The Roman Canon / 1st Eucharistic Prayer – 10: “Simili modo” part 2

What Does the Prayer Really Say? The Roman Canon / 1st Eucharistic Prayer – 10: “Simili modo” part 2

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2004

PART 2 of a 4 part article on the words of consecration of the Precious Blood, focusing on the pro multis issue.

“Many other mysteries (plurima mysteria) lie hidden in the words of this consecration, which pastors, God helping, will easily come to comprehend for themselves by constant meditation upon divine things and by diligent study.” (Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II, 4)

WDTPRS left things hanging last week. We looked at the tradition behind the words pro multis and then asked: “Why did ICEL chose “for all” if the Greek of Scripture and the Latin of the Mass clearly say “for many” and if the Council of Trent insisted on the distinction between the two concepts? Oh! for the help of God in what follows! For if this is “easy” then it is so only in light of Paul’s observation that in this earthly life we see “as if through a mirrored glass, in puzzling obscurity” (per speculum in aenigmate… Vulgate 1 Cor 3:12). But ICEL gave us “for all” and bishops approved it and the Holy See ratified it. Seasoned Catholics will remember what happened then.

The change from “for many” to “for all” in the English translation after the Council did not go unnoticed. It stirred some to outrage and accusations of heresy. They said that the change makes the English formula of consecration heretical and invalid. Their point is this: Christ died for the salvation of all, but not all will be saved – some will be saved, even if it is many or most, but not all (cf. Council of Trent). The doctrine that all will be saved is a heresy condemned in the early centuries of the Church (cf. the Greek phrase apokastasis pantôn and the anti-Origenist controversy). So, to say “for all” means that, in the Mass, the Church says that Jesus at this moment in the institution of the Eucharist was saying that all would be saved. That would mean, impossibly, that Jesus said something false. Thus, “for all”, since it is heresy, invalidates the consecration. Furthermore, they maintain that the mistranslation was adopted in order to introduce into the Mass a heresy of Lutherans that the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross saves all who have faith (regardless of their moral lives, actual doctrines and beliefs, their formal membership in the Catholic Church, etc.).

How did it come to this? We go back to the time when the Novus Ordo was released in 1969. The official publication of the then Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship’s Notitiae (6 (1970) 39-40, 138-40) already had a two-pronged explanation of the translation choice “for all” which must have been decided ahead of time. First there was a response from the SCDW (pp. 39-40) and then a couple months later a “study” by Fr. Max Zerwick, SJ, a heavy-hitting Bible scholar at the Rome’s Biblicum, the Biblical Institute (pp. 138-40). First, a fast response is given in Latin to a question of whether in the vernacular versions corresponding to “for all men” we are to understand that the doctrine about this issue found in the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent had been “undone” (doctrina… superata – I quoted that Catechism last week). The answer was that: “In no way is it to be understood that the doctrine of the Roman Catechism is undone: the distinction about the death of Christ being sufficient for all and efficacious only for many retains its force.” Also in Latin: “In the approval given to this vernacular variation in the liturgical text, nothing which is less than correct has slithered in (nihil minus rectum irrepsit), which urgently requires correction or emendation.” (My translation – NB: “minus rectum… less than correct” isn’t “less than clear” – it might be ambiguous, open to different interpretations.)

Then comes the “study” in Latin by Zerwick explaining that according to exegetes (biblical scholars) pro multis means pro omnibus because of the Hebrew and Aramaic behind the biblical texts which were in Greek. Zerwick says first that despite the response given by the SCDW a few months before, there was still a lot of unrest! He then gives examples in Latin from Old Testament, Qumran papyri and New Testament texts where “many” can be taken to mean “all” (omitting a few important ones that don’t, by the way). Zerwick then says that because Jesus was using Isaiah 53 we must conclude that what Jesus said meant “pro omnibus” (remember this argument and Isaiah 53). So, Zerwick asks: If the phrase “pro multis” in Latin is correct and can mean “for all” or “for many”- “Why therefore in our liturgical translation must this venerable original “pro multis” give way to the phrase “pro omnibus”?” He responds:

On account of its accidental but still real incongruity: the phrase “pro multis” – as was said – shuts out from our mind (when not advised beforehand) the redeeming work’s universality which could have been connoted in that phrase for the Semitic mind and which it certainly did mean on account of the theological context…. But if on the other hand the phrase “pro omnibus” is said also to have its own incongruity, namely that it can suggest to some that all are going to be saved in actuality (in actu), the danger of such an erroneous understanding seems scarcely to be thought to exist among Catholics.

