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If the hymn Panis angelicus refer to the Eucharist (flesh of Christ, bread of life), why did St. Thomas Aquinas not say "Christ's bread" (Panis Christi, if that's the right Latin grammar) instead of "Angelic bread" (Panis angelicus)? Why switch the focus from Christ's body to Angels?

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  • I think the translation (at least in the conscience) is "Bread of Angels". I'm guessing there's an English translation of the Hymn somewhere that might capture the meaning like this one. That wiki page doesn't read like a hymn.
    – Peter Turner
    Dec 5, 2022 at 21:58
  • @PeterTurner Still, the Latin word on which the English translations are based is clearly denoting angels. Maybe there was a medieval connotation that was obvious to them? Or maybe in Catholic theology? Dec 5, 2022 at 22:04

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What's the reason behind St. Thomas Aquinas word choice "angelicus" in the hymn "Panis angelicus"?

The reason is quite simple. It involves a little bit of a mistranslation as well a slight nuance in the meaning of angelicus in the actual meaning of this word in both Latin and English.

In English the phrase bread of angels would be panis angelorum and not panis angelicus.

Panis angelicus would be better translated as angelic bread or bread pertaining to the angels. Personally, I would favour the translation as being angelic bread. This gives the nuance that the Eucharist is destined to be eaten by those who are angel like in their morals and in the state of Grace, living a life of purity, just like that of the Holy Angels in heaven.

This heavenly bread is set aside for the saints, united in total union with God on earth. Yes we can truly ponder the words of this hymn with angelic love and devotion, in spiritu et veritate.

St. Thomas is not taking the focus away from Christ’s body to the Angels, but in a poetic manner showing that we must be angelic in our way of Christian living to receive this bread which is the bread which has come down from heaven where Christ is forever reigning and desires to feed the saints on earth, until their earthly pilgrimage is over.

Panis angelicus fit panis hominum; Dat panis cœlicus figuris terminum: O res mirabilis! Manducat Dominum pauper, servus et humilis.

Te trina Deitas unaque poscimus: Sic nos tu visita, sicut te colimus; Per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus, Ad lucem quam inhabitas. Amen.

Thus Angels' Bread is made the Bread of man today: the Living Bread from heaven with figures dost away: O wondrous gift indeed! the poor and lowly may upon their Lord and Master feed.

Thee, therefore, we implore, O Godhead, One in Three, so may Thou visit us as we now worship Thee; and lead us on Thy way, That we at last may see the light wherein Thou dwellest aye. Amen.

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  • Minor note but often in Latin (especially more classically), adjectival forms like angelicus, romanus, etc are often used where we might expect the genetive. Hence understanding angelicus as "of Angels" wouldn't be unreasonable.
    – eques
    Dec 5, 2022 at 23:39
  • So the adjective "angelic" prepares our disposition to receive the bread from heaven, thus needing to confess our sins beforehand. I see. Dec 5, 2022 at 23:56
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It comes from Ps. 77:25:

Man ate the bread of angels: he sent them provisions in abundance.

Discussing whether it belongs to man alone to receive Communion spiritually, St. Thomas Aquinas* wrote (Summa Theologica III q. 80 a. 2 ad 1):

The receiving of Christ under this sacrament is ordained to the enjoyment of heaven, as to its end, in the same way as the angels enjoy it; and since the means are gauged by the end, hence it is that such eating of Christ whereby we receive Him under this sacrament, is, as it were, derived from that eating whereby the angels enjoy Christ in heaven. Consequently, man is said to eat the "bread of angels," because it belongs to the angels to do so firstly and principally, since they enjoy Him in his proper species; and secondly it belongs to men, who receive Christ under this sacrament.

*He composed the Sacris solemniis hymn, of which the last 2 stanzas are Panis Angelicus, for the procession of his Corpus Christi Mass.

Thus, Communion makes men into angels.

Angels cannot receive Communion (they don't have bodies to be able to eat), though they are united to God very closely, as we are when receiving Communion physically.

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