Of Fishwrap and sandals

Sutor, ne ultra crepidam.

Pliny the Elder related the tale of a cobbler who spotted in a painting errors in the depiction of sandals.  He goes to the painter and points to the problems. The painter, grateful, makes corrections to his renderings of the shoes.  The cobbler, emboldened by his success as an art critic, then offers the painter a few more tips about the rest of the painting.  The painter responded: “Cobbler, not above the sandal!”  This is also rendered as “ne sutor supra crepidam iudicaret”.

There is an amusing piece at National catholic Fishwrap by a 16 year old Chicagoan, Erik Baker, who has taken to Latin like the proverbial duck to water.  I am happy that this pup has embraced the Latin language with enthusiasm.

Fishwrap has instrumentalized our boy, however, in order to carry on their polemic.  They just can’t seem to get it through their heads that the new, corrected translation really is going to be implemented on 27 November in the USA.  Their constant carping and moaning can have no other motive than to hurt the order of the Church by sowing discontent and dissent.  But I digress.

This time, Fishwrap has reproduced an essay by young Erik about the woes of the new, corrected translation of the Missale Romanum. Poor Erik, however, also tackles some theological points, … and goes off the rails.

Don’t get me wrong!  I think this is a positive step for Fishwrap!  It took a 16-year old to improve their commentary on the translation.

You can read the whole thing at Fishwrap if you wish, but here is a sample of what happens when our junior cobbler get’s above the ground level in his essay. Whereas his look at the word nimis in the Confiteor has some value, he and his helpers run into the weeds when it comes to what the Confiteor really means.

The problem, though, is that the Latin itself seems to be hyperbolically critical of humanity. It might aim to promote humility, but inevitably it fosters guilt instead. It promotes a vision of human nature as overwhelmingly and inexorably sinful– a vision more in line with the heretical Janesenist doctrine of centuries past than Catholic dogma.

Perhaps the person or persons who helped him on this point laid it on a little thick.  But, hey!  Richard McBrien could hardly have improved the paragraph.  Let’s have one more:

Finally, I think the changes to the Nicene Creed merit some discussion. As before, all of them have good grounding in the Latin, but it’s the Latin that’s problematic. The first is the fact that all of the “believe”s are in the first person. This destroys the sense of communal vision found in the “we believe” of the previous translation. Faith becomes something of the individual, by the individual, for the individual — ironically, a very Protestant idea. Catholicism is supposed to value unity and togetherness.

How did we ever manage to say Credo in the Creed all those centuries?  Even through the Counter-Reformation?  Surely our forebears should have been singing Credimus all that time so as to avoid the errors of Protestantism.

I applaud young Erik for his efforts and also for his ability to receive input from others.  For now, however, he should stick to sandals.

Perhaps Fishwrap could find more teenagers and raise the level of their discourse across the board.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    Poor kid! I think its funny that they start off by citing the child’s affinity for the Latin language and then go into his viewpoints about the age-old mass. His knowledge of Latin has really nothing to do with his theological opinion! Very tricky of them. Very tricky indeed…

  2. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    I wish I had never read this post… the insanity of this is astounding and my heart is sore because of it. As I commented on NCR, (which was queued for moderation…), it would be the same were the article titled, “Expert in One Field Comments on a Completely Different One.”

  3. benedetta says:

    And the theological viewpoint he advocates is neither superior, more holy, or in fact the more merciful one or the one which produces the greatest amount of joy.

  4. Hidden One says:

    God bless Erik for trying.

    I hope all WDTPRSer comments over there will be/have been properly charitable. Remember, he’s 16.

  5. teomatteo says:

    I wonder if the church he attends routinely recites the Confiteor? I wonder if some will just drop that ‘option’ to simplify things… and then????

  6. Legisperitus says:

    That Pliny thing must be the origin of the English “Cobbler, stick to thy last.”

    I do wish that, at least once, someone accusing anyone or anything of “Jansenism” would define what he thinks “Jansenism” means. It’s by no means an easy heresy to define or understand, even with an explanation of its historical context, but yet it gets thrown around like road grit nowadays whenever a happy-clappy Catholic wants to berate traditionalists for being too aware of their own sinfulness.

  7. ALL: I opened the combox here with the hope that you all will have the good sense not to pile on this kid. I think it is great that he is interested in Latin.

    What is reprehensible is the constant griping of the Fishwrap.

  8. Charlotte Allen says:

    What’s hilarious is the enthusiasm with which all the liberal oldsters who read the NCR have glommed onto this kid in their many, many comments. He’s their boy Jesus in the Temple! A new breath of life for their sclerotic movement! It’s amazing how much those aging liberals hate the new translation–obviously for what it symbolizes, which is a dashing of liberal hopes that the church would finally free itself from all of its traditions, starting with its traditional language but moving on to everything else.

    The English equivalent of “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam” is “Shoemaker, stick to your last.” [A “last”, being the wooden or metal form shaped like a foot on which the cobbler builds a shoe.]

  9. Sam Schmitt says:

    This confirms what has been in the background all along – many of those who object to the new translation really have issues with the original Latin, as if the mass in English were not a translation. This explains all the adaptions, options, paraphrases, alternatives prayers, new prayers, etc. etc. that sprouted up in the 1973 English version. The reworking and tinkering got to the point where the Vatican finally rejected the “translation” of the ordination rite offered by (the old) ICEL in the early 1990s. This article is just the crudest example I’ve seen of this attitude.

  10. Legisperitus says:

    I hope no one was attacking Erik personally; I didn’t intend to attribute those theological elaborations to him. Surely his knowledge of Latin and interest in the Church will lead him on to deeper studies and understanding.

  11. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    He is in the safe hands of Christ, indeed! This perhaps serves to give witness to the fact that “faith” so many love that is being “attacked” by the new translation wasn’t the Catholic faith at all.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    Can anyone imagine the great Creed by Mozart with Credimus, instead of Credo? But, I am thrilled a young person is interested in the Latin and the Liturgy. How unusual for one so young and I hope he continues his search for Truth.


  13. When the diocese held a workshop to prepare us for the coming new translation, “I believe” instead of “We believe” was a point about which there was much carping. I rose to explain that the first person singular is a truer expression of our unity as members of the one Body of Christ, as it is the voice of the Body of Christ speaking the Credo; and it is really the first person plural that atomizes and breaks us up into little individuals. The moderator basically patted me on the head and told me how cute I was for coming up with such a novel and interesting interpretation of “Credo.”

  14. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I read the article before I saw Father’s comments. I, too, am impressed with the young man’s interest in Latin, and I thought his essay was well written. The NCR really is a piece of work!

    Did anyone at NCR think to say to the young man, “you know, these points here are theological points, and there are some pretty sound responses to them–are you sure you want to go down that road with posting this online?” I honestly doubt it, but I want to give NCR the benefit of the doubt.

    Not so much about Erik’s essay, but let me say this about the critiques in general of the new translation: they offer such poor arguments! One essay from a couple months ago went on an on about how stupid it was to substitute “incarnate” for “born”–the author apparently oblivious to the obvious point that these are not the same realities being described! Do these people actually suppose that, up until the moment our Lord was actually born, he was not “made flesh”?

    There are actually some competent criticisms to be made, because no work such as this is going to be perfect, but the critics seem to be missing them.

    As I am looking over the texts, I have my own suggestions. I am noticing some infelicities of expression that might have been adjusted. My question would be, did the bishops appoint to this task, not only expert Latinists and liturgists, but also folks renowned for a flair with English usage? That would be my suggestion with any such translation (such as the next Bible translation project).
    And I wonder if they had native English speakers practice proclaiming these texts, and intoning the chants? Because that’s where I’m noticing some unevenness–but nothing to get in a twist about.
    Overall, I think it works rather well and the vast improvements far outweigh my concerns.

    If our genial host or anyone else is interested, I will pose these questions: would the addition of an “O” before Lord, in a prayer, be too great a liberty? (I tend to think so); and would an adjustment in a note of chant likewise be too great a liberty? (I tend to think that would be acceptable.)

  15. jilly4ski says:

    What is really sad is that the bad translation of the liturgy caused people to develop really bad theology, and I am not talking about this kid. They had to come up with explanations to explain the translation.

    This “community” theology I find very troublesome as I encountered it first hand at a certain college populated by sisters in central mn, who used it to justify all sorts of liturgical and theological abuses. Things like getting rid of kneelers, having everybody stand during the consecration, or gather around the altar. Community is the be all end all (I understand this to a point, because they do live in community), books claiming God is she, and other such drivel.

  16. Sam Schmitt says:

    Actually, jilly4ski, I think it’s the other way round – bad theology led to many of the aberrations in the 1973 translation. The mistranslations are so pervasive and so consistent that they’re hard to explain in any other way.

    Erik has been sold a bill of goods. I hope his knowledge and interest in Latin will wake him up to how much richer the authentic theology of the Church is compared to the fantasy version of Catholicism peddled at NCR.

  17. benedetta says:

    So then the fishwrap is reduced to saying that though the Latin could be translated better and though it was not translated accurately to begin with, that a translation deliberately mistranslating is superior and therefore somehow more holy because it somehow did away with all the guilt hangups?

    To be honest, I don’t see that the mistranslation did even that effectively. It’s hard to say with any number of the prayers exactly or precisely what was being prayed as the language is so filled with empty niceness and obscure generality, so that one can’t conclude at all from those interpretations of the English “translations” that what was being aimed at was a theological choice to remove guilt from Christianity, or to even supplant it with, something different, assuming there is such a thing. Of course many read the literal translations as quite hopeful altogether and not in this distorted by the guilt way the ncr would pose as paradigm, all or nothing, guilt/no guilt whatsoever.

    It is excellent that he is enthusiastic for Latin. Over a whole lifetime of experiences he may come to appreciate the English prayers differently.

  18. Random Friar says:

    Spanish has a near-equivalent phrase: Zapatero, ¡a tus zapatos!

    Poor cobblers. No one wants their opinion.

  19. Well, cobblers had a profession that allowed them to look around and talk to customers and passersby. The shoesellers at medieval and Renaissance events have a pretty good view from their cobbler benches. :)

    Shrug. When I was sixteen and scoring skyhigh on the SAT and in every class, I had a lot of opinions also. I thought the Fathers were gloomy instead of fun, I couldn’t see the fun in Dumas, and I had no understanding of Austen’s sense of humor. I could read and understand and enjoy difficult and obscure poetry from all sorts of time periods, but not that. Meanwhile, some of my friends did appreciate those things when they were young, but they were missing other stuff. Nobody, no matter how smart, can possibly pile in everything, without time and experience to increase understanding and give one time to learn.

    There’s no shame in giving your honest opinion at any age; and there’s no shame in changing your mind later on, if you do so on a just basis.

  20. Oh, and Don Quixote gets a lot funnier than he was in sixth grade. Especially if you suddenly realize that you’ve read a fair number of books mentioned as being in the good Knight’s library, and that the priest’s opinion of those he trashes and keeps is actually pretty reasonable. :)

  21. Now that I think about it, cobblers are fairly notorious in history for leading revolutions and starting riots. So yeah, they must have really been bigmouths, as a group.

  22. William says:

    Did you hear the one about the sneaker that married the sandal?…..It didn’t last!

  23. M. K. says:

    I’m not going to lay into the kid – kudos to him for his commitment to learning Latin and the courage it took to post something in an online forum where it can be subject to all kinds of critiques – but I would like to note something in the Fishwrap article that none of the other commenters has yet addressed: the NCR notes that “Erik . . . attends Mass with his family at the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern.”

    When I lived in Chicago – I left six years ago, so things may have changed – the Sheil Catholic Center had a reputation as a place that attracted left-leaning “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics who wanted something more avant garde than they could get in their parishes. I don’t know what kind of catechesis Sheil offers for children (it’s not a parish, but they might offer something like CCD for families who go there), but Erik’s perspective seems in line with what I would expect from the chapel that he’s presumably grown up and been catechized in. Maybe (hopefully!) the kid will grow out of it as he moves into the larger world and does more thinking on his own, but my point is that we shouldn’t be surprised that a teenager (even a bright and articulate one) would mirror the viewpoints of the particular community he was raised in.

  24. RANCHER says:

    Interesting. My wife commented on her blog about this as well. Go here http://philotheaonphire.blogspot.com/

  25. Martial Artist says:

    Father Z,

    You suggest

    Perhaps Fishwrap could find more teenagers and raise the level of their discourse across the board.

    I would hesitate to attempt an improvement on your suggestion by hinting that they might perhaps benefit even more if they were to aim at an even younger group, the tweens and pre-teens, but after all, “Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings….” Just a thought.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  26. Jaceczko says:

    One news outlet chooses a published translator, poet, and professor, another chooses a 16-year-old with all the knowledge of a 16-year-old.

  27. fxkelli says:

    Always nice to see rebuttals that actually address content, not just commentators. Cobblers can have valid opinions about things other than shoes.

Comments are closed.