Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

DISSERTATION XI.

OF THE REGARD WHICH, IN

TRANSLATING SCRIPTURE

INTO ENGLISH, IS DUE TO THE PRACTICE OF FORMER TRANSLATORS, PARTICULARLY OF THE AUTHORS OF THE LATIN VULGATE, AND OF THE COMMON ENGLISH TRANSLATION.

PART I.

THE REGARD DUE TO THE VULGATE.

IN the former Dissertation* I took occasion to consider what are the chief things to be attended to by every translator, but more especially a translator of holy writ. They appeared to be the three following: first, to give a just and clear representation of the sense of his original; secondly, to convey into his version as much of his author's spirit and manner as the genius of the language which he writes will admit; thirdly, as far as may be, in a consistency with the two other ends, to express himself with purity in the language of the version. If these be the principal objects, as in my opinion they are, they will supply us with a good rule for determining the precise degree of regard which is due to former translators of reputation, whose works may have had influence sufficient to give a currency to the terms and phrases they have adopted. When the terms and phrases employed by former interpreters are well adapted for conveying the sense of the author, when they are also suited to his manner, and do no violence to the idiom of the language of the translation, they are justly preferred to other words equally expressive and proper, but which, not having been used by former interpreters of name, are not current in that application. This, in my opinion, is the furthest' we can go, without making greater account of translations than of the original, and showing more respect to the words and idioms of fallible men, than to the instructions given by the unerring Spirit of God.

2. If, in respect of any of the three ends above-mentioned, former translators, on the most impartial examination, appear to have failed, shall we either copy or imitate their errors? When the question is thus put in plain terms, I do not know any critic that is hardy enough to answer in the affirmative. But we no sooner descend to particulars, than we find that those very persons who gave us reason to believe that they agree with us in the general principles, so totally differ in their application, as to show themselves disposed to sacrifice all those primary objects in trans

Diss. X. Part i.

lating, to the phraseology of a favourite translator. Even Father Simon could admit that "it would be wrong to imitate the faults of Saint Jerom, and to pay greater deference to his authority than to the truth."* How far the verdicts he has pronounced on particular passages, in the several versions criticised by him, are consistent with this judgment, shall be shown in the sequel.

3. But before I proceed further, it may not be amiss to make some remarks on what appears to have been Simon's great scope and design in the Critical History; for, in the examination of certain points strenuously maintained by him, I shall chiefly be employed in this Dissertation. His opinions in what regards biblical criticism have long had great influence on the judgment of the learned, both Popish and Protestant. His profound erudition in oriental matters, joined with uncommon penetration, and, I may add, strong appearances of moderation, have procured him on this subject a kind of superiority, which is hardly disputed by any. Indeed, if I had not read the answers made to those who attacked his work, which are subjoined to his Critical History, and commonly, if I mistake not, thought to be his, though bearing different names, I should not have spoken so dubiously of his title to the virtue of moderation. But throughout these tracts, I acknowledge, there reigns much of the illiberal spirit of the controvertist. None of the little arts, however foreign to the subject in debate, by which contempt and odium are thrown upon an adversary, are omitted. And we may say with truth, that by assuming too high an ascendant over Le Clerc and his. other antagonists, he has degraded himself below them, farther, I believe, than by any other method he could have so easily effected.

4. In regard to Simon's principal work, which I have so often had occasion to mention, The Critical History of the Old and New Testaments, its merit is so well known and established in the learned world, as to render it superfluous now to attempt its character. I shall only animadvert a little on what appear to me, after repeated perusals, to be the chief objects of the author, and on his manner of pursuing these objects. It will scarcely admit a doubt, that his primary scope, throughout the whole performance, is to represent Scripture as in every-thing of moment either unintelligible or ambiguous. His view in this is sufficiently glaring; it is to convince his readers, that, without the aid of tradition, whereof the church is both the depository and the interpreter, no one article of Christianity can, with evidence sufficient to satisfy a rational inquirer, be deduced from Scripture. A second aim, but in subordination to the former, is to bring his readers to such an acquiescence in the Latin Vul

En effet, il [Pagnin] auroit eu tort d'imiter les fautes de St. Jerôme, et de deferer plus à l'autorité de ce père, qu'à la verité.--Hist. Crit. du Vieux Testament, liv. ii. ch. 20.

gate, which he calls the translation of the church, as to consider the deviations from it in modern versions, from whatever cause they spring, attention to the meaning or to the letter of the original, as erroneous and indefensible.

