Comme Le Prevoit 9-13

Comme Le Prevoit follows an interesting practice of designating subheadings a, b, c, etc. as separately numbered sections. This morning, we look at the process of building out from the “scientific” approach of textual study.

9. To discover the true meaning of a text, the translator must follow the scientific methods of textual study as used by experts. This part of the translator’s task is obvious. A few points may be added with reference to liturgical texts:

10. a. If need be, a critical text of the passage must first be established so that the translation can be done from the original or at least from the best available text.

The principle is laid down for referral to the best available text. This was somewhat set aside when the latest Lectionary went to the ca 398 AD Vulgate rather than the actual biblical languages.

11. b. Latin terms must be considered in the light of their uses-historical or cultural, Christian or liturgical. For example, the early Christian use of devotio differs from its use in classical or more modern times. The Latin oratio means in English not an oration (one of its senses in classical Latin) but a prayer—and this English word bears different meanings, such as prayer of praise or prayer in general or prayer of petition. Pius and pietas are very inadequately rendered in English as pious and piety. In one case the Latin salus may mean salvation in the theological sense; elsewhere it may mean safety, health (physical health or total health), or well-being. Sarx-caro is inadequately rendered in English as flesh. Doulos-servus and famula are inadequately rendered in English by slave, servant, handmaid. The force of an image or metaphor must also be considered, whether it is rare or common, living or worn out.

There is a realization of the complexity of definitions within Latin and target languages. As we know from English, some words like let or save bear the weight of many definitions, and context is all-important to determine if these words are the best choices to convey meaning. There’s always the possibility that an English turn of phrase will pop an unintended meaning into the head of the casual worshipper.

12. c. The translator must always keep in mind that the “unit of meaning” is not the individual word but the whole passage. The translator must therefore be careful that the translation is not so analytical that it exaggerates the importance of particular phrases while it obscures or weakens the meaning of the whole. Thus, in Latin, the piling up of ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilem may increase the sense of invocation. In other tongues, a succession of adjectives may actually weaken the force of the prayer. The same is true of beatissima Virgo or beata et gloriosa or the routine addition of sanctus or beatus to a saint’s name, or the too casual use of superlatives. Understatement in English is sometimes the more effective means of emphasis.

I remember hearing in grad school that a Far East language treats a three-fold repetition as sarcasm. When a proposal came along to alter “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,” it was denied, though an entirely different meaning would be rendered into the regional vernacular.

13. d. To keep the correct signification, words and expressions must be used in their proper historical, social, and ritual meanings. Thus, in prayers for Lent, ieiunium now has the sense of lenten observance, both liturgical and ascetic; the meaning is not confined to abstinence from food. Tapeinos-humilis originally had “class” overtones not present in the English humble or even lowly. Many of the phrases of approach to the Almighty were originally adapted from forms of address to the Sovereign in the courts of Byzantium and Rome. It is necessary to study how far an attempt should be made to offer equivalents in modern English for such words as Quaesumus, dignare, clementissime, maiestas, and the like.

Any comments?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Comme Le Prevoit 9-13

  1. Liam says:

    For a document issued in French, the fact that the only modern language discussed in illustrations is English is, well, striking.

    It now occurs to me for the first time, like dawn breaking on Marblehead, that made this document vulnerable to later reconsideration by Rome as perhaps overly biased by English-oriented perspectives.

    Just a thought.

  2. Talmida says:

    Is there a French version available anywhere online? I’ve been Googling, but no luck.

  3. Rob F. says:

    CLP#10 highlights the need for the Nova Vulgata in the renewed Latin liturgy. The Nova Vulgata is a revision of the traditional vulgate text to bring it in line with the modern Greek and Hebrew critical editions. In some cases (Psalms, Judith, Tobit) the changes in the text made it no longer apt for the liturgical uses to which it had been put, and changes to the Liturgy were needed. These needed changes have been made in the latest editions of the Missale and Breviarium.

    In translating these latest editions, more care will be needed than was given last time around, as LA#37 and #38 make clear. The quirk that most irks me about the ICEL liturgy of the hours is the fractured way pericopes are simply dumped into the liturgy without regard to logic or even grammar, but rather with regard only for enumerated verse boundaries. (This especially seems to plague the little hours where pericopes are so short, e.g. Thursday, week 1 at midday; Common of Apostles at midday.) It’s just common sense, but Rome feels that it needs to micromanage down to this level of detail, and with some justification.

    CLP#11 gives us some good concrete examples, devotio, oratio, pius, pietas, and salus. We also get some bad examples. I’m not quite sure why caro is not adequately rendered as flesh, except that it can also mean meat. We need to judge by the context in which it is used. The same with servus and famula, which can indeed mean, and often do mean, slave, servant, or handmaid. I don’t blame the ICEL translators for avoiding these words; they did, after all, have their orders. But some of these orders need to be re-viewed (per CLP#1) in light of dynamic equivalence (CLP#6).

    CLP#12 makes a good point about understatement in English. Of course, understatement and particularly irony are often used as emphasis in Latin as well. Latin’s routine use of “sanctus”, literally “holy” or “approved” applied to those who are holy is actually mimicked quite well by English’s routine application of the title “saint” to these same people. Although “sanctus” and “saint” are not a direct translation of one another, these two words, depending on use, can be dynamically equivalent, especially in the liturgy.

    Another point to keep in mind is that in English, we do indeed often employ the piling up words to express emphasis, in our poetic expressions, but also in our prose. As Strunk and White admonish in their Manual of Style, “Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself; don’t be afraid to repeat yourself; don’t be afraid to repeat yourself.”

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