Of hermits.

Today being the feast of St. Romuald, I found myself comparing translations of the collect for the day. Here’s the Latin:

Deus, qui per Romualdum in Ecclesia tue eremiticam vitam renovasti, concede, ut, nosmetipsos abnegantes et Christum sequentes, feliciter ad caelestia regna mereamur ascendere. Per Dominum. . .

Here is the current translation:

O God. who through Saint Romuald renewed the manner of life of hermits in your Church, grant that, denying ourselves and following Christ, we may merit to reach heavenly realms on high. Through our Lord. . .

And here is the previous translation:

Father, through St. Romuald you renewed the life of solitude and prayer in your Church. By our self-denial as we follow Christ bring us the joy of heaven, We ask this. . .

We can, I suppose, debate the relative merits of the two translations as English prose, and I would say that the old translation is simply a better piece of writing — not perfect, but the new alternative doesn’t set the bar for “better” all that high. But de gustibus and all that.

What really interests me are the differing decisions as to how to translate eremiticam vitam in the two translations. In the Latin, eremiticam is an adjective, so the “literal” translation (I use scare-quotes because I am dubious that there really is such a thing, but let’s entertain it as something that might obtain in some possible world) would be “the eremitic life.”

Neither of the two translations, however, is literal in the sense either of following the grammar of the Latin or of having a word-to-word correspondence of vocabulary.

The current translation transforms the adjective eremitica into a genitive (“of hermits”), and glosses the noun vita as “the manner of life.” Since probably fewer than 1% of Catholics would have any idea what “the eremitic life” is, such glossing and grammatical reshuffling seems justified by the linguistic good of comprehensibility.  But does the choice of the word “hermit” as a translation of eremitica achieve that good? Would a modern person think, upon hearing the word “hermit,” of a monk who has vowed himself to a life of solitude, or would they think of the creepy old guy down the street with all those semi-feral cats hanging around in his yard, who glares at people through his curtains but never comes out of his house? Even though our modern word “hermit” is etymologically related to eremitica, might this be shading into the area of those “false friends” that, while resembling the word we want to translate, have significantly different connotations?

The older translation renders eremiticam vitam as “the life of solitude and prayer.” Here again we have glossing and grammatical reshuffling. In fact, the grammatical reshuffling is the same as it the newer prayer: substituting a genitive for an adjective. The glossing, however, is of the adjective eremitica (“of solitude and prayer”) rather than the noun vita. Arguably, it is the adjective and not the noun that needs glossing, since we still have a better idea of a religious “state of life” (as when we speak of someone entering “religious life”) than we do of the “eremitic life.” The phrase “of solitude and prayer” seems to me to be a pretty accurate rendering of eremitica. And it is a rendering that, for modern hearers, raises the right sort of questions: not why we would celebrate the life of someone who is like the creepy old guy down the street, but why it is that the Church values the life of solitude and prayer.

As is often the case with the new translation, the question is not one of whether to gloss words and reshuffle grammar. Both of these translations do that. The question is one of what sort of glossing and reshuffling will best serve the good of linguistic comprehension. In this case, aside from any stylistic considerations and specifically on the issue of translating eremiticam vitam, I would say that the older translation got it right.


  1. New joke:

    V/. How many Catholics does it it take to pray a prayer?

    R/. Ten. One to actually pray the text and nine to pick apart the translation and remark how much better it was in the old translation.

      1. Indeed. Over 800 years later, most Catholics still don’t care about all that gobbledygook.

        But I heard he could fly…that’s pretty cool.

  2. I think there is a tension between the life of solitude and prayer and being a Christian. How does one be a Christian in the apparent absence of community? Obviously, since Jesus took Himself on retreat more than once, there is a place for this life choice.

    The prayer is not Scripture, so it is proper to ask ourselves what the purpose of the prayer is and to change the wording (perhaps even of the original Latin!) I think the prayer should leave us pondering the balance between solitude and community.

  3. The older translation renders eremiticam vitam as “the life of solitude and prayer.” I would say that the older translation got it right.

    I agree. The problem is that over centuries the eremetical (i.e. desert) life has changed both in civic and church culture.

    The life of solitude was once considered the highest form of monastic life. Some thought of it like the Life of Anthony who spent many decades in solitude eventually to become a model and teacher of other solitaries. Others saw communal monastic life as a preparation for a deeper life of prayer in solitude as the crown of a monastic life. Some like Saint Mary of Egypt spend forty years in the desert repenting before being “discovered” by Father Zosima who was led there when he wanted a more prefect teacher.

