What's the Study of Doxa?
How many times have you sung the doxology? Well, I’m 52 years old. If I sang the doxology at every Sunday service from my 5th birthday till now, I would have sung it 2,240 times! That’s a lot! For many of you, the number would be higher.
That in mind, do any of you know the meaning of the word doxology? I didn’t
"Doxa" means glory, and "logia" means to give words to or expression to. So doxology means to give words to or expression to glory, in this case, to the glory of God.
Okay, can any of you tell me who wrote the words to the doxology we sing? I gave you a hint in that question, by the way. "Ken" any of you tell me who wrote the doxology?
Thomas Ken is the composer. Here’s a little bio from the desiringgod.org website:
Thomas Ken (b. 1637 – d. 1711) crafted these plain and profound words in the late 1600s. He wrote them as the final and “doxological” stanza of three hymns he published, first for students at Winchester College at Oxford University.
Ken, who was an Anglican minister, royal chaplain, and eventually bishop, first penned verses for his students at Winchester to sing upon arising in the morning, at bedtime, and if you woke up with trouble sleeping. Each of these three hymns ended with the verse that we sing as the doxology.
With that knowledge, let’s go through each line back to forward and see what we can learn. Knowledge is power, after all.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Maybe some of you have wondered for a while now why in the place of those traditional lyrics I’ve incorporated alternative language, namely Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.
This is not something I originated. A few churches I’ve been a part of using this alternative language. Why? There are a few reasons.
First of all is the matter of hospitality. If I’m a woman new to church and to Christianity in general, a question might arise and I know personally has arisen: where do I a woman fit in that paradigm of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?, she might ask. I’m a mom. I’m a daughter. I’m not a ghost, she might say. I mean, Genesis 1 is clear that God created us in God’s image, male and female, God created us, scripture says. Where is the female in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? To be hospitable would mean maybe using language, even if occasionally, that helped her find belonging
There’s another reason. One that we often forget or look past. I’m afraid I must put on my theology nerd hat here to explain. So my apologies.
Let me put it this way: God is not literally a Father in the human sense of the word. If so, who is the Mother? Some creatures in nature reproduce offspring asexually, without a partner. But this is not God. God is not a creature. God is also not a human.
As for Christ, well, before Christmas, the 2nd person of the Trinity was. Did you know, in the early development of the Trinity idea, Logos was the name initially given to the 2nd person of the Trinity? Not son, but logos. Logos is translated “the Word” in John 1. Well, Logos, the Word, always existed. Before Mary, Christ as Logos, as the Word, was.
Logos became a son at Christmas when Jesus was born to Mary. This might sound controversial, but if Ancient Palestine was a female-dominant society, maybe Logos would have been incarnated as a daughter.
One last thing, the Father and Son language, if taken literally, presumes the Father came first and the Son was a later addition. But there are no later additions for the Trinity. Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit co-exist together eternally, and have always existed this way, without beginning nor end. Christ was not literally begotten as a son.
What’s the point then? Well, God as Father points to the truth that God is our source, our beginning, our fountainhead. Or simply put, God is, what? Our Creator.
Christ as the Son points to the truth that Christ is of God, connected to God, and looks just like God to us. Christ comes from the home of heaven into the world for us to see and follow. Christ literally means Anointed One. God anointed Christ to be the vehicle, the conduit, the perfect image through whom we see God.
As for the name, Holy Ghost. I’ll spare you the details, but Holy Ghost is a bad translation. Holy Spirit is the correct one.
So, why stick with the word ghost? Because it rhymes with host.
Praise God above ye heavenly host.
Thomas Ken originally wrote it "Praise God above ye angelic host." So, the heavenly host in the doxology refers to the angels above.
Angels are created beings. And like us, angels were created for fellowship with God. Not only that, angels sometimes help us to fellowship with God. Angels sometimes serve as God and our mediators. Scripture is clear about this too.
This line always brings to mind that verse in Luke 2 that will soon become extra prescient.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The angels were the shepherds' mediators to God.
Praise God All Creatures Here Below
We just heard Psalm 148’s words sung. All of creation praises God. Not just us.
Have you ever asked the question, how? How do non-human creatures praise God? How does creation praise God?
Each creature, each part of creation praises God by being what it was created to be. Just by being what it is, creation praises God. Just by doing what they do, creatures praise God. God created the universe and declared it good. Its purpose is to exist as the good thing it is. By existing as good, praise happens.
For us humans, it’s the same. We were created to be in relationship with God. Praising God comes out of our relationship with God. Our praise begins with that relationship. Without this relationship, it’s empty praise, an empty flattering of God.
Think about it. If I look Holly in the eye and say, you are truly wonderful! That is natural and right, even lovely. If I go around saying that to strangers with no context, that would be, well, strange.
Praise and relationship go together!
Anyway, Let’s move on…
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
One of the lesser-known metaphors for God is Fountainhead. God is our fountainhead from which all the blessings we know flow.
Page Park is in my backyard. We often walk down to the really lovely pond, especially when the fountain is on. The beautiful fountain has a source, a beginning, a fountainhead.
The same for the stream in Page Park. Like with any stream, it begins somewhere. It has a source. Well, that beginning, that source is the fountainhead.
Likewise, God is our beginning. God is our source. God is our fountainhead. And all the blessings we know flow from that fountainhead which is God.
Why does this matter? Well, yes, it’s always good to be thankful for the stream before you, the babbling water, and the way the light hits it. It's okay to praise the stream before you. How beautiful you are, o lovely stream.
But do not forget to thank and praise from whence that stream before us came. We might not be able to see the beginning of the stream, the source, the fountainhead, but don’t you think we should thank that source for what we’re enjoying now before us.
God is invisible to us and might even seem absent sometimes. But we must thank and praise the one from whom all blessings flow!
What is the takeaway? Well, no matter how you sing it, how about singing the doxology twice a day as it was originally intended by its composer, Thomas Ken? Sing it every morning as your morning prayer then every night before bed as your evening prayer. When you wake up in the middle of the night, thoughts and troubles keeping you up, try singing the doxology to ease your mind.
And maybe you want to sing to the gorgeous, moving rendition below: