Exultet Controversy: An Ancient Reference to Jesus as “Lucifer”?

There are numerous videos on the internet which purport to show the Pope, or other Catholic clergy, openly praying to Satan.[1] All of those polemics revolve around an ancient Catholic hymn, known as the Exultet, using the Latin word lucifer in reference to Christ.[2] Being that the subject comes up repeatedly on social media, it seemed prudent to put together a brief blog entry on the subject, which one could then easily refer back to when needed.

While it is easy to understand how modern minds might be scandalized by a hymn addressing Christ as lucifer, the reality is that, contrary to popular understanding today, the word is not an exclusive name for Satan. Employing it as a reference to Christ actually flows naturally from lucifer being a word that could mean morning star, and Christ being called the morning star. Consider, for example, the entry on lucifer in Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary[3]:

lucifer-lewis-short

Beyond that, however, the practice is derived from the Bible itself (or, more specifically, a certain interpretation of a specific translation of the Bible). 2 Peter 1:19 makes a reference to a certain “day star” or “morning star,” which many interpret as a reference to Christ[4] (though there are others who take a different view[5]). It just so happens that the Latin Vulgate renders the relevant word as lucifer.

In the Greek text, the relevant word is Φωσφορος (phosophoros). As is noted in Thayer’s Lexicon[6], the corresponding Latin term happens to be lucifer:

thayer-phosphoros

Such an understanding actually predates the New Testament. As is alluded to in the above-mentioned entry from Lewis and Short, this connection actually comes up in the writings of Cicero (who passed away around 43 BC). In Cicero’s De Natura Deorum[7], he writes: quae Φωσφορος Graece Lucifer Latine dicitur (“that which is phosphoros in Greek is called lucifer in Latin”).

cicero-denatura-ii-xx-phosphoros-lucifer

The subject could be summarized with the following points:

(a) The Vulgate was the Bible of the Western Church for over a thousand years.

(b) The Vulgate, in 2 Peter 1:19, uses the word lucifer, in a verse understood by many to be referring to Christ.

(c) The Greek text of 2 Peter 1:19 has the word φωσφορος (phosphoros).

(d) The word φωσφορος (phosphoros) is a combination of two words, φως (phos, which means light) and a form of the verb φερω (phero, which means to bear or to carry).

(e) Similarly, lucifer is a combination of two words, lux (which means light) and the verb fero (which means to bear or to carry).

(f) Ergo, the word lucifer is the exact Latin equivalent of the Greek word φωσφορος (so its inclusion in a Latin translation of 2 Peter 1:19 makes perfect sense).

In conclusion, the ancient Latin practice of calling Christ lucifer practically comes right out of the Bible, even if that seems weird to modern English minds which have come to more narrowly associate the word only with Satan (and the relevant hymn, the Exultet, was produced in an ancient Latin speaking environment, not a modern English one).

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NOTES

(1) See, for example, this video from 2014, or this video from 2015, or this video from 2016.

(2) In a great many of the polemics, it is wrongly claimed that the hymn calls Christ the son of Lucifer. This incorrect understanding is often repeated because many of the polemics descend (or mechanically repeat claims) from a common source.

(3) Charlton T. Lewis & Charles Short, A New Latin Dictionary, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891), p. 1080.

(4) See, for example, Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 83, Article 2, Reply to Objection 2.

(5) See, for example, John Edward Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887), p.395, which reproduces an English translation of Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer’s commentary on the verse in his Kritischexegetischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament.

(6) Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (New York: American Book Company, 1889), p. 663.

(7) Cicero, De Natura Deorum, book II, chapter XX, in Harris Rackham (ed./trans.), Cicero: De Natura Deorum, Academia, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933), pp. 174-175.



Categories: Bible, Christianity

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2 replies

  1. Nice rebuttal Denis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wrote about this a few months ago when I was rebutting the Chick tract “The Prophet” and I saw the Lucifer nonsense on a Christian blog:

    One of the most idiotic accusations these conspiracy theorists make is regarding both Catholic and Muslim rituals and beliefs. We already have heard the “moon god” nonsense, which ignoramuses like Jack Chick liked to peddle. But Catholics were also targeted with false accusations of “Satanism”. Of course, as Muslims, we believe that Catholics are unbelievers who follow a false religion which will lead to eternal hellfire, but we don’t need to resort to petty lies to demonize Catholics. Protestant Christians, though, feel the need to resort to such deception. In the link above from “Mary Carmel News”, the idiotic author links to a video on YouTube purportedly showing Satan worship at a Catholic mass. The argument rests on the use of the Latin word “lucifer”, which of course, many people associate with Satan. But the problem with this argument is that the accusers are simply ignorant. The word “lucifer” is not a name for Satan, but actually means the “morning star” or the planet Venus.

    If it literally meant “Satan”, then the accusers have to admit that they too are “Satanists”! Why? Because the same word is used in the Latin Vulgate to refer to…Jesus! Here is the Latin version of 2 Peter 1:19:

    “et habemus firmiorem propheticum sermonem cui bene facitis adtendentes quasi lucernae lucenti in caliginoso loco donec dies inlucescat et lucifer oriatur in cordibus vestris” (https://www.blueletterbible.org/vul/2pe/1/19/t_conc_1157019)

    Here is the English translation:

    “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

    So who is this “morning star”? According to Christian commentaries, it is referring to the return of Jesus. For example, “Barnes’ Notes” states:

    “The apostle directs the mind onward to a period when all shall be clear – to that glorious time when the Saviour shall return to receive his people to himself in that heaven where all shall be light.” (https://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/2_peter/1.htm)

    Further proof can be found in Revelation 22:16, where Jesus is quoted as referring to himself as the “bright morning star”:

    “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

    So it seems the Christians believe Jesus is Satan (nauzubillah)! Of course, this would only be true if we ignore facts and jettison our reason. But that’s what people like Jack Chick and other like-minded simpletons do: they ignore facts and reason, in favor of lies and deception.

    All of this is just to see how low that some of these Christians will go. I am not in any way defending Catholicism, but I do believe in honest and fair discussions. Catholics don’t worship Satan, even though their beliefs are inspired by him and are false.

    https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/deceitful-christians-are-afraid-of-seeing-the-vatican-islam-conspiracy-theory-being-blown-to-smithereens/#comment-4723

    Liked by 1 person

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