SMM1 weighs in on bowdlerized collects in the Book of Divine Worship

On the subject of “bowdlerized collects” in the BDW, I have not conducted a thorough investigation.  But taking the collect for the Epiphany as an example, we can see that, while it is hardly “bowdlerized” (in the sense of having offensive words removed — though “peoples of the earth” is a pretty PC adaptation of “Gentiles”), the BDW’s version is at quite a distance from the Prayer Book.

1662 BCP:
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles: Mercifully grant, that we, which know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead.

BDW = 1979 American BCP
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy onlybegotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know thee now by faith, to thy presence, where we may behold thy glory face to face.

Latin original:
Deus qui hodierna die unigenitum tuum gentibus stella duce revelasti: concede propitius ut qui iam te ex fide cognovimus, usque ad contemplandam speciem tue celsitudinis perducamur.

My woodenly literal translation:
O God, who on this day revealed, with a star as guide, your only-begotten [Son] to the nations:  mercifully grant that we, who now perceive you by faith, may be guided even unto the contemplation of a face-to-face vision of your grandeur (or perhaps “of the comeliness of your grandeur”).

As you can see, the BDW can perhaps claim to be closer to the Latin original (though it is still rather free).  But I think that Cranmer’s version (only one word of it was changed in 1662, namely “who” for “which”) is all the happier for venturing out beyond the source to envisage not just contemplation, but fruition, which, at this early date, has the sense of “enjoyment, pleasurable possession, the pleasure arising from possession”.   Stella Brook comments on this collect in her Language of the Book of Common Prayer (London: Deutsch, 1965), pp. 142-3:  “In modern English, fruition tends to be misused and given the sense of `coming to fruit’, that is `to maturity’.  The basic stem of the noun is, however, the Latin deponent verb frui `to enjoy’.  The fruition of the `glorious Godhead’ is the enjoyment of the glorious presence of God.  The word is used in its etymological sense in the Book of Common Prayer, as it is used by Thomas Starkey, who speaks of `the fruytyon of your natural frendys’ or by Hakluyt, who speaks of `the fruition of our bookes”.  (The OED gives another pertinent example, taken from a passage of Bishop Latimer dated 1554:  “If we live by hope let us desire the end and fruition of our hope.”)  As Fr. Hunwicke put it a while ago, “Where Cranmer has rendered a text (e.g. the Sunday collects per annum) his versions should be used even when he has slightly mistranslated the Latin. Their 450 year use is now itself part of the history and reception of these texts. They evolved and mutated in the early Latin Sacramentaries and in many cases were changed, not always wisely, by the post-conciliar Roman revisers; their post-reformation evolution in Anglicanism should not be dismissed out of hand.”

Mostly, though, if you’ve grown accustomed to the BCP version, the BDW version will irritate the ear by its lack of rhythm.  The spacing of the stresses in “the fruition of thy glorious Godhead” is so much more pleasing than the strictly iambic “behold thy glory face to face”, and it is probably one of those instances of Cranmer’s tendency (well documented by Brook) to attempt recreate not just the meaning but also the rhythmic “feel” of a Latin original (which usually requires added words in uninflected English) — a tendency that has led some to speculate that Cranmer tried deliberately to recreate the patterns of the “rhythmic cursus” that were a deliberate stylistic element of formal Latin prose.  Ian Robinson, in his The Establishment of Modern English Prose in the Reformation and the Enlightenment (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 207, judges that the compilers of the BCP did this “out of their common sense of English and liturgical rhythm, rather than deliberately.”  Would it be catty of me to suggest that modern liturgical writers (through no special fault of their own) possess a sense neither of English nor of liturgical rhythm?

I’ve placed my order for the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham, which I gleefully await.  The English Ordinariate seems to have retained the BCP Collects in their pristine integrity in their online “Ordos” so far (where they are listed as an appendix).  I expect the Customary will follow a similar policy (or so the screen shots lead me to believe).  That leads me to hope that the Prayer Book collects may likewise appear in the forthcoming Eucharistic liturgy for the Ordinariates too.

Yours,

SMM1

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6 Responses to SMM1 weighs in on bowdlerized collects in the Book of Divine Worship

  1. Pingback: SMM1 weighs in on bowdlerized collects in the Book of Divine Worship | Catholic Canada

  2. Rev22:17 says:

    Deborah,

    Your correspondent wrote: As you can see, the BDW can perhaps claim to be closer to the Latin original (though it is still rather free). But I think that Cranmer’s version (only one word of it was changed in 1662, namely “who” for “which”) is all the happier for venturing out beyond the source to envisage not just contemplation, but fruition, which, at this early date, has the sense of “enjoyment, pleasurable possession, the pleasure arising from possession”.

    This whole discussion points to the many difficulties of linguistic translation, not the least of which include

    >> (1) differences in grammatical structure between the two languages,

    >> (2) the lack of true equivalents in one language for some words in another,

    >> (3) the differences in rhythm and meter between two languages (particularly problematic when translating verse rather than prose),

    >> (4) the fact that a literal equivalent may in fact have a vastly different meaning, and

    >> (5) the fact that idioms often do not translate literally.

    It’s fairly easy to illustrate these.

    >> (1) The Latin language normally places adjectives after the nouns to which they apply, but the English language normally places adjectives before the respective nouns. Thus, the rank of monsignor held by Msgr. Newton and Msgr. Steenson is most correctly translated as “apostolic protonotary” rather than as “protonotary apostolic” even though the latter is the word by word literal translation.

    >> (2) How do you translate the phrase “white as snow” into the Polynesian language, which does not have a word for snow? And when translating this phrase into the Eskimo language, which has about twenty words meaning various types of snow, which of those words would you use?

    >> (3) Just look at any two phrases in both languages — i. e. “Dominus vobiscum” (six syllables) and its English translation “The Lord be with you” (five syllables).

    >> (4) Here in the States, we tend to say “I am full.” when we have eaten enough. If you translate that sentence literally in to French, it means that one is drunk if stated by a man and that one is pregnant if stated by a woman. Not quite the same!

    >> (5) Here, the best illustration is an experiment that occurred at a technical conference where two teams presented demonstrations of computer programs to translate text from one language to another — the first translating from English to Russian and the second translating from Russian to English. A guest who did not know Russian nevertheless decided to put these programs to the test by using the first program to translate a sentence from English into Russian and then using the second program to translate the output from the first program back. The guest started with the scriptural passage: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The output: “The wine is good, but the meat has spoiled.” Alas, not quite the same….

    Overall, I generally think that issues of translation of languages are best left to the experts in that field.

    Norm.

    Norm.

  3. Luke DeWeese says:

    Norm, I think Deborah knows enough Latin to tackle the issues involved in Cranmer’s translation of the collects. I wish you’d be less condescending and more charitable.

    • Foolishness says:

      Hi Luke, I did not write the post above, but my correspondent SMM1 did. His Latin is probably a lot better than mine, which I studied long ago and have mostly forgotten!

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Luke,

      You wrote: I think Deborah knows enough Latin to tackle the issues involved in Cranmer’s translation of the collects. I wish you’d be less condescending and more charitable.

      The issue that I addressed was not a specific translation, but rather problems inherent in translating any document from any language to another. The fact is that no translation is ever perfect.

      Norm.

  4. Luke DeWeese says:

    Norm,

    The following sentence of yours is in very poor taste and lacking charity:

    “Overall, I generally think that issues of translation of languages are best left to the experts in that field.”

    SMM1’s Latin is good enough to tackle the problem.

    Luke

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