Thursday, March 26, 2009

Translation Note

I touched on this in my last post, but one of the interesting things that I usually note in any translation is how κεχαριτωμένη is often translated. It is hard to completely convey the sense of this word. It means to have grace entirely bestowed on someone. I think Jerome got it absolutely correct when he translated it gratia plena, full of grace. The sense that Mary is highly favoured is not incorrect. Clearly if someone is fully of grace, by definition they are highly favoured. But highly favoured does also somewhat miss the mark, because it misses the Spiritual aspect that is underpinning the scene.

Now this is important ...

Now this is important to me for a number of reasons. First, it helps me judge the quality of the translation in general, but letting me know what choices the translators have made. Second, it also lets me know if the translators are aware of and have taken note of the Spiritual Complexities in the text. And by this I mean that the text is not a novel or a news report. It also plays a significant didactic role. In this instance, even if you don't accept the Immaculate Conception, there is still an important point about grace itself the text is making. As I demonstrated before, there is a whole movement, like an orchestral piece that involves God, His gratuitous gift, Christ's Incarnation, Mary's free acceptance and so on. The κεχαριτωμένη is a vital link in that chain.

Now, whereas there are legitimate arguments on the side of "highly favoured," I do find the GNT's decision to translate it as "peace be with you" to be indefensible. Normally, I have very few beefs with the GNT. I have, in truth, a certain fondness for it, as it was the first "Catholic" Bible I encountered before and after conversion. So it does have a special place in my heart. Ordinarily, the translators of the GNT made choices to simplify the language without resorting to paraphrasing, so as they themselves explained, to make it easier for younger people and those who do not speak English as a first language to understand the text. And yes, I agree, the Bible in any language can be intimidating, much more so if you do not possess fluent command of the language in which it is written. But to me there is no defence at all for "peace be with you," because I do not see how "highly favoured" is not simple English, whereas "peace be with you" is completely wrong.

Unfortunately, that is the price we pay in any translation: none are perfect. Some are clearly better than others, but all fall short in one way or another.


Now there is another level of importance to translation. It is important for us to be able to have a translation for personal reflection that ties us to the liturgy. And so this reminds me of an observation (in 2001) by Father Richard John Neuhaus:

At present, three translations are approved for Catholic liturgical use: the New Jerusalem, the RSV, and the New American Bible (NAB). The lectionaries and the several publishers of Mass guides, however, use only the NAB. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a wretched translation. It succeeds in being, at the same time, loose, stilted, breezy, vulgar, opaque, and relentlessly averse to literary grace. The bishops had the NAB updated to the Revised New American Bible (RNAB), but Rome had objections to that and hurriedly appointed a committee to fix it up into what might be called the Amended Revised New American Bible (ARNAB), which will soon become mandatory in lectionary use. Technically, the RSV and New Jerusalem are still permitted but, with ARNAB as the mandatory translation of the future, nobody has any interest in printing lectionaries or Mass guides using those versions. There is the additional oddity that you cannot buy an ARNAB Bible, since only the pericopes (liturgical readings) exist in ARNAB-talk. So Catholics do not have a Bible for personal or group reading that uses the same text that they hear at Mass.

The matter of translation is therefore not trivial. Since we lack a good translation that corresponds to the liturgy, we are robbed of that experience. It would be nice to go home from Mass and read the wider context in the same language as the pericopes.

RJN favoured the RSV-CE, and it is a good one, although it too suffers defects. It, after all, is one of many that does not translate almah as parthenos. Ignatius Press may one day get their wish of being able to use their update of the RSV in liturgy (in the US), but either way we should pray that some good solution presents itself ere long.


Chuck said...

They should all use the Douay version.

Ogden Chichester said...

Even the venerable Douai version is problematic. Quite aside from the fact that it is a translation of a translation, the original is also almost unreadable.

The original of Ep 3:6-12 is

The Gentils to be coheires and concorporat and comparticipant of his promis in Christ JESUS by the Gospel: whereof I am made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given me according to the operation of his power. To me the least of al the sainctes is given this grace, among the Gentils to evangelize the unsearcheable riches of Christ, and to illuminate al men what is the dispensation of the sacrament hidden from worldes in God, who created al things: that the manifold wisedom of God, may be notified to the Princes and Potestats in the celestials by the Church, according to the prefinition of worldes, which he made in Christ JESUS our Lord. In whom we have affiance and accesse in confidence, by the faith of him.

I'm not sure about you, but "Potestats in the celestials" is a little ... clunky to me. So Bp Challoner needed to revise this a little. But compare his revision with the KJV. Challoner's:

That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body: and copartners of his promise in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, of which I am made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given to me according to the operation of his power. To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God who created all things: that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

And the KJV:

That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

If we're just going to ape them anyway, why not just get a KJV from 1611 that has the Deuterocanonicals?

Veritas said...

Do I have any chance of having grace thoroughly bestowed on me whilst still on this earth?

Ogden Chichester said...

Not in the same way as the Virgin, of course. But there are certain ways of thinking about grace in a thorough manner. Baptism, for example, provides the grace of complete regeneration.

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