From Mr Tom McIntyre SIR – Fr Leo Chamberlain’s wise, pacific letter (Letters, November 6) on the liturgy ends strangely: “I am getting impatient for the availability of better translations... of the Ordinary.” Has he read what they propose? Remember St Jerome.
What we have now, like Challoner’s original Garden of the Soul and Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, is in good contemporary English. It has literary flair (a parishioner tells me what won him from Anglicanism was our liturgy’s “flow”). It removed the fourth-century Roman inculturation that wordily addressed God Our Father like a touchy pagan deity. And it translated the meaning, not the words. Liturgiam Authenticam and Mgr Harbert condemned the last good practice.
St Jerome’s translation suffered the same criticism: anything not word for word was counted “a mistake”. Less biddable than our bishops, he replied: “They want to convict someone else of incompetence. They only expose their own. Apart from Scripture [ie the Vulgate] where even word order is revealed mystery... I am happy to own that in translation from Greek I translate the sense, not the words.” He cites Cicero’s practice and Horace’s principle: “To translate faithfully, you don’t try to render word for word.” Even more to the point, he cites St Hilary of Poitiers. Although they did not see wholly eye to eye, St Hilary favouring a more literary style, St Jerome the sermo simplex of the Latin liturgy, both rendered in vernacular Latin, not a Grecising pidgin. True, it was a “Christian” Latin. Latin vocabulary was scanty and words had to take on new meanings.
Its failures in euphony apart, the version Fr Leo is impatient for is literal and Latinising – back to what Newman noted: “RCs can’t write English... It is not English, it is Latin or French.” Yours faithfully, TOM McINTYRE Frome, Somerset