Collect for Prime - 3
Domine Deus omnipotens, qui ad principium hujus diei nos pervenire fecisti:
tua nos hodie salva virtute; ut in hac die ad nullam declinemus peccatum,
sed semper ad tuam justitiam faciendam nostra procedant eloquia, dirigantur
cogitationes et opera. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum filium tuum, qui
tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula
Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus, qui nos ad principium hujus
diei pervenire fecisti; tua nos hodie salva virtute; et concede ut in hac
die ad nullum declinemus peccatum, nec ullum incurramus periculum, sed
semper ad tuam justitiam faciendam omnis nostra actio tuo moderamine
dirigatur. Per (etc).
Freeman, whom I quoted last time, remarks:
"The . . . Collect is based on Psalms xc and xci [Vulgate 89 and 90]. From
the former (vers. 1,2) it derives its contrasting of the pre-mundane
Eternity - 'ex parte ante', as it seems to mean especially - of God with the
days of man (vers. 3-12); and its prayer, 'That all our doings may be
ordered,' etc. ('Prosper thou the work,' etc. ver. 17). From the latter
Psalm it frames its petition for bodily and spiritual protection on behalf
of the mystical members of Him, or whom the Psalm primarily speaks (vers.
We can examine the relevant verses ourselves. Vulgate Ps. 89 begins:
Domine, refugium factus es nobis
A generatione in generationem.
Priusquam montes fierent,
Aut formaretur terra et orbis,
A saeculo et usque in saeculum tu es Deus.
BCP Ps. 90:
Lord, thou hast been our refuge:
from one generation to another.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever the earth and the world were made:
Thou art God from everlasting, and world without end.
Notice the sequence of tenses, preserved in both languages: Before the
mountains WERE, Thou ART. The Psalmist, and the biblical writers generally,
were aware that it was not just a matter of God existing prior to the world;
rather, the contrast is between God's eternal being and the world's temporal
coming into being. Cf. the words of Jesus in John 8:58, "Before Abraham
was, I am."
Verses 3-12 are a meditation on the transitoriness of man, as contrasted
with the eternity of God. I quote the beginning:
Ne avertas hominem in humilitatem;
Et dixisti: Convertimini, filii hominum.
Quoniam mille anni ante oculos tuos
Tanquam dies hesterna quae praeteriit,
Et custodia in nocte;
Thou turnest man to destruction:
again thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men.
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday:
seeing that is past as a watch in the night.
The passage referred to in Psalm 90(91) begins as follows:
Quoniam angelis suis mandavit de te,
Ut custodiant te in omnibus viis tuis.
In manibus portabunt te,
Ne forte offendas ad lapidem pedem tuum.
Super aspidem et basiliscum ambulabis,
Et conculcabis leonum et draconem.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee:
to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee in their hands:
that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder:
The young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.
I cannot find any precise verbal parallels between these psalms and the
collect, but I think Freeman is quite right to point to their influence.
They are, so to speak, the air the Collector breathed, they express the
attitudes which formed his theology: the eternity of God, the temporality
of man, God's ability to preserve us from the most threatening evils, the
'lions' and 'dragons' of our daily experience.
Only the Sarum version, incidentally, has the phrase 'nec ullum incurramus
periculum' 'neither run into any kind of danger'; it parallels the phrase
found in both versions, 'ut in hac die ad nullam declinemus peccatum'. The
verbs 'declino' and 'incurro' are worth a moment's meditation. 'Declino' is
to turn aside (i.e. from the right path). We do not just 'happen' upon sin.
If we stay on the straight and narrow path, we avoid it. But it is possible
to wander from the right path, not only by a deliberate decision, but be
carelessness, inattention, ignorance; and it is particularly from this
involuntary turning-aside that the collect asks God to protect us.
'Incurro' on the other hand, is to run into; and even when following the
right path, we may find it blocked by a lion or a dragon. Not all dangers
are our own fault. We ask God for protection from dangers both physical and
moral, both avoidable and unavoidable.
Note also the final petition in the Sarum version, ' tuo moderamine
dirigatur', literally, 'may be steered by thy rudder'. As often in the
collects, we have the nautical image, the ship being steered clear of the
rocks into safe harbour.