1 June 2011

Pastoral Letters

What a good thing, last Sunday, that for family reasons (my turn to look after a particular grandson) I went to Mass with the Oratorians at Alyoggers (rather than to the Oxford Ordinariate Vigil Mass which we have in Pusey House at 6.30). So I had the opportunity to hear the Pastoral Letter from the hierarchy of England and Wales on the new translsation of the Missal.

As parish priests - we gather - begin to catechise their congregations on the new translation, some readers might like a brief account of the background: of some viciously fought cultural wars which have don't worry - ended up with the victory of the Goodies. Readers who know it all already have my apologies. I will centre my comments on the opening words of the Preface. I append a by-the-word literal English crib.
Vere dignum et iustum est,
aequum et salutare,
nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere,
Domine, Sancte Pater, Omnipotens Aeterne Deus.

Truly fitting and just it-is
fair and for-salvation,
us to-you ever and everywhere thanks to-give,
Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Eternal God.

The first thing you will notice here is that, in the out-going translation, the Latin line 4 is promoted to be the first line; Lord goes missing; and Father comes first, but loses its adjective holy. Let me tell you why. The translations which were published in the early 1970s followed the style recommended in a Roman document known as Comme le prevoit, which advocated "dynamic equivalence". According to this idea, you don't have to translate carefully every word of the Latin into your vernacular tongue; it is sufficient - indeed, better - to mix it all up, leave it on the oven to simmer for a minute or two, and then ladle out the Essence, the Ideas. So the old translators thought that Father, all-powerful and ever-living God gave the essence, although not the actual words, of line 4 in the Latin.

They were wrong for the following reasons. The word Lord does matter. It represents the name of the Hebrew God, which is given by the Hebrew letters YHWH. Because this Name, by the most ancient tradition, is not allowed to be uttered aloud, when Jewish readers got to those four letters in the text, what they actually said aloud was the word which means Lord. Greek and Latin Bible translators (and the Douai and King James Bibles) followed this custom, using Kyrie, Domine, and Lord in their respective languages. So Lord, in the Preface, takes us back to our forefathers in the Faith, back to Moses to whom it was revealed that his Saviour-God was YHWH, I am ... the LORD. Omitting it from the translation slices away our Jewish roots, cuts us off from the Old Testament, and is actually, I would go so far as to say, implicitly antisemitic.

Missing out the Holy before Father is, if possible, even worse. "Holy Father" - see S John's Gospel chapter 17 - is how the Lord Jesus, the night before he died, addressed his heavenly Father. So this omission erases the reference to the Last Supper, and to the relationship between the Incarnate Word and the First Person of the Blessed Trinity.

It is interesting that the 1970s version transposes and omits words so as to put Father first in the Preface. This represents one of its commonest habits. In that decade, it was felt that "Father" was an intimate and cuddly way of addressing God. It had a friendly, folksy, feel to it. Evangelicals were accused - probably unjustly - of beginning every prayer with the formula "Father, we just want to say ...". Similarly, in the translation we are just about to say good-riddance to, prayer after prayer begins "Father ...". Most of them in fact, in the Latin, began Deus, "God" or Domine, "Lord". But, according to the priciples of "Dynamic Equivalence", the translators of the 1970s argued "Well, the Person of the Trinity who is [nearly always] meant by Deus is the Father. So we can translate it as 'Father'". There is a quite delicious historical irony here ... I'm sure you can see it coming. Within a decade of that old translation coming into use, "Father" had become politically incorrect; a victim to the rise of feminism. From being the Nice way of addressing God, "Father" became overnight pretty well a taboo. The moral here is that Dynamic Equivalence runs the risk of betraying you into a usage which very soon becomes very dated. So, in the 1970s, fashionable translators used "Father" for Latin words which do not strictly mean Father; as my next piece will illustrate, the fashion of the following decade was to eliminate the word "Father" even when that would have been a correct translation of the Latin ... because feminists, we are told, do not want to have Patriarchy thrust down their throats! Perhaps you begin to see the problems about this sort of approach to translation.


John F H H said...

Thank you once again for your postings.
Having considered the opening of the prefaces in the latest translation, would you care to turn your attention to the conclusions?
As I wrote elsewhere last year.
"am I alone in being perturbed by the use (not picked up by the analysis) of we acclaim as a verbum dicendi translating the concluding phrases of the prefaces sine fine dicentes, dicentes clamantes, confitentes, clamantes atque dicentes, una voce dicentes, te laudamus in gaudio confitentes,laudis voce clamantes, supplici confessione dicentes, iucunda celebrations clamantes &c.
Not only does this remove the perfectly acceptable participle – “evermore praising you and saying:”, “praising you without end saying:” and so on,
not only does it usually fail to distinguish between
dicentes = saying (in liturgical use normally encompassing “singing”)
clamantes = crying/crying out/crying aloud
confitentes = confessing/acknowledging

But, but, I have never, in British English, encountered acclaim as a verbum dicendi. One can acclaim someone as something, e.g. “We acclaim you as Lord and King”, but I cannot think of an example of acclaim as an introduction to Direct Speech.
Proclaim, yes, declaim, possibly, but not acclaim!
For confitentes confessing is possible, acknowledging just makes sense in the context of what follows, though would normally expect to acknowledge someone/thing as something."

Perhaps whoever translated these also had a hand in translating Universæ Ecclesiæ? :-)

One awaits with eager expectation the forthcoming Rite for the ordinariate!

Kind regards
John U.K.
P.S. Word verification for this comment "lationo"!

Sir Watkin said...

There is a critique of "Series 3" by one Richard Harries in Theology, May 1977, which confirms your analysis, and is highly amusing in retrospect.

Harries particularly objects to addressing God "as though he were an illustrious nobleman" (apparently a reference to "Lord" and to epithets like "almighty and everlasting").

Fr Harries (as he then was) goes on to deploy his killer argument: "many Christians today would prefer to begin simply 'Father' or 'Holy Father'".

Ah! The magisterium of "many Christians today"!! How could one not bow before its self-evident authority?

Harries' article seems so quaint and dated now. (And even when I read it at the time as a schoolboy it struck me as feeble stuff.)

As Dean Inge acutely observed, "The Church that is married to the Spirit of the Age will be a widow in the next."

Sue Sims said...

I'm sorry, Father - oh, whoops...I mean 'Superior Person', except that we disapprove of all authoritarian hierarchies, so perhaps that should be 'Brother' - dear me, though, that's internalising imposed societal gender roles...

Aha! I have it!

I'm sorry, Comrade, but this new 'translation' is a travesty - oh, whoops...can't use a word which etymologically means 'cross-dressing' and thus is intrinsically insulting to the LGBT community - oh, sorry, that's so exclusive; I mean, of course, the LGBTQ community - oh dear, perhaps I'd better say 'QUILTBAG'*, since LGBTQ is apparently now old hat - oh gosh, now I'm insulting those good people who like wearing ancient headgear...and 'good people' is terribly patronising - oh whoops, that's a sexist word, isn't it -

Oh, political correctness is a wondrous thing. In the end, it stops anyone saying anything, which may be a benefit in our logorrhoeac society, but not when it comes to the liturgy.

Anyway, back to our muttons. Did you see the letter from Tom McIntyre in the Catholic Herald from the week before last? - the one where he's accusing the translators of being (gasp!) literal, and thus of disobeying the translation policies of St Jerome, St Augustine and Cardinal Newman? Did these holy scholars employ precisely the techniques of dynamic equivalence? I think we should be told.

John F H H: yes - 'acclaim' is always a transitive verb in Standard English. The new translation is weird here.

*See Wikipedia. If you really must...

Little Black Sambo said...

How did an actual open-and shut MISTAKE, something that is WRONG, get into the final approved translation, and in one of the most prominent and constantly repeated parts of the Liturgy. Why didn't anybody stop it? Is a literate celebrant obliged to repeat it verbatim? ("Proclaim" is bad enough - we are sick of proclaiming - but at least it is grammatical.)

JamesIII said...


It seems as though the idea put forth in Comme le prevoit is a most dangerous one. It leads to grievous mistranslation and therefore skewed theology. It appears to be at the heart of the horrid “first pass” at the Novus Ordo. To my mind, the most efficient methodology is to translate literally and accurately; then to render the translation in an artful manner. The art is also an important factor in bringing the “spotless offering” to our corporate worship. Both you and Fr. Zed do this admirably.

It is never an easy task moving a text from the culture of one language to another. St. Jerome must have pulled a great deal of hair moving the Greek to Latin as there are concepts, syntax issues, and tenses that simply do not cross over easily (or at all).

I often think of the work of blessed Catherine Winkworth. Her translations of the Lutheran Chorales is admirably accurate but her rendering into the final poetic form in English is art at its highest. One sees divine inspiration at work.

Sue Sims, thank you for a delightful read. I am still chuckling.

BJA said...

Father Hunwicke, forgive me for this off-topic comment, but how might a North American get a hold of your 2012 Ordo? There doesn't seem to be a way to order through the ACS website.

John F H H said...



John U.K.

BJA said...

John F H H,

As far as I can tell, there's still no way to ship to the USA.

John F H H said...

As far as I can see from their site, you can order from the page I gave, and pay at a secure site reached from http://www.additionalcurates.co.uk/custom.html
where one can pay by credit card or Paypal.
Presumably by "adding to cart" and checking out a similar page is reached.
Why not e-mail the Society for information?

P.S. Fr.Hunwicke's Ordo is an excellent resource! [and no, I am not he!]
Kind regards,
John U.K.

BJA said...

Thank you, John F H H. I contacted them by e-mail. I've become something of a collector of Ordos, so I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I trust that Fr Hunwicke will edit the Ordo for the English Ordinariate!

Figulus said...

It's been a while since I read "Comme le prevoit", but I don't think that the term "dynamic equivalence" ever occurs in it. What the term used to mean is that, in addition to getting the meaning right (equivalence), a translation should also capture some of the register, mood, and color of the original language, and even, if possible, some of its rhythm and cadence (dynamism).

Of course, the old ICEL translation did none of that. Never mind. What "dynamic equivalence" has come to be is a shiboleth used by ICEL's defenders and detractors alike to describe what the old ICEL translation did do, which was mistranslate the Latin on purpose. But their translation was not dynamic, nor, often enough, even equivalent. Nor, pace JamesIII, should "Comme le prevoit" be blamed for ICEL's own grevious fault.