7 April 2011

YHWH God of hosts

The new translation of the Sanctus is a fine example of why the new English Mass is necessary; and of how translation should be done.

The original Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus Domine Deus Sabaoth comes from Isaiah 6. Readers will not need to be reminded that Domine translates YHWH, the unutterable Name of the Jewish God ... that is to say, our God, for we ought never to forget that (as Pius XI said in the era of Hitler) we are all spiritually Semites. Before the Preface, the priest has invited us to Make Eucharist (give thanks) to YHWH our God; now we join the angels in shouting his holiness.

He is YHWH God SBAOTH; an ancient cult title which the Vulgate properly translates as 'God of armies'; he is the God who went to war before David and the people of Israel, his chosen, throughout their ... oops, I think I should have written 'our' ... history. But how to translate SBAOTH?

Old ICEL rendered 'Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might'. Very nasty, because it makes LORD a final monosyllable that in saying and singing gets psychologically and physically (we are just coming to the end of our puff) lost. It puts a heavy break before the phrase 'God of power and might' and thereby breaks up the integrity of the Hebrew original.

But there would be something awkward in a literal rendering 'God of Armies'. If that had been proposed, the furore would have been understandable. New ICEL has done a very wise thing. It has gone back to the archaic English phrase 'God of hosts'. where 'hosts' is old English for 'armies' (cf Wycliff and the Authorised Version and Cranmer's Prayer Book). 'Sabaoth' is an archaism; what more fitting than an archaism to render it; an archaism which reminds us of our Hebrew roots and of the long history of Biblical and liturgical English. This is precisely how translation should be done.

Someone should tell those clergy who are campaigning against the new translation (in organisations such as "What if we just said Wait until Ratzinger is dead") that, in very many cases, they are campaigning against the wording with which Anglicans have been familiar for 450 years. This is very unecumenical.

12 comments:

Et Expecto said...

"until Ratzinger is dead"! Do they not realise that the next pope is likely to be Burke, Pell, Ranjith or someone else in that mold.

Священник села said...

Hosts is, of course, very good but if Sabaoth was fine for the Latin why not for the English?

Figulus said...

I have to agree. It's all good and proper to puzzle over Hebrew (or is it Aramaic) meaning of SBAOT, but the Roman rite does not do this. If we are translating from the Latin rather than the Semitic, I need to ask, why not translate Latin "Sabaoth" with English "Sabaoth"?

Chris said...

...which is, after all, what Cranmer opted for in the Te Deum.

Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

I agree it should be Sabaoth. Hosts at least is 'traditional' and will do. It's nice to know others feel and think as I do!

Pachomius said...

Well, I'm going to take the opposite tack: "hosts" is at least somewhat comprehensible to the English speaker, even if some would assume it either refered to half the unconsecrated offering in the Mass, or else non-military "hosts". "Sabaoth", by contrast, is not a word in the English language, and will be entirely incomprehensible. Since the point of the Mass in English is that it is, indeed, comprehensible...

Священник села said...

"Sabaoth", by contrast, is not a word in the English language

Is it not? What makes a word English? - words like chasuble, marmelade, bistro? - surely if it is used in literate culture it is *in*.

Saboath is used in the Authorized Version, for example, and the Douay-Rheims...

Those poor people who can't manage Sabaoth might well think that the God of Hosts is the tutelary spirit of talk shows... or Sir Michael Lyons!

Daphne Point said...

We Anglicans have also prayed for the conversion of 'Jews, Turks, Infidels and Hereticks' on Good Friday for centuries without any campaigners complaining too much. Will Dr Ratzinger approve the BCP Good Friday collects for use in his Usualate?

Mrs D Point

motuproprio said...

And what pray is English about 'Hosanna'?

threehearts said...

Fr. could you give the letter in which Pope Pius called the Hebrews our spiritual heredity

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

In the Church of Norway (lutheran), we use Sebaot.

Barbara said...

I grew up in the traditional Latin liturgy, reading the English on one side and Latin on the other. Also I was singing in the choir for many years since first grade. We always had the translation "Lord God of hosts." To my child's mind, it matched with the "heavenly hosts" singing at the birth of Christ. Nothing incomprehensible at all when you think about the good angels fighting the bad angels and the latter getting thrown into hell.