    The problem is now we have an individualism and privacy that was largely unknown in earlier centuries. That fostered false Catholic notions of community in contrast to Protestant and Enlightenment individualism. More recently it has resulted in opposing and downplaying “private” prayer to “public” worship.

    The early Church saw the life of the Spirit, especially in prayer whether corporate or personal, as the deepest aspect of union in Christ. The Church not only existed throughout the world as well as in the local community, it existed in the heart and person of each of us, as an ecclesiola, the Person church. They saw Creation, Incarnation, Redemption, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost as taking place not only trans-historically but also in the liturgy as community and in each person’s spiritual life.

    In the Life of Anthony and of Mary of Egypt there is much evidence of“supernatural” connection and knowledge of what is going on in the Church beyond them. An Orthodox priest once said that the Greek Fathers considered this a restoration of our unfallen communal nature.

    Prayer is the key to understanding the life of solitude as a community of one.

  4. I agree that the Sacramentary translation of the collect is of better design overall. However, the more recent translation has preserved the parallelism of the present participies abnegantes and sequentes. The Sacramentary collect’s conversion of the meaning of abnegantes into an English prepositional phrase arguably distorts the aspect of the Latin participle. Even so, I commend the Sacramentary translator(s)’ attempt to create two finite sentences.

    It’s often not a good idea to begin an English sentence with a prepositional phrase. I write ‘often’ since even the Bard used prepositions “incorrectly” (e.g. ending a sentence with a preposition). The notion that English grammar and spelling should be standardized is a phenomenon that began in the 18th century. Any attempt to standardize a written and spoken living language is arguably artificial anyway.

  5. I certainly do not pretend to ‘take on’ those whose competence at Latin and grammar are far above my own. I do, though, wonder if it is true that 99% of Catholics would have a debased understanding of ‘hermit’ or would not know what eremitical life was. This is rather a fundamental aspect of Catholic history, culture and spititual life. If deacon Fritz is correct, someone and some attitudes in our educational system need to be replaced and corrected. (This may be but one of many symptoms that attend forming priests as administrators rather than as holy men, as we discuss on a previous converstation here.)

    As for the older vs. the newer translation, I hate to admit it, but they each illuminate in a beautiful but differing way the beauty of the Latin. I do, though, prefer the new because, in toto, one can hear the Latin and its attitude better than in the old. Also, and importantly, it does not presume that we don’t know what a Christian hermit is. (And, if there are any who really don’t: they can ask the priest or look it up… then, they will know.)

    I thank Deacon Fritz for this. It is very enlightening, and we need more of the same.

  6. Once again I can taste the sour fruit of Liturgiam Authenticam in the new translation. Latin participles are often ‘causal’, so that Laudamus Caesarem piratas capientem would most likely be read as ‘We praise Caesar because he is capturing the pirates.’

    Lit Auth would call for a syntactic parallel, something like ‘We praise Caesar capturing the pirates’. This not only sounds weird, but, because English doesn’t have a distinct objective (accusative) case, it leaves some ambiguity as to who is doing the capturing.

    Something like that is going on here: is denying ourselves and following Christ the means of ascending to the heavenly realm? Or is it something that is simply happening at the same time? The older translation sensibly uses a preposition to clarify cause.

    Jordan, if we aren’t to use prepositions at the start of sentences, then the much-lauded “To you” rendering of “Te igitur” must go. Actually, I think it should go, but then you wouldn’t be able to have a giant “T” at the start of the Roman Canon…

    Translating mereamur as ‘we may merit’ is just silly – no native English speaker, anywhere in the world, however well educated, talks this way in any setting.

    How did the literal, exact meaning of ascendere become ‘reach’? Yes, it can by metonymy mean something like that, as in ascendit in naviculam, ‘he climbed into a little boat’ (Luke 8.22). But we are supposed to render the texts ‘integrally and in the most exact manner … without paraphrases or glosses’ (Lit Auth §20).

    And what happened to that happy little word, feliciter? Did the new translators toss it out because it was too cheerful?

    What we have here is neither good English nor a faithful rendering of the Latin.

    Fritz puts it very, very well:

    …the question is not one of whether to gloss words and reshuffle grammar. … The question is one of what sort of glossing and reshuffling will best serve the good of linguistic comprehension.

    Of course if linguistic comprehension is not the goal, then a translation like this will be just fine.

