Minding Our Language

Jun 09, 2014 Comment(s)

We’re an ethnic parish, jurisdictionally. But we’re not even close to monolithic culturally. This is the San Francisco Bay Area, after all. We’ve got a little bit of everybody all up in here.

Now Greek is Greek to me. But since I’ve studied a little bit of Greek, at least I can keep my head above water during liturgy. A little. (Or does that defy baptismal theology?)

In any case, here we are using the exact same translation as everyone else. In theory. They changed a couple words on us. It took a little getting used to. “Consubstantial” became “of one essence.” That sort of thing.

The premise behind making it uniform was that a visitor from another parish in the same jurisdiction wouldn’t feel embarrassed or put out because they showed up and said the wrong words.

I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think we need the variety. And here’s why.

Most parishes recite the Creed and the prayer in their primary language only. But we do it in Greek and in English. We constantly remind ourselves that there’s an original text, a proof to fall back on. We don’t need a “perfected” English translation.

Actually, there’s no such thing anyway. If Greek and English had an exact, one-to-one translation for absolutely every word in their lexicons (lexica?), I could understand a uniform translation. But not only is there no such one-to-one vocabulary match, nor were there even enough Greek words for them to write the Creed in the first place. They had to use made up words like “homoousios” just to describe the situation. And we’re expected to come up with a consistent translation?

A variety in the English diction reminds us to look back, reminds us that a group made a painstaking effort to get this right, reminds us not to mess with it.

I don’t think we should try to replace it.

This is about as close as I get to a rebellion against my hierarchy. Don’t worry, I’m still very far from it. But I’m glad that a few of our parishes are still holding out, resistant. At least on this subject. It’s not an issue worth splitting churches over, by any means.

But it is good for us to have to work a little bit to understand the really important stuff.

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Jeff Holton likes to write (and read) about pretty much…