Page 12, 9th April 1999

9th April 1999
Page 12
Page 12, 9th April 1999 — Translations of the Bible, from Resurrected the bizarre to the rough-hewn for new life

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Translations of the Bible, from Resurrected the bizarre to the rough-hewn for new life

Charterhouse Chronicle

Brian Brindley

4 H IS MOTHER looked out at a window, and howled And she spoke front the dining

room." A Church of England preacher astonished the congregation by giving this out as the text of his sermon: he was quoting from Judges, _ chapter 5, verse 28. and he had chosen (perhaps mischievously) to do so from the Douay version, which was full of such surprises. 50 years ago Christian England was divided neatly into two: Catholics. who used the Douay/ Rheims translation, and all the rest, who used the Authorized Version (known in America as the King James Version) which bore on its title-page the words "Appointed to be read in Churches".

It was customary in those days for Catholics to sneer at the Authorized Version for being "inaccurate", for making Gabriel hail Our Lady as "highly favoured" instead of "full of grace", and for making the angels wish "peace, goodwill toward men" instead of "peace to men of good will". And it was customary for all the rest to sneer at the Douay version for its frequent use of exotic words and strange constructions. Such complaints were not new: a preface to the Authorimd Version said: "We have shunned the obscurity of the Papists, in their Iaymes', 'Mille, 'rational', 'holocausts', 'prepuce'. 'pasche' and a number of such like, whereof their late translation is full, and that of purpose to darken the senre, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof it may be kept from being understood." It is different in the Church of England, where there is still a very large group of supporters of the Authorized Version. Let me say that I myself love it, and enjoy reading tt aloud when I get the chance; but I have to admit that it is not always easy to make head or tail of, especially in the Epistles: and I have suffered from hearing professed admirers of the translation making a terrible hash of reading from it because they obviously do not know exactly what it means. Oddly enough, iris often admired most fervently by those who very seldom go to church, and even by paid-up atheists and agnostics. As Fr Knox pointed out, we think that Authorized Version is good English because good modern English was formed on the pattern of the Authorized Version, You might think that those who are most deeply committed to the supremacy of Scripture, and nadir inerrancy of the Bible — I mean conservative evangelicals, for that is the position they lay claim to — would be the most zealous in looking for the best original texts and the most correct translations, irrespective of purely literary merit. But it is not so: many Protestants cling firmly to the Authorand Version and wig not hear of change. For years the Trinitarian Bible Society and the Gide°. (who put Bibles . in hotel bedrooms) fought a rearguard action against new translations; and (at any rate until recently) the posters of biblical texts displayed on railway: stations were firmly in 17th century English. They offer a reason for this: iris a matter of collective memory. Many people knew whole stretchro of the Bible by heart and could quote it word for word Once you admit the possibility of varying versions, that collective memory is shattened; you can never be quite sure whether someone is quoting correctly or incorrectly. Sort is better to stick to one familiar text, rather than go searching for accuracy or intelligibility.

There had been, of tour., attempts from time to time to produce new translations, notably the Revised Version of 1885: there was a liberal-protestant version by James Moffatt, which used robe much quoted but is now deservedly forgotten, and for Catholics there was the Westminster Version, begun in 1935 and never completed — oh, sad symbolism! But, in general. A.V. and Douay held the field.

It was the Catholic Church that first broached the darn, with the publication. between 1945 and 1955, of Monsignor Ronald Knox's translation. This was warmly welcomed at the time, and not only by Catholics, as something fresh and new. It has now become one of the world's great forgotten books. It had been, of course, F Ku gee t k as a Catholic, and Evelyn Waugh in his biography tried to make a case for its excellence; but in vain. Although it contains many very ingenious rums of phrase, it is written in such a strange and convoluted kind of English as often to be hardly English at all, and Fr Knox was fatally handicapped by being required to translate from the Latin Vulgate instead of the original Hebrew and Greek, with which he was perfectly familiar.

