For vs. Of – Or, A little learning…

In seminary, a beloved professor argued that “This is the Feast” – that beloved new canticle – had a bit of unintentional grammar that made it unacceptable to  Lutherans.  He claimed – I have heard it claimed often since then – that the phrase “This is the feast of victory for our God” was incorrect, and should be sung with the more correct (but far more awkward) phrasing “This is the feast of victory OF our God.”  The reasoning, so it is said, is that we are not throwing the feast FOR God, but rather, the feast is celebrating the victory OF God.

That’s fine as far as it goes, but does it justify either A) Not singing the Dignus Est Agnus, or B) Using White-out on the word “for” and typing the word “of” on top of it?

No.  It does not.  Why do I say this?  Because, a little learning (in this case grammar) can be a dangerous thing.  Let’s look at this grammatically.

Diagramming doesn’t work well in a blog, but if you have a piece of paper, follow along at home.  The subject of the sentence is “This”.  The predicate is “is”.  “(the) Feast” is a predicate nominative.  This leaves us with two prepositional phrases.  “Of victory” tells us what kind of feast it is.  But where do we put “for our God”?  Does it modify “feast” or “victory”?  In english, it could go either way.  The choice is yours.

Practically, this means that the sentence can mean either “This is the feast for God, to celebrate his victory”  or it can mean “This feast celebrates the victory which God has won.” In the former   “for our God” modifies feast.  In the latter it modifies “victory”.  While it can mean either, the latter makes more sense.  Why?  The verses seem more directed to explaining the terms of the victory than to describing the feast itself.  If the verses explained the feast, it would naturally follow that the feast is for our God.  But since the verses explain the victory, the prepositional phrase apparently modifies the victory.  Which victory?  God’s victory.

Another reason to assume that the phrase “for our God” modifies “victory” is the placement in the sentence.  While not entirely determinative, the most logical reading of the sentence it to have the modifier modify the closest option.  If “for our God” modifies “feast”, then we really have a sentence that says, “This is the feast of victory.  This feast is for our God.”  Instead of saying, “This is the feast of victory.  The victory is God’s.”

When President Obama was elected, there was a giant victory party in Downtown Chicago.  This party was thrown BY the Obama campaign.  It was a party of victory for Obama.  But it was not thrown for him.  It was thrown by him.  (Weeks later the city was still claiming the campaign owed them money.)  So, we can say, a feast of victory for our God, and still mean that the victory is God’s, the feast is God’s and the party is for us.

So, it turns out, that a little bit of grammar knowledge leads us to find heresy where there is none.  A more in depth look at the grammar shows us that this song can be sung.  As to whether anything should replace the Gloria in Excelsis, well that’s a discussion for a different day.  But we need not reject this hymn solely for a false teaching it doesn’t teach.

Sing “This is the feast of victory FOR our God”.  Sing it loud, sing it proud.  And where possible, sing it as a communion hymn, not in place of th Gloria.

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2 Responses to “For vs. Of – Or, A little learning…”

  1. Well put. I’m linking to this article at my own blog. You’re spot on with the grammar here.

  2. […] Gottesdienst This falls under the category of “Grammarian”.  But this time I won’t tell Fr. Eckhadt I am writing.  I’m not sure he would appreciate my comments as much as last time. […]

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