On doxology and human language

Authors on liturgical theology often observe that doxology — the language of praise or acclamation — is the primary form of human language. Praise, they conclude, is more fundamental than any other human act.

When it is supported, this statement is usually supported by some anthropological argument; even when these are convincing, I find them uninspiring. But the inspiring and compelling evidence for me comes from my children.

My daughter Juliana is now 15 months old. She is now learning about one word a day, and is totally thrilled by the ability to communicate and be understood. And the excitement is totally mutual. A few months ago it was dada:

“Da-da!” (points)

“Yes, that is daddy!”

Now it’s “dog,” “too-toot,” “bruh-duh.” Notice that none of these are her basic physical needs. She is just starting to say “muh” (more), but much of her language acquisition is — dare I say it — doxological. She identifies the thing out of love, out of her childlike wonder, and she names it so that we, too, will rejoice in it with her.

In other words, she names something not so that she can have it, but so that she can share its wonder with others. And that, in a nutshell, is the language of worship.


  1. Thank you – an interesting insight. Perhaps there’s a slight jump to be made between delighting in naming and delighting in praising? I wonder what we should make of Genesis 2:19-20, when Adam gives names to all the animals and birds – is this an implicit act of praise for creation?

  2. Nicely done. I once recorded a reflection on names in my theological diary during grad school when I was the one home with our youngest:

    For a year and a half I’ve been home with him. It was peaceful when, as a baby, he was moderately mute. I could get my work done during the day. Then he came to know who we were by the labels “papa” and “mama.” At first he would only repeat them, like a parrot, pleasing us no end. Then he understood them referentially. When we’d ask “Where’s mama?” in an excessively high voice and with big, rubbery facial expressions, he would turn and look for her in the room. But then one day he learned the use of the word not as a reference, but as a name. When he called it out, the word was supposed to have an effect; the person whose name it was was supposed to respond in some way. Now every thought, every observation, every demonstration, every new corner explored, every book opened, every toy picked up begins with “Papa, Papa, Papa …” He says my name a thousand times a day.
    Today I was so exasperated that the thought comically entered my head, “I wish he’d never learned my name!” and immediately I was with God at the burning bush. “Shall I trust this fellow Moses with my name? I’ll never hear the end of it!”

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