OW MANY TIMES have you heard a homilist use the following words? “The original Greek word used here was such-and-such . . .” I’ve heard these words quite frequently, and I’m bringing this up for a reason.
I mentioned in Part 1 that many contemporary Scripture translations used at Mass alter verses that don’t require alteration. The title page of these new Scripture translations often reads:
“Translated from the Original Languages with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources.”
Sounds pretty impressive, no? Almost as impressive as the sentence I mentioned earlier (“The original Greek used” etc.). But let’s take a closer look.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH teaches that Sacred Scripture is the Word of God, but we need to remember that this divine inspiration applies only to the original writings (which we no longer possess). The Catholic Church never promised that every single variant or translation is inspired by God. We currently posses something like 30,000 ancient manuscript copies of the Bible, and more are discovered each year. Many are in Latin, many are in Greek, and there are other languages, too.
This whole subject is absolutely amazing, and one could spend a lifetime learning about it. Obviously, I will not go into the details during this short blog entry.
So, what’s my point? Well, to make a long story short, the mere fact that a manuscript is “written in Greek” means nothing. A particular Greek manuscript may or may not be more ancient than, for instance, St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. It may or may not be closer to the original (i.e. more accurate). It may or may not contain errors. While it’s true that most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New was mainly written in Greek, a manuscript written in an “original” language doesn’t guarantee that it’s more authentic (especially if it was copied at a later date). I get irritated when people automatically prefer, let’s say, a 10th century Greek manuscript to a 5th century Latin manuscript.
Bottom line: Any priest who starts explaining the Bible by saying, “The Greek word used here (etc.),” has a serious obligation to let us know which manuscript he’s citing. This is the very least he can do.
Sadly, a type of bias seems to have developed against the Vulgate, which is foolish considering St. Jerome had access to many ancient sources we no longer possess.
EVERYBODY HATES A HYPOCRITE, so let me point out that I “followed my own advice” in the Campion Missal. By showing various ancient manuscripts from different locations going back to the year 650AD, people can “see with their own eyes” that our Roman Canon has remained inviolate throughout the centuries.
By the way, this sloppiness happens a lot with regard to music. I can’t tell you the number of times somebody has talked about “ancient Jewish music” or “ancient Islamic music” without citing any manuscript. It’s a free country, so people are ultimately free to make guesses about ancient Jewish music or Islamic music . . . but it’s often wild speculation. Gregorian chant was the first music to be written down. We know what it sounded like (more or less) in 900AD because we have manuscripts with melodies. These are really basic facts: it’s breathtaking how often they’re ignored.
Let me say it again: we can only talk with certainty about music we can see. Gregorian chant was the first music to be notated. We know what it was like in 900AD because we can see it. Each of us is free to guess what Gregorian chant might have been like in 400AD. We’re equally free to guess what Jewish music might have sounded like in 600AD or 200BC. But it’s all guesswork unless we can see it. There are no sources of Jewish music or Islamic music that approach Gregorian chant in terms of its antiquity. I realize some people will never accept or understand these basic facts.
PLEASE NOTE: I’m not opposed to using every ancient source we have at our disposal. Nor am I opposed to palaeography (the study of ancient writing) and textual criticism (comparing different MSS to one another). On the other hand, I realize that these things are not infallible. Incidentally, I’m fully aware that Bishop Richard Challoner consulted Greek manuscripts and made “corrections,” which may or may not have been wise.
Click here to read Part 3.