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Glory To God

Old Catholic Church

​          Dear Johan,

                              I get so tired of people wanting to change the word of God. I find it even bordering on the sacrilegious. This is the word                                 of God we are talking about. Can’t they just leave it alone?


 Gentle Reader,

Honestly, I am convinced some people think the word of God came to us in English. The answer to your question is simple: no, we can’t! Unless all of us are willing to learn the languages through which the word of God was first revealed, we will have to continue to battle with the complexities of translation. And anyone who has ever translated a text realizes that this is not a simple matter. Moreover, if translating a contemporary text from one living language into another is not an easy task, then consider the translation of a text that was written some two thousand years ago in a language that is no longer commonly used.

We also need to consider that English is blessed with a specific curse. It is a rather easy language because its operative vocabulary is not that vast. Yet it is complex because one word can mean several things depending on its context. A simple example: when the word men is written on the door of a certain room, it means males only. However, when we read that Jesus died for the salvation of men, it means both male and female. Now, how confusing is that?

Other languages do not have this problem or, dare I say, have evolved into no longer having this problem. In Dutch, for example, the word man (singular) or mannen (plural), meaning man, exclusively refers to males. When referring to both men and women, the word mens (singular) or mensen (plural) is used. Although the etymology of the word mens (human) is the same as the word man (man), they both have come to mean something very different and one would not interchange their usage, mistakenly claiming that the one covers the other.

Trying to understand and effectively translate the word of God is a very complicated matter. Sadly enough, those who take this very seriously are often accused of disrespect for the word of God. In addition, language, especially inclusive language, has become a source of division between different factions in the church and is seen as a barometer of orthodoxy and allegiance to the church.

Let us never forget that the word of God is living and active within the church and throughout the world. The word of God is not defined by and contained within any language, be it venerable and dead or raucous and alive. When we find ourselves before the throne of God, at the end of time, may we not find ourselves accused of stifling the living word of God.


© 2015 Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpted from What’s the Smoke For? And Other Burning Questions about the Liturgy by Johan van Parys © 2014 Order of Saint Benedict, published by Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org. Used by permission