Monday, 30 August 2010

The sting in the tail - Part II

Sorry about the interlude. It's been a busy time these last few days but I am now back in the parental pile for a little while. As I was saying ...

Endean does a two-step shimmy at the end of his piece in The Tablet.

The first is to provide four guidelines for a sensitive implementation of the new translation. Acknowledge there are arguments on both sides of translation practice; acknowledge there are conflicting concerns in how the translations are made (cultural, linguistic) and desist from name calling; recognise that reverence and accessibility are theologically complementary; only say in public what you actually believe.

Now, one could pick holes in any one of these guidelines. How, for example, does Endean think the great mysteries of the faith can be accessible (in the way in which we know he means 'accessible')? But we'll let that pass. What I'm interested in, rather, is his remark at the end of the guidelines:

Pastoral sensitivity to different voices is also a recognition of the truth that those voices may be expressing. And therefore - this is a paradox that a pluralist vision can never avoid - these guidelines [that is, Endean's] disallow, absolutely, understandings of truth as coming only from one source. They would lead us somewhere different from where we now are, on much else as well as on liturgical matters.

Where does one start with that? Some decent, straightforward, normal-sounding English would be a help. I think what he means is this:

Pastoral sensitivity to different voices recognises the truth that those voices may be expressing. And therefore - this is a paradox that a pluralist vision can never avoid - these guidelines [that is, Endean's] totally rule out the idea that truth only comes from one source. The correlations of these guidelines apply not just to liturgy but to other matters .

There are several problems here. But, first, however much people like Bishop Arthur Roche dress up the new translation in ecclesiastical stardust and polished DVD presentations, the fact is that no sensible churchman imagines that translation is a truth matter like doctrine or dogma is. What exactly is Endean getting at? So what if there can be other viable translations? Someone, somewhere has to call the shots, and actually settle the matter in a canonical manner, because the Church is a community and needs rules to function coherently. This is on the level of the squareness of the square and the roundness of the wheel. Legislation isn't a denial of the value of other ways of doing things; but it is a source of order, and when it has been duly considered, it is the responsibility of the Church's ministers to implement it accordingly, not whine like a princess whose frog is a bit too slimy for bilabial contact.

But, what on earth is Endean saying when he declares, 'these guidelines [that is, Endean's] disallow, absolutely, understandings of truth as coming only from one source'? If Endean means only 'translation truth', then the remark is redundant, since nobody imagines translation resides in the province of truth. If Endean means theological truth, then he is not strictly wrong - we could distinguish theological sources and methods in all their plurality, as well as charismatic or prophetic insights into truth - but the tenor of his argument is that truth as validated by authority is not unique. In which case, what other sources does Endean think can validate truth for us? Is he begging for more receptiveness to charism and prophecy or is he advancing the case for a democratic or congregationalist form of teaching? Is he setting up some other magisterium, other than the ecclesial? Or - let's be flippant for a moment - does Endean think we should look to The Tablet for corroboration of the truth? Or to Endean himself perhaps? And if not, to whom then? Whose are these other voices which he has insisted on anyway?

Still, wait for the sting in the tail:

They [the guidelines] would lead us somewhere different from where we now are, on much else as well as on liturgical matters.

Would they now? Where then? And if not just on liturgical matters, on what other matters?

The last remark seems like a give away when you think about it. You, like me, thought this article was about the new translation, but Endean tells us here that his guidelines are about 'liturgical matters', and that they apply elsewhere. But where exactly? To flower arranging? Horse racing? Polite conversation? Just where is Endean advocating the pluralism of truth which he has just argued for?


Well, if that was not enough, Endean dresses up his article in some very odd robes to finish off with. Having just suggesting the value of pluralism in various areas - who knows which exactly? - Endean finishes with what strikes me as a flourish that borders on the disingenuous:

This new translation, both in its content and in the manner of its imposition, represents a retreat from the salutary, evangelical reform of church style and mood that Vatican II represented.

Well, I'm not going to deny that there are some salutary features of church style and mood that were brought in by Vatican II. But Endean is smart enough and well-educated enough to know that this is not the whole story. He is surely well-enough versed in theology to know the serious complaints that have been made against the old 'new translations' and which did not result purely from different translation styles. In other words, he knows fine well that he cannot dress up the post-Vatican II era as a period of happy church-mood change, without acknowledging the serious doctrinal upheaval and confusion that have accompanied it! So why on earth is he trying to slip this shimmy in at the end of his article? It looks seriously like a sleight of hand of the most dubious kind.

The new translations are not a sign of the return of the abusive exercise of power. What is abusive is the way in which Endean uses the argument over the new translations to foreground his rather manipulative - because vague - insinuations about pluralism within the Church, and then tries to dress this up as a matter of happy style change.

Endean must decide if his argument is about mood and style or about truth. Anything else is just flannel.

And that, as every good Jesuit knows, can only to be rightfully deployed with a rollneck jumper and casual jacket.


Sue Sims said...

Thank you - well worth waiting for.

A useful definition of schadenfreude: That urge to giggle helplessly when a SpiritofVaticanII type waxes indignant at the imposition of a new translation on the poor, long-suffering laity, who haven't been consulted at all. Put 1969/70 in your pipe and smoke it, Endean!

Moretben said...

Of course it's neither about style, nor about truth, but about ideology - or, more specifically, ideology tricked out as theology - the kind of "theology" that Cardinal Biffi identified as "an excuse to talk about anything but Christ".

