I happened to notice a post over at the Biblicalia blog today, regarding prayers and their translations. Specifically the post in concerned with a prayer of St. Ambrose, which is presented in Latin and then in two English translations, one of 1962 and the other of 1980:
Also, just as there was a strengthening of penitential language in the prayer by the 1962 translation, in the 1980 translation is a toning down of the same. Relatedly, it’s entirely gauche to begin a prayer to our Sovereign God with “I.” And Jesus has now become “dear,” as well, connoting that the Senior Ladies’ Knitting Circle has composed the prayer, and not the fiery Archbishop of Mediolanum who told off an Emperors to his face.
To summarize and exemplify the differences, compare these:
Paenitet me peccasse, cupio emendare quod feci.
I am grieved because I have sinned, I desire to make amends for what I have done. (1962)
I am sorry that I have sinned, and I long to put right what I have done. (1980)
In the end, these translations are showing something that I’ve noticed subconsciously for some time now. In the translations of prayers for liturgical churches, there has been a consistent trend toward the softening of the translations of these kinds of prayers for decades now. Not only can the worshipper any longer be expected to share the worldview of the ancient writer and interact with the recommended prayer on the level of its original language with at least a modicum of understanding the depth of riches of the language, but they cannot be even expected to share a remotely similar worldview, a worldview in which we are unworthy sinners, wretched and poor, stupid and weak, putrid by inches, and the only salvation is God, through His Son. Rescue from this dismal state is not through meeting the old ladies and eunuchs of the local religiously themed social club (some call them churches, which might offend some people!), but through transformation as a member of the Body of Christ, conforming onself, though God’s grace alone, to the Divine image inch by inch, a process we Eastern Orthodox call theosis, often translated “divinization,” the primary vehicle of which is prayer.
Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church in particular hasn’t been immune to this sort of softening. For example, I think it’s good pastoral practice to at least share with couples coming for premarital counseling–if not with the entire parish in some forum–the wording of the preamble to the marriage service from the 1662 marriage service:
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.
And also, speaking unto the persons that shall be married, he shall say,
I REQUIRE and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.
The juxtaposition of the marriage service from 1662 and 1979 (or even for that matter, 1928) shows a clear difference in tone, but it is a difference that is also present in the liturgy, especially in the invitation to confession, and the confession and absolution. And indeed, this isn’t confined to areas concerned with penitence, but the strongest of the Eucharistic prayers in the 1979 prayer book is found in Rite I, prayer 1 (with the possible exception of prayer D from Rite II, which is based on the liturgy of St Basil and isn’t really an historical Anglican eucharistic prayer.)
Something to think about…