Friday, July 27, 2007

Richard Neuhaus on the NAB

On today's First Things blog, Fr. Neuhaus takes the New American Bible to task, again, for yet another ludicrous translation of a passage that is not only completely different in some ways to earlier translations of the passage, but ultimately misleading as well. Neuhaus writes:

The New American Bible (NAB), an unfortunate translation episcopally imposed upon Catholics for readings at Mass, has prompted earlier comment in First Things (see here and here). The problem keeps coming back, not least in pastoral counseling. Take the woman who had had it with her husband’s lying to her. I mentioned to her Our Lord’s admonition to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). That’s the way it reads in every widely used English translation, including the Douay-Rheims, an earlier English translation used by Catholics. Jesus obviously intended hyperbole, indicating that forgiveness is open-ended. Keep on forgiving as you are forgiven by God, for God’s forgiving is beyond measure or counting.

But this woman had been reading her NAB, according to which Jesus said we should forgive not “seventy times seven,” but “seventy times.” She had been keeping count, and her husband was well over his quota. Then there is Matt. 5:32 and 19:9, where in both passages Jesus says: “But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress.” In other widely used English translations, it is “unfaithfulness” or “marital unfaithfulness.” The Douay-Rheims says “excepting in the case of fornication.”

In both passages, the NAB puts it this way: “But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery.” Meaning a previous marriage had not been annulled by the diocesan marriage tribunal? Whatever.

Now to be perfectly fair, in the three passages mentioned there are ancient authorities that lend some support for the NAB translation. For instance, some ancient texts of Matthew 19 read “he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery,” which is closer to the NAB version. But in the tradition of translation, scholars have overwhelmingly decided that the manuscripts referring to unchastity or unfaithfulness are to be preferred.

Neuhaus has said time and time again, that legalistic literal accuracy should not be the driving force behind any translation of the Bible. Unfortunately, no one at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which owns the NAB and the right to enforce its use in every liturgy from Astoria to Atlanta, ever wants to listen to him. Which is a shame; American Catholics have thus been forced to read a drab, deconstructionist and awkward translation at every Mass. Neuhaus continues:

The NAB is a banal, linguistically inept, and misleading translation. Why did the bishops force it upon the Catholic people, demanding that it and it alone be used in the readings of the Mass? Various answers are given: Because it was produced by the guild of Catholic biblical scholars and, while it may not be very good, at least it is ours. Because the bishops hold the copyright, and charges for using the NAB in Mass guides and elsewhere is a cash cow for the financially strapped bishops conference. Because the bishops really don’t care whether Catholics use a worthy and reliable translation of the Bible.
So in the end, it's probably about the money. That's how it seems to me at least, in no small part to Neuhaus's constant polemicising, but also because no one at the USCCB has ever really explained the bishop's tendencies to become remarkably fascist when it comes to biblical translations. This understanding is given further credence, I think, by the fact that national bishop's conferences are not a mandated ecclessial bureaucracy and receive no monetary support from the Vatican. These conferences, most of which started up after Vatican 2, are therefore reliant on copyrights, fundraising and properties, and are having a hard time proving their relevancy to the laity (and probably Rome as well).

And does anyone else think it's ironic that the USCCB fought tooth and nail against the motu proprio, in lieu of Neuhaus's comments on the NAB? As far as I know, the NAB has not been translated back into Latin, which would mean that a different Bible would have to be used at Old Rite liturgies. That could mean lower demand for new NAB translations (which come out every other year for some reason) and higher demand for say, the Douay-Rheims. I'm sure the USCCB, in it's precarious financial state (all though not so precarious that it prevented the bishops from meeting at a five-star Las Vegas hotel for their last meeting) wanted nothing to do with a papal directive that could ultimately cost them their monopoly on Catholic Bibles in the US.


Harrison said...

I read that this morning and wanted to shout a loud "Amen" to Fr. Neuhaus (it is his word of choice after all, at least in person).

Anyways, this isn't just a localized problem in the USCCB. I think that the NRSV is even worse then the NAB and we here in Canada have been stuck with its inclusive language for too long. I say bring out the RSV!

What I find especially frustrating is, if the Conferences of Catholic Bishops are not mandated by Rome, then why is it that the local Bishop is bound to the translation decided on by the entire country? Hearing these bureaucratic problems over and over again really make me feel that the CCBs are nothing more then uneccesary bureacracies who defy the Principle of Subsidiarity.


Anonymous said...

I have an old RSV-based 3 year missal. I find it quite interesting to follow the Mass with it sometimes, just to see the difference in gender, or different nuances.

Not good to do that too often or it becomes more aggravation and distraction than calm meditation!

What about all those feelgood hymnals?? Isn't that all monetary, too?

God Bless,