Dr. Jeffrey's dissection of our Bible Babel also makes an important point about the use of sacral vocabulary, noting that Venerable Bede and the other first translators of the Bible into Anglo-Saxon understood the limits of their own vernacular and borrowed words from Latin to express what the biblical text meant. A minor point? Not really, because these words came into English that way: alms, altar, angel, anthem, apostle, ark, canticle, chalice, creed, deacon, demon, disciple, epistle, hymn, manna, martyr, priest, prophet, psalm, Psalter, rule, Sabbath, shrift, and temple. Later in the process of making English English, more words entered our language via the Vulgate: absolution, baptism, beatitude, charity, communion, confession, confession, contrition, creator, crucifixion, devotion, faith, homily, mercy, miracle, obedience, passion, pastor, penance, religion, sacrament, saint, sanctuary, savior, temptation, theology, trinity, virgin, and virtue.
All of which is an answer to those who fretted that Anglophone Catholics couldn't handle "consubstantial" in the new translations of the Roman Missal. As Dr. Jeffrey writes, "What would have happened if someone had said, in that time and place, 'We just have to find dynamic equivalents in Anglo-Saxon?' There weren't any. Appropriately, the first translators were not intimidated by the prospect of teaching people the meaning of biblical and sacral terms not to be found anywhere in their ordinary language. They gratefully borrowed the language of Scripture as they found it in another tongue."
What to do today? My suggestion is to get yourself the Ignatius Press edition of the Revised Standard Version, and read it over and over again until its language works its way into the crevices of your mind and the texture of your prayer. Maybe, some day, we can hear that translation at Mass.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
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