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Classics in Translation

It has long been my habit to try to read something from the classical tradition of Catholic theology each day (I do not always manage to do this if truth be known). Recently I have been reading early each morning some of the shorter treatises of Saint Bonaventure in a new volume from the Franciscan Institute (located at Saint Bonaventure's University) which is volume #10 of the Works of Bonaventure with the subtitle of "Writings on the Spiritual Life." It is not my intention to talk about Bonaventure here but simply to note the vast resources available to educated readers who make use of the splendid works made available to us over the past decades. The "Classics of Western Spirituality" (Paulist Press) continue to pour forth volumes as they have since 1978. The Carmelites, through their publishing arm known as ICS, have given us splendid primary works and ancillary studies on the Carmelite tradition as has Cistercian Publications (now published through Liturgical Press). New City Press, among other projects, is giving us an absolutely wonderful body of the writings of Saint Augustine. Other such venues could be noted like the handy little patristic volumes coming from Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press. What strikes me is how recent it is that we could have at hand such resources in reliable translations. While there is much talk (some of it idle) about the loss of Catholic roots after Vatican II, the flourishing of such publications, often inspired by religious communities, is one small sign that at least one desire of the great giants like Danielou, Chenu, and DeLubac of the pre-conciliar period is alive and well, namely, that ressourcement which permits us to go back to those wellsprings of our common heritage and be nourished by their wisdom.

About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.



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Mention should also be made of the translation efforts antedating Vatican II, namely the series Ancient Christian Writers and The Fathers of the Church: a New Translation. I don't know the publication history of either for sure, but I suspect from editorial boards and imprimaturs that both were connected with The Catholic University in Washington. Volumes of both are not infrequently available for reasonable prices in the used book trade.I note that the head of the editorial board of Fathers of the Church was Roy J Deferrari, whom I have always regarded with affection because I may be the only person alive who has sort of read his 1915 Princeton dissertation, and because in addition to his massive patristic labors in texts, translations, and concordances he left us the massive and very useful concordance to Ovid of all people. He also produced a volume of autobiography in the mid-60s called A Layman in Catholic Education, His Life and Times, as if that must have made him an anomaly in his times. Unfortunately never seen it.But in all honesty I don't know of anything in the English speaking world to compare to the French Editions du Cerf, who publish among other things the Sources Chretiennes series (founded, I believe, in the 40's by DeLubac and Danielou) which can also be thoroughly recommended to anyone who can read French (or Latin, Greek, or Syriac). I have this fantasy of an equivalent English/American addition to the growing number of bilingual series such as I Tatti and the Clay Sanskrit library that would cover Patristics and some of the great Medievals.

I was aware of both those series (published via Catholic University) - I have some of the volumes in my own library but many of them are now being retranslated with more up to date bibliographies although they continue to issue new volumes. Paulist now distributes them began to appear in the early 1940s as a primary instrument of "Ressourcement>. I use our library's copy because they are very expensive as I found out a few years ago when I went to in Paris originally intending to pick up a few volumes.Thanks for the reply.

If one looks at the Editions du Cerf website occasionally the Sources Chretiennes sometimes go on sale for a nice discount.I really had the delusion that some wealthy DotCommonweal reader would be moved to fund an American equivalent.

Last spring all of the volumes in the "Sources chretiennes" series were on sale for 50% off. It was so tempting!

Some years ago, CUA received a challenge grant for starting a series of bi-lingual texts from the early Christian centuries. We find it nearly impossible to interest wealthy Catholics in supporting the venture. Here, however, is one of the announcements that have gone out: You will see that it intends something like the "Sources chretiennes" series, whose publications were once not all that expensive.The Library of Early Christianity, founded by a challenge grant of the NEH and with the support of many members of the NAPS, solicits new texts/translations of patristic works of all genres and languages. We intend to publish documentary and literary works of early Christianity in affordable, up-to-date, bi-lingual editions accompanied by historical introductions and some critical and explanatory notes. We are especially interested in works that are not easily available elsewhere. For a copy of the editorial guidelines and for any other information, please contact: Dr. J. Petruccione, Editorial Director, the LEC, The Dept. of Greek and Latin, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 20064. Tel.: 202-319-5216; e-mail: [email protected].

Thanks to all who responded to the post. I am happy to hear what CUA intends to do. I have some second hand copies of SC. It is really hearteing to know how many good resources are now available and/or are in the planning stage.

I am also grateful to the other people in this brief discussion.I have to add that the cover designs of the Classics of Western Spirituality series are one of my guilty pleasures. Perhaps others find them off-putting. Also, hasn't this series broadened the definition of "Western" to include Islamic and Native-American spirituality? More power to 'em, particularly from the standpoint of one who grew up in the tradition of native American baroque art in California.Father Komonchak's second post seemed to imply that one could find a prospectus online for the wished-for Library of Early Christianity, but all I could find was an e-mail address for Dr. Petruccione -- is there a way to find out more without bothering him?I'm afraid that the social-economic determinants of (originally Classical) scholarship is one of my old hobby horses -- does anyone know who paid for the pre-Vatican II series like Fathers of the Church, which apparently had some connection with Catholic University but an independent corporate existence based in New York? One thing that puzzles me in general is that CUA seems to have a low profile in the American Catholic pecking-order, but everyone I've met who studied there, and their record of publications and sponsored research, seem exemplary.By the way, on the cost of SC, anyone who is used to buying volumes of scholarship with an apparatus criticus is likely to think that their prices are pretty reasonable -- compare recent Oxford classical editions that run well over $100. At one time classicists were spoiled because the British educational system subsidized the printing of texts but those days are long gone.

I am annoyed at this adulation of De Lubac. His book on Origen, Histoire et Esprit, is far less instructive than Richard Hanson's Allegory and Event, because De Lubac was too much of an ideologue. He glorifies allegory and the sensus plenior, and this is one of the reasons for the regressive attitude to Scripture now prevailing in Vatican circles.

Italian bilingual editions are much better value than Sources Chrietiennes -- all the discourse of Gregory Nazianzen in one huge tome, for example, as opposed to the nine volumes in SChr. And cheap, too.

I don't know enough about DeLubac to adulate him one way or the other, but I remain impressed with the publishing enterprise he and Danielou were behind, and grateful to him for pointing to sources that were little used in the Church of his time.From my perspective the great advantage of SC is that there is an Amazon France and not an Amazon Italy that I know of. What is the range of the Italian bilinguals? The sheer variety of writings available in SC is pretty astonishing, and people far better qualified than I to judge speak highly of their scholarly apparatus and overall standards. In Classical scholarship at any rate Italian editions tend to vary much more widely in quality, from the heights (the Fondazione Lorenzo Valla Herodotus and Homer) to the depths (no names supplied).

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