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The Daily Logos II

“But the social importance of translation has always been great, and, as I shall hope to show, is today greater than ever.  The moment one society has intercourse by commerce, policy or arms with a society of another idiom, translation is an imperative activity, you cannot carry on without it.  It commands the value of treaties and of commercial contracts and of military capitulations.  In a wider field, it is a condition of order between nations and therefore of peace.  In a still wider field, it is the condition without which a common culture cannot exist.

“And here I would particularly call attention to translation as a function of religious, for in the very nature of the case, translation has been an essential to the maintenance of religion among men, and since the religion of a community, that is, its sanctified customs in morals and action, is the determinant of that community, translation lies at the very roots of society.

“For religion has about it two characters which thus compel the presence of translation.  In the first place it is, or professes to be, emancipated from time, dealing with immortalities.  But living languages are mortal.  Therefore this original pronouncement becomes archaic (it is a part of their strength), and needs rendering into the speech men know in each succeeding age, lest the guide should fall dumb and his lantern be extinguished.  In the second place Religious is of its nature universal and its application to various societies demands the rendering of its fundamental doctrines into the idiom of each in such fashion that all the renderings shall make for unity of thought, corresponding with the thought of the original.”

-Hilaire Belloc, “On Translation”

Poignant?  On the verge, speaking relatively, of the implementation of the new English translation for the Mass, it helps to be reminded every now and again just how important, and why it is important, for a good translation.  In translating, there are two horizons of thought which clash: that which is represented in the original, and that Weltanschauunng of the people into whose language the original is translated.  A misunderstanding of either brings error; a misunderstanding of both brings calamity.  The Spirit of Vatican II and the 1973 ICEL translation had the latter: that not only did the Missal really intend vagueness and ambiguity that lends itself to relativism, but that the increased cries for license under the guise of liberty in the 1960s was something actually good for man; that the worldview which demanded relativism was fitting for man, and that the best way to approach it was to capitulate before it.

Thus it is with eagerness that the new translation ought to be anticipated; so that unity with the original, unity with the Church, may be restored to the English-speaking countries throughout the world.

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