This verse from Psalm lxxxiv:

Deus tu conversus vivificabis nos: et plebs tua laetabitur in te.

Appears in the Parvum Officium of the BVM (and other liturgical prayers that currently escape my memory). The Baronious Press edition translates it as:

Thou wilt turn again, O God, and quicken us: and thy people shall rejoice in thee.

How do we get from "Deus tu conversus"—conversus being a participle according to Lewis and Short—to "Thou wilt turn again, O God..."? My limited understanding of Latin cannot make the journey.

A participle is a noun, but it seems like the English requires a verb in the the future tense, like convertes.

Wiktionary adds to my confusion by telling me that conversus is a perfect passive participle, pulling the action out of the future into the past, or at least present completed.

Where have I gone wrong?

  • 1
    The verse appears most prominently in the liturgy at the end of the prayers at the foot of the altar (after the confiteor and misereatur of the people).
    – brianpck
    Jul 14, 2016 at 13:49
  • 1
    Ah, yes, right after the absolution. Jul 14, 2016 at 15:20
  • "A participle is a noun" - like in Iolanthe, this can be put right by inserting the word 'not' :-). It is an adjective. But often used to form a past tense, e.g. 'sepultus est' = 'was buried'.
    – John White
    Mar 2, 2020 at 5:48

3 Answers 3


The other answers are good for explaining the grammar. However, I would add that an important part of translating any text is remembering the context in which the passage was written. (I realize that the other answerers probably subscribe to this platitude as well.)

So, let's look at the opening lines of the psalm (taken from Douay-Rheims):

[2.] Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam; avertisti captivitatem Jacob. [3.] Remisisti iniquitatem plebis tuae, operuisti omnia peccata eorum. [4.] Mitigasti omnem iram tuam, avertisti ab ira indignationis tuae. [5.] Converte nos, Deus salutaris noster, et averte iram tuam a nobis. [6.] Numquid in aeternum irasceris nobis? aut extendes iram tuam a generatione in generationem? [7.] Deus, tu conversus vivificabis nos, et plebs tua laetabitur in te.

[2.] Lord, thou hast blessed thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob. [3.] Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people: thou hast covered all their sins. [4.] Thou hast mitigated all thy anger: thou hast turned away from the wrath of thy indignation. [5.] Convert us, O God our saviour: and turn off thy anger from us. [6.] Wilt thou be angry with us for ever: or wilt thou extend thy wrath from generation to generation? [7.] Thou wilt turn, O God, and bring us to life: and thy people shall rejoice in thee.

As you can see, there's a lot of 'turn' language in this passage. So, there is no 'again' in the strict sense, but Ps. 84:5 especially explains why the translator did not feel it was out of place to add it in.

The 'future' tense here, 'wilt turn' is explained by virtue of the fact that it is controlled by the tense of the main verb (as others have mentioned).

What will he have turned (himself) from? His anger, of course.

Although I don't think we need advanced theology or literary degrees to come to that conclusion, it might be worth looking at the so-called Glossa ordinaria (and I'm simplifying what that refers to) on that passage.

In this image (taken from the a scan of an edition from Basel, 1498, you can see how several possibilities were aired:

psalm 84:7

The large text in the centre is the Psalm and some small interlinear glosses. In the left margin, in red, you can see :

Deus conuertens. quasi sicut uiuificatio est a te: ita et conuersatio. h Deus tu conuer. Casus. Non extendens. Set deus conuertens. Prius dat uotum conuersitionis [sic]: post ad uitam ducit. Uel: Deus tu conuersus. ab ira in aduentum filii.

God converting. As if: just as vivification is from you, so too is conversion. h Deus tu conversus: Overview/summary. Not extending; but God converting. Earlier he gives a vow of conversion; after, he leads to life. Or: Deus tu conversus: from anger at the advent of his son.

(The h is a the (late!) medieval equivalent of a footnote here, to help readers track where to find the commentary on the relevant passage. Thus, I'm actually starting a little before the lemma we are interested in.)

On the right side, there is the more succinct:

Deus tu conuersus. ad nos per tuam benedictam incarnationem.

Deus tu conversus: toward us, by means of your blessed incarnation.

And in this impage from a subsequent page you can see in red that the vivification will be due to his augmenting of grace in us:

Psalm 84:7 comment

The line reads:

Deus tu conuersus uiuificabis nos. gratiam in nobis augmentando

Deus tu conversus vivificabis nos: by increasing the grace in us.

