14 June 2021

S Basil and his mouth

In reprinting this 2015 piece, I have left it unrevised, nor have I deleted the original, very jolly, thread!

Doctors of the Church commonly, both in the Novus and Vetus Masses, have an Introit which begins In medio Ecclesiae aperuit os eius et implevit eum Dominus spiritu sapientiae ... in the Latin, but, according to the New ICEL translation, In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth, and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom ...

I am worried by the implied translation of eius. In Latin there are two words for his. We use suum when 'his' refers ('reflexive') back to the subject of the verb (and, in effect, means 'his own'). We use eius when 'his' does not refer back to the subject of the verb. So 'his' cannot refer back to 'he'. The character who 'opened' did not open his own mouth. If the Latin had meant to say 'he opened his [own] mouth', the word would have to be suum.

The subject both of 'opened' and of 'filled' has therefore to be Dominus, the Lord; even though it comes a bit late in the Latin (Latin word order is more flexible than English). So the introit means In the midst of the Church the Lord opened his mouth and filled him with the spirit of wisdom ... .  Divine initiative ... prevenient grace ...

"But" - you cry - "probably Fr H is getting this wrong. Excessive pedanticism, combined with their innate arrogance, is the reason why all right-thinking people hate, loath, and detest all classicists so much".

You are probably right about most of that, but I have not got this little matter wrong. Try the Septuagint, where the subject of the sentence is in fact Divine Wisdom; she is the subject of every verb in the relevant passage (Ecclesiasticus 15:1-5). In the Neo-Vulgate, the same is true. And in the Authorised Version and the RSV. And, in the 1949 Burns Oates Latin-English Missal, Mgr Ronald Knox, no mean classicist, no mean biblicist, translates this introit The Lord moved him to speak before the assembled people, filling him with the spirit of wisdom ...

It's an interesting passage. Close examination will reveal to you that the translations I have listed have the verb in the future; and that one line preserved in the Vulgate is missing elsewhere. Hebrew tenses don't work like Indo-European tenses; and the Vulgate sometimes preserves a better text than other versions - its variant readings are always worth taking seriously. (There must be someone out there who would enjoy getting into the Vetus Latina ... and there are some Hebrew fragments of Sirach ...)

The introduction to the Neo-Vulgate wisely expresses doubt whether an "original text" of this book, 'The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach', otherwise known as 'Ecclesiasticus'** [not to be confused with Ecclesiastes], ever was or could be recoverable; an agnosticism with which I would like to see more editors, both of sacred and of profane texts, handling their documents. Catholics, free from the fetiches of textual fundamentalism, have less need to be worried by this than do Westcotts and Horts and the 'modern' scholarship of the twentieth century.

** If the bible on your desk doesn't have this book in it, under either name, it means you are using a Protestant bible. Get a Catholic one!


John Nolan said...

It's not classical pedantry; it's a mistranslation which my old Latin master, 'Fishy' Rowe, would not have let me get away with when I was in the Third Form, fifty years ago. (He was a Cambridge man and insisted on v being pronounced as w, an affectation I quickly dropped.)

I understand that at one time Catholic schools used the Italian pronunciation when teaching classical Latin - I wonder if schools in Italy still do so.

GOR said...

A nice point Father – and nicely made!

Despite having little claim to classical expertise, one can appreciate a fine point and acknowledge that ‘eius’ is the dead giveaway here.

As to negative attitudes towards classicists, be consoled that Ecclesiasticus would assuredly number them among the homines stulti rather than the homines sensati

John H. Graney said...

I'm just a dabbler in Latin, and don't really know it, altho' I plan to study it in the near future. That interpretation though, fits well with Psalm 50:17, "O Lord, _You_ shall open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise," and I imagine that that was the intention of the composer of this introit.
Incidentally, Father, how often does the subject come after the verb in Latin? Besides English, I know Spanish and Arabic well. Classical Arabic puts the verb first as a matter of course; the ordinary order is verb-subject-object. Having studied Arabic, I notice when this happens in Spanish, and it's actually fairly frequent there.

Jesse said...

The Vetus Latina database, hosted online by Brepols, consists of digital reproduction of typewritten and hand-annotated cards, recording the biblical readings quoted by early Christian writers. I have never figured out how to discover, from the database alone, whence each reading has been taken.

Here is what we get as the (or a) Vetus Latina reading for Ecclus. 15:5 (found across two typed cards, because the versifications of the Vg and LXX differ):

et in medio ecclesiae aperiet os suum, et adimplebit eum spiritu sapientiae et intellectus, et stola gloriae vestiet illum.

stebert said...

Is eum also ambiguous:

"aperuit os eius et implevit eum"

Could it refer back to os just as easily as the subject to which eius refers? This would be a more parallel construction, and avoids perhaps a more modern separation of mind and body than would have been present at the original writing?

William said...

@Unknown: A neat idea, but unfortunately incompatible with the grammar. "Os" is neuter, whereas "eum" is masculine.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

If the bible on your desk doesn't have this book in it, under either name, it means you are using a Protestant bible. Get a Catholic one!

