Ronald Knox on ‘et cum spiritu tuo’

Here is the great Latinist convert in The Mass in Slow Motion, Sheed and Ward, 1948:

“And then, just to make sure that he is carrying the congregation with him, he says, ‘The Lord be with you’. And the server answers, ‘And with you likewise’ (that is all ‘And with thy spirit’ means). Priest and people are going about this great business of theirs shoulder to shoulder.”


  1. True, Ronald Knox started out in classics (Greats), but I wouldn’t consider him a great Latinist in the way that his contemporary A.E. Housman was both a world-class Latinist and literary giant. I’m not sure that Knox would have considered himself one either. To be fair, the breezy tone of the quote leads me to suspect that he was not intent on treating the usage in an exhaustive way.

    Outside the liturgy I could not find a single use of pneuma or spiritus in a synecdochical or metonymic sense to refer to the whole person and being used as an alternative to a personal pronoun. In Hebrew, however, nephesh is occasionally used this way (especially in poetry), and even in normal prose in a reflexive sense, e.g. to say “I know myself”. I don’t have an Aramaic lexicon handy.

  2. May I suggest that the final sentence of theKnox quotation may also be worthy of notice? For its time, it is an advanced insight, and puts the remainder of his comment into context.

  3. Ioannes, do you know “Dominus Vobiscum: The Background of a Liturgical Formula” by W. C. Van Unnik, New Testament Essays: Studies in Memory of T. W. Mansen 1893–1958, edited by A. J. B. Higgins (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959), 270–305?

  4. Have heard of it but never pulled it off the shelf. My point of my comment was to show that the question at hand did not naturally lend itself to the expertise of a Latinist or even classicist. Giving a quick read of some of it on Google, much of the article appears outdated (e.g. belief in the early dating of “Hippolytus'” liturgy. He makes a very hard and fast distinction between Hebrew nephesh and ruah, which strikes me as problematic. He adduces a vast amount of OT material to discuss the meaning of “with” but dismisses “spirit”. It’s certainly not the case the Hebrew made the same distinction between the two words that philosophical Greek made between psyche and pneuma. I wonder whether anything like this wording has popped up at Qumran. A 1959 article probably wouldn’t have been able to take into account that kind of evidence. Will try to read the entire article at some point. Moreover, even what appears on Google calls into question the…

  5. I thought St. John Chrysostom put this one to bed in the 4th Century, when he explained that the response acknowledges the particular charism of the priest. The French Bishops would seem to agree (Et avec votre esprit), as would the Germans (Und mit deinem Geiste), the Italians (E con il tuo spirito) and the Spaniards (Y con tu espiritu).

    Of course, if one wished to change the Church’s emphasis on the priest’s particular charism, a change of language in a key place like this would be a good starting point.

    1. Wasn’t St. John Chrysostom simply retrofitting his own spiritualised explanation to a liturgical greeting that was already a couple of hundred years old?

    2. Ian, when I was in the seminary, the theology we were learning in the 1970’s was meant to help us as newly ordained priests to prepare the Church for the inevitability of women’s ordination. Obviously, many things had to be changed even apart from sociological considerations, for example the sacramental, visual experience of the male priest being a sign of Christ’s exclusive High Priesthood and also the “Bridegroom” of the Church which is His Bride, so changing pronouns would be essential, to have a unisex approach to the Church, Christ and the sacramental order of things. So language is symbolic and powerfully so.

  6. I still don’t buy it….why not then say that the Priest’s “Dominus Vobiscum” means “Good morning, how is everyone today?” since that’s what we often get as a translation. If that’s what the Priest “means” when he says it, then isn’t that the “translation” using this rather twisted logic?

  7. It is worth recalling . . . the meaning of the exchange of words between the one who presides over the celebration and the assembled people: ‘The Lord be with you’ – ‘And with your Spirit’. This does not mean simply ‘and with you’. It means ‘with the grace that you received through ordination for the common good; we are asking now for that grace to be made present in this celebration.’ The ‘power’ received at ordination and the making present of the gift of the Spirit, the ordained celebrant and the community or the ecclesia are united in the celebration of the Eucharist.

    Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (New York: Crossroads, 1983), VOLUME III: The River of Life Flows in the East and in the West—PART TWO, “THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE SACRAMENTS,” p. 236.

  8. The words do not simply mean: ‘And with you’, which would be no more than an exchange of religious wishes helping to create the spiritual space of the celebration. They mean more than this. The formula ‘The Lord is (be) with . . . ‘ is frequently used in the Old Testament and it is often concerned with an action that has to be done according to God’s plan and is connected with the presence of the Spirit in the one who has to perform this action. In the New Testament and early Christianity, the Spirit is particularly active in prayer and the worshipping assembly. In the brief dialogue between the minister and the community recorded by Hippolytus . . . , the presence of the Spirit has to be ensured so that the liturgical action can take place; hence the words: The Lord be with you, gifted as you are for that purpose with the charism of the Spirit.

    Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (New York: Crossroads, 1983), VOLUME I, 36–37.

  9. The last two sentence of the previous extract are: “According to the Fathers, the necessary charism was conferred on the priest at ordination. Nothing, however, takes place automatically, and every spiritual activity requires an epiclesis.”

  10. We have already seen above how a spiritual space or framework for celebration is created by the Spirit by means of an exchange of a promise and a bearing witness to his presence: ‘The Lord be with you’ -‘ And with your spirit’. This is a sign of the reciprocity that constitutes the full truth of the relationships between the Christian community and the minister who is the president and the pastor of that community.

    Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (New York: Crossroads, 1983), VOLUME I, 106–107.

  11. Paul Ford’s extensive quotation takes him well above the site’s 900-character limit, and his multiple continuation comments also break a site rule. That’s no criticism of Paul, whose contribution is, as usual, illuminating. If anything, I would have welcomed his analysis of the quotation and its bearing on the thread, but perhaps he thought he’d already pushed his luck far enough. This is an excellent example of the constraints the policy would place on useful analysis, where it it is consistently applied. Time for a rethink, perhaps?

  12. Ian, I just scanned the site and can’t find the “rule” about continuation comments. If there is such a rule, I apologize. I do remember that comments were going to limited to 1000 character, so I felt free to make four comments successively, in order to make my point.

    Father Anthony, your call . . .

  13. Ian, instead of commenting on the site, its policies and its contributors, why not comment on the topic? For what it’s worth, a number of us have used the continuation tactic when what we wanted to say more than could be fitted into the space allotted. The limit appears to be merely designed to discourage those who want to rant at length — and it seems to be working.

    I appreciate what Congar has to say, but I wonder whether he also said anything about the presence of the Spirit in the assembly? (I do not have his book on my shelves.) Are not the people of God graced too? I suspect that this point of view lies behind the Anglican formula “The Lord is here — His Spirit is with us”, which strongly echoes the Portugese practice mentioned a few posts back.

  14. Paul F,

    I don’t think you have anything to apologise for.

    Paul I,

    Pay attention, please – If you take the trouble to read the comments on your own thread, you will see that I have commented on the subject matter, and have not commented on its contributors, except to give praise where it is due. Having done so, it’s quite reasonable to make an observation – in the context of the thread – on problems with the Site’s editorial policy and practice that inhibit useful analysis and are applied with an unfortunate inconsistency.

    Yes, the People of God who are not priests are graced, too, but the Anglican, ICEL and Portugese Catholic innovations obscure the particular nature of the Priest’s charism and role. That’s not surprising in a Protestant tradition, but it is amongst Catholics.

  15. In the February 2009 edition of Adoremus magazine an article by Archbishop Allen Vigneron notes the two points of view and uses the same (second: comment number 13) Yves Congar quotation. He concludes that the new translation does not take sides in the debate but provides a more accurate translation and so does not restrict the English meaning to one narrower than the Latin.
    I found this Abp Vigneron article helpful in explaining how the translation process has been approached and recommend it to readers of this blogsite.

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