Quote of the day: Newman on translation

English has innovated on the Latin sense of its own Latin words; and if we are to speak according to the conditions of the language, and are to make ourselves intelligible to the multitude, we shall necessarily run the risk of startling those who are resolved to act as mere critics and scholastics in the process of popular instruction. This divergence from a classical or ecclesiastical standard is a great inconvenience, I grant; but we cannot remodel our mother-tongue. Crimen does not properly mean crime; amiable does not yet convey the idea of amabilis; compassio is not compassion; princeps is not a prince; disputatio is not a dispute; praevenire is not to prevent. Cicero imperator is not the Emperor Cicero; scriptor egregius is not an egregious writer; virgo singularis is not a singular virgin; retractare dicta is not to retract what has been said; and, as we know from the sacred passage, traducere is not necessarily to traduce.

John Henry Newman, 1859, quoted in The Tablet.

3 comments

  1. I read this exact passage reproduced in “Newman’s Unquiet Grave – The Reluctant Saint” by John Cornwell and immediately thought of the issues around the New Translation. I have a feeling that he would have been horrified by the state it’s in. Mind you for much of his time as a Catholic he was not like or trusted by the hierarchy!
    Let’s hope his spirit (along with the Holy Spirit) comes down on all involved.

  2. And justum does not necessarily mean just, one may add.

    Newman is a great stylist in part because of his ability to blend Germanic and Latin vocabulary and rhythms to surprising effect. I wonder if the bishops would have drawn on Newman’s services if he were alive today. I think not. After all translating the is a “relatively straightforward” business (Bp Roche).

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