At the blog of the Latin Mass Society‘s chairman, Joseph Shaw, there is the exposition of an important Latin text of Pius X in 1905 about frequent reception of Holy Communion. The Latin is presented and compared to an English translation on the EWTN site, which may be the only English translation on the web.
The text is about receiving Communion with the knowledge of venial sins.
3. Etsi quam maxime expediat, ut frequenti et quotidiana communione utentes venialibus peccatis, saltem plene deliberatis, eorumque affectu sint expertes, sufficit nihilominus, ut culpis mortalibus vacent, cum proposito, se numquam in posterum peccaturos; quo sincero animi proposito, fieri non potest quin quotidie communicates a peccatis etiam venialibus, ab eorumque affectu sensim se expediant;
Here is how EWTN did it, with emphasis added:
3. Although it is especially fitting that those who receive Communion frequently or daily should be free from venial sins, at least from such as are fully deliberate, and from any affection thereto, nevertheless, it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future; and if they have this sincere purpose, it is impossible by [sic] that daily communicants should gradually free themselves even from venial sins, and from all affection thereto.
Shaw points to a serious problem. The translation makes a hash of what the Latin wants to convey, namely, that reception of Communion helps to over come venial sins. The EWTN translation ought to read, typo corrected:
… it is not possible BUT that daily communicants should gradually free themselves even from venial sins, and from all affection thereto.
… it is bound to happen that daily communicants should gradually free themselves even from venial sins, and from all affection thereto.
Clearly there was a typo, probably the result of scanning the document.
Now… forget about that Holy Communion and venial sin thing… we all know that part! Instead, focus on the double negative! Latin is comfortable with multiple-negatives, whereas English is less so. Also, Latin like the impersonal constructions more than English.
On his blog Shaw points out the nonsensical EWTN translation but I think we can tweak it and get extra mileage from it.
“Fieri non potest” is literally, “it is not possible that it happen (… that)”, which would be followed with some consequent result. In this case “fieri non potest” is followed by a clause introduced by quin . Quin is a compound of quî + ne or “how” + “not”. (“How does it not happen that…?” in order to state a positive assertion.) Thus “Fieri non potest quin, etc.” gives us something like “it is not possible that daily communicants should not gradually free themselves…”. Put another way, with that double negative at work, we could say “It is bound to happen that daily communicants will gradually free themselves…”
That fieri non potest quin … “it cannot happen but that” or “it cannot happen otherwise than that” or even “it is sure to happen that…” construction isn’t exactly rare. Cicero uses it often.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you Latin students are eagerly shouting, “How can you stop now? How can you not break this down a bit more! We all know that all readers here love Latin grammar and will hang on your every word! Surely it cannot be other than that everyone here will read every syllable!”
If you insist.
Since I am under the gun to write a couple talks, but I have too much to do and writing a talk is on my mind, “Fieri non potest quin allocutionem suam scripserit.”, would assert a positive through the double-negative: “It cannot be but that he has written his talk.” On the other hand, “Fieri non potest quin allocutionem suam non scripserit.”, would assert the negative: “It cannot be but that he has not written his talk.” Get it? On the other hand, “Fieri non potest ut suam allocutionem non scripserit” would deny the negative and mean “It is not possible that he has not written his talk.” But going on “Fieri non potest ut suam allocutionem scripserit.” would deny the positive and mean “It is not possible that he has written his talk”. Easy, right?
Again, Latin likes impersonal phrases. However, a personal way of using this construction would be “facere non possum… I can not do other than…” or, in the case of these communicants “facere non possunt… they are bound to”.
I think you get the impact of the construction now. Thus endeth the lesson.
That said, it is now impossible that I not finish and post this entry.