Translating Psalms (30)

Do you pray compline?  You should pray compline.  If you do, you know part of this psalm well.

There’s a horrific grammatical construction in verse 14 that deserves a little above-the-fold commentary.  In eo dum…simul is a laugh-out-loud way to say “when,” and even my inclination to the slavishly-literal can’t quite push me to translate it as “In that [time] when at once…”  Where I come from, we just say Dum and move on.

Here’s a speculative defense of St. Jerome, both here and in all the other famous “wha…?” moments of the Vulgate.  St. Jerome, the tradition tells us, traveled to Jerusalem to study Hebrew and consult manuscripts as part of his epic translation labor.  I propose he learned actual psaltery tunes and that his Latin gymnastics are an attempt to meet the metrical demands of the traditional Hebrew chants.

Some people, including me as a young man, like to dump on the Vulgate for being trashy, later Latin, but tend to forget that St. Jerome was extremely, formally educated and knew Latin better than anyone alive today.  God accused him of loving Cicero more than Himself!  I don’t think his signature work is going to be riddled with crappy Latin, and you shouldn’t either.  So there’s a fanciful hypothesis to explain the oddities of his Latin.

“In te, Domine, speravi” (Psalm 30)

[1] In finem. Psalmus David, pro extasi.

Unto the end.  A Psalm of David, pro extasi. Continue reading Translating Psalms (30)


Translating Psalms (28)

Probably my favorite psalm and certainly my favorite to sing.  Clearly made for parts; I learned a modern arrangement with male and female parts in college that I still remember well.  This one just touches something magical for me.  Imagine David and the people singing it as the Ark is installed in Jerusalem.

“Afferte Domino” (Psalm 28)

[1] Psalmus David, in consummatione tabernaculi. Afferte Domino, filii Dei, afferte Domino, filios arietum.

A Psalm of David, at the completion of the tabernacle.  Bring to the Lord, ye sons of God, bring to the Lord sons of rams. Continue reading Translating Psalms (28)

Translating Psalms (27)

Exaudio is one of my favorite words in Latin because it doesn’t translate too well.  Audi means to hear or listen.  Exaudi means…well, in the litany of the saints it’s usually translated as “graciously hear” so that it doesn’t simply repeat the audi immediately before (Christ hear us…Christ graciously hear us).

To get the sense, compare with specto and exspectoSpecto is simply to look, while exspecto means to be on the lookout, to scan the horizon like a sentry for the anticipated arrival of a thing–hence, mundanely, to await.  Exaudio is the same thing but with listening, like when the fainting damsel in the horror movie is hiding in the dark house listening for sounds of the intruder.  Colloquially we might say “Listen up, what I say next is important!” or something like that.  That’s the kind of attentive listening we are asking of God, not just that He happen to hear our prayers.

I probably said all this in a Psalms post last year (1-25), but it bears repeating!

“Ad te Domine clamabo” (Psalm 27)

[1] Psalmus ipsi David. Ad te, Domine, clamabo; Deus meus, ne sileas a me : nequando taceas a me, et assimilabor descendentibus in lacum.

A Psalm of David himself.  To You, O Lord, shall I cry; my God, lest you be silent from me never keep silent from me, and I shall be like those descending into the pit.

[2] Exaudi, Domine, vocem deprecationis meae, dum oro ad te, dum extollo manus meas ad templum sanctum tuum.

Hear, O Lord, the voice of my deprecation when I pray to You, when I extol my hands unto Your holy temple.

[3] Ne simul trahas me cum peccatoribus, et cum operantibus iniquitatem ne perdas me; qui loquuntur pacem cum proximo suo, mala autem in cordibus eorum.

Lest then You drag me off with sinners, and with them working injustice You destroy me; who speak peace with their neighbor but evils in their hearts.

[4] Da illis secundum opera eorum, et secundum nequitiam adinventionum ipsorum. Secundum opera manuum eorum tribue illis, redde retributionem eorum ipsis.

Give to them according to their works, and according to the wickedness of their inventions.  According to the works of their hands bestow to them, return their retribution to them.

[5] Quoniam non intellexerunt opera Domini et in opera manuum ejus; destrues illos, et non aedificabis eos.

For they have not understood the works of the Lord and in the works of His hands; You will destroy them and not rebuild them.

[6] Benedictus Dominus, quoniam exaudivit vocem deprecationis meae.

Blessed Lord, for He has heard the voice of my deprecation.

[7] Dominus adjutor meus et protector meus; in ipso speravit cor meum, et adjutus sum : et refloruit caro mea, et ex voluntate mea confitebor ei.

The Lord my helper and my protector; in Him has hoped my heart and I have been aided; and flourishes again my flesh and out of my will shall I confess Him.

[8] Dominus fortitudo plebis suae, et protector salvationum christi sui est.

The Lord, the strength of His people and the protector of the salvations of His Christ is He.

[9] Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic haereditati tuae; et rege eos, et extolle illos usque in aeternum.

Make safe Your people, O Lord, and bless Your heritage; and rule them and extol them even unto the eternal.

Forgot to add: don’t ask me why it’s ipsi in the superscription.  It’s either some random audience, a mistake where ipsius is called for, or some kind of code/formality.

Translating Psalms (26)

My idiosyncrasies: deferred subject in Latin = deferred subject in English; always use “lest” for ne, even when it introduces a negative wish.  Remember, they are singing.  I’m less constrained to go for prose sense.

“Dominus illuminatio” (Psalm 26)

[1] Psalmus David, priusquam liniretur. Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea; quem timebo? Dominus protector vitae meae; a quo trepidabo?

A Psalm of David, before he would be annointed.  The Lord my light and my safety; whom shall I fear?  The Lord, the protector of my life; from whom shall I tremble? Continue reading Translating Psalms (26)

Translating Psalms Index

Only now, as I prepare for another Lent of translating Psalms from the Vulgate, have I realized that there is no index page for the ones I have already finished.  Well that’s easy to fix!  Tedious, but easy.  I probably flip this over to a permanent page once I finish them all.

Here’s a list of the Psalms I have finished so far.  Let’s see if I can add another 25 to it, and finish on the super-famous Miserere by the end of Lent!

From Lent 2017: Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

From Lent 2018: We shall see!

Ratramnus on the Eucharist

The blog has been long-quiet while I struggle to regain full use of my reasoning faculties blasted to rubble by the raising of my toddler son.  Rather than allow my writing to atrophy entirely, I set myself a hobby task: translate into English one of the famous texts on the Eucharist from Church history, that of Ratramnus of Corbie.

Ratramnus composed this work in the 9th century as a counterpoint to the position taken by his own abbot, Paschasius Radbertus.  The mind thrills to imagine the frosty relationship in the cloister after that became known!  While their “argument” does not seem to have created a major controversy in the 9th century, it signals the start of the generational haggling that culminates in the Fourth Lateran Council’s definition of transubstantiation in 1215. Continue reading Ratramnus on the Eucharist

And The Rock Was Christ

Brethren, let not your instruments of music rest in your work: sing one to another songs of Sion. Readily have ye heard; the more readily do what you have heard, if you wish not to be willows of Babylon fed by its streams, and bringing no fruit. But sigh for the everlasting Jerusalem: whither your hope goes before, let your life follow; there we shall be with Christ. Christ now is our Head; now He rules us from above; in that city He will fold us to Himself; we shall be equal to the Angels of God. We should not dare to imagine this of ourselves, did not the Truth promise it. This then desire, brethren, this day and night think on. Howsoever the world shine happily on you, presume not, parley not willingly with your lusts. Is it a grown-up enemy? Let it be slain upon the Rock. Is it a little enemy? Let it be dashed against the Rock. Slay the grown-up ones on the Rock, and dash the little ones against the Rock. Let the Rock conquer. Be built upon the Rock, if you desire not to be swept away either by the stream, or the winds, or the rain. If you wish to be armed against temptations in this world, let longing for the everlasting Jerusalem grow and be strengthened in your hearts. Your captivity will pass away, your happiness will come; the last enemy shall be destroyed, and we shall triumph with our King, without death.

–St. Augustine, Ennarrationes in Psalmos, 136


A few months back I went down a rabbit hole studying all the different ways to talk about swords and spears in the Old Testament (in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek).  It was a fun research project but it touched upon a much more fundamental problem when talking about the Old Testament.  Rather than write a long introduction to an already long survey, I let the draft languish.

This is that long introduction.

(Warning: much of what follows is a gross simplification of a complicated scholarly field.  I know no shame and I’m not consulting sources from my old training.) Continue reading Septuagint

Old Testament Adventures: Jotham’s Parable

Toward the end of Gideon’s tenure as Judge, the Israelites offer him a pretty sweet deal: be our king.  Gideon, knowing that God is the king of Israel, declines and that is the end of that.

Just kidding!  This is the Bible (AKA Reality), where everything humans do turns to rot and final victories have to wait for, you know, the end.  After Gideon dies, his bastard son Abimelech murders all his legitimate brothers in an attempt to claim the throne his father declined.

Well, almost all.  Abimelech misses out on one fleet-footed son, Jotham, who runs away from the train wreck he can see coming so clearly.  But before he heads for the hills, he delivers a pretty sweet curse-parable to the people of Shechem who are crazy enough to entertain making this deal with Abimelech.

The parable of the trees serves up a healthy dose of insight wrapped in a delightful cover of mockery and condescension: Continue reading Old Testament Adventures: Jotham’s Parable