I would like to share this prayer by Thomas Aquinas. The following prayers include the original prayer in Latin and three English translations with some commentary from yours truly. May one or more of these prayers bless you.
Creator ineffabilis, qui de thesaurius sapientiae tuae tres Angelorum hierarchias designasti et eas super caelum empyreum miro ordine collocasti atque universi partes elegantissime distribuisti: Tu, inquam, qui verus fons luminis et sapientiae diceris ac supereminens principium, infundere digneris super intellectus mei tenebras tuae radium claritatis, duplices, in quibus natus sum, a me removens tenebras, peccatum scilicet et ignorantium. Tu, qui linguas infantium facis disertas, linguam meam erudias atque in labiis meis gratium tuae benedictionis infundas. Da mihi intelligendi acumen, retinendi capacitatem, addiscendi modum et facilitatem, interpretandi subtilitatem, loquendi gratiam copiosam. Ingressum instruas, progressum dirigas, egressum compleas. Tu, qui es verus Deus et homo, qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen. 1
Pray with me:
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding. Take from me the double darkness in which I was born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance. Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally. Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm. Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion. I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This version of the prayer is popular. I found it on multiple college and Catholic websites for students. 2 I like that it is written in modern English. The prayer is understandable, and the contemporary language brings God and his power into this moment. For better or worse, this translation presents an abridged version of Thomas’ prayer. As you will soon see, his original prayer is more profuse in its description of God as the origin of all being.
Pray with me:
O Infinite Creator, who in the riches of Thy wisdom didst appoint three hierarchies of Angels and didst set them in wondrous order over the highest heavens, and who didst apportion the elements of the world most wisely: do Thou, who art in truth the fountain of light and wisdom, deign to shed upon the darkness of my understanding the rays of Thine infinite brightness, and remove far from me the twofold darkness in which I was born, namely, sin and ignorance. Do Thou, who givest speech to the tongues of little children, instruct my lips the grace of Thy benediction. Give me keenness of apprehension, capacity for remembering, method and ease in learning, insight in interpretation, and copious eloquence in speech. Instruct my beginning, direct my progress, and set Thy seal upon the finished work, Thou, who art true God and true Man, who livest and reignest world without end. Amen. 3
This translation is lovely. The archaic language does not make it more holy or understandable to God, but the older language might inspire reverence in some people. Despite the outdated Thou’s, Thy’s, and didst’s, both God and we still understand it, which is of primary importance. Moreover, this is an unabridged translation. Did you notice that God appointed three hierarchies of angels and set them in wondrous order over the universe and apportioned the elements of the world? The order of the universe was an important theme for medieval theologians. I do not know if there are only three ranks of angels, but I do appreciate praying in the context of worship and humility. Despite my request for a ray of light, I pray for that light knowing that there are beings who soar far above me. Even though I am not a student, I want the light of God to infuse my mind and heart.
Pray with me:
Ineffable Creator, Who from the treasures of Your wisdom, have established three hierarchies of angels, have arrayed them in marvelous order above the fiery heavens, and have marshaled the regions of the universe with such artful skill, You are proclaimed the true font of light and wisdom, and the primal origin raised high beyond all things. Pour forth a ray of Your brightness into the darkened places of my mind; disperse from my soul the twofold darkness into which I was born: sin and ignorance. You make eloquent the tongues of infants. Refine my speech and pour forth upon my lips the goodness of Your blessing. Grant to me keenness of mind, capacity to remember, skill in learning, subtlety to interpret, and eloquence in speech. May You guide the beginning of my work, direct its progress, and bring it to completion. You Who are true God and true Man, Who live and reign, world without end. Amen. 4
I like that this translation is contemporary, unabridged, and it has an accurate translation. As with the first translation, I think that using modern English helps me to appreciate that God is not stuck in the past, but unlike the first, this translation seems to be prayer of graduate students and scholars instead of lowly freshmen. The translators, like grad students or scholars, choose bigger words to express the same idea. God marshals out the regions of the universe rather than just setting the heavens in order. This version is also more historically accurate. Rather than saying “highest heavens,” it uses “fiery heavens.” Why the difference? Latin is a language that evolved (or devolved?) before puttering out of everyday usage. “Fiery” is a medieval translation of empyreum (imperium), which meant “fiery” in the 11th to 15th centuries. 5 Seeing as Thomas Aquinas lived in the 13th century, he probably used a 13th century understanding of the word. I could speculate and ask what if that learned person chose an archaic definition of the word, but for now I will trust the scholars who provided this translation.
Whether you like a simple and to the point prayer (translation #1), a clear and traditional version (translations #2), or a highly accurate yet somewhat pedantic prayer (translation #3), I think we are set for this fall quarter!
Love to you all.
- http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Varia/CreatorIneff.html. ↩
- See http://washingtonsquarecatholic.org/prayer-before-study; https://www.catholiccompany.com/students-prayer-card-aquinas-i36080/; http://www.catholicreview.org/blogs/god-is-in-the-clouds/2014/01/28/praying-with-saint-thomas-aquinas-a-patron-saint-for-our-catholic-schools; http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2011/10/st-thomas-aquinas-prayer-for-scholars/; and even on the Aquinas College website, http://www.aquinas.edu/catholic/resources.html. There are more websites, but the majority of the ones I found had this contemporary, abridged translation. ↩
- Racolta #764, Pius XI Studiorum Ducem, 1923. ↩
- The third translation is a 2000 translation by Robert Anderson and Johannes Moser, in The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas. http://www.thereligionteacher.com/saint-thomas-aquinas-prayer-before-study/ ↩
- http://latin-dictionary.net/search/english/fiery ↩