I've Got Your Spirit For You Pal, Right Here

Tom expresses his utter lack of interest in the new Mass translations in a post at Disputations. (Zippy notes in a comment there that he doesn't care enough about it even to put up a post about how he doesn't care about it.)

As I have mentioned in many posts, I think that a lot of the whining one hears about "prayerfulness" or "reverence" and the lack thereof at Mass amounts to disputes about matters of aesthetic tastes, and, as they say, de gustibus non disputandum est. Noticing that doesn't stop me, obviously, from pointing out the things that I like best at a Mass. I don't think that makes me a hypocrite: I could be arguing in my spare time, as it were. But I can't help but remember a discussion with Tom, back in the old days of the Free Catholic Mailing List, in which I said much the same thing that Tom is now saying in his post, only to be lectured by him about how, if there is a Form of the Good and a Form of Beauty, and if God is Good, then there must be some connection between Goodness and Beauty--aesthetic matters, in short, are not merely subjective.

A point with which I agree, if it is properly understood. But that certainly does not settle the question of whether it is in some sense--aesthetically, theologically, liturgically--better to say "and with your spirit" rather than "and also with you", one of the changes in the translation that seems to be singled out rather more often than its semantic content would appear to warrant, either for praise among those who think it a good thing, or for ridicule among those who, like Tom, find the issue to be a tempest in a tea pot.

Other changes strike me as far more important and interesting, as I've remarked in other posts. But the general principle involved--the importance of accurately and faithfully reflecting, in translation, the semantic content of the Latin originals--seems to me to be far more important than some folks are willing to admit. In some cases, at least in my opinion, the more literal translation is also the more aesthetically pleasing. For example, consider the prayer for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which reads, in the banal version of the ICEL:
Father, you show your almighty power in your mercy and forgiveness. Continue to fill us with your gifts of love. Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.
The Latin really is much better, more sublime:
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas, gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde, ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.
A more literal translation might be something like the following:
God, who make manifest your almighty power most of all in your forgiveness and mercy, pour forth your grace upon us without ceasing, that, as we hurry towards your promises, you might make us to be partakers of your heavenly goods.
Somebody who is actually able to write decent English could probably come up with something much better than that--I offer it merely as a contrast to the ICEL version, which glosses over important elements of the Latin original. John Zuhlsdorf provides other examples of the same problem in his quasi-blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say? The simplified, "dynamic equivalence" examples have a certain utilitarian appeal, I guess, but they just don't cut it, in the end, because they don't aspire to anything, they fail to represent, in words, the grandeur of what they are saying.

We are all of us imagines Dei and, as such, are called to rise above the sinful and the fallen and strive to be more like the divine and perfect ("Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"). It seems unlikely that such a calling is grounded in merely subjective values. If actions and choices can be more or less noble and good, it seems at least plausible that the linguistic representations of those actions--and the virtues that underlie them--can also be more or less noble and good. Indeed, words are also employed as imagines, and there is no reason why words should not be arrayed in the greatest splendor possible. I like music of all kinds--medieval, baroque, classical, rock, jazz--but I think it goes without saying that a simple tune such as "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know" fails to rise to the same level as, say, Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610--or even "Love Divine." So it does not seem impossible to me that, say, one poem may rise above another in its manner of expression.

The Mass is our greatest theme, and the words we employ in giving expression to it ought to rise above all others in manner of expression, in my opinion. Certainly there will be disputes about whether these wordds really do rise above those--I think there will always be such disputes, because there is indeed an aesthetic component in such matters. There is a kind of grammar to aesthetics, however, and just as we ought to aim to express ourselves clearly and well in ordinary language, we ought also to express our theme of the Mass not only clearly (what seemed to be the goal of dynamic equivalence), but well.

Comments

Tom said…
Yes, well, one distinguishes between a thing being of objective import and a thing being of subjective interest.

Having minimal aesthetic sensibilities myself, and being barely able to translate et cetera without a Latin-English dictionary, I can't judge which of the specifics are important, even if I can evidently lecture others over the existence in principle of "good" liturgy.

And so: tell me my lines and my blocking.

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