Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274) was an Italian Dominican friar, priest, and Doctor of the Church, and is also regarded as one of the great philosophers of all times. He is famous for attempting to reconcile Aristotelian logic with the principles of Christianity; at the core of his teaching is the belief that God’s will can be found in the human capacity for reason. Today, the Catholic Church holds Thomas Aquinas as a saint, and his works are essential reading for anyone studying to be a priest.
Thomas Aquinas’ steadfast celebration of Aristotelian logic and philosophy was regarded as heretical by some in the Catholic Church in his day, and between 1210 and 1277, Aristotelian teachings received official condemnation from the University of Paris. Over time, though, as secular philosophy influenced the Church, Thomas Aquinas’ work becomes not only accepted but celebrated as a core part of the Catholic thought and practice, since it offered a way to marry modern logical thought with original teachings of the faith. Fifty years after this death, on 18 July 1323, Pope John XXII pronounced Thomas a saint, and today there are few Catholics who are unfamiliar with Thomas Aquinas’ role in church history.
The Tantum Ergo is an excerpt from the last two verses of the Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium, a hymn written by Thomas Aquinas in about 1264 for the Feast of Corpus Christi. It is most commonly sung today at exposition and benediction when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration and thus is familiar to most Catholics, as well as other Protestant denominations that practice this ritual. The words have been set to the music of composers including Palestrina, Mozart, Bruckner and Faure. In other contexts, the Tantum Ergo is sometimes recited in spoken word.
The hymn is given here in Latin, with an English translation below:
The Hymn in Latin
Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Præstet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui. Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.
The Hymn in English Translation
Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o’er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble senses fail.
To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty. Amen.