A By-word Eternally

[E]t dabo vos in opprobrium sempiternum, et in ignominiam æternam, quæ numquam oblivione delebitur.

[You shall be a laughing-stock for ever, a by-word eternally; time shall never efface the memory of your shame.]

Jeremias xxiii. 40.

Dona et Vocatio Dei

I must not fail, brethren, to make this revelation known to you; or else you might have too good a conceit of yourselves. Blindness has fallen upon a part of Israel, but only until the tale of the Gentile nations is complete; then the whole of Israel will find salvation, as we read in scripture, A deliverer shall come from Sion, to rid Jacob of his unfaithfulness; and this shall be the fulfilment of my covenant with them, when I take away their sins. In the preaching of the gospel, God rejects them, to make room for you; but in his elective purpose he still welcomes them, for the sake of their fathers; God does not repent of the gifts he makes, or of the calls he issues. You were once rebels, until through their rebellion you obtained pardon; they are rebels now, obtaining pardon for you, only to be pardoned in their turn. Thus God has abandoned all men to their rebellion, only to include them all in his pardon.

Romans xi. 25-32.

The Three Marys of Great Reknown

The Three Marys at the Tomb (1396) by Lorenzo Monaco; illumination on vellum; 46 x 48 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
The Three Marys at the Tomb (1396) by Lorenzo Monaco; illumination on vellum; 46 x 48 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Respóndens autem Angelus, dixit muliéribus: Nolíte timére: scio enim quod Iesum quǽritis, allelúia. Antiphon from Vespers during the Octave of Easter

And when the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome had bought spices, to come and anoint Jesus. So they came to the tomb very early on the day after the sabbath, at sunrise. And they began to question among themselves, Who is to roll the stone away for us from the door of the tomb? Then they looked up, and saw that the stone, great as it was, had been rolled away already. And they went into the tomb, and saw there, on the right, a young man seated, wearing a white robe; and they were dismayed. But he said to them, No need to be dismayed; you have come to look for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he has risen again, he is not here. Here is the place where they laid him. Go and tell Peter and the rest of his disciples that he is going before you into Galilee. There you shall have sight of him, as he promised you.

— St. Mark xvi. 1-7.

A Pheadair, a Aspail,
An bhfaca tú mo ghrá geal?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Chonaic mé ar ball é,
Gá chéasadh ag an ngarda.
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Peter, Apostle,
Have you seen my bright love?
Alas, and alas-o!
I saw not long ago
Surrounded by his enemies.
Alas, and alas-o!
Cé hé an fear breá sin
Ar Chrann na Páise?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
An é n-aithníonn tú do Mhac,
A Mháthrín?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Who is that good man
Upon the Passion Tree?
Alas, and alas-o!
It is your son, Mother,
Don’t you recognise me?
Alas, and alas-o!
An é sin an Maicín
A hoileadh in ucht Mháire?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
An é sin an Maicín
A rugadh insan stábla?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Is that the wee son
That was nourished at Mary’s breast?
Alas, and alas-o!
Is that the son
That was born to me in the stable?
Alas, and alas-o!
An é sin an Maicín
A d’iompair mé trí ráithe?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
A Mhicín mhúirneach,
Tá do bhéal ‘s do shróinín gearrtha,
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Is that the son
I carried for three quarters?
Alas, and alas-o!
Darling little son,
Your mouth and your nose are cut,
Alas, and alas-o!
Cuireadh tairní maola
trína chosa ‘s trína lámha,
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Cuireadh an tsleá
Trína bhrollach álainn.
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Blunt nails were pushed through
His feet and his hands.
Alas, and alas-o!
And a spear pierced
Through his beautiful chest.
Alas, and alas-o!
Alas, and alas-o!

— Caoineadh na dTrí Muire (Lament of the Three Marys)

Who Can Bear the Thought of That Advent?

Detail of St. John the Baptist from the Isenheim Altarpiece, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, Alsace, France.
Detail of St. John the Baptist from the Isenheim Altarpiece, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, Alsace, France.

See where I am sending an angel of mine, to make the way ready for my coming! All at once the Lord will visit his temple; that Lord, so longed for, welcome herald of a divine covenant. Ay, says the Lord of hosts, he is coming; but who can bear the thought of that advent? Who will stand with head erect at his appearing? He will put men to a test fierce as the crucible, searching as the lye that fullers use. From his judgement-seat, he will refine that silver of his and cleanse it from dross; like silver or gold, the sons of Levi must be refined in the crucible, ere they can offer the Lord sacrifice duly performed. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings of Juda and Jerusalem, as he did long since, in the forgotten years. Come I to hold assize, not slow to arraign the sorcerer, the adulterer, the forsworn, all of you that deny hired man his wages, widow and orphan redress, the alien his right, fearing no vengeance from the Lord of hosts. In me, the Eternal, there is no change, and you, sons of Jacob, are a people still.

