18 June 2017

A little elementary ... no; intermediate ... Latin

In his great hymn Pange lingua for Vespers at Corpus Christi, S Thomas writes:
Verbum caro panem verum
    verbo carnem efficit ...

We are going to translate it together. Are you sitting comfortably?

You will only be able to translate it by first asking and answering certain questions. Such as these.

Here we go.

What is the subject? That is, what is in the nominative? Verbum ... but caro as well. They are in what is often called 'apposition'. They stick together. Verbum means the Word in the sense of the Second Person of the Blessed and Undivided Trinity. Caro means flesh; so Verbum caro means the Word [who had become] flesh ... i.e. the Incarnate Word.

What is the verb? efficit, meaning makes.

What is the object? That is, what is in the accusative? panem, verum, and carnem. Let me persuade you to put carnem in the fridge for a moment and to deal first with panem verum. That means true bread.

So far, we have "The Word [made] flesh makes true bread ...."

Time to polish off carnem. Let's pause for a moment. Consider (1)"He beat the boy black and blue"; (2). "He beat the black and blue boy". In each of these English sentences, 'black and blue' is in grammatical agreement with (i.e. it tells us more about) the boy. But they are different. (2) means that the boy was black and blue before the beating. (1) means that the blackness and blueness was the result of the beating ... i.e. the end, purpose, result, of the verbal action.

Carnem is like (1). It is the result of the verbal action.

"The Word [made] flesh makes true bread [to be] flesh".

Oops ... we've left out verbo, which, incidentally, has a lower-case v. Its ending makes clear that it is either dative or ablative. I will tell you for free that it is ablative.

"The Word [made] flesh by a word makes true bread [to be] flesh".

You can't translate Latin, as you can a lot of modern languages, by attacking each word in the order in which it comes in the sentence. You have to work out grammatical things like what is the subject, what is the verb, what is the object etc. etc.. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time.

By 'wasting', I mean wasting.

Because the sense in Latin depends on the inflexions (i.e. the syllable at the end of a word which changes, as with verbum ... verbo; caro ... carnem), a poet is able to group the words in a beautiful or pointed way. The patterning of this couple of lines is, in my view, perfectly exquisite.

The great Anglican scholar John Mason Neale translated these lines, very simply, very finely,
Word made Flesh, by word he maketh
       Very bread his Flesh to be. 

Have you booked yet to attend the Latin Mass Society Latin course this summer in Pantasaph?



Joshua said...

Since the noun panem is masculine, the masculine adjective verum describes it, thus naming it as "true bread". One might expect verum to go with carnem, to produce "true flesh" (as modern anxieties about the real presence would demand), but carnem is feminine, and would go instead with veram, which is not present; so "true bread" is what is said, not "true flesh".

Tom Broughton said...

Or we you can simply use Google Translate.

Wynn said...

Well explained, Father. And Joshua adds a useful point of clarification, which might have caught some people out. Those whose familiarity with Latin has been gleaned mainly through liturgical texts may not realise that "caro" is feminine, as it tends to crop up in contexts where gender agreement isn't relevant (e.g. "Et verbum caro factum est"). Otherwise, the natural tendency might be to assume that "verum" goes with "carnem", not least because of the number of texts which associate "ver[us]" with the Real Presence (e.g. "Ave verum corpus") – not to mention also the fact that "caro" is actually an exception to the general rule regarding third-declension nouns ending in "-o" (other than "-do/go/io").

Colin Spinks said...

May I pose a rather idiotic question? Is there any reason why the sentence cannot mean: "The Incarnate Word, by his word, makes his flesh to be the true bread"? Is this not closer to what we believe about Our Lord's actions at His Passion, and especially his own words ("verbo"?) in John 6: "I AM ...the true bread". As you, Father have so succinctly shown, it is the word of the FATHER, his simple word of acceptance, which makes the bread offered in the Mass into the body of Our Lord. In the alternative made-up 60s Eu. Prayer of which you disapprove, the Holy Spirit is involved in the transubstantiation process, but even here there is no sense that it is the word of the SON which effects the transformation. I'm quite tired after a long weekend, and fear I may be talking gibberish, either linguistically, or theologically, or both. I await with trepidation your schoolmasterly rebuke!!

Mario Josipovic said...

Fr Hunwicke,

How would you translate the following lyrics from St. Thomas Aquinas` Panis Angelicus:

"Manducat Dominum
Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis"

Does it translate something like "Our Lord nourishes as a poor, humble servant" or something else? (I have read many different translations.)

Also, is there an English translation of the phrase that can use the words "pauper", "servile" and "humble", or have those derivatives from Latin developed a different sense than the Latin words as used by Aquinas?

(Incidentally, from Canada, Happy Father's Day!)

Wynn said...

@Colin Spinks: Linguistically, I see no reason why the text can't be taken that way. Moreover, it seems to make better sense of the word "verum" in that context. Why should Aquinas have been insisting that it was "true" bread (as opposed to what? Mother's Pride?) which becomes flesh? But to say that our Lord's flesh becomes "true bread" (i.e. that which truly nourishes and satisfies) both makes sense in itself and also, as you point out, tallies with His own words.

Maybe – to be slightly controversial for a moment – we are too obsessed with asserting at every turn (one particular interpretation of) the Real Presence, and reading all texts, whether scriptural or other, in that light, to the detriment of other meanings.

Thomas said...

@Mario Josipovic:
"Pauper" is OK but not very current English usage, but "servile" means being downtrodden or showing an excessive desire to serve please others. Since we don't have a formal servant class these I think "lowly" is better. But "Dominum" is the object of the phrase not its subject, so it doesn't mean "Our Lord nourishes as a poor, humble servant", but rather "The poor, the lowly, and the humble eat The Lord". Many translations, perhaps coy about the idea of 'eating' the Lord (although it is Scriptural, indeed from the Lord himself) turn the syntax into a passive construction, rendering it as "The poor, servile and humble are nourished by the body of the Lord" or even "The Body of the Lord will nourish ..." The original is simpler and much more direct.

Thomas said...

Sorry, I shall get told off by teacher! The verb "manducat" is in the singular not plural, so it should be "The poor, lowly, humble (one) eats The Lord".

JARay said...

Thank you so much for your excellent explanation Father. I certainly do not have that fluidity and depth of understanding which you possess in Latin. I only wish that I did but I do try and I have followed your explanation.

Oliver Nicholson said...

Echo feminine we name
Caro (carnis) is the same.

Is it true that the gender rhymes were actually written by Dr. Kennedy's daughters ?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Without looking beyond "That is, what is in the nominative? Verbum ... but caro as well. They are in what is often called 'apposition'."

Verbum caro The word made flesh
panem bread
verum true
verbo carnem efficit ... with his word makes flesh

The Word made Flesh with his word makes true bread become His true flesh.

Hope it was right and there was some sense of my Latin studies!

John Nolan said...

All the more reason why Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si and Amoris Laetitia need a definitive Latin text.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

My second "true" supplied rather than provided.