14 March 2020

The Art of Translating, Christian-style

Yesterday being my birthday ... I am now in my eightieth year ... but for how long ... I did what all right-thinking people do: I got out and reread an academic paper by Christine Mohrmann. I have quite a lot of her things on my shelves as the result of benefactions from two kind friends. One batch came from the library of Fr J O'Connell.

As I read the following, I thought how relevant it is to the dispositions of Liturgiam authenticam. And then the penny dropped ... this is dead relevant also to the enthusiasm of PF, poor old gentleman, for rewriting the Oratio Dominica, the Pater noster.

"It is a general characteristic of all early Latin Bible translations that they follow the original text (i.e. the text the translator had in front of him) as closely as possible. Fully conscious of the fact that they were dealing with consecrated texts, where every word had its meaning (often difficult for the human intellect to fathom), where, as Jerome will subsequently point out, even the word order conceals some mystery, the Latin translators proceeded with extreme care. They deliberately abandon the system of free translation, advocated by Cicero among others, and proceed word for word, thus conserving as much as possible, the stylistic and linguistic peculiarities of the original text. For the Latins this means as faithful a reproduction as possible, in extremely untraditional Latin, of Greek texts which were already somewhat exotic. This respectful awe of the text, stops the translator from taking any risks, so that, even in cases where it does not appear strictly necessary, they directly transcribe the Greek word. This system of translation continues a tradition of the Jewish translators and it is not impossible that the earliest Latin bible-translators were subject to direct Jewish influence, by the way of Jewish Christians or otherwise."

She goes on to discern "rabbinic influence". 

Interesting, that Dom Gregory Dix also had a penchant for detecting Hebrew influences in the earliest Christian liturgical evidences. (It was perhaps one of the reasons why he had a fraught relationship with pro-Hitler members of the British Establishment, including top bishops, in the 1930s [cf the Wendy House anecdote].)

18 comments:

Joshua said...

Happy Birthday, Fr Hunwicke!

Unfortunately, given present events, I will be unable to pay you a visit to congratulate you on reaching this milestone.

Ad multos annos, and don't let the bastards get you down, as we say Down Under.

Scribe said...

Dear Father Hunwicke, Heartiest congratulations on your 80th birthday!

Kathleen1031 said...

Happy, happy birthday Fr. Hunwicke! God bless you and keep you, safe and healthy in these times. Thank you for your priesthood and all you do for the Kingdom. I'm sure you are praying for all, thank you for that too. God bless you and all here, especially those suffering in Italy.

William Tighe said...

79th birthday, Mr. Scribe; to be in one's "eightieth year" means that one is on the way to one's eightieth birthday (in Fr. Hunwicke's case, with 364 days yet to go).

Patrick said...

1940 was a very good year. Happy Birthday Father Hunwicke!

Marc said...

Ad multos annos!

Is there no collected edition of Dr Mohrmann's works in preparation?

Woody said...

Happy Birthday, Father Hunwicke!

vetusta ecclesia said...


W H incident? Please elaborate.

Oh, and a very happy birthday, belatedly.

Christopher Bartley said...

Happy New Year!

Banshee said...

Happy birthday, Father!

There are a lot of patristic texts that seem to follow or exploit this rule. It makes it hard to do a free translation into English without losing the Biblical point.

Marco da Vinha said...

Ad multos annos!

William Tighe said...

"1940 was a very good year. Happy Birthday Father Hunwicke!"

Perhaps - but 1941 (the year of his birth) was, perhaps, better.

Voice from the roof top said...

Belated wishes of Happy Birthday Fr. John Hunwicke.

Fr PJM said...

Happy Birthday, dear Father. Hmmm... what a birthday present you got seven years ago! It was a pleasure to finally meet you in Gardone!

PM said...

And Happy Birthday, Father. Ad multos annos!

Lee said...

Happy birthday, Father Hunwicke. Thank you for your much appreciated blog.

Pontiacprince said...

I too have entered that number. This year will add a 1 to it....most distressing...but as a Canadian I live the high life and age is just a number.A very happy 80th to you . Long may you write and I learn.

Scribe said...

Thank you, Mr Tighe, I stand corrected. I was never very good at Maths (Failed O Level).