"to dust" or "unto dust"

Remember, man, that you are dust
And unto dust you shall return.


Remember, man, that you are dust
And to dust you shall return.

Both of these can be found on the web. I prefer the first because the rhythm is better. It’s two lines of iambic tetrameter. The stresses on the syllables are as follows:

ReMEMber, MAN, that YOU are DUST

Poetry is similar to music, and the value of skill in music in religious worship seems to be recognized. The reasons for such recognition would seem to apply to skillful rendition of poetic passages as well.

How widespread are these two versions and what views are there on their relative merits?

It’s considered by some grammarians (the editors of the OED) that “unto” is just an archaic form of “to”, even though both remain in common use, and it is unclear if they are synonymous. Much like “amongst” and “among”, the first of which is to be used before a word beginning with a vowel. So, I believe you’re correct in seeing the judgment as aesthetic. I read the King James Bible, so I’m used to - and prefer - the archaic form.

Modified early modern English (modified in the sense that “thou” is used respectfully, unlike it was when it was in common spoken use, and was used to address an inferior, such as “tu” in Spanish [as opposed to “usted”]) has indeed become hieratic English in God’s providence, and now evokes the numinous, even without the majestic cadences and simple, largely monosyllabic and largely Anglo-Saxon vocabulary of the Authorised Version.

To end the tangent and summarize, “Look and see, a messenger went up to God’s throne” can not replace “Lo and behold, an angel ascended unto the throne of God”. Worship involves the whole mind, and part of the mind is that which sense beauty and makes aesthetic judgments, so such things are not as unimportant as they may appear.

“Remember man that dust thou art/and unto dust shalt thou return.”

It’s not quite as perfect blank verse as that in certain parts of Genesis in the AV from whence it was taken, such as the following: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me/she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”

There is so much dust at our house we figure either someone is coming or going:D

I like this version and the one I gave with “unto”, but I think the rhythm is flawed with “to”.

…and unto dusting you return.

Seems like “into” would be more literal.

Latin: Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

To the first poster: the rhyme doesn’t exist at all, nor is it meant to. Hebrew poetry does not rhyme (and this passage is debatable whether it is Hebrew poetry), nor does the translation - it is the metre that makes it poetic in English (blank verse is nonrhymed iambic pentameter), and parallelism that makes it poetic in Hebrew.

To the second: the word translated “unto” is the preposition וְאֶל (weh-'el) which can be translated several ways, most commonly “and to”, “about”, “to”, or “unto”. It is the word translated as “will be for” in Genesis 3:16, in the passage: “And your desire will be for your husband”. “Into” seems to fit in to the semantic range (in context, even, so I don’t believe translating it such is the fallacy of “unwarranted expansion of an already-expanded semantic field” [DA Carson, *Exegetical Fallacies, 88]), so it’s a valid translation in its own right, but, as a translation, is not the proper grounds for a translation or an exegesis of said translation in to another language. The Latin (or other translations) can give us ideas for how to translate a tricky part by seeing solutions previously arrived-at: but they can not abrogate the part itself, no matter how hallowed by tradition or Tradition, even (and often) through long use in establishing doctrines with no real Biblical basis (in the original languages). A good example of a proper, ministerial use of translation is how to translate the emphatic doubling in Genesis 2:17, translated by the AV as “thou shalt shall surely die”, literally “die the death”, and by Jerome, in a masterful balance, as “you shall, dying, die”.

Augustine’s false doctrine of creation was based off of a mistranslation in Ecclesiasticus (which in the Latin is made to say “God created all things at one time”, …aeternum creavit omnia simul); Origen’s heresy caused him to mutilate the Scriptures left and right according to a higher criticism that would make even the editors of the New American “Bible”, inserting and deleting and re-ordering verses and pericopes, blush (and Jerome was largely a student of Origen in textual matters); most of the mediaeval doctrine of justification and repentance/penance and the resultant sacramental architecture was based off of a mistranslation of the Greek μετάνοια (this does not mean the sacramental architecture is incorrect: it means only that it is not spoken of in this place in the Bible, where it was traditionally sought).

Remember that the Vulgate is mostly a translation of a translation in the OT, and a translation in the NT, although a mostly reliable translation of another mostly reliable translation - like our English King James Bible in the areas where the Vulgate translates the MT and not the LXX (disregarding the Douay-Rheims which is a translation of a translation of a translation in most of the OT and Apocrypha) or New King James Version - and not the original (but not yet like a corrupt “version” such as the New Revised Standard or New American). Latin had a much harder time translating Greek than it did Hebrew, leading to some absurdities especially in Paul’s letters which became acceptable Latin (even though nonsensical) because of their very inclusion in the Bible. Certain Hebrew and/or Greek phrases and idioms, “translated” (loosely using the word) in to English, but being incorrect and/or nonsensical English (such as “apple of my eye”, “reap the whirlwind”, “publish and blaze abroad”, “thorn in the flesh”) have become acceptable English through their inclusion in the Tyndale-Geneva-King James (i.e. completely dominant) tradition of English Bible translation.

