New Translation: "everlasting" -> "eternal"

What follows is a brief exchange between “Larry” from Pennsylvania and myself from the 4marks Liturgy Forum.
Larry: I don’t understand why they have switched eternal to everlasting and vice versa.

It’s good that you bring this up. I’m writing a book on the new translation, and I want to make sure I don’t overlook issues such as this one.

(There is no change in the Apostles’ Creed, where “life everlasting” is still translated as “life everlasting”.)

The new translation does change ONE instances of “eternal” to “everlasting”, and MANY instances “everlasting” to “eternal”, in the prayers of the priest.

[LIST]
*]In the absolution at the end of the Penitential Rite, the priest will no longer say “bring us to everlasting life” but “lead us … into eternal life.”
*]In the Eucharistic Prayers, “everlasting covenant” will become “eternal covenant.”
*]In Eucharistic Prayer I, “the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation” will become “the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.” (This is the only place where the new translation uses “everlasting” in the prayers of the priest.)
*]In Eucharistic Prayer III, “make us an everlasting gift to you” will become “make of us an eternal offering to you.”
*]In Eucharistic Prayer IV, the phrase during the epiclesis “he left us as an everlasting covenant” will become “he left us as an eternal covenant.”
*]The priest’s private prayers as he receives Communion will change from “everlasting life” to “eternal life.”
[/LIST]
So, why the changes? The major driving force behind the new translation is greater fidelity to the Latin text of the Mass, respecting the richness of the Latin words and trying to reproduce that richness faithfully in the vernacular. Let me use one example from the above:

In Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon), the Latin text reads Panem sanctum vitae aeternae, et Calicem salutis perpetuae. In the current (“old”) translation, this is “the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation.” The future (“new”) translation will be “the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.” The new translation respects the vitae aeternae, rendering it as “eternal life” rather than just “life”, and it respects the salutis perpetuae as “everlasting salvation” instead of “eternal salvation.” This is for two reasons: first, the Latin uses two different words (aeternae and perpetuae), so the English translation should (unless there’s a good reason) use two different English words (“eternal” for aeternae and “everlasting” for perpetuae, i.e. perpetual).

The word “eternal” is a direct translation (cognate) of aeternae, which is why the decision was made to use “eternal life” rather than “everlasting life” there. (Granted, in the Apostles’ Creed, the phrase* vitam aeternam* is translated “life everlasting”.) Because the words aeternae and perpetuae are used in immediate succession, it would not respect the Latin text to say “eternal life” and then “eternal salvation”.

Now, I would posit that “everlasting life” is different from “eternal life”. Everlasting life means life without end: both the saved and the damned will have everlasting life. But only the saved will experience eternal life, because the saved will share in the life of the Most Holy Trinity, God, Who lives eternally. Eternal life has neither beginning nor end, and when we come to share in the divine nature of God, we will share in His eternal life, not just the everlasting life which all souls will come to know.

So our salvation is not eternal salvation but everlasting, because we are not created saved, but become saved at some point in time.

If you would like, I can address the other changes too, but I think my explanations could be inferred from what I’ve said here about this one particular example (which uses both “eternal” and “everlasting”).
What do y’all think? Does that rationale seem appropriate?

(By the way, if you haven’t read the 2002 “Observations on the English-language Translation of the Roman Missal”, I strongly suggest you do. It points out flaws found in the present (1985) translation as well as in suggested translations offered during the 1990’s.)

So the main distinction you are suggesting between everlasting and eternal is that the former has a beginning? I suspect you are correct, since you’ve studied the matter carefully, but I’d like to see more evidence in support of your interpretation.

Oxford English Dictionary agrees with me. Does that count? :wink:

eternal

  1. a. Infinite in past and future duration; without beginning or end; that always has existed and always will exist: esp. of the Divine Being.
  2. b. [omitted]
  3. Infinite in past duration; that has always existed.
  4. a. Infinite in future duration; that always will exist; everlasting, endless.
  5. b. [omitted]

everlasting

  1. a. Lasting for ever; infinite in **future **duration; endless; = ETERNAL 3.
  2. b. Extended to the full sense of the L. æternus, so as to imply past as well as future eternity; = ETERNAL 1.

In other words, the “first” definitions of “eternal” and “everlasting” mean different things: “eternal” means infinite in past and future duration, while “everlasting” means infinite in future duration (at least). To use the two in distinct settings implies they should be interpreted differently, which is, I think, what the Missal is doing in Latin and what the translation should do in English.

That’s pretty good.

[quote=japhy]To use the two in distinct settings implies they should be interpreted differently, which is, I think, what the Missal is doing in Latin and what the translation should do in English.
[/quote]

I agree with your assessment that two different words should be used in successive phrases, it simply flows better. But as much as I’m excited that you may have unlocked a bit more meaning than we usually appreciate in this distinction, I’m also skeptical that the distinction is always intended.

Can you clarify how the covenants are eternal in your sense, when God creates and enters into these covenants at particular historical points in the Old Testament?

Even if we accept that the change to eternal is an intentional change in meaning, that intention must not have been that strong, as it did not outweigh the familiarity of the current wording in the Apostles’ Creed.

I tend to think that while the new translation may be truer to the Latin by using cognates, the intended definitions of “eternal” and “everlasting” are more like those found in Merriam-Webster: i.e., very nearly equivalent.

The closeness of the concepts of “eternal life” and “life everlasting” in the Apostles’ Creed might be a factor, as is the “familiarity” factor. The present traditional English translation of the Our Father, for example, could use a little fine-tuning (translating debita as “debts” and debitoribus as “debtors” rather than “trespasses” and “those who trepass against us”), but the familiarity with the traditional translation overrides that. (It’s left as a teaching moment, ultimately.)

I’ve looked for “everlasting/eternal/perpetual/forever/for ever” … “covenant” (and vice versa) in the RSV translation of Scripture. I’ve only found two instances of “eternal covenant”:

Sirach 7:10/12 (RSV only)
(RSV) He established with them an eternal covenant, and showed them his judgments.
(NAB) An everlasting covenant he has made with them, his commandments he has revealed to them.
(KJV) He made an everlasting covenant with them, and shewed them his judgments.
(DR) He made an everlasting covenant with them, and he shewed them his justice and judgments.
(LV) Testamentum aeternum constituit cum illis et iudicia sua ostendit illis

Hebrews 13:20 (RSV & NAB only)
(RSV) Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant
(NAB) May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord…
(KJV) Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant
(DR) And may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great pastor of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the blood of the everlasting covenant
(LV) Deus autem pacis, qui eduxit de mortuis pastorem magnum ovium in sanguine testamenti aeterni, Dominum nostrum Iesum…

(I’ll admit that the Douay-Rheims sometimes translates the Vulgate’s aeterni as “everlasting” rather than “eternal”. But other Latin words or phrases that get translated as “everlasting”, “for ever”, and “perpetual” are sempiterni and omni tempore.)

Scripture translation issues aside (and there are many), what would make Christ’s covenant “eternal” rather than just “everlasting”, according to Heb 13:20?

Jesus speaks of uttering things which were “hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matt. 13:35) He says the Kingdom was prepared “from the foundation of the world.” (Matt. 25:34) In John’s gospel, He speaks to the Father of the “glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

St. Paul says that God the Father “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” (Eph. 1:4) And St. Peter says that Christ “was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times.” (1 Pet. 1:20)

I would argue (maybe speciously, and if so, I apologize) that the covenant in Christ’s blood, though it was manifested in time, is truly an eternal covenant because it is carried out by God the Son with God the Father, rather than by a normal man with God. It is a covenant in the blood of the eternal God, not of temporal animals.

That’s how I’d state my case.

The word “eternal” is a direct translation (cognate) of aeternae, which is why the decision was made to use “eternal life” rather than “everlasting life” there. (Granted, in the Apostles’ Creed, the phrase* vitam aeternam* is translated “life everlasting”.) Because the words aeternae and perpetuae are used in immediate succession, it would not respect the Latin text to say “eternal life” and then “eternal salvation”.

This is one change in the missal that I must stand behind 110% because it is a direct response to a serious theological error that had been both proposed and dealt with in the late 19th through the 20th century. There is a philosophical/theological school called “Process Philosophy/Theology” begun by Albert North Whitehead and continued by Charles Hartshorne. Their view posits that God is “Everlasting” and not “Eternal” It’s of particular consequence since they both wrote in English. Everlasting means that a being is “in time” and travels through time along with the rest of creation. Eternal means that a being is outside of time looking in. Whitehead/Hartshorne both argued that the traditional view of God as “eternal” was wrong and instead proposed an “everlasting” God who experienced time along with us, instead of the traditional Catholic view that God could see all of time at once.

For more information on this issue, ironically this article explains it well atheism.about.com/od/whatisgod/a/eternal.htm Now, it’s written by an atheist in favor of the idea of process thought, but it none-the-less articulates the idea very well. Our Church has very clearly stated that we believe God to be “Eternal” and not “Everlasting” The change in language exemplifies an issue where changing the words is a clear defense against a heretical belief. (in as clear a way as the early Christian heresies)

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