He Said, She Said … Nope: He Said

The inclusive language debate slays me. Really.

Just a few days ago, someone commented about changing Jesus’ words. Something along the lines of the problem with changing the Gospels was that we’re losing Jesus’ words and that would be terrible.

Well, it would be … if indeed we were. Problem is that Christians took liberties in changing Jesus’ words and put them into Greek. Certain people like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then Rome took more liberties and put them into Latin. Now we have a fourth linguistic generation: the modern vernacular languages of the world.

It’s like that old yuk-yuk: “If the King James Version was good enough for Paul and Silas, it’s good enough for me!”

Needless to say when my friends at the New Liturgical Movement were wringing their hands about a separate British Lectionary based upon, of all things, the RSV, I felt compelled to enter the fray:

I can’t see the problem with an inclusive language Bible or lectionary for parishes that would prefer it. It’s not as though the original Biblical texts (Greek and Hebrew, by the way, not Latin) are being burned. And such a translation would not be used as a source text for translation into other modern languages.

The vehemence against inclusive language strikes me as of a kin to those willing to neuter every male and female reference in public speech. The trend in public speech is already with us.

Shawn Tribe responded:

1) Because the Church has deemed it not appropriate for liturgical use — and this development hasn’t changed that.

Has it really? The Church has weighed in on the radical gender-neutral issue. It’s also mentioned a more faithful translation from the Latin of both the Roman Missal and the Bible. As Latin excludes certain gender-tinted expressions, it would indeed be good to see them excised from the public prayer of the Church. Do you know how many times Deus was automatically translated as “Father?”

2) Because, in regards the Divinity, the revelation of God made of Himself is in the masculine, so that is to be maintained

If you’re speaking of Christ the human being, yes, he was male. But God has also self-referred as a female on many biblical occasions, too. Though I know I differ from the radicals on this point, I don’t see that snipping away all male references is necessarily good. But we do need feminine references, too. At the very least, they should not be hidden away.

3) Certain other references are Christological, for example, those of Isaiah which refer to the Messiah can easily become lost with a neutered translation.

This seems to be one of the weaker arguments I’ve heard, and I’ve heard it before. We urge people to be more Christ-like. Even girls and women. We speak of Mother Teresa and many other sainted women as being Christ-like, but I know of nobody who is confused about that reference. A christological reference in gender neutral language or with a female subject is not confusing if the prime virtues are clear. Christ came in the name of the Lord, not because he matched the English pronoun in a translation centuries later, but because he came to do the Father’s will. And if one is careful to read the context, I could just as easily say “the Maker’s will” or “the Creator’s will” or even “the Mother’s will,” and you all know I mean the same thing.

4) There is a unitive dimension as well, with regards the Orthodox in particular, but even Evangelical protestants.

First, I think we’re talking more uniformity than unity here.

I’d hope to be the last person to discount ecumenism, but let’s be clear about priorities and facts. The curia itself has rejected this argument, often given to support a common Lectionary and other shared prayers between the denominations, especially Protestantism. The Orthodox and evangelical Protestants might be ideological bedfellows (sic) with conservative Catholics, but they rarely worship with us. It would seem more appropriate for that unitive dimension to have a sincere dialogue with those offended by gender-specific language and suggest, “Let’s get rid of the gender specifics with regard to human references, as long as we can do it artfully.”

And also on that last point, can anybody tell me if Greek and the Slavic languages have as much gender specificity as English does? Do the Orthodox really care if we say “humankind” instead of “mankind” or “God” instead of “Father?” Because I know dern well they care about our Roman interpretation of Matthew 16:17-19.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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