What he did achieve was effectively to consign the Douay/Rheims version to oblivion. I do not encounter much nostalgia for the old version among Catholics, probably because there was no tradition of vemacular reading aloud in church until about 1970, by which time the Jerusalem Bible had already been published, and to whose rough-hewn cadences we have accustomed ourselves. Catholics who like old ways are more likely to concentrate their efforts on the survival of the Latin Vulgate. FRIEND OF MINE is fond of saying: "You know, it is easier for me to believe in God, in a supernatural world beyond ow own, in world of spirit, and even in the physical Resurrection than it is for me to believe that anything really new will ever happen to me!"

This is true for most of us. For most adults, there comes a day when we, consciously or unconsciously, are so overwhelmed by our own mortality, inadequacies and limits that , we become incapable of ever again being surprised by the possibility of newness in our own lives. We give up on the hope of genuine change for ourselves and resign ourselves to our addictions, bad habits. bitterness. jealousies md mediocrity. Much acme might like things to be different, we accept that nothing is ever going th profoundly change. When we feel this way we are succumbing to religious despair. In the pan, we tended to confuse despair with that pathology that expresses itself in clinical depression and suicide. In fact, often times, suicide was explicitly called the sin of despair and the church not infrequently would not allow its victim burial within a Christian cemetery. Today, fortunately, we have a better understanding of the dynamics of suicide: namely, as a terminal illness no more willed by its victim than would be a death by cancer, stroke, or heart attack. Suicide, most tinm, a not d.pair. Despair has a different face, a more subtle one. What does it look like?

I despair when I no longer believe in the power of the Resurrection in this world. Corternely this means that I despair when lire longer believe in the power of God to radically affect my life and to make old things within me young and new again. Normally despair is not expressed in an espoused atheism, in a refusal to go to church, or in argumem against the R..section of Jesus.

Real despair expresses itself this way: 'I'm old enough to have sem life. I know how things work. I lorew how people are and I know how 1 am. Nothing is ever going to change. This is the way things are, this is the way things have always been, and this is the way things will always be. Nothing new or surprising is ever going to happen, especially to me. I know the limits of life. Don't tell me about new possibilities!'

The real issue of faith for us is often sot no much believing in God and in the Resurrection of the body after death as it is in believing in the possibilities of God bringing about Resurrection and newness into our lives right now. We are not semis this attitude. Jesus' first followers had the same doubts. For example, in Jesus' conversation with Martha just before he restoms her brother. Lazarus, to life, we are how even for the original disciples it was =kr to believe in the power of God to raise up bodies on the last day than it VMS to believe that God can raise up what is dead right now. When Jesus is confronted with the reality of Lazarus' death, he says to Martha: "Your brother will rise again." For her pan, she repli.: "I know that he will rise again at the Resurrection on the last day." She might just as easily have added, since this is implied, "but I have grave doubts about any possibilities for new life in this particular day. Bravo for Resurrection on the last day, but today, here and now, death reigns."

Jews answers her by saying: "I am the Resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live" (John II, 23-15). Given what is implied in his answer, he too might have added the words: "The Resurrection is not only about your body being raised up at the end of time. It is also, and sometimes especially, about being raised from the many seemingly hopeless tombs within which you so often find yourself entrapped. To believe in the resurrection is to believe that there is no grave of any kind that can hold you. To believe in the resurrection is to believe that nothing is impossible for God and, than, impossible for you either — even today, even right here and now.

Marry of us remember the words of the old confederate song, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down: "He was just eighteen: proud and brave, when a Yankee laid him in his grave. I swear by the mud below my feet you can't raise a Caine back up when it's in defeat."

'Me message of the Resurrection challenges those words. Its faith is that, no matter bow bitter the death, all life can be raised back up after its end, its defeat, its crucifixion.

To believe in the Resurrection is nayuss to believe in Resurrected bodies at the end of time, but to believe that no grave can hold us, on either side of eternity.

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