Collect for the Most Holy Trinity

The attached file is an extract from a book by Anscar Chupungco, OSB, soon to be published: The Prayers of the New Missal: A Homiletic and Catechetical Companion. It offers a brief, but incisive critique of the collect for Trinity Sunday.

Our thanks to Liturgical Press for their kind permission to share this with our readers.

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21 comments

  1. Appalling theological carelessness here. Do George Pell and his gang have ANY conception of what orthodoxy means, the sensitivity and tact, the unfailing attention to logic and language that it requires?

  2. The point about Unity and the Father reminded me of a similar ambiguous statement in the Latin text of EP IV, “quia unus es Deus” which is also technically addressed to the Father (the original, when the Prayers came out in ’68 read “quia *solus* es Deus”, which was thankfully corrected).

  3. The following investigation examines Fr. Anscar Chupungco’s two observations about theological defects in the 2010 Trinity Sunday collect translation in light of MR 1962 and MR 2002. I have followed the order of Fr. Chupungo’s remarks and translations.

    first example

    MR 1962: aeternae Trinitatis gloriam agnoscere

    MR 2002: æternae gloriam Trinitatis agnoscere

    second example

    MR 1962: et in potentia maiestatis adorare Unitatem
    MR 2002: et Unitatem adorare in potentia maiestatis

    With regard to the first example:

    Fr. Chupungo rightly notes that the current translation’s “acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory” is not theologically equivalent to “acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity” (Chupungo 94 – 95) In my opinion, the faulty translation arises from Latin morphological confusion and not deliberate theological obfuscation.

    MR 1962: aeternae [gen. sg.] Trinitatis [gen sg.] gloriam [acc. sg] agnoscere [pres. act. inf.]

    MR 2002: æternae [gen. sg.] gloriam [acc. sg.] Trinitatis [gen sg.] agnoscere [pres. act. inf.]

    The flaw in the 2010 translation resides in a morphological mismatch between the genitive æternae and accusative object of the infinitive gloriam. The faulty translation Fr. Chupungo rightly illustrates (Chupungo 94) stems from a rather elementary translation error, as the declension matching process is quite straightforward in this case.

    MR 1962’s presentation of the genitives aeternae Trinitatis together mitigates the chance of error.

    With regard to the second example:

    Fr. Chupungo again rightly notes that the current translation’s unwarranted insertion of “your” would require a reworking of the Latin prayer to avoid a confusion of “unity” with the with the Father. (Chupungo 95) Again, I contend that an erroneous translation has precipitated a theological collision.

    MR 1962: in potentia [abl. prepositional] maiestatis [gen. sg.] adorare [pres. act. inf.] Unitatem [acc. sg.]

    MR 2002: Unitatem [acc. sg.] adorare [pres. act. inf.] in potentia [abl. prepositional] maiestatis [gen. sg.]

    Admittedly, both sentences insufficiently clarify whether or not unitatem should take a definite or indefinite article in English. Even so “the Unity”, as proposed by Fr. Chupungo, would have been both theologically correct and a sound translation. (Chupungo 95)

    More distressingly, however, is the new translation’s inappropriate assignment of the ablative prepositional particle in to the genitive maiestatis. While Fr. Chupungo aptly contends that “the passage is inaccurate and should be rectified by deleting the possessive pronoun ‘your’” (Chupungo 95), the prepositional defect of this excerpt, while not theologically troubling, nevertheless suggests that an attempt to create a more anglicized semantic and syntactic structure might have superseded very important and non-negotiable theological messages.

    As with the previous example, MR 1962 offers greater clarity. This recension’s placement of the ablative prepositional phrase before the genitive maiestatis lessens the possibility of mistranslating a preposition. Even so, neither tradition presents a clear approach with regard to English articles.

  4. Book of Common Prayer 1979 ( USA)-
    Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship. and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father, who with your Son and the Holy Spirit, live and reign, on God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    1. @Mark Miller – comment #5:
      Or as Cranmer originally translated [spelling modernised]:
      ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, which hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of thy Divine Majesty to worship the Unity : We beseech thee, that through the steadfastness of this faith, we may evermore be defended from all adversities, which livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
      which became in 1662
      ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of thy Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee, that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.

      Cranmer had worked from the Latin of the Sarum Rite which was that of the Gregorian Sacramentary and is identical to the 1962 MR which Jonathan reproduces in comment #6.
      Kind regards,
      John Henley

  5. So many versions to pull together!

    Latin, Missal of 2002

    Deus Pater, qui, Verbum veritatis et Spiritum sanctificationis mittens in mundum, admirabile mysterium tuum hominibus declarasti, da nobis, in confessione verae fidei, aeternae gloriam Trinitatis agnoscere, et Unitatem adorare in potentia maiestatis.

    Latin, Missal of 1962

    Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui dedisti famulis tuis, in confessione verae fidei, aeternae Trinitatis gloriam agnoscere, et in potentia maiestatis adorare Unitatem: quaesumus; ut, eiusdem fidei firmitate, ab omnibus semper muniamur adversis.

    English, 2011 translation (current)

    God our Father, who by sending into the world
    the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification
    made known to the human race your wondrous mystery,
    grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith,
    we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory
    and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty

    English, 1998 translation (suppressed)

    God our Father,

    you revealed the wonderful mystery of the Godhead
    by sending into the world
    
the Word who speaks all truth
    
and the Spirit who makes us holy.
    
Grant that we may proclaim the fullness of faith
    
by acknowledging and worshipping
    
three Persons, eternal in glory,
    
one God of majesty and power.

    English, 1973 translation

    Father,
    you sent your Word to bring us truth
    and your Spirit to make us holy.
    Through them we come to know the mystery of your life.
    Help us to worship you, one God in three Persons,
    By proclaiming and living our faith in you.

  6. If you are interested in this collect, look here, where, back in 2011, our own Xavier Rindfleisch analysed it. And he provided yet another source, the version that the bishops submitted to Vox Clara. Here it is:

    God our Father,
    by sending into the world the Word of truth
    and the Spirit of sanctification
    you made known to humankind your awesome mystery;
    grant us, in professing the true faith,
    to acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory,
    and adore the Unity, powerful in majesty.

    Notice that Vox Clara changed “humankind” to “the human race”; changed “awesome” to “wondrous”; and tossed in a “we pray” that wasn’t in the Latin, because Liturgiam Authenticam says … oh, never mind.

    But they also introduced formal heresy into the translation, which we are saddled with today. Go read Rindfleisch’s analysis for more on this.

  7. What does ‘mystery’ mean in this prayer? Some translations above construe it as ‘reality hard to understand’, as in ‘the mystery of the Godhead’ or ‘the mystery of your life’.

    But I’d prefer to understand it in the Pauline sense of God’s eternal plan, revealed in Christ and continued in the Church. Thus, the Trinity Collect looks back at the unfolding of this mystery through the Church’s year, and asks that we may remain faithful to what it has taught us.

    The first 3 lines were new in 1970, grafted on to an already existing collect. This new prayer achieves a nice balance between the historical and the metaphysical.

    1. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #9:

      Mgr. Harbert, I appreciate your evaluation of the Trinity Sunday collect’s meaning. Even so, I find the Latin syntax of the collect to be unnecessarily obtuse. While I would say that Fr. Anscar Chupungco’s English-based critique of the theology of the current Trinity Sunday collect surpasses in importance my conjecture that Latin syntax might have contributed to an inaccurate translation, I must say that not infrequently the syntax of the typical Latin of the postconciliar missals needlessly slows down the sightreading pace.

      The Tridentine recension propers tend to group morphologically similar words and constructions together. I suggest that this is more consonant with late Latin than the more modern texts, which arrange the syntax in an apparently haphazard way. This is not to say that when the postconciliar typical missal uses phrases and clauses from the Tridentine tradition the semantics are different. Rather, I find that the postconciliar missals do not generally follow the syntax of established genres of Latin prose.

      Perhaps one day the propers of the typical missal texts could be rearranged syntactically to resemble later Latin but pre-Caroliginian paradigms. However, doing so might result in prayers syntactically similar to the Tridentine tradition. I recognize that perhaps the composers of the postconciliar typical missal have desired to avoid a Tridentine resemblance.

  8. An unintended consequence of the new translation is to make priests more linguistically and theologically sensitive. The horrible 1973 preces were recited just as verbal popcorn, but the abrasive new ones demand a reaction from the celebrant — either to correct what is theologically misleading, or plain heretical (next Sunday’s collect is no surprise — at one stage the USCCB had a version of the Roman Canon on their website in which Mary became the mother of Joseph), or to correct evident bad grammar such as the “acclaim” at the end of the prefaces. Adroit celbrants have diluted the bad effects of the new translation on the faithful.

  9. Jordan, I fear you are being far too soft on the translators here.

    As you can see from the Xavier Rindfleisch quote above, ICEL and the bishops sent “the Trinity of eternal glory” to Rome – an error that would get a red mark in a first-year Latin class. They also sent up “the Unity, powerful in majesty”; this was correct, but Vox Clara mangled it into “your Unity”. Again, a simple error. The Latin word order has nothing to do with it.

    If one of your elementary Latin students had complained, “sir, I goofed because the text departed from the Tridentine recension”, you would have reminded your erring pupil that Latin word order can vary enormously and sent him or her away to revise nouns of the first declension.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #12:

      Completely true, Jonathan. I just enjoy sociolinguistics. Hopefully one day I will be paid to do it 😉

      I doubt what we laypersons, or even the vast majority of the clergy, will ever truly find out why these simple translation mistakes were made. Even the half-drunk medieval monks who helped to shape the classical Latin works as we know them today performed well as redactors. They displayed a well-rounded knowledge of the language outside of translation into vernaculars. (With all due respect to the good monks of St. John’s Abbey, boiling during the brewing process served as a good water disinfectant.)

  10. Careless mistakes like this are typical when politics and pastoral policy get mixed up with the project of orthodox and accurate translation. This translation reads as if it were the result of a multiple committees and revisions without unity of paradigm. I think it was. That said, it is clear that this translation contains, albeit with need for explanation, more of the theological richness that was left out in the 1973 translation. A question bothers me, looking at this: why it was necessary to modify the traditional collect? The new one is not clearly better or more fitting–it seems to me, indeed, more cluncky. Changes like this irk me, since it seems that the good of the Church did not genuinely and certainly require them.

    1. @Joseph Anthony – comment #15:
      Since very early times, there has been a strong contrast between the trinitarian theology of East and West, the East focussing more on the threeness of Persons and the West on the oneness of God. The western insertion of the ‘filioque’ in the Creed is a symptom of this, and a major cause of division. The western emphasis has led theologians to stress abstract speculation about the immanent Trinity at the expense of reflection on the Trinity’s revelation in history. At its best – in Augustine and Aquinas – this is magnificent. But it can degenerate into excessive abstraction.
      The liturgical texts of the Roman Rite exemplify this western tendency – just look at the quantity of abstract nouns that they contain.
      Many theologians have felt that the West needs to learn from the East in order to develop a more balanced presentation of trinitarian theology so that, as John Paul II said, the Church can breathe with both her lungs.
      These are the considerations that, I would suggest, led to the revision of the Trinity Sunday Collect.

      1. Heavens, this is not the way to demonstrate theological refinement. Kathy on Commonweal uses the same argument, calling the Greek theology Monarchianism, which is in fact the name of an ancient heresy. You might try to correct an over-emphasis on the divinity of Christ that your might find rather tending to Monophysitism by mistranslating the Creed; instead of “True God from true God” for example, you might translate “True Son of God”. Or you might correct what you consider an excessive stress on Mary as Virgin by translating “ex Maria virgine” as “from Mother Mary.” This adventurous departure from literal translation is not the product of theological refinement, but of theological ignoramuses who may imagining they are correcting the Western theological bias by making slapdash gesture in the opposite direction.

  11. material not formal heresy perhaps, but the mistranslation sends a clear message that orthodoxy in speaking of the Trinity is unimportant.

  12. The preface still reads: “For what you have revealed to us of your glory
    we believe equally of your Son
    and of the Holy Spirit,
    so that, in the confessing of the true and eternal Godhead,
    you might be adored in what is proper to each Person,
    their unity in substance,
    and their equality in majesty.”

    If the refined pro-Greek theology claimed above were applied to the Preface we would get:

    “For what you have revealed to us of your glory
    we believe is yours alone
    so that, in the confessing of your true and eternal Godhead,
    you might be adored in what is proper to your Person,
    your unity in substance,
    and your supremacy in majesty.”

  13. In short, the perpetrators of this ghastly new translation, criminals against the sacraments, are bereft of both theological and literary discernment. As often pointed out, they are the people that the 1998 translators kept at a distance and who then sneaked into positions of power where they have wrought vengeful havoc. They are men of great vanity and fatuousness and their little parlor game has done terrible, terrible damage to the church, which translated into the private suffering of individual members who have clung on to the Mass for dear life, Christ’s little ones, and now find themselves abandoned. When the South African faithful expressed such sentiments they were laughed off, or accused of dissidence and disobedience by the likes of Cardinal Napier. But this gang will face a terrible judgment.

  14. Greek theology might also be averse to the heavy language of Sacrificial Atonement in the Roman liturgy, which the new translation rather vamps up than dilutes. If theological refinement, or ecumenical thoughtfulness, licenses such departures from literal translation, why not change, why not lighten up on this sacrificial language as well?

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