Here is what Zerwick is saying. First, scholars of Aramaic say that Jesus really meant “for all”. Second, our formula pro multis doesn’t exclude the concept “all” but it causes us to think that “all” are not included in Jesus’ saving work. Third, even if the formula “for all” admittedly sounds like all will in fact be saved, certainly no Catholic thinks that way. Therefore, we can and should use the phrase “for all” because it sounds better.

I must make an observation. Zerwick says that because Catholics know what the Church teaches and do not believe that all are saved even through Jesus died for all, we can safely use the “for all”: Catholics will hear it in the right way, not the wrong way. Go to a funeral in a Catholic church today. Listen to how priests preach and people talk. You hear virtually, only, the concept that all are in fact saved. When people die, they go to heaven automatically. This is a perfect example of the rule lex orandi lex credendi … how we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe. If you believe something, you will pray in a certain way even while by praying in a certain way you will come to believe what you pray. Catholics have been made to pray a certain way for decades and, over time, we have come to believe what we hear: all are saved because that is what the phrase “for all” in the consecration sounds like. Zerwick was right in one respect: if Catholics were well instructed and their knowledge of doctrine secure, “for all” could work. Zerwick was fatally wrong in another respect: he couldn’t imagine in 1970 what things would look like in thirty years … or could he? Either way, catechism is the key.

NB: In his weekly The Word From Rome (13 Feb. 2004) item on the internet the ubiquitous fair-minded Rome correspondent for the left-ish National Catholic Reporter, Mr. John L. Allen, Jr., reports on the progress of the new English text in preparation. Allen cites these same Notitiae paragraphs, both the responses and Zerwick, as being footnoted in a draft of the new translation! Mr. Allen provided a somewhat faulty translation, though not critically so (thus, I redid it). Again, see the importance of being able to read the Latin texts and know what is really being said!

Going on, as Notitiae indicated in 1970, ICEL founds its choice of “for all” on the work of Biblical scholars. I apologize to the WDTPRS readers for all this and what follows. You may be all at sea with this, but it is critical to know the level of scholarship this battle over the next translation is now being fought. WDTPRS must linger over this. I do not recall having read anything online or in a book or article that goes into this issue to this extent. Also, we are dealing with icons, nay rather, the idols of the biblical and liturgical elite. They are the sibyls whose oracular pronouncements were taken by ICEL and all others thereafter upon bended knee. Who were the scholars Notitiae and ICEL are talking about when they made their defense of “for all”?

For an answer we turn the clock back before the Second Vatican Council to some extremely important scholarship done by the eminent Lutheran theologian and philologist Joachim Jeremias (b. Dresden 1900 d. Tübingen 1982). Theology owes an enormous debt to Jeremias for his work on the “historical Jesus”, what Jesus actually did and said. Jeremias is one of the exegetes, biblical scholars, before whose résumé liturgical and biblical gurus kneel and swing incense, and with good reason. Virtually everything said about the parables of Jesus today is based on his work. Challenges to the claims of such as Jeremias by those as puny as the undersigned are received by said gurus with patient chuckles followed later in the day with a sneer over the tinkle of ice in highball glasses as the anecdote is recounted. That said, Jeremias’ approach has some flaws. Often, Jeremias simply isolates texts out of their context and dissects them without regard for how they fit (or don’t fit) with others. Also, as Heinrich Schlier observed, Jeremias tries seemingly to separate what came from Jesus’ Himself, out and away from the interpretation of the same. Jeremias thus makes the “historical Jesus” into a kind of “fifth gospel” and the criterion of the four Gospels. Jeremias’ work was the keystone for ICEL’s reason-defying translation, upheld by mandarins of the SCDW (heavily influenced then by German historical-critics, the liturgical views of Annibale Bugnini et al., and the ecumenical efforts of those like Karl Rahner, SJ), of pro multis as “for all”. Remember: people simply assume that Jeremias, the “archetypal historical critic”, was right in all things. When Zerwick and the SCDW addressed this issue in the official publication Notitiae, and spoke about exegetes and scholars of Aramaic, they meant specifically Joachim Jeremias and his work on the Greek word  polloí­ – “many”.

