From a reader:
Fr. Z, a priest friend of mine, Fr. “GS” wanted me to ask you about a Latin phrase that he thought he came across in The Wanderer. He is big a fan of your articles. At present he is in (an infirmary) and doesn’t have access to a computer.
He’s pretty sure it’s “Nisi crederetis non intellegetes,” and wanted to know if that is accurate and who was the author?
Fr. “GS”‘s physical condition continues to deteriorate and he is suffering from depression so any prayers you can say/offer for him would be appreciated.
I am sure all the readers here will, right now, stop and say an Ave or three for Father.
The phrase at question here is:
“Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis…. You will not understand unless you will have first believed.”
I always have liked the sound of that future perfect. But I digress.
Without getting into a discussion of the relationship of scientia and sapientia, or on the logical priority of faith or intellectual understanding, riveting in itself, St. Augustine used the phrase quite a few times in his works (lib. arb. 1,4; 2,6; mag. 37; f. et symb. 1; diu. qu. 81,2; agon. 14; doctr. chr. 2,17; c. Faust. 4,2; 12,46;s. 118; s. 126, s,139; s. 140;s. 272) and it is to him that we attribute it. To him and to Isaiah 7:9. Augustine was working from a different Latin text of the Old Testament, older than the Vulgate of Jerome, and had what some would say is a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:9. It was at least a variant.
The Hebrew of the passage in question:
וְרֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם שֹׁמְרֹון וְרֹאשׁ שֹׁמְרֹון בֶּן־רְמַלְיָהוּ אִם לֹא תַאֲמִינוּ כִּי לֹא תֵאָמֵֽנוּ׃ ס
And the Septuagint text reads:
καὶ ἡ κεφαλὴ Εφραιμ Σομορων καὶ ἡ κεφαλὴ Σομορων υἱὸς τοῦ Ρομελιου καὶ ἐὰν μὴ πιστεύσητε οὐδὲ μὴ συνῆτε
The Vulgate says, however, “Nisi credideritis, non permanebitis.” It goes back to that Hebrew word: אמן, “to support, confirm, be faithful, be established, to be certain, to believe in”
So, the phrase, important for Augustine, is based on something that had a variant. Augustine himself knew of and acknowledged the discrepancy, however. In De doctrina christiana 2,17 Augustine is talking about words as signs and the difficulties of understanding some passages in Scripture, which is written with ambiguous words. Augustine says that to help understand Scripture better one has to check the original languages and the context.
One the examples Augustine gives of where things can go wrong is from Isaiah 7:9, which someone translated as “Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis” and another rendered as “Nisi credideritis, non permanebitis“.
Suffice to say that Augustine does some amazing things with his version.
So… there it is. I hope this helped. However, if you don’t quite get all that, trust me. Unless you will have first believed, you won’t understand.