June 03, 2012

Translating Sacred Scripture

In this post, I'm going to preach a little, then ask for money. (Insert your favorite homily joke here.)

I'm also skipping slightly ahead in Verbum Domini to mention a good cause in a more timely fashion. If we move a few paragraphs ahead, toward the end of the section called "The Word of God and Culture", we find the Holy Father writing about "the incultration of God's word" through translation of Scripture. "(A) decisive moment in this process (of inculturation) is the diffusion of the Bible through the precious work of translation into different languages."

Most of the English-speaking Catholic world began using a new translation of the Roman Missal during Advent 2011. As I write this in mid-2012, many of us* are still stumbling over words here and there, using reference cards, or slurring a few words of the Gloria because I never remember to look at the new ones until it's too late.

Similarly, we have multiple English translations of Scripture, refined and revised - for better or worse - over the years.  We can read the New American Bible (NAB) or its Revised Edition (NABRE), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, and others.

English is a very common language. There are more English speakers than speakers of nearly any other language. It is easy, I suspect, to forget what a blessing it is to be able to refine a translation. We have the privilege of fighting over which words best express the greatness and depth of the Mystery in which we participate. Pope Benedict notes in Verbum Domini that "a number of local Churches still lack a complete translation of the Bible in their own languages." He asks: "How many people today hunger and thirst for the word of God, yet remain deprived...?"

Around the world, there are people who cannot read and, therefore, cannot read the Bible. There are others who can read but cannot get a Bible in their language. We are blessed to be able to argue over the menu, while there are people starving outside. How important it is, then, to have people and organizations working to spread the Word of God to all peoples. Two-thousand years later, and we're still working at Jesus' great commission. (Mt 28:19)

The Holy Father recommended, in particular, the Catholic Biblical Federation. Their website includes statements from their plenary assemblies, each focusing on a particular Scripture-related topic, such as "Word of God: Source of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace" and "The Bible and the New Evangelization". (The "Documents > CBF Documents" link includes more than the "Plenary Assemblies" link. You have to look around to find everything.) Their Global Survey on the Use of the Bible is interesting reading, as well, and I intend to delve deeper into that in future posts.

While it's not translation-related, per se, I should also point out Brandon Vogt's excellent Africa eBook Project. The project is working to put good Catholic material, including the Bible (in English and Latin) and the Catechism, into the hands of every seminarian in Cameroon (and, God willing, on from there!).

This is a perfect example of what the Holy Father wrote about how "God's word transcends cultural limits". He says that "(t)he word of God is capable of entering into and finding expression in various cultures and languages, yet that same word overcomes the limits of individual cultures to create fellowship between different peoples." (emphasis added)

Please support them if you're able. If you cannot contribute financially, please support this good work in prayer.

* In the previous translation of this post, the text read "all of us". 

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