Yours to keep the law ever in mind, statute and award I gave to assembled Israel through Moses, that was my servant. And before ever that day comes, great day and terrible, I will send Elias to be your prophet; he it is shall reconcile heart of father to son, heart of son to father; else the whole of earth should be forfeit to my vengeance.

Malachias iii. 1-6, iv. 4-6.

What Would an Englishman Have Said?

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox.
Ronald Arbuthnott Knox.

I said it was the translator’s business […] to preserve the idiom of his original. That means, not that he must copy it, which would be easy enough; he must transpose it into the idiom of his own language.

A hundred turns of phrase confront you as you read the Old Testament which make you sit back in your chair and ask yourself, “What would an Englishman have said?” When I say “an Englishman,” I do not mean a modern Englishman. The Old Testament record is of events that happened a very long time ago, under primitive conditions; to strike a modern note in rendering it is to make fun of it.

The new Catholic version of Genesis which has appeared in the U.S. contains one such lapse into the vernacular. When Eleazar, Abraham’s steward, has gone to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac, this version represents him as “waiting to learn whether or not the Lord had made his trip successful.” Now, I am not objecting to that as an American way of talking. My objection is that an American would not speak of the Mormons as having had a successful trip to Salt Lake City in A.D.1850. A successful trip suggests shifting your cigar from one side of your mouth to the other as you alight from your airplane in San Francisco. It does not suggest trekking over many miles of desert on a camel.

Ronald Knox, Trials of a Translator (1949).

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.

 

Seductio Cordis Sui

Pope Paul VI presiding over the the Second Vatican Council, flanked by Camerlengo Benedetto Aloisi Masella and two Papal gentlemen.
Pope Paul VI presiding over the the Second Vatican Council, flanked by Camerlengo Benedetto Aloisi Masella and two Papal gentlemen.

Et dicit Dominus ad me: Falso prophetæ vaticinantur in nomine meo: non misi eos, et non præcepi eis, neque locutus sum ad eos. Visionem mendacem, et divinationem, et fraudulentiam, et seductionem cordis sui, prophetant vobis.

These are but false promises, the Lord said, that they utter in my name; warrant they never had from me, nor errand, nor message; of false visions they tell you, and soothsayings, and trickery, and their own hearts’ inventions.

Jeremias xiv. 14.

A Sovereign Way of Escape

Saint Lawrence Distributing Alms (detail) by Fra Angelico (1447); Cappella Niccolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican City.
Saint Lawrence Distributing Alms (detail) by Fra Angelico (1447); Cappella Niccolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican City.

Ex substantia tua fac eleemosynam, et noli avertere faciem tuam ab ullo paupere: ita enim fiet ut nec a te avertatur facies Domini. Quomodo potueris, ita esto misericors. Si multum tibi fuerit, abundanter tribue: si exiguum tibi fuerit, etiam exiguum libenter impertiri stude. Præmium enim bonum tibi thesaurizas in die necessitatis: quoniam eleemosyna ab omni peccato et a morte liberat, et non patietur animam ire in tenebras. Fiducia magna erit coram summo Deo, eleemosyna omnibus facientibus eam.

Use thy wealth in giving of alms; never turn thy back on any man who is in need, and the Lord, in thy own need, will have eyes for thee. Shew to others what kindness thy means allow, giving much, if much is thine, if thou hast little, cheerfully sharing that little. To do this is but to lay up a store against the day of distress; alms-deeds were ever a sovereign way of escape from guilt and death, a bar against the soul’s passage into darkness; none has less to fear when he stands before the most high God than he who does them.

Tobias iv. 7-12.

A Gateway to Thy Mercy

Hoc autem pro certo habet omnis qui te colit: quod vita ejus, si in probatione fuerit, coronabitur; si autem in tribulatione fuerit, liberabitur; et si in correptione fuerit, ad misericordiam tuam venire licebit.

But this at least all thy true worshippers know; never was a life of trials but had its crown; never distress from which thou couldst not save; never punishment but left a gateway to thy mercy.

Tobias iii. 21.

If Honour Me You Will

The Prophet Haggai's vision of the ruins of the Temple; Prophet Quatrefoils, West Façade, Amiens Cathedral.
The Prophet Haggai’s vision of the ruins of the Temple; Prophet Quatrefoils, West Façade, Amiens Cathedral.

It was in the second year of Darius’ reign, on the first day of the sixth month of it, that a message came from the Lord through the prophet Aggaeus; came to Zorobabel, son of Salathiel, that was governor of Juda, and to the high priest, Josue son of Josedec. And thus it ran: Word from the Lord of hosts to his people, that will not restore his temple, but cry, Too early yet! Listen, the Lord said to them through the prophet Aggaeus, is it not too early yet for you to have roofs over your heads, and my temple in ruins? Think well on it, says the Lord of hosts; here is much sown, and little reaped, nor eating brings you a full belly, nor wine a merry heart; such clothes you wear as leave you shivering, such wages win as leak out at purse’s bottom! Think well on it, says the Lord of hosts; up to the hill-side with you, fetch timber and restore my temple, if content me you will, the Lord says, if honour me you will! So much attempted, so little attained; store you brought into your houses withered at my breath; would you know the reason for it? says the Lord of hosts. Because to your own houses you run helter-skelter, and my temple in ruins! That is why the skies are forbidden to rain on you, earth to afford its bounty; ban of barrenness lies on plain and hill, wheat and wine and oil and all the earth yields, man and beast and all they toil to win.

The Lord shows Haggai his vision of the ruined Temple; Prophet Quatrefoils, West Façade, Amiens Cathedral.
The Lord shows Haggai his vision of the ruined Temple; Prophet Quatrefoils, West Façade, Amiens Cathedral.

What made they of it, Salathiel’s son Zorobabel, and the high priest, Josue son of Josedec, and all the people with them? That voice they could not choose but heed, that message from the Lord their God sent to them by the prophet Aggaeus, and they were sore adread of the divine warning. Yet here was divine encouragement; Aggaeus, the Lord’s own messenger, gave them the Lord’s own assurance he was at their side. So the Lord put heart into them, governor and priest and people alike; and they set to work building up the temple of the Lord God of hosts.

This was on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius.

— Haggai i.

God of Our Race, Give Audience

The Prophet Daniel by Niccolò Alunno (Walters Art Museum).
The Prophet Daniel by Niccolò Alunno (Walters Art Museum).

Prayed I then to the Lord my God, and made confession of my sins, in these words following: Mercy, mercy, Lord God, the great, the terrible; to those who love thee, so gracious, with those who keep thy commandments, troth keeping still! Sinned we have, and wronged thee, rebelled we have, and forsaken thee, turned our backs on decree and award of thine, nor heeded thy servants, the prophets, that spoke to us in thy name, to king and prince and the common folk that gendered us. Fault with thee is none; ours, Lord, to blush for the wrong-doing that has offended thee, men of Juda, citizens of Jerusalem, Israel near at hand, Israel banished far away, in what plight thou seest! Blush we, king and prince of ours, fathers of ours that did the wrong; be it thine, O Lord our God, to have mercy and to forgive. So far we have strayed from thee, so deaf to the divine voice, when the prophets that served thee bade us follow thy law! A whole people that would transgress thy command, turn a deaf ear to thy calls! What wonder if it fell on us, drop by drop, the avenging curse God’s servant Moses wrote of? Our sins had deserved it, and if yonder unexampled punishment befell Jerusalem, it was but a threat fulfilled; warning we had of it, we and the princes that governed us. No misfortune overtook us, but the law of Moses had foretold it; and yet, O Lord our God, appease thy anger we would not, nor leave our sinning, nor bethink ourselves, how well thy word thou keenest; what wonder if bane, not blessing, the divine regard brought us? Be our punishment what it will, not ours to find fault with the God we have disobeyed.

Thou art the Lord our God, whose constraining power rescued thy people from the land of Egypt, who hast won thyself glory, too, in this our day; we, Lord, have been sinners, we have shewn ourselves unworthy of all thy faithful dealings with us. But wilt thou let thy indignant anger fall on Jerusalem, on that holy mountain of thine? Too long, for our sins and the sins of our fathers before us, all our neighbours have held Jerusalem, and us thy people, in contempt. God of our race, give audience at last to the prayer, the plea thy servant brings before thee; for thy own honour, restore the sanctuary, that now lies forlorn, to the smile of thy favour. My God, give ear and listen to us; open thy eyes, and see how desolate is this city of ours, that claims to be thy own. No merits of ours, nothing but thy great love emboldens us to lay our prayers at thy feet. Thy hearing, Lord, and thy pardon; thy heed, Lord, and thy aid! For thy own honour, my God, deny thyself no longer to the city, the people that is called thy own!

— Daniel ix. 4-19.

I Make All Things New

Nothing so agile that it can match wisdom for agility; nothing can penetrate this way and that, etherial as she. Steam that ascends from the fervour of divine activity, pure effluence of his glory who is God all-powerful, she feels no passing taint; she, the glow that radiates from eternal light, she, the untarnished mirror of God’s majesty, she, the faithful image of his goodness. Alone, with none to aid her, she is all-powerful; herself ever unchanged, she makes all things new; age after age she finds her way into holy men’s hearts, turning them into friends and spokesmen of God.

— Wisdom of Solomon, vii. 24-27.