2 August 2018

YHWH God of hosts

The current English translation of the Sanctus is a fine example of why the new English Mass was necessary; and of how translation should be done.

The original Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus Domine Deus Sabaoth comes from Isaiah 6. Readers will not need to be reminded that Domine translates YHWH, the unutterable Name of the Jewish God ... that is to say, our God, for we ought never to forget that (as Pius XI said in the era of Hitler) we are all spiritually Semites. Before the Preface, the priest has invited us to Make Eucharist (give thanks) to YHWH our God; now we join the angels in shouting his holiness.

He is YHWH God SBAOTH; an ancient cult title which the Vulgate properly translates as 'God of armies'; he is the God who went to war before David and the people of Israel, his chosen, throughout their ... oops, I think I should have written 'our' ... history. But how to translate SBAOTH?

Old Bad ICEL rendered 'Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might'. Characteristically nasty, because it makes LORD a final monosyllable that in saying and singing gets psychologically and physically (we are just coming to the end of our puff) lost. It puts a heavy break before the phrase 'God of power and might' and thereby breaks up the integrity of the Hebrew original.

But there would be something awkward in a literal rendering 'God of Armies'. If that had been proposed, the furore would have been understandable. New ICEL has done a very wise thing. It has gone back to the archaic English phrase 'God of hosts'. where 'hosts' is old English for 'armies' (cf Wycliff and the Authorised Version and Cranmer's Prayer Book). 'Sabaoth' is an archaism; what more fitting than an archaism to render it; an archaism which reminds us of our Hebrew roots and of the long history of Biblical and liturgical English. This is precisely how translation should be done.

The admirable document Liturgiam authenticam advised the evolution of Sacred Vernaculars; Christine Mohrmann foresaw their possibility.

The alternative, of course, would have been to retain in the English the old Hebraic Sabaoth. As inflammable Dr Cranmer did in his fine rendering of the Te Deum, now to be found in the Ordinariate Missal (Appendix at the back). I wonder whether he translated Mattins first; or 'the Masse'. I think one can detect an evolution is his instincts for translation: One day he might use 'immarcescible'; the next would find him convinced that a Wreath was 'unfading'.


Eriugena said...

"Lord God of hosts" is difficult to say and to sing...

Nicolas Bellord said...

And I wonder how many in the congregation think that hosts means the piece of bread about to be consecrated. I would think about 99%!

Nicolas Bellord said...

And I wonder how many in the congregation think that hosts means the piece of bread about to be consecrated. I would think about 99%!

E sapelion said...

Leaving sabaoth untranslated, as did the Romans, would have the advantage that it would need expounding to English speakers, whereas hosts has the disadvantage that it can be confused with homonyms.
Host is commonly used for persons who sit on sofas in television studios and interview people, and similar occupations. Though I, and you I imagine, are more likely to think of people who run hostelries.
And liturgically it is used for the Sacred Host. The embodiment of the victim by whose blood we have been saved. (hope no heresy in that brevity)
Even Wordsworth's use for a crowd of daffodils hardly does justice to concept, which my wife used to assert would be more accurately rendered as "battle squadrons"

Tamarind said...

Dear Father,

What are we to make of this horrible thing that has happened in Rome? I say this not as one thirsty for the blood of criminals, but as one saddened by the memory of the words of Pastor Aeternus, which you have quoted many times:

"For the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this see of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Saviour to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."

What is one to think?

William said...

Eriugena: Is it really? I can’t think of any reason, phonological or otherwise, why that should be so.

And the Anglican musical tradition managed that phrase without noticeable discomfort for several centuries.

JPG said...

I understand both the Greek and Latin Liturgies did not translate Sabaoth. I think the English translations should follow that example.