Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Translating the Sanctus

The Adoremus Bulletin had an article nine years ago about the proper translation of Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. This article pointed out that while "Deus" is a noun in the nominative (subject of a verb) and vocative (direct address) cases, "Dominus" is only properly a nominative noun. The vocative form of "Dominus" is "Domine", as in Miserere, Domine.

This means the strictly literal translation of the first line of the Sanctus is really "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts," instead of what we're used to, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts."

So I was a bit surprised when reading Anscar Chupungco's analysis of the new English translation, wherein he writes:
In compliance with the norms of formal correspondence advocated by [Liturgiam Authenticam], the English Sanctus for [Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I] in ICEL2010 (“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts”) appropriately corrects its 2007 gray book translation of this prayer (Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts). (A Commentary on the Order of Mass, p. 478)
There are a number of other inaccuracies in the final translation of the Latin text which the numerous authors in the Commentary have pointed out, but I was surprised at this one.


Schütz said...
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Schütz said...

Now, Jeffrey, this is a debatable point – which is to say, I don't think you can be as dogmatic about it as you are in this post. And to say more, I think that in supporting the translation "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts", you have chosen the wrong option. Which is to say, the ICEL 2010 translation (which does NOT have a comma after the third "holy") is, in my view as well as Chupungco's, correct.

You are right that "Dominus" is not a vocative. It isn't "Holy, holy, holy ARE YOU O Lord God of Hosts". In other words, yes, this is not an acclamation addressed to the Lord God of hosts. But neither is it simply an indicative statement of fact, ie. that the Lord God of hosts IS "holy, holy, holy" (ie. holiest). That would be most unliturgical – we don't pray prayers to convey information – to God or to the worshippers.

It is instructive to compare it to the passage in Revelation 4:8, in which the Greek says:
hagios hagios hagios kurios
ho theos
ho pantokrator
ho en kai
ho wn kai
ho erchomenos.

Like Latin, Greek has a perfectly serviceable verb for "to be", but it isn't used in this Greek version of Isaiah 6:3 any more than it is used in the Latin version that appears in our Sanctus.

To me, this indicates that the passage functions as something other than either an acclamation addressed to or a statement about the Lord God of hosts. The best conclusion is that it is an acclamation of (but not addressed to) the Lord.

It is hard for me to think of a comparative modern equivalent, but imagine a stadium full of people acclaiming a great athlete or sports star named (for the sake of the argument) John Smith, yelling, "Champion! Champion! Champion! John Smith, king of the athletes!" The last thing they are trying to do is convey information about John Smith.

In the Sanctus, the assembly cries out: "Holy! Holy! Holy! YHWH God of hosts!" It is an acclamation – not a statement – of – not to – the Lord God of hosts.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Sorry for the late reply, David.

I'm curious what the grammatical case to be used in an "acclamation of" something or someone. I'd expect the vocative, but I guess that would only be the case in an acclamation to someone.

The RSV, NAB, and KJV render Isaiah 6:3 with "is the", and the RSV and NAB do the same for Rev 4:8 (KJV doesn't). DR doesn't have "is the" in either place.

That said, I can still accept your argument. So I'll back off from my "dogmatic" stance on the matter.

Schütz said...

Yes, I think "backing off" would be wise in this instance. It is hard to be dogmatic, because of the uncertainty involved.

But I would regard an acclamation "of" someone as an acclamation that is not addressed directly to them, and therefore the vocative would not be expected. It falls therefore somewhere between "adoration (which is addressed to the one being adored) and praise (which is telling other people something about the person). It is possible that I am inventing a category here, but it does seem to be a category that fits in this instance.