    1. re: Jonathan Day on June 20, 2012 – 4:30 am

      Jonathan: Jordan, if we aren’t to use prepositions at the start of sentences, then the much-lauded “To you” rendering of “Te igitur” must go. Actually, I think it should go, but then you wouldn’t be able to have a giant “T” at the start of the Roman Canon…

      I fully agree that the “to you” interpretation of the te in te igitur is an entirely odd and unnecessarily literal interpretation of the first petition of the Roman Canon. The subject of the opening sentence of this petition in Latin is clementissime Pater, and an English translation should reflect this (Coverdale: “most merciful Father”). Even so, a clearer English translation should not occasion an end to the “Canon page” tradition. The inclusion of a Canon page opposite an English translation of the Roman Canon suits the aesthetic of ad orientem celebration.

      1. re: Jordan Zarembo on June 20, 2012 – 4:52 am

        Okay, yes I am wrong, embarassingly so. Again, a warning not to practice philology before caffeination. Grammatically, the subject of the Latin sentence is the implied “we” of the verbs petimus and rogamus, and not clementissime pater, even if the celebrant and assembly address the te igitur to God the Father. The pronoun te relates to clementissime Pater as an indirect object. The action is performed by the celebrant and assembly. I still maintain, and agree with you Jonathan, that the placement of “To you” before the indirect object “most merciful Father” unnecessarily complicates the relationship between subject and object in English. Indeed, as in my error made, English translations can often confuse the subject and indirect object by mistranslating clementissime pater.

    2. re: Jonathan Day on June 20, 2012 – 4:30 am

      Jonathan: Something like that is going on here: is denying ourselves and following Christ the means of ascending to the heavenly realm? Or is it something that is simply happening at the same time?

      I now see, and agree, that a translation of abnegantes and sequentes as causal makes sense. The imperative concede does not necessarily require anything but a direct object. The combination of concede and the clause particle ut strengthens the causal stress of the petition. nosmetipsos is a super-intensifier of the clause: it is a combination of nos (personal pronoun), met (intensifier), and ipsos (reflexive pronoun of nos). The metipsos, then, is a double redundant intensifier of nos and perhaps unnecessary. Even so, the crazy compound amplifies cause to the point of absurdity.

      1. Is it denying ourselves to follow Christ, or discarding shallow interests to allow ourselves to bloom more fully by being who God wants us to be?

    3. re: Jordan Zarembo on June 20, 2012 – 5:50 am

      (Ed.: apology for triple post, as this is a somewhat complex argument)

      I would disagree with you Jonathan and agree with the more recent translators that abnegantes and sequentes can be simultaneous actions with a present continuous aspect. Without further context or the presence of a source text to precede the Latin, the aspect of a Latin present participle is continuous. This can be illustrated by a counterexample of a Greek translation into Latin (New Testament). The author of Mark depicts the calling of Levi in this way:

      καὶ παράγων εἶδεν Λευὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ. (Mark 2:14 Nestle-Aland 27)

      Et cum praeteriret, vidit Levi Alphaei sedentem ad telonium, et ait illi: Sequere me. Et surgens secutus est eum. (Mark 2:14 Clementine Vulgate)

      ἀναστὰς is an aorist nominative singular participle. The author of Mark intends a terminal past aspect action for Levi’s response to Jesus’ call. Since Latin has no aorist, the present participle surgens is used instead. The Vulgate instead relies on the narrative frame for a past terminal non-continuous interpretation. The collect in question is not a translation from Greek or any source text. One might plausibly conclude that the collect’s present participles abnegantes and sequentes are not only simultaneous but also continuous in aspect since no precedent exists to indicate otherwise.

      1. Dear Jordan, in truth I have lost the thread of the argument.

        Abnegantes and sequentes can indeed be present and continuous – that continuity, by the way, is another reason I think that the new translators’ rendering of ascendere as ‘reach’ is off-key: to my ears ‘reach’ implies a degree of finality, completed action, ‘perfection’ that is not there in the Latin text. So I don’t disagree with you at all.

        We also seem to agree, from your earlier post, that the older translators were right to use ‘By’ to indicate causality.

        So I am not sure where we disagree! Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

        There are all sorts of valid choices that a translator could make. Do you render nosmetipsos as something like ‘our very selves’? Do you preserve the parallel structure of abnegantes and sequentes, ‘by denying ourselves and following Christ’? Do you emphasise simultaneity – as the old translators did – ‘by denying ourselves while we follow Christ’? Do you elide or translate feliciter – and, if so, how?

        What doesn’t work for me, at all, is the translators’ puffed-up claim that they are finally revealing ‘what the prayer really says’, that the new trans is ‘more faithful to the Latin’, etc., as though the new translators subordinated themselves to the text in a way that the old ones did not.

