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The hymn is based on Nativity of Christ. The hymn also incorporates verses from and . The hymn is one of the most famous liturgical exclamations of praise (doxology) in the history of the Christian Church.in which the angelic host appears to the shepherds and announces to them the
The Great Doxology comes from an ancient Greek hymn dating from at least the 3rd century, and perhaps even the 1st century. A very similar form is found in the Codex Alexandrinus (5th century) and in Pseudo-Athanasius (sometime prior to the 4th century). The hymn has been extended further than these earlier examples (and what could be interpreted as allusions to subordinationism have been corrected).
The Great Doxology has some similarities to Polycarp's final prayer before his martyrdom, as it is recorded by Eusebius. "I praise Thee for all, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee..." Polycarp is said to have been martyred 156-167 C.E.
As currently used, the hymn is found in several different forms:
The Lesser Doxology—Read by the Reader on simple weekdays at Matins and at Compline. The verses are slightly rearranged from the Great Doxology, the verse from Psalm 119 is repeated in a different manner, and the Trisagion at the end is replaced by a different doxology.
At each of these hymns, the words “Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin,” will be altered to correspond with the time of day:
- At Matins: "this day"
- At Vespers: "this evening"
- At Compline: "this night"
There is a Latin version of the hymn, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, which though shorter than the Greek original, has come into wide use in the Western liturgical tradition. According to tradition, the Latin translation was made by St. Hilary of Poitiers (300 to 367). St. Hilary had been banished to Phrygia for four years (c. 356) by the emperor Constantius II because of his defense of the faith against Arianism. In the East he would have been exposed to the hymn during his exile, and could very easily have brought a version of it back with him.
- Parry (1999), p. 166
- Parry, Ken; David Melling (editors) (1999). The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Malden, MA.: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-23203-6.