The manner in which the first of these aims has been pursued by him, I took occasion to consider in a former Dissertation,* to which I must refer my reader: I intend now to inquire a little into the methods by which he supports this secondary aim, the faithfulness of the Vulgate, and, if not its absolute perfection, its superiority at least to every other attempt that has been made in the western churches towards translating the Bible. This inquiry naturally falls in with the first part of my subject in the present Dissertation, in which I hope to show, to the satisfaction of the reader, that he might, with equal plausibility, have maintained the superiority of that version over every translation which ever shall or can be made of holy writ.

5. From the view which I have given of his design with respect to the Vulgate, one would naturally expect that he must rate very highly the verdict of the council of Trent in favour of that version that he must derive its excellence, as others of his order have done, from immediate inspiration, and conclude it to be infallible. Had this been his method of proceeding, his book would have excited little attention from the beginning, except from those whose minds were pre-engaged on the same side by bigotry or interest, and would probably, long ere now, have been forgotten. What person of common sense in these days ever thinks of the ravings of Harduin the Jesuit, who, in opposition to antiquity and all the world, maintained, that the apostles and evangelists wrote in Latin; that the Vulgate was the original, and the Greek New Testament a version, and that consequently the latter ought to be corrected by the former, not the former by the latter, with many other absurdities,† to which Michaelis has done too much honour in attempting to refute them in his lectures?

But Simon's method was in fact the reverse. The sentence of the council, as was hinted formerly, he has explained in such a manner as to denote no more than would be readily admitted by every moderate and judicious Protestant. The inspiration of the translator he disclaims, and consequently the infallibility of

* Diss. III. sect. 1-17.

+ Such as, that, except Cicero's works, Pliny's Natural History, the Georgics, Horace's Epistles, and a few others, all the ancient classics, Greek and Latin, are the forgeries of monks in the 13th century. Virgil's Eneid is not excepted. This, according to him, was a fable invented for exhibiting the triumph of the church over the synagogue. Troy was Jerusalem, in a similar manner reduced to ashes after a siege. Eneas carrying his gods into Italy, represented St. Peter travelling to Rome to preach the gospel to the Romans, and there lay the foundations of the hierarchy. I heartily join in Boileau's sentiment, (for of him it is told, if I remember right,) "I should like much to have conversed with friar Virgil, and friar Livy, and friar Horace; for we see no such friars now."

the version. He ascribes no superiority to it above the original. This superiority was but too plainly implied in the indecent comparison which Cardinal Ximenes made of the Vulgate, as printed in his edition (the Complutensian) between the Hebrew and the Septuagint, to our Lord crucified between two thieves, making the Hebrew represent the hardened thief, and the Greek the penitent. Simon, on the contrary, shows no disposition to detract from the merit either of the original or of any ancient version; though not inclinable to allow more to the editions and transcripts we are at present possessed of, than the principles of sound criticism appear to warrant. He admits, that we have yet no perfect version of holy writ, and does not deny that a better may be made than any extant. In short, nothing can be more equitable than the general maxims he establishes. It is by this method that he insensibly gains upon his readers, insinuates himself into their good graces, and brings them, before they are aware, to repose an implicit confidence in his discernment, and to admit without examining, the equity of his particular decisions. Now all these decisions are made artfully to conduct them to one point, which he is the surer to carry as he never openly proposes it, namely, to consider the Vulgate as the standard, by a conformity to which the value of every other version ought to be estimated.

6. In consequence of this settled purpose, not declared in words, but without difficulty discovered by an attentive reader, he finds every other version which he examines either too literal, or too loose in rendering almost every passage which he specifies, according as it is more or less so than that which he has tacitly made to serve as the common measure for them all. And though it is manifest, that even the most literal are not more blamably literal in any place than the Vulgate is in other places; or even the most loose translations more wide of the sense than in some instances that version may be shown to be; he has always the address to bring his readers (at least on their first reading his book) to believe with him, that the excess, of whatever kind it be, is in the other versions, and not in the Vulgate. In order to this, he is often obliged to argue from contrary topics, and at one time to defend a mode of interpreting which he condemns at another. And though this inevitably involves him in contradictions, these, on a single, or even a second or third perusal, are apt to be overlooked by a reader who is not uncommonly attentive. The inconsistencies elude the reader's notice the more readily, as they are not brought under his view at once, but must be gathered from parts of the work not immediately connected; and as the individual passages in question are always different, though the manner in which they are translated, and on which the criticism turns, is the same. Add to this, that our

Hist. Crit, du V. T. liv. iii, ch. 1.

critic's mode of arguing is the more specious and unsuspected, because it is remarkably simple and dispassionate. It will be necessary, therefore, though it may be accounted a bold and even invidious undertaking, to re-examine a few of the passages examined by Father Simon, that we may, if possible, discover whether there be reason for the charge of partiality and inconsistency which has been just now brought against him.

7. In his examination of Erasmus's version of the New Testament, he has the following observation: "Where we have in the Greek του ὁρισθεντος υἱου Θεού εν δυνάμει, Rom. i. 4, the ancient Latin interpreter has very well and literally rendered it, qui prædestinatus est filius Dei in virtute,' which was also the version used in the western churches before Saint Jerom, who has made no change on this place. I do not inquire whether that interpreter has read ToооpioEvтоç as some believe: for prædestinatus signifies no more here than destinatus; and one might put in the translation prædestinatus, who read opiodevтoç, as we read at present in all the Greek copies; and there is nothing here that concerns what theologians commonly call predestination. Erasmus, however, has forsaken the ancient version, and said, 'qui declaratus fuit filius Dei cum potentia.' It is true, that many learned Greek fathers have explained the Greek participle ὁρισθέντος by δειχθεντος, αποφανθέντος, thatis, demonstrated or declared; but an explanation is not a translation. One may remark, in a note, that that is the sense which Saint Chrysostom has given the passage, without changing the ancient version, as it very well expresses the energy of the Greek word, which signifies rather destinatus and definitus than declaratus." Thus far Simon.

Admit that the Vulgate is here literal, since this critic is pleased to call it so it is at the same time obscure, if not unmeaning. What the import of the word predestinated may be, when, as he says, it has no relation to what divines call predestination, and consequently cannot be synonymous with predetermined, foreordained, he has not been so kind as to tell us; and it will not be in every body's power to guess. For my part, I do not comprehend that curious aphorism as here applied, "An

* Oà il y a dans le Grec, του όρισθεντος υίου Θεου εν δυνάμει, l'ancien interprète Latin a fort bien traduit à la lettre, "qui prædestinatus est filius Dei in virtute;" et c'est même la version qui étoit en usage dans les églises d'occident avant Saint Jerôme, qui n'y a rien changé en cet endroit. Je n'examine point si cet interprète a lû #googio Devros, comme quelques-uns le croyent; car prædestinatus ne signifie en ce lieu-là que destinatus; et ainsi l'on a pû traduire prædestinatus en lisant geVTOs, comme on lit presentement dans tous les exemplaires Grecs, et il ne s'agit nullement de ce que les theologiens appellent ordinairement predestination. Erasme cependant s'est éloigné de cette ancienne version, ayant traduit qui declaratus fuit filius Dei cum potentia." Il est vrai, que plusieurs doctes pères Grecs ont expliqué le verbe Grec geros par deixetos, aropaveros, c'est-à-dire demontré ou declaré mais une explication n'est pas une traduction. L'on peut marquer dans une note que c'est là le sens que Saint Chrysostome a donné à ce passage, sans changer pour cela la version ancienne, qui exprime très-bien la force du mot Grec, qui signifie plutôt destinatus, definitus, que declaratus.-Hist. Crit. des Versions du N. T. ch. 22.

"

« ÎnapoiContinuați »