Friday, January 05, 2007

Retractiones, I

That's a Roman numeral 'one' in the title. The idea for rethinking or clarifying an older post comes, obviously from St. Augustine.

1) Reference to dynamic equivalence: one might get the impression that I believe all dynamic equivalence to be bad or even dishonest. In fact, I don't have a carefully worked-out position vis a vis dynamic equivalence versus literal rendering. I've done enough translating myself to know that one must strike a balance. Attempting to preserve a Hebrew idiom, as we often do in phrases like 'King of Kings', can be of great assistance in reminding us that we are in the presence of a foreign idiom. On the other hand, a literal one-to-one rendering of Hebrew or Latin can be tedious and an obstacle to understanding. An example would be in the use of relative clauses. Both Latin and Hebrew construct them differently than English, and so some effort must be made to adapt. Another different sort of example would be St. John's quirky Greek, in which he often uses synonyms that lack corresponding English terms. Thus, in John 21, Jesus uses two different words for 'love' and two different words for 'sheep/lambs'. Commentators debate whether this is significant. In any case, the translator, I'm afraid, is best off simply translating both terms for love as 'love': to attempt to grasp the nuances of philia and agape would involve adding words to the English and missing the direct speech that our Lord delivers.

Where I object to dynamic equivalence is an exaggerated form of the accomodation that all translators must make. What is exaggerated is precisely the 'equivalence' of the meanings that can be generated from different idioms. The idea is roughly this: that when a Biblical author wrote something that in our cultural context sounds obscure, sexist or otherwise offensive, we can get at the kernel 'what he really meant' by getting rid of the offensive husk. What is ironic about this is that dynamic equivalence is often used in this manner precisely by those who wish to honor the specific cultural understanding and sensibilities of a marginalized group. But they must resort to marginalizing the Biblical culture to do it. Sometimes, we must simply be willing to live with the scandal of particularity, maybe even learn to celebrate it? I'm sure that's not the end of my thought in this area.

2) Marty Haugen and David Haas: I should reiterate that I cannot name for you a single piece of music by David Haas, and all that I remember of Marty Haugen is his ubiquitous Mass of Creation. What I am concerned about, and what these men and their work stands for in my mind (based on the testimony of almost every parish-going Catholic I know), is the danger of substituting wholesale a new form of liturgical music that lacks continuity with the Tradition. I won't pronounce on whether the pop/folk idiom that much of this music takes is worthy of the Divine Liturgy. I will say that it is wholly unlikely that all of it is, and impossible to think that it is all better than music of the tradition (for me, as for the Council, this means chant, Renaissance polyphony and what I would clarify as traditional hymnody, the Mainz-style hymns that Vatican II undoubtedly had in mind, in distinction to the proliferation of radically different styles of hymnody since the Council). A hundred years from now, we will better be in a position to judge the merits of Haugen and Haas. Today, we surely lose something if we refuse to admit the merits of the music handed on to us.

That said, our Tradition is a living one, and so musicians must be writing new music. Again, this is simply to restate the teaching of the Council. What gets left out is the fact that this new music should draw upon the lessons of the past.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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