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General term for any manifestation of popular feeling expressed by a shout

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Acclamation (Lat. ad, to, clamare, to cry out).


—The word acclamatio (in the plural, acclamationes) was used in the classical Latin of Republican Rome as a general term for any manifestation of popular feeling expressed by a shout. At weddings, funerals, triumphs, etc., these acclamations were generally limited to certain stereotyped forms. For example, when the bride was being conducted to her husband’s house the spectators cried: Io Hymen, Hymenaee, or Talasse, or Talassio. At a triumph there was a general shout of Io Triumphe. An orator who gained the approbation of his hearers was interrupted with cries of belle et festive, bene et praeclare, non potest melius, and the like, where we should say “Hear, hear!” Under the Empire these acclamations took a remarkable development, more particularly in the circus and in the theatre. At the entrance of the emperor the audience rose and greeted him with shouts, which in the time of Nero were reduced to certain prescribed forms and were sung in rhythm. Moreover, like the guns of a royal salute, these cries were also prolonged and repeated for a definite and carefully recorded number of times. The same custom invaded the senate, and under the later Antonines it would seem that such collective expressions of feeling as would nowadays be incorporated in an address of congratulation or a vote of censure, then took the form of acclamations which must have been carefully drafted beforehand and were apparently shouted in chorus by the whole assembly. A long specimen of denunciatory acclamations which indeed might better be called imprecations, chanted in the Senate after the assassination of the Emperor Commodus (192), is preserved by Lampridius. The original occupies several pages; a few clauses may suffice here: “On every side are statues of the enemy (i.e. Commodus); on every side statues of the parricide; on every side statues of the gladiator. Down with the statues of this gladiator and parricide. Let the slayer of his fellow-citizens be dragged in the dust; let the statues of the gladiator be dragged at the cart’s tail.”

More to our present purpose, however, are the favorable acclamations of the Senate, such as those recorded by Lampridius at the election of Alexander Severus: “Alexander Augustus, may the gods keep thee. For thy modesty; for thy prudence; for thy guilelessness; for thy chastity. From this we understand what sort of a ruler thou wilt be. For this we welcome thee. Thou wilt make it appear that the senate chooses its rulers well. Thou wilt prove that the senate’s judgment is of the highest worth. Alexander Augustus, may the gods, keep thee. Let Alexander Augustus dedicate the temples of the Antonines. Our Caesar, our Augustus, our Imperator, may the Gods keep thee. Mayest thou live, mayest thou thrive, mayest thou rule for many years.” It is only from an examination of the few examples preserved to us that one can arrive at an understanding of the influence which this institution of acclamations shouted in unison was likely to exercise upon the early developments of the Christian liturgy. The general resemblance with certain primitive forms of litany or ektene is sufficiently striking, but the subject is obscure and we may content ourselves primarily here with the acclamations, more properly so called, which had and still have a recognized place in the ceremonial of consecration of popes, emperors, kings, bishops, etc., and those also which are recorded in the acts of certain early councils.


—It seems highly probable that the practices observed in the election of the Pagan emperors were the prototype of most of the liturgical acclamations now known to us. In the long account given by Vopiscus of the election of the Emperor Tacitus (283) we are told that when Tacitus at first declined the honor in the senate on the score of his advanced age, “these were the acclamations of the senators, ‘Trajan, too, acceded to the Empire as an old man!] (ten times); ‘and Hadrian acceded to the Empire in his old age] (ten times) … ‘Do you give orders, let the soldiers fight] (thirty times); ‘Severus said: It is the head that reigns not the feet’ (thirty times); ‘It is your mind, not your body, we are electing’ (twenty times); ‘Tacitus Augustus, may the Gods keep you.]” Then Tacitus was taken out to the Campus Martius to be presented to the soldiers and the people. “Whereupon the people acclaimed: ‘Most happily may the gods keep thee, Tacitus’, and the rest which it is customary to say.” The slender records which we possess of the ceremonial in other cases of the election of an emperor make it clear that these popular acclamations were never discontinued even after the coronation assumed an ecclesiastical character and was carried out in church. Thus the official rituals we possess, one of which dates back to the close of the eighth century, explain how when the crown has been imposed” the people shout, ‘Holy, holy, holy’, and ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace’, thrice. And if there is a prince to be crowned as consort of the Empire, the Patriarch takes the second crown and hands it to the Emperor, and he imposes it, and the two choirs shout ‘Worthy.'” After this followed the imperial acta (aktologein) is the technical term in Greek for the shouting of these acclamations) or laudes, as they were called in the West. A sort of litany consisting of more than a score of verses was chanted by heralds, while the people repeated each verse once or thrice after the leaders. In this we find such passages as,

“Many, many, many;
R. “Many years, for many years,
“Long years to you, N. and N., autocrats of the Romans,
R. “Many years to you.
“Long years to you, Servants of the Lord,
R. “Many years to you.” etc.

Almost contemporary with these are the acclamations found in our English Egbert Pontifical (probably compiled before 769) which with other English MSS. has preserved to us the earliest detailed account of a coronation in the West. The text is a little uncertain, but probably should read as follows:

“Then let the whole people say three times along with the bishops and the priests; ‘May our King, N., live for ever’ (Vivat Rex N. in sempiternum). And he shall be confirmed upon the throne of the kingdom with the blessing of all the people while the great Lords kiss him, saying: ‘For ever. Amen, amen, amen.'” There is also in the Egbertine ritual a sort of litany closely resembling the imperial acclamations just referred to, and this may be compared with the elaborate set of laudes, technically so called, which belong to the time of Charlemagne and have been printed by Duchesne in his edition of the “Liber Pontificalis“, II, 37. In these imperial laudes the words Christus vincit, Christus regnal, Christus imperat (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands), nearly always find a place. It should be added that these acclamations or some similar feature have been retained to this day in the Eastern coronation rituals and in a few of Western origin, amongst others in that of England. Thus for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 the official ceremonial gave the following direction: “When the Homage is ended, the drums beat and the trumpets sound, and all the people shout, crying out: ‘God save King Edward!’ ‘Long live King Edward!’ ‘May the King live for ever!’ ”


—It was natural that the practice of acclaiming should not be confined to the person of the sovereign or to the occasion of his election. Just as we read of the king “wearing his crown” upon great feasts in certain favored cities, a ceremony which seems to have amounted to a sort of secondary coronation, so the elaborate laudes in honor of the emperor were often repeated on festivals, especially at the papal Mass. But more than this the practice of acclaiming the emperor at his election was also extended to the Pope and in some cases to simple bishops. In the case of the Pope our testimonies are not very ancient, but the “Liber Pontificalis” in the eighth century frequently alludes to the practice, associating the words acclamationes and laudes in many combinations; while at a somewhat later date we have the explicit testimony of the “Ordines Romani“. In the case of the coronation of Leo (probably the fourth pope of that name), we learn that the leaders of the people from each district acclaimed him with the words: “The Lord Leo Pope, whom St. Peter has chosen to sit in his see for many years.” At the present day after the Gloria and the Collect of the Mass of the Coronation, the senior Cardinal Deacon, standing before the Pope enthroned, chants the words, “Exaudi, Christe” (Hear, o Christ); to which all present reply “Long life to our Lord Pius who has been appointed Supreme Pontiff and Universal Pope.”

This is repeated three times with some other invocations, and it then expands into a short litany in which the repetition of each title is answered by the prayer tu illum adjuva (Do thou help him). This last feature closely reproduces the laudes of the Middle Ages, chanted at the coronation of kings. Similar acclamations seem to have been familiar from very early times at the election of bishops, though it would probably be going much too far to represent them as regularly forming part of the ritual. The classical instance is that recorded by St. Augustine, who proposed Heraclius to the people of Hippo as his successor. Thereupon, he says, “The people shouted; ‘Thanks be to God, Praised be Christ.’ This was said twenty-three times. ‘Hear, O Christ; long live Augustine,’ sixteen times. ‘Thee for our Father, Thee for our Bishop,’ twenty times, ‘Well deserving, truly worthy,’ five times”; and so on (St. August, Epist., 212; P.L., XXXIII, 966). In this, however, there was clearly nothing liturgical, though that character may perhaps be better recognized in the cries of, “He is worthy, he is worthy, he is worthy; for many years”, etc., which the people in certain ancient rituals were directed to make when the bishop-elect was presented to them before his consecration.


—Other acclamations meet us in the acts of some of the early councils. They seem in most cases to have taken the form of compliments to the emperors, and may often perhaps be no more significant than a toast to the king and royal family at a modern banquet. But we read of other cries, for instance, that at the first session of the Council of Chalcedon (October, 451) the Fathers shouted, regarding Dioscurus: “The scoffer always runs away. Christ has deposed Dioscurus, Christ has deposed the murderer”; or again: “This is a just verdict; This is a just council”; or again, “God has avenged His Martyrs”. Upon the other meanings which have been attached to the word acclamation—some of them rather strained—it does not seem necessary to speak at length. (I) The applause of the congregation which often in ancient times interrupted the sermons of favorite preachers. (2) The prayers and good wishes found upon sepulchral monuments, etc., to which the name acclamations is sometimes given. (3) The brief liturgical formulae, such as Dominus vobiscum, Kyrie Eleison, Deo gratias, etc. (4) For election by acclamation, See Election, Conclave, and Acclamation (in papal elections).


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