Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Enslavement to Literalistic Translations

I was going to comment on Moonshadow's blog about this but it may be too long for a combox. Check out the original post here with a link to the article she found on Commonweal.

“these gifts, these offerings, these holy and undefiled sacrifices.” This is the pleonastic style of ancient pagan Roman ritual. It sounds fine in Latin but has no function in English. The 1970 translators were well aware of this, but the new translators are in the thrall of a literalistic theory of translation which they believe to be revolutionary but which was already refuted by St Jerome in the 4th century.

Actually, they do have a function in English. Is not the Eucharist a gift? Is it not a "sin offering", is it not a holy and undefiled sacrifice? Saying the 1970 translators were aware this formula had no meaning is on par with admitting their understanding of the Eucharist was one of profound ignorance.

I know that when I kneel at the altar I certainly am offering, interiorly, my good and my bad. I offer the good things I "bring" for thanksgiving (gifts) and my sufferings (sacrifices) to unite with Christ, the holy and undefiled. It is a threefold offering. What is so difficult here?

Pope Benedict’s book on Jesus, as analyzed in the current issue of Recherches de science religieuse, is in thrall to a set of misunderstandings of biblical exegesis that descend from Bossuet’s reaction to Richard Simon and the royal condemnation he got issued against Simon in 1678.

I share Cardinal Martini’s fear that the forthcoming Synod will give teeth to this obscurantism and bring to an end a golden age of Catholic biblical scholarship.

Maybe that era needs to end. If you read Pope Benedict's book, it is obvious he doesn't throw out all of the modern exegesis. In fact he uses it throughout the book. What he is seeking to do is take information which is reliable and apply it to our Faith. If ripping the Scriptures up and reducing them to a merely man made effort is the goal of the "Golden Era of Catholic Scripture Scholarship" then good riddance. Pope Benedict knows this cannot continue. People are already losing their faith over purely speculative theories about scriptural science. Like I've said here before, some of that stuff is useful but it has a limit. A merging is needed to protect the integrity of Scripture.

It is the solemn command of Our Lord that the Church is to safeguard the faith and lead people to heaven. It is not here to fulfill people's desires to pick apart every line of Scripture and speculate it origin.

The "thrall of literalistic translation theory" is not revolutionary. Who said it was? The East has always had the Liturgy in the vernacular and you can bet they took great care to translate it properly. The Roman Catholic Church has a long standing tradition of protecting scripture translations. (I'll point everyone in the direction of Rev. Graham's book.) Let's take another word literally.

The word "thrall" means the state of being enslaved. This image brings to mind a person who is unable to act of free will because they are so taken by their own desires. Their attraction to this literalistic translations theory is so compelling it makes them completely blinded to the glorious dynamism of relativistic paraphrase. I think they are quite aware of the more dynamic translations. How can one not be? The current Mass translations offer very little else. Christ said "By their fruits you shall know them." If we apply this to the fruits of the 1970s translation it becomes quickly apparent that the fruits are small. I make no comment here regarding the potential fruits of the new Mass in general, only the translation.

Fr.Z is known to use this faux prayer to make the point:

"God you are big.
Make us big like you."

That is not too far off from what we have right now but some of you are probably laughing right now. I do everytime I read that. In every joke there is a bit of truth they say. Well? Exactly.

I'll leave this with a literal translation of this week's Sunday Collect (7th Sunday after Pentecost) from the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This is wholey appropriate to the topic.

"O God, Whose providence in the ordering of all things never fails, we humbly beseech Thee to put away from us all harmful things, and to give us those things which are profitable to us. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ your son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, until the ages of ages."


Moonshadow said...

I haven't been able to keep up with the back-n-forth of these translations efforts since a couple of years ago when it was reported "and with your spirit," etc. was being considered. Consequently, I've had to be patient and just "see what comes." But it's taking a long time.

At Commonweal there are a surprising number of contributors and commenters who are quite comfortable with liturgical and secular Latin so I enjoy their (all-to-infrequent) posts on these things. I like language, liturgical language, formal prayers, so any discussion of those items is worthwhile reading to me. Yesterday another post on translations went up, you might skim it:

I've tried Fr. Z's blog but usually can't follow the discussion because too much knowledge is assumed on the part of the reader. Well, more knowledge than I have, let's say.

Did the Eastern Churches translate their liturgies into the vernacular or were they written originally in the vernacular? I suppose, even so, the vernacular changes over time and updates would be needed.

My concern is a defensive, reactionary one: bringing (more?) pagan features into our Christian liturgy? I shouldn't be so defensive and reactionary but I need to have confidence in the liturgy, to know that I'm worshipping God "in spirit and in truth."

Thanks for your thoughts ... I'll think more about them.

Matt said...

Did the Eastern Churches translate their liturgies into the vernacular or were they written originally in the vernacular? I suppose, even so, the vernacular changes over time and updates would be needed.

Good point. I'm not sure. However with Liturgy being the way it is, there are elements between them all which are nearly identical. It developed organically from an embryonic state and then spread (like the roots of a tree) but never changed it substance. So for instance, when St. Thomas spread the liturgy eastward I'm sure he did his best to convey the liturgy and the teachings as best he could.

My concern is a defensive, reactionary one: bringing (more?) pagan features into our Christian liturgy? I shouldn't be so defensive and reactionary but I need to have confidence in the liturgy, to know that I'm worshipping God "in spirit and in truth."

I understand the defensiveness regarding pagan influences being introduced into our liturgy. But keep in mind, having a problem with that is not the way Catholics normally think. It is a Protestant problem with the way Catholics worship, and used as propaganda against us.

I look at it like this: Retaining old formulas connects us with those ancient peoples and the way in which they knew to worship. In fact, you could say the Holy Spirit put those formulas into their heads as a matter of anticipation for the True sacrifice that would one day redeem everyone who wanted it.

We can see for instance, this tri-fold sacrifice as saying: we once worshiped you improperly but now we unite ourselves to the true sacrifice. Isn't this what we do every time we approach the altar?

hrm, just some thoughts.

Moonshadow said...

I look at it like this ... as a matter of anticipation

Anticipation is one thing; C. S. Lewis and I agree with you.

But on the "other side" of, say, 1 Cor. 13:11, do we reintroduce elements of pagan ritual?

Anyway, the original comment was called into question:

"As for pleonasm, I was not aware that it was so alien to the English language. I must hang out in particularly Latinate circles."

So, apparently it's a matter of opinion.

All I know is, on Thursday morning, the study leader looked at me the entire time as she described Dagon. I'm either too self-conscious or too well-informed for my own good!

The general gist of those three Commonweal posts that compare translations is, I gather, an awareness that the texts we currently use need fixing. No question. And a bewilderment that it's taking so long. And a frustration that the present round of translations are fairly indistinguishable from the previous round of rejected translations.

So the guess is that these too may be rejected?

And yet, these are pretty consistent with Reformation-era translations so there's an assumption that this is what the Latin says? I mean, to have three out of four translations read more or less the same way ought to carry some weight in regards reliability.

Although, if the blogosphere rumours are true, we'll just bag the idea of translation at all for the Roman Canon?!

Matt said...

I think your study leader has been taking in a steady diet of Chick tracts and History Channel specials (around Easter time).

I looked at that Dagon character and it reminded me of something from Dungeons and Dragons. There are so many of these ancient religions out there that SOMEONE had to have the same shape hat.

There are only so many hat shapes one can have. And even if it was a copy, does that make us some sort of copy-religion? Is that the implication? Hogwash. We know pagan customs were Christianized not to make Christianity more understandable or hip to the Romans, but in order to stop people from worshiping false Gods in addition to Christ. The Church has a somewhat official stance on people who claim they copied from pagan influences for their "traditions". It goes something like this, "Yeah, so?" (Is that infallible?)

As for re-introducing a Roman sacrificial formula back into the Mass, I would contend it was never removed. The TLM was never abrogated, just kind pushed to the side for a while. Now, putting that in the new Mass would be an introduction. But since the new Mass is, well, liturgy-by-committee anyway, introducing something new into it wouldn't be a new concept for that particular form of it.

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton