Monday, May 7, 2012

Excerpts from the Litany of the Trinity

Litany of the Trinity
The Litany of the Trinity is an old Irish prayer preserved in several old manuscripts in Britain and Ireland. The author is said to have been Mugron Coarb of Colum Cille. His death is recorded in the Annals of Ulster s.a. 978. The litany contains a long prayer to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was composed in Irish and was probably used for personal prayer. The longest section relates to Jesus and I include that section here. The text is taken from Charles Plummer's Irish Litanies: text and translation. Edited from the manuscripts, (London, 1925). I went through the titles attributed to Jesus and tried to find a Scriptural reference for each. Practically every line in this litany is drawn directly from Scripture.

Some of the titles given to Christ are very familiar and others may seem strange. Perhaps the most obscure title is near the end where Christ is described as A fhír-duine, A leo, A oc-daim, A aquil, i.e. O very man, O Lion, O Calf, O Eagle. This series of titles was very familiar to the early medieval church as a description of the four-fold Gospel and of Christ’s Incarnational ministry. These four ‘beasts’ are mentioned in both Ezekiel 1.10 and Rev. 4.7-8. Augustine (Harmony of the Four Gospels 1.6) interprets the imagery as follows. The Lion is Matthew’s Gospel, which presents Christ as the Lion of Judah, the man is Mark’s Gospel who depicts the servant hood of Christ, the calf is Luke’s Gospel, which presents the sacrifice of Christ. Finally the eagle is John’s gospel, which takes us to higher things, namely the divinity of pre-incarnate Christ. In short Augustine, Jerome, Irenaeus et al. all sought to link the four beasts with aspects of Christ’s life and work in the Gospels, hence their inclusion here in our Irish litany as Christological titles.

Airchis dín, a Dé uili-comachthaig, a Isu Crist, a meic Dé bi.
Have mercy upon us, O Almighty God, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God.

O Son twice-born, (Jn 1.14)
O only-begotten of God the Father, (Jn 3.16) 

O first-born of the Virgin Mary, (Matt 1.16)
O Son of David, (Luke 18.38)
O Son of Abraham, 
(Matt 1.1)
O beginning of all things, (Rev 3.14)

O completion of the world, (Rom 11.36)
O Word of God, (Jn 1.1)
O Way to the heavenly kingdom, (John 14.6)
O Life of all things, (Jn 1.4)

O everlasting Righteousness, (Isa 53.11)
O Image, O Likeness, (Col 1.16)
O Form of God the Father, 
(Phil 2.6)
O Arm of God, 
O Hand of God, (Isa 59.1)
O Might of God, O Right-hand of God, (Psalm 110.1)
O true Knowledge, 
(1 Cor 1.30)
O true Light of love, that lightens every darkness, [Jn 1.9]
O guiding Light, 
O Sun of righteousness, (Mal 4.2)
O Morning star, 
O Brightness of the Deity, 
(2 Pet 1.19)
O Radiance of the eternal brightness, 
(Heb 1.3)
O Intelligence of the mystic world, 
(1 Cor 2.7)
O Mediator of all men, 
(1 Tim 2.5)
O promised one of the Church, 
(1 Pet 1.10-11)
O faithful Shepherd of the flock, 
(Jn 10.11)
O Hope of the faithful, 
(1 Tim 1.1)
O Angel of the great counsel, 
(Ex 3.2)
O true Prophet, (Matt 21.11)

O true Apostle, (Matt 15.24)

O true Teacher, 
(Matt 22.36)
O High Priest, 
(Heb 4.14)
O Master, (Luke 8.24)
O Nazarene, (Matt 2.23)

O Bright-rayed, (Heb 1.3)
O everlasting Satisfaction, 
(Prov 19.23)
O Tree of life, 
O true Heaven, 
O true Vine, 
(Jn 15.5)
O Rod of the stem of Jesse, 
(Isa 11.1)
O King of Israel, 
(Jn 19.19)
O Savior,
 (Matt 1.21)
O Gate of life, (Jn 10.9)
O choice Flower of the field, 
O Lily of the Valleys, (Song of S. 2.11)

O Rock of strength, 
(1 Cor 10.4)
O Corner-stone, 
(Matt 21.42)
O heavenly Zion, 
O Foundation of the Faith, 
(Jn 7.38)
O innocent Lamb, 
(Jn 1.29)
O Diadem, (Isa 28.5)
O gentle Sheep, 
(Isa 53.7)
O Redeemer of the human race, 
(Isa 48.17)
O very God, (2 Pet 1.1) 

O very Man, 
O Lion, 
O Calf, 
O Eagle, (Rev 4.7-8)

O Christ crucified, (Mat 27.35)
O Judge of doom, 
(2 Tim 4.1)
Have mercy upon us. (Luke 18.38)


  1. Lots of food for worship ... so encouraging!

  2. Following your blog one gets a great sense of the devotion to scripture that these Irish christians had. What was these guys attitude to Mary like? Did they have any of the Marian aspects of Catholicism that we see today?

  3. Space Bishop, thanks for the question. the earliest writings from the Irish church have next to nothing to say about Mary (eg. Patrick, Cummianus, Columbanus). By the seventh century there are some interesting comments (Augustine Hibernicus) that show the Irish did not accept that Mary was free from original sin (as taught by the RC Church today). By the 8th century we do see hymns and prayers to Mary in the Irish Church. This further develops over time, as it does in the rest of the western church. It's an interesting topic. I think i will write a more detailed blog posting on it for you!