Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Iterum iterumque

As articles about the new Mass translation go, this one, from the AP, isn't all bad--but it's not all good, either:
Each Sunday for decades, Roman Catholic priests have offered the blessing — "Lord be with you." And each Sunday, parishioners would respond, "And also with you."

Until this month.

Come Nov. 27, the response will be, "And with your spirit." And so will begin a small revolution in a tradition-rich faith.

At the end of the month, parishes in English-speaking countries will begin to use a new translation of the Roman Missal, the ritual text of prayers and instructions for celebrating Mass. International committees of specialists worked under a Vatican directive to hew close to the Latin, sparking often bitter protests by English speakers over phrasing and readability. After years of revisions negotiated by bishops' conferences and the Holy See, dioceses are preparing anxious clergy and parishioners for the rollout, one of the biggest changes in Catholic worship in generations. [...]

Many clergy are upset by the new language, calling it awkward and hard to understand. The Rev. Tom Iwanowski, pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Oradell and New Milford, N.J., turned to the section of the new missal that calls funeral rites, "the fraternal offices of burial."

"How can I say those words? It doesn't make sense," said Iwanowski, who has been a priest for 36 years. "It separates religion from real life."

In the new translation, in the Nicene Creed, the phrase "one in Being with the Father," will change to "consubstantial with the Father." When a priest prays over the Holy Communion bread and wine, he will ask God for blessings "by sending down your spirit upon them like the dewfall."

There are a lot of things that could be said about this sort of complaining, and most of them have been said already; I find it interesting that it's mainly priests of a certain age who are upset with the new translation, while younger priests don't seem to have as many difficulties. But what I really notice here is that two of the main complaints people seem to have are cropping up over and over again--iterum iterumque, as it might be put in Latin.

"And with your spirit." "Consubstantial."

Of all of the many changes made to the heretofore poor and unsatisfactory English translation of the Roman Missal, why are these two small bits brought up again and again as problematic or unwieldy?

I think that these two parts are being brought up because they are symbolic of what the former translators tried to change about the Mass in English, and are a clear sign that their view of what translation should be has indeed been rejected in the present age.

There is simply no way to get around it. Those responsible for the English translation of the Mass had an agenda to strip away not only the sacredness of the language used at Mass by English-speaking people, but also to downplay scriptural references, loosen the connection between the English translation and the Latin original, and impose a dull, mundane, banal, trivial and trite language of prayer upon the English-speaking world. This is not, of course, how they saw it: they saw their work as making the Mass more relevant, more ordinary, more easily accessible to modern man.

And so they translated Et cum spiritu tuo as "And also with you," when it clearly meant no such thing. And they imposed the clunky, grammatically awkward, theologically inaccurate phrase "one in being" for the closer (if still not completely theologically precise, according to some, though that's far outside any area of expertise I might have) perfectly good English word "consubstantial."

These two changes were only two of the many made, but I think the reason so much of the resistance is centering around these two is that these are two that will be easily seen by the people and understood for what they are: a firm reminder that the words prayed at Mass do matter, and that the careful, accurate expression of theological and spiritual concepts is far more important than creating a sort of lounge-hall/tearoom environment where people can shuffle in wearing sweats and tee-shirts, relaxing in the laid-back gathering space and shooting the breeze with their neighbors until Father processes in to some seventies-inspired tune or other to begin the Mass with the important unofficial Rite of Asking All the Visitors to Stand and Tell us Where They're From so we can Clap for Them, followed by some joking folksiness on Father's part, followed by the loosely-interpreted Introductory Rite, followed by the Rite of Dismissing the Children so They Can go Color Things...

The new translation will not be an immediate cure for the problems many people experience at Sunday Masses in the English-speaking world. But it is a huge step in the right direction; the new formality, theological depth, scriptural references, and sacred nature of the language we will pray at Mass will make the innovations, the clapping, the tyrannically-imposed folksy-down-home atmosphere, and similar abominations seem significantly out of place when compared to the words being said and sung. I think that those who like the status quo know this quite well, which is why, given the opportunity to complain about the new translations, they keep harping on "And with your spirit," and "consubstantial." Iterum iterumque, so to speak.

3 comments:

Rebecca in ID said...

Amen! Agreed. Our (wonderful) priest gave a talk on the new translation, and he was speaking of Juliet's words, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"...he said, "She could have said, "If you call a rose something else, it would still be the same"...basically the same meaning, right, but how much less powerful and beautiful than Shakespeare's wording. He showed, side by side, examples from the 1974 wording vs. 2011, to show why the translation has been lacking in beauty, transcendence, and Biblical grounding. Neat stuff! As someone who is accustomed to attending Novus Ordo Latin masses, it is refreshing to hear a more faithful rendering in English.

On the "one in being" point...'One in Being' is perfectly accurate; however, it signifies something different than "consubstantial" or one in substance. When you are talking about the substance of a thing, you're talking about what it is, its essence. Being is something added to it, at least in concept. So there is what a tree is, and then when you add being, you have a tree which is actually existing. In God, unlike in creatures, his substance is the same as his being (making Him a necessary being--given what He is, He can't not be). But we separate them in concept, just as we separate in concept his Goodness and His Beauty although they are the same in Him. So back to "One in Substance"--as far as I understand, this was added into the Creed (at Nicea, I think?) because there were heresies specifically denying that the three persons of the Trinity were the same in whatness or substance. Those heretics didn't deny they had the same being, but the same whatness. So the phrase was specifically introduced to deny those heresies which ended up making one or another of the Persons, a lesser *kind* of God or kind of being, than the others. So yeah, very important, very historical, and people are still very much prone to those heresies today, so it's fitting for the English to reflect the precise meaning of the Latin.

Geoff G. said...

What's really being wrestled with here is a problem that all translators deal with. It's what makes translation an artform that Google Translate will probably never adequately address.

Sticking closely to the text (incidentally, this is my primary impulse when I translate) does carry a number of problems with it, not the least of which is that you end up using a lot of words that may be perfectly good but only rarely used and very imperfectly understood ("consubstantial") and your grammar usually ends up with a certain inelegance. Close translations are almost always ugly things.

To look at this problem another way, consider the King James Version of the Bible. Unquestionably one of the best things ever to have come out of any committee anywhere, it is a genuine work of art and worthy of appreciation in its own right. But the Catholic Church doesn't use it. Why? Mostly problems with the interpretation necessary to any translation. Essentially, the choices made by the translators are not those that the Church would have made. It strays too far from the original texts.

It's always a balancing act and a judgment call, not to mention a problem for which no perfect solution exists, which is why we have so many translations of the Bible out there in the first place.

Now, of course, my first impulse here would be to encourage everyone to learn how to read and listen to and understand Latin. But I recognize, my own impulses rarely seem to accord with what's actually reasonable or even possible :)

eulogos said...

Rebecca- the translation of homoousian used in my Byzantine Catholic parish is "one in essence."

Consubstantial is the Latin word used to translate homoousian, the actual word in the Nicene Creek in the Greek in which it was written.
The use of substance to translate "ousia" (as well as the use of persona to translate hypostasis) has caused many misunderstandings between East and West.

I suppose this is a reason why I have been reluctant to join the "Consubstantial" cheering squad. And, Red Cardigan, I really think it is a stretch to call "Consubstantial" a "perfectly good word in English." It is a word in a highly technical philosophical/theological vocabulary. Of course people can learn what it means. But I wouldn't really call it an English word. It is a word which accurately translates "homoousian" IF you know how it is defined. I support its use because it has a long tradition in the Latin rite and is a connection to that tradition.

Rebecca, thinking over it longer, I am not really getting what you are saying about "substance" meaning "essence" and not "being."
I was taught that "ousia" means "being," when I studied Greek, and Aristotle.
I might add that I was taught Aristotle by those who were reading him anew, perhaps more in the German philosophical tradition, rather than by those who were reading him in the light of Aquinas' reading of him.


"Substantia" was used to translate ousia, because the first books of Aristotle read in the west were the grammatical and logical works, rather than the Physics and Metaphysics. Grammatically, a noun is a subject, that which underlies, or stands under, sub stantia the characteristics attributed to it. That is how "a substance" came to be equivalent to "an ousia" or a being. The Greek Ousia, of course, is cognate with the Latin word "esse" to be. So perhaps it would have been much better to use some form of "esse" to translate ousia.

I don't see Aristotle as making any distinction between something's essence and its being. That might be because for Aristotle, the ousia of a thing is an activity; a tree is the eidos (form,idea) of tree at work on its hule (matter, but not just any matter, but the proper material of which trees are made; it only becomes hule when it is being worked on) to make it into what it most fully is to be a tree. "At work" is energeia, the word translated as actuality in the Latin philosophical vocabulary.

I really don't think in Aristotle, there is any such thing as an essence to which you could add being. For Aristotle, if you have the "idea, eidos" of a tree...which is the closest word I can think of to how you are defining essence, that is because the eidos of tree is "at work" on your nous, so that the tree has active being in your thought. For Aristotle, the eide are always "at work".

If an essence could have being added to it, an essence would be a potentiality, a dunamis.
Not sure you could find that in Aristotle, but I am really an infant in the understanding of such things.

In my way of thinking "one in being" or "of one being" or "one in essence" are all good attempts at translating homoousian. I think "one in essence" might cause someone to think that they are "essentially the same...but with differences". Of one being literally translates homoousian, so I think it is the best translation. With the connection in the modern mind of "substance" with "a unique unmixed kind of matter" I would say that consubstantial is a terrible translation, if it did not have such a venerable history. Since it has a venerable history and since it has been chosen by our bishops, lets go ahead and teach that history and the thought behind it.

Susan Peterson