Saturday, July 26, 2008

Liturgy: Musings on accurate translation

Here's a comment I left on another blog a little while ago; it demonstrates the theological richness of the Latin prayers of the Mass, and thus the necessity to accurately convey that theology in the translation.

[This is an excerpt from the original post.] 12th Sun in OT. The 1997 version says "Lord God, teach us to hold your holy name both in awe and in lasting affection..." 2008 goes like this: "Grant us, O Lord, fear and love of your holy name always and in equal measure..." Key words that pop out , for me, are "teach" vs. "grant," "fear" vs. "awe," and "affection" vs. "equal measure."

Here's the Latin and my meager attempt at translating it:

Sancti nominis tui, Domine, timorem pariter et amorem fac nos habere perpetuum, quia numquam tua gubernatione destitus, quos in soliditate tuae dilectionis instituis.

"Lord, make us to have fear and love, equally and eternally [or: unending], for your Holy Name, for You never fail to govern those whom You establish firmly in your love."

(At least the 1997 translation is an improvement over the 1985 one: "grant us an unfailing respect for your name, and keep us always in your love", which doesn't match the verbs with the proper subjects and objects.)

As for your analysis, you're comparing the wrong words. The proposed 2008 version uses "fear" for "awe" and "love" for "affection". It uses "equal measure" for "both"; it also correctly binds "always" ("lasting") with both fear and love, rather than just love (affection).

As for "Teach" vs. "Grant"... in my opinion, even "grant" is a bit too weak here; the Latin says fac nos habere -- "make us to have" -- which identifies God's grace as the driving force. And there's more:

"Teach us to..." has the implication that once He has taught us, we can do it on our own; if you've been taught well enough, you don't need the teacher anymore. "Grant us..." makes it sound like merely a gift; getting a coat that's two sizes too big doesn't change us magically to fit into it.

But "make us to have" establishes the conversion -- the change -- needed in us to truly fear and love His name, equally and forever. God needs to produce this change in us; we need Him to make us anew.

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