Tag Archives: books

What is the Catholic/Ecumenical “Message”?

I just received a copy of the new Catholic/Ecumenical Messsage Bible from the publisher. It came out in 2013, so I have no idea why they’re promoting it right now. This book includes Protestant seminary-professor-turned-pastor Eugene Peterson’s very loose translation of the Protestant canon and a new translation of the deuterocanon by the Catholic William Griffin.message

The Message and Canon Law

I have to say the first thing that struck me was the blurbs on the back include two Catholic priests and an Episcopalian bishop. Notably absent was the endorsement of a Catholic bishop. That’s probably because under Canon Law Catholic Bibles are supposed to be approved by the national bishops’ conference. In the case of the U.S., that means the USCCB. The relevant canons are as follows:

Can. 825 §1. Books of the sacred scriptures cannot be published unless the Apostolic See or the conference of bishops has approved them. For the publication of their translations into the vernacular, it is also required that they be approved by the same authority and provided with necessary and sufficient annotations.
 2. With the permission of the conference of bishops, Catholic members of the Christian faithful in collaboration with separated brothers and sisters can prepare and publish translations of the sacred scriptures provided with appropriate annotations.

These laws mean that a private Catholic individual is not supposed to publish his own translation of the Bible without appropriate ecclesiastical permission, even if that person is working on a Bible-publishing project in conjunction with Protestants.

When I asked the publisher of this Catholic/Ecumenical Message about this, I was told that they didn’t feel the need to request permission from the USCCB because the Message is a a “paraphrasal translation” only meant to supplement more formal translations. But in fact, Eugene Peterson is no slouch in biblical languages. He used to teach Greek and Hebrew and so the Message is not really a paraphrase at all, but a very, very loose (like spaghetti-noodle-knot-loose) translation of the original languages.

Canon law does not grant a dispensation, exception or legal loophole in the approval process to “informal” or “paraphrasal” translations of the Bible. Beyond that, since 1984, canon law has insisted that Catholic Bibles have “necessary and sufficient annotations.” That doesn’t mean that every Bible has to be a 3,000 page study Bible, but that Bibles do need to include some notes on the difficulties and obscurities in the text, particularly at places where people could easily get confused. The New American Bible, the Jerusalem Bible and even the RSV-CE provide these types of annotations.

Now, I’m no canon lawyer, but I must admit I do have misgivings about the publication of this “Catholic/Ecumenical Message” Bible without the approval of the bishops’ conference and with no imprimatur (The imprimatur indicates ecclesiastical approval for other religious books and is different from a bishops’ conference’s approval of a Bible translation).

 

The Message and Original Languages

            While Eugene Peterson translated from the original languages, the Catholic scholar who translated the deuterocanon, William Griffin, chose a different tack. I’ll give it to you in his own words:

            For my primary text, I could have used the Hebrew or, where necessary, the Greek manuscripts; but I didn’t. As I’ve already indicated, they seem to me to be the exclusive possession of the biblical scholars. Instead, I chose the Latin Vulgate—not the one put together by Jerome in the fourth century, but the revised and expanded edition called Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) published in 1998.

Pope John Paul II wrote a brief preface to that translation in which he declared and proclaimed that the Nova Vulgata may be used as the authentic text when translating into English, especially in the Sacred Liturgy. And so that’s what I used.

Um, well, this is an interesting perspective, but I cannot agree with it. While Latin is the liturgical language of the Western Chruch, none of the Bible was written in Latin, so it’s a bit tendentious to suggest that it’s the best source for our vernacular translations.

Griffin refers to this little line in John Paul II’s Scripturarum Thesaurus (Apr 25, 1979):

This New Vulgate edition will also be of such a nature that vernacular translations, which are destined for liturgical and pastoral use, may be referred to it.

This line does not make the Nova Vulgata the base text for new Bible translations. It certainly does not override earlier magisterial statements about the importance of going back to the original languages. In fact, the Vatican has repeatedly encouraged the study of original languages and has often mandated that all vernacular translations of Scripture start with the Greek and Hebrew.

