Chris Chatteris | Jun 6 2007 - 10:46am | 4 comments
Well, is it ’for many’ or ’for all’? Even here on the Southern tip of Africa, where the number of Catholic mother tongue English speakers is minuscule, it’s also a hot topic. Our local Catholic paper has been running a muscular correspondence between prelates, liturgists and pew-sitters. Here too a core issue is the alleged Latinisation of English. Might Italians also react badly if some Anglo-Saxons tried to anglicise their lovely Romance tongue? Or even Celts: consider the Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly’s tale about how he’s walking happily down a street in his native Glasgow, feeling quite at home, when he’s approached by men in saffron robes with shaven heads chanting ’Hare Krishna’. ’And they try to tell me that I’ve got a problem!’ expostulates Connolly. Vox Clara seems to suggest unclear voices. No translation is perfect, but is it implied that a transcendental expression of Catholic truth exists, and that it happens to be in Latin? Apart from the philosophical and theological objections to this, it’s rather a patronising way to deal with a language which has been a vessel and conduit for Christianity for quite some time now, and which today delivers vastly more theological discourse, and liturgical prayer than Latin. How many people think or pray in Latin these days? I imagine we’ve been here before. As koine Greek gave way to vulgar Latin, for the sake of the wider mission of the Church, Latin is now giving way to English and Spanish for the same reason. I wonder if some Greek speakers wanted to Hellenise the Latin as the Latinists now feel the need to Latinise English. ’My dear fellow; how can you possibly adequately translate the word logos into anything except, well, logos?!’ Can we ask the Latinisers to take English a little more seriously? Perhaps. During the apartheid era I visited a ’coloured’ Catholic diocese where the mother tongue is Afrikaans, ’the language of the oppressor’, a sentiment I then shared. When I attended the Eucharist in Afrikaans, my negative perception collapsed dramatically. Here was clear Catholic faith and piety, intense, prayerful, and faithful, ’sanctifying’ a despised language. What further evidence beyond the Incarnation and Pentecost do we need to be convinced that in Christ all languages are sacred and therefore to be trusted? Chris Chatteris, S.J.