08 November, 2008


So Brandon at Siris posted the other day some links, including one to a site called Documenta Catholica Omnia, which sounded promising. I visited it, and found the Pater Noster under Novum Testamentum. It's a really nice file, with the Our Father in Italian, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, except when you read the Italian translation of the Greek it reads

Il pane nostro quello supersostanziale dacci oggi…
which does not translate into the English
give us today our supersubstantial bread…
because no such English word exists. The problem is, I've never seen the Italian word supersostanziale before, either. The usual Lord's Prayer in Italian uses quotidiano.

Hmm, I think, which means that you should think that too, and scroll on down. To my amazement, the Latin version given by St. Jerome in the Vulgata reads
Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodie
which again has that bizarre word that looks like "supersubstantial". I've never seen it before in Latin, either.

It turns out I'm not alone. A Google search on the word reveals that St. Jerome appears to have coined the word. Now Jerome was known to be something of stirrer-up of controversies—according to one documentary I watched, he accidentally outraged African Christians with a correction in his Latin translation of the book of Jonah, and let's not recall his reply to someone who asked his scholarly opinion on the Virginity of the Blessed Virgin—but in this case at least he seems to have been trying to avoid controversy by the time-honored tactic of incomprehensibility.

Or he just subscribed to the maxim, Turnabout is fair play. It turns out that the Greek word he is translating—επιουσιον—was itself coined by the authors of the Gospels! No one has any idea what it means, although there are more theories than you can shake a stick at. St. Jerome translated the word supersubstantialem in the Gospel of Matthew, and cotidianum in the Gospel of Luke. The Latin prayer books use cotidianum because…well, I don't know why.

For some reason this reminds me that I've taken to saying some of the Mass responses in Latin. Et cum spiritu tuo would be an example. I don't like the English translation in certain places, so rather than make up my own (unapproved) version, I'll recite the Latin, thank you. You may think I'm bad for this, and I won't protest (although I may offer a raspberry :-P) but J.R.R. Tolkien was worse: after his parish switched to English, he continued giving the responses in Latin. Why? I don't remember. Stop asking questions; you'll distract me.

I think my solution will be to learn the Lord's Prayer in Greek, and to pray that from now on, even at Mass. It's not that I don't trust the Church's translation; I just like reciting my Mass in 5 or 6 languages. It feels Catholic.

The Russian word is насушний, although I may have the spelling wrong. I asked my wife what it means, and she told me, and I promptly forgot.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

In English the Douay-Rheims carried over Jerome's 'supersubstantial'.