      2. re: Jonathan Day on June 20, 2012 – 8:01 am

        Jonathan: So I am not sure where we disagree! Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

        No, you haven’t missed anything at all. If anything, this thread has warned me to be a closer reader and think things through better. I misinterpreted your statement,

        Something like that is going on here: is denying ourselves and following Christ the means of ascending to the heavenly realm? Or is it something that is simply happening at the same time? The older translation sensibly uses a preposition to clarify cause.

        because I did not read the last sentence. Prepositions can demonstrate causality. The reference to the NT was to show my opinion that continuous action should be presumed unless there is other information available.

    4. JD:And what happened to that happy little word, feliciter? Did the new translators toss it out because it was too cheerful?

      I was tempted to mention this in my post, with a snarky comment that this was perhaps symptomatic of a certain joylessness in the new translation, but decided that this might derail things.

      Of course, making my snarky comment in the comments is another matter entirely.

    5. Thanks, Jonathan, for your comment on the one part of the current translation I found troubling: “we may merit to reach heavenly realms on high.” I was tempted to use a stronger word than “silly” for the “we may merit” translation of mereamur. Without a theology degree, I wouldn’t go so far as ‘heretical,’ but I will say that it seems presumptuous to think of eternal life as anything other than a gift one might hope for, even for the most faithful, virtuous followers of Christ. I know we speak of a “heavenly reward,” but isn’t this phrase just a comment on the sometimes-meager rewards of this life?

      Also, if I recall correctly, there’s a suggestion in writers’ handbooks that it’s usual to find a possessive before a gerund. So “We praise Caesar capturing the pirates” would not be ambiguous if written “We praise Caesar‘s capturing the pirates.” Formal, stuffy, maybe, but clear, I think.

  7. The Holy Family Hermitage of Monte Corona (Ohio or maybe Pennsylvania) has a different translation:

    O God, Who chose St. Romuald to renew the eremitic life in Your Church, give us the strength to deny ourselves in order to follow Christ in the way of the Cross and to go up with Him into the glory of Your reign. Through Jesus Christ Your Son, Who is God and Who live and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

  8. It’s all well and good for all of us to be a hermit at some time or another, but I think there are many who want to come to Mass and behave as if no one else is there. (vertical taken to the extreme) Solitary prayer is one thing, but solitary prayer that deliberately closes out those present around you is something else.

  9. How would some of the Latin and Greek scholars here suggest that a 21st century Cranmer would translate this collect? This is a challenge!
    I’m not sure that Fritz’ ‘a certain joylessness’, is a fully apt description of the new translation. While I can sort of see why he said it, I don’t at all think the new translation is joyless. It is certainly far more deeply respectful of God than the old, and preserves that characteristic from the Latin. Too, while not always handling it well, it commendably attempts, all to often without success, to preserve the Latin’s more complete imagery and delightful pace, whereas the old gives us rather truncated expressions made obviously with the fewest imaginable number of words. The result is rather computeresque and unfulfilling. (I suppose, though, that there are others who consider it a masterpiece of succinctness. But at what a cost!)

    1. What do you think happened to feliciter? The newer translation’s imagery is less complete with its absence. This prayer is literally “joy”less.

      The same depletion happens with “the manner of life of hermits” as opposed to “the life of solitude and prayer.” The first is institutional, dependent on special knowledge of hermits for it to have any effect. The latter is something every person knows, and consequently captures the significance of St Romuald better. He did reform that institution of hermits, but he also showed it as a living model for the penitent.

    2. M. Jackson Osborn – You assert that the new translation of the prayer “is certainly far more deeply respectful of God than the old.” How so? And how is the translation in the old Sacramentary less deeply respectful of God?

  10. How does – what was it – the 2008 version of the collect for S. Romuald compare with the three mentioned? Where is that Xavier gentleman when we need him?

    1. The 2008 version said (I am not making this up):

      O God, who through Saint Romuald renewed the eremitical [!] life in your Church, grant that, denying ourselves and following Christ, we may receive the joy of ascending to the heavenly realms. Through our Lord . . . .

    2. It’s the 1998, Brian — and it is very good. Felicitous, even.

      O God, through the blessed hermit Romuald you renewed in your Church the life of prayer and solitude; grant that by denying ourselves and following Christ we may come with joy to the kingdom of heaven.

      Why, oh why, was this translation suppressed in its entirety?

