Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

He who feeds all was hungry; he thirsted by whom every drink was created, who spiritually is bread for the hungry and a fountain for the thirsty. He was wearied by his earthly journey who made himself our road to heaven. He through whom a mute man spoke and a deaf man heard became mute and deaf before his accusers. He was bound fast who frees from the bonds of infirmity. He was scourged who drove the lashes of all pain from the bodies of people. He was crucified who put an end to our torture. He died who raised the dead. But he has risen never to die again so that no one would learn from him so to despise death as though never destined to conquer it.  (De catechizandis rudibus, 22, 40; “Harmless: “such language...could be easily memorized–an urgent need if one had an illiterate audience.”)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

I don't understand the last sentence.

Neither do I.

P. S.  To get to the daily reading you have to go to dotCommoneal and go all the way back to March 24th or so to find the site in the "What's on the website" post.  I wish there were some way to get to it directly.  

For me under the header "Commonweal" there are two rows of links, one of which says "Trending topics: Lenten reflections 2014", so I can access it directly from there in one click. But it is true that if the width of my window is small then those two rows of links disappear. On the other hand you could always bookmark it to access it easily. (How to do that depends on your browser. For me I click on "bookmarks" and then choose "add bookmark", and then a link to that page appears on the "Favorites" bar of the browser, so again it is accessible with a single link.)


The last sentence is as difficult in Latin as in English.  I think it means that if one was to learn from Christ to despise death, it would not be on the basis of a view that does not know that death can be conquered. Someone suggested that he was thinking of philosophers who did not believe in the immortality of the soul, much less of the resurrection of the body. The Stoics among them would nevertheless teach that death should be despised.  

Thanks, Claire and JAK.  (I'm still wondering about that sentence.  Hmm.)

I see. Then I am wondering why that last sentence needed to be included. Would the text not be improved by pruning?

I'm also wondering about the rest, that begs to be laid out in a parallel structure highlighting the cohtrasts. Why not improve on the original text by giving it more of a rhythm? It's crying out for it. The same ideas would be conveyed more forcefully. There is that parenthetical remark about memorization: why not modify the text to make it more beautiful and thus easier to memorize? In this venue, why not?

Speaking for myself, I am not reading this to study Augustine but for reflection; in the first order I am not interested in knowing precisely what Augustine wrote, but in getting the general idea, and if Augustine's turn of phrase can be improved on so as to better communicate the main idea, so much the better, even at the cost of ignoring minor side points. I am thinking of something along the lines of: "He was hungry, who is bread for the hungry. He was thirsty, who is a fountain for those who thirst. He was wearied  by his journey, who is our road to heaven. He was mute and deaf before his accusers, who made a mute man speak and a deaf man hear." Etc.

Or is there some subtle reason that I missed for putting Christ's human limitations sometimes before and sometimes after his divine contributions alleviating those limitations that humans suffer from? And is it important to have every nuance ("spiritually", "earthly", for example) translated, when sometimes the writing could perhaps be made more vigorous by omitting a word every here and there, better to bring out the main point? If the primary goal is to foster meditation, then doesn't that take precedence over the exact translation of every hint of an idea of Augustine's, and aren't improvements of Augustine's texts welcome? Besides, who is to say that Augustine himself was so careful as to weigh each word precisely and make a conscious decision to put it in exactly this way for a good reason, and not simply because that happened to be how his ideas were flowing out at the moment? Maybe he himself would welcome improvements in the form.

Claire:  Thanks for your suggestions. I try to be as faithful to Augustine's language as I can and to avoid paraphrase. That's why I insert ellipses (...) when I have omitted a word, phrase, or sentence, so that I won't be accused of doctoring Augustine's arguments. When it comes to the theory of translation, I incline more toward the literal than toward "dynamic equivalence," as it is sometimes called. But I do try to put it into good English.

As editor of the English-language edition of the History of Vatican II, I had to review translations of chapters written in French, German, Italian, and Spanish, and my aim was to make them read as if they had all been written in English to begin with. 

Dynamic equivalence seems more natural to me because, when presenting somebody else's Math proof, we never try to stick close to the original. Instead, after understanding and mulling it at length so as to make it our own, we present it in the way that we think is best, respecting the ideas but freely changing notations, organization, style, etc., and sometimes finding simpler or more elegant arguments in the process.

Similarly, it seems to me that in this venue we welcome a chance to hear about Augustine's good ideas, but for their own sake. As long as you have captured their gist accurately, that's enough. I am not particularly interested in seeing them come wrapped up in Augustine's precise context and side points. It's an unnecessary constraint. We're not reading this to learn about Augustine, at least I am not. I'd be happy with you putting his text away and writing from scratch your own interpretation of his idea, and you'd be more free to present it as you think best.

But what do I know. It's probably heresy for translators. Too much of a risk that ideas will be "doctored" instead of rendered more intelligible.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment