“Feeling” in Biblical Times

The Catechism offers guidance on how to interpret the Bible, explaining that we must take into account the “modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current” (CCC 110). This idea of “feeling” struck me as kind of strange since the other verbs have to do with expressing ideas, not one’s inner emotions. And besides, don’t all writing professors get upset when students write, “I feel…”? So, I thought this might be a translation issue. In fact, it is.

This Catechism paragraph is based on Dei Verbum 12, which in the Latin uses the phrase, “sentiendi, dicendi, narrandive modos” to indicate the teaching. Well, the idea of “sentiendi” is translated in the Abbot translation of Dei Verbum as “perceiving,” which is much preferable to “feeling” in my opinion. The verb underlying this participle is “sentio” which can mean “feel, think, perceive, sense, judge, observe.” The Council fathers seem to be getting at the way that the ancients apprehended ideas and expressed them, not at the way they “felt” in terms of their emotions. We’re after how they thought, not how they “felt.” Notably, the official Latin version of the Catechism agrees with Dei Verbum: “modorum sentiendi.”

Is it a mis-translation? No, not really, but I think that one of the other translation choices for the Latin sentio, would be preferable. We want to think hard about how the ancient biblical authors understood and explained ideas, not in how they felt emotionally.

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