      1. There is a lot that is good in the 1998 translation, but it did need revision. ICEL kept its eye on 1998 when producing 2008, but didn’t use 1998 as a basis for revision, principally because of what one translator called the ‘apple-cart syndrome’ – change one word and you find that you have to rebuild the whole text. So to start from 1998, for all its virtues, would have delayed and complicated the process even further. It was simpler to go straight back to the Latin.

  11. MJO:

    the Latin’s more complete imagery and delightful pace

    Delightful pace? The cursus of the Latin collects, far from being delightful, is alien to 99.9% of those who both listen to them or proclaim them. Preserving this characteristic in a vernacular translation in a language whose distinctive rhythms (not to mention thought processes) are completely different is sheer nonsense. I am sorry, but it is.

    As a classical scholar, I certainly appreciate the Latin constructions and rhythms — in Latin. But certainly not in any contemporary vernacular language 13 centuries or more later.

    It really is time we got away from this idea that somehow we can transport ourselves into a different age and a different way of thinking. We can’t. Even with a teletransporter we would still never be at home. We are who we are, now, and all our spirituality and our liturgical praxis needs to be mediated by who we are. If we don’t do this, we are not being true to ourselves. Worse, we are going through artificial motions, trying to pretend we are people that we are not.

    We bring ourselves, not our forebears, when we come to worship. Of course we know who and how they were, and we respect and cherish our heritage and build on our Tradition. But we live in our own age.

    There should be nothing artificial about our worship of God, no pretence, however much we might prefer to live in the age of Constantine (or whoever). Play-acting is the last thing we should be thinking of doing.

    [rant off — sorry!]

    1. Paul, you are so right imo.

      The English we’re using is inauthentic. We may as well add artificial flowers, piped music, electric candles, and plastic that looks like metal, glass, wood and marble to complete the artificiality.

  12. How would people recommend translating mereamur?

    Are we opposed to using language like “worthy” and “merit”? Is more neutral language like “attain” or “come to” favorable?

    (I would opt for “may we be worthy of”, with an optional “found” or “made” before “worthy” if need be.)

    1. re: Jeffrey Pinyan on June 20, 2012 – 6:01 pm

      “may we be worthy” is a fine translation. Your translation meets two syntactic tests.

      Lewis and Short sv. mereo I.a. (Perseus). Note that L&S lists the active voice variant first, even if the Roman collect tradition uses the deponent mereor most often. I’ve never seen anything but the deponent in either form of the Roman Rite, but perhaps someone could offer an example of the active voice in a collect. The deponent and active voice are equal in meaning.

      L&S s.v. mereo I.a. notes that “be worthy of” must be accompanied by an infinitive and/or a accusative direct object. An ut or ne construction might be present, but the L&S entry does not appear to endorse ut or ne as a requirement. I do not forsee ut and ne appearing in the same clause. St. Romuald’s collect fulfills this first test, as “feliciter ad caelestia regna mereamur ascendere” contains both an infinitive and an accusative prepositional direct object, but no ut or ne construction.

      The use of the subjunctive mood mereamur versus the indicative meremur varies by the date of a work’s composition. It appears that the indicative is preferred by classical writers, while the subjunctive is preferred by later Latin authors. Take, for example, Boethius’s Consolatio Philosophiae, “The Consolation of Philosophy” (c.a. early 6th century CE), on Plato’s Timaeus:

      “[…] quid nunc faciendum censes ut illius summi boni sedem repperire mereamur?[…]” (Boe. Cons. 3.P9) (Perseus) [my ellipses in brackets]

      Note that ut introduces the clause. mereamur governs both the accusative singular sedem and also the infinitive repperire (the latter likely a variant spelling of reperire.)

    2. The most accurate translation of mereor, in my view, is ‘get to’ as in ‘I got to have lunch with the President’. But this is widely considered unacceptable in liturgical language because its register is too low.
      Another problem in this text is feliciter. I am doing a little work on this, and hope to post about it shortly.

    3. . . . . grant that our following Christ in self-denial may bring us [or bring us happily] to heavenly realms on high.

      I agree with Mgr. Harbert on the problem of mereamur and suggest a very mild translation, along with the possessive “our” before “following” to glide over the problem. Inserting “happily” as a nod to feliciter, however, produces a sing-songy alliteration. Does LA frown on alliteration?

  13. PI –
    You have expressed passionately and eloquently realities with which I agree wholly. Nor is there anything at all rantly about what you wrote. Indeed, you have sown the seed for several ancillary discussions. Who, for instance, could sanely wish to recreate or re-live the life and thought of any previous age. To do so would be to embody all manner of hatreds, superstitions and unseemly characteristics that we, thanks to a more mature understanding of the Gospel, have outgrown. Our heirs, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may outgrow some of our own.

    At issue, though, is whether the old or the new translation of the St Romuald collect is the better one. Of the new, we can all agree with Jonathan’s verdict that it is ‘shoddy work’. Of the old we have, perhaps, less agreement. To me, it is shoddy work of a different sort. For a Latin text rich in rhythm, intelligence, a worshipful attitude, and gracefulness, it gives us two simplistic and rather peremptory computeresque bleeps, each of which just barely fulfills the definition of a sentence. This is no literary achievement. Nor, I hope, is it indicative of the grammatical Parnassus of our time.

    Perhaps it is because we view from different experiential promontories. I was fortunate to have been reared on Cranmer. The BCP (and now the BDW) is my measuring stick for what liturgical English should be. No! Of course I don’t want a 21st century translation to be peppered with thees and thous, hasts and werts. But I do expect something that reflects this intelligent heritage and doesn’t reduce translation to what some trendy linguist has decided that I can comprehend, that leaves me thirsting for the more that I know exists. I expect a sensible heft, weight, colour, rhythm, song. Real language.

    Somewhere above I made a challenge to each of the Latin scholars on this blog to make a translation of the St Romuald collect that a 21st century Cranmer might make. I’m waiting for you all to pick up the gauntlet.

  14. I would, with a basic understanding of Latin and with reference to both translations and some slight euphonic emmendations of my own, offer this as an improvement. I know and hope that you will be frank, candid, and (in a kind manner) merciless in your reactions.

    O ALMIGHTY GOD, who through your servant Romuald did renew the hermit’s life of solitude and prayer in your church, grant that, by self abnegation [or, denial] and following after Christ, we may worthily enter into the joys of your heavenly kingdom…

    I think that this is better that the old or the new. Others will surely disagree.

    What I want now is for our Latin scholars to pick up the gauntlet and each give us a ‘how would Cranmer fashion this in 2012’ translation.

    1. Merciless? Let’s see…

      “O Almighty” starts the prayer with two almost identical “O”‘s. It sounds bad (like stuttering). Remove the “O”.

      “did renew”: why put so much emphasis on the word “renew”? It’s like insisting that God did not just continue but that there was an actual renewal, something new in there. Drawing attention to that point is distracting, I think. Replace by “renewed”.

      “the hermit’s life of solitude and prayer”: since there’s been discussion in this thread of the meaning of “hermit”, I like this insistance. Not just saying “the hermit’s life”, nor just saying “the life of solitude and prayer”, but saying both, is explicit and properly emphasizes the main subject of the prayer.

      “God, who… , grant that…”: this is a cumbersome English construction. It is more direct, simple, and understandable to break it into two sentences: “God, … you renewed… . Grant that..” The meaning is identical and the English is better.

      “in your church”: ambiguous. What does that refer to? “renewal” in your church, or “prayer” in your church, or “solitude and prayer” in your church? Reword to clarify.

      “by self abnegation and following after Christ”: grammatically awkward to have “by [noun]” on one side and “[verb] [complement]” on the other side. The unbalance is distractingly ugly. It has to be fixed.

      “we may worthily enter”: I don’t really understand the “worthily” – how does it modify the verb “enter”? How does one enter somewhere “worthily”?

      I don’t know about the relation to Latin, but the English needs a lot of work…

      1. Re: “did renew” / “renewed”

        I think (but could be wrong) that by making “to do” rather than “to renew” in the past tense, the effect is that the renewal is, in fact, ongoing and continuing. That is, the verb “renew” is not put in the past tense so that it has the sense of continuing.

      2. I also don’t know… I only use the auxiliary verb explicitly when I want to emphasize something, but that might be too narrow…

  15. This prayer was newly composed for the 1970 Missal, incorporating references to Matthew 16,24 (nosmetipsos abnegantes) and Luke 9.23 (Christum sequentes).
    Feliciter is used here and elsewhere in the Missal as a modal adverb. These denote, not the manner in which the action of the verb takes place, but the author’s estimate of that action. Compare:
    – My dog died happily last night. [non-modal]
    – Happily, my dog died last night. [modal]
    Feliciter is used modally in the traditional expression applied to the Pope, ‘feliciter regnans’. This is sometimes translated ‘ happily reigning’, but it doesn’t mean that the Pope enjoys his job – it means that we are glad that he is doing it.
    So what is feliciter doing in this prayer? It prays, not that we may enter heaven with a smile on our faces, but that we may have the good fortune to get there. A problem with translating feliciter into English is that most, if not all, of the available equivalents imply some degree of luck, which seems inappropriate in prayer.
    The author of this text did not need feliciter. Here and elsewhere its insertion is the result of a bad stylistic habit, the overuse of adverbs, which is common in the newly-composed prayers of the Missal.
    The authors of the official translation were sensible enough to leave it out, despite Liturgiam authenticam.

