2 September 2015

Mohrmann (1)

Here is a narrative which I think is often at least implicit:

In the Early Church, Worship was always in the same everyday language that common people used all the time. So, in Rome, as soon as Greek became less common as a language, Latin, the prevailing vernacular, replaced it. Sadly, as the centuries passed, Latin in turn became incomprehensible to most. So, happily, the Second Vatican Council decreed that all worship should be in the vernacular again. And in the simplest possible language so that the greatest number of people could understand it. Because this would serve the cause of Active Participation.

You are waiting impatiently to explain to me that the last three sentences represent a complete travesty of what Vatican II decreed. Well done. But I think it is important to understand that the whole of this narrative is completely erroneous, and constitutes a deception.

One of the greatest scholars of the twentieth century was a Dutch Classicist called Christine Mohrmann. In a long series of articles and books in all the main European languages, she demonstrated that Liturgical Latin (and, indeed, Liturgical Greek) were never intended to be be vernaculars; that, indeed, they were deliberately designed to be formal, archaic, and hieratic. I will let her speak to you in her own words:

"Liturgical Latin, as constituted towards the end of Christian Antiquity and preserved unchanged - in its main lines at least - is a deliberately sacral stylisation of Early Christian Latin as it gradually developed in the Christian communities of the West. The Latin Christians were comparatively late in creating a liturgical language. When they did so, the Christian idiom had already reached full maturity and circumstances rendered it possible to draw, for purposes of style, on the ancient sacral heritage of [pagan] Rome ... As regards the plea which we hear so often for vernacular versions of the prayer texts, I think ... that we are justified in asking whether, at the present time, the the introduction of the vernacular would be suitable for the composition of sacral prayer style. As I have pointed out, the early Christian West waited a long time before adopting the use of Latin. It waited until the Christian language possessed the resources necessary to create an official ecclesiastical prayer language. ... the modern, so-called Western languages ... are less suitable for sacred stylisation. And yet we must realise that sacral stylisation forms an essential element of every official prayer language and that this sacral, hieratic character cannot, and should never, be relinquished. From the point of view of the general development of the Western languages - to say nothing of the problems raised by other languages - the present time is certainly not propitious for the abandonment of Latin".

Much Mohrmann follows.


Joshua said...

When at Santissima Trinità one Sunday five years ago, I idly imagined what a time-travelling Roman would make of the Sacrifice being solemnised.

I blogged on this at the time, but to spare you and fellow readers the bother, I append the odd musings I wrote down then:

"During Mass, as for the last several days, I had the fanciful thought that I was at Mass with a ancient Roman plucked out of time, now to behold with astonished eye his City cleansed from paganism, in which the despised Christians of his age have triumphed, and planted the Cross everywhere above pagan altars thrown down.

"It pleased me to think how he would have found the Christian Latin comprehensible, yet strange, with its bizarre use of common words (Dominus, Deus, Pater, Filius, Spiritus), and wierder admixture of Greek (Kyrie, eleison, Christe, Ecclesia, Jesus, psallere, Evangelium, propheta, Maria, catholicam, apostolicam, baptisma, hymnum, Angeli, Archangeli) and even strange Hebrew (Amen, Alleluia, Sabaoth, Hosanna, Seraphim, Cherubim), plus manifold unclassical infelicities in the readings from the Scriptures, even Hebraisms (Dominus vobiscum, Et cum spiritu tuo, per omnia saecula saeculorum, expectans expectavi).

"What would he make of the Gloria, of the Credo, above all of the dense doctrine of the Preface of the Trinity? What of the Pater noster, of the Confiteor the deacon sang (who are these people with such foreign Greek and Hebrew names: Mary, Michael, John Baptist, Apostles Peter and Paul?), of the Last Gospel, all about some word (Verbum)?

"What would he have made of the repeated praises of the "Trinity" (Tri-unitas was a neologism of Tertullian), or of the mysterious message preached, "For a great Prophet hath risen up in us, and because God hath visited His people" - Jesus Christ bringing eternal life, and giving that gift in His Sacrifice, in what these Christians oddly name a sacramentum?

"A Sacrifice, certainly, for he would recognize the solemn actions of the priest, but an odd one: where the Victim, the people partake of what? A white Disc is uplifted, and offered incense, as to a god... it is shewn again, and called the Lamb that takes the sins of the world away... the choir sings, Panis quem ego dabo caro mea est pro saeculi vita (The Bread that I shall give is My Flesh for the life of the world). Mystery! Is this the cannibal feast against which the pagans whispered?

"At least in the classical dress of the parati, he would see something of the civil rituals of his day, with servants bearing incense, candles, and a book before the officials, just as the same was bourne before magistrates in Rome of old (except not the Gospel, but an Imperial rescript of appointment). He would have recognized what genuflection meant; in his day, one bent the knee before the Emperor."

ansgerus said...

Also in German there used to be a well-established liturgical idiom, based on the language style of Luther's bible translation and the early Protestant translations of Missal prayers and hymns. You find it in the Lutheran "Agenda 1" of 1950 which was used until mid of the the 1970s. All in all still closely following the mostly latin text versions of the base texts even in terms of the syntax, it was highly hieratic from the beginning, and could almost not be understand at one-time of hearing it in a service, moreover as the prayers and lessons were sung. I remember when I was a child in the late sixties, I did not at all understand the sung collects, the lessons from St. Paul's letters and the prefaces, but I enjoyed the sacred atmosphere. Later, after hearing (and reading) the same (liturgical German) texts again and again, I more and more got at least the feeling of understanding a little, and now, when following the Latin Mass, it is similar again: but isn't that to a certain amount, what St. Paul expressed already when he spoke of the mirror through which we see? And isn't a text which you do not fully understand remaining much more interesting over a livetime? It might be a consequence of the introduction of the modern language instead of the classical liturgical idioms, that people soon became bored of hearing the same traditional lessons every year, and that a new order of lessons was introduced along with many, many new prayers and prefaces.

Dale Crakes said...

Fr could you elaborate a little on the difference between the Prayer Book formulae and the euchology of the so called Tridentine Rite. I'm about to have an internet discussion on this and want to be sure I understand the difference. Thanks Dale Crakes

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dale: the BCP contains translations of most of the Sunday Collects of the Roman Rite. In addition, translations were needed for the Secrets and Postcommunions; and for those propers, mainly of the Saints, which for obvious reasons Cranmer discarded. Then there were the formulae for Holy Week, for which Mgr Ronald Knox provided some very fine 'Tudor English' renderings.

Dale Crakes said...

Fr thanks for your response but its prompted another question. Do you know if any of Knox's Holy Week translation were used in 1958 English Missal (Knott)? Dale Crakes. Seattle.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Sadly, no.

Oliver Nicholson said...

A not wholly irrelevant fact. According to the Liber Pontificalis the martyred Pope Stephen I (in the 250s) forbade the wearing of church vestments outside church - they were no more 'ordinary clothing' than the liturgy was 'ordinary language', as the great C. Mohrmann comprehensively shows.

123 said...

Orthodox canon scholar Abp Peter L'Huillier said much the same about the original Greek of most of the Orthodox liturgy. While the Bible was written in marketplace Koine, the services were written in a higher form of the language than the everyday. An argument can be made the the Bible should be in the everyday vernacular while the services which surround those readings should be in a more elevated form of the vernacular of that day.

One must keep in mind the audience, though, for this same argument is made in defense of Slavonic and Greek in Orthodox services. They are more elevated languages and better suited to what worship and theology require. What they miss is that for a speaker of non-Slavic and non-Greek languages those are not simply higher forms of language, they are wholly different languages. For an immigrant, everyday English is as elevated and difficult as KJV English is for the average native speaker. Should a large proportion (however that is defined) are non-native English speakers, one must keep that in mind when considering translation. Perhaps that isn't as large a problem in the UK as it is in the US where 60.6 million spoke a language other than English at home (US Census Bureau, 2011) out of a population of 291.5 million over the age of five.

There is also a great deal of space between a colloquial English of the street or pub and that of the KJV Bible. There is a rhetorical dialetic sometimes imposed on these conversations that I find tiresome. The original RSV is an example of a good, modern style in language that is at the same time elevated. As an example, Arch. Ephrem Lash has provided very good, modern, elevated English translations of the Orthodox services, even if I would quibble on certain choices here or there. "Style" is, of course, a subjective category.

Charlesdawson said...

I recall, many years ago, a correspondence in the old Radio Times. Some presenter in a programme on gambling had used the word "dice" in a singular context, and a listener wrote to complain and to point out that the correct singular form is "die".

The producer's reply riveted my attention. He knew, of course, the correct usage, he said, but he believed that "ordinary people" would not, and therefore it was appropriate to use the ungrammatical form so as not to bewilder them.

It has seemed to me, ever since the introduction of the New English Bible and its heirs in the 1960s, that this producer has been active in the Christian Churches. You and I, ignorant "ordinary people", can't be expected to understand (a) liturgical Latin (b) liturgical Englsh. We are either too stupid, too uneducated, or too lazy. Such assumptions were and are profoundly patronising and, dare I say it, snobbish. And we can see the measure of success of the democratization of the language of the sacred texts in the newly flourishing congregations evident since the said 1960s in all denominations.....

Little Black Sambo said...

" Perhaps that isn't as large a problem in the UK as it is in the US..."
Give us time; we're getting there.

Zephyrinus said...

Deo Gratias.

Thomas said...

Perhaps coincidentally, and I hope with some tangential relevance, I have just read the following in the Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Earliest English Poems (Michael Alexander, 1966):

"... old English prose never achieved the sophisticated word-order and complex syntax of Greek or Latin. This does not apply to the verse ... the poets used a special archaic diction inherited from days when their art had been purely oral. This word-hoard amounts almost to a language within a language: it differs greatly in vocabulary and syntax from the rudimentary attempts of the prose writers - because ... the poet is the keeper of the traditions which hold the cynn (the kin) together ... the older a word was, the more it was valued by the cynn ... the poet is historian and priest, and his songs have ritual significance. That is why the language of the poets was so deeply conservative, and why the written records of it that we have show it so different from the language of the earliest prose-writers."

Hierodeacon said...

"123," I'd be interested in the Abp. Peter reference regarding Greek; and, Fr. John, I'd also be interested in hearing more of what Mohrmann had to say about liturgical Greek; finally, I am hoping that your series on this subject will conclude with a discussion of liturgical English, no doubt vis-a-vis the Anglican patrimony in the Ordinariate, but that will be a discussion very helpful for Orthodox as well, many of whose translations are quite "patrimonial."

Thomas Poovathinkal said...

We LOST the language of Jesus ....what a loss? We LOST all the Holy places......not due to our SINS? We INSTITUTIONALIZED Jesus's Church...in this and by this what did we do to HIM?

The JEWS of his time (some of them of course)killed Jesus but once and....... we?