A translation in to Latin, whether it be the language of the Church or not, is no greater or lesser than a translation of equal accuracy in to English; it can not be used to correct the original language (not even in cases of doubt, I believe, although scholars of the “critical eclectic” methodology do believe that one can sub out the Greek or Latin or Peshitta whenever it agrees with one’s own views better than the original, and, failing that, we can do it today by “conjectural emendation” *). As you will see below, English is actually able to translate certain passages more accurately than Latin.

False renderings such as “she” in Genesis 3:15 (to start a short list of indefensible readings defended by Catholics for doctrinal reasons) are gotten by taking the Vulgate, Septuagint, or some other ancient version as equal with the “Hebrew verity” when it comes to the OT, or by taking the Vulgate or some other ancient version instead of the “Greek wellspring of the words of eternal life” for the NT. This is how “do penance” came to be regarded by some Catholics as a correct translation for μετάνοια (“turning of mind”) out of wishful thinking to appropriate dominical sayings as a prop for the sacramental system of confession. Jerome mistranslated the word, because Latin can not express “repent” as an imperative using any construction - it is outside of Latin’s entire semantic range. The closest that can be come to the Greek is Erasmus’ “be penitent”. This is also how “full of grace” became the proper Catholic translation of Luke 1:28, because of the “gratia plena” of Jerome; the “kecharitomene” of Greek requires a flexible grammar and an acrobatic grammarian to make it primarily mean “full of grace” in the sense of the Latin. None of those three renderings are the primary meaning of the God-inspired originals, and two of them are absolutely indefensible according to the original (“full of grace” is defensible, even if not primary, much as “young woman” for almah is defensible, even if not primary). We shouldn’t read our doctrine in to the Bible, the Bible should read its doctrine in to us.

Now I’m very much off-topic, and ceasing to write.*


On the matter of texts, translations, and inspiration, the Greeks disagree with me, believing the Septuagint translation to be inspired; traddish Latins disagree with me, believing the Vulgate to be superior (treated as inspired in practice, if not in theory); Ruckmanites disagree with me, believing the KJV to be inspired; 99% of the rest of both Catholics and Protestants since the advent of Westcott and Hort disagree with me, believing the critical/eclectic/neutral/Alexandrian text, which is the basis of modern Greek Testaments such as Nestle-Aland, which are in turn the basis of all modern translations except for Confraternity, Knox, and the NKJV, to be inspired (as opposed to the Textus Receptus/Byzantine/Majority text).

I’ve really painted myself in to a lonely corner there! “If a man calls you a horse once, punch him in the face; if two call you a horse, curse them; if three call you a horse, it’s time to go shopping for a saddle.” That being said, it would appear I need to go shopping for a saddle for my pet (some may even say “hobby-horse”*) textual theories.

*Pun intended.

In certain passages no doubt this is true. But then everyday (what I call street language) overuse of that passage is almost certain to change its meaning. Thus archaic expressions (unto, art, thee, thou, etc.) perhaps convey the original thought and nuance better, without even delving into matters of iambic pentameters and such. Just an observation; linguistics is just a hobby for me.

Good posts, by the way.

I had to take a combined ten course-years [sic] of dead languages. I rarely have reason to use the Hebrew and Latin, and often find myself reading the King James instead of the Greek in any case: thank ye for the excuse. It should be clear from my posts that my Hebrew is poor, my Latin and Greek are mediocre, and I appreciate the archaic verbiage so much that I should live in the Renaissance Faire.

OTOH, something archaic is, by definition, not part of the vernacular. It becomes the dead part of a language, so to speak. But that could be a vibrant thing in prayer.

Khalid, I see you repeating the same rhetoric lobbed by ignorant Protestants against St. Jerome and the Latin Bible, which I think is unjustified. Please look at these dictionary entries.


Now with that in mind, tell me if and tell me if the Latin phrase “paenitentiam agite” is really an objectionable translation? I don’t think anyone has ever seriously argued that any command to “do penance” in the Bible is referring to the sacrament of confession except by extension. If anything, the error is on the part of the part of those who falsely assert that metanoia is an instantaneous change of mind to the exclusion of any ongoing process of conversion or any external acts. Look at Matthew 11:21: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Is Jesus here saying that these people would have “instantaneously changed their mind” while wearing sackcloth and ashes?

The Latin Bible is not a perfect translation to be sure, but let’s not level anything more at it than is warranted.

Question: I read the definitions. From what I can tell, the word was given the meaning of “repent” in the sense of the English word “repent” after the Vulgate had been completed, by comparison with the Greek.

I never said the Vulgate wasn’t a good translation. I said it was not perfect. No translation is. I compared it to our English King James Bible, which is very accurate, but, again, not perfect, and specifically stated that it was not to be compared to such versions as the New Revised Standard, which are corruptions. I said that it is not of equal authority with the original languages, and that an equally-accurate translation of the original languages in to a language other than Latin is perforce of equal authority with the Vulgate, and is of greater authority than an accurate translation of the Vulgate translation in to a language besides Latin. From a Catholic point of view, Jerome rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture: using the same logic, it would mean the Vulgate is unreliable because of Jerome’s views. (The mistranslation in Ecclesiasticus that gave rise to Augustine’s erroneous doctrine of creation was from the Vetus Itala, not Jerome, as Jerome rejected Ecclesiasticus, did not translate it, and did not include it in the Bible that came from his hand; it was re-added later according to the consensus of the Church.)

“Do penance” is not defensible from an English perspective, but, as I stated, Latin can not express “repent” as an imperative! Paenitentiam is a defensible Latin rendering, because of the shortcomings of Latin in being able to render the meaning of the Greek. Taking the primary literal meaning of the word over in to English as “do penance” is not from the point of view of conformity to the original Greek. If a language had no word for “virgin”, “young woman” would be the only possible translation of Isaiah 7:14; that doesn’t permit said language’s rendering becoming normative, nor does it make “young woman” any more accurate from the point of view of God’s intent as expressed in the inspired words than it is in English. But, if the language could not express “virgin”, “young woman” would be a defensible rendering in that language. But that would not make it defensible in any other language.

“She” in Genesis 3:15 is a transcription error (Jerome translated it as “he”), so it’s really not about the Vulgate itself, but about its textual transmission, and the fact that “she” stuck in Catholic circles because of the belief that one could see Mary prophesied in this verse. For my third example, “full of grace”, it is defensible even from the Greek alone, although I do not believe it captures the primary meaning of the Greek, and emphasizes a subsidiary meaning (“highly graced”, “gifted of God” both do better than “highly favoured” [classical Protestant and modern Catholic translation] and “full of grace” [traditional Catholic translation]), which allowed this verse to be used to defend the immaculate conception, although it has nothing to do with it (and I don’t believe any commentator, Catholic or otherwise, has attempted to say so for hundreds of years).

Whatever else might be said, Jerome did as good as he could with the language he had there. And, given that I don’t actually live in the middle ages, I can’t be certain, but everything I have read has said that, indeed, said translation was one of the prime movers and mainstay props for the development of the auricular confession component of the sacramental system. Jaroslav Pelikan (a Lutheran turned Orthodox) is my main authority for this (the usage of the Vulgate rendering of metanoia in establishing the Catholic sacramental system), in the third volume of his The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. “Repent” does not exclude doing penance, but it does not include it either. The Greek (and Erasmus’ Latin) have to do with a disposition as much as an action. (This of necessity must be so, for when John the Baptist proclaimed it, there would be no priesthood to administer penance for years to come.) “Do penance” is solely about action, as there is no such thing as “non-sacramental mental penance” insofar as I am aware.

The English translation of the Vulgate Latin in the Rheims Testament by Gregory Martin as “do penance” reflects the traditional Catholic understanding of these passages as directly referring to the sacrament of penance, I believe. The dictionary definition allows the Latin to mean “repent” in a broad sense (although not as an imperative, which is the Greek and English), but, as I said above, it appears that this is a development in the Latin language of a distinction that did not exist in late antiquity. I don’t believe one could honestly translate paenitentiam as “Repent!” unless one corrected the Latin by the Greek; “do penance” is an honest and accurate translation of the Vulgate.

If my posts echo Protestant arguments (and I have synthesized what I have written on my own, taking my opinions from many sources, the Bible and not, Catholic and not, Christian and not), my conclusion would be that the Protestants have better arguments than I’ve given them credit for.

Waited too long to edit: the immaculate conception was originally a philosophico-theological proposition (“It is more perfect for God to save at least one person by preserving her from original sin than it is to forgive her original sin”) from within the Scotist theological system, not a Biblical one. Direct Biblical support for the doctrine was sought after it was established philosophically, “the cart going before the horse”. Traditionally, in Catholicism, direct Biblical support is not needed for a doctrine, as long as the doctrine can be established through sure reasoning from within the entire system of doctrine taught by the Church (which comes from the Bible), although indirect Biblical support is needed. This is the basis of the division of different doctrines in to different levels of theological certainty (e.g. de fide, fides ecclesiastica, sententia fidei proxima, etc.) in traditional Catholic systematic theology, such as Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.

The same can be said for the supposed direct support for Purgatory in II Maccabees. Catholics believe that if one dies in mortal sin, one goes immediately to Hell, “do not pass go”, with no stay in Purgatory. For these individuals in Hell, prayers for them do nothing. Prayers help only those in Purgatory. But the context of Judas Maccabeus sending money to Jerusalem to help those who died, is that the soldiers who died died in a state of idolatry (according to the II Maccabees itself). Simple logic dictates this can not speak of prayers for the dead in Purgatory, as Catholic theology teaches (teaching that prayers for souls in Hell are worthless, or even blasphemous), as the soldiers in II Maccabees, having died in idolatry, did not go to Purgatory, but to Hell.

Thus, this episode shows at most indirect support for Purgatory, as “full of grace” is indirect support for the immaculate conception. “Do penance”, being a mistranslation (insofar as the signification of the words in English, setting aside the possible semantic range of the Latin word paenitentiam for the moment), does not provide even indirect support for the sacrament of penance, although other Biblical passages (especially those about the Keys of the Kingdom, the power to forgive sins, and “he who heareth you, heareth me”) do provide said support.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.