19 June 2015

Departed Worlds??? (3)

We turn to one of the prayers in this book, taking a (truly!) random example. For the First Sunday after Easter, Wallis composed the following:
Almighty and everlasting God, who for our salvation didst raise thy Son, Jesus Christ from death to life on the third day: grant that by faith in his resurrection we may believe beyond a doubt that the source of all life is in thee alone, and that the eternal meaning of our existence can be found only by the light of thy tender love for us; through the same
and here is Geary's translation:
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui propter nostram salutem die tertio Filium tuum Jesum Christum a morte ad vitam suscitavisti: praesta, quaesumus, ut nos, resurrectionis ejus fidem habentes, vitam omnem ex te solo gigni, et per affectum tuum solum posse intelligi pro certo habeamus; per eundem

Well, over to you. Here are one or two reactions on my part.

This was published in 1963 (although composed before Wallis's death in 1957). Also in 1963, John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, published his Honest to God; a slight and rather silly book in which he explained that God was not an old man in the sky with a bear [UPDATE: Dr Cotton suggests Ursa Maior]; and coined such phrases as The Ground of Our Being; and The Man for Others. I cannot help thinking that the phrase "the eternal meaning of our existence" has about it just the slightest passing whiff (shades of Canon Wallis, forgive me for suggesting this!) of the same sort of "circa 1960" culture. You'd hardly notice it as part of a  prayer in a totally modern idiom; but, somehow, given the pastiche Tudor English (Almighty and Everlasting God ...), it stands out, for me, rather like an elegantly sore thumb.

Wallis has followed Cranmer's idiom in not being too terse. When providing translations of the old Roman Latin collects, Cranmer tended to expand their sparing economy. He will fill out (Collect for Trinity III) supplicandi affectum to an hearty desire to pray; defensionis auxilium to by thy mighty aid be defended (the 1662 BCP filled that out even more with and comforted in all dangers and adversities). The syllable-count is much the same; but more words seem to be called for in English. Otherwise (I suspect this is the sub-conscious assumption) the prayer would be over before most of the congregation were aware that it had started. 

So what is one to do if faced with this task the other way round; the task of rendering into Latin a formula constructed within this English instinct for prolixity? Geary has reduced the source of all life to vitam omnem; and the light of thy tender love to affectum tuum; and eternal meaning of our existence to intelligi. In other words, he has asked himself something like the question "If this prolix English prayer were a translation of a terser Latin original, what might that terse original have been?" I think he is dead right in choosing this method. My own instinct would be to go even further than he did. I might have ended the prayer with: et ex sola pietate tua intelligere valeamus; which would bring in a word very much at home in Christian euchology (pietas) and an auxiliary verb characteristic of liturgical Latin (valeamus). I would then have to work back and do some reconstruction on the earlier part of the sentence. Wouldn't I?

Come to think of it, the Collects for the Saints of England which are contained in the vernacular version of the Liturgy of the Hours designed for use in England, were composed in English for the Calendars of England and its dioceses; and still exist only in English. They are supposed to have an official Latin form (the Welsh very admirably did their Latin versions for S David and Co some years ago). Were this vacuum ever to be filled, something along the lines Wallis worked out would have to be attempted. But is anything like that ever likely to happen? Why should the English Bishops have any interest in getting this done when, increasingly, those not keen on the English Novus Ordo just row across to the busy harbour of the Latin books of S John XXIII rather than to the unvisited backwaters of B Paul VI's Latin books?

Or is that world also ... the world in which Catholic priests murmured their Breviaries in Latin ... the world of 1962, just months before Euchologium Anglicanum was published ... the year when more than 2,000 Catholic bishops gathered together to decree solemnly (in Sacrosanctum Concilium 101:1) that the clergy should continue to pray their Divine Office in Latin ... is that world yet another, a third, Departed World???



William Tighe said...

"God was not an old man in the sky with a bear"

One wonders why there was such widespread confusion of God with St. Corbinian in the 1960s.

Mack Hall, HSG said...

I had never heard the bit about "an old man with a bear." Why shouldn't He have a bear! Folks WILL keep instructing God on what He should do and shouldn't do.



Andreas said...

The prayer sounds a bit like a lecture: like someone saying: “God, let me explain to you something”. The entire prayer is so strongly “vernacular” that one cringes at the thought of making a Latin translation of it. “... grant that by faith we may believe” stops me dead in my track. Ut fide credamus? Happily, the translator avoids it by saying: “ut ... fidem habentes” - but even that produces pitiful Latin. “To believe beyond a doubt” might be: “firmissima fide teneo” or “firmissime credo”.
The ending of “posse intelligi pro certo habemus” is not a prayer: it is an exposition of an opinion. The “per affectum tuum” is completely off. “Affectus” is a feeling towards someone, good or bad: a human emotion not to be ascribed to God. A Latin expression might be: “per viscera miserationis tuae” but again, that would require a freedom of not sticking with the English model.

Oh if only Catholics, at least some of them, learned to think in Latin. It is not just a different language: the very thought process is different in Latin. And when English is tranlated into Latin, it is like pouring good wine into an empty milk bottle made of plastic. The flavor is not the same.

Ttony said...

Wouldn't a good translation of the Collects for the English Saints be a wonderful, while ironic, present from the priests of the Ordinariate to the Church in England and Wales!

dunmowflitch said...

This interesting post shows up the defects of both the previous and the present translation of the Mass.
The previous translation chose, especially in the presidential prayers, to precis them to such an extent as to remove any shape, dignity or cadence (quite apart from some dubious theology).
The present translation seeks to adopt a word-for-word method which reads unnaturally because it ignores the natural rhythms and flow of (good) English and (good) Latin.
Both methods are based on a very faulty philosophy of linguistics resulting in one version which is emaciated and another which is, frankly, bloated.

vetusta ecclesia said...

I agree with Andreas about the tone - similar to many of the ghastly "bidding prayers" we have weekly to endure.