Why the reverence for Latin?


How about quotidianum?


I’ve heard this many times before, but have failed to see where the English language fails to convey the right thing.

Do you have an example?


Are we certain that the Latin gives the exact nuance of the words that Jesus originally spoke in Aramaic? Or in the Greek of the New Testament? This is a problem with any translation from one language to another. Every language contains words with subtlety and nuance that simply don’t translate well. Or maybe we just have a poor translation into English and we can do better.



And yet changing things over to a language that wasn’t even around in neither the time of Jesus nor St. Jerome is supposed to be a good idea? If it’s a problem from one language to another, what sense does it make to do it once more from a language that is a translation of the original?


Almost anything that has multiple translations.

Even Dominus vobiscum can be translated more than one way. Lord is with you, May the Lord be with you have subtle differences. “Pan z wami” in Polish probably reflects the original nuance better.

Another example, opportet sit. Sometimes it is translated as “must,” sometimes as “should.” I suspect the true meaning is somewhere in the middle.


The English seems perfectly suitable. What nuance is missing in your view?


The English translation seems perfectly fine. What nuance is missing in your view?


So, the Latins who understood Greek poorly were given the benefit of translation into their own language, but English speakers of today who do not understand Latin can be afforded no such advantage?

I wouldn’t use Latin as a basis for translation into English unless the text was originally written in Latin. The Latin can be used as a reference, but we shouldn’t be translating the New Testament from Latin into English. Nor the Nicene Creed.

This is a problem that has existed for a very long time. St. Augustine was not fluent in Greek, therefore the thought of the Greek Fathers was not accessible to him and a mistranslation of the scriptures resulted in a doctrine of original sin that continues to have repercussions today.



Then why is it different in Polish?


No but he could read Cicero’s De Officiis, which contains much of the Church’s moral code. :slight_smile:


I make no claims at all regarding the propriety of any particular language for business. At one time, French was considered the language of the cultured. German was considered the language of science. Greek was considered the language of the super-literate.

I didn’t care, and I don’t care now.


Some see this as a double negative but I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way. :slight_smile:


The two seem to be substantially the same.

What do you perceive to be missing?


I am willing to concede that it probably isn’t possible to precisely translate from Greek to Latin or Latin to English.

I remember reading a book by Paul Theroux. In his travels he had occasion to talk at length to a man who had been a Nobel Prize candidate for works in Spanish. The man was totally fluent in both Spanish and English. He was Argentine but had also graduated from Oxford.

In discussing language, the writer opined to Theroux that there were things one simply could not translate from English to Spanish. His example was Kipling’s “Harp Song of the Dane Women”. It’s kind of a neat little poem being the lament of the Dane women as their men went a-Viking.

Among other things, one of the translation problems of the poem is that much of it is in words derived from Anglo-Saxon, expressed in a sort of “Scandinavian mode”. It’s intelligible to an English-speaker, but it really can’t be translated into Spanish and still make sense.

Probably that’s true of some Spanish expressions being translated into English, but English seems more idiosyncratic than most because it’s a combination of three languages primarily, with borrowings from many others. Depending on what one is talking about, one tends to use more Latinate words and modes of expression. When talking about family, one tends to the Anglo-Saxon. When one talks business, a good part of it is French in origin. Underneath, there’s a bit of Celtic, but not much. In America, there’s a fair amount of Spanish we don’t even think about.

Anyway, one day I mentioned that to a fellow from Puerto Rico who is totally bilingual. he didn’t believe me, so I sent him the poem. About a week later, he said I was right.


The indicative mood for one thing. The English assumes the subjunctive where theologically it doesn’t make sense.

But if it sounds right to you, I’m not going to pursue the matter further with you.


Fair enough… seems like a distinction without a real difference in this case. Thanks for playing.


It is interesting that you choose this example because this very word caused problems for St. Jerome in his translation of The Vulgate:

As serious as these problems were, Jerome had to deal every day with the practical difficulties of translation. One problem was the character of Latin. In Jerome’s day, it was a fixed language that resisted new vocabulary. But Latin did not have words that corresponded to some of the religious language of the Bible. This required adopting Greek words into Latin or forcing Latin words to bear new meanings. All this made Jerome’s translation sound strange to ears accustomed to the older Latin versions.

A familiar text like the Lord’s Prayer illustrates Jerome’s problems. The Greek word that is rendered as daily in the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” is not the usual Greek word for daily. In fact, outside the two occurrences in the Matthean and Lucan versions of the Lord’s Prayer, that word occurs only once in all of classical Greek literature. The older Latin versions translated the Greek word as quotidianum(“daily”) in Latin.

Jerome believed this to be inaccurate so he attempted another rendering, which he may have coined himself: supersubstantialem(Matthew 6:11). Not hesitating to change the wording of a text as familiar as the Lord’s Prayer showed Jerome’s courage. At the same time, Jerome was flexible. In his translation of Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, Jerome kept quotidianum (Luke 11:3). In its liturgy, the Church uses the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer though it kept quotidianum, which is the basis of all English translations of the prayer. Otherwise, we might be saying, “Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.”


Very interesting. Each time we move farther from the original language, we lose something in the translation. Even the Latin is not original, and had by that point probably passed through Aramaic, Hebrew and/or Greek. Latin is by no means the source language for most of what we are talking about here. It was the vernacular of its time. No more, no less.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my main interest in the Latin is the huge patrimony of chant that the Church left us in Latin (with a smattering of Greek and Hebrew), and I think it’s more than worth preserving, it is vital to the soul of the Western Church to preserve it.

But it is by no means a magical language, and no better nor worse at expressing complex notions than English or French or whatever. French could have very well been the base language if that was the empire in vogue at the time St. Jerome translated the Vulgate, and people today would say that English couldn’t transmit theological nuances as well. Each language has its own subtleties that are lost on translation. I’m sure much was lost in the Vulgate as well compared to the original languages.

Since retirement I free-lance as a translator (French<->English) from time to time, and it’s one of the major issues of translation. That’s why I prefer a dynamic to a literal translation: you have to translate it into the form in which the destination language is used to thinking. Otherwise it becomes kludgy, and there’s nothing more kludgy than kludgy prayer.

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