Letters | Hart’s translation, financial clericalism, etc.

 

CATASTROPHICALLY WRONG

My thanks to Luke Timothy Johnson for his generally benign review of my translation of the New Testament (“No Compromises,” March 9). It was as I expected. Reviews by New Testament scholars, whether favorable or unfavorable, would invariably devolve into catalogues of demurrals regarding particular word choices. Certified experts do tend to have strong preferences regarding their fields. And I, alas, as a humble classicist (among other things), enter this arena with a different collection of weapons. Even so, I have to say that, to my mind, my choices are better than Johnson’s in pretty much every case—especially those where he suggests that I “[miss] the meaning of the Greek.” (That is not possible.)

Some of my choices—those regarding the terms aionios, Ioudaios, dikaios—I deal with at length in my critical apparatus, and cannot address here. But a few trivial observations are worth making: In Mark 15:10, Johnson thinks I should have translated phthonos as “envy” rather than “malice”; it is hard to say why, though, since the latter is far closer to the word’s most common connotation, and nothing in the text makes the former more plausible. He censures my use of the word “mind” in Philippians 2:5’s touto phroneite (“be of that mind”) on the grounds that the Greek does not include the word nous (at least, I guess that’s his point). He does not like “good tidings” for evangelion, but his ear and mine simply do not agree there. He thinks hypokrites better rendered as “hypocrite” than as “charlatan”; but, for us, the former is often only someone whose deeds contradict his words, whereas the Greek word carries a very definite connotation of theatrical public imposture and exhibitionism as well. For the word porneia, Johnson prefers the boringly sanitized phrase “sexual immorality” to my chosen term, “whoring”; but the latter is the more accurate translation, in both meaning and tone. And he does not like “blissful” for makarios (many don’t), because for him the word “bliss” summons up images of “stoners and gurus.” Well...yes. For me the word carries a far richer range of literary and religious associations; still, Johnson’s observation is, as it happens, correct as far as it goes: “bliss” suggests not mere complacent material happiness or good fortune, but rather something like ecstatic transport or giddy ebullience. That is why my choice is correct. More consequentially, Johnson thinks that I should translate the phrase ean me in Galatians 2:16 not as “but” (one is “vindicated not by observance of law but by the faithfulness of the Anointed One Jesus”), but rather as “except” (which is usually the more literal rendering). Believe me, I would do just that if I could, especially if some handy present subjunctive verb followed; but that would contradict the clear meaning of basically everything else Paul says in Galatians. Here the phrase applies to the verb “vindicated” (dikaioutai) alone, and reinforces its negative (ou) relation to “observance.” The best I can manage as an even more literal rendering of Paul’s awkward phrasing would be: “If not by the faithfulness of the Anointed One Jesus, neither by observance of Law will a human being be vindicated.” And, finally, Johnson claims that nothing is gained by my choice to transliterate the word kosmos as “cosmos” rather than to translate it as “world.” He could not be more catastrophically wrong. For us, the “world” is either this planet we live on or the totality of human society. But in the New Testament the word kosmos almost always refers to the entire universe of physical, spiritual, terrestrial, and celestial reality—angels and demons no less than human beings and animals, planetary and astral heavens no less than sea and land. When the fourth Gospel’s author describes Christ as the one who descends “from above” into this cosmos to overthrow both it and its “archon,” or when Paul speaks of Christ’s conquest of the cosmic rulers and powers on high—well, neither is speaking merely of what we mean by “world.” By retaining the term “cosmos,” absolutely everything is gained. And not to retain it is to obscure a very great deal about the world of the New Testament.

David Bentley Hart
South Bend, Ind.

LUKE TIMOTHY JOHNSON REPLIES:

Readers of Hart’s book (and translation) can evaluate my review, and then, if they are still awake, can make the judgment as to whether Hart’s response to my review is actually a response or an artful exercise in evasion.

AN EASIER ANTIDOTE

William M. Shea’s article (“Imagine There’s No Clergy,”  January 26) is, of course, provocative and intriguing. His assertion that clericism has led to “rolling waves of disappointment” such as the Reformation, the silence of the hierarchy during the Nazi persecution of WWII, the anti-modern crusade of nineteenth-century popes, etc., is compelling. It leads him to his remedies which are, among other things, ending the ontological sign of ordination, ending the accoutrements of sacred office, and ending Christendom. 

I would like to kindly and gently suggest to Shea that he read Yves Congar’s book Good and Bad Reform in the Catholic Church, which outlines four major criteria for good church reform. Maybe you could square-peg-round-hole Shea’s reforms into Congar’s criteria, but you would probably bang your thumb in the process. 

More importantly, Peter Steinfels’s areas of reform outlined in an article he wrote for Commonweal in 2012 (“What We’ve Learned,”) are easier to understand and implement. They are the areas of governance, accountability, and transparency. The Canon Law Society of America, for instance, addressed the area of governance in its October 2014 Survey of (Arch) Diocesan/Eparchiel Finance Councils.

Similarly, the Finance Working Group of Voice of the Faithful published a survey of the (Arch)dioceses of the United States in November 2017 with regard to financial transparency. It ranked the dioceses based on ten questions that were assigned numerical weights. The total weight dioceses could achieve was sixty. The dioceses were then ranked from highest to lowest.

We need only look as far as Canons 492, 493, and 494 to see that had the dioceses followed canon law with regard to full disclosure of financial information, to include the (undisclosed) settlement payments to survivors, and had the bishops followed canon law with regard to obtaining “consent” from their finance councils for those “extraordinary” payments, according to canon law, the scandal and sin and sickness of abuse of children would not have persisted as long as it did.

Joseph F. Finn Jr.
Wellesley Hills, Mass.

LISTEN

Cassandra Nelson’s “Bracing for Impact”  (February 9) nailed the process of recovery from childhood sexual abuse. Facing a deep unearthing of pain is essential to heal over and over again. As a psychotherapist in private practice as well as a survivor of sexual abuse, I am comforted by her writing, her truth-telling. Her recovery mirrors mine and I am grateful.

What can be tough is the judgment that others wield against survivors of sexual abuse: “There must be something about her that sets the stage for the abuse.” “Why didn’t she tell a trusted adult or teacher?” “How can she be so successful and in loving relationships and also have good friends with that abuse history?”

It takes courage to heal, hard emotional work, the willingness to be open with a trusted therapist and good friends. My faith was the bedrock of my healing and continues to be.

These stories need to be told even though it may be hard for others to hear and respond. Listen gently, with the respect and care a young child deserves when she has had to carry the heavy burden of sexual secrets too gruesome to disclose until it is safe—saved by the passing of time, the death of her perpetrator, and mostly, the emotional space to release her pain and heal.

Patricia Gallagher Marchant
Franklin, Wisc.

 

Published in the April 13, 2018 issue: 
Tags

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Religion
Religion
Culture
Books
Collections