Friday, September 5, 2014

A topic so old, it's new again

The topic of the Bea psalter is going to remain a perennial point of contention....at least among those who like to discuss such Latin, textual studies and translation issues. Fr. Hunwicke has given it a go in his unique way.

From the perspective of someone with a background in Latin, Greek, and especially Hebrew, the Bea psalter, objectively speaking, deserves high compliments. It is an intelligent Latin that aptly handles the Hebrew text. 

Of course, the level of Latinity and utilizing the Hebrew text as the basis of the translation is a contentious issue. The common critique is that the Pian Psalter (more ecclesiastical sounding, don't you think?) necessarily discarded with ancient Latin phraseology, similar to Urban VIII's revision of the hymns in the breviary, and created no small amount of dissonance between the antiphons of the Roman breviary and the psalter. True enough, but where ancient antiphons or the Vulgate psalter were, linguistically speaking, bordering on awkward, if not absurd, it hardly seems Pius XII's psalter should be reprimanded for providing textual clarity where there was none.

The above objection actually leads into the second objection: it was audacious and entirely anti-Traditional to base the translation off of the Hebrew psalter. Even in Roman circles, you will find protectionist impulse around the Septuagint as you do in Orthodox circles. There is a belief among certain Traditionalists or overly pious Catholics that somehow, somehow, the Hebrew text compromises doctrine and dogma. Again, it shares all of the absurdity that the Orthodox typically demonstrate around the topic. The Septuagint, it is true, deserves a better reputation among Old Testament scholars and scholars of pre-Christian Judaism. No one can seriously dispute that the original text is Hebrew and Masoretic text of psalter has been substantially confirmed by Qumran. It just makes sense to utilize the Hebrew text as the basis of a translation. And, frankly, I think the Hebrew adds a bit of a punch to the Latin.

Hunwicke's new injection into the debate is citing the "scholarship" of Christine Morhman. I've gone off about her work before, but it needs repeating, apart from certain Catholic circles that refuse to engage any of the major classics and Latin scholars, preferring instead some sort of intellectual ghetto, there is no one, not a one, who finds any supporting documentation for Morhman's theories. Rather, then the topic has come up, the notable flaws of Morhman's methodology are clearly outlined. Morhman had a theory of wide-ranging impact if true. Unfortunately, she chose a very narrow selection of texts to prove this theory; indeed, it seems she chose texts that could support her theory without wrestling with the numerous texts that disprove it. In other words, there is no credible evidence of a special Christian Latinity; rather, the Latinity of any Christian text, including liturgical texts, merely reflects the abilities of its author. Linguistically, there was little to defend the Vulgate psalter.

The promulgation of the Bea psalter was no small matter in its day. Truth be told, it did cause a fair amount of controversy, especially among older priests. Sacrosanctum Concilium even seemed to mildly rebuke it. Nevertheless, the Bea psalter has been substantially vindicated; the psalter in the Nova Vulgata did not so much dismiss the Bea psalter as it revised it. If one frequents the Latin typical editions of the new books, one cannot help but notice that the Bea psalter's presence is readily detectable.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so pleased to read such positive comments on the Pian psalter.

    ReplyDelete