Saturday, April 15, 2017
Grant Us Peace (Holy Father) – Anonymous
Its origin is over 1,300 years old, and the context of its adoption as a worship-prayer also has some irony. Knowing its source and the span of its endurance tell us that its single thought is so universal for us mortals that its objective may never be realized here on earth. Only a new beginning – a New Earth – may make the peace we all want possible. Is that what the original composer, whoever he or she is, thought when “Grant Us Peace” was first written (evidently in the 7th Century, during the papacy of Sergius I, shown here)? It is a longing for tranquility, not just with each other, but with the One who made each of us, that gives the “Grant Us Peace” its thorough, all-encompassing quality. What would it be like to find oneself in a peaceful state, finally? Is that why the end of mortal existence is often called ‘sleep’, because that’s where peace is finally apprehended?
“Grant Us Peace” (some hymnals entitle it “Holy Father”) is known perhaps more commonly in the Latin as ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’, hinting at its origin in a faith system that has historically used this language. Roman Catholicism in the late 600s during the time of Pope Sergius I was in conflict with the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity because, among other things, it referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God (Agnus Dei in Latin)”, rather than as a man. Consequently, Sergius’s Byzantine counterpart, the emperor Justinian II, tried to intimidate and then arrest him for singing Agnus Dei and its concluding phrase ‘grant us peace’. An offense against what a church council in Constantinople had decreed was, after all, not a trifling matter. Sergius undoubtedly knew that singing Agnus Dei was a defiant act, certain to offend those in the East. ‘Grant us peace’ therefore makes sense in not only a vertical direction, but horizontally too as Roman Catholics sought to worship their Lamb, even if it risked strife with their Eastern Orthodox brothers. Asking God to have mercy on us, his servants here below, was one way for the worshippers singing Agnus Dei to seek peace in this life. But, there was also the people-to-people struggle they could not seem to escape, and maybe that was part of what Sergius and Rome understood when they sang ‘grant us peace’. It’s a sad irony that peace was the objective but the opposite ensued, at least in the terrestrial realm.
Another part of Sergius’s background has some irony for us in the 21st Century. His family background was rooted in Antioch, Syria, from where the chant to the Lamb of God is thought to have originated. It’s the same place where Christians were first called out by that name (Acts 11:26), and it’s part of the state where fighting goes on today, some 1,300 years after the era of Sergius and Justinian II. The struggle to call upon God, in the way people want to, is ongoing. It’s still a vertical and a horizontal issue, until one day the lamb and the wolf will live in peace. (Isaiah 11)
Read about song’s origin here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnus_Dei_(liturgy)
The pope with perhaps the closest association with the song has a link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Sergius_I