Jesus normally spell out.

Hence, for the confessor to say, "Ego te absolvo" is for him truly and most definitively to be Christ's own representative, speaking for Him here. Indeed, the "ego" in the statement may rightly be said to be Christ Himself, speaking through His representative.

Though we don't say it in Latin, it would certainly be helpful to think of the Latin origin of the pronouncement when we say it in English.


Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Fritz,
Your observations on the absolution formula are valuable and appreciated. I especially thank you for pointing out the christological dimension of the "Ego."

The formula we use at my home parish, by the way, differs somewhat from the one you highlight here, yet it is remarkably and essentially similar. It is Luther's absolution text from his Catechism, to wit:

Fiat tibi, sicut credis. Et ego ex mandato Domini nostri Iesu Christi, remitto tibi tua peccata in Nomine Patris, + Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. R. Amen.

Incidentally, I love the use of this "Fiat" in this context. I take it as God's answer to the Fiat of our praying in the Our Father, and a reiteration of His own creative Word, "Fiat lux, et facta est lux," etc.

Also, of course, "Fiat tibi, sicut credis," is another christological dimension to this, as it is an application of Christ's own healing words in the Gospel.

Fr BFE said...

Thanks for this addition.

"Fiat tibi, sicut credis. Et ego ex mandato Domini nostri Iesu Christi, remitto tibi tua peccata in Nomine Patris, + Filii, et Spiritus Sancti,"

which, being interpreted, is, "Let it be unto you as you believe; and I by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive to you your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."

Incidentally, I believe it also appropriate to add at the conclusion of the absolution the words of Jesus, "You are free. Go and sin no more."

Rev. Benjamin Mayes said...

Thanks for the reference to the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood ( I'd also like to recommend, by seminarian Josh Hayes, who is doing his best to keep Lutheran Latin alive.