  • +1 for the excellent thoughts. Jul 14, 2016 at 12:03
  • Minor correction: as mentioned in my comment on Joel's answer, the idea of turning again is definitely one possible shade of meaning for the word conversus. Jul 14, 2016 at 16:31
  • @DavidCharles -- That is a fair point, but I don't think that's why -- or at least not the main reason why -- the 'again' is included in the translation. (Hence my weasel words 'in the strict sense'.)
    – jon
    Jul 16, 2016 at 4:43

The Baronius press edition is going (rightly so, I think) for elegance of English rather than absolute correct correspondence to Latin grammar. Conversus is a little tricky here, because while it's technically, as you say, a perfect passive participle, there's also a sense in which it's neither passive nor active but middle, which is a voice from ancient Greek that sometimes sort of shows up in Latin in weird ways; it has to do with actions that one performs on oneself or for one's own benefit ("I wash the dog" is active, "I am washed" passive, and "I wash myself" is middle). (I don't know much, unfortunately, though I suspect others on the site do, about Greek influences on Biblical Latin.) A more exact rendering of the Latin would therefore be

God, having turned thyself around, thou wilt quicken us: and thy people will rejoice in thee.

If you don't want to deal with the idea of the Latin middle voice (a perfectly respectable position, as far as I'm concerned), another correct translation would also be

God, having been turned around, thou wilt quicken us: and they people will rejoice in thee.

Both of those are correct English, but neither is particularly felicitously expressed; hence the change to two future indicative verbs.

  • +1, especially for the middle voice, though I think the 'again' can be explained more easily if we look at the entire psalm.
    – jon
    Jul 14, 2016 at 5:18
  • I have three different dictionaries that confirm that conversus itself carries the notion of turning again. Not in the sense of repetition, but in the sense of return to a former state. Jul 14, 2016 at 5:43
  • @DavidCharles Thanks for the edit—perhaps I ought to stick to what I know. . . . Jul 14, 2016 at 12:01
  • I found a quote from Cicero that says "nam quocumque te animo et cogitatione converteris..."--is that middle voice too?
    – brianpck
    Jul 14, 2016 at 13:48
  • @brianpck It certainly looks like it, though the complete sentence/paragraph may tell a different story. Jul 14, 2016 at 18:10

What you see is a symptom of English and Latin having grammatically different idiomatic expressions for things like that. I cannot find a perfectly literal translation, but perhaps this series of attempts sheds some more light1:

Deus tu conversus vivificabis nos.
You God, having been turned, will quicken us.
You God, when turned, will quicken us.
You, the turned God, will quicken us.
Turned, you God will quicken us.

Think of the participle conversus as an adjective, not as a personal verb. The fact that the participle is a perfect one means that turning takes place before quickening, not that it takes place before the present. Context indicates that both will happen in the future, and if they happen close to each other, it is reasonable to join them with a mere "and" in English. Temporal order in English is indicated by word order: turning comes before quickening.

Passive indicates that the God was turned, but it does not rule out that the God turned himself. (You can construe him turning himself as middle.) Passive adds emphasis to the God as the one being turned. This is quite common with similar verbs of movement. A similar active participle (together with the object se) would have been equally fine, but Latin does not have an active perfect participle.

It would be possible to express essentially the same thing in Latin by joining two future verbs with et, or by adding a temporal clause.

1 My translations may not be perfect English, but I hope the point is clear enough. Suggestions are welcome. The choice of most suitable translations depends on context, but my point here is to illuminate the grammar rather than to translate beautifully.

  • And the simultaneous commenters strike again! Jul 13, 2016 at 20:49
  • @JoelDerfner, fortunately our strikes have a slightly different point of view in spite of being simultaneous. It remains a mystery to me how we coordinate such simultaneity.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 13, 2016 at 20:53
  • @DavidCharles, the site strives for exactly that kind of content. I'm glad it's working!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 13, 2016 at 20:59
  • it makes me worry that you are a vampire, because the difference in hemispheres means that you seem never to sleep at night. (Also, may I suggest "having been turned" rather than "having turned" for the first in your set of alternatives?) Jul 13, 2016 at 22:03
  • Ok, I see now that conversus is an adjective, and that it is being used attributively. That helps a lot. Thanks. Jul 14, 2016 at 5:36

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