    1. I will admit happily that the Latin is not perfect, but that is not the issue. Dropping feliciter may make for a better prayer, but we no longer have ta) he full imagery or b) a uniform text. Those qualities seem to be more important for the current translation.

      If we are going to edit, why not delete mereamur? Fights over justification make that a loaded word in English. Feliciter undercuts the Pelagian tone of meriting. The prayer is unbalanced with one and not the other.

      The question Fritz proposed can be asked here: why this change and not that? Why eliminate happiness and keep “make worthy”? Does the joyless responsibility implied really reflect the Roman text?

      1. I agree – mereamur is hugely problematic. No English translation suitable for liturgical use has been proposed, so the official version falls back on using ‘merit’, which is widely understood to be synonymous with ‘deserve’. There will need to be a lot of homilies saying ‘It’s merit, Jim, but not as we know it’.

    2. Mgr Harbert, I receive your contributions here feliciter (in the modal sense), even when we disagree. Thank you for being part of this conversation.

      I struggle with the idea that, in the bizarre world of Liturgiam Authenticam, it is OK to make these choices. I thought the Latin text was supposed to be rendered exactly, not only in meaning but also in syntax — see LA §§ 20 and 52, for example.

      Such ‘denotative editing’ brings to mind the substitution that rendered adstare coram te as ‘to be in your presence’.

      Now I think that Liturgiam Authenticam is flawed from one end to another. But if we are going to operate under this bad directive, and to throw stones at the 1973 translation for not being ‘faithful to the Latin’, then why allow the translators to edit both the modern and the ancient Latin texts? That seems capricious.

    3. This prayer was newly composed for the 1970 Missal.

      That is very interesting. Who composed it? What is his or her native language? How did they go about composing tat prayer? Did they start by writing a version in their native language? What do they think? Is their 1970 Latin composition set in stone? Is there any chance that they might be willing to revise the Latin version so as to make it easier to translate into English? For example, they could start by writing it in English, and then look for a translation into Latin using the rules of Liturgiam Authenticam in the reverse direction, so that, when the Latin is translated back into English, the English flows nicely and has the intended meaning.

      1. Clarie, I’m sure English isn’t the only language this prayer has been translated into. If we’re going to ask the Latin to be revised so that it translates more easily into English, we should instead reconsider how we’re translating from Latin into English.

  16. I’m guessing that mereamur is subjunctive in order to indicate possibility rather than fact, an outcome that is desired but uncertain, something like an optative in Greek, or the French Je prie qu’il réussisse un jour, ‘I pray that he will succeed one day’ – we hope it will happen, but it is not certain.

    English tends to convey potentiality with ‘may’, and good English writing frowns on doubled or trebled “desiderative” constructions. So, following Mgr Harbert’s example, “I hope, if all things go well [feliciter!] that I may get to have lunch with the President’ would most likely become ‘I hope that I may have lunch with the President’ or even ‘I hope to have lunch with the President’.

    Given that the prayer already opens with a petition (concede) and that we are in the world of the desired but uncertain, why not skip mereamur altogether?

    The 1973 translation does tend to eliminate this sense of possibility, almost as though we were instructing God to do something: ‘bring us the joy of heaven.’ And make it snappy!

    Does feliciter (outside of a prayer) function somewhat like ‘God willing’, or Insha’Allah?

    1. re: Jonathan Day on June 22, 2012 – 8:05 am

      Jonathan: “Given that the prayer already opens with a petition (concede) and that we are in the world of the desired but uncertain, why not skip mereamur altogether?