Dear Father. I am a simple man who was born in the hills of Vermont and I was learnt by my elders that a man who is protestant can not be considered an expert of the Bible by the simple fact that he is a protestant.

That is, if he truly were an expert, he'd convert and become a Catholic.

Your life is no doubt far more complicated than is mine but it is your own fault for being born with such intelligence.

Pax tecum, Father.

Anonymous said...

I have a proper unabridged KJV on my desk, complete with Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom and all the rest: so is it a Protestant or Catholic Bible?

Donna Bethell said...

No pedantry detected from across the pond, Father. This is a very enlightening discourse.

Our Catholic high school Latin teacher dutifully taught us to say "Weni, widi, wici," which I thought was ludicrous as no one would think to say "A-weh,Maria." This was in the Sixties when we were all familiar with liturgical Latin. Surely the Church has the most reliable, if not the only, continuous oral tradition. If it changed since classical times, so be it: a living language, what? Listening to an Italian girl who joined our third year class read the Aeneid was pure joy. Anyway, Church Latin is certainly preferable to what the lawyers and astronomers serve up.

Martin said...

There's a website (bensira.org) which shows Hebrew manuscript fragments, and 15.5 is on the frament A VI R. It looks as if the subject is wisdom (which first appears in 14.20, and it (she) opens his mouth (of the man who is blessed).

Anonymous said...

The Lord open "his" (Athanasius') mouth and fills "him" (the man not just his mouth) with wisdom - this makes clear that God doesn't just put words into the mouth of a prophet, but graces their spirit with His own Holy Spirit, filling their minds with a true vision of His Word, thereby enabling them to speak authentically in his Name. God reveals by inspiration not just by dictation, which is the Muslim and sometimes the Protestant view of revelation and scripture.

John Nolan said...

Vetus Latina (Beuron/Stuttgart) renders Ecclus 15:5 thusly: 'et in medio ecclesiae aperiet os illius adimplebit illum &c'.

'Os suum' does not seem to make sense in the context.

Regarding Rose Marie's comment, I remember reading that the Oratorians in the 19th century were criticized for introducing the Italian pronunciation to England. It's difficult to imagine Mass in the unreformed English pronunciation, still used in legal and botanical Latin and for Latin words in an English context. Harold Macmillan used it as Chancellor of Oxford University as that was the way he was taught at Eton.

Pius X ordered the Italian pronunciation to be used liturgically but it never caught on in Germany and the Habsburg lands where Latin is pronounced as if it were German. JP II tended to lapse into it when celebrating Mass and it is interesting that Pope Francis still uses the Spanish 'qu' which was presumably what he was taught in Argentina.

Anonymous said...

When I was at a country grammar school in the 'Fifties, we were always taught the "w for v" pronunciation. I didn't realize things had changed until I came to the OU, and Italianate pronunciation, in the 2000s.

I do recall a complete standoff between the Classics staff and the Music staff once, over the pronunciation of "Gloria in excelsis deo", which the former insisted should be pronounced "exkelsis" and the latter "exchelsis".

GOR said...

A number of commenters have brought up a topic I had been meaning to suggest to you, Father, that is: correct Latin pronunciation. Can you enlighten us on its evolution? A palimpsest (as Sherlock would say…) perhaps, on the subject – digital rather than material, of course?

In the dim past when first learning Latin, we were informed that the pronunciation used was ‘Ecclesiastical’ rather than ‘Classical’. The impression given was that this was the more traditional approach and that ‘Classical’ pronunciation was of more recent vintage - probably of German origin.

This seemed right to me, given that the Church had been employing it for a lot longer than the existence of most countries. What is the truth of the matter?

Ben Trovato said...

If anyone is interested, I posted the notes from the Liber Usualis on the pronunciation of liturgical Latin on my blog a while back. The relevant post is here: http://ccfather.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/liturgical-latin-pronunciation.html

I would be interested in Father's (and others') comments, of course.

Ivan said...

I'm another person who would be very grateful if you, Father, would write an article on Latin pronunciation. I'm a student of Latin and Greek, and, when reading classical texts (which will, I guess, for the first three years almost always be the case) we use the classical pronunciation.

In high school we used the "traditional" pronunciation which is, I assume, the one you call the German pronunciation. For example, we would read "caelis" as celis (the c would be read, since it is in front of an "e" or an "i" sound, as 't' in 'ti' when in front of a vowel (and when the i is not long)). In some aspects I like this, especially for some words which we have in Croatian with the c. Then again, I can see how this can, at times, be ridiculous. I have a friend called Dominik (Dominicus), and I told him to imagine if someone would, speaking Latin, shout at him "Dominice", and use the German pronunciation (c as 't' in 'ti' when in front of vowels). Interestingly enough, the ecclesiastical pronunciation would have it exactly like in Croatian (except for the accent), "Dominiche" Latin, and "Dominiche" Croatian (written Dominiče). In a lot of ways the ecclesiastical pronunciation can be more beautiful. Then again, there are words which sound horrid in any pronunciation (classical makes it a bit better) - amicitia!