I hope my Catholic friends will forgive my continuing fascination with this saga, in which, I promise faithfully, there is no element of schadenfreude. Officially, my own Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain promotes a translation of the Divine Liturgy produced by an illustrious, cross-jurisdictional committee of Anglophone Orthodox bishops, pastors, theologians, monks and laymen, commissioned by Archbishop Gregorios with the blessing and encouragement of Constantinople (anxious to settle upon a text in the "new international language" [English] which, it is hoped [ha!], can gain acceptance by all of the Orthodox wherever in the world English is dominant).

In practice, my parish employs a haphazard mixture of this translation, the "old" translation (commissioned by the previous Archbishop), Koine, Slavonic and the Elizabethan English of the Service Books published by the Monastery of St John in Essex. My point here is that this annoys absolutely no-one, so far as I'm aware (though my own adoption, as Reader, of the "new" version of the Lord's Prayer provoked a crtical reaction from one other ex-RC); and the reason for that is that all of these various versions, including the consciously anachronistic, are nevertheless ideologically "neutral". All of them (apart from the Koine, obviously) are "honest" attempts to render faithfully the sense, style, spirit and truth of the liturgical texts. Nobody smells a rat, because there's self-evidently no rat to be smelt. Yes, it's deeply untidy (and therefore antipathetic to Latin sensibilities), but somehow or other it "works". It's "organic"!

Self-evidently though, an equivalent arrangement (Old Translation, New Translation, Latin, Polish etc, ad hoc) wouldn't and couldn't work in the present context precisely because everybody - Endean and his confederates pre-eminently, giving the lie to the pious guff about pluralism and prophesy - recognises that this isn't a question of "thee" and "thou", but of "us" and "them". "Us" defines the boundaries of rational discourse per se; "we" couldn't care less about "them".

It's not "authentic liturgy" you should be worrying about, but the meaning of authentic communion.

Ttony said...

The thing that really annoyed me was the realisation, even if he didn't spell it out, that Fr Endean knows exactly what translation is and what it can do.

The Suppository used to have a weekly "How the Collect has been deformed" page, called something else so as not to tip off the Editor that it wasn't just a Holy Page, and which seems to have been dispensed with when, after many years, the Editor finally twigged what was going on. Fr Z has taken the task on subsequently: how the translation we have had to endure has affected the lex orandi with the particular and drearily predictable consequence the proverbially minded predicted.

At least Archbishop Buggles had the honesty to admit that he was doing a "Lenin in the sealed carriage" during his time in Rome. Buggles Minor, Endean, mentions "the salutary, evangelical reform of church style and mood that Vatican II represented" but so far down the article that yer average reader will be completely lost as to what the author is actually trying to peddle.

Now, you might want to argue that headlining in The Suppository is a proximate indicator of Not-Trad which should in itself be an anti-wordblind protector, but the fact that you might want to use such vocabulary would tell the deeper truth that you only wanted to talk to and encourage those who understand what you are saying and who agree with you anyway. (And if you did, Ms P would probably give you a column.)

The fact is that the article isn't meaningless twaddle: it's meaningful tripe. And we have to start thinking about doing something when the tripe is spread across areas we understand, such as language and translation in the case of me and thee. Offensive Applied Explication de Texte as a new weapon against Modernism.

"But now, splendidly, everything had become clear. The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms. Whatever the outcome there was a place for him in that battle.

Saddle up, Master. Your Page awaits.

Ches said...

Jetons-nous en avant!!!!!!!!

Ches said...


I agree that authentic communion is one of the questions that lurk in Endean's argument. But things are never about what they pretend to be about. That's a lesson on which I have been reflecting for some time now.

GOR said...

I’m sure Fr. Endean is a very learned man (he’s a Jesuit, QED). He teaches at Oxford (QED II). Though taught by Jesuits - I’m not a Jesuit (and I’m sure St. Ignatius is happy about that!). I’ve read at Oxford - but merely tourist brochures to find my way about. But what struck me about this article was something the Holy Father has repeatedly enjoined on theologians – the need for humility. This came about particularly with one passage:

”That said, at no point - on this or any other subject - should pastoral ministers teach or preach anything to which they cannot personally assent. Still less should they come under any pressure from their superiors so to do. Defending what you do not believe will be far more harmful to the Church than any public disharmony. Surely we have learnt by now the dangers of keeping up appearances ‘for the good of the Church’."

Okay, maybe two passages:

”But other associations are also inevitable: "as victims of abusive power relations that we are only beginning to perceive, we ask you to join us in passing that culture on". On my bad days, when this message is dominant, I see no way of continuing to preside at Mass in English with any integrity, once imposition day comes round.”

Those sentiments, to me, express very clearly what Fr. Endean concludes is ”… the salutary, evangelical reform of church style and mood that Vatican II represented.” It takes me back to the “primacy of conscience” of Vatican II which was roundly – and often intentionally – misunderstood as: “If it feels right, do it”. That ‘understanding’ reached its zenith in 1968 with the promulgation of Humanae Vitae – and we have been paying for it ever since.

roveto ardente said...

Poor Fr Endean, maybe he grew up hearing all about the 'heavy handed' authority of the Church when his parents had been forced to learn the Mass in the first 'new translation'.

One thing is certain, he'll either be buried to the soft tones of this 'new new translation' or he may even live long enough to be buried using the even newer (as it will be then) 'Neo Ordinary, Extraordinary-as-was, form' of the liturgy.

The Church isn't an edifice to be feared and distrusted, she is a wise, Holy Mother. Clever mothers rarely do something without reason, they usually know in advance what's coming, they have eyes in the back of their heads and know how to stop their children hurting themselves carelessly. Children of wise, loving mothers feel secure in that maternal care, free to get on with growing and learning in the knowledge that decisions made without very much consultation are usually done 'for their own good'.

When converts enter into Communion with Rome they soon learn to apply the saying, 'Mother knows best'. This might be something for Fr Endean to meditate upon.