      I agree that the imperative concede already indicates the celebrant and assembly’s petition. However, mereamur cannot be removed without a replacement. The infinitive ascendere requires a finite verb. One option would be to reconjugate concede from imperative to first person plural present passive subjunctive, and then place the reconjugated verb inside the ut clause. St. Romuald’s collect then might look like this:

      Deus, qui per Romualdum in Ecclesia tu[a] eremiticam vitam renovasti, ut, nosmetipsos abnegantes et Christum sequentes, feliciter ad caelestia regna [concedamur] ascendere. Per Dominum. . . (my brackets, correction, emphasis)

      “God, you who have restored eremitical life in your Church, by our very own [nosmetipsos] denial and by following Christ, may we be permitted to ascend joyfully [feliciter] to the heavenly kingdom. Through our Lord …” (my addition in brackets)

      I have translated ad caelestia regna into the English singular, even though the prepositional phrase is neuter plural in Latin. The Sacramentary translation “heaven” recognizes that ad caelestia regna is likely an example of plural words with singular meaning similar to the use of caelos in scripture. (c.f. Mark 1:10 Nova Vulgata).

      The Roman collect tradition often uses imperatives of address (e.g. praesta) before subordinate clauses. The verbal conversion demonstrated above would probably rarely, if ever, appear in an actual collect. So, while my change might clarify the meaning of the collect, the change does not reflect the fact that imperatives are common features of collects.

      1. Jordan, I wasn’t clear – my thought was that mereamur could be skipped in the translation. I had no idea about amending the Latin version.

        I’m struck that you want to translate nosmetipsos abnegantes as ‘by our very own denial’, unless you mean something like ‘by denying our very selves’. Nosmetipsos is the object of abnegantes, isn’t it?

  17. Are none of you going to pick up the gauntlet?
    Well, it doesn’t have to be how a 21st century Cranmer would say it: just what you would do with you own poetic genie, grammatical acumen, and literary charisma, plus a sense that this is liturgical language and is like no other.
    it’s for the Omnipotent, the Pantocrator, the All Holy.

    1. re: M. Jackson Osborn on June 23, 2012 – 1:06 am

      I haven’t a poetic bone in my body. I’m the equivalent of an IBM or Digital mainframe — just load the Greek and Latin punch cards into the reader for grammatical analysis. As illustrated many times here at PTB, I return a lot of syntax errors.

      Thomas Cranmer’s prose interpretation will never be reproduced again. His translations of the Sarum propers and some of the same missal’s ordinary prayers are the high-water mark for liturgical English. While his 16th century idiom can be challenging, many prayers are wonderfully melodic in quality. Yes, I’m eagerly waiting for the Anglican Ordinariate to visit a neighborhood near me.

      However, the Prayer Book, and also the Authorized Version, were enforced by strict law in England until the 19th century. I suspect this is a small reason why the English, and by extension the Anglican Communion, value their Prayer Books and (for some) the King James Bible. The absence of any lawful alternative in England for more than two centuries certainly would endear a number of English to Anglican liturgical books.

      I find little interest in trying to patch-up the Sacramentary, advocate for the 1998 proposed translation, or tear apart the newer Roman Missal, other than to explore the mechanics behind translation decisions. Just as the Book of Common Prayer 1662 cannot be reproduced today, the Missale Romanum traditions (both Tridentine and Pauline) cannot be succinctly translated into colloquial and paratactic English. I support a “native” anglophone missal simply because the futility of comprehensible, fluid, and poetic translation is quite apparent at this point.

  18. I’ve been thinking about hermits. We all need time alone, some of us more than others. But what is the impulse to spend all of our time alone, just me and God so to speak, is wrong? can we obey the Greatest Commandment without also obeying the Second? If we ignore or neighbor, pretend our neighbor isn’t there, hide from our neighbor, are we in fact being disobedient?

  19. BR –
    You are quite right. And, it’s unfortunate that ‘hermit’ defines all to often Deacon Fritz’ charicature above, or your own ‘spend all of our time alone’ person. Neither of these is really what a hermit is. We should do some remedial teaching and rescuing of this word, and the gift, the charism that it defines. Thomas Merton was a hermit. The church has been enriched immensly by such hermits thoughout its history. To allow the word to be used in some debased manner is irresponsible. To abondon it to colloquial silliness is indefensible. To address a little further your comment, you are likely aware that a hermit’s life is not ‘just me and God’, nor is it to ‘ignore our neighbor’. Persons who fit this description are not really hermits. ‘Recluse’ would be a better word for them. Hermits have gained much from solitude which they share with others. Like any other charism, if it isn’t shared it’s not real.

  20. The prayer gives some evidence of the nature of eremetic life. St Romuald renewed the life of solitude, which implies he worked actively and with others (“in the church”).
    Romuald adopted the life style after witnessing his father in a duel. This led to a penitential abandonment of his former life. He sought out a known hermit to guide him, and throughout his life guided a number of groups.

    So his life of solitude included a rejection of the ordinary social life and it’s violence, but also a commitment to help others move away from their involvement.

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