By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Taking a Look at the Vulgate: Romans 8:35-37

Vulgate 2Image via Wikipedia
Here is the Latin text with an English translation (Douay-Rheims Bible):

35 quis nos separabit a caritate Christi tribulatio an angustia an persecutio an fames an nuditas an periculum an gladius
Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecution? Or the sword? 
36 sicut scriptum est quia propter te mortificamur tota die aestimati sumus ut oves occisionis
(As it is written: For thy sake, we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) 
37 sed in his omnibus superamus propter eum qui dilexit nos
But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. 

Source link (emphasis added; Stuttgart edition).

Why learn dead languages? Well, the Latin Vulgate is a seminal work of translation in Western literature and in Christian theological development. To read the "dead" language is a way to come closer and closer (never perfectly, of course) to the intangible sense intended to be conveyed by the author (in this case, a translator, St. Jerome).

We can also try our own hand at translating anew into English, at putting Jerome's Latin in today's English to "ingest," so to speak, the resonances of the Vulgate. Here is my own attempt at verses 35 and 37 above:

35 Who will separate us from the self-sacrificial, unselfish love (caritate) of Christ? Tribulation or anguish [in the sense of something constricting or hemming us into narrow straits--in the book of Psalms, there is a reference to the blessing of wide open spaces] or persecution or famine or nudity or danger or sword?
 . . . .
37 But in all these things, we conquer on account of him who loved us.

Then, ask yourself as part of your own reflection: what tribulation have I experienced? What constricting and suffocating circumstances? What persecution? What hunger or lack of sustenance (physicial or spiritual or emotional)? What nudity (personal vulnerability and exposure of all kinds)? What danger? What aggressive, dangerous, and malicious threats?

Then read the hope that lies in the word "conquer," not because of our own resources or cleverness or shrewdness but because of him who first loved us.

Starting from the "dead" Latin translation of a great and historic theological translator allows us to try to capture a wisdom and a deeper perspective that can so often elude us, especially if the text is already so familiar. Yes, studying a "dead" language is more than a matter of pedantry or academic specialization or sectarian insularity and should be more than that.