Not all the European bishops are bonae voluntatis about new translations

Sandro Magister reports that Italian and German-speaking bishops are resisting new translations which Rome is trying to introduce.

In October of 2006 the presidents of the episcopal conferences all over the world were sent a letter, under the “guidance” of Benedict XVI, from the congregation for divine worship, headed at the time by Cardinal Francis Arinze. It asked that “pro multis” be translated as “for many.” This was done by the episcopates of Hungary (from “mindenkiért” to “sokakért) and of various countries in Latin America (from “por todos” to “por muchos”). The Spanish episcopate is preparing to do so, and the change has already been made, not without very lively discussions even among the bishops, by the episcopate of the United States (from “for all” to “for many”). As for the episcopates of Germany and Austria, they are showing strong resistance to the change from fur alle” to “fur viele.”

As for Italy, the issue was addressed by the bishops during the plenary assembly of the episcopal conference held in Assisi in November of 2010, during the examination of the material of the third Italian edition of the Roman Missal.

On that occasion, the Italian bishops showed tremendous reluctance to introduce “per molti.” During the sessions, in fact, it was insisted that the episcopal conferences of the individual regions were already “unanimous” in choosing the version “per tutti.” And when the bishops of all of Italy were called to vote on this specific point of the Missal, the result was the following: out of 187 voters, in addition to one blank ballot, there were 171 votes in favor of keeping “per tutti,” 4 for the introduction of the version “per la moltitudine” (taken from “pour la multitude,” used in the French Missal), and just 11 for the “per molti” requested by the Holy See in 2006.

It’s an interesting story. But as always, one has to be careful with Magister. His reporting is rather tendentious at times. His version of the present controversy, for example, puts it forth as “disobedience” that the bishops are resisting the Holy See. A more accurate portrayal would be that the bishops are being faithful to the charge given them by the Second Vatican Council. Recall that Sacrosanctum Concilium gives territorial bodies of bishops the authority to prepare and approve translations. The role of Rome, according to Vatican II, is not to correct or change or produce or approve translations, but to confirm that the bishops followed proper canonical procedure in carrying out their work.



  1. And, if I am quickly reading seniority tables correctly, less than a quarter of those bishops have been ordinaries of their sees since before the Jubilee. This is not the reaction of a hidebound rump from days of yore that has yet to see The Light.

  2. I am distressed to see that the issues that surround the translation of pro multis in various national missals has become another wedge issue in the “translation wars”. I am now convinced that the battle over pro multis does not truly concern the orthodox dogma of the infinitely-inclusive atonement versus Jansenius’ heterodox limited atonement. Rather, the pro multis question strikes at the very heart of the post-conciliar liturgical movement’s understanding of the didactic nature of liturgy.

    It would be hard for one to evade the truth that pro multis theologically means “for all”, for all people at all times until the parousia. Yet pro multis also emphasizes that individuals are encompassed within the atonement.

    If this square can’t be circled in vernacular languages, pronounce the consecration in Latin, as Pope Benedict has suggested. The qui pridie and the simili modo, as well as their equivalents in the new EPs, could be recited in Latin within the context of an otherwise mostly or fully vernacular Mass.

    I realize that this proposal is anathema to the post-conciliar liturgical project for two reasons. First, the liturgical project emphasizes that liturgy is called to instruct the laity just as the laity are called to instruct the liturgy. Also, Latin is for many a “block” to communication transparency. However, if indeed pro multis is an idiom that cannot be easily understood outside of Latin, then the idiom should remain embedded in its language.

    1. Actually, there is a good vernacular solution in English: for the many. Simple.

      The idea of pronouncing the Institution narrative in Latin gets us back to an unhelpfully magical-juridical view of language.

    2. “for the many” is not an option for a few reasons. One resides in the Gospels themselves. Within the context of the eucharistic narratives, an articular use does not exist in the Greek, and a relative pronominal use does not exist in the Latin.

      One example: Matthew 26:28, NA 27 and Nova Vulgata:

      τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν

      hic est enim sanguis meus novi testamenti qui pro multis effunditur in remissionem peccatorum

      the definite article τὸ in the Greek refers to the neuter noun αἷμά (blood) and not the prepositional clause περὶ πολλῶν (for many). The qui in the Latin refers to a relative clause that does not involve the prepositional clause pro multis (for many).

