Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Anthony Esolen: Leave the Lord's Prayer alone...

Anthony Esolen, over at First Things, writes:

"Pope Francis has caused another round of cheering and dismay by calling for a “better translation” of the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Specifically, he says that the line familiar to us English speakers as “lead us not into temptation” should be rendered as “let us not fall into temptation,” because a loving Father does not subject His children to evil. We may cite here, in apparent support of that statement, the words of St. James: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (Jas. 1:13–14). It was not God who tempted Job, but Satan. It was not God who tempted David with the sight of Bathsheba bathing in her garden, but David himself, whose desire gave birth to the sins of adultery and murder. All Christians, I suppose, will agree.

And yet, and yet: The words of Jesus are clear. The original Greek is not ambiguous. There is no variant hiding in the shelves. We cannot go from an active verb, subjunctive mood, aorist tense, second person singular, with a clear direct object, to a wholly different verb—“do not allow”—completed by an infinitive that is nowhere in the text—“to fall”—without shifting from translation to theological exegesis. The task of the translator, though he should be informed by the theological, cultural, and linguistic context of the time, is to render what the words mean, literally, even (perhaps especially) when those words sound foreign to our ears.

Here someone will shout, “But sometimes the meanings are not literal.” I agree. Sometimes the primary meaning is figurative; but that is still a linguistic judgment, and not theological exegesis. Even so, we are far more likely to paint for our readers a broad range of figurative meaning by keeping close to the literal field wherein that meaning takes root and flourishes, than by dispensing with the literal, and losing it and much of the figurative to boot. Hence translations that suppress the word “seed” (as in “Abraham's seed”), or “fruit” (as in “be fruitful, and multiply,” or Jesus’s parable of the vineyard owner who sent his servants to gather the “fruit” of his land), replacing these words with “offspring” and “produce,” are not only pallid English. They make it impossible for us to hear the figurative resonances of these words as Jesus and his fellow Jews heard them, across all of Scripture. They distance us—who are already farther off than is healthy—from what Chesterton has called “the warmth and wonder of created things,” of fruit, and seed, and the marital act that sows the seed.

Someone else will say that language changes over time, and that is why we need revisions. Perhaps; but the ancient Greek has not changed, and English in this regard has not changed. “Lead us not into temptation” means “do not lead us into temptation,” and that is that. We might revise and render “temptation” as “testing” or “trial”: “Do not lead us to the test,” but that would still fall under the pope’s disapproval.

No, I believe that the Greek means what it means, and what it means is accurately rendered as “lead us not into temptation,” exactly the same in Matthew as it is in Luke.

Then someone objects, and says that the Greek is just a translation of the Lord’s Aramaic, so that we, by guesswork, can efface the Greek and replace it with a supposititious original. There are three problems here. First, the Greek is the text we have, and it is canonical. Second, there is no reason to suppose that Greek-speaking Jews did not pray the prayer exactly as the Greek-speaking Saint Luke records it, which in this line is identical to Matthew’s. Third, if we consider a Semitic substrate it becomes more likely, not less, that the Greek me eisenenkeis hemas eis peirasmon is an exact rendering of what would be a verse of psalmic poetry, as I believe all of the Lord’s Prayer is. We would have A + B + C, where A is the negative, B is a causative verb (in Hebrew, “lead” = “to cause to go,” as in Psalm 23) with affixes for second-person singular subject and third-person plural object, and C is “into-temptation.” Such a verse or half-verse would be familiar to every one of Jesus's listeners, and they would have expected it to be completed by a second half. And so it is, in another A + B + C: “but + free-us + from-evil,” each element in correspondence with its partner in the previous half. No, I’m afraid that all attempts to justify an alteration on linguistic grounds fail. But what about the theology?

Let us be careful here. Jesus himself, in Gethsemane, instructed his apostles to pray “lest they be put to the test,” echoing his own words in the Lord’s Prayer. It is not a prayer that they should not fall into temptation, much less that they should not yield to temptation. It is parallel instead with Jesus’s prayer in the garden, that he might be spared the cup that he was about to drink. Jesus knows our weakness, and knows that trials will come. He knows that, as James says, “blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (1:12). But we are weak. We are not yet heroes. We are hardly soldiers at all. So we confess our weakness.

We pray, then, that God will spare us that test—even as we know that tests will come. Jesus himself says it. Satan has demanded Peter, to sift him like wheat, says Jesus, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith might not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31). We are not heroes, we are poor and unprofitable servants, yet we are called to say, with St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 3:7). And a Father might very well allow His grown sons and daughters to stand the test, that they might show their strength—His strength in them!—and triumph over the Slanderer.

The words of Jesus, as words, are clear. Their implications are profound. They are hard for us to fathom. They strike us as strange. That is as it should be. Let them stand."

As I said in a previous post, "Rather than engaging in some sort of Quixotic battle against imaginary dragons, perhaps Francis could make better use of his time by clearing up doctrinal confusion which he has sown through Amoris Laetitia or by addressing the homosexual problem in the priesthood?"

In any case, Francis is simply wrong*. And no amount of smoke and mirrors rhetoric will ever change that fact.

* See here

Related reading here.

Note: I tried twice to post these scholarly reputations of the alleged need to revise the Lord's Prayer on Spirit Daily's Facebook Page.  Twice that were removed.


Stephen said...

Michael Brown often has good articles. But he waffles a lot, sometimes comes across as New Agey, and over the last couple of years has been a knee-jerk apologist for Francis, defending his every word and action. I stopped reading him.

Orange Catholic said...

Barbara Jensen said...

I always enjoy and trust Anthony Ensolen. Again we have an informative and interesting piece of writing from him. I agree wholeheartedly with his understanding that Jesus says things that are full of meaning and import that we don't easily comprehend and therefor need to be pondered. For myself, I understood right away what 'lead us not into temptation' means: 'Oh Jesus, You see how weak I am. Draw me under your wing of love and mercy and do not subject me to the test, as I am too weak to bear it.' What the Living God desires to teach us when He allows 'the test' is that IN HIM we can stand and do so much more than we ever thought. To rely in and on His Strength gives Him great glory. He know how and where the burden presses, and, if we but trust Him, He will lead us through the trial successfully. Jesus asks His Father to allow the chalice of suffering to pass Him by, if it be the Father's Will. Like us in all things, Jesus asks the Father not to 'lead Him into temptation, if it be His Will. God allowed Jesus to enter into the test, and He also allows us suffering and testing. As Ensolen rightly refers, 'lead us not into temptation' finds similarity with Jesus' prayer to let the chalice of suffering not be drunk.
I love Ensolen's closing about Pope Francis. Yes, he needs to clear up the frightening confusion afflicting the Church due to his game-playing blather. Also, if Francis moved to change the Lord's Prayer, it would set a precedent that he can start fiddling with other Scripture translations and therefore change meaning. Where would that lead? Let us pray for Holy Mother church.

Unknown said...


Jesus the world’s only true Light
is almost completely rejected
they keep Him out of sight
instead of Him satan is erected

what is this world becoming
we’re really in apocalyptic times
the Bible is read thumbing
skyrocketing are the crimes

locked is every room in the inn
for the Savior of man
no need for remission of sin
to that we all say “AMEN”

Jesus is betrayed
even by His own disciples
they say “enough” they prayed
only, to their own idols

they see themselves so illuminated
while the True Light is extinguished
the whole world they contaminated
and the Truth they relinquished

They reject the Christ in Christmas
worshipping a lighted tree instead
even the real Saint Nicholas
has been left behind for dead

We call on You, O Lord and Master
help us to stop this abomination
to reinstall You as our Pastor
and as King of Your Creation

May the time be coming soon
that You will reign over a New World
announce it with a Heavenly tune
when all devils are safely furled.

Emmanuel, God with us, who then can be against us
Let Your Light shine upon us, especially this Christmas
We love You Jesus
Rita Biesemans, Christmas 2014

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