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I am having some trouble understanding what the hymn Magnae Deus potentiae means, despite (I think) understanding all of its words.

Magnae Deus potentiae,
qui ex aquis ortum genus
partim remittis gurgiti,
partim levas in aera,

Demersa lymphis imprimens,
subvecta caelis irrogans,
ut, stirpe una prodita,
diversa repleant loca
:

The hymn goes on for several more verses, but my question really only is for the bolded subordinate phrase above.

What is this genus which is being described as having arisen from the waters (ex aquis ortum)? What part is God releasing to the deep (partim remittis gurgiti)? What part is he lifting into the air (partim levas in aera)?

What are the things submerged in the waves (demersa lymphis) which he is pushing down (imprimens)? What are the things carried up to the sky (subvecta caelis) which he is imposing? or afflicting? or objecting to (irrogans)?

Obviously there is something I'm just not getting. What is it?

The rest of the hymn seems straightforward to me. I include it below in case it may contain a hint to someone with a more cultured background than I have:

Largire cunctis servulis,
quos mundat unda sanguinis,
nescire lapsus criminum
nec ferre mortis taedium,

Ut culpa nullum deprimat,
nullum levet iactantia,
elisa mens ne concidat,
elata mens ne corruat.

Praesta, Pater piisime,
Patrique compar Unice,
cum Spiritu Paraclito
regnans per omne saeculum. Amen.

3 Answers 3

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“Genus” is a tricky word (it can refer to kinds of living or nonliving things depending on the context).

I think “ortum genus” in this hymn is referring to living animals that God created and placed in the sea and sky. I didn’t come to this conclusion just from reading it, but based on further context I’ve seen.

Relevant blog posts:

This is traditionally a hymn sung for Thursday vespers. Thus, it would be expected to refer to the acts of creation associated with Thursday, the fifth day in the Genesis creation account (verses 20-23):

Dixit etiam Deus: Producant aquae reptile animae viventis, et volatile super terram sub firmamento caeli. Creavitque Deus cete grandia, et omnem animam viventem atque motabilem, quam produxerant aquae in species suas, et omne volatile secundum genus suum. Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum. Benedixitque eis, dicens: Crescite, et multiplicamini, et replete aquas maris: avesque multiplicentur super terram. Et factum est vespere et mane, dies quintus.

“irrogans” here seems to have a sense of ordaining or installing flying animals in the sky.

My original guess, which I now think was mistaken, was that this was a reference to Genesis 1:6-9, with “ortum genus” referring to the nonliving mass of water:

Dixit quoque Deus: Fiat firmamentum in medio aquarum: et dividat aquas ab aquis. Et fecit Deus firmamentum, divisitque aquas, quae erant sub firmamento, ab his, quae erant super firmamentum. Et factum est ita. Vocavitque Deus firmamentum, Caelum: et factum est vespere et mane, dies secundus. Dixit vero Deus: Congregentur aquae, quae sub caelo sunt, in locum unum: et appareat arida. Et factum est ita.

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  • That was indeed my original guess as well, but the more I thought about, the less sense it made. I've puzzling over this longer than I should have. I should have posted here a long time ago.
    – Figulus
    Commented May 25 at 21:54
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Logeion cites meanings of irrogare in the semantic area of “ascribe, attribute, attach” which suggests that here it means sticking the upper vapours to the sky, where they belong.

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The text compares the power of God with the water vapor over the land: part is falling back to its source as rain, part is staying in the atmosphere, is mixing into the body fluids. It is staying in the sky permanently, such that if it (faith for the power of god) is betrayed by one people it will fill some other places.

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  • What does irrogans mean here. What does it mean to irrogare water vapor?
    – Figulus
    Commented May 25 at 15:27
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    Seems to mean 'cause <something> to those subjected to skies/heavens'. Air, vapor and wheather phenomena is a metophore for the good or bad caused by such a super light and invisible substance. In Spanish irrogar it means 'cause harm', in Italian 'to impose punishment (jur)' .
    – Roland F
    Commented May 25 at 16:45

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