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Sorry if the question is not very deep, please edit the question if it is not accurate in meaning.

According to Wikipedia (and common understanding of people who sang Gloria), the meaning is stated as "Glory to God in the highest".

However, recently one of my friends told me that the meaning should be "May there be a lot of glory to God".

Two differences in this 2 translations would be:

  1. Certainty (a claim versus "May"), and
  2. "God in the highest" versus "'glory to God' in the highest sense (to the extreme)".

My friend explained to me:

  1. The verb-to-be "sit" is missing from the sentence, showing uncertainty.
  2. excelsis is "masculine, plural, dative" while Deo is "masculine, singular, dative". So the adverb phrase "In excelsis" is describing the sentence as a whole but not God.

I understand that "Gloria in excelsis Deo" is in nominative case instead of vocative case. However when people sing (or say it), usually they are "claiming" that Glory to the highest God. So... I would like to know how "correct" is my friend's explanation, and whether I should sound like "claiming a fact" or "expressing a wish" with the phrase "Gloria in excelsis Deo".

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    FYI excelsis is an ablative, ruled by in – blagae Jul 6 '17 at 10:16
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    The Italian translation of that sentence used by the catholic church in its rites is "gloria a Dio nell'alto dei cieli", which literally means "glory to God in the high of skies". This supports the interpretations in the existing answers. – Federico Poloni Jul 6 '17 at 12:02
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If there is an implicit sit, it does not show uncertainty. The conjunctive mood can show uncertainty, but it has other functions. One of them is wishes (sometimes called optative), like sit Deus tibi benignus, "may the God be benign to you". The English "may" does not imply uncertainty either, unless I'm mistaken. "There may be" is uncertain by "may there be" is a wish.

It is not clear to me if a sit should be understood in that line. Perhaps some form of esse should be understood. One option is indeed sit for a wish. Another one is esto, which also expresses a wish. I am not aware of a significant difference in nuance between these in this context, although one is present conjunctive and the other is future imperative. (Both are in third person. Latin has third person future imperatives.)

Yet another option is simply est. Perhaps there simply is glory to the God, and a fact is being stated. In this case one can read the dative Deo possessively, rendering gloria Deo est as "God has glory".

The line can express a fact or a wish. (But I can't parse it as an uncertain statement, especially in this context.) Without a verb it's hard to judge, since both readings make sense. Perhaps the expression was borrowed from somewhere else and the context in that other place is clearer. But read in isolation — it does make sense in isolation too — it is ambiguous.

The adverb(ial phrase) in excelsis can be interpreted in several ways. Perhaps "in high" or "in Heaven" would be most appropriate. It is not stated whether it is the God or the glory that is in Heaven, but it eventually makes little difference. Your friend seems to read this adverb as "excessively". This is not completely unrealistic, but does strike me as odd. It seems far more likely that it refers to location way up high.

But again, the line does not explain itself precisely, and it is open to interpretations. The differences between the interpretations seem to be mostly grammatical, though, and I cannot see big differences in meaning.

  • Thanks Joonas for such informative answer! For clarification: If read as a whole with the next sentence: "Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominids bonae voluntatis", would it be clearer whether this expresses a fact or a wish? – Sunny Pun Jul 6 '17 at 9:56
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    @SunnyPun You are welcome! No, the same ambiguity persists. The second part has the same structure as the first one and suffers from exactly the same lack of clarity. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 6 '17 at 9:58
  • @Joonas In the context of the narrative--it's very clear that this is a "sit." – brianpck Jul 6 '17 at 12:05
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    @brianpck Is there a reason to believe it's sit instead of esto or est? It might be my being slow, but I didn't see a clear hint in what I looked at. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 6 '17 at 12:08
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Luke ch2 v13

et subito facta est cum angelo multitudo militiae caelestis laudantium Deum et dicentium

14 gloria in altissimis Deo :: et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis

Background:
It is the song of the army of the angels.
it describes a two-tier universe.

The angel army (multitudo militiae) are praising and saying (laudantium et dicentem).
You can get a pretty good idea of the *Gloria to God," part if you can understand the easy half of the quote which describes

"the multitude of the heavenly militia praising and saying [ ... and ] on earth (et in terra) peace (pax) to men of good will.(hominibus bonae voluntatis)

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    Thanks Hugh for pointing me to the source! Since there isn't much that can be interpreted from the phrase itself, the source contributes to showing the original meaning. I accepted Joonas' answer as my 2 main questions are addressed. Please accept my appreciation for your input helping me understand the sentence! – Sunny Pun Jul 6 '17 at 10:10
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    The angel army (multitudo militiae) are praising and saying (laudantium et dicentem). You can get a pretty good idea of the Gloria to God," part if you can understand the easy half of the quote which describes "the multitude of the heavenly militia praising and saying [ ... ] and on earth *(et in terra) peace (pax) to men of good will.*(hominibus bonae voluntatis)* – Hugh Jul 6 '17 at 12:29
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    I'd check with a biblical scholar, but "Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις Θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας" would be the original source. For the form used in the Mass (i.e. "the Gloria"), the Catholic Church is the authority on its intended meaning. – OrangeDog Jul 6 '17 at 13:09
  • I should've thought of that, OrangeDog. Yes, Δόξα is glory and worship, isn't it? It's the introduction to the Sanctus in the Mass that refers to the multitude of the heavenly host evermore praising thee and saying... I forget the introduction to the Gloria. – Hugh Jul 6 '17 at 14:21
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Gloria in altissimis Deo :: et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis.

There is a contrast between "in altissimis" (or "in excelsis") and "in hominibus". That suggests to me that "in excelsis" means "among those who are most high" as opposed to "among men".

  • Welcome to the site! Comparison to the adjacent line indeed corroborates the conclusion that in excelsis/altissimis refers to the location of God. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 1 '18 at 6:58
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Okay so I'm no expert, but three things I saw missing from other explanations is that

  1. Deo is not DATIVE. It's ABLATIVE because it has the ending "o" which is a 2nd declension noun ending for the "object of the preposition" or "ablative."

  2. "Glory" is the verb. The adverbial phrase "to God" is labeled as to - preposition and God - object of the preposition. Because of this, the phrase must modift a verb. The phrase answers the question "how" and the adverbial phrase modified "Glory" which is the verb!! :) How do you glory? And the answer is - to God. We can obviously glory toward other objects.

  3. The subject is the implied you, which makes the sentence imperative. It's exciting to realize this because when we sing it, we're not stating that there is glory to God out there somewhere in the highest place...we are declaring and commanding for others to glorify him.

Would love to hear if you find error in what I said. I'm still a student of English Latin grammar and have much to learn!

  • Welcome to the site! Can you explain your answer some more? Some comments: (1) In the second declension both dative and ablative end in -o, so morphology doesn't tell you which one Deo is. (2) Which Latin verb do you mean? It sounds like you mean gloriare, but I'm not familiar with that. There is gloriari, but it refers to bragging or boasting. Also, I'd expect a plural imperative rather than singular here. – Joonas Ilmavirta Dec 3 '18 at 8:45

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