Natural Insights (Wisdom) that Vindicate These Principles and Their Results
It is my contention that many arguments about the worth of LA, and therefore about the worth of the results that come from applying its
principles, are rooted – at least implicitly – in differing views about
the nature of language, that is, about what words are and how they
work. What I am speaking about are the convictions that shape the whole
approach of the Instruction. Such convictions live in LA's principles
and give rise to them. We might call them "meta-principles." In so far
as they are true, it is wise to recognize them and even wiser to act
in accordance with them, for, after all, what could be more foolish
than to act in defiance of how things are and must be. And, in so far
as these "meta-principles" are sound, the results of implementing the
particular principles which rest upon them will be the fruit of wisdom.
In the next two sections of my remarks I want to discuss four of
these "meta-principles," two that are derived from natural insight and
two that come from faith. To use more traditional language, we might
call the first pair, philosophical principles and the second pair,
- The first naturally knowable "meta-principle" I want to discuss is
this: That translations and paraphrases, while having much in common,
are two essentially different kinds of things. Each has a distinct
nature, a distinct set of qualities. Their difference is not a human
invention; the two do not exist because somebody or some group of people
want them to exist. They are because of the very nature of language.
Specifically, translations and paraphrases must both be, and they must
be like but different from each other, because of how identities and
differences are at play in what we say.
Let me spell out what I have said so abstractly. Let us begin by
observing that there are many ways you and I can "say the same thing."
I can repeat word for word exactly what you told me. The clearest
instance of this is when I recite after you exactly what you said. My
speaking is not the same as yours, even though I quoted you exactly.
However, we are far more clever than parrots. We can exploit so many
more of the potentialities for language to express the same thing.
Let us begin with names. You and I can give a different name to the
same thing. For example, you might call the third child of August and
Dorothy Kott "Mrs. Vigneron." I will usually call her "Mom." We are
naming the same thing, but with each of these two names very different
features of this woman manifest themselves.
But most of our speaking is not just naming; our language, as we
discussed earlier, has syntax. We express facts and their relation.
Here, too, it is possible to say the same, but to say it differently.
You and I can make different statements about the same state of affairs.
For my example in this instance I will use the old standby of a
six-ounce glass holding three ounces of water. You can say that the
glass is half full. I can say that the glass is half empty. Now, we
might be motivated to make our different observations on the basis of
our different temperaments, but that does not change the fact that we
are talking about the same glass on the table, with water in it.
With these few examples in mind we can, I think, go on to understand
better how LA wants the Roman Rite to be the same in Latin as it is in
English. Such sameness between the original and the translation is
necessary, you will recall Cardinal Dulles said, for the vernacular text
to be a reliable medium for the transmission of the revealed mysteries.
What LA is calling for is not the identity of repeating exactly; that
would be to exclude the very legitimacy of translation. And while in
some religions it may be the case that sacred texts can never be used in
translation, the Church has never been of that mind. However, the
Instruction is calling for the maximum degree of sameness between the
Latin and the English texts of the liturgy. Different names for the
same thing won't do; the English text must have the closest equivalence
to the Latin name for the thing spoken of. Different facts about the
same state of affairs won't do. For example, in the Fourth Eucharistic
Prayer, the affirmation that at the Last Supper the chalice was "ex genimine vitis repletum,"
means that soon we will no longer hear that "cup [was] filled with
wine," but rather that it was filled "with the fruit of the vine." What
we have is a paraphrase; what we will have is translation.
LA is calling for a vernacular expression of the Roman Rite which
presents God and his acts and the objects of his actions just as the
Latin does. That is, that which results from every act of naming things
and relating what is named and then comes to expression in Latin must
come to expression in English. This is what happens when you translate.
- My comments on the real and irreducible difference between a
translation and a paraphrase take me to my next observation about
another naturally wise insight on language which is embodied, at least
implicitly, in the principles of LA: That words, names as well as
sentences, are windows through which things disclose themselves.
Monsignor Robert Sokolowski, a philosopher at The Catholic University of
America, captures this truth with the pithy maxim: "Words present
things."20 Words in their primary way of working do not
express what is going on "inside" of speakers and hearers, but words
bring into presence parts or dimensions of the world in which speakers
and hearers find themselves together.
Sometimes this confidence in the way language works is called "realism."
In that sense, LA is founded on a realist rather than a subjectivist
view of language. The translations of the liturgical texts must be
accurate and sacred because the subject matter of the texts is
principally divine realities, the mysteries of grace and not our own
interior dispositions (see LA, 19). Or we might put it this way: the
words of the Liturgy have as their primary referents God and his saving
deeds; true, it is concerned, but it is only secondarily concerned with
the reactions which we have to him and his actions. The Liturgy speaks
in an "objective" and not a "subjective" key. As I see it, the
principles of LA are designed to ensure that vernacular translations
will not modulate out of that objective key.
My remarks about words presenting things gives rise to an opportune
moment for commenting on the relationship between the two objectives
which Cardinal Dulles identified as those which LA sets for itself: an
accurate translation and a reverential translation. These two aims are
intimately connected. When the liturgical texts accurately present to
us God and his mysteries, these texts must necessarily be reverential.
Texts which are accurate in presenting the divine would seem bizarre
were they anything other than sacred in their tone.
- See Sokolowski, Husserlian Meditation: How Words Present Things
(Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974). Northwestern
University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy