The Roman Canon / 1st Eucharistic Prayer – 10: “Simili modo” part 3

What Does the Prayer Really Say? The Roman Canon / 1st Eucharistic Prayer – 10: “Simili modo” part 3

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2004

PART 3 of a 4 part article on the words of consecration of the Precious Blood, focusing on the pro multis issue.

We have in this Odyssey seen the vocabulary, the Church’s teaching from the Catechism of the Council of Trent on the universality of value of Christ’s Sacrifice while the fruits will be applied “to many”. We saw the defense of the reason-defying translation “for all” from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (SCDW) and from ICEL in 1970. We must now continue with our close look at the keystone for the reasoning behind this decision to make pro multis mean “for all” rather than “for many”: the scholarship of the great Lutheran Scripture exegete Joachim Jeremias.

Prof. Jeremias provided the key article in an important dictionary of the Bible in the 1950’s which was translated into English in the 1960’s (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 examined the Greek word polloí (“many”) which Scripture says Jesus said at the Last Supper. Not distinguishing between the value and the application of Its fruits, Jeremias states in the article openly that the idea of any “exclusive” concept attached to Jesus’ saving work is an “offense”. He then designs an understanding of polloí without this “offense” by means of a convoluted rereading of the relevant verses. Jeremias basically makes a conjecture about what Jesus really said in Aramaic and argues that Scripture’s polloí (“many”) is wrong. We continue now in with what we started last week.

Jeremias begins to design his inclusive understanding in this important research dictionary (which the SCDW and ICEL simply adopted) saying there is no correspondence between Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek vocabulary for “all”: “This inclusive use is due to the fact that Heb. and Aram. have no word for “all”” (p. 536). He admits there is the Hebrew/Aramaic kol, kola, which means “all”, but, according to Jeremias, they don’t mean “all”, they mean rather “the totality”: “The totality is in view from the very first, whereas “all” expresses the sum as well as the totality” (p. 536, n. 4). I am not sure what that means. Apparently “all” of something is more than the “totality” of something. Contrasting polloí with pántes (“all”) Jeremias writes, “In Greek, polloí is differentiated from pántes ((h)óloi) by the fact that it is the antonym of a minority” (p. 536 – emphasis added). So far so good: “many” can be a “majority” but not “all”. Jeremias states that the Hebrew/Aramaic words mean “the many who cannot be counted … the great multitude”. The word Jeremias thinks Jesus might have said in Aramaic means a group so inclusive as to mean “all”.

Jeremias then rereads the relevant Bible verses through the lens of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Remember Zerwick in his article for Notitiae we saw last week? This is where Zerwick got his material. According to Jeremias the Hebrew word corresponding to Greek polloí, “is taken to refer to the whole community, comprised of many members, which has fallen under the judgment of God.” Jeremias then offers the amazing proclamation: “There is no support for the idea that Jesus interpreted Is. 53 any differently” (p. 545 – emphasis added). You will observe, of course, that there isn’t any evidence to the contrary either. Conclusion: in Greek Jesus says “many” but He really meant to say “all”. Using impressive philological gymnastics Jeremias effectively argues that Scripture’s polloí is wrong: therefore the Scripture we have is wrong in the account of the Last Supper. But, if that is true then the Church’s dogma has also been wrong. Mass is wrong because of its pro multis. Jeremias figured out what the Catholic Church (purposely?) missed all these centuries. You will reasonably ask why the authors of the Gospels and the letters of Paul didn’t know any of this when they, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, made the “mistake” of writing polloí in Greek instead of pántes. How did St. Jerome miss this when he wrote pro multis? Did the Fathers lie for centuries or simply blow it when considering the words of Jesus at the Last Supper?

Let us sum up a little. Probably motivated in large part by ecumenical zeal, under the pressure of the deeply problematic radically historical-critical Scripture scholarship which gripped the Church like a vice in those years, ICEL (like the SCDW before them) eagerly embraced the Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias’ work regarding polloí. ICEL and the SCDW then made a Latin word mean something it has never meant in the history of that language because a Greek word had been made by Jeremias to mean something it had never meant before. All this was based on Jeremias’ guess about a word Jesus might have said in yet another language read through a lens designed correct the “offense” to Protestants implicit in the Church’s consecration formula and expressed teaching about the same. ICEL set aside the probability that Evangelists and Paul knew what they were doing and meant what they wrote, with the Holy Spirit’s help, because it expressed the truth as they saw it. Ditto the Fathers of the Church.

It is possible to argue that the English translation, reflecting an ecumenical vision prevalent at the time, was created to cover over the “offense” some Protestants might hear in the Catholic Church’s “inclusive” teaching about the value and intention of Jesus’ Sacrifice which had been coupled by the ancient Church to the “exclusive” teaching about its fruits which are all not equally accepted by fallen humans. Some non-Catholics claim that the Church believes that Jesus died only for “many” and not for all. The Church does not teach that. Let us be clear about the other side too. Some extremists (yes, extremists) say that “for all” introduces to the Mass a heresy that makes the English formula of consecration in the Mass invalid. They are wrong, but their instincts are good. Their concern must be taken seriously if not their conclusion.

So, there are those who oppose “for all” saying that it is heresy, those who defend it as only a change of emphasis and not of doctrine. They must both be taken seriously in their claims. But I cannot agree with them either.

I think that ICEL’s translation obscured, not denied, the clarity of the Church’s perennial doctrine, which was not exclusive in any unjust, uncharitable, unreasonable, or offensive way. The change in emphasis that is/was needed is in catechism, instruction, and preaching, not in the consecration formula itself, which should reflect more clearly the Church’s teaching on the value and the fruits of Christ’s Sacrifice.

Since all sorts of folks of the rather “traditionalist” stripe have been yelping “SEE! We told you so all along!”, I will state this clearly just in case they missed my point: “For all” in English doesn’t invalidate the consecration and it is not “heresy”.

I think “for all” changes the Church’s clarity.I think “for all” is nebulous

There are two camps formed to do war over this issue, but in between there are the vast majority who never really think about any of this but simply go to Church and have heard this translation for decades. They have slowly been formed by the fuzziness of the phrase “for all” into thinking that all are in fact saved, that everyone automatically goes to heaven. Never mind that they don’t think about those in purgatory, they don’t believe that hell exists (except maybe for bad men like Hitler, but hardly anyone else). In the great dark vacuum of catechesis and preaching of the basics, people were formed just as you might expect them to be according to the absolutely correct principle of lex orandi lex credendi: how you pray has a reciprocal relationship with what you believe.

Was this obscuring compromise worth it for ecumenical reasons? I have no idea and I will leave that to my betters. However, to my mind this is an age when we need greater clarity not more nuances, a stronger sense of our Catholic faith and not something fuzzy. I do not think that ecumenical dialogue, as desirable as it can be when it is authentic, benefits from Catholics blurring their own teaching about how the fruits of the Lord Jesus’ Sacrifice will only be accepted by many even though He gave Himself up for all. By saying “for many” the Church does not teach that God cannot and does not save non-Catholics through the merits of the Lord’s Sacrifice! But, even if the number of the many who accept the fruits is beyond the reckoning of man, it is not going to be the “totality”, all of mankind, everyone who ever lived. If counting the elect is impossible for us, that mysterious number will not be beyond God who knew it before Creation. The Church taught clearly what this meant in a time of great upheaval and theological revolution. This teaching has been formally upheld in recent years. It is not in our best interests as a “Church in the modern world” to leave “for all” as the translation for pro multis. We must return to “for many” and then teach, teach, teach…and embrace in charitable dialog all who will wonder what we mean or will seek to say we are wrong.

On 20 February the Holy Father offered to bishops from France (where the Church and faithful are drowning in nuance and unbridled secularization) the following remarks about

“…the catechetical and evangelizing nature of liturgy, which must be understood as a path to holiness, the inner strength of the apostolic dynamism and missionary nature of the Church. … Pastors must take ever greater care, with the collaboration of the laity, in the preparation of Sunday liturgy, paying special attention to the rite and beauty of the celebration. … In their homilies, priests must take care to teach the faithful about the doctrinal and scriptural foundations of the faith. I again strongly ask all the faithful to base their spiritual experience and their mission in the Eucharist, around the bishop, minister and guarantor of communion in the diocesan Church, for ‘where the bishop is, there is the Church’.”

I submit the following for you readers and for all others who are involved in this vital mandate of preparing translations for the sake of “the catechetical and evangelizing nature of liturgy”:

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
After the supper was concluded, in a similar way taking into His holy and venerable hands also this noble chalice, in like manner giving thanks to You He blessed and He gave it to His disciples, saying: All of you receive and drink from this: for this is the chalice of my Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out abundantly on your behalf and on the behalf of multitudes for the remission of sins. Do this for my remembrance.

Please note that while in Polish you hear “za wielu” or “for many”, in Italian we have “per tutti”, in German “für alle”, in Spanish “por todos” (meaning “for all”), and in Mandarin Chinese we say “zhòng rén” which is “for the multitudes i.e., everybody”. French remarkably has “pour la multitude”.

Latin says “for many” and this is the language that counts for the Latin Rite. I think that “on behalf of/for (the) multitudes” strikes the proper balance of Christ’s Sacrifice which was unquestionably “for all” with the Church’s authentic teaching that “many” (without further specification) will accept the fruits of Christ’s Sacrifice. “Multitudes” lends an aspect to pro multis which is certainly true: the number of the saved will be vast, no matter how many or how few are sadly lost.

Next week, I will return to this thorny problem bringing in some recent comments about the pro multis issue by His Eminence Joseph Card. Ratzinger.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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2 Responses to The Roman Canon / 1st Eucharistic Prayer – 10: “Simili modo” part 3

  1. Tim Hallett says:

    Good article, but as a Chinese translator I have to disagree with you on connoting “zhongren” with “universalis”. IMHO “zhongren” is in connotation more similar to “multitude” as in the French. “Everybody” would be “quanren”, whereas “zhongren” would be the best word to describe a number of people that is not necessarily all-inclusive, but does not sound like “some” or “a few”. In the context of Modern Chinese, I really cannot think of a better word to naturally convey “the many” without resorting to classical modes of expression.

  2. Tim Hallett: I am grateful for the tip on this. Please help us out and give us a fuller explanation. Perhaps a Classical expression is what this needs. Xie xie.