Consecrated Phrases

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox.
Ronald Arbuthnott Knox.

Apropos of that, may I suggest some considerations about what are called “consecrated phrases” in the Bible, which, we are told, we must not alter in any way, because they have become so familiar? I quite admit that where a form of words has become stereotyped through passing into liturgical use, it is a pity and probably a waste of time to try and alter it. The words of the Our Father and of the Hail Mary have got to remain as they are. Again, there are certain formulas which are best left alone, or altered as little as possible, because alteration cannot hope to make them clearer, and they have already a supreme literary value of their own, depending on association; the words of Consecration, for example, or the seven words from the Cross. But it is, I submit, a grave error to sick to a form of words, in itself unnatural English, merely because a thousand repetitions have familiarized the public ear with the sound of it. Just because we are familiar with a form of words, we fail to be struck by its full meaning. For instance, I had a very interesting letter from an Irish Redemptorist, expressing the hope that I had found some better translation for arneito heauton (abneget semetipsum) than “let him deny himself.” This has become a consecrated phrase; and for years, now, nuns have been encouraging schoolgirls to give up toffee during Lent and write the fact down on a card as a record of “self-denial.” For years, Salvation Army lasses have picketed us with demands for a half-penny because it is “self- denial week.” The whole glorious content of the phrase, arneito heauton, let him obliterate himself, let him annihilate himself, let him rule Self out of his world-picture altogether, has become degraded and lost. That is what happens to “consecrated phrases.”

— Ronald Knox, On Englishing the Bible, Baronius Press (2012), pp. 5-6.


Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply