Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Brief Liturgical Detour

There is much debate in the Church these days pertaining to the appropriate translation of the Latin texts of the Mass. I'm not getting embroiled in the whole debate here. Suffice it to say that the current English translation tends to be rather pedestrian and banal. Changes will be coming shortly, and this is (generally speaking) a good thing. For example, I'm all in favor of translating "Et cum spiritu tuo" with "And with your spirit" instead of "And also with you". For an overview of the issues, see the address by Bishop Roche of Leeds (Chair of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, the ICEL) to the US bishops a few months ago.

Generally, liturgical conservatives approve these changes, and the argument used is that the English mass is merely a translation of the Latin text, and hence we need the best and most accurate translation possible. Fair enough. I buy it. But there is one big stumbling block for them, and that is in the Creed. In the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed (laid down by two successive councils of the undivided church in 325 and 381), the current English translation says "for us men and for our salvation.." and "By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man". Now, I would contend that the word "man" in these instances is badly translated. Deriving from anthropos in Greek, and homo in Latin, the word that underpins this text is gender-neutral, and really means "human". English does not have such a term, and "man" was used traditionally to denote an encompassing vision of "humanity". But many reading this will not get this subtlety, especially today, and will think that the Creed is saying something that it is not. So, in the interest of the best and most accurate translation, shouldn't we say "for us and for our salvation" and "he ... was made human"? But no, this drives conservatives crazy, the very same people who strive for accurate translations of the Latin texts into English. They seem more wedded to their view that "man" means "humanity", and begin arguing in favor of what the English words should mean, instead of whether or not they accurately reflect the Latin. And this, I think, reflects an element of bias and inconsistency.

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