Prof. Jeremias prepared the article for the Greek word “polloí” (“many”) for the Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament in 1959 (vol. VI, 540.36-545.25 also in English translation as Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1968, pp. 536 ff). He says in this article, “our main concern will be with the significance of the saying that Jesus dies for many” (English version p. 536 emphasis mine). He asks the right question about the verses in which polloí­ is used in reference to Jesus’ saving work:

“The question raised by these verses is whether polloí­ is understood exclusively in Greek fashion (many, but not all) or inclusively in the sense that “many” can have in Semitic (the totality which embraces many individuals). In other words, does the vicarious work of Jesus avail only for the redeemed community or does He die for all without limitation?” (p. 543).

The Notitiae paragraph I quote above, written in 1970 and filtered with Italian and Latin, still uses Jeremias’ same vocabulary (“without limitation”).

Looking at the same verses mentioned in the Catechism of the Council of Trent Jeremias, clearly having an axe to grind against someone, says of the “exclusive” use of polloí­:

“This is the question whether the broad interpretation of polloí­ corresponds to the original sense of Mk. 10:45; 14:24 or whether we have here a secondary and more comprehensive understanding designed to avoid the offence of a restriction of the scope of the atoning work of Jesus to ‘many’” (pp. 543-44).

The foundation for our present translation was Jeremias’ rereading of Scripture so as to avoid the offense in Catholic doctrine. Also, since Catholics know what the Church teaches, it will be okay adopt “for all”. We will have to continue with Jeremias’ argument next week. And yes, readers, the WDTPRS version of the consecration of the chalice will be coming soon.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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4 Responses to The Roman Canon / 1st Eucharistic Prayer – 10: “Simili modo” part 2

  1. Jim McM says:

    It is not easy to understand the changes on the face of it, but you have elegantly explained the “simple” differences in a single word and its impact theologicially.
    I believe this expains your concerns to give thanks for an important change coming soon from Rome. Some of us thought it related to the “universal indult” and this is actually a more important issue theologically. If that “universal indult” came, it would still be of greater importance to correct this translation-based theological error in the rest of the Church.
    Thanks, Father Z.

  2. Fr Peter Wilson says:

    “The change from “for many” to “for all” in the English translation after the Council did not go unnoticed”.

    With respect, it’s not just in English.

    Spanish: por todos los hombres
    Italian: per tutti
    German: fur alle
    Portuguese: por todos homens
    French: pour le multitude

  3. Eric the Read says:

    Your description of modern Catholic funerals may perhaps be a tad biased by your experience. It certainly was not my experience with my father’s funeral (admittedly, that was 20 years ago). As I recall, the priest told us that although he was a good man, that doesn’t mean he was without sin, and we should all pray for his soul in Purgatory, which I’m ashamed to admit I do somewhat irregularly.

    Likewise, in the funeral for my 7-month-old niece, which took place earlier this year, I don’t recall being assured she was in heaven, though out of sensitivity to the parents, we were simply encouraged to pray for her.

  4. Tom Miller says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf

    After reading your documentation on “Pro Multis”, I want to express my appreciation for your analysis. At least I understand what happened. I wonder what is the spiritual fate of those Catholics who contributed to the disaster that is the Novus Ordo.

    Given that my mind doesn’t match yours, I’ve had to read your dissertation several times before I got a good grasp. I do have a problem, however. The following paragraph I’ve cut from the second part and paste it here.

    Here is what Zerwick is saying. First, scholars of Aramaic say that Jesus really meant “for many”. Second, our formula pro multis doesn’t exclude the concept “all” but it causes us to think that “all” are not included in Jesus’ saving work. Third, even if the formula “for many” admittedly sounds like all will in fact be saved, certainly no Catholic thinks that way. Therefore, we can and should use the phrase “for all” because it sounds better.

    I have read and re-read this paragraph at least four times, and either don’t understand it, or else that it has two words misplaced.

    Is it possible that it should read –

    Here is what Zerwick is saying. First, scholars of Aramaic say that Jesus really meant “for all”. Second, our formula pro multis doesn’t exclude the concept “all” but it causes us to think that “all” are not included in Jesus’ saving work. Third, even if the formula “for all” admittedly sounds like all will in fact be saved, certainly no Catholic thinks that way. Therefore, we can and should use the phrase “for all” because it sounds better.