      Here is the consecration according to the Pauline Missal:

      Simili modo […] hic est enim calix sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.[…]

      The relative pronoun qui refers back to sanguinis, in the same manner as the Greek definite article refers to αἷμά.

      Is it worth it to interpolate an English definite pronoun where no pronoun exists in either the Greek New Testament or the Latin translation upon which the Mass is based?

      When interpolations and suppositions cannot be made without disruption to a textual history, then it is better to preserve the “whole cloth”. There is nothing magical or legal about Latin. Rather, at certain points in the Mass it is the only language that can capture the theology of the moment accurately.

      1. But there is no whole cloth in the sense you mean it, because you are stuck on the flawed notion of exact correspondence, which is one of those penny wise pound foolish things in translation, or, to use other metaphors, endeavors to churn out a text without the music, a film reprint without the color, et cet..

        And yes there indeed is a magical and juridical sense to what you propose.

      2. There is no definite or indefinite article in Latin, Jordan, so all translations perforce have to use dynamic equivalence in this respect. This is something that those currently running the show do not yet seem to have grasped.

        (I am reminded of the previous incarnation of GIRM, where the Latin text included, before a blow-by-blow narrative of the Mass, a heading with the words forma typica. Of course the rubricists wanted to translate this as “The Typical Form”, but many others pointed out that an equally valid translation would be “A Typical Form”.)

        Cardinal Arinze’s insistence on “for many” was condemned by scripture scholars as demonstrating an ignorance of Semitic word forms, of which the Latin is itself a bad translation.

      3. That’s true, Paul — Latin does not have articles. However, the definite article and the relative pronoun are one and the same in Greek, and often form linked grammatical constructions. As I have demonstrated, the prepositional phrase περὶ πολλῶν is not associated with either an articular or pronominal construction. This adds some, but not full, credibility to the idea that a definite article should not be read into pro multis given that an article is also absent in the Greek. qui can act as a pseudo-article in Latin, but that is not how qui works in this particular verse or the simili modo.

        I would be interested to know if there is an Aramaic or Hebrew case for the interpolation of articles into prepositional phrases that begin with περὶ, or ὑπέρ, etc. The Latin of scripture and the Mass cannot be decoupled from its koine antecedents merely to fulfill current ideological or theological issues. Articles cannot be sprinkled about translations simply because Latin is a language without articles. Priority must be given to the textual antecedents of the Latin text in question.

  3. I am interested that so few voted for “per la moltitudine”. “Pour la multitude” works very well in French – when I hear it I understand “for all, who are many” – and it would have seemed a decent compromise. My totally uneducated guess that so few votes for this median solution shows a certain amount of anger at the CDW.

  4. #5 by Karl Liam Saur on October 5, 2011 – 10:56 am

    Karl: to use other metaphors, endeavors to churn out a text without the music, a film reprint without the color, et cet..

    Sometimes I listen to live traditional Chinese opera in Montreal’s Quartier Chinois. I sit in awe as soloists move easily through both tone and posture. I do not comprehend the aria or libretto. Yet a soloist and his or her ephemeral gestures convey significant meaning that I only understand on a superficial level. The tradition of Chinese opera animates, rather than constrains, their great creativity. The performers perpetuate history-through-art without reinvention. History-through-art need not respect my presence or cater to my desires.

    We have no need to write a new soundtrack or choreography for the Canon and the Mass because the language which enshrines Catholic worship is the supreme vehicle of the perpetuation of history through worship. The very words of the Mass have been perfected in time and through time, but not for a time — this is most evident not only in the theological profundity of the Canon, for example, but also in its sublime prosody. Why not, then, let the Mass “sing” in the language of its composition and perfection, rather than attempt to recast ancient idiom and poetry in our five-decade worldview?

    At Mass, we encounter the Sacrifice and Eucharist. This is the reality for all, regardless of comprehension. None of us learns the fulness of the sacraments in our lives. Yet we might hear the grace notes and see the minute gestures, and be sustained through what is venerable.

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