Stephen said...

Fr John,

Christ is Risen!

Never doubt the importance of precision in liturgics, for it is the bane of the progressive impulse, relishing as it does any tiny sliver of ignorance or apathy through which it can slither and devour the tasty morsels of tradition and continuity.

William said...

While there are plenty of incorrect ways of pronouncing Latin, one can only really speak of a specific, "correct" pronunciation either:
(i) in relation to a particular class, in a particular place, in a particular era. Thus, for example, the "classical" pronunciation which I was taught is that set out in W. Sidney Allen's "Vox Latina" – which, while it has been around for a while, is still a reliable guide to "the educated pronunciation of Rome in the Golden Age". But if you change any one of those three variables, the pronunciation will differ materially.
(ii) by reference to a definition of the pronunciation which is authoritative and binding in a particular context. Pius X does appear to have expressed a wish for standardisation of pronunciation, but this was never, as far as I can discover, authoritatively ordered or defined. His 1903 motu proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, while it ultimately gave rise to the (somewhat eccentric, to my eyes) pronunciation guide in the Liber Usualis, does not itself so much as mention the question of pronunciation.

If you can get hold of a copy – at least for less than the £741.98 (!!) currently quoted by Amazon – I strongly recommend "Singing in Latin" by Harold Copeman – a thorough and comprehensive study of the pronunciation of (primarily liturgical) Latin in numerous countries and eras; the impact of changes in pronunciation of the vernacular (including, of course, our own Great Vowel Shift) upon the pronunciation of Latin; and the implications for musical performance, including discussion of whether, and to what extent, one should take into account the pronunciation which the composer himself will have been expecting. Copeman also deals with Tra le Sollecitudini, the Liber Usualis, and the range of pronunciations which have in practice derived therefrom.

Even the briefest glance at Copeman's book will at least disabuse anyone of the fond notion that there has, historically (and even in a narrowly ecclesiastical context), been a single "correct" way of pronouncing Latin!

(Incidentally, Harold Macmillan was still Chancellor when I was an undergraduate, and his Latin pronunciation at Encaenia was a regular source of amusement for us classicists.)

John Nolan said...

One problem with the German pronunciation is that 'y' is pronounced as u-umlaut and terminal 'e's are weak. This is particularly noticeable in 'Kyrie' and 'miserere'. Soft 'c's are 'ts' and all 'g's are hard. The 'oe' diphthong is pronounced as o-umlaut, so we have Pater Noster 'kvee es in tsurlis'.

johnf said...

Following William's comment, there was a wonderful programme on Radio 3 in the early 90's in which the various methods of Latin pronunciation were discussed. Harold Macmillan was cited as one of the last of the old school pronunciation because as he himself charmingly said, he knew no other. 'vivat Regina' became vie vat ray jina rather than 'weewat raygeena' There was an recording dating from I think the 1950's of a latin master reading Virgil using the modern pronunciation with the long continental vowels and as the producer put it, sounding like Larry the lamb.

Jesse said...

A charming short introduction to regional and historic pronunciations of Latin may be found in Frederick Brittain, Latin in Church, rev. enl. edn, Alcuin Club Tracts 28 (London: Mowbray, 1955).

Intended for singers, but useful for others, is Harold Copeman, Singing in Latin (publ. by the author, 1990), which has tabular presentations of all the regional pronunciations that might be useful for singers of Renaissance choral music.

When I studied medieval Latin in graduate school, our instructor began with the "Classical" pronunciation, as that probably used by St Jerome, and then switched to a compromise medieval pronunciation (v, ae = oe = e) when we reached a period where contemporary texts seemed to require it.

Abbo of Fleury (d.1004) left an interesting treatise that included advice on the "correct" pronunciation of Latin, from which we can determine both how his Anglo-Saxon students naturally pronounced Latin, and how Abbo wanted them to pronounce it. (For example, the Anglo-Saxons retained, or discovered, the classical "k" pronunciation of "c" in all posiitons.)

vetusta ecclesia said...

I received my MA at the hands of Sir Kenneth Weare who was very much a “ istyus yuniversitaytis” man

PM said...

I saw recently on YouTube a recording of an Oxford choir recreating the chant from a manuscript from a fifteenth-century German nunnery. They sang gentium with a hard g, not the soft Italianate consonant that I had always used.

PM said...

Moreover, I can recall a few English priests who deliver 'Dominus vobiscum' in beautifully rounded Home Counties vowels.

John the Mad said...

All this discussion of Latin pronunciation is well and good but it can traumatize folks. In Grade nine in Ottawa at St. Patrick's College High School (run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate) I failed Latin. In those days when you failed a course one had to repeat the entire year. Now, at the age of seventy I am reliving that horrible event thanks to this discussion thread. I cannot but surmise that had I not lost that year I could have become the Prime Minister of Canada. We would not today be stuck with Trudeau the Lesser.

I coulda been a contender but Latin done me in. Sic transit gloria mundi.