Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Influence of the English Translation of the Missal of Paul VI on the NRSV

One of my favorite books that I enjoying pulling off my bookshelf from time to time is The Making of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible by Metzger, Dentan, and Harrelson.  It may be the only available "making-of" book relating to a Bible translation that comes in a Catholic edition.  Reading through the four chapters in this book, one can gain a real appreciation of the many difficult decisions that the NRSV translation team had to work through.  One does not have to agree with every decision they made, but at least their rationale for such decisions are in print for all to see and read about.

That leads me to a very interesting quote I re-read this past week, which 20 plus years later remains fascinating.  It is found in the first chapter of this book entitled "The Story of the NRSV" by Robert C. Densen.  In his discussion of whether or not the NRSV committee was going to use less formal/archaic language in the NRSV, in favor of a more contemporary English style, he writes: "What finally made this movement irresistible was the decision of the Roman Catholic Church to translate its Latin liturgy into English, and into current English rather than into an artificial liturgical style (5)."  Now remember, this book was published in 1991.

Nowadays, we Catholics in the English speaking world are no strangers to the most recent changes in the English translation of the Mass, the Third Roman Missal being implemented in the U.S. this past Advent.  There were some who objected to this new translation arguing that is went back to a more artificial liturgical style.  I certainly do not agree with that belief, since I find that the current Missal strikes a nice balance between being contemporary as well as possessing a distinctive liturgical style. 

One wonders what sort of influence the first Vatican II Missal in English would have had on the NRSV if it were more close in style to the Third Roman Missal.  It is clear that the re-revised Psalms of the NABRE, certainly influenced by Liturgiam Authenticam, were translated in a distinct way in comparison to the rest of the NABRE.


Jonny said...

It seems that at a time not too long ago, many Protestants and Catholics anticipated the trend for Bible and liturgical translation to move completely to a more dynamic and gender-inclusive format. It seems that more literal modern english translation, with traditional mild to no inclusive language will continue on both sides… hence the continuing popularity of the RSV-CE 1 and 2 for Catholics, and the NASB and ESV among Protestants.

As the ideal of greater accuracy has increased within the Catholic Liturgy, I wonder if eventually the RSV, NRSV, and NAB might be supplanted by another official Catholic modern english translation (with official commentary notes) that is more literal to the original languages. There would ideally be a master copy of the original languages being checked against a Latin master, with strict guidelines set up for translation. This may seem to be an impossible task as no one possesses original autographs of the Sacred Scriptures, but it makes sense that something important as Sacred Scripture would at one point be officially standardized by the Church.

Kai Welday Engel said...

If only a translation could be crafted that would be acceptable to all of English-speaking Christianity. I see too many translations popping up as -reactions against- someone else's translation. Wishful thinking.

Jesus asked for a bride. We'll give him a harem.

I suppose we could all just learn ancient Hebrew and koine Greek. At least then the arguments would only be about interpretation.

Considering that more Spanish-speaking Christians than English-speaking Christians, I wonder if the same kind of divisiveness exists in that community. Just a curious thought.

Biblical Catholic said...

". It may be the only available "making-of" book relating to a Bible translation that comes in a Catholic edition."

You might want to pick up a copy of the book 'On Englishing the Bible' by Msgr Ronald Knox, while not quite a 'making of' book, it goes into some depth explaining his translation philosophy and would published simultaneously with his translation of the Vulgate.

Javier said...


I'll try to answer your question. I am a catholic from Argentina. As far as I know there is no "Bible debate" in the spanish speaking catholic world. There are several translations in use, most of them post-Vatican II. Which one predominates, might depend on the particular country. All of them are transalations from the original tongues. There are no transalations from the Vulgate currently in use.
Here in Argentina we use the "Libro del Pueblo de Dios", which is a local translation from the 70's. It is the official version used at Mass here and in some other countries in South America. Curiously enough for a catholic bible, the deuterocanonical books are exiled to an addenda between the Old and New Testaments.
The Jerusalem Bible in its various editions is quite popular.
Then there is the "Biblia Latinoamericana" (by the same french priest who translated the Christian Community Bible). The people who are somewhat into Liberation Theology, tend to favor it.
There is "La Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo", that seems to be in every catholic bookstore as of late. It is a latin american version of the "Biblia del Peregrino" translation by spanish Priest Luis Alonso Schökel.
I think in Spain, for their lectionary, they used the "Nueva Biblia Española". But last year, they introduced a brand new translation, which is the "Official Version of the Spanish Conference of Bishops".
Then there is the "Biblia de Navarra" (Navarre Bible), in one volume. It is an original translation from the original tongues by the Opus Dei.
There is the version by Evaristo Nieto, an the Casa de la Biblia version, but I don't know much about them.
And there are some pre Vatican II versions from the original languages,which are still in use: the Nacar-Colunga and the Bover-Cantera, from Spain. And the version by Mons. Straubinger, from Argentina.
As for the evangelical bibles: there is the Reina Valera and the NVI, as far as I know. The Reina-Valera is "The" Bible version for spanish speaking protestants. The original predates the KJV, and was translated by to spanish monks who became protestants: Casiodoro de Reina y Cipriano de Valera. There is some debate because it uses some byzantine manuscripts, instead of what is currently in use.
The NVI is the spanish language version of the NIV.


Daniel Norman McNamara said...

Dear Jonny,
I think that your vision of a future translation (and official commentary) raises a lot of issues about the place of the Scriptures in Catholicism that many of us don't share at all.To be sure, multiple translations and very different types of commentaries can be annoying. But in her wisdom I think the CHurch would be reluctant to loose that entirely, or to act in a way tht would establish for some long time a single "official" explanation of something as rich as the Scriptures. The Catholic CHurch has been historically very reluctant to make "official" statements about the Scriptures, and has done so rarely and usually only about very specific matters. It would be somewhat out of character for her to proceed in the opposite direction. Some of us think that would be a good idea. Practically speaking, just who would undertake such an "English-focused" project? And just what would "official" mean in a universal CHurch where English is only one of many languages? For all of its problems, we are perhaps "more Catholic" in having a library of translations and commentaries (form the Patristic era to our own) than envisioning the goal as a single volume put together by a "bunch of guys" at the beginning of the 21st century? I'll keep the library!

Daniel Norman McNamara said...

Dear Tim,
Another useful worthwhile read would be "The Oxford Companion to the Bible" (1993) later re-releaased as the "Oxford Guide to the Bible", edited by the same Bruce Metzger et al. The articles on Manuscripts and Translations might put some of these problems in better perspective. There is also an older work by Robert M. Grant from the 1960s which was re-titled "A Short History of the Interpretation of The Bible", which did a great job explaining what some of the problems are for translators/ interpreters. All this in about 200 pp.and from a non-technical perspective. Explaining to Catholics (and other Christians) that there are "problems" with our Biblical texts and variants, as well as translation "issues" is often difficult. I hope other bloggers will step up and indicate resources that they have found helpful as well.