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Monday, July 16, 2007

JD Crossan on the Latin Mass

Last week I posted what Tom Reese SJ had to say in answer to a question on the Pope's recent decision in regards to the Latin Tridentine Mass ... today I saw there was an additional answer to the question, one from JD Crossan. Both opinions can be found at On Faith, along with many others.

Here below is what John Dominic Crossan, former vowed religious, professor emeritus in the religious studies department at DePaul University, Chicago, and fellow of the Jesus Seminar, has to say about the use of the Latin Tridentine Mass ....


Back to Greek or, Better, Aramaic?

If a religion changes, it may go wrong; if it does not, it must go wrong.

The reason is that change is an inevitable feature of life and conscious or deliberate change is a necessary feature of human life. Any living religion will change as it continues through history but, of course, a dead religion does not change. And, one of the ways you know a religion is dead or dying, is its refusal to change and/or its attempt to return were once it was.

Roman Catholic tradition is not exempt from change as the law of creation and creation’s God. But any religious tradition is carried by its religious community which make and remake each other in reciprocal interaction. Leaders may assist or resist that process but they cannot do it by will alone. The most serious delusion of leaders is to think that they alone are in sole charge of a community’s past, present, or future. It is ultimately the community—which is simply the incarnate and living tradition—that will determine what stays and what goes, what changes and what develops. And, for community, tradition, or hierarchy, it is ultimately impossible to hold back the inevitable future by returning to the abandoned past.

In terms of Roman Catholicism, our ancestors in faith began with Aramaic, changed to Greek, then tried Latin, and finally, moved into the various vernaculars. If we wish to revert to our linguistic origins, why just to Latin, why not to Aramaic with Jesus or Greek with the New Testament?

Finally, I suggest this meditation for Pope Benedict—courteously, of course, as one author of a Jesus-book to another. When the People of God were on trek towards their Promised Land, they needed both a Leader and some Scouts. The Scouts went ahead and were the first to enter the Promised Land—although they did end up there on some surprising rooftops. The Scouts returned and reported what was up ahead. They had seen the future and the People followed them into it. But the Leader never made it into the Promised Land. He only glimpsed it from the peak of Pisgah and was buried in the midst of Moab.



Anonymous Mike L said...

Well, one reasn for Latin and not Greek, etc. is that the declared Cannon of scripture is not the original as written but the Latin translations by St. Jerome. In other words the Church considers the Latin to be inspired, not the original writings.

This does have some advantages. Latin can be will defined, and being a dead language it does not evolve, or at least very slowly. As such people of all ages can accurately understand what is ment by any given phrase. Problems arise when that phrase is translated into the vernacular, perhaps particularly into English since so many of our words have many different meanings. So when translated into Spanish the phrase may be either subtly different, or even radically different. Does any one remember the early translations used with Japanese products? And believe me, the literal translations would have been even funnier.

Scientific language has the same problem. Spin in nuclear science does not mean to present something in its best light, but is a very specific phenomena.

Just a thought.

Mike L

2:25 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks for posting this, Crystal. We need to hear from enlightened people like John Dominic Crossan.



2:27 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


do you mean that the New Testement copies in Greek were not considered inspired, but only Jerome's translations of them? That sounds so odd to me, but maybe I'm not understanding? I am painfully uneducated in this area :-)

2:51 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Michael - thanks for dropping by and commenting :-)

2:52 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Interesting that Latin would be considered inspired but not Greek or Aramaic. My guess is that this was a political decision more than anything else, as Latin was the language of the Empire. Jerome started his translations about 50 years after Constantine's Nicaean Council. If it were happening today, Bush would hold a Council and we'd say that English was the inspired language.

Personally, I think if we're going to have Latin masses, we should also have some in Greek and Hebrew. If we claim that the Bible was inspired by G-d, then it would seem to hold that the languages employed for writing it would have been inspired as well, no? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Well, the word was in Hebrew and Greek, not Latin.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Mike L said...

While I agree that it sounds funny that it is the Latin translations that are considered inspired, we must also realize that there are no original manuscripts in any language. All of them were handed down, copied, mangled, corrected, added to, subtracted from, etc. for many years, and probably translated from language to language.

Coboyangel is probably right that in one sense it was a political decision, the Church had to decide what canon it was going to accept. And I think it probably became a necessity to define words as well as what texts would be accepted. I believe that the Jews did the same thing and so did the Protestants.

This does not mean that there is not truth in the Greek manuscripts, and obviously scholars consult them in order to get insight into what the Latin means. But at least by using the Latin texts we are all talking about apples, and not mixing them with olives.

To be honest, Crystal, I don't know if the original texts are considered inspired or not. Moot question since we don't have any of them, but the official documents are the Latin texts.


Mike L

7:00 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thaks for the info about Jerome. Constantine and Bush :-)

7:23 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Crystal, I have a feeling you've had this happen to you before, but it's new to me. I promise not to do it again but... You've been tagged!

I guess I'm supposed to direct you to my blog, and then your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read the "rules" and write 8 random things about yourself. Don't feel obligated though. But you might like to read the brief write-up I did on you at my blog. I hope I did you and your blog justice.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks for posting up Crossan, Crystal! As I've said before, the things he writes are never dull. I'm always curious to hear his take on what he sees going on in the Church, because for the most part he tends to steer clear of it.

Actually the commentary from each of those contributors was fascinating, although when I read some of the comments that come in, it does seem a bit like casting pearls before swine.

7:28 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike - thanks.

I have a site bookmarked ... How the Biblical Canon Was Chosen (link) ... I've got to spend some time there!

7:29 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

SusieQ ... a meme, a meme! I will comply. Thanks for the Tag :-)

11:41 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff - I thought you might like seeing Crossan. He seems to always say exactly what he's thinking, which can be refreshing.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

Hi Crystal,

I'm not sure of this, but I think that the Vulgate translation was declared canonical for the Latin Church at the Council of Trent. That was more a guard against vernacular translations in the West than a declaration about the Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew.

Certainly now the authorized translations (NAB, Jerusalem, etc.) are translated from the original languages. But we're not talking about what language you read or study the Bible in, but what language you pray in. Crossan is right about how many traditionalists act as if the Tridentine liturgy has existed for all eternity, and of course it hasn't, but Latin has been the liturgical language of the Western Church for more than 1,500 years. That's a lot of tradition. I still favor the vernacular Mass, but with nods towards the Latin tradition.

7:53 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


thanks for the information. I see your point about Latin. There's a beauty in it, built up over centuries of use, that contibutes more than a simple understanding of the translated words.

11:37 AM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Mike wrote, "In other words the Church considers the Latin to be inspired, not the original writings."

This is a demonstrable falsehood. From the Catechism: "God inspired the human authors of the sacred books." (§106) And no, they do not mean Jerome.

Jerome's Vulgate included several books which were excluded by the canon established at Trent, even as Jerome's translations of the canonical texts were established as the official Latin Bible of the Church. It held this status until it was replaced by the "New Vulgate" in 1979.

The New Vulgate was a revision of Jerome's text, incorporating changes based on modern critical editions of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, which of course were based on a much larger number of manuscripts than were available to Jerome. If the original texts were not thought to be inspired (and of greater value than the Vulgate), why would critical editions of the texts in their original language be consulted? Why would the New Vulgate even be necessary?

It is true that Catholics in the past (and maybe even traditionalists today) often asserted that the Vulgate was more accurate (and more "inspired") than the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. This was done in response to Protestants, who pointed out differences between the Vulgate and the oldest manuscripts in the original language. But I have found no evidence that this was ever an official teaching. And if it was, it certainly isn't anymore.

2:42 PM  

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