Pope Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu (Sep 30, 1943) insisted on the primacy of the original languages:

 …therefore ought we to explain the original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern…

Pius XII is gentle in his mode of expression, but he’s basically saying that the original Greek and Hebrew texts of Scripture trump the Latin Vulgate (an “ancient translation”). His encyclical set off a tidal wave of new translations from the original languages.

Dei Verbum from Vatican II takes a similar line:

 …the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books…

A pope and a Council both point to biblical translation from the original languages. Most Catholic Bibles now published all draw from Greek and Hebrew directly.

Late in the pontificate of John Paul II, a further instruction on translation for liturgical purposes was given. This document, Liturgiam authenticam (Mar 28, 2001), mandates:

Furthermore, it is not permissible that the translations be produced from other translations already made into other languages; rather, the new translations must be made directly from the original texts, namely the Latin, as regards the texts of ecclesiastical composition, or the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, as the case may be, as regards the texts of Sacred Scripture.Furthermore, in the preparation of these translations for liturgical use, theNova Vulgata Editio, promulgated by the Apostolic See, is normally to be consulted as an auxiliary tool, in a manner described elsewhere in this Instruction, in order to maintain the tradition of interpretation that is proper to the Latin Liturgy.

In case there was any lack of clarity on this point, the Congregation for Divine Worship (Nov 5, 2001) issued a letter where they further clarified the mandate

Given the nature of certain statements that have entered the public domain through articles, internet postings and the like, the scope for misunderstanding of the Instruction on the basis of a superficial reading has unfortunately increased. Indeed, some even seem to have reached the erroneous conclusion that the Instruction insists on a translation of the Bible from the Latin Nova Vulgata rather than from the original biblical languages. Such an interpretation is contrary to the Instruction’s explicit wording in n. 24, according to which all texts for use in the Liturgy “must be made directly from the original texts, namely the Latin, as regards the texts of ecclesiastical composition, or the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, as the case may be, as regards the texts of Sacred Scripture”. The Instruction in fact provides a clearer statement on the use of the original biblical texts as the basis for liturgical translation than the norms previously published in the Instruction Inter Oecumenici, n. 40a, published on 26 September 1964 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 [1964] 885).

The point of piling up all these quotations is to say that the Catholic approach to Bible translation is to go back to Greek and Hebrew and then translate directly into the vernacular. The Nova Vulgata is helpful for indicating which books are to be included and which verses (where there are textual problems), it serves as the norm for traditional liturgical formulation, but it does not serve as the basis for new translations and it has not been commended to us as such by the magisterium. In fact, quite the opposite! Catholics should be reading Bibles translated from Greek and Hebrew.

 

The Message and Translation Philosophy

I readily admit that there are different legitimate translation philosophies and goals. They are usually put on a spectrum between the woodenly literal (like the NASB) and dynamic equivalence (Jerusalem). Usually in a separate category are the paraphrases like the Living Bible, which is truly a paraphrase of an English translation (the ASV). The Message tries to walk the line between paraphrase and dynamic equivalence. The point is to deliver to modern readers an intelligible, readable Bible that makes more sense than the supposedly clunky language of a typical Bible translation. Even Eugene Peterson did not want The Message to replace other translations or even to be read aloud in church services. He intended it as a study tool.

Just to give you a sense for how The Message upends traditional Catholic phrasing of biblical passages for a rather underwhelming “something else.” Take a look at the angel Gabriel’s greeting to theVirgin Mary:

The Message
RSV (for comparison) – Luke 1:28
Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
Hail,
full of grace,
the Lord is with you!

 

Need I say more?

The Catholic/Ecumenical Message does not carry ecclesiastical approval, translates the deuterocanonical books from a Latin translation and embraces a dubious translation philosophy. I’d spend your next Amazon gift card on something else.

Oh, and if you do need a very simplistic translation for a young person or someone who has trouble with English, take a look at the Good News Translation (also known as Today’s English Version) or the Contemporary English Version, both from the American Bible Society and both with ecclesiastical approval from the USCCB.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Wisdom of Solomon Short List

Often the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament receive short shrift because they are not part of the canon accepted by many Christians. However, I don’t think any book gets less press than the Wisdom of Solomon. Readings from it appear eight times in the Sunday lectionary, but I’ll bet you can’t find a commentary on it online or at your local library. Here’s the short list of available book-length resources in English. Add more in the comments…if you can find any!

  • Reider, Joseph. The Book of Wisdom: An English Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Harper, 1957. 233 pp.
  • Geyer, John. The Wisdom of Solomon: Introduction and Commentary. Torch Bible Commentary. London, SCM Press, 1963. 128 pp.
  • Clarke, Ernest G. The Wisdom of Solomon. Cambridge Bible Commentary on the NEB.Cambridge University Press, 1973. 136 pp.
  • Winston, David. The Wisdom of Solomon. Anchor Yale Bible Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,  1979. 360 pp.
  • Grabbe, Lester. Wisdom of Solomon. T&T Clark Study Guides. Bloomsbury, 2004. 105 pp.
  • Clifford, Richard. Wisdom. New Collegeville Bible Commentary, vol. 20. Liturgical Press, 2013. 88 pp.

 

There’s a wider-ranging bibliography put together by Daniel Harrington here. But yes, that’s it! Just a handful of short commentaries, and nothing very recent.

Edit 8/8/16:

Here are few more items to add to our list, though not all fit the criteria of being book-length or in English:

  • Deane, William J. The Book of Wisdom. Oxford: Clarendon, 1881. (Full view online access)
  • Goodrick A.T.S. The Book of Wisdom. Oxford Church Bible Commentary. 1914. (Full view online access)
  • Kolarick, Michael. “Book of Wisdom” in Volume 5: Proverbs to Sirach. New Interpreters Bible. Abingdon, 1997.
  • Larcher, Chrysostome. Le Livre de la Sagesse. 3 vols. Paris: Gabalda, 1983.
  • Reese, James M. The Book of Wisdom, Song of Songs. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1983.
  • Reese, James M. Hellenistic Influence on the Book of Wisdom and Its Consequences. Analecta Biblica. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970.
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dumping and the Internet

Dumping is a big problem—and not just Joe Schmo junking an old water heater in the ditch by the side of the road. Dumping is a practice that some international firms engage in to destroy competition. Say, you have a widget company in Peru that makes the SuperWidget3000, which retails for $400. Then a big Korean company comes in to Peru with a product that does basically the same thing as the SuperWidget3000, but they sell it for $20. They import gazillions of their clone product, undercut you on price by 95% and, of course, drive you out of business. Then after your company is dead and gone, the Korean company can jack the price up to $600, making more money per item than you ever did, but you’re not around anymore to cause any headaches for them. It’s an effective, but ruthless, practice. Now there are many laws and international agreements to prevent dumping.

The same kind of phenomenon can happen when big-hearted, rich countries decide to send “free” food to a third-world country to alleviate hunger. The main problem with this practice is that it destroys the agrarian economy in the country it is seeking to aid. Most third world places look more like the United States did 100 years ago, where the vast majority of people make their living farming. If you swoop in with free food, you might temporarily alleviate some folks, but you ruin their economic interaction with one another. After their farms and ranches fail, being undercut by Big Free Food from Mr. Nice Guy, what will happen? Food prices can skyrocket and no one has a good working farm to supply the need, or the people can become dependent on Big Free. It’s the same as a big company “dumping” their cheap product to drive somebody out of business, albeit without the malicious intent.

So what about the Internet?

To me, the Internet has become a “dumping” ground for the good hearted. It must stem from the same impulse that leads to dumping free food in a poor country. What exactly do I mean? Well, the most obvious examples are in the public domain arena, where kind-hearted people have uploaded billions of pages of public domain information for all our eyeballs to consume—Google Books, Archive.org, Hathi Trust Digital Library. There are also free, public domain, audiobooks at Librivox.org and free art in the Wikimedia Commons. There is free music and free video at YouTube. The Internet is full of free everything. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and use this content just as much (if not more) as the next guy.

But…I worry. I worry that writers, editors, artists, voice actors, and other people involved in producing this kind of content are losing their jobs left and right. Publishers and bookstores are closing, consolidating, and filing for bankruptcy (Harcourt, Cengage, Borders, etc.). Amazon is underpricing the ebook and book market. People who used to be able to make a living producing books, music, and other media for us to enjoy are finding themselves undercut by Big Free. Right now is the good part of the cycle, where the Consumer gets to enjoy cheap and free with no consequences. But what happens when Google decides that after 10 years of losing money, YouTube is no longer worth it and they just shut it down, erasing millions upon millions of videos? What happens, when the Internet Archive folds for financial reasons, but your local library has jettisoned all of its old, public domain books, in favor of new computer consoles where anybody can access that information for free? What about when Google decides to charge a monthly fee for access to Google Books?

I like a dynamic market. I like change. But I am concerned that the Internet has become a dumping ground, in the bad sense. The world of Big Free might not be free after all. Centralization of information means that information can be controlled, manipulated, or even deleted, permanently. The decentralized care of information, in thousands of libraries, homes, schools, bookstores, seems a better path to me, one not so easily destroyed by the decision of an executive or the economic pressures of the day. Perhaps there is a way to decentralize the Internet and its world of Free. Maybe that’s how all of our out-of-work writers and editors could find their way. It’s a thought.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Catholic Theology of the Old Testament

One of my friends mentioned to me a couple weeks ago, “No one has written a Catholic theology of the Old Testament in over 40 years.” I took a look and well, he’s right. In fact, if you type “catholic old testament” into Amazon, almost nothing comes up. There have been lots of Old Testament theology books from Protestant scholars, famous ones too: Childs, Goldingay, Waltke/Yu, and of course, Brueggemann.

The exact goal of an Old Testament theology is a little hard to define, but it comes around to explaining how the Old Testament portrays God and man’s relationship with Him. Of course, Christian writers are interested in how the Old Testament prepares the stage for Jesus and the New Testament as well.

A specifically Catholic theology of the Old Testament should contribute all these things, but should add a lot on how to integrate Old Testament teachings with the official doctrine of the Church and her theology. This is not easy to do. Significant changes in Catholic theology have unfolded over the last 50 years, so the task has become even more complicated.

So, what old Catholic Old Testament theologies are there? Well, I just checked out one called Theology of the Old Testament by Paul Heinisch (originally written in German around 1940; published in English in 1965; Review here). Another one was Theology of the Old Testament by Paul van Imschoot (original in French? 1954; vol. 1 English translation in 1965)–three volumes were planned; two were published in French, only one in English.

Perhaps it is time for a new Catholic theology of the Old Testament.

UPDATE:

I found a couple more Catholic theologies of the Old Testament in Frederick Prussner’s book, Old Testament Theology: Its History and Development. Here they are:
Cordero, Garcia. Teologia de la Biblia: vol. 1, Antiguo Testamento. Madrid: Editorial Catolica, 1970.
McKenzie, John L. A Theology of the Old Testament. Garden City: Doubleday, 1974.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs Now Published

A while back, I wrote a post on Hippolytus’ commentary on the Song of Songs, which is the first extant Christian commentary on the Song. Unfortunately, it has never been published in an English translation…until now. Yancy Smith wrote his dissertation on this topic and incorporated a translation of the commentary, including translations from the Georgian texts. Now, he has thoroughly revised and changed the dissertation into a book being published for 2013, but now available from Gorgias Press. So, if you are studying the Song of Songs or its interpretations and are in the market for ancient Christian commentaries, you can purchase the book, which is available now with a big discount from the Gorgias Press website. The book is entitled, The Mystery of Anointing: Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Contexts.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Few Books I Bought

I thought I’d tell you about a few books I just bought.

1. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. This is a bit of a classic. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, but never got the chance. Alter is a literary critic, but this little book made a big impression back in the eighties. I hope to enjoy it.

2. Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, edited by Barry Holtz. I’ve been using the Mishnah and some rabbinic commentaries in my research, but I’m no expert in early Jewish literature. I’m hoping that this book will be a great introduction to reading this collection. I also hope it is more accessible than Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash by Strack and Stemberger. I found this book rather forbidding. It assumed you knew a lot about the topic it is trying to introduce. Maybe it will make more sense after reading Holtz.

3. The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, volume II, by Jacobus de Voragine, trans. William Granger Ryan. I got the first volume last year and I’m happy to have both now. I got interested in the Golden Legend after visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The medieval section of the museum is rich with saint story paintings, but unfortunately, I found myself hopelessly unfamiliar with the stories presented. I was constantly scrambling to identify saints by their traits and symbols. Many of the stories depicted and the symbols collected around each saint are derived from the Golden Legend. It was extremely popular during the Middle Ages and from it flowed much religious art right at the time that Late Medieval Tuscan painting was born. That is, the book prompted lots of art at a time of great transition in Western art, when painters were moving from iconography to more realistic painting. I think reading the Golden Legend will give me a better understanding of the art of the time.

In addition, I recently grabbed Roland De Vaux’s book Early History of Israel  off my shelf and started reading. I’m hoping his scholarly and Catholic perspective will enhance my understanding of the Old Testament.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A New Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture


A new project is afoot in the world of Catholic biblical scholarship. It is a new Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. The editors are Peter Williamson, Mary Healy and Kevin Perotta. They’ve put together a great team of writers including themselves and Edward (Ted) Sri, Curtis Mitch, Tim Gray, Fr. George Montague, Fr. Francis Martin, Bill Wright, Fr. Bill Kurz, Scott Hahn, Fr. Thomas Stegman, Fr. Ronald Witherup, Fr. Dennis Hamm and Dan Keating. Williamson, Healy and Keating are professors at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Perotta is a Catholic writer who has authored and edited many books including a recent series of Bible studies from Loyala University Press. The editorial board includes Scott Hahn, Daniel Harrington, Frank Matera, Bill Kurz, Francis Martin, George Montague and A.Bp. Terrence Pendergast.

The editors lay out their principles for the commentary as follows:

  • Written in an engaging style that can be read for personal study and spiritual nourishment as well as referenced for exegetical information
  • Distinguished by a theological and pastoral hermeneutic rather than a focus on technical questions that legitimately interest scholars but have less relevance for Christian life
  • Interprets the canonical form of the text in light of the whole of Scripture and the Church’s faith
  • Aims to serve readers across a spectrum of Catholic opinion while remaining faithful to Church teaching
  • Employs ordinary modern English that does not require “translation” for preaching and catechesis
  • Packed with features useful to preachers and teachers of the word, lay and ordained, and other Catholics interested in deepening their faith
  • Fills a gap between substantial scholarly resources and brief popular commentaries

If the commentary fulfills all these goals, it will be well worth reading. I hope that they put out the volumes as fast as is reasonably possible. The first ones will be available in November 2008: Mary Healy’s commentary on Mark and Fr. George Montague’s work on 1 Tim, 2 Tim and Titus.

This commentary is a different animal in the world of commentaries. It reminds me a lot of the Interpretation series, which was a Protestant commentary designed for pastors and lay persons with a high level of biblical knowledge, but little familiarity with the biblical languages and the technical stuff Bible scholars get into. So, hopefully, this new commentary will provide many American Catholic priests with great homily material that is sound in terms of scholarship and yet relevant and applicable for people of faith.

Oh yeah, and they’ve cleaned up extremely positive endorsements from the likes of Cardinal Schonborn, Cardinal Vanhoye, Archbishop Chaput, Gary Anderson, Romanus Cessario, Aidan Nichols, Robert Louis Wilken, Benedict Groeschel, Ralph Martin (who can be found in my sidebar), and a host of other people.

Right now, the project is New Testament only, but if it is a success I wouldn’t be surprised to see an OT commentary too. And with little competition out there, it may happen. If you pick up